Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nearing the end

The school classrooms are done and look amazing! It is hard work building a decent sized building in a third world country without power tools. The workers were very impressed that a mzungu woman knew how to work. They all immediately had to know my name and if I was married or not.
The garden project has come to an end. We planted another nursery garden in Kikikanya. The people there are so wonderful. I couldn't think of a more deserving group. All the woman were very welcoming and out going. Apparently, I kept getting my skirt dirty from working in the dirt. Every time I would hold still for just a few seconds, a couple of women would come up and start brushing the dirt off of me. I think their favorite area to clean was my butt. Anyways, the garden looks great!
We finally finished all the field world for the HIV research. Oh my that was exhausting. We went to a few worker's camps for the sugar cane fields and everyone there spoke Swahili. That was kind of a big obstacle. We also went to a very remote rural village called Kisasi. At one point, we actually stopped hiking through the bush to get to from house to house because everyone came to us. They all had to see the bzungu that had come to their village. They had never had white people there before. Right now, we are just analyzing the data and compiling it into a report. We have been doing this for the past 8 days. Each day we spend at least 10 hrs working on the project. There is so much information that it is overwhelming. We are hoping to have everything done by tomorrow.
Several volunteers have left this last week so there are only 9 of us left. The house is very empty. We have started washing the walls and cleaning the rest of the house in preparation of moving out in a few days. This is just adding to the stress of trying to finish up all the projects. All the Ugandans seem to know when we are leaving already even though we haven't told them. As we walk through the streets, everyone comes up to us, whether we know them or not, and asks for our clothes, shoes, bags, and other belongings. Many of these people even have money. They are well to do in this society. It is getting kind of old. I do intend on giving away my clothes or just throwing them away because they are so beat up and torn already, but it is frustrating to have people do this to me. If anything, they will go to those who really need it. Well family, I will be home in less than a week. I really do not want to leave, but then again I am also excited for a new chapter in my life. I actually am looking forward to going back to school.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sprained ankle, Rwanda, and school house

A little over a week ago, I couldn’t help myself and I sprained my ankle while playing football with kids at an orphanage. Who knew that there was a giant pothole in the middle of the field? Good news, I still managed to steal the ball and prevent a goal. All the kids cheered and gave me high fives while I laid in my hole in pain. Immediately, the next morning we left for Kampala to hop on a bus to Rwanda. Sprained ankle and all, I hobbled around Kampala and Garden City (the equivalent of an American Shopping Mall) to pass the time. As it turned out, our bus left at 9 pm, not in the early afternoon as we thought. We ate real American food and watched Toy Story 3. At the end of the day, we say through a window a rap music video being shot. We were laughing and taking pictures. They were staring and waving at the crazy bzungu through the window. We danced a little for them and they mouthed to us to come around to the hotel. We figured that we had some time so we did. As it turns out, the singer was Bebe Cool. He is one of the most famous Ugandan singers. He complimented us on our dancing and said that it is his tribe’s dance. I guess our dancing lessons finally paid off. We took pictures with him and met his wife and kid. He wanted us to be in his music videos, but we had to speed off to catch our bus. The boda ride to the bus was terrifying. Traffic in Kampala is terrible during the day, but at night it is even worst. Since I was on a boda, we were able to maneuver our way through the city. The bus station was on the other side of the city. Most of the way we drove on sidewalks and hoped that pedestrians would move. Pedestrians were jumping out into the street to avoid being hit. We also drove straight into oncoming traffic. One of our mirrors broke off as he drove in between cars. At first, I had my bag on my back, but I moved it to the side because people were touching it. As we squeezed between cars, there wasn’t enough room for it so I had to hold it above my head. My knees got scrapped up and bruised pretty badly from being knocked into cars. It was really touch and go there for a while. I was a little surprised to still be alive at the end of the ride.
The 8-9 hour bus ride to Rwanda easily shaved several years off of my life. The worst part was trying to cross the border into Rwanda. It was about 2 or 3 in the morning and our driver kicked everyone off the bus and took off. We could hardly see a few feet in front of us because it was so foggy. I had African everywhere trying to steal my passport as I filled out an exit form for Uganda. Afterwards, we all walked aimlessly through the fog hoping to find our bus. After about 300 yards or so, I hobbled right into several military men with AK-47s. We stood in line waiting for our bags to be checked by these men. The African were pushing and yelling at each other in foreign languages. I felt hands touching my bag and trying to pry it open. I was sure that something was horribly wrong because of the way that they were acting. I thought that an army was after us and that we were all going to die. Eventually, we made it past the armed guards and found our bus. I never thought that I would feel so safe on that bus especially after how terrible the ride to the border was. The bus driver had thrown all the bags off of the bus and was searching them. I have never been in such a scary situation in my life.
Rwanda. What a wonderful place. The city of Kigali was so much cleaner than Kampala. Of course, it had its slums but it was very different than what I am used to. The people were clean and well educated. Also, cars actually obeyed the laws of the road. Boda drivers had nicer motorcycles, they and their passengers wore helmets, and only took one passenger at a time. The whole area reminded me so much of America. I don’t know if it has always been like this or if so much foreign aid has been given that it helped to rebuild the city. While there, we visited the genocide memorial. During 1994, 1 million Tutsis and Hutu moderates were murdered. At this memorial, we visited a mass grave containing 250,000 bodies. It surprises me that something like this could happen here. We imagine that genocides can only occur in “primitive” or third world countries. As Rwanda and the holocaust have proven, they can happen anywhere. After the memorial, we went to the Milles Colline. This is the hotel from the movie Hotel Rwanda. We ate dinner there and had a very deep conversation about the genocide. Our trip to Rwanda was wonderful, but we did not stay for long because we have so much work to do in Lugazi. I actually missed Uganda dearly. Rwanda was a fun escape, but I love the craziness of Uganda too much. It has become my home.
Since we have been back, we have made great strides in our research. We are going out to villages and schools to interview people. While we are at schools, we also sensitize about HIV/AIDS. We are slowly working on the gardens. It has been difficult to find spare time in the day to devote to gardens. On Monday, we will be planting a large nursery garden for an HIV group in Lugasa. I love working with this group. All of the members are such hard workers and an inspiration to me. We also want to create gardens for the Seeya school. This school is located in the middle of the sugar cane fields. It has a patchy grass roof and no walls. The school is barely scrapping by to educate the poorest of children in the area. Hand washing stations have really taken off. We are building at least 2 everyday this week. Today, we started construction on the Ssanyu school. We are still $500 short but we decided to start the classrooms anyways. I was helping to knock down old brick walls and to lay new ones. Also, I got to help make the cement and cut rebar. I had a lunch meeting today and our partners laughed as I limped in covered in cement, mud, and dust. I apologized for my messiness, but they just gave me a big hug and thanked me for all my hard work in the area.