the love of my life is on a chilean telenovela/the smoke monster is after white people.

i’m not usually the kind of person who needs a lot of attention, but i’ve recently discovered that when i have been the recipient of fairly intense attention, it is difficult to adjust to losing it.  up until very recently my best friend has been my landlord.  it was great.  after i got done with work (usually sometime between 6-8pm) i would head to his mobile phone shop in town and hang out until it was closed and then we would head home together.   initially these hangouts were designed because i didn’t want to walk home.  partially because i’m lazy, but also because in uganda, monsters come out and eat white people after dark (i hear it’s because our porcelain skin glows in the moonlight).  a more accurate description of the monsters that prey on white people might be: a thief who jacks white people’s crap because they assume (correctly) that the white person has more money/valuable things than they do.

since i didn’t want to get eaten by a monster/get my stuff jacked, i would patiently wait for him to close up shop.  at first the wait seemed so painful that being eaten by a monster seemed like a more pleasant way to spend the evening (perhaps the monster would be like the smoke monster from LOST- how pimp would that be?  especially if it suddenly turned into john locke).  after a few days the pain morphed into something much more amazing.  i found myself enjoying the time i would spend at the mobile phone shop.  i was able to practice the local language (unfortunately aside from being taught the greetings i already knew, most of the language exchange revolved around helping them increase their english-speaking abilities, particularly regarding profanities and crude names for a female’s genitalia).  i would chat with the workers at the shop, the customers, and the loiterers who were keenly interested in speaking with the mysterious white dude sitting behind the counter.

see, the smoke monster is afraid of black people.

during these mobile phone store sessions, i would receive a lot of advice.  for instance, i was warned against seeking treatment from the new “herbal healing centre”  that had just opened up down the street (shoot, i was really hoping that i could get some medical marijuana or iboga treatment).  i was also told that i should not trust the street meat on the other side of the road because it was not safe and wouldn’t taste good (however, i should most definitely eat the goat on a stick that the advice-giver was shoving in my face).

the best (and most frequent) advice i received was to get myself a ugandan wife (or whore, as the case may be).  most of the attention i received regarding this issue was not from the woman herself, but rather on her behalf by well-meaning (?) parents and random drunk dudes (because obviously, i’m a great catch.  let me list the qualities they saw in me: white, white, oh, and white).  most of the drunk dudes insisted that ugandan women are the best in bed (which seemed strange since they all seemed keenly interested in having me help them find some white girls).  they usually weren’t pushing marriage on me, rather just a roll in the hay, and perhaps i could give the dude a little money for lining up this good time (this way you can avoid letting any of the money fall into the girl’s hand, by instead directly give to the pimp).

parents, on the hand, were more inclined to seek a marriage arrangement instead of simply whoring their daughters out (i guess marriage is a better long-term investment: “then you can bring us all to america after you are married.”).  it’s hard to evade these offers with the traditional excuses.  you can’t pretend you’re gay (oh really? we kill gay people here.)  you can’t pretend that you’re a priest or planning on becoming one (oh really?  it’s ok, our priests don’t really follow that whole celibacy guideline.)  not even the “i have a wife back in america” ploy works (her name is “chastity” and she’s a dancer.  ironically people here think that someone with such a virtuous name must be a good christian woman who performs ballet or some other kind of socially acceptable dance.  as opposed to the girl i envision, who is dancing around a pole because she never had a proper father figure).   despite having a good christian ballet dancing wife back in america, i would get responses along the lines of: “she never has to know”, and “wait until you see our daughter dance.”  some promise that their daughter worth “many cows” (there is a bride price here, and the number of cows indicates the value of the girl).  unfortunately for them, i’m not easily won over by promises of cows; i’m more of a shrimp person than a steak person (they might have had a better chance at securing a white son-in-law if they had told me that their daughter was worth a lot shrimp scampi).

after the leaving the store and heart-broken ladies, my landlord and i would head home where he’d cook some amazing food (apparently the bland food uganda suffers from is the way in which women enact punishment upon the nation for not respecting them as equal human beings.  that, or my landlord, one of the only ugandan men i’ve known to cook, is just blessed with a love for garlic and an aversion to the massive quantities of insipidly plain starches that the rest of uganda seems to be infatuated with).  while he made dinner, i’d sip on a glass of wine and catch up on the my favorite telenovelas which have been translated into english (primera dama – aka first lady is my current obsession.  this fascination stems from the lack of other viewing options and has been sustained by my new love, celine reymond, who plays the heroine, “sabina” who describes as “an ordinary, young but ambitious woman who is willing to do anything to seduce leonardo sandander a presidential candidate to become the first lady of chile) on the flat-screen plasma television that was adorned to his wall (yah… i’m not the kind of peace corps volunteer who lives in a hut in the middle of the jungle – and, more importantly, i’m not the kind of peace corps volunteer who feels guilty about not living in a hut in the middle of the jungle).  once he had finished his wifely duties, he’d join me in the living room where we’d devour the delicious food and watch a dvd that contained an assortment of random local and american music videos (everything from celine dion’s “my heart will go on” to rhianna’s “umbrella” to a variety of bobi wine videos – you should check him out on youtube. and be amazed by his amazingness).

i guess there is more to chile than some lame miners who can't seem to manage staying above ground.

this was my routine for my first few weeks at site.  work all day, fend off marriage proposals, and cap it off the evening with some food and bobi wine music videos.  this week, however, something terrible happened: my landlord got himself a lady friend (and, if i’m not mistaken, she ironically happens to be one of the girls that i turned down).  it was a wednesday night.  i had just gotten off of work and had settled myself down in the mobile phone shop.  i sat and exchanged the usual pleasantries.  soon, it was very dark outside and everybody started to abandon the main drag and head home.  i wasn’t worried initially, but then it was time to close the store and lock everything up.  my mind started racing:

what if i have to walk home?  do i have enough money on me to pay off a robber?  what happened to my landlord? surely he would call to let me know he wasn’t coming, right? it would suck if he died – mainly because i would have lost a chauffeur.  do i really have to walk home?  he had better have died or at least been injured so critically that he is incapable of calling me.

after about 10 minutes of standing by myself in the dark in front of the store, i decided that he had, if fact, died, and thus left me to walk on my own – how inconsiderate.  i briskly walked down the pitch black highway, praying that i’d be attacked by the smoke monster, and not some random thief.  the electricity was out all over town, of course, so the only lights i had to rely on were the random trucks that sped past me.  thankfully i reached my destination without incident.  i found his truck parked in its usual spot and candlelight gleaming from inside (“he better have had a stroke and/or fallen off a ladder,” i thought to myself).  i opened the door to find a some lady standing there holding a candle.  looked past her and saw my landlord sitting at a table set for two.  it looked very romantic with the candlelight (granted, they probably would have just been using lamps had the electricity been on).  i stood there in the rain, shocked as i started to grasp the reality that this slut had stolen my friend (in my mind i remember there being rain, but this was surely just my media-influenced mind, since i also doubt that r.e.m.’s “everybody hurts” really started playing).   i abruptly said goodnight and quickly headed up to my place.  since i didn’t have any candles i ate my dinner of crackers in the dark before falling asleep without my glass of wine or finding out what had happened on that night’s episode of first lady (“surely sabina would be given her job back,” i thought to myself confidently).

it seems that i’ve been replaced.  i realize that she can probably give him things that i can’t (e.g. sex), but that doesn’t make the loss any less painful.  if things don’t improve quickly, i’m going to have to consider seriously trying to get a transfer to peace corps chile, so i can be close to my precious sabina (plus i hear the smoke monster doesn’t live in chile).


a call to serve: the party-planning committee.

i have recently joined my organization’s party-planning committee.  upon hearing some of the men in my office delegate the duty to the women in the office, since it is “women’s work” (i guess it’s slightly better than saying their place is in the kitchen/”go get me a sandwich, bitch”.  right, gloria steinem?), i decided to stand up on behalf of the fairer sex and volunteered to join.  they (the dudes) tried to put make me the president (because, obviously, a man should be in charge- we don’t allow our emotions to get in the way of our work).  i declined the offer and stated that it would be better for another member of the group to be in charge since i’m not very good at party-planning (this made sense to them because party-planning is, after all, women’s work).  however, they  added the caveat  that i would be there to “oversee” what the women were planning (i guess they don’t want the parties to be too sissified).

so, now i’m a full-fledged member of the party-planning committee.  this is a terrible idea.  at least that’s what i thought initially, then we had our first meeting.  we met at the crane hotel (a super-swanky safari-themed hotel- they even have hot showers!).   i had steak for dinner and they even had one tusker lager (not that sick malt lager) left for me to consume.  over dinner we discussed  a number of parties of which we could host at this location.  upcoming events include “the welcome party” (andrew is here!), “the farewell party” (herbert is leaving; sad-face), “housewarming party” (we recently shifted offices, and instead of hosting it at the new office we’re going to have it at the hotel), and finally, “the christmas/end of the year party” (self-explanatory).  ultimately some of these parties will have to be combined since there is only so much time (and funds) left before christmas break, but it’s fun to plan for all of them (“we can have steak and the ‘welcome party’, since andrew and the other whites like steak.” “we should have them roast an entire goat!” “it’s too bad policy doesn’t allow us to provide alcohol”…).

while i deplore the idea of serving as president of the group (and even as a general member or the “overseer” position that i currently hold), i was forced (much lbj) into service when the president was incapable of fulfilling her duties.  instead of getting shot while riding in a convertible in dallas, my colleague may or may not have consumed a few too many “grown-up” beverages.  and instead of inheriting the vietnam war, i was left with the duty of conveying our interests and getting quotes on prices from the hotel manager since the president was in no condition to be doing any negotiating.  perhaps it was for the best that i was left as the negotiator (i played the race card. “i will bring my mzungu friends here if you can give us a deal”- very classy, i know) because he seemed to take me a lot more seriously than my slightly inebriated supervisor (after all, i’m white and a man… booyah privilege).

we still have yet to lock down dates for the numerous events, but at least we have a location.  it’s a good thing that policy prevents alcohol from being served, because i don’t think that the my colleague needs to be consuming “grown-up” beverages in public again (although, on the other hand, it would be interesting to see the office dynamics if we had a die hard-style christmas party- complete with alan rickman invading the crane hotel.  john miller can be bruce willis and i’ll be the black cop).

you can help save the world (by sending this white dude some taco bell sauce).

if you are feeling charitable there are number of things i desire that are not found in uganda.  i would greatly appreciate if some of the following items were sent to me on a fairly regular basis- no package is too small (but remember, the size and frequency of packages determines how much you love me- and quite possibly will play a major role in whether you end up in heaven or hell).

if it makes you feel better, you can pretend that i’m planning on giving everything to little starving hiv orphans (i’m not- but then again, neither are most organizations who take your money claiming they are supporting starving hiv babies).

i want:

– taco bell sauce packets (hot and fire preferably- ugh, i would kill for a grilled stuffed burrito right now).

– taco seasoning (i miss it so very terribly).

– spicy brown mustard packets (much like trix, yellow mustard is for kids, silly rabbit).

– relish packets (egg salad isn’t the same without it).

– gobstoppers & nerds (wonka magic).

– skittles (i miss tasting the rainbow).

– jelly bellies of the sour variety (mmmm).

– life savers (both fruity and spearminty- these i might actually share with little black childen so send the individually wrapped ones).

gummy worms!!!!!!

– reese’s pieces (you could also throw in a copy of e.t. if you’re feeling particularly generous).

– mac & cheese packets (please don’t send noodles- white cheddar and three-cheese would be awesome).

– parmesan cheese (or any other cheeses that won’t require refrigeration during travel).

-brownie mix (take it out of the box, duh.  it’ll just weigh the package down.  although, i guess you’ll be paying for shipping, so do what you please).

– ziplock bags (seriously. i want them so badly.  also, you can put all of the items you’re sending, especially the liquid-esque items, in the bags).

– nikon d5000 (okay, if you send this, you have too much money and/or you might be insane- unless you birthed me, in which case, it’s your duty.  my bag was stolen on the flight here, thus leaving me without my most valued possession.  i loved it almost as much as i love cheese- which is a lot).

– an american flag bandana (i’m waiting, savannah).

– flash drives filled with good music (i’m kind of hipster -barf-, so i’m into all that folk/rock/indie/blah, blah, blah… but i really like and appreciate all kinds of music.  please note: aside from johnny cash and loretta lynn, and a few other exceptions, country western is not considered good music).

– a surprise (just make sure it’s good.  you don’t want to disappoint me/the hiv orphans do you?).

– letters/pictures (i guess it would be good to hear about what’s going on in your lives- especially since you’re sending me stuff.  however, do not simply send a letter and pictures alone.  there should at least be some candy and taco bell sauce included.  i don’t want to waste a walk to the post office only to find some lame words written on a piece of paper and pictures of your ugly face).

i don’t want:

– chocolate (it might melt, and i’m not a woman.  reese’s pieces is obviously an exception to this rule).

– hand sanitizer (again, i’m not a woman).

– toiletries (i can get almost everything i need here).

– paper copies of books (they will weigh down the package and take up space that could be used for taco bell sauce and candy).

– clothes (unless you want to send me some sweet western pearl-snap shirts from st. vinnys).

what you get:

– the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a difference in the world (remember those hiv orphans? taco bell sauce is almost as good as getting your parents back or being adopted).

– public acknowledgement of your gift (so send something good so you don’t look cheap).

-a skype date and/or international phone call from me (if your package is really good, i’ll even do the skype date shirtless upon request).

send to:

Father Andrew Orland Rowan, Peace Corps

c/o Nyakatsiro Health Centre

P.O. Box 96

Bushenyi, Uganda

East Africa

(you can also use reverend or saint in place of “father” if you’re feeling particularly ridiculous- apparently packages are less likely to be tampered with/disappear if it is being sent to a religious leader.  it’s not a typo, there are no zip codes in uganda.  boxes tend to take longer, whereas padded envelopes tend to arrive more quickly.  let me know when you send a package so i can keep an eye out for it.  put value of items at less than $20 and list contents as something along the lines of “religious” or “educational” materials- because, honestly, who wants to steal some religious stuff going to a priest.  unless they have started putting bible verses on taco bell sauce packets, please don’t send me actual religious materials- i already have a bible with me, so i’m covered).

halloween: probably better if i don’t paint my face black with shoe polish.

last weekend i celebrated halloween.  this was strange because i’m not the kind of person who really gets into halloween.  i’m pretty sure it was around the age of 8 when i decided that dressing up and traipsing around to gather candy was lame (especially because i could just stay home and pillage the candy my mom had bought for trick ‘r treaters.  plus, my mom always got good candy.  none of that cheap off-brand candy that people tried to push on us.  if you’re too cheap to buy good candy, you should turn your lights off and no answer the door on halloween).

my favorite halloween memory is with my cousins at my grandparent’s house in arkansas.  they live in the middle of nowhere, so my cousins and i only had one house to go to, but it was a super-spooky house (dark and historic, complete with creepy old dolls- it could have easily been the setting for one of the those cheap horror movies.  you know, the kind where the four hot white kids and one black dude are traveling and their car breaks down and the only place they have to go is this creepy old dude’s house and he ends up killing the black dude and then slowly gets the everyone else except the hottest girl who manages to escape.  that’s this house.  there was even a creepy old man who lived there).  the costume options were somewhat limited, so i ended up going as my grandmother (which was surprisingly not the most creepy costume.  my cousin matthew takes the cake for that one with his skintight leopard print leotard).

the coolest cousins in the world (daniel was a baby so he couldn't participate i guess).

after a number of years of not dressing up or celebrating halloween, i finally gave the holiday another chance in 2009. i had just started grad school at the university of wisconsin, and apparently state street in madison, wisconsin is the place to be for halloween (it’s not).  i tried to be intellectual with my costume (it’s harder for dudes to find a costume since we can’t just dress like sluts.  well, we can, but we can’t get away with it as easily): i was the dying u.s. auto industry (basically i was wearing a ford shirt- couldn’t find a general motors shirt at goodwill- and i was covered in blood).  even in the well-educated city of madison, this went over the heads of everyone (“you’re dead mechanic!”… super-cool).  one highlight of the “wild” party that is supposed to be a state street halloween was seeing third eye blind (one of the greatest bands of all time).  the ultimate highlight, however, was randomly meeting natasha rehm.  one of the coolest people i know (and i’m pretty picky about who i call cool, so she’s legit).

me and one of my favorite people ever, natasha rehm. apparently it was too cold for her princess leia bikini outfit. still pretty sexy.

i swore that 2009 would be my last halloween, but this year i was reeled into celebrating it with some of my fellow pcvs.  the costume selection (and my desire to be creative) is very limited here.  i considered painting my face black (using shoe polish, naturally.  although a nun told me that i could also use charcoal to get the job done) and being robert downey, jr from tropic thunder, but didn’t want to risk damage that the shoe polish could do to my beautiful complexion (also, not sure how it would go over with ugandans).  i also considered going as mickey rooney from breakfast at tiffany’s, but was unable to locate tan shoe polish.  so instead of going as a racially-insensitive character from a movie, i decided to go as a white person (real original, i know. plus no need to cover my face with shoe polish!).  i wasn’t just any white person, i was a peace corps volunteer.  the complete ensemble includes north face cargo pants (the kind that unzip at the knee to create shorts), chacos, and western pearl-snap shirt (i also didn’t shower to add authenticity to my character).  this might seem like a creative cop-out, but i’m in an office all week, so i don’t get to wear my comfortable clothes very often, and wearing them as a halloween costume seemed like as good of a reason as any.

there is a dead body on the kitchen table/”i only eat matoke at burials”.

today i experienced my first ugandan burial.  i was home sick from work, and my landlord came to the door around noon and said that our neighbor had died and that we were going to the burial at 2.  i asked him what was appropriate attire for such an event.  he laughed and said “come as you are” (i’m assuming he just meant to dress casually since i was only wearing a pair of boxer briefs at the time).  i put on some black jeans and a black polo (because if i was going to be casual, i at least had to do wear black casual), made a quick lunch (fried eggs and cinnamon toast, mmmm), and then we left.

up until today i thought that i only had 4 neighbors, but apparently there is an entire village on the hill just up from my house (which explains why i would see numerous people mysteriously disappear into the banana plantation directly behind my place).  the unfortunate soul who met his maker (of whose name i still do not know) resided in this village.  i had never met him, so my first introduction was walking into his house and finding his remains on the kitchen table.  now, it wasn’t as freaky as it might sound (granted, i’m ready morbid and obsessed with dead people.  six feet under is one of my all-time favorites).  it was really tasteful; he was dressed in a fine suit and laying on a silky looking white cloth (which his casket would later be wrapped in).

instead of having services in church, everyone gathers at the home of the deceased.  first on the agenda is lunch, obviously (why, oh why did i stuff myself full of eggs and toast before coming).  they force-fed me a heaping plate of posho and beans (and when i say heaping, i mean heaping).  now, i can’t really stomach the posho when i’m starving; so add in the fact that i was stuffed from eating already, it was a grueling task to finish the plate.  i did manage get through it all, much to the delight of the 40-50 ugandans who were staring at me the entire time i was eating.  unfortunately, when i tried to put my empty plate away, my landlord plopped a giant heap of matoke (disgusting steamed, mashed banana) on my plate.  he laughed as he saw my look of horror, and said “i know you don’t like matoke, but you must take it to show respect for the family.”  i could have killed him right then and there (which, while in poor taste, would have been convenient as the hole they had dug could have easily fit another casket).  he added, “i only eat matoke at burials.”  well, i figured if even he was eating it against his will, i would too (even if it meant possible dying of an overdose of tasteless starches).

after the eating was done, we sang some songs and the priest made a long speech (the only words i understood were “visitor” and “mzungu” which were both, i would assume, in reference to me).

apparently having me as a guest was kind of a big deal.  the widow came up to me and thanked me for attending and said that her husband would have been honored to have met me (perhaps she thought i was someone more important, like, let’s say, harry potter or justin bieber- the two people whose names i get called the most here.  harry potter by the ugandans, justin bieber by fellow americans).  she insisted that i serve as a pallbearer.  thankfully when i went inside the house again, the body had already been placed in the casket, so i didn’t have to be involved with moving it from the table into the casket.  me and 5 other gents proceeded to carry the casket outside, around the corner and into the garden where he was to be laid to rest.

we slowly and awkwardly lowered the casket into the ground with ropes slightly thicker than twine.  i figured that once we had the casket hovering around the top of the hole we could be okay if it fell, but fortunately we were able to somehow gracefully lower it down (which was quite a feat considering the hole had to be at least 10-12 feet deep).  the priest said a few more words and we sang some more songs.  then i was given a shovel and told to start shoveling the dirt into the grave.  after about 5 minutes of backbreaking labor (mild exaggeration of time and intensity), i was relieved of my duties and the crowd clapped for me.  yes, they clapped for the white boy shoveling dirt into a grave; i’m glad i was able to raise their spirits/provide entertainment for them on this dark day.

as awkward and weird as today was, it was the first time that i have felt any level of real integration into my community.  i visit shop owners and hang out with my co-workers, but this felt more organic and (surprisingly) like less of a show.  even though i was basically a spectacle, i felt like i was a part of the show, instead of being the solo white freak in the spotlight.  while i certainly don’t hope that anyone else dies, i am hoping that i’ll be able to replicate the interactions i had today (even if it means making myself sick by taking in ungodly amounts of starch)- perhaps at a wedding or a baptism.

he said his name was chief and he made me call him “daddy”.

since we have this lame rule about not being allowed to ride bodas (the super-fun/convenient/deadly motorcycle taxis), i have been doing the 30-45 minute walk to work each morning (except on rainy mornings when they send a car for me- life is tough).  its good exercise and the scenery is beautiful (unless i’m in a bad mood, and instead of beauty, all i see is swamps where malaria-infected mosquitoes are breeding).  the most aggravating part of an otherwise pleasant walk is passing the children (ewwww. i get that children are the future, but i’m not going to acknowledge and appreciate them until the future, when they are adults instead of prepubescent monsters).  unlike other places in uganda, where children scream “mzungu! give me candy!” and other similarly annoying phrases, the children in bushenyi are quietly snobby.  i will only here the word “mzungu” in a barely audible tone followed by laughter as they point and stare at me.  when i try to address them, they ignore me completely, not even replying to me when i greet them in the local language.  the second most annoying part of the walk are the lines of boda drivers taunting me with their offers of a cheap (albeit possibly deadly) ride the rest of the way.

everyday my walk has consisted only of snotty children and the tempting boda drivers, until this week.  i was on my usual route to the office when i happened to stop to buy a bottle of water from a little shop called “the tea shop”.  this is where i met a delightful old man who stated that he was the proprietor of “the tea shop” and also the chief of bushenyi.  i introduced myself and asked him his name.  he to told me to simply call him “chief”.

my first meeting with chief occurred on monday.  i was able to meet his future brother-in-law (apparently his sister is either bringing in a lot of cows for her bride-price or he hates her, because he seemed overly-enthused about “giving” her away).  he kept talking with me (rather, at me) for over an hour, thus making me over an hour late for work.  i would have just left, but i was unable to think of a tactful way in which to break away, especially because i didn’t want to piss off the “chief” of the town i’m going to be living and working in for the next two years.

monday’s events were nothing compared to what followed on tuesday.  my plan to sneak quietly past “the tea shop” and avoid tardiness for a second day in a row was foiled since he was waiting in the road for me.  he had gathered a number of semi-important (read: old) looking men to meet with me (and by meet with me, i mean talk at me).  he introduced me to the group as his “white son”.  when i addressed him as “chief” (hoping that one of the other men would let me know his real name- c’mon, a chief named “chief” is highly unlikely, right?) he scolded me and told me to refer to him as “daddy”.  yes, “daddy”.  not “father” or “dad” or “taata” (the local word for sperm-donator), simply “daddy”.

i’m unsure of what was more uncomfortable: the fact that i would spend the next two (!) hours hearing about the history of uganda (spoiler-alert, russ: idi amin was a very bad man) and obsessing over the pictures of dead qaddafi (yes, with a “q”. sorry, washington post, i’m gonna go with the economist and the new york times on this one); or the fact that i was publicly reprimanded for not calling a man who did not impregnate my mother, “daddy”.

after my second day of severe tardiness, my co-worker asked me what had been happening (i think her exact words may have been “save your partying for the weekends when you don’t have to be somewhere the next day).  i explained the situation to her.  she burst out laughing and asked me if this chief “character” seemed to be “all right in the head”.  apparently there are many “chiefs” around, but none of them would draw attention to the fact that they are chiefs (i.e. most likely wouldn’t insist on being called “chief”).  also, they would most likely be working (at somewhere a little more official than “the tea shop”), not standing outside waiting to waste a few hours of a white dude’s time.

"the best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine."

i’m not really sure if chief is “all right in the head”, but aside from the whole creepy “call-me-daddy” thing, he’s pretty harmless (kind of like bodas, until you end up with your brain splattered across the pavement).  he seems to have a standing in the community (at least based on the group of men he gathered to meet with me- unless this is one flew over the cuckoo’s nest and they’re all nutcases).  whatever he is or isn’t, at least he provides some entertainment.

i said my house is swank, not dank.

so i’ve arrived into bushenyi, my home for the next couple years.  i drove down with my supervisor, a couple other volunteers and a nun (i dropped a few “sister act” references, but nobody seemed to catch on).  it wasn’t a bad ride (it would have been worse if i had been on a public bus instead of the air-conditioned, non-cramped usaid mega-truck).  bushenyi is located in the southwestern part of uganda.  the landscape is beautiful, full of green hills.

my house is pretty nice (okay, it’s really nice).  it’s the perfect size, not too big, not too small.  i have a balcony (!), an unnecessarily large bathroom, one bedroom, a sitting room and a miniature kitchen.  it was in the process of being finished when i arrived so i spent my first full day here listening to the construction crew put the last finishing touches on it.  it turns out that i live above my counterpart, herbert, and next to my supervisor, dr. owe.  it’ll be nice to be close to people i know i can trust (although it’ll be hard to call in sick when i’m hungover and they heard me come back at 4am the night before).

i went out with herbert last night to explore my new community.  we drank soda and made sure that we were back home before dark (i don’t want to make fred mad).  today i did a little shopping and got lunch with a few of the pcvs in the area.  the restaurant was right down the road from the nightclub that i did not go to last night.  after returning home, i finally figured out how to fully assemble and (hopefully) properly use my gas stove (no explosions yet- i’ll be pissed if i die from a gas stove explosion instead of being eaten by crocodile).  my first meal: pasta with olive oil, fresh garlic & basil (should have bought that parmesan cheese when i was in kampala).

this week is going to be intense.  i have a week-long orientation with a number of new ugandan staff members who are just joining health partners.  it’ll be nice not being the only new face (especially since i’ll probably be the only white face).  i’m excited and nervous to get started.  my organization is doing great things, and i hope that i’ll be beneficial to them (or at least that i don’t mess things up).

if i didn’t have such high self-esteem, i would have killed myself already (training is over!).

i may have many faults, but low self-esteem is certainly not one of them.  in fact i have been told more than once that i could benefit from lowering my self-esteem (or maybe was it was cholesterol).  my high opinion of myself has been extremely beneficial during the past 10 weeks.  during those 10 weeks i endured pst (pre-service training) and it was hell.  i pretty much wanted to shoot myself in the head a least once every hour of training (except for the few hours of training which pertained to the work i’ll be doing, those made me want to slit my wrists sideways more as a cry for attention/help than to actually end my suffering).  i may not be able to do more than 5 pushups at any given time, but there were a number of times during pst that i wished i could trade places with someone in boot camp.

the most useful (and painful) part of pst was the language lessons.  i took lessons in runyankore which is the lanuguage spoken at my site (which i got back this week!!!! hoot hoot) in the southwestern part of uganda.  one member of my class, rebecca (super-cool indian chick; i have a tendency to meet awesome hindi girls in uganda: what up, shweta & aditi), excelled and made me simultaneously stunned and envious (and also made me secretly plot her “accidental” death so she would stop making me look bad for my poor ability to pick up runyankore).  towards the end of training i realized that i really needed to kick up my studying to a whole new level.  this level included countless note cards and hours of practicing in dark (since electricity is so fickle in uganda and the two free daylight hours were spent drinking my pains away with my comrades).  however, all of the additional studying i put in didn’t really make a difference in the end as i failed my language proficiency test (winner!).  i’m hoping that i’ll be able improve by getting a tutor and practicing with my colleagues and members of my community, and eventually be able to pass the next time i take it.

okay, so training wasn’t actually that awful (it was).  there were a number of valuable presentations and activities (granted none of them were done in an efficient amount of time).  that was probably my greatest complaint: there needed to be some fine-tuning and better scheduling of the trainings.  there was a lot of information that was duplicated throughout trainings, and other information wasn’t given enough time.  to be fair, this year’s trainings were a vast improvement on last year’s pst (according to jenny and bryce, two pcvs who served as trainers/mentors to us throughout the training).  hopefully with constructive feedback (none of which will be coming from me; i’m depending on my fellow trainees in this department), next year’s training will be even better for the new trainees.  as i coined, with the help of another trainee (whose identity i cannot recall right now), “past oppression doesn’t pardon present oppression nor does it excuse future oppression.”

one bottle of south african chardonnay closer to acceptance.

“god, grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, courage to change the things i can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

i suppose most people reciting this wouldn’t approve of the bottle of south african chardonnay i downed earlier today, but it was an important part of the process of me moving toward acceptance of losing my peace corps placement site.  for those of you who don’t love me, i recently (like last monday) lost my dream site working for health partners uganda in bushenyi.  i was supposed to do work related to the president’s malaria initiative (like president obama, so it’s a big deal) and run trainings for empowering village health teams (who comprise the first line of health workers in ugandan communities).  now i’ll being doing something similar (somehow?) at a catholic health centre on a mountain.  it’s been really hard to get over the change since my ideal site was taken away from me and given to another volunteer who’s site feel through.

i’ve been fairly angry this past week (especially after i found out that i was supposed to be given a choice regarding whether i wanted to switch sites or not).  now, i think i’m turning over a new leaf.  i spent most of yesterday in a depression/coma watching “the wire” and feeling sorry for myself, but i’m over that (or at least the wine is making me feel like i am).  instead i need to focus on how amazing my new site is going to be.  after all, any site will be as amazing as i make it.  i’m almost glad that i’ve had to spend the last couple days on a security (read: liability) lock-down (i guess i’d be thanking them if wakiso country gardens had been shockingly bombed by al-shabaab).  it has given me a chance to mourn he loss of my site and move onto accepting it (gosh, i sound like a woman- all offense intended).  this is especially helpful considering there is nothing i can really do about it (other than drink entire bottles of wine that is).

so about that wine.  there is no trader joe’s in uganda (or this continent that i’m aware of), so it’s hard to find good cheap wine to enjoy here.  there is plenty of beer (although none of it is as good as some new glarus brews), but the wine selection seems to be a little lacking.  so my goal is to start a wine collection up on my catholic mountain.  i’ll have to scour kampala and kigali, but in the next two years i plan to slowly build a collection (this means if you come to visit me i expect a bottle or two of good wine from the states and/or europe- they invented duty-free for this purpose).  hopefully i’ll be able to steal some church wine from my priest roommates.  instead of focusing on my old site (which is painfully just down the mountain), i’ll just get wasted on a few bottles of wine a week (or i’ll stay sober and do something amazing at my new site… hopefully).

al-shabaab strikes again?: on lock-down (guess i’ll have to watch “the wire”).

my dear old friends at al-shabaab are wreaking havoc in my life again.  since al-shabaab have this whole vendetta against kenya and uganda, the u.s. embassy decided that the kenya-uganda football (or soccer for you americans) match being played today in kampala is a likely security risk.  and since we’re training in wakiso, which is fairly close to kampala, we’ve been put on lock-down.

        “let’s go home”

a great thing about being put on lock-down was that i was able to sleep in and not have to walk an hour in the mud to the training center.  i have also been able to watch 5 episodes of “the wire” (currently enjoying #6 right now) so far.  the best thing about “the wire” (aside from being the best television show ever, well, next to “slings and arrows), is that it makes me not miss america.  every time i get homesick, i just pretend like all of america is baltimore and then not even seeing bubbles eating a mcmuffin sandwich makes me want to go home.

today was supposed to be a fairly exciting day.  it was going to be our last day at raco (the hellish location of pre-service training).  we were going to have a “thank you” ceremony for our families.  this was the first event at raco of which i was truly excited about.  my host family has been completely amazing.  without their constant support and kindness i don’t know if i would have made it through training.  i’ve been less than thrilled about a majority of the training process (well, everything), but they did do one thing very right by finding an amazing family for me to stay with.  i guess another positive of having to be on lock-down is that i get to hang out with awesome host brothers all day.

no matter what does (or most likely doesn’t) happen in kampala today, it could be worse: at least i’m not in baltimore.