1 month! and a crazy week to boot! Volunteer Life in Uganda

Uganda - The Volunteer Life - By Karen Graaff:

1 month! and a crazy week to boot! Volunteer Life in Uganda

Hi all!

So here I am almost at the end of my first month. In some ways, time has absolutely flown. But on the other hand, I’ve been so aware of every day, that it seems like I’ve been here so much longer (doesn’t everyone always say that! ;)

It also feels like it’s been a crazy busy week so this may be a long one!

We did our triathlon (a brief thunderstorm and downpour included) and managed to get medals; learnt how to make some local food (G-nut sauce); 2 of the people in our compound had to go to hospital for malaria; our compound baby (the ever-spoilt Debbie) also had to go into the clinic in Kampala cuz she was sick; we got a new Canadian volunteer, who is endlessly amusing cuz she’s a germophobe and had never seen a cockroach before; went to the SA High Commission to find out about voting for the SA elections; took to throwing sponges at kids’ heads in class and smacking on people’s desks with sticks to try get some kind of attention out of them; started teaching 2 guys from the village how to swim; witnessed a whole whack of family drama (including one of the local girls in our compound running away to go to the police); had 2 other international volunteers (2 Scottish girls) round for Good Food Friday (which is meant to be weekly, but so far we’ve only managed to get it organized twice); saw a snake in our compound; and, on top of all of this, we still have no internet, but on one of my only times to get online the past week, I got an e-mail from someone I don’t know telling me he’s a “lovely Ugandan” and the only man in the world who truly loves me.

SO….the first big exciting news – our triathlon was really awesome! We almost missed it because, despite emphasizing about a bajillion times that we needed to be in Entebbe for registration at 6am, the guy lifting us somehow decided we only needed to leave at 6am – cue to many irate night-before phonecalls, and after all of that he only arrived at 5:45. Then, as we were driving up the road outside, the car cut out, cuz it turned out he didn’t even have enough petrol to get out of the village! So we had to phone someone to come bring us some petrol; and we finally got moving around 6:15 (note: the race was due to start at 7am!) So we come screeching into Entebbe around at 7:05 and thankfully (for once!) things were running on African time, and the race only started at 7:30, so we caught the start. The swim was pretty fun – first time swimming in 3 weeks, so it was awesome being in the water (and don’t worry, it doesn’t look like I managed to get bilharzia) – went pretty well despite some wind and swell, until we came around the last buoy and it started PISSING with rain and the wind picked up big time! Anyways, ended uneventfully – I came out the water about 7th or 8th so was pretty happy with it. The cyclists were less impressed with the rain – they started out in a total downpour, so all got totally muddy and gross! But, in true Ugandan style, within 30mins the rain stopped, so when we started our run, the sun was shining again! The run was pretty cool – all through a botanical garden. We also clocked a not-bad time for only 3 weeks training! We hung around for a while after, meeting up with people and getting some cool contacts. We then discovered we’d managed to come in 2nd in our category (to be fair, it was only out of 8, but better get a medal than not, right?) Our cyclist – a local guy, who I don’t think has done too many races – was pretty excited. I think he didn’t expect to do so well, so he was really chuffed. Was pretty cool to be part of it J

Our house-mom got malaria so she spent a few days in the clinic – thankfully she’s doing a lot better now, cuz she was pretty sick to start off with. But it did result in me and Sophie trying our hand at making some G-nut sauce (with much help from everyone in the compound!) Either way, we took the credit at the end of it ;) It’s a little bit of a shock when someone gets malaria, specially since malaria season is only just meant to be starting up now. Cue to all of us becoming a lot more uptight about putting on mozzie spray and tucking our nets in lank tight! Our new Canadian volunteer, Kristen, is a mini hoot to me, because she is a germo-phobe, and I think got some pretty big shocks about life here. Like the fact that there’s no hot water and we wash dishes in the cold water. Oh yes, and she’d never seen a cockroach before, so that was a fun first experience! I try not find it too funny, but I do have to laugh sometimes at her freaking out about moths (she hates all bugs) and washing her hands obsessively (sorry Kristen!) Though I guess karma got its own back, when I saw a snake crawling across the yard of our compound last Sunday! As you may all know, I’m pretty close to phobic on snakes, so that was not so much fun! You may also all know how, because I’m phobic, I have the ability to attract snakes any- and everywhere. No other volunteer has seen any snakes while they’ve been here (a combined total of over a year) yet I managed to see 3 in 3 weeks (we saw 2 more – thankfully squashed and dead – on the road while running). Nice.

Most of my classes were pretty cool this week – I got to teach at the school with the IDP kids from up north. Well, not kids – most of them are older than me! They got relocated to this area from the conflict zone up north by Church of Uganda so they could get an education. Totally different experience to teaching the local kids! I’m absolutely dying to sit down with some of them and pick their brains about their lives prior to this but, as always, have no idea if that’s even vaguely appropriate when speaking to IDPs (Internally Displaced People, for those of you not in the humanitarian-lingo-know!) Normally they’re a pretty tough crowd – lots of attitude, and they tend to just ignore the teachers, but the class went pretty well, and a lot of them are super sharp and pretty progressive, which can be quite rare here! So I was pleasantly surprised by it – everyone hypes them as the absolute nightmare class, so I’d been dreading it.

I did have to resort to some drastic techniques in my classes on Tuesday – the kids were being freaking nightmares at first, so I ended up grabbing a stick and beating on the desks of anyone who was talking. Remarkably satisfying, I hate to say! Mr Cockburn would’ve been proud! I also threw a board-duster at some girl who wouldn’t shut up – they only use sponges here as board-dusters (so no bits of wood attached!), but it turns out sponges don’t fly quite as true as I expected. It ended up pinging off the head of the boy next to her in a big cloud of chalk dust (leaving him with a nice chalk mark on the side of the head!) The offending girl just got a mouthful of chalk dust, which she was massively indignant about, until I threatened the throw the stick at her too. Teacher Karen experiments with low-grade corporal punishment!

I also took 2 guys from the village for a swimming lesson yesterday – they’re both my age, but haven’t done any swimming before, so I told them I’d teach them while I’m here. Some of you may know about my secret love of swimming teaching – I was pretty excited about it, and it turned out to be a pretty awesome day. I got a complete kick out of being able to show someone swimming, which is such a huge thing in my life, that in some ways it didn’t even matter if they were enjoying it! But they both also seemed to love it – got super excited at being able to get across the pool, both with me floating them, and then by themselves. Luckily they’re both pretty quick learners, so it doesn’t look I’ll be shown up a liar by saying they’ll be able to swim by the time I leave! And, in more selfishness for me, I got to spend a day in a swimming pool!

Otherwise, I finally got around to the SA High Commission to check out for voting in the elections – I’m pretty excited about that too, to be honest! My threat of beating anyone in SA who doesn’t vote still stands – if I can get my shit together to vote while in Uganda, you can all get your asses down to voting stations in SA! We also started bonding with some of the other mzungus in the village – 2 Scottish girls who teach nearby. They were both pretty cool, and one of them lent me her sleeping bag (handy, since we’re going hiking in Kisoro next weekend – Karen with absolutely minimal gear!!) Apparently at the top of one of the mountains, you can look into 4 countries at once (Uganda, DRC, Rwanda and Tanzania, I think….watch this space, I’ll let everyone know.) All 4 girls here (me, Joanna – my NZ running mate, Sophie – my American room-mate, and Kristen – the germophobe Canadian) are going, so we’re all pretty excited! (never mind the 12hr bus trip each way to get there and back!)

Our internet is still down, so I’ve been having to go into Kampala to internet cafes – a bit of a mission, so don’t manage it too often. As always, I apologise for the lack of communication. We’re rumoured to be getting our connection back up this week (I’ll believe it when I see it!) so hopefully I’ll be back online soonish. I did also learn my lesson of giving my e-mail addy to local men – got an e-mail from some guy that I spoke to for about 5mins (he works in travel and tourism, and I was hoping to score some deals on car rentals for when my folks get here!) He told me he just hasn’t been able to eat since I last saw him, and that I should know that no one else in the world loves me like he does. How nice. Karen’s “Block this sender” button comes into play….

Anyways, so I reckon that’s more than long enough! Life’s pottering along. The rainy (and therefore mosquito) season is just starting up – mother nature decided to make the point by having it rain for about 5hrs this morning – the most rain I’ve seen in a month! Good times when all the roads are mud! My already-manky feet are gonna be even more beautiful soon!

So, here’s to more exciting-nesses this week. Cheers all!