Elections, health centres and new possibilities, Volunteer Life in Uganda

Uganda - The Volunteer Life - By Karen Graaff:

Elections, health centres and new possibilities, Volunteer Life in Uganda

So things have been pottering along in their merry African village way here.

Over the past week and a half, I managed to vote in the SA elections (special vote at the SA High Commission last week); our electricity and water got shut off; we ran out of gas and charcoal for cooking (charcoal cooking is a whole special experience I’ll get back to later!); taught a class to the guardians of orphans from one of the schools I do lessons at; ate some awesome Indian food; one of our volunteers had her wallet stolen in a pretty slick move on a taxi in Kampala; one of our other volunteers got knocked over by a boda and got a pretty nasty knock on the head; I got my two swimming pupils getting a full width across the pool doing crawl (though the whole concept of “breathing” mid-stroke is still eluding them); made some pretty cool potential work contacts; had decent coffee!!!!!; and have hopefully managed to organize a visit to a refugee camp in Mbarara for next weekend!

Voting was surprisingly easy – I think there were only about 15 people registered to vote in the whole of Kampala, and by 3pm, I was only the 5th person who’d come in! Meant I had the attention of all 7 IEC officials at the High Commission.

Also got invited to an event on South African National Day – anyone know we had one of those? Last I heard, 27 April was Freedom Day, thanks to it being the date of the first elections in 1994. Somebody feel free to correct me if I’m wrong…either way, still debating whether to hit up the event – the lure of free food is always strong! ;) Also got invited to tea with the Southern African Women’s Association – I think it’s basically a bunch of old tannies who meet up once a month to skinner and drink some tea. Bless

As mentioned, we’ve had some pretty shaky access to amenities around here. We got home one night to find our electricity and water was off. There’s always the worry that it’s because we haven’t paid all the bills, so we were pretty nervous it wouldn’t come back for a while! Thankfully it was only temporary. But our electricity then cut out again this week for a good 3 days while they were putting up a new transformer – good times, as it means our internet’s down too! So as always, apologies for extreme lack of communication. One day I’ll be good at responding again! Our gas for cooking has also run out, which means we’re now relying on little charcoal stoves. That in itself is quite an adventure! Trying to light it involves piling up some charcoal, then lighting a polyethylene bag, and dripping bits of plastic onto the charcoal until it heats up. Both my lungs and my recycling sensibilities are horribly appalled at this situation, but there’s not much else you can do without firelighters! But now we’re also out of charcoal, and we’re basically buying a bit more each day to last for the meals we have to cook.
Good times in the village ;)

One of the primary schools we teach at mainly caters for orphans, and this week we had a class for all their guardians. There was a surprisingly good turnout, considering it was organized only 3 days in advance! Either way, I had to do sessions on HIV, and on nutrition. It was pretty funny (though also a bit sad) – a lot of the adults in the class couldn’t even look at pictures of how to put on condoms, and they positively died of embarrassment when I showed them how to put a condom on, and then brought it around the class to show them. I’d bet that the majority of the parents of these kids probably died of HIV, but the guardians of these kids are too embarrassed to learn how to put on condoms!

As always, teaching nutrition to people who are pretty much living hand to mouth is a sobering experience. You can tell them to eat proteins and vegetables all you like, but the majority of them are surviving mostly on carbohydrates; if they’re lucky, they’ll get it 3 times a day. If not, maybe once or twice a day. That said, a lot of people have the idea that vegetables are poor people’s food, so they won’t buy them even if they can afford it. And considering how ridiculously cheap fruit and veg is here (a tomato costs the equivalent of about 50c; a pineapple costs R5; and avocados also cost about R5. A bunch of bananas cost R2.50), that’s a bit of an issue. Either way, the class was actually pretty good, and a lot of the guardians got surprisingly involved in discussions and asking questions, so hopefully at least some of it got taken in.

There’s also 2 Dutch girls working at the primary school at the moment, and they’re both really cool – one of them also works at the health centre where I do the classes with the mothers, so we see each other every week and have little catch-ups. She’s the one who got invited to visit a refugee camp in Mbarara (a bit of a way west of here), and I’m going with her next weekend. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest! They’re both staying with a family in the village, so got really excited when they came buy for dinner last night, cuz they could charge their phones (they’ve got no electricity), and use a flushing toilet! Either way, it’s been fun meeting new people.

Me and our Aussie volunteer have also been going around looking at some children’s homes and orphanages nearby, both as options for her to go volunteer from next month, and also as potential partnerships with our organization for future volunteers. We went to a really awesome children’s home today, which we can hopefully do some work with in the future. We also met 2 guys at a coffee shop (note: my first cup of coffee in almost 7 weeks!! It was AWESOME!!) who sound like really good contacts for me for future conflict-related work, so it’s been a successful networking day all round. And my two swimming guys have got up to swimming full widths by themselves of crawl!! Granted, they both tend to just head-down the whole way, since they’re not really comfortable with breathing yet, but we’re getting there. Either way, it’s still really awesome going swimming with them, and seeing how quickly they’ve been picking it up!

There’s been some tough stuff too the past few weeks – lots of personal dramas going on. Also, one of our volunteers had her wallet stolen out of her bag on a taxi – had the keys to our room at the compound; as well as her Visa card, which she then had to cancel; and is now trying to get a new one posted to her from Australia! It was a bit of a blow, specially when we tend to spend a lot of time thinking that everyone here is super trustworthy and friendly.

Also, while we were running this week, my running mate Joanna got knocked down by a boda – we reckon it was deliberate, cuz the guy just buggered off straight after hitting her. She fell pretty hard and bashed her head and was (I think) a bit concussed. Again, makes it tough to trust people all that easily! One of our volunteers is also leaving a bit early, partly because things have been slow here with not all that much to do; but also cuz he’s been sick and I think a bit homesick (hey, I can relate!), so it’s starting to get pretty quiet around here. Our Aussie is leaving at the end of the month, so it might just be me and Joanna until the middle of next month, when our next volunteer arrives.

This weekend, there’s a fun run at the International School (10kms); and also an outreach with the local health centre, so I may be doing more classes on the nutrition and HIV. Hopefully this time not all the adults will be as squeamish! The trip to Mbarara is also pretty exciting; and hopefully we’ll also be doing some white-water rafting in Jinja in the next while. So as always, things tick along – very much on African time!

Love to all; send me news; and electricity-and-internet-permitting, I’ll try respond!

Written and contributed by Karen Graaff via Global Volunteer Network