Where I’ve Been

Of the last 50 days, I’ve spent a total of 14 full days in my village.

I’ve been absent here the last two months due to being the busiest I’ve ever been during my service thus far. I’ve flown across the continent to attend a maternal child health conference, attended my mid-service conference right after, tried adjusting back to site just to be sent up to the capital for medical, volunteered to co-facilitate and be present at the StartUp Uganda Central region camp, and then straight to the capital again for a meeting, then readjust back to site and make progress on work only to leave again for (an almost required ;)) birthday celebration for a friend. I am exhausted of my lifestyle, yet I keep moving moving because there is a lot of work to be done!

Of the last  I’ve managed to start a DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe) and successfully complete 3 (long) meetings with them implementing the SKILLZ-GIRL Grassroot Soccer curriculum, as well as get my WASH grant (finally!) approved and immediately start work with that including meet up with my partner organization, Brick by Brick, discuss the project, meet again the next day and sign the contract, host a site visit, and organize all that Phase I of this project entails.

Like I said, I’m exhausted, and I know I haven’t been taking the best care of myself I possibly can. All my daily and weekly routines that attempt to keep me organized and healthy the past year have gone out the window and the only routine I’ve been following to a dot has been talking my anti-malarial pill, brushing my teeth (ok, I might have missed one or two days…). Not only have I been busy with all of this, but I’ve also been going through a lot personally, which is extra challenging while serving in the Peace Corps – aka out of your comfort zone- so I know I need to re-focus on myself and my health and happiness and that is where living a meaningful and balanced life will re-start!

For those interested, here are a few photos that give you a glimpse of what I’ve been up to and the places I’ve been the last (almost ) 2 months.

EPCMD Conference in Senegal – August 21-26th 2017 EPCMD stands for Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths

I spent a week in Somone, Senegal with dozens of other Peace Corps volunteers and staff learning about determinants of behavior change, becoming a behavior change agent, implementing a barrier analysis, and the care group model. I am excited to be a resource with all the MCH knowledge I’ve gained since this conference to my and incoming cohorts in Uganda!

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Mid-Service Conference – it was short but it was nice to connect with volunteers from all around the country – some I hadn’t seen in months! This is our group, we are smaller than when we started. Though we’ve reduced in number, we are mighty, and I’m very proud of all the amazing work these volunteers are doing all over Uganda with their counterparts and co-workers!

StartUp Uganda was a great camp week for youth ages 13-25 to learn business and entrepreneurial skills and I was happy I had the chance to attend, support the youth (and 8 youth reppin’ from my village!) and also co-facilitate two sessions (Risk and the Art of Failing, and The Customer Experience).

 

DREAMS Group:

WASH (water sanitation and hygiene) project for my Org! Pit latrine progress being made!

A year of PC life showcasing Kitenge alternations and new haircuts!

 

 

The kitenge is still kicking. Who knows how it will transform this year!?!!! Apron by Close of Service conference?

Best wishes,

Alexa

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12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Months

Oh what a year it has been, friends. All I’ve figured out in my year of service thus far is that I have next to nothing figured out. That I know very little about the world, other cultures, languages, and about the diverse ways one can live (survive and thrive) as a human in the world. I know I can only truly know myself and my lived experience, and as for everything else, I can try to understand only with intelligence and empathy.  I’m not sure if all I’ve learned, felt and experienced this year can be put into the right words… but after a few months of neglecting to finish this post that’s been in draft mode, I’m putting my reflections out there.

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Months

1. Trust yourself and check your privilege

Making the decision to commit and apply for a position with the Peace Corps was a big deal for me. I wanted to serve with everything I had, but I was wracked with what if I fail, can’t handle the stresses of service, can’t handle life in a very rural or surrounded by suffering or poverty etc. etc. I fought back my fears with talks with RPCVs, other friends and supportive people in my life. I didn’t; however, leave with parade of loving cheerleaders walking me to the airport. I didn’t come with that much support or faith from some loved ones that this was the best decision for me professionally and personally- but I committed and flew to Uganda to serve anyway. I trusted myself that service to my country by serving in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer was the right choice for me. And I haven’t looked back since  … And, I also came into my service with a load of privilege. I am still learning what it means to serve as a PCV with the privileges I hold, and what it means live and work in Uganda in the post-colonial context (more on this in future posts). Privileges I was born with like how I was born able-bodied, white, healthy, and into an upper-middle class family, and privileges I’ve obtained (through some previously stated privileges) like my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Even getting the opportunity of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is itself a privilege (anyone else remember those steep medical bills for med. clearance?!) , and the more I check and acknowledge my own privilege and impact of my presence in Uganda the more genuinely I can serve.

2. Patience makes a PCV

When I started service I used to get impatient quickly when meetings started 2 hours late, or not at all, and when projects or events were delayed or cancelled.  I’ve questioned my life choices when my public taxi broke down and left me to simmer with frustration then exasperation on the side of the road for 4 hours into the night…  I’ve most come to adjust, to anticipate the worst happening and plan for it, I’ve learned to let the small stuff go because I know of the big stuff. For example, when I get food poisoning, thank God it’s not malaria! Or when I get giardia, thank God I could call my counterpart to help get medicine because I couldn’t venture too far from my pit latrine! Service requires patience. Patience for the highs, the lows, and the slow. For me, things at site move at their own pace, often times, at what I consider a slower pace. I cook food slowly, I travel slowly and cautiously, I start and implement projects slowly (and with patience)- I make slow work for me!

3. Be intentional

It’s easy for me to neglect to greet neighbors if I’m having a difficult day, get frustrated with co-workers who have neglected to do work I’ve asked for help with, and even to hole-up inside my compound all day just because I can work from home. On the flip side, I’ve come to realize that if I act with intention, I don’t regret my actions. To balance my days where I just need to block out the chaos, drunks shouting, and wailing children, I also go out of my way on other days to just be with people I care about. Sip some juice with my favorite shop lady or make plans to teach my neighbors how to make American pancakes on a charcoal stove. To balance the days when I’ve worked non-stop all day or cannot stare at my electronic grant application any longer, I set aside time to paint, garden, journal or go exploring.

 

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously

As someone who holds herself to high expectations… this was and sometimes is hard! I love to put everything I have into work and serving others, and be as professional as possible – and I expect the same from my co-workers. On the other hand, Peace Corps work includes a lot of fun and games and I’m so glad to get to be my silly self at work sometimes! Because those who know me personally know that I am a goofball.

5. Cook and cook and cook

I’ve found so much joy in cooking here at my site and I never knew that was possible. Yes, it is almost a necessity since there is almost no read-to-eat food available in my village. Cooking from scratch is on some days a fun experiment and other days a healthy routine that I truly enjoy. It makes me feel a sense of connection with the earth as well. From seed to fruit I get to enjoy the process of helping grow a lot of my own vegetables. In fact, without my garden and my chickens, something deeply special would be missing from my site experience.

 

6. Share the knowledge

I have jumped at the opportunity to stay involved within the PC training context and have applied for training positions on top of the work I do at site. These opportunities have brought joy and a richness to my experience as a PCV. As a Health/W.A.S.H. trainer, I’ve loved being involved in supporting and helping train the new cohort of health volunteers. Another one of my favorite activities at site is to simply be a resource and to share the knowledge I’ve gathered with others. Whether that be from sending other volunteers electronic resources or sharing my experience, I love to be helpful (surprise surprise!!).

7. Habits can be healthy

I’ve set goals for myself this year which include more yoga, reading, taking my multivitamins (haha) and eating healthier. Thanks to my M&D for sending me some Nike shoes since I lost my battered pair of too-small sneakers months ago! IMG_13008. Relationships are everything

I went into the Peace Corps not knowing anyone in my group, and Pre-service training was quite the overwhelming whirlwind. I felt like a hamster on a wheel (not sure if that metaphor makes sense!) trying to get to know everyone all at once, especially at our training center. Friendship is not a race and finding a “group” doesn’t matter. Friendship is about who “sees” you and your heart and who chooses to embrace you – during your sick, upset, and grumpy moments and during your best and bright moments. Friends are the ones who love you when you’re crying or laughing (or both at the same time). They are the ones who are happy for your successes and empathize when you have failures – or feel like one!

9. Language is a key

The more I learn in Luganda (which is very little these days but I still use what I know on a daily basis!) the more connection I build in my community and with the women and children I work with. I started learning Luganda over a year ago and I think that the key to connecting with someone from a different country, culture, and language than you starts with an attempt to learn their language. Even if you botch it, you’ll be surprised at how much it can touch their heart. I can just see it on someone’s face how delighted they are to hear to try to speak their language (even if I blow it!).IMG_1302

10. Read more

A few months ago I picked up a book called “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran which is one of the most beautiful and moving books of poetry-like passages I think I’ve ever read. Each sentence seems profound and I’ve re-read passages from his books over and over again to gain more insight from them. I highly recommend reading the book if you get the chance (his passage on “Love” is for sure online and Google-able! Reading, as well as listening to audiobooks and podcasts, has helped keep my intellectual side and imagination active!  IMG_9269.JPG

11. Take Care

Take care of yourself and your space. Some days I feel like I have to stay home and tidy up and do laundry for an entire day or two. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do any productive work until I clean, wash all my laundry, bathe, mop, filter and boil drinking water (to survive by the way!) and organize everything in my teeny home. Some days I do all of that and then feel too tired to then lesson plan or go check in at work, and thus collapse onto my foam mattress and call it a day. Sometimes it’s taking care of all of these little necessary things that puts me back on track to be focused and present when it comes time to get my community public health educator work accomplished!

12. Treat people with grace kindness

When life or people hand you lemons, or throws them at you, what is the point of throwing them back? Why not find the silver lining in the sour gift and make some dank enhanced lemonade based on what you need, whether that be ORS one day or Waragi the next! Reacting to other people’s negativity with more negativity just isn’t worth the effort. Kindness brings about kindness and I always try to show people that I have love for them even when it’s difficult. I’ll sign off with a few beautiful words about kindness Credit to the Instagram @bkindtoday:

“Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person.”IMG_1303

Until next time. With love,

Alexa

Rhino Trekking in Uganda

Two weeks ago I had the joy of rhino trekking at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary near Masindi in Western Uganda. This was my first experience time trekking to see large land mammals up close and in the wild! I’ve only ever visited zoos back in the US. Not only did I have a great time trekking at Ziwa but I also stayed at the wonderful and eco-friendly Amuka Lodge which resides on the sanctuary property! I can’t recommend both experiences enough! I was able to swing the trip to Amuka Lodge since I won an accommodation voucher for the room we stayed in through my work efforts during World Malaria Month in April 2017. I still paid for meals and all the Rhino activities for myself, as did my friend Alex who came with me, but we had a blast and we are very glad we were given this opportunity. Shout out to the Peace Corps Uganda Malaria Think Tank and Amuka Lodge for their generosity in donating the voucher!

Here’s a few photos of Rhino Trekking at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Did you know adult rhinos have no natural predator except for man?

According to our trekking guides, the last wild rhino in Uganda was killed by poachers in 1983. Since the early 2000’s they have received rhinos from Kenya, the US, and other countries to support repopulation with the eventual goal of releasing them into national parks like Murchison National Park in Masindi. Currently they have 19 white rhinos at the sanctuary. Only 21 rhinos live in Uganda right now. The other 2 are at the Entebbe Wildlife Education Center (near the international airport) where they live helping to educate the public about the history of rhinos in Uganda and to also encourage people to visit the Rhino Sanctuary!

Rhino Facts!

(Credit to the African Wildlife Foundation)

The African rhino is divided into two species, the black rhino and the white rhino. White rhinos mainly live in South Africa, but they have also been reintroduced to Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. Southern white rhinos have been introduced to Kenya, Zambia, and Cote d’Ivoire. The majority of the black rhino population—98%—is concentrated in four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. South Africa houses 40% of the total black rhino population. There are some black rhinos in the region spread between Cameroon and Kenya.

Characteristics of Rhinos

Rhinos may look like prehistoric creatures, and they do date back millions of years to the Miocene era, but they are also mammals like us. There are two species of African rhinos, the white rhino and black rhino, and each is distinct in its own way. The white, or square-lipped, rhino derives its name from the Dutch word “weit,” meaning wide. It is actually gray in color and has a hump on its neck and a long face. The black, or hooked-lipped, rhino has a thick, hairless gray hide. Both rhinos have two horns. Black rhinos can weigh up to 3 tons and white rhinos can weigh up to 4 tons!

Rhinos can live 35-40 years but many do not get to live their full life. Unfortunately, due to poaching (for their horns) the black rhino population is down 97.6% since 1960.

Some rhinos are more introverted than others.

Rhinos live in home ranges that can sometimes overlap with each other, and their feeding grounds, wallows, and water holes may be shared. The black rhino is usually solitary, while the white rhino tends to be more social.

They can’t see very well.

Rhinos have poor eyesight, which may explain why they will sometimes charge for no reason. However, their sense of smell and hearing are very good.

Rhinos tend to live where they like to eat.

The black rhino is a browser. Its triangular-shaped upper lip, which ends in a grasping point, is used to eat a large variety of vegetation—including leaves; buds; and shoots of plants, bushes, and trees. It can be found in various habitats that have dense, woody vegetation. The white rhino lives in savannas, which have water holes, mud wallows, shade trees, and the grasses they graze on.

Here are some photos from the beautiful and lovely Amuka Lodge!

Thanks for reading my post dedicated to my new adoration for these beautiful, large, and peaceful creatures. Let me know if you have more rhino information/knowledge to share in the comments.

Lastly I leave you with a cute picture of Moja:

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Resting lazily with his big lips to the road, Moja is relaxing after inhaling lots of grass for breakfast this morning. He is a male rhino and Moja means “one” in Swahili. He’s my #1 for sure!

With love,

Alexa

Introductions and Weddings

First comes love, then comes an introduction ceremony, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage!! This last week I’ve had the opportunity to attend an introduction ceremony and a wedding – for two different couples! It’s been a nice change of pace and energy, because personally… it’s dry season in the Peace Corps, which means no luck in love for me! 🙂 I’ve been very fortunate thought to attend other people’s love/life ceremonies, celebrating the love, joy, and passion these couples have for each other. Even thought I don’t know these two couples personally, it has been fun 🙂

Introductions, I’ve mentioned once before when I went to one three months ago (yes wearing the same traditional gomesi dress below) are a huge tradition in the Buganda culture and are formal engagement celebrations. These celebrations are initial introductions of the groom to the bride-to-be’s family and visa versa. The ssenga, or auntie, who typically is very involved in the approval of a couple interested in getting married, is also a big part of the ceremony.  She usually sits near the front on the bride-to-be’s side of the room/tent. MC’s from both sides take turns talking about the man and woman who are going to be wed, and about their life, challenges they’ve overcome, and the love and joy that brings everyone together that day. Typically the groom’s best man or “patron” will be the man with the mic and be negotiating with the bride’s MC and bridesmaids. He typically giving gifts (that start small to big) to coax the bride-to-be to come out and introduce herself! As you can see in the photos below taken this Thursday during the celebration, young girls as well as the older bridesmaids dress up in colorful gomesi dresses and dance and parade around. After they shake and move to very loud Ugandan music they sit kneeling on mats in the grass and wait for the grooms side of the family to come and give them offerings in honor of the bride-to-be. Each dressing change means more gifts! That Thursday we attended the introduction for my counterpart’s childhood friend who is Agnes, who is 20 years old! She is a close friend of my counterpart Justine and also was a beneficiary of the organization I volunteer at.  Here are the photos from the introduction. I started out with energy – and makeup- and ended the day without much of either due to the ceremony starting 5 hours late! At least I had a lot of fun!!

 

 

Today, Saturday, June 24th, my counterpart, supervisor, and two German visitors attended a wedding in Nyendo for a different couple, Susan and Matthew, and it was a unique experience! Matthew I found out later was also a student/beneficiary from my org. and did so well in school he got a government sponsored university scholarship! At one point, they had all the pastors present in the church come up to the front to pray for the bride and groom. My favorite part of the experience was watching the bride and groom’s faces as they waved at the crowd. Their big bright eyed and eager smiles really warmed by heart! Here are some photos from today:

 

Aren’t my supervisor and counterpart just the CUTEST?!?! Yes… they are married haha. That is why they are matching and why we ALL aren’t matching! At least we nailed the color coordination today! It took us a year… but we all finally got a picture together!

 

Hope you all are having a LOVEly day, and if you have one, hug your loved one a little closer today in honor of all that you share and enjoy of life together.

With love,

Alexa

Fresh Peace Corps Volunteer

Disclaimer: the contents and opinions of this blog website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

This rap/song lyrics was adapted from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and I post this in nostalgia and in memory at the days spent at the Peace Corps training center in Central Uganda fresh of the plane on Ugandan soil. This was approximately 390 days ago when I first arrived in Uganda and was training with 45 other new trainees/volunteers I arrived with. I found this in a word document today and it looks like I wrote sometime in 2016 – I hope you get most of my dorky rhyming and references 🙂

FRESH PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER

Now this is story all about how

My life got flipped upside down

And I’d like to take a minute

Just sit right there

And I’ll tell you how I became a Peace Corps Volunteer

 

In downtown Philadelphia where we staged

To the conference room at Muzardi where I spent most of my days

Learning, mingling, getting rabies shots all cool,

We know how to do this- many fresh out of school

When a couple of viruses that were up to no good

Started making trouble in my cohorts stomachs, dude!

I got one little fever and the PCMO got scared

He said ‘we’re taking you to the hospital, you need some fluids and air’

 

We begged and pleaded for more free time day after day

But we trained ‘til 6:30pm and staff went on their way

They gave us important knowledge and also Per Diem

I swapped media for hours and said ‘I might as well kick it’

 

First week, yo this ain’t bad

Drinking Waragi sachets out of a juice glass

Is this what the PCVs in Uganda livin’ like?

Hmmmm this might be alright.

 

But wait I hear they go barefoot, climb trees, and are like Miles and all that

Is this the type of place that they’ll send this cool cat?

I’ll see at my site, when I’m finally there

I hope they’re prepared for us PCVs to get weird hair

 

Well when the matatu arrived at site, and I jumped out

There was my counterpart and supervisor standing there

With their hands out

I barely knew how to greet and I aint fluent

I just got here and I’m thinking,

Can I do this?

 

I asked a neighbour, ‘where’s the water here?’

One boy greeted me and took me there

I thought this kid was nice to take me to it

I thought, ‘I’m so thirsty, yo let’s do it!’

 

I unpacked many things by 7 or 8

And I told the kid, ‘Thanks, see you later!’

I looked at my new home

I was finally there

To start my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer

 

Be like water

These thoughts (that kind of resemble a poem) came to me at a trying time for me. I thought of how I could let everything pass through me and it felt like I was telling myself to be like water.

 

Be like water

Boil when you need to

Cool when you can

Allow yourself to find paths

through difficult obstacles

Crash into the surf

when you feel your undulating waves reaching their peak

Roll over yourself, mix with the salt, algae, sand and creatures

And when you can roll and tumble and play no more

It is okay to retreat to the sea

Be yourself

Let yourself move

Watch the moon

Listen to her

Bend to the moon

Let her light wash over you

Yield to her face

When you must change course, let yourself

Freeze if you have to

But when the time comes

Look for the sun

Sun will come

And you will remember what it means to teem with life

Let life grow within you

let  life  change  you

Let yourself be moved to places you have never gone to

Let Mother Earth create and recreate you and let the sun and moon change and guide you

Be like water

Three hundred and sixty-five days

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Three hundred and sixty-five days. I stepped foot (and kind of fell into a ditch) on Ugandan soil at our training center in Uganda on June 1st last year. I didn’t break an ankle, just was a little sore, and it truly encompasses many of my highs and lows here. We were all hauling baggage (mine was literal and figurative) that night and at least two people were like “omg are you okay?” And I was-a little sore sure- but still intact, and grateful for the support of those around me. One year later I still fall in dirt and mud all the time, but I always get back up whether or not someone is there to offer a hand or chuckle at me.

This year has been REALLY uncomfortable at times. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Boring, exhausting, amazing, stressful, overwhelming, anxiety-inducing… And I am more in tune with my feelings because I have no other choice but to feel and think and process because all my former distractions and coping mechanisms (well besides the internet lol) are not available to me.
I am learning and relearning and building and breaking in my head and heart often, and it only is molding me into the person I’m meant to be.

This year has been SO rich, yet full of “am I DOING enough?,” at times quite painful, then overwhelmingly beautiful… I feel so grateful to get to experience what I am experiencing, because life shouldn’t be taken for granted. We are never more close to death than at the present moment, because we are alive. So here I am, vulnerable, with arms wide open, ready to brace myself for ditches and steps and life that is. I can’t wait for another trip around the great big burning star with my new friends and family I’ve made in Uganda.