Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ublonda in the Uncertain

I have been home from Uganda for a few weeks now and the dreaded question hasn’t become any easier, “How was Africa?” As I mundanely repeat, “Oh um, Africa was amazing. Best experience of my life thus far, so glad I went.” In my mind, I’m asking myself, how can I answer that? How can I sum up in one sentence how my experience in Africa was? To be honest, I still am not able to answer this question yet. As I continue to process in my mind all that I witnessed, experienced, and did there, I come down with an overwhelming sadness of the thought of Uganda and how much I do miss it. From bombings to posho, I am grateful for every good and bad experience I had there and will never forget the dear friends I have made.

Often people ask me what all I did in Uganda for my Public Health internship. I repeatedly mumble off the programs I worked on and implemented. As an internship perspective, I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to put into practice what my professors have lectured to me about for the past four years. But now, post-Africa, I want to not only explain to individuals what I was able to do for the Ugandan people, but rather what the Ugandan people did and will continually do for me throughout the rest of my life. I have taken off the ‘rosy colored glasses’ and witnessed first hand what 80% of the world endures each and everyday as apart of a developing nation.

The cliché lesson most people learn on similar excursions is the appreciation of being able to call yourself an American and the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that come along with such a title. I have never been more proud of such a title; the meaning behind this label will forever run deep in my blood. “I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” With this being said first, I also learned a lesson that I believe every American must be exposed to. With all the rights, freedoms, and opportunities that we are so blessed to be able to obtain I feel that ignorance, selfishness, and a sense of gluttony comes along. Without voicing all my opinions, I want to singularly stress the importance of opening your eyes. Look beyond the comforts around you. Every person must undergo a paradigm shift of their own world and what they’ve built up in that world.

As my mom’s usual counsel of wisdom she typically repeats to me with assurance, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I have recently been pondering the meaning behind these words, for they have never felt more relevant. I am now a college graduate and have spent the last four most incredible months of my life indulged in a foreign land and culture ripped away from all familiar comforts. I have accomplished the goals I set for myself so long ago that it is now time to re-evaluate and make decisions towards new goals. “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.” I have today, to make the changes for tomorrow. I don’t know what is quite next, but I am relying on faith. I am exploring graduate schools to get my Masters of Public Health emphasizing in International Development and Global Health. I am searching for a job in Utah with a non-profit organization. I am processing in my mind my experiences in Uganda and applying them to my life in a positive way. I am happy, healthy, and taking one day at a time enjoying the excitement and insecurities of the unknown. I was Ublonda in Uganda, but am now Ublonda in the Uncertain and am all right with that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

An Announcement To Be Made-Well Make It Plural

As this last week has unfolded, a matter of events make the top to be recognized.

#1 on the list of events to be made is my SAFARI!! As some of you may know, I had 3 things I wanted to do while in Uganda and a real African safari was obviously on the list. So from here on out you must read this with an Australian accent and I will be known has Marsupial Megan, thanks to my dear friend Lizard Lisa. My safari took place at Murchison Falls and it was beyond amazing to say the very least. I don’t believe I will ever go to a Zoo again and feel completely satisfied after witnessing all I saw at Murchison. We left for our adventure on a Thursday night where we stayed at our safari company’s hostel. This in itself was quite an experience being my first time ever to stay in a hostel…one word to be used, ghetto-haha which led to it being an enjoyable night’s stay. The next morning we left for our safari, which happened to be 5 hours away. However, our drive was broken up by taking a pit stop at a Rhino sanctuary. There are only, I believe, nine Rhinos in Uganda due to poachers and they are all in this sanctuary. We were able to trek on foot for the Rhinos where we were not even 20 ft from a mom, dad, and baby Rhino. OH my, it was unbelievable how massive they were. My thoughts through this was, “Wow, that animal can kill me right now in a matter of .5 seconds” and “I wonder what Rhino tastes like”…horrible thoughts to have I understand this. After Rhinos we continued our drive to Murchison Falls where we got in late and just had dinner, relaxed, and went to sleep. On Saturday, we left our camp at 6:30 a.m. in order to make it to the ferry (cross the Nile) and go on a game drive throughout the park. We saw, may I emphasize, wild giraffes, elephants, warthogs, and buffalos, tons of different kinds of antelope, hippos, exotic African birds, baboons, and my favorite a freaking lion! It is rare to see a lion, so when we did we were overwhelmed with excitement. The lion came straight for our car and stopped like 10 ft and started drinking, this entire time it was staring straight at us. Needless to say, we got some pretty good photo coverage and we made all the other safari adventurers jealous. That evening we went for a boat ride up to Murchison Falls where we saw a ton more hippos and a few crocodiles. They let us out, and we proceeded to hike up the gorgeous falls. The view on top of the falls was indescribably beautiful and it felt like I was literally on top of the world. We went back to the camp where we went out for sodas (haha) with our new Irish and British friends. Sunday, our final day on our safari, we trekked chimpanzees on foot through the jungle. The chimps were all above our heads in the trees eating some nasty fruit (yes I tried it) and throwing the seeds down at us. Luckily, we all made it out alive without any injuries to the head. My favorite part was when they would call to each other and practically shake the jungle with their calls. Overall, my safari experience was well worth it. I made good friends and saw a lot, I am glad I was able to get the opportunity to experience such an extraordinary part of Uganda.

#2 event to be announced for this week is my phone being slashed from my backpack during Tuesday market day in Mukono. Remember in my last blog how cocky I was about catching a guy pick-pocketing me, yeah well my arrogance got to me leaving me without a cell phone. Thanks to all those who sent nasty text messages to the phone, I am pretty sure that person is feeling guilty for his poor choice of stealing from this Mzungu.

#3 event to be made is my Grow, Learn, Give project reaching its first school this last week. Thanks to all the hard work from the Rotaract Clubs we were able to give out 15 feminine hygiene kits to orphans and educate about 300 students on what puberty is and the importance of making good decisions during the time of adolescence. Three Rotaract members who are boys taught a lesson to the boys of the school about the importance of supporting and encouraging girls and desensitizing them on this topic. Overall, it was a success and I was so pleased by my young partners who have become more like friends throughout this process.

#4, throughout the past events of this week all my team members deserted me leaving me only with my country directors, Ryan and Angie, who are great don’t get me wrong, but it is just not the same living with 20 people to only 3. I am now suffering from abandonment; I find myself wondering around the house looking for my friends. My only way to explain it is that it feels like I was just broken up with. You know that sad, pathetic, lonely, and abandoned feeling.  I now know what it feels like to be an only child; the other night I played dominoes by myself. Okay, it really isn’t that bad but there is a sad feeling lingering in the house. I am pleased to announce, besides Ryan and Angie who have to be here…I am the sole survivor of the Uganda Mukono HELP team. Woot! I get the award for being the last one standing and truly the best trooper for making it the longest. Ps. I have dubbed myself that title so know one else knows...shh.

Exciting event #5 is my food adventure aka my threesome date with Oscar and Rob. On their last day here, we wanted to be food extraordinaires and go out with a bang. We accomplished this by going to a nice restaurant and ordered…are you ready…crocodile, ostrich, springbok, impala, and kudu (the last three are different types of antelope)!!!! Cool huh, are you jealous? Haha, the ostrich was my favorite especially in the hamburger form and the crocodile was my least favorite, it had hardly any taste except for a dirty fish aftertaste.

#6 is a very exciting announcement to be made. Some of you may know our goat Aberforth Wilberforce has been carrying a fetus for the majority of the summer. We are pleased to announce the birth of our newest goat and friend, Icarus Fetus. Icarus has already warmed up to me by peeing on me and Aberforth is suffering from post-partum depression. Coming from a person whose hatred for animals flows fairly strong in her blood, I will admit Icarus Fetus, Icky for short, is surely the cutest goat in all of East Africa. Good job Aberforth, you produced well!

#7, the last but certainly one of my very favorite announcements to be made is Trashman. Trashman was a man in Mukono who’s had way too much Opium (literally), wears trash, and would come up to many of the girls and have a stiff encounter with them usually ending with a slap in the face or a water bottle to the head. During the last stumble upon with Trashman he hit poor Jen in the face knocking her glasses off; this did not fly well with the heroic Ryan so he tied Trashman to a tree and had him sent to a mental asylum. **GOOD NEWS ALERT**
“Trashman’s in the kitchen cookin’ chapatti,

I love chapatti, yum yum yum!”

I am pleased to announce that the infamous Trashman has made it out of the mental asylum and is currently back on the streets of Mukono running a chapatti stand. He has no recollection of his past nor hitting any of our team members. I am just glad to know we have yet another chapatti stand in Mukono, because that is certainly what we need another one of…(sarcasm).

I suppose another announcement to be made is that I have less than a week left until I make my trek back to America. I love it here, but I am also excited to be getting back soon. I leave August 25th and land in Boise on the 26th. It has amazed me how fast 4 months breezes by. I can truly say now, I will see you all very soon. Once again, thanks for being a part of this adventure with me.

Marsupial Megan

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Story of the ‘Whats’…

The theme of this next blog needs some prefacing before I fully indulge into the story of my life here in Africa. An average conversation goes something like this in Uganda: Today we will do what? Go to Kampala. After we exit the what? The gate. We will cross the what? The street. And wait for the what? The taxi. We will do what in Kampala? Get off the taxi. Then we will what? Catch a boda.
Such conversations are problematic for two specific reasons: 1) you never know when you are expected to answer the ‘what’ question. Half the time, it is rhetorical and well they just end up answering the question for themselves, BUT then randomly there are times when there will be an awkward pause and you think in your head, “Crap, I am supposed to be answering this one, shoot what were they even talking about, what is the answer they are looking for.” This then leads to problem 2) their conversations are so completely off the wall and unpredictable sometimes that you may think they want one specific answer about pineapple, but really they are expecting an answer about goats. It is hard to follow, so you always have to be on guard for those dang ‘what ’questions that pop out of nowhere in everyone’s and I mean everyone’s conversations. Now, going off of this, there is a specific and clear technique to asking a ‘what’ question. When you ask someone, “Then we will do what?” The ‘what’ must and I will repeat, must go up in pitch when you say it. My team and I have become victims of the ‘whats’. Often times we will catch each other asking, “And you will do what today?” A partner meeting. For dinner we will have what? Matoke. This ‘what’ technique is an excellent indication and efficient tool that guarantees if someone is actually listening to you or not. I am set with mixed emotions when I say that I personally have implanted this in my day-to-day speech.
Continuing on, these last few weeks I have done what? Many, many exciting adventures. That I have what? Not blogged about yet. To what? Begin. I will start with the bombings in Kampala, because that is what? The last time I wrote. The bombings in Kampala were kinda scary not gonna lie, especially because we are only about 15 miles away. With that being said we have implemented stricter safety precautions to protect ourselves incase such things were to happen again. I believe there were 74 dead and many injured. There have been a few more bombings since the main two, but they haven’t injured anyone. The African Union, which is being held in Kampala, will be over this week, so the ‘scare in the air’ will be over soon. Without beating this topic, we were all what? Safe and enjoyed our lovely time in lock down with 19 people.
The most exciting what? Thing I have done since the last time I wrote was what? Sipi Falls. Sipi Falls is a series of three absolutely breath-taking waterfalls. The easiest way for me to describe it is the scene in the Lion King when Simba and Nala fall in love… “Can you feel the love tonight?” You know which one I am talking about. It’s in the middle of a jungle with HUGE beautiful waterfalls, lush green moss everywhere, vines hanging all around. We spent our first day hiking around two waterfalls, one waterfall we were actually able to hike behind. We swam in the local watering hole (aka death zone due to the swift current) with all the African children. And we hiked to a peak where we watched the sunset fall over most of Uganda. It was a totally mesmerizing and perfect day. To follow, we spent the night in a hut (literally) with a what? Rat rummaging in its nest above our heads in the grass roof, thank goodness for mosquito nets--they block out more than just mosquitoes. The next day, we hiked to the third waterfall which just happens to be what? The largest waterfall in Africa. I proceeded to what? REPEL down THE largest waterfall in ALL of Africa. C’mon, that’s pretty legit right? It was over 300 feet high and I can proudly say I conquered that waterfall. Luckily I trusted the random African man who built the repelling station 8 years ago, because I only saw my life flash before my eyes at the beginning when I had to ‘sit’ over the cliff to a 300 ft drop. Thank goodness I didn’t die, because they didn’t even have me sign my life away on a waiver! As I was what? Just hangin’. I was able to see over the beautiful valley of Uganda that Sipi Falls looks over. This experience definitely, without a doubt makes the list of the Top 5 Coolest and Most Adventurous Things Megan Gersten Has Ever Done List. As a side note, I have always hated the games ‘Two Truths and a Lie and ‘Never Have I Ever’, I am now officially stoked to get back to America and play these stupid games. I can practically visually imagine how that’s going to go...Never Have I Ever…ha beat this sucker…Repelled down the largest waterfall in Africa and rafted the Nile River…I just won, put your fingers down. **Sorry for the aggression, it is just built up feelings of never having much to brag about in the past.
Even though it may seem that I have not been what? Very busy at work, but I what? Have been. I recently had the opportunity to visit a women’s group a couple hours outside of Kampala who weaves gorgeous baskets (I bought three). To be honest, this is probably one of my favorite memories so far. I went there interviewing the woman about who they are, their talents, their hopes and dreams for the future, one thing they would want the world to know about them, and other personal questions. During my interviews we were sitting under a huge banana tree and it starting pouring. We all grabbed everything and ran inside. The women continued weaving their baskets as I sat among them on the floor of a small, rickety house and discussed their lives and personal stories. It’s hard for me to describe my feelings in that moment as I sat there sipping porridge and asking them such personal questions, but it was like color disappeared and I was an African woman among 17 amazing ladies. I was their friend and they were mine in a matter of a couple hours.
Continuing on, the other day I what? Helped with a Disability Outreach a couple volunteers were putting on. We put on five rotating stations for the disabled youth while their parents and caretakers were involved in a series of seminars educating them on the proper health, sanitation, hygiene, grieving procedures, and Cerebral Palsy management. Despite a few of us being what? Urinated on, I know I enjoyed my time blowing bubbles, reading, and singing to the children. It is interesting and so very different because of the culture here in Uganda, having a disability is highly looked down upon, they think of it as a curse, that it is something the woman did wrong. Because of this, many of the children hadn’t been outside of their homes for literally 20 years. Most of the kids with Cerebral Palsy in Uganda are due to them having untreated Malaria at such a young age. There was one child that looked like he was no older than one year, but actually he was four, all that his mother feeds him is hot water. I saw some terribly sad things, but like I said before I enjoyed my time and am glad I was able to be a part of such a significant event is some of these people’s lives.
This week I did what? Put on four HIV and AIDS assemblies in local schools. This was also very successful. We taught close to 550 students about what HIV and AIDS does to the human body, how it is transferred, how to prevent it, and the importance of eliminating the stigmatism that come with this disease. Along with this, we did a Q&A session where we passed out papers so that the students can ask questions anonymously. This went over very well because the students were able to ask questions without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Most students do not get the opportunity to ask such questions so it was a good chance for them to get honest answers.
With all this being said, my most exciting news is what? My Grow, Learn, Give program has taken off and we are implementing it in our first school this next week! For those of you who don’t what? Know what Grow, Learn, Give is, it is a program that helps to keep young girls in school during their menstruation cycle. Research shows that while some girls are menstruating they do not have feminine hygiene products so they stay at home till they are done menstruating. Some girls even drop out of school because menstruating becomes such a burden when they do not have any feminine hygiene products provided. Grow, Learn, Give will enable girls to stay in school during their menstruation period by providing reusable (washable cloth) sanitation pads. Along with this program it educates girls, boys, and parents on what is happening to the girl’s bodies through this time, importance of menstruation hygiene, and desensitizing this topic. We have included Uganda Christian University Rotaract Club members to run this program after we have left. This has become my ‘baby’ and I am thrilled that this is getting started!! It has been a lot of work, but I feel it is so worth it because of its benefiting effects.
I would be what? Lying if I said that we were all work and no play. Last Saturday, we what? Had the pleasure of going to the Rothy’s (LDS couple missionaries in Kampala) and indulging in the delicacy of pancakes and for real, cold milk!! It was truly a lovely taste of home, which I can say for myself and the entire team, was much, much needed.
Yesterday was what? Legit. I went to a real African wedding! It was a literal party that lasted about 8 straight hours. They do an introduction usually the day before, followed with a ceremony and reception the next day. I just went to the ceremony/reception, but it was so neat. If I ever get married...haha… I am requesting an African wedding. There were a lot of screaming, tribal chants, dancing, and food. The wedding cake consisted of 10 tiers, the bride looked like she fell out of the movie Enchanted, the colors were maroon and gold (so Gryffindor), they shot confetti from torches when the Bride/Groom cut the cake, when the man said “kiss the bride” they awkwardly hugged, and they served us a FULL course meal…forget the peanuts and wedding mint crap.
As a quick update, those of you who have been what? Concerned for my living arrangements and care about the ‘minor’ details, I am pleased to announce that we have what? Killed a total of 5 mice (with a what? frying pan), I have gained an extra mattress and expansion of wardrobe due to the excess of people leaving, we have moved up from crepe paper toilet paper to actual decent tp, Ryan tied Trashman to a tree and had him put into an insane asylum, I have grown accustom to posho and matoke (not bad with g-nut sauce), I caught a man pick-pocketing me in Kampala (yeah I’m stealthy like that, don’t mess with this Muzungu), my tan lines are only getting better, I have not had any cases with worms yet, I can officially ride a boda-boda, side saddle, NO hands AND I used the ‘local toilet paper’ aka a leaf that is fuzzy and smells nice, it was half eaten with bugs and I had to shake it to get them all off. Gotta love Africa…overall great stores to share to say the very least.
I apologize for this blog taking so long to be posted and I have no excuses to why it isn’t all that good in the first place. I miss you all so very much, I love hearing from each of you. I get so excited when I find out that someone is following me. I appreciate all the support and love from home; it makes it so much easier to be away for so long. I cannot believe that I am on the countdown now, before you know it I’ll be home. See you all soon.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Equator and Dinner, Dinner, Chicken Dinner Photo

Eye Camp and Dental Outreach Photos

Pictures, Pictures, and More Pictures

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Time of Firsts

Blog #5: The Time of Firsts
As I was contemplating on the things that I have done during the time I last wrote to now, I found that the recent events all have one thing in common…they were all new experiences for me. Alright, alright…I know I am in Africa so of course I will experience new things, but these ones were legit this past week. Let me explain with a bit of a preface: chicken slaughtering, war zone, celebrating America in Africa, buying chickens from a bus window, baboons. Okay, I will end it there and just start getting into the good stuff, because I am SURE that the suspense is killing each and every one of you because my blog is the only thing that practically adds pleasure to any of your lives, I understand that you all are dyingly missing me and you wait each and every day for me to add a new post…haha okay, even I’ll laugh about the ridiculousness of that statement. Here we go…
Last Saturday my team and I went to our Boda driver’s, Freddie, new house for a house-warming party. Naturally we brought our pet chicken—you know the one that kept me up all night — as a gift. So, remember we’re in Africa…what else would we do with it besides slaughter it and eat it for lunch. Now, each of you should all be proud of me for representing Idaho well, I was the person who willing and single-handedly slaughtered our lunch. This is a first for me! I feel strongly that this new skill will become very useful in the years to come. You know that question, if you are stranded on a deserted island what is one thing that you would bring??? All of you should instantly, without thinking say MEGAN freaking GERSTEN.
This next part is fitting for me to sing the nostalgic song by Lee Greenwood, “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Another first, I spent my 4th of July with the US Embassy. We had such a good time; it was the first real time since being in Uganda that I didn’t feel like I was being gawked at. I have never felt more proud to be an American. There is something special about celebrating your country and its rights in a country that is not well developed and doesn’t have the rights we have—it hit home for me and made me fully appreciate my country and the opportunities that I receive from being blessed to be from such a place. It put into perspective for me, all that I have taken for granted. The evening was great plus, we got the full experience of hamburgers, hotdogs, American flags, cheesy USA songs, and fireworks—what could be better? OH I know…spending the weekend with my family.
I spent this last week in Gulu. For you to fully understand my experience there I want to give a brief history lesson on Uganda. I recently read the book “A Long Way Gone,” written by Ishmael Beah. It was about a boy’s experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The book was brutally honest and detailed about his tragic experience as a young child. As heartbreaking was his story, I still recommend reading it because of how eye opening it is. A very similar thing that happened there just recently ended in Uganda. Reading the book helped preface me with what I would see and feel in Gulu over the week. (NOTE THAT I AM NOT A HISTORY BUFF NOR DO I PRETEND TO BE SO I WILL JUST SHARE WHAT I DO KNOW OR UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE CONFLICT.) In the 80’s Joseph Kony started a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Koney started attacking civilians as an attempt to found a government based on the Ten Commandments. He and his army would torture, mutilate, rape, plant land mines, and abduct children to use as soldiers and sex slaves. Over one million northerners fled their homes to Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps. Tens of thousands of children became ‘night commuters’, and would walk miles each evening after school to sleep in ‘safer’ towns so that they wouldn’t be taken at night by the LRA. Gulu was the north’s largest town that hosted the biggest military base and suffered many attacks. In 2008, a peace deal was created by Kony and Museveni (the current President of Uganda) and the LRA was pushed into Sudan and the DR Congo where they still reside. Many Northern Ugandans are still too afraid to return to their homes.
Being in Gulu and driving through the LRA’s territory obviously left an eerie feeling because of the thought of what all happened there just a few years ago. You can still see the over-trodden tracks on the side of the road from the thousands of children who would walk them each night for safety. There are posters and land marks that actually still mark existing land mines. We met with many people who were affected by the conflict and who were actual child soldiers. I was told that talking about the conflict to people can be kind of sketchy, because you never know what side they might have been fighting for. Gulu is saturated with NGOs in attempt to redevelop what was ruined, as well as working with adults and children who are literally destroyed mentally by the war. Despite all that happened to Northern Uganda, I found the people to be surprisingly positive and spirited. Actually while this was all going on, a documentary crew from a University went to Uganda not knowing what was happening and made a documentary on it called the Invisible Children. They have now made an NGO where they work directly with the previous child soldiers and even bring a group of them to the States on a tour sharing their stories.
Like I said, this is a time of firsts. I have been to war zones before in the US, but all those wars happened hundreds of years ago so they (sad to say) don’t feel as real or even relevant to me. My experience in Gulu opened my eyes to see the demolished effects of war and what it does to a country, city, and specifically people.
While we were in Gulu we worked with a woman’s group whose husbands were killed in the conflict. We built a square foot garden for them to help sustain enough food for their children, orphans they took in, and themselves. They put on a play for us where they reenacted the war, it was quite the experience to watch woman who personally experienced the conflict dramatize it out. It was very emotional, but it is their way to get out those horrifying emotions. In Gulu, we also put on a school festival at two different schools; I taught lessons on HIV and AIDs. One of the schools we went to was actually on the LRA’s territory and later became an IDP camp for survivors. Many of the students, at both schools, were in their twenties because they dropped out of school to fight. We also did an income generating project where we started a piglet dispatchery for an orphanage.
Okay this has become a weighted blog post, so to lighten it up I will talk about a few new firsts for me. 1) I saw wild baboons on my bus ride to and from Gulu—red bums and all, 2) people sale live, no joke LIVE chickens from bus windows AND people buy, no joke actually BUY the live chickens from the bus window and keep them in the bus for hours by your feet, 3) the phrase, “nighty night don’t let the bed bugs bite” has never meant so much before. I went to bed each night worried I would wake up from bed bugs or at least some sort of disease, 4) I got asked if I was Obama’s daughter because I was American (the African people are OBSESSED with Obama because he is half Kenyan). I told her no and that she is probably closer to being Obama’s daughter than I was—she didn’t laugh, 5) I went to away sketchy pork joint that was down a dark alleyway and was quite literally a shack with dirt floors and wood pallets for walls, OH and no electricity…sooo not up to OSHA’s standards—I should be ashamed, but I’m not and I should be sick, but I’m not!!
Another new first and one word is all I need….latrines. I am now and forever grateful for outhouses. Latrines, if you do not know, are an open room with just a hole. Shoot, aim, and fire! Oh and a special technique of squatting is needed, by the way, or else a tragedy will quite possibly occur. Here in Uganda, there are only two forms of using the ‘restrooms’. One of course is the latrines; the other is all nat-ur-al baby! The concept of ‘holdin’ it does not, and I will repeat does not exist here. Often times you will see men (key point right there...hem hem) on the side of the road just peein’ or little kids just plopping a squat in the road. My point being, hallelujah for outhouses-glorified latrines!!
This next first will not take long to explain and to be honest I am rather embarrassed about this one…I went and saw the new Twilight move Eclipse. Shameful, I know, I can practically read your thoughts (especially yours, my dear brother, Michael) BUT it was fun because I am a girl and I got to be a cheesy American girl with my girlfriends for just a couple of hours so I thoroughly enjoyed my time.
Now for a summary of my projects, after all that is why I am here, right? On July 30th I am saving all the suffering children in Southern Uganda from Clubfoot. I am organizing a Clubfoot Outreach with an Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Mbonye, from Nakasero Hospital. It will be a seven or so week process because the treatment that they use is a series of casts correcting the Clubfoot. I am really excited about this outreach, because I know it will make such a big impact in the lives of those treated. I have a ton of advertising to do though, so it will keep me pretty busy up to July 30th. I am also starting a project working with girls who can’t go to school because they are on their menstrual cycle. The girls don’t have any form of sanitation protection so they have to skip school and sit at home till they’re off. The project will teach girls how to make re-usable sanitary napkins so they can attend school while on their period. We would also do sensitization trainings for boys about girls on their periods and how to treat them. I am also working on setting up a recycling program in Mukono, where it is a ‘scraps for cash’ incentive type system. The streets here are covered in plastic water bottles and old shoes (random I know) and people claim they have the right to throw garbage on the road. As a quick side note, I actually had to LITTER for the very first time ever in my life coming back from Gulu, it was tragic and I utterly hated it, it shattered everything I believe! The man next to me thrusted a wrapper in my face and waved it towards the window, I took it and with much distain shoved it out the window. I almost took it and put it in my bag, but then I thought to myself what he would think in his head, “Wow, that crazy muzungu just put my garbage in her bag—that’s disgustingly weird.” Needless to say I resisted his potential thoughts and just did it anyway. And the final project I am working on is putting water collection boxes around the taps of water tanks to protect very expensive tanks/taps from being broken and stolen.
Well that is that, I am working a lot but I am also glad to say that the phrase ‘all work no play’ does not fully apply to me. I am having an amazing time here. I have gained an indescribable admiration and affection for the people of Uganda. Oh and during my closing remarks, I feel as my close friends and loved ones you should all know that when I return home we will have to have a Race for Rabies for me, similar to the one in The Officer for Meredith, because I have come down with Rabies. Today as a Sunday treat I indulged in a bag of Keebler cookies from home and later found the wrapper had two very large mouse holes…how I didn’t realize this earlier I DO NOT KNOW, but the moral of my story is: when you eat a mouse infected bag of cookies in Africa, you will get Rabies or at least the Hanta Virus…this may be my last blogpost if I die tonight…farewell all…peace be with you till we meet again.
Meg xoxo

Ps. As some of you may know, there was a bombing in Kampala by a tourist group last night. I am fine and have been in lock down. Everyone is safe, so no worries-just adds to my adventure!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Life-Changing Week

**Disclaimer***I am at a loss of words with how to begin this blog. Not gonna lie I have somewhat been putting it off, because this entire week has been full of continual life-changing experiences that only solidifies why I am here, what I am grateful for, and what I want to continually do in the future. I am writing this post out of pure humility for all that I have experienced over the previous week. This blog is super long and I completely understand if you don’t read it all the way through. A large part of why I am keeping a blog is for myself. I want to remember the experiences I am having and the emotions I have with them. I keep a journal, but there’s a difference from that and sitting down for a couple hours and just typing my thoughts away. With that being said, let’s begin…
On Monday I went to a primary school and taught a health lesson to over 100 students about the health benefits of hand washing and general hygiene. I had a blast teaching and the students seemed to really enjoy it—probably because two random muzungus were interactively teaching their class instead of the mundane lecture style teaching they’re used to. The schools here are exactly like the ones you see on American Idol Gives Back or something cheesy like that. There are rooms full of rows of benches with around 100 students per class. Most of the students can’t afford notebooks and all their school uniforms are torn and a lot do not own shoes. A lot of students can’t afford to pay for lunch and they don’t come with breakfast, so most of the students don’t eat anything all day or at least till supper. With how depressing this all sounds, the students are truly SO happy; they have permanent grins. They sing to us, clap when we walk in, stand when they answer a question, and call me Madam Megan. They are so cute and I secretly want to hide one of them in my suitcase, but remembering what happened in Haiti…I guess I’ll leave them here for now. L
Tuesday and Wednesday were beyond hectic days for me. I was the project lead of an Eye Camp. We held it at the Kojja Health Center IV in a rural village. Throughout the two days we screened 330 people, gave out 125 pairs of spectacles, and did 18 cataract surgeries. At one point I was even able to scrub in to assist with some of the operations! As stressful as the entire project was, it was completely worth it when I was able to be there when the patients who had the cataract surgery were able to take off their bandages and were given the gift of sight back. That moment made it completely worth it. Some of the people were completely blind for years, and all of a sudden they were able to see. A lot of the patients and their families started crying because they were so grateful that we would give this back to them. One of the ladies who had to be in her 80’s started dancing in her bed (smiling with a mouth full of missing teeth), one lady told me that she felt like she was in a whole new world because it had been so long since she was able to see anything, a lot of people were so grateful because they were going to be able to read their bible again. When the surgeon came in, I told the people that he was the one responsible for giving their sight back and involuntarily every one of the patience started clapping for him. It was beyond touching, I am pretty sure that there wasn’t a single person in that room that wasn’t tearing up, I am just grateful that I was able to be involved in such an experience. Even just giving people glasses and seeing their reaction was priceless, one lady started crying when she was able to put her new pair of glasses on. I will never forget how I felt throughout this entire experience and the gratitude on the faces that we were able to help.
Thursday we held a massive HIV and Aids Football (soccer) Festival in Kiyindi where we focused on joining together to fight Aids. We had 8 different schools, and about 1500 students, parents and political leaders—as a side note, we were only expecting 600 people total. We had all the schools play in the tournament and then we held trainings that focused on the social impact of HIV/AIDS, future planning, leadership skills, good sportsmanship, and responsible behaviors. Though the purpose of this outreach was to focus on the trainings concerning HIV/AIDS and not the football matches, the tournament was an excellent way to gather a community together in a fun and interactive environment. The games were a blast; I would stand on the sidelines with the school that was playing and get them cheering for their teams. The students were beyond excited, they would cheer in Ugandan songs and storm the field every chance they got. At the Festival we also screened a couple hundred people for HIV. The girls and I on my team performed a dance to “Baby” by Justin Beiber, I think it was the first time that they had seen Americans dance so we got about 1000 blank stares at the end—totally hilarious and oh so worth it. To end the day, my team played in a huge soccer match against the CCWA-the woman’s organization we partnered with. Due to my conjunctivitis (self-diagnosed, not really though) that day, I sat the game out and held the job of getting all the kids to chant “let’s go Muzungus, let’s go.” Afterwards we gave each of the participating schools a football because they usually play with wadded up banana leaves because they cannot afford actual balls. We all had a great time, but we were exhausted after the day was over!
This now leads me to the emotionally exhausting day of Friday. I was the project lead for a Dental Outreach; we went to a local school called St. Josephs Naggalama Primary School. To begin, the doctors showed up 2.5 hours late so I had to improvise by teaching 900 students “Popcorn Popping on the Jackfruit Tree” and singing the National Anthem. The doctors finally showed and we were able to screen over 1000 students/parents and extracted teeth of over 200 people. The students would first be screened by a dental assistant for any obvious cavities and then sent to a waiting room to get anesthetics to numb the mouth. The students would then have to sit and wait and listen to the heart-yanking shrills of their peers getting the shot. It was HORRIFIC, screams that you only hear on horror films were spilling out of the mouths of these little children. The students waiting in line were bawling because they knew it would be their turn at some point. I had some of the volunteers sit with the children and hold them literally down while the doctors injected them and other volunteers sing and dance to Shakira to entertain those students waiting in total horror. The children would then have to go to another room where they had their teeth extracted. We had one kid who had to get up to 6 teeth pulled. This process was just as emotional for me as was the anesthetic room. As I continually witnessed this throughout the day, I would find myself tearing up because I felt so bad. We didn’t make too many friends that day. If when I was a child a random group of people who were completely foreign to me came into my school and did this to me and my friends I would probably…utterly despise them! These kids have never had their teeth worked on or even seen a dentist, so everything was completely foreign to them. As hard as it was to witness the children going through this, I kept reminding myself that it was completely for their benefit. Some of them could hardly even eat because their teeth were so rotten. I was able to look at a few teeth that had a complete black hole going all the way through to the root. Overall, it was a huge success I believe and definitely a neat thing to be a part of.
Friday night…oh Friday night…I went to a goat roast, which I do have to admit was the ultimate African experience. So random, but so fun! A local school that a few volunteers work at invited us to join them in their festivities of dancing around a fire and singing tribal songs. It was a blast and the goat was surprisingly really good-quite chewy though. The kids were stroking my skin and playing with my hair and telling me how beautiful I was…white people fascinate them. I believe that anyone who has self-esteem issues needs to come to Africa because you can be completely horrendous looking and they would still love you and tell you look like an angel.
Saturday I held a meeting with the head doctors that we worked with for the eye and dental outreaches and the head person of Nakasero Hospital. To put this in perspective, Nakasero Hospital is the wealthiest and most advanced hospital in Uganda; it is where President Museveni and all the political leaders go. One of the doctors is actually the son of a former President of Uganda. So to be sitting with these men like we were friends was a remarkable thing for me. They are such good, genuine men and just truly want to help those that desperately need medical care. That is what they said as their reasoning for doing these outreaches. They told me that they asked themselves, how to pay back to the ‘small’ people who made them want to be doctors in the first place? They can accomplish this through such outreaches. I just keep thinking, in the States, I would never had that kind of opportunity to meet and hold a meeting with such influential people,
This now leads me to the last and final day of the week, Sunday. I understand this is probably the longest blog post ever, and I really do apologize for it. But I congratulate your for getting thus far, and I promise it will be over soon. Sunday, I went with our cook/dear friend to visit her family in the village Musaka where she grew up in. I am constantly astounded by the hospitality of the people here in Uganda. The family was so kind to us. It was such a relaxing day that consisted of sitting on mats in the shade of a gorgeous day eating delicious fruit and chatting about their hopes and aspirations and day-to-day living. The family had been living on their land for generations back; they even have their own cemetery going all the way back to their great-great grandfather. Edith was so pleased to see her family and to actually bring gifts home for her family. The Ugandan culture is so based on family unity that I wish America were more like it. When an extended family member dies, their children go to your family willingly. So they have ‘brothers and sisters’ that are technically their cousins. On our way home, we stopped at the equator. I was so excited to see it, but to be honest it was slightly anticlimatic. Our way home then followed with a stressful 6 hour ride on a taxi.
It has been an unforgettable week that I will cherish the memories from it forever. Like I said at the beginning, this week solidified why I am here, what all I am grateful for, and my desire to do this in the future. I have fallen to love the people of Uganda and their culture. Thank you back at home for all the support, I miss everyone so much. It is crazy to think that I am about to hit my half way mark. Love you all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Random Photos

The Case of the Numb Bum

I should start off with the definition of ‘Numb Bum’. Numb Bum is when a person’s buttocks turns to a state of numbness and tingling to the point of unenjoyment and utter pain. Reasons that may cause numb bum may be: taxi rides, boda-boda rides, church, rafts, and foam mattresses.

Now that we are all on the same page, I will now go through and explain each of my cases of the Numb Bum. Coming to Africa I had 3 things on my ‘To Do’ list. 1) Safari, 2) Equator, 3) Float the Nile. The other Saturday I had the grand experience of floating the White Nile River. It was a blast to say the least, even though I did see what seemed to be my life flash before my eyes quite a few times. The rafting company we went with came and picked us up in Mukono and drove us to where we put in. We began with the most delicious meal I have ever had (I mean that in the nicest way mom). I do believe it was because for the first time that I have been here: all you can eat and food that didn’t consist of rice, beans, or posho. After breakfast we put into the water. I was on a raft of 7 girls and our rafting guide Tabani—I felt sorry for him, I’m sure he had to work harder than usual. The first rapid we encountered we were, not going to lie, somewhat pansies about it. Afterwards we asked what size rapid it was and he told us a class II. At that point we freaked because we were later going to be going through class V rapids. Anyway, things turned up and it was so fun (thank you adrenaline). Before each rapid we would scream as our war cry, “TABANI, TABANI, TABANI!!!” There was a rapid when we actually went down a waterfall! On one wave Tabani, in his explanation of the next rapid, explained that the rapid was going to be “disturbing”—real reassuring Tabani! On another rapid, there was a split that we got stuck on a rock in-between the two and we were wedged LITERALLY vertical in the air. All of us girls were screaming for our lives, when…dun, dun, dun…Tabani saved the day and yelled to us “DO...NOT...MOVE.” We then proceeded to go down the rapid backwards. Despite all the drama, we were highly talented rafters and only managed to flip once (all the other rafts flipped more than that). During our flip, I somehow lost my watch. My theory is that a massive, life-threatening crock bit it off my wrist. However, due to my underwater skills he was only able to get away with just my watch! Not today Mr. Crock, not today. On the water they fed us pineapple and cookies. The worst part about the experience was a long strip of no rapids where we had to row for like 40 min. This was when my Numb Bum came into action. The last rapid was the best to end on. It was so large, that we had to actually get out of our rafts and trek through the African jungle barefoot to get to an easier portion of the rapid. After we were done floating the Nile, the rafting company prepared for us a scrumptious barbecue, great way to end the day! Overall, my experience was incredible; I am pleased that I am able to check it off my list even though I probably came out of it with 50 parasites as my souvenirs.

Another way to get Numb Bum is on taxis. This last week I went to Kampala three times! Each time we were packed with about 20 other people going over speed bumps and horrible dips in the roads. It was all worth it, because I was able to, get this…AMERICAN FOOD!! This entails pizza, chicken sandwiches, fries, milkshakes, red velvet cake, frozen yogurt, and even a cinnamon roll. Now this may actually seem disgusting to you, but be aware that this is over a matter of three days and rice/beans/egg plant/posho/matoke everyday for the past month…American food was well needed and much deserved in my mind! In Kampala I also went to an artisans market and the Ugandan Museum. The market was way fun, I will be returning later on in the summer, but sad to say the museum was somewhat a joke — needs some TLC.

We are putting on an Eye Camp June 22-23! Ah I am so excited about it; things are actually getting past the planning stage and happening soon. We are partnering up with Nakasero Hospital in Kampala to do free eye screenings, cataract surgeries, and other eye services. We are having it in the Kojja Health Center IV and are encouraging all people in the local villages to come. The last two days I have had the most severe case of Numb Bum ever! Despite the pain, it was a great experience because I was on a boda going through the sub-Saharan African Jungle for two entire days dropping off fliers to all the sub counties and their health centers! C’mon that is pretty cool, right? I even got to go down to Lake Victoria and see where they bring the fish in to sell. The most common fish here is Tilapia, but there were massive catfish too. For lunch, I ate a legit chicken wing off a stick--skin and leftover feathers as well. I also had a barbecued banana, odd huh? It was pretty good…

Another thing causes Numb Bum here are the beds. Haha. The mattresses here are like 2 inch foam pads…no tempurpedic! At first it wasn’t all that bad, but now it is starting to get flat and I practically sleep on the wood boards of the bed so that I wake up with an aching back and a case of the Numb Bum. I can’t wait for my first night back at home in my comfy bed, (I should add that to my list of blessings from the previous blogpost). Speaking of sleeping, so we got a goat BUT one goat was clearly not enough so we got a SECOND goat…yeahhh…not. As much as I didn’t really care for this decision, it was much needed. Our first night with Aberforth Wilberforce (our goat), she would not shut up…it was the worst night of my life. We later found out that goats need partners to be quiet, so this now leads me to introduce our second goat-Wendy Peffercorn.

Well now you know all about the average day in Africa—Numb Bum!! No but on a serious note, things are going great here. I can’t believe that I have been in Uganda for over a month now, less than three months left! Time is going so fast. As much as I miss home, family, and friends; I am forming great relationships with some of the people here. I have had the opportunity to work in the health clinics with people who are HIV+ and planning logistics for hand washing stations in schools. We are working with local schools and setting up peer mentoring programs. We are putting on festivals at primary schools where we are teaching 5 lessons. I am in charge of teaching the health lesson including sanitation and hygiene. We are going to a different school every week for about 4 hours and the students are going to transition between the 5 centers. I am also doing a lot of research on setting up a recycling program here in the Mukono area where we can do‘cash for scraps’ kind of incentive program. Lots and lots are being done, so I am constantly busy. Thank you for those who read about my adventures here and who have stayed in contact while I am away. I appreciate and love you all! Bella Bulungi.


Thursday, June 3, 2010


Hello, hello!! Besides the development work I am doing here in Uganda, there are of few items on my "To Do" list while I am here. One of these items is to float the Nile River. As of Saturday I can check this one off my list. I believe I can officially die a happy person.

Well the last time I wrote I said that I was going to float the Nile River