Wednesday, August 6, 2014

PST & Swearing-In

Since we are starting this a little after swearing in as official volunteers, lets catch you up on what all has happened so far from Pre-Service Training (PST) to Swearing-in as official volunteers.

Where to start with training.....first it's best to say this period was one of the most intense periods that we both can recall so far. By intense we mean non-stop training classes with little time to relax. Before leaving we remember reading a blog of another volunteer, the piece of advice she gave was to relax and get as much sleep as possible because training is a tiring time and you will want to sleep. Next time we will remember that amazingly correct piece of advice. 

We arrived at Entebbe International Airport  on the evening of June 5th after nearly an entire 24 hours of flying. We had staging, an event where all the trainees meet and discuss goals and fears, in Philadelphia. Our flight departed from JFK and in order to get there they loaded us on a bus at 3 in the morning. Training hadn't even started and we were already tired. From JFK we flew 15 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa with another training group headed to Lesotho. After a few hours we headed off  on a 5 hour flight to Entebbe, Uganda. First impressions when we landed, we are in the middle of nowhere, of course it was dark and street lights are few and far between. Side note- this is also the first time Ashley suspected curry is not something she should eat. After touching down the first thing she did in Uganda was run to the bathroom.....good thing they had western toilets. Once we exited the airport there was a welcome team there and to be honest it was really nice to see a bunch of people happy to see us. From there, we loaded a bus and waited and waited. Of course Ashley was attacked by every mosquito Entebbe had to offer; we hadn't even started our malaria prophylaxis yet.....but she is fine. Then it was off to the first training site for our first 2 weeks.

Our Training Group
Our June 2014 group had 40 trainees; 15 Agribusiness and 25 health with 1 other married couple besides ourselves.

The First 2 Weeks
Our training lasted 9 weeks and during that time we had classes on everything from safety, how to purify water to diarrhea about 10 hours each day. The first 2 weeks was spent outside of the capital at a nice training facility located outside of a village. We had training classes on the basics about Uganda, cross culture, safety, medical, basic technical backgrounds on health and agribusiness and were able to meet the staff and prepared for our homestays. This was also the time we started our shots.... you get lots and lots of shots.  During the first few days we also had the opportunity to place bids on where we wanted to be placed. Peace Corps Uganda adopted a new procedure to place its volunteers. Instead of simply being told what organization you will work for and where you will be living for the next 2 years, they allow the volunteers to rank their top 3 and bottom 3 choices and the staff then takes that into consideration when placing volunteers. This process has about a 90-ish percent success of volunteers getting 1 of their top 3 choices. Now, we were 1 of 2 married couples and the list given to us only had 4 choices versus the 30 something for the other volunteers. To further narrow down our choices, 2 wanted someone preferable with health experience. In the end, both us and the other couple had made our choices, which were luckily not the same, and we knew where we would be going well before the other trainees who anxiously kept reviewing and deciding on their options. To be honest, it was nice not having to choose from so many options. It was either option 1 or option 2. Option 1 won. 

Mosquito Nets are My Best Friend!

Garden Outside of Training Site

View from Training Site

Off to Visit the Nearby Village


Sorting Hat....Where Will We go??

The next 3 1/2 weeks we spent with our homestay families and learned the language we will be speaking for the next 2 years. We were the West group, speaking the Runyoro-Runtoro languages, and we headed off to the wild west to the town of Hoima in Hoima District not far from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Language Training was 3 weeks of cramming so we could pass our LPIs at an Intermediate Low. Luckily we both did, so no re-testing until we close our service in 24 months....hopefully we have learned a lot more by then. If we passed after only 3 weeks of learning,we should be experts by the time we leave.... should being the most important word here.

Our Homestay Family
Before the homestay adventure there was the transport to homestay adventure. First, about transport Matatus as they call them, or a van that can carry 14 but usually carries 20+, is the main form of transport besides the forbidden boda-bodas (motorbikes). We embarked from our training facility in the morning headed to see our new families. It started nice, we didn't have to wake up as early as other groups since we only had a 4 hour ride and our matatu even had a top rack for the bags; it's good not having to hold your bags in a crowded van. After 20 minutes we noticed the van started to slow down  and assumed we needed gas, but instead found we had a flat tire, not so bad it can be fixed and we were headed off within 10 minutes. A few more miles down the road we were pulled over, for what, we have no idea, but after checking registration we headed back off ....almost there. Only a few miles down the road we were pulled over again, this time there was cause though, our driver was speeding. Actually, come to think of it he sped the entire way and that's probably the reason we were stopped the first time. Good thing, or it can be a bad thing, a ticket is easily covered by paying the fee, if you have it. Then we headed off again and just when we had reached the hill that said welcome to Hoima we heard the vehicle go silent, we had ran out of gas. Thank goodness for hills and for being at the top of  one, we coasted down and made it to the gas station, finally we had made it.

Now to our homestay experience.

What We Expected.....A common Ugandan family, maybe 6 or 10 children. Of course we didn't expect electricity or running water. Really, we had no expectations at all and it's better that way. They had given each of us a slip of paper that said our parent's names and their contact information; our dad's name is Fred and he has a wife, status of children unknown. We were given blankets, awesome solar chargers with lights and even a night bucket...yeah it's what you think it is, and sent off to stay with our new families for 3 1/2 weeks.

Our First Impressions.....As we waited at the new training facility for our parents to arrive we wondered, "what will our family be like?" Others in our group had already been picked up and their families seemed amazing. As usual our father was running on Ugandan time; time is not thought of as it is in the U.S., you say 10:00 they come at 11:30. As we were waiting patiently we saw an older man pull up in an older pick-up tuck. Could that be our parent? Well he decided he would go around the training site to the grassy hill to turn around. What he probably hadn't realized, the grass was wet and the truck got stuck "Welcome to Uganda" the first words he said to us as he reved his engine to try to get unstuck. Imagine the site of a 70ish year old man trying to get a 1971 Dodson up a hill on wet grass....let's just say it took awhile. We loaded our things and we headed off out of town to a nearby village down hilly dirt roads. We had to wonder, where we were going. We arrived to the large iron gates of the compound with barbed wire surrounding the fence and only imagined what was inside. Once the gate opened we saw a beautiful compound with gardens and farm animals. It is really a beautiful place.

Homestay House

Our Experience.....Overall our experience with our homestay family was more than we could have ever imagined. There were actually no children living at home. Our father is in his 70's and is a prominent man in the community. He is well educated, spoke perfect English and has traveled the world and understood why the abajungu (white people) didn't eat so much, although we ate much more than what they expected. Our mommy Aderri is an amazing cook and makes fried chicken far better than any we have ever tasted. She is a women in her late 40's and unlike our father her English is not as good. This was a good thing though because it really pushed us to practice the language at home. We were well fed, and the home had far more amenities than we expected. Unlike some other volunteers, our home had running water and western style toilet. Our father loves football (soccer) and so we had a TV with satellite and watched the world cup every night. There was even a generator and solar lights so if the power went out we could still watch the game. Now we are no football fans but we watched it every night and even stayed up late watching the final game. 

Memories of Homestay:

-Ashley learned how to kill a chicken.

-Cultural exchange, teaching the housegirl and neighbor how to play UNO, although we are pretty sure they already knew how since they beat us just about every time.

-Cooking dinner with Mamma Aderi.

-Making American Breakfast for the family.

-Watching the World Cup and for that matter soccer for the first time on T.V. and actually enjoying it.

-Attending our first cultural event. The coronation of new nuns at the local Catholic Church.

-Enjoying and American style 4th of July BBQ with our families

After homestay we got the opportunity to have future site visits. It went very well but more about our town and work later.

More Training & Tech Week
The next few weeks were filled with reuniting with everyone and more training. These training sessions were geared more towards technical aspects of our sectors. After a week together we spilt-up for our Tech Immersion Week. They paired us with current volunteers in groups of about 5-7 giving us the opportunity to get an insight into the life of a volunteer as well as get the chance to practice facilitating trainings. We were sent up north to  Lira and this was the first time we were separated. After tech week it was back to the training center to meet with our future supervisors for workshops.

Up to Now.....
Training Centers: 4
Times Traveled Since in Country: 5
Time in Country: 2 months

Swearing-In....It's Official!
On August 6th, 2014 we swore in as official volunteers at the U.S. ambassador's house. 

Swearing-In    24 Health Extension & 14 Agribusiness 

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