Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas....Ugandan Style

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to all of our friends and family near and far. Today we had joy of celebrating our first Christmas in Uganda. We contemplated traveling for the holidays, but ultimately decided we wanted to spend time in our community experiencing the Christmas all of our neighbors enjoy. 

Everyday we walk into town the street is littered with cows, pigs and goats…..not anymore.

First let’s go back a few days. On the 23rd, we decided we wanted to eat pork for dinner and Matt went early to our favorite pork joint to make an order. Not knowing Matt had already went, Ashley went a few hours later and tried to make an order only to find the pork was over. Luckily Matt had made an order because we later found out that that specific day in our town is the day to eat pork, after that day it is hard to find. Well, as anything is here, it’s never certain and when Matt went to pick up the order they told him that it was over and that there was only fat so his order was not made…..thank goodness for the hotel in town. We ended up paying double the price, but in the end we got our pork.

Now only a few mothers and piglets remain in the streets.

Now the 24th we were told is the day for the beef. We normally do not eat a lot of beef but since everyone else was we decided to too. Matt left early in the morning to make sure he was able to place an order, from the events of the day before he was nervous we would be left without any meat. As he approached the market he could literally smell it, and inside he found our market that is usually filled with women selling vegetable and fruit filled with cows, and we mean lots and lots of cows. Everywhere you turned you had to be careful not to step on a hid or fat that had been cut off. The boda men, the men who give rides on motorcycles, were even selling beef. And we know all the sellers were happy at the end of the day because when we went back later in the evening to buy green peppers they were all gone, every last piece of beef was bought. 

Needless to say, there are literally only two cows left on the street today.

So a Ugandan Christmas? We decided to start the morning with our traditional gift giving, only Ugandan style gifts. Highlights- Matt got an awesome coffee cup, so he can stop using and staining the plastic cups. Ashley got 4 chocolate bars…..yes 4. Around 2 we headed to Matt’s counterparts house were we had been invited to celebrate. When we arrived, as in Ugandan fashion, they greeted us and gave us the best seat in the house. The food was ready, thankfully because we were really hungry since we had only ate our sweets from our awesome bag stocking Ashley made. When they brought out the dishes filled with food we assumed it would be for all of us since there was so much. No, those dishes were only for us, they brought in their plates stacked high; literally people here eat a mound of food. So much delicious food; it was a great meal and we enjoyed discussing American Christmas traditions and Ugandan Traditions and sharing stories. Peace Corps Goal #3. 

Afterwards they escorted us back to town. We tried to tell them they didn’t need to but they insisted; the entire walk is only around 20 minutes or so. As we walked through town we saw all of our new friends we have made over the past few months. Ateenyi at the duka that Ashley loves to practice her Runyoro with and buy eggs from, baby Mary who is always playing outside of the shops and is the most adorable little thing, Ateenyi the cobbler who always has a smile on his face, the family at one of the tailor shops that we gotten to know well, the boda men who all know us by name and always ask how we are doing and all the children along the road who go out of their way to say “Hello Matthew/Hello Ashley”; this is our home and today made that even more apparent. In the few months that we have been here, we have met so many amazing people that we are happy to call our neighbors and friends.

So what do you do on Christmas night? You party of course. After we parted with our hosts, one of our friends and neighbors picked us up in his friend’s car and gave us a ride home. Perfect timing, the walk may not be long, but the dirt is horrible.  He asked us if we planned on joining the celebrations in town…..of course we said yes. We headed out to one of the hotels around 7 and when we arrived we were greeted with blasting Ugandan music and lots of people. We spent the night talking, eating with a few drinks and playing pool. It was a great way to end a great day.

So, here we are, it is now officially the 26th. We have celebrated our first Christmas in Uganda, and as I, Ashley, write this at 12:42 in the morning I can hear the blasting Ugandan music and commotion of the people coming from town as if it is right outside my house (Update 1- music is still going and it seems they have cranked up the volume 3:20 am. Update 2- music is still going 5:30 am.....and yet 4:24pm on the 26th the music still has not stopped) 

Merry Christmas!

Oh and we did have a tree

With Matt's Counterpart & Family at their home

Some of our Christmas Meal

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All I want for Christmas

Hey family, friends and maybe someone who happened to stumble upon this blog, check out this awesome video our Peace Corps Uganda June 2014 Cohort put together. 
Wishing you a Merry Christmas.
Hope you Enjoy!

*This video does not reflect the values or ideas of Peace Corps. We do not own the rights to this song*

Friday, December 19, 2014

When You Give A Mouse A Nut....

You Get Fleas?

Our neighbors decided to plant lots of ground nuts this past rainy season so they could have some extra income after the holidays. Their plan: plant a little later in the season, harvest, dry and store them and wait for the price to go up. Good plan, actually a very well thought out plan. The only issue, you have to find a place to dry them and what better place than the entire compound grounds. It really isn't an issue; they made sure to keep walk ways clear from the doors to our kitchens and bath area. 
The only real issue …. critters who love nuts. 

3 am one morning Ashley wakes up and hears a rustling noise, repeats again the next morning. Two days later Ashley wakes up with bites on her shoulders and arms. First thought….bed bugs, but we haven’t had them at our house before. Next morning there are more bites this time on the legs, there is something in the bed and of course as always Matt has no bites. We decide to go on a cleaning frenzy, all the cushions, the mattress and the rugs go to bake in the sun. The clothes and sheets are all put in basins out in the sun to soak. While we are taking things out of the room we notice some nuts in the corner of the room…. Yes there was a mouse. Then we move some clothes from the bottom shelf of our wardrobe and what did we find… a stockpile of nuts and a little nest made out of some socks. Confirmation we have a new roommate. 

So what happens when you put a treasure trove of nuts outside? You get mice. And what if your door has a nice size hole under it? You get mice living with you. And only what we assume, those mice bring critters and those critters bite Ashley. So what do you do? Finish cleaning every inch of the house and prevent the mouse from coming back. Mission accomplished and no more bites. 

Nuts on the compound grounds

Our attempt at keeping the mouse out

Sunday, December 14, 2014

World Aids Day Celebration 2014 was a Success!

Let’s first say, this event took a lot of work to put it together. In Uganda, there is a certain protocol for everything you do or want to do…. You must use a strict chain of command and involve everyone; literally everyone along the chain and outside is brought in. This can cause delays and frustrations, but in the end once everyone has come together and you see who actually wants to be involved and is willing support the project, you can finally get to work. Now, the concept of volunteering is a really foreign concept. For this event, we needed volunteers to provide health information, to test people and to entertain the guests. Well, there were a few minor/major hick-ups along the. Communicating “you will volunteer?”, for example. For us we would say “yes I can” or “no I can’t”. For them, they said “Yes” then they expected money…. ? Honestly, we had to reiterate that they were not getting paid over and over, just to have them still asking “so how much do we get paid?” Thankfully in the end, thanks to great staff at the health center the receiver was able to decode the message without any noise.....yeah.

This was the 1st ever World AIDS Day Event in our town. So, it was a pretty big deal to the people involved. We kicked off with a week of HIV/AIDS outreach.  Matt and his Counterparts did an awesome job providing HIV/AIDS awareness, demonstrating correct condom use, distributing lots of condoms and encouraging people to go get tested. Overall, around 300 people were reached.

The main event was held on Saturday, and we must say it was a huge success. We ended up having more than 500 participants, which was far more than we expected. During the event, we had volunteers giving out health information in a sort of health exhibition. There was information from malaria and prevention to family planning, hand washing to tippy tap construction, HIV prevention, nutrition and breastfeeding.We were lucky to find an amazing local drama group that entertained everyone all day with songs, local dances and skits. One scene even involved a witch doctor and a live goat on stage… the audience loved it. There was a well done debate on HIV and stigma and even an audience game show that Ashley hosted. We spent a few weeks working with a group of children from a local primary school and they performed a poem, skit, rhyme and song that went over really well with the audience with its theme of “parents please get tested!” Overall the goal of the day was to have people tested so they could know their status. 

Our goal was 200 and we are happy to say the goal was reached with a total of 228 people tested!

Overall the week was a great success!

This event taught us so many lessons in planning events while in Uganda, and although we had a few struggles here and there we are excited to have the opportunity to plan more in the future with our great partner organizations.

Outreach to the local boda men

Boda Man demonstrating correct condom usage

Outreach to Mothers at a local clinic

Come and Join Us!

Matt was a "celebrity" at the event and got tested to encourage others

Volunteer teaching hand washing

Malaria Game

Volunteer giving nutrition infomration

Drama group....yes that is a goat 

They really wanted us to dance

Matt and our co-planners

Some volunteers after the event

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ashley is YouTube Famous?

Do you want to know how to kill a chicken? 
Check out this video of Ashley teaching the group during our PST. We didn’t even know this video was on YouTube until recently and apparently it is a popular search since it has had over 4,000 views. Please note this does NOT involve a real chicken, just a cute paper one Ashley made....

This is something the 3 people who didn't like the video must of not have realized! 

Anyways Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2014

6 Month Update

We have officially been in country for 6 months! 
It honestly feels like way longer and way shorter at the same time; it really just depends on the day. Either way, time is going so fast but anyways… what has happened over the past 6 months?

-We are starting to get into the swing of our roles within our organization. Matt is working with his counterpart to promote HIV awareness and testing, promote hygiene and has started to work on a customer care project. Ashley is working with her counterparts to train farmers on financial literacy, forming and strengthen VSLA (Village Saving and Loans) groups and promoting nutrition.

-Matt has found that he loves matooke and will never pass it up if it is being served. Matooke= mashed and steamed plantains.

-Ashley has increased. So many people back home believed coming here would mean not eating as much and getting even skinner. Well that has not been the case, in fact Ashley is now 64.6 kilos, that is about 142.4 pounds. Compare that to the 131 she was when she arrived and that is nearly 12 pounds. At this rate we are looking at around another 42 pounds by the time we return home. Imagine.

-Most of the children in the village know our names. We have made a real effort in integrating into the community and getting to know the people around. When we walk down the streets we rarely hear “abajungu bye-eee” instead we hear “Hello Asholee/Machew”.

-For the first time in our lives we officially became millionaires….or rather shillionaires. Yes that’s right…. bank statements with 7 digit amounts…. Never thought we would see the day. (Conversion $1=roughly 2700 shillings at the current rate)

So....What have we learned??
The biggest thing.....Pineapples do not grow on trees....what?

6 months down, 21 months left to enjoy Uganda!

Randoms from the Past 6 Months 

Making a Chocolate Chip Cookie on a Sigiri

Awesome Flip Phone that Lights Up 

Ash painting nails with the kids next door

Our New Best Friends

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Out of the Loop

When you think of Peace Corps you think of living out in the bush, no water, electricity or contact with the outside world. We have been very fortunate to have things we did not expect. One of which being communication. Our town has amazing cell and internet coverage to be in the middle of nowhere and this has made staying in contact with friends and family back home very easy. It has come to the point where they expect to hear from us every so often, so when they don't......they being to worry.

This past weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving in Fort Portal and headed back home Sunday morning. We noticed as we moved closer to home that our network was going in and out more than normal. By the time we reached home, one line was completely down. Let's take a moment to explain phone service in Uganda. There are three main service providers: Orange, MTN and Airtel/Warid. Unlike what commonly happens with most providers in the U.S., you do not need to sign a contract. Instead, you simply go to one of the stores or authorized dealers, buy a sim card, register it and have service . Most phones are dual sim phones so you can have two different providers on one phone. Anyways, you buy airtime (they come on little strips of paper with scratch off codes) and you load it onto your phone or have an agent apply it directly to your line. Easy enough. Getting service in Uganda is very simple. Well back to Sunday, when we arrived home our Orange (which is our line for internet and international calls) was not working. This happens occasionally but usually will be up and working within a few hours. Well, come Tuesday it was still not working, so we decided to by a new MTN line for Internet since the line had been somewhat stable to make calls every so often. No joke, as soon as we bought the sim card, MTN went down as well. Wednesday afternoon our co-workers informed us Airtel/Warid was going in and out. 

So, here we are, no contact, this is what everyone expects Peace Corps to be like. No way to get a hold of anyone, and better yet the rains came through and made the roads almost impassable. Hope we don;t need to go anywhere in a hurry. Well, magically as Ashley was joking about being isolated from the rest of the world with her co-workers.....all the services have returned. So a few days with almost no contact, only little bits of calls going through, we have experienced life with no internet and calls. For those volunteers who have/or are spending their entire service this way, props to you. So what happens when people are use to hearing from you and all of a sudden don't?

They send out a search party.....a joke......
We survived, WE ARE OK MOMS! can call in the search parties now.