Sunday, November 1, 2015

Another Birthday... and some thoughts

It has come and gone.....another birthday down in Uganda.
Last year was the first year I was actually alone on my birthday without family or friends. Matthew had gone back to America to be with his family during some hard times and I was left here in Uganda. It was hard for me to be alone on a day that is usually spent with friends and family, celebration and cake...I love cake. 

The past few month have been hard ones. They say that every Peace Corps experience is different. You can't judge yours based on anyone else; what they are doing, how many projects they complete or the relationships they form. This has been so true for me in so many aspects. I came into my service married, which was far different from the other single volunteers that swore in with us.  I spent my first year in Uganda with someone. It made it easier, I do not doubt, when it comes to cultural issues and having someone who understands your frustration, someone to joke with that actually gets your jokes, someone who understands you.

They showed us a roller coaster of emotions as they call it that generalizes the Peace Corps experience. I would always look at the picture and think....well that's not me. It wasn't me, it wasn't how I felt. Unlike the pictures that showed the ups and downs, moments of lows and highs, I hadn't felt that way. My first year of service was a high, slowly creeping up the tracks. Then it hit, in a blink of an eye. I had reached the top and was rushing down, faster and faster and deeper than I ever thought I could go. 

Needless to say, this year I told myself I would not be alone on my birthday and thanks to some amazing friends I have made, I wasn't. They trekked the now muddy, clay roads of Kibaale to spend the day with me. We enjoyed homemade lasagna made on the stove and chocolate fudge cake brought back from America. We joked about life here and dreamed about life back in America, we planned out our "enjoy the rest of Uganda" trips and talked about what comes next. It's hard to imagine how fast time really has gone by, especially these past 6 or so months, and now starts the "what am I going to do next" phase. Something I, as a major planner, am not ready to start looking into yet. I wasn't suppose to start thinking about this until next year, but with my new Close of Service date sooner than I imagined it is something I have to do. On the upside, my rapid downhill decent has slowed as I have reached the bottom for now. Now I am steadily, if at all, moving upward again to what I hope will be more highs before my service is over.

Another Birthday in Uganda

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Banda Island

A brief post on my weekend getaway to one of Lake Victoria's many islands and a check-off of one of my Ugandan Sites Bucket List. 

To get to the island, you must first get to a little dock town, for our case it was outside of Entebbe. We had booked a boat to take us out, but as it goes there was some miscommunication and we ended up having to take the local transport to the island. This meant going by one of this boats.

And having one of these porters carry us and our things to the boats.

After 4 hours on what was not a bad ride for an over-sized row boat we made it to Banda Island.

As far as the trip goes, it was a weekend of relaxing, taking a sail boat without the sail out on the lake with one paddle, sitting around a bonfire, eating some good fish and hanging out with friends.
We had the opportunity to venture to the other side of the island and meet some of the 400 or so locals. Of course the children were excited to see us and fought over holding our hands, in my case each holding a different one point I was sure I was going to loose one. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Visiting Another Volunteer

I have spent the majority of  my past year at my site getting to know the people and making it my home. This past weekend I ventured out and did something I have yet to do, I traveled to another volunteers site and got to see how she lives her day-to-day life. 

Travelling in Uganda, as I have said countless times, is not something I enjoy. It may be one of the real reasons I have decided to stay at my home and not travel as much as I could. Regardless, it is not usually a pleasurable experience. Travelling this past weekend was one of the easiest trips I have had so far. My counterpart was nice enough to offer to take me, meaning I didn't have to squeeze myself into a Toyota Corolla with 12 other people. 

Even though I hate travelling because of the transport, I love travelling because of the scenery. Uganda is beautiful; it is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have seen as far as natural beauty. My trips out to the villages for training always remind me why I love living here; besides the people who are amazing, the country itself is beautiful. My area is covered in forests and rolling green and rocky hills that dip down into swampy valleys filled with papyrus and it is common to look up and see monkey staring down at you as you pass by. Coming from the dry and desert landscape of Southwestern New Mexico, it is a complete 180. Travelling to visit my friend, I was reminded once again why I love Uganda. On the way as the previous post highlighted, I visited baby Lucky, who I met in what could have been a tragic ordeal a year ago. 

Burora Village, where my friend stays, is a nice sized village located about 15 minutes from a larger town where she can get items not found in the village, like bread and honey, and a hour and a half away from me. She has made the journey to visit me a couple of times and now it was my turn and I am happy I did.

After spending the first half of my service living with someone, the last few months have been a drastic change. It was nice to have some muzungu (foreigner, as in not from Uganda or the African Continent)  interactions. The trip was initially only for the weekend, but I ended up staying a few extra days to help with a nutrition and permigarden project she is doing with a church group. 


The Father (Catholic) she stays with tells us there is waterfall not far from her home. Knowing Ugandans well enough by now, we questioned the size, it could very well be a 3 foot fall....we were wrong and it did not disappoint us. Hidden only 30 minutes from the village is an actual waterfall, a double waterfall at that. How many feet I can't say as I am not the best at making estimates.... 

Teaching basic nutrition to lots of Ugandans is always fun.

This huge permigarden my friend has been working on. (This is only a small portion)

Teaching how to build local hand washing tippy taps. (One bottle has a soap and water mix, the other water)

This set-up she has at her home that they just installed. Bio Gas. It uses manure to create gas and for now is used for cooking. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Update: Miracles do Happen

About a year ago we shared the story of baby Emmanuel, who after only being brought into the world hours before, was thrown into a pit latrine in an attempt to end his short life.

Going back, it is crazy to think a year has already passed. Over the past year, I have received lots of questions about the event and many people asking how is he doing now. And for the past year, I have also thought about this little miracle and wondered about his fate....The truth is, for the past year I could not bring myself to visit him. In response, I would always just answer, "oh I heard he is doing great", but in reality, I had no idea how he was actually doing. It sounds bad, I know, but it was just something I could not bring myself to face.
The fear....I have heard horror stories of the conditions in many of children’s homes in Uganda and could not bring myself to see him survive only to live in such harsh conditions. It was easier to just imagine him living happily other than face the reality. I was afraid.

This past weekend I traveled to Burora, a small village about a hour and a half from my home, to visit another volunteer and saw the sign for the Children’s Home. I was traveling with my counterpart, who played a part in the newborn's rescue, and he asked if I wanted to stop in and see the baby.  I was very hesitant, in fact I almost said no but we made the turn and headed down the dirt road. So many things went through my mind, Is he still there or did they give him back to his mother?, What will it be like?..I hope it's not too bad., Is he ok?..I hope he doesn't have any long term effects from the fall.

As we pulled into the area compound, I noticed how clean and well maintained the area was. We were greeted by the director and taken around the facility for a short tour, as is customary for any visitors in Uganda. The facility itself is connected to a primary school where the children study from. There is a baby's home and dorm buildings where all the children stay. A peek into one of the dorms revealed one of the cleanest I have seen, and unlike others not stuffed full of beds wall to wall. When we stepped outside into the play yard we were greeted by dozens of excited children as they left to bring me Lucky, as he is now called.

As they walked over my eyes filled with tears to see him happy and healthy. This little baby, the one I had fought so hard to get out of his mother’s intended resting place and cared for in my home was healthy, happy and living in what I cannot believe even exists because it is such a wonderful place.
I spent awhile playing with the children, so many children, with so many different stories. Stories that make you wonder about people and how they can do such things to precious little children. 
I learned that I was Lucky's first visitor. In one whole year, no one else had come to visit him but I am happy I did. The fear I had about his life is gone, because at least for now I know he is being cared and loved for. 

I found out the organization is actually based out of Tulsa, small world, and they are funded through donations and volunteers. The founders came to Uganda years ago and fell in love with the people and decided to give to the community by supporting a baby's home. Well, I sure am grateful they are here and next time someone asks I can say he is doing just fine.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

What Do They Call You?

This is a question I get a lot from other volunteers and friends and family back home. What do they call you? By that they are asking, do they call you the local word for white person/foreigner "obujungu" or "muzungu",'re not white. This question always makes me stop an question...why are you asking me this? Do I really look like I am from here, is it assumed that everyone who is not the typical "white foreigner" is not from another country or could not be an American? I don't doubt that volunteers around the world get this same question all of the time; a person with a Hispanic or Latin background in South or Central America, a person of East Asian descent in East Asia or even a person of European descent in the various eastern European countries Peace Corps works in. 
What do they call you? 

For me, it's simple. They just call me Ashley, Ateenyi, or for this who do not know me I am an "obujungu" just like every other volunteer in country. It is true I have been referred to as a "MuHindi" or "MuChina" by some confused onlookers, but in general I am just a regular old Muzungu. Surprising? For me it's not. I stick out like a sore thumb in my village, even when I ride on the motorcycle to the village all geared up with only my hands and my face peaking out from my helmet, faces of children light up and they start singing "OBUJUNGU WANGE!" with their little dance and all.  The locals know I am not Ugandan. How? Simple they say, your skin is too white, your not black like us.... your hair is not the same.....your face is not like ours..  all responses I have gotten when I ask this simple question. It is true I have been known to play jokes on people and say I am from here as they look at me with confusion. "How?", They ask. "My father is an obujungu and my mother from here"..."oh...." they reply still a little confused. "So you grew up from here?", " No, from America. But now I live here", "Oh, you are studying?", "No, I am volunteering"....."......Oh?". 

In reality it doesn't really matter what they call me. The people in my village and those I work with know me as Ateenyi Ashley, the one from America, who is here working with us now. They have adopted me and given me my pet name and even refer to me as one of them "from this side" and it's a great feeling to be accepted in my community.

So, that answers the question.... What do they call you?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


For anyone who knows me, you know I cannot/will not/do not like to cook and for my first month back at site alone this was a huge problem. In short, no dinners for me. I was only eating breakfast and lunch and only because my org offers both meals. So what happens when you go from eating to not eating besides the obvious, you loose weight?... You get hungry...very hungry....upset.. and not a real pleasure to have in class. Basically, can you stay home today because your attitude sucks. Yes, this was me for my first month back at site. On top of the stress of deciding what was next for Matt and I, I was spiraling into a angry existence primarily from lack of food. Can I say I miss Matt and his awesome cooking skills or rather motivation to eat and cook every night....? YES

 In the States I would attempt to cook some meals in an effort to cut down on Matt's work but here it's a different story. My days are spent riding to and from the fields, working in the sun and getting home in the evening. It's tiring and by the time I get home I am plain exhausted. On top of that, I can't run to a grocery store to pick stuff up...well I guess I could run...literally but that means a 25 minute round-trip walk into town to the market. Cooking itself is a huge chore, fetching water for cooking and dishes, although it's not far away...I have it better than others, trying to light the sigiri with matches that were assembled who knows where....they seriously break no matter what. It was all just this huge task I was not willing to try, not at least every night....

So, what happened? I'm lucky to have some awesome Peace Corps friends who noticed I was struggling and encouraged me to start cooking with the help of some simple recipes even I can make. The difference....completely noticeable and I am on my way back to being me. Ya, I complain about how inconvenient cooking is especially compared to how it's done in the States, but ....I am not in the States. I am in a rural village in Uganda and this is how everyone else does it, and has done it, and will continue to do it for some time. I had to "get over it".

So what did I learn how to cook?
Some Awesome Food!
Yummy banana, peanut butter & honey pancakes...yes I just learned how to cook them, spicy peanut noodles, stir fry, homemade ravioli with ricotta cheese filling from scratch, mashed potato stuffed bell peppers with tomato sauce on the stove.....did I mention I made cheese?

The list seems to get longer everyday as I try out new recipes and push myself cook..and it has actually turned into something fun for me. Who knew coming to Uganda would turn me into somewhat of a cook...

Monday, September 7, 2015

Life Goes On

It's been awhile.....

These past weeks have flown by not giving much time to update everyone. Let's start with what has been going on here. 

My youth group continues to amaze me. While I was gone they kept meeting and practicing and after a few days back we headed to a local secondary school where they put on a drama about making good decisions and the consequences of risky behavior.  

My counterparts are amazing and have been the greatest support system these past weeks. Even though I was gone and they did not know if I would return, they continued on with our VSLA project. This meant the world to me because it showed that I don't need to be here for things to keep happening on schedule. They are just as invested in this project as I am, making the project even stronger.

A week later I hosted 8 new trainees for 1 week for a technical immersion. This has been one of my best experiences as a volunteer because it gave me a chance to show-off my site and my work while helping new volunteers learn what it's like to be a volunteer in Uganda.

A week later I traveled to our All Volunteer Conference outside of the capital for a few days, took a detour to the north to visit another volunteers site, then headed back towards the capital for our 1 year conference....A long couple of weeks to say the least but it helped me to push through what would have been even longer weeks of thinking and wondering what was next for me. 

So, to update...what is next?
I will continue my service as a volunteer until May 2016, when I will officially close my service. EhMay.... But that is a long time to be without your husband! He is broken....he needs his wife. All things I have heard but when it comes down to it, this is the right choice and we have both come to accept it. Peace Corps has always been my dream and to not finish would always leave a what-if....I could have finished. So instead of what-ifs haunting me, I am saying I did. 

Friday, August 7, 2015


Today marks the end of the journey for "us". 

Unfortunately, Matt's injuries require too much care that Uganda cannot accommodate, and as of today his 45 days of Medivac have expired making him a RPCV as he has been medically separated from the Peace Corps.

What does this mean? This is something we have been trying to figure out over the past month and a half. What does this mean for us, for him, for me? This has been an ongoing discussion. Back and forth as we have tried to figure out what we should do, or rather what I should do. It's hard to grasp the idea of a dream being ripped away. 

For Matt he has 2 options. #1 Wait until he heals and reinstate; he has up to 1 year from being medically separated. The downside, by the time he can reinstate our service would be ending.
#2 Realize that his service is finished and start a new journey. Easier said than done when you have been ripped away from a life you have come to love in the matter of seconds.

For Ashley, there are several options. #1 Take an interrupted service and go home to care for your spouse. An option many do not even questioned as they could not imagine sending their loved one home alone and broken. 
#2 Finish out the year and head home. This would allow time to finish up some ongoing projects and say the proper goodbyes.
#3 Stay and finish up the entire Peace Corps service and COS in May.

Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Matt & Medivac

These past few days have been hectic to say the least. The morning of the 25th was like most mornings. 

7:50 AM-We had slept in the living room to give our niece the bed and I woke up to Matt bringing in our youngest neighbor from next door; she needed to take her malaria medication and we seem to be the only ones who can get her to take it. Afterwards, Matt headed to the kitchen to get her some breakfast and walked out onto the porch to start shining his shoes for work.

 8:05 AM- drifted back into my sleep trying to get as much as possible before really getting up for the day. It was going to be a busy day for both of us. I was headed out to the field to do a training and Matt had counseling and his positive living group meeting and we planned on taking our niece to enjoy a day in a Ugandan school as we prepared to leave the next morning on her farewell trip. A few minutes later, I was woken by my neighbor yelling for me to come. At the time I didn't know what she wanted and contemplated ignoring the calls as I tried to get those last minutes of rest. The persistence in her calls brought me out of my sleep as I called to ask what she needed. I walked onto the porch to look for her and noticed the baby on the step eating her breakfast. When I turned the corner to see what she needed, I saw Matt. 

8:15 AM -I found him unconscious on the ground, his eyes were red, very red as if he were bleeding from them. It took a few second to process what had happened; around him was fluid as if he had been throwing up and his head was drenched with sweat or the vomit that surrounded him and his mouth was surrounded with little bubbles of foam; he had had a seizure. I called for our neighbor to get help, but she stood frozen; she was in shock and later I learned she thought he was dead. Our niece came out, she had been woken by the yells and went for help. As I waited I tried my best to help him regain consciousness. Once some of the staff reached us I let them take over as I attempted to call Peace Corps; as luck would have it, I didn't have the correct emergency number for medical and called my Champion, who is a life savor to contact them and waited for their call. 

Before I knew it, we had the entire health center staff at our home. They started to treat his initial injuries as he slowly regained consciousness. It took a while but after a 15 minutes he knew where he was and who he was. We were instructed to head to the nearest hospital that could potentially treat him, 2 hours away. As we mobilized a vehicle for transport , as there are no ambulances and few personal vehicles, we noticed he had pain in his shoulders. The left one you could plainly see it had been dislocated and the right one was swollen twice the normal size. They braced his arms as best as they could and gave him a shot to ease the pain.

10:00 AM After waiting an hour to get a vehicle we headed out but changed course to head directly to the International Hospital in Kampala. After what seemed like the longest ride, especially for Matt who was what I can only believe to be excruciating pain, we had arrived, it was now 3 PM.

In short, they found he had dislocated both shoulders, the right had a fracture and luckily his MRI came back normal. He had had a seizure, either from the porch, or after falling off the porch. No one knows for sure as no one was around expect for our 2 year-old neighbor, and she can't say much.

MEDIVAC- Before we had left the house, the medical officer told me to pack as if we would have to travel internationally and grab our passports. Luckily, I took this advice because withing 24 hours, Matt was on his was to South Africa for surgery as I stayed behind to send off our niece. I arrived in South Africa Friday morning, right after he woke up from surgery. The damage was worse than expected once they started, but the surgeon had managed to repair everything. 

We were officially on medical evacuation, as the medical services in Uganda could not support his needs. Before I left, the staff explained the process and mentioned about access to our home and packing things. My first thoughts and words, I am coming back. It was too early to even think or process the past 24 hours. It had went from a normal morning, to now a husband at the other end of the continent and the idea that our life here would be coming to an end. 

As of now, we are in South Africa and Matt is recovering well. It's a strange new world after a year in the village, 8 lane highways, wide streets with trees lining them, winter ...which I did not pack for and a completely new culture and language. 

We have 45 days from the first day of medivac to determine the fate of returning back to Uganda. As of now, everything rests on an appointment we have on Tuesday. 

Oh, and Happy 4th of July! 
We enjoyed by eating a hot dog and watching some American movies... 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Welcoming New Trainees

We  welcomed 46 new trainees to the Peace Corps Uganda family earlier this month as we said good bye to the cohort before us and marked our one year in country.  Ashley was lucky enough to spend the week training the new Community Agribusiness Volunteers and come early August some of them will get to experience a week in Karuguuza, learning what its like to be a volunteer in Uganda!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Family in Uganda

These past two weeks have been an amazing adventure as we had our first, and probably only, visitors in Uganda. 

Our four visitors, Ashley's Mom, her boyfriend, her best friend and Matt's oldest niece arrived to our beautiful home after a 30-hour journey. After a few hours of sleep, we headed, by public, to our home. We really wanted to give them a true Ugandan experience, how we live day-to-day and thought traveling by public means would be a great start. When we arrived to the taxi park, we could see they were a little overwhelmed. Lugging their suitcases behind them, we lead them through the chaos that we have come accustomed to, to our taxi stage. The driver was delighted to see us, six people plus an extra seat for bags meant we wouldn't have to sit in the park for long and within one hour we were headed west. We had braced them for the journey, about four hours, the first half on tarmac road and the last half down a bumpy dirt road. They were good sports and only complained when they hit their heads on the roof of the taxi when we hit large bumps, or smashed their faces in to the windows when the driver would try to dodge the large holes. 

Welcome to Uganda!

The first week at our home was an experience for sure. They lived with us and went to work with us: out to the fields, in the office counseling, visiting patients, teaching health education and reading books to the school children. They fetched water to bathe, learned how to cook on a sigiri and even learned some local phrases. At the end of the week, they were surprised with a traditional party in their honor with dancing, singing and a feast for all. The week gave them a good insight into how we live everyday. 

So often, it is difficult to explain things to people back home because they simply can't imagine what you are actually talking about. Now, when we mention we had to bathe inside our room because it was raining they know 1st- what it means to bathe; fetching water, boiling it and heading to the bathing stall and 2nd- what it means to bath inside our room (Theresa). They now know what its like to walk to the market and have everyone greet you and kids yelling for your attention, they know our local restaurant we visit on the weekends and the people we live and work with everyday. They even have their own Empakos, traditional pet names for the Runyoro/Rutoro Tribes. To be very honest, when they said they wanted to spend their first week with us versus going on an awesome adventure we were surprised and hoped it would live up to their expectations of a good trip. We love our little town, or as they call it "village", but having hosted no visitors before it was intimidating, and we only hoped they would love it as much as we do and not run towards a hotel with amenities they....we, are use to. Our fears were not met, thankfully, and they wished they could spend even more time in our little village.

Enjoying a local meal at our favorite restaurant in town

Grasshoppers anyone?
Learning how to prepare gnut sauce

Meal with the neighbors

Mom and Theresa reading to nursery children

Being greeted at their local celebration

The second part of the trip was seeing the sites as tourists. We traveled north to Murchison Falls National Park and went on safari. As luck would be, real luck, we were able to see all big 5 animals, an opportunity many do not get in one trip. Afterwards, we headed east to Jinja and enjoyed a few days on the river riding horses and going on a cruise. The end of the journey took us back to Entebbe as they spent their last day at Lake Victoria. 
They now know what it means to get stuck. One the way to Murchison.

The 1st game drive

Some of the Animals we met along the way


Walking to meet the Rhinos at the Rhino Sanctuary

It was a great two weeks and as we told 3 of our guests goodbye, we started a new journey with our niece as she spent the next two weeks back with us in the village. 

All of us at the top of the falls

Friday, June 5, 2015

Happy 1 Year in Uganda!

Uganda, it seems like just yesterday we found out you would be our home for the next 27 months. This past year has been one great adventure after another. From your beautiful green hillsides covered with matooke trees in the west that is now our home, to the dry, flat north, eastward following the source of the mighty Nile, down to the beautiful mountains of the south, you are one magnificent country. You have shared your love of pit latrines over western toilets; the village ones with squares so small a certificate in aim should be awarded first.  You have shown that allergies come in all shapes and sizes from mangoes to plants or all of you as a whole. Diarrhea is not a general term, oh no, you have taught us to know better than that. You have shown us showers are not a necessity, nor is being able to bath in your home or in a sheltered room for that matter. The variety of foods you offer is in bounty, but you have shown you only need loads of carbohydrates to survive. Your ways of cooking are simple yet require patience and much needed attention; a sagiri can be your friend or your worst enemy.  You have made us appreciate the value of water and how scarce it really is.  You have introduced us to amazing people; our neighbors, our co-worker, our friends. This past year has been amazing, and we look forward to this next year with you our friend. 

Love, Ashley & Matt

Friday, May 29, 2015

Youth Club!

After being in country for nearly one year, things are finally starting to come together for us. In the Peace Corps world, they say it takes that first year to integrate and find your place and the second year is when the magic begins to start. After Ashley attended a regional youth technical training with a local youth, Matt's counterpart's son, they started developing the idea to start a youth club at his secondary school. The result, after being granted permission by the head teacher and selecting leaders, a training of leaders was held for two weekends. The three youth selected, are comprised of two males and one female aged 15-17. They were trained in facilitation, communication, various health topics and life skills. At the end of the two weeks the club/program was born, The Youth Health and Life Skills Program. 

And on Friday the 29th of May, the group held its first official introductory meeting for the 30 secondary students selected to participate. The leaders who have 100% control over the meetings, Ashley is only there as a resource and support, decided to structure it as a program, allowing students to participate for 2 terms, after which they will graduate and choose 3-4 members among them to lead the next terms program. 

1st-Information Meeting

This by far, has been a one of the most inspiring things I have seen, as the youth have just blown me away with their leadership skills and their knowledge and confidence on the subjects. 

Looking forward to seeing them grow even more!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sabinyo, Rwanda & Gorillas! - Part II


Without giving our bodies, which were extremely sore the next morning, a chance to rest, we hired a car and headed 15 minutes out towards the Rwandan  border. After doing all the border paperwork, and getting our interstate passes for free entry into the country, we boarded a taxi and headed to the capital, Kigali. 

What to say about Rwanda.. , better yet, not what to say. All in all, it is very well organized, with buses with actual routes that run, the people are very nice, and the towns are very, very clean. We spent the next few days exploring the capital.


The genocide museum, hands down the best either of us has been to and is a must see. 

We took a day trip to Nyanza, south of Kigali, and visited the National Art Museum and Cultural Museum. The Cultural Museum is at the home of the last king of Rwanda and houses lots of artifacts as well as recreations of traditional royal huts.

After a few days we headed west to the tip of Lake Kivu to the Congo/Rwanda border town of Gisenyi. 

Guesthouse in Gisenyi - Discovery Guest House

Lake Kivu


Closing out our trip, we headed back to Kisoro for our last adventure. The guys were so beat from our action packed vacation and decided not to join our final trek. 

So the next morning at 5 am sharp, we headed out to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to go gorilla trekking. The usual price for trekking in Uganda is around $500 during high season. Since it was rainy season (low season), the treks were discounted to $350 and with our residence permits $300. 

At the base camp, we received a debriefing and were sorted into our groups. We were considered a medium trek group, they have short, medium and long treks that you have the option to request but they normally gauge by looking at your group. Our group was made up of another Peace Corps Volunteer and her mother and a group of older Italian men.

The trek is what it says, a literal trek. You start off on a path and as you get closer to the family the guide will start slashing away and lead you down and up the hillsides.  They recommend wearing long pants, which of course we did not have on, to avoid the stinging plants that can burn your skin for up to 30 minutes. A trek wouldn't be a trek without safari ants spanning an entire section of the trail. This is the section were we literally almost pushed past the guides as we tried to keep our legs from remaining idle too long. For those of you unfamiliar to safari ants, they are mean suckers. They attach on to you and bite, you literally have to pull each on off. The last stretch required us to literally climb up the forested hillsides grabbing on to vines and tree trunks to pull ourselves up.

Bwindi National Park

Trekking for Gorillas

Finally, we caught up with the gorillas! We trailed behind the back up of the group.  His size was nothing like I expected; he towered over us when we walked on his back two feet. At one point, giving us a fair warning we were following too long/close, he let out a roar and stood on his back two feet. Of course, I was at the front of the group and felt my heart skip a few beats as I grabbed leaves and pretended to eat them, something the guides had prepped us on. I had never imagined to be  as close as were were as he led us into a clearing where the family of 16 sat in the trees searching for berries. In total, we trekked a little over 9 miles and it was well worth it to see this amazing creatures in their natural habitat. 

The next morning our adventure ended as we headed to the bus at 4:45 only to wait for the 5 am bus to depart at 6 am. Finally around  9 pm we were greeted with our amazing neighbors and back at home.

More Pictures Coming Soon!

Sabinyo, Rwanda & Gorillas! - Part I

These past few weeks have been hectic, challenging and somehow relaxing.  Ashley attended a week training of trainers to prepare for the new volunteers arriving early June and has been busy getting lesson plans ready. Matt has been busy planning for the next quarterly HIV testing event. All of this while we have been trying to prepare everything for our first visitors from the U.S.! , and in the middle of all this we decided to take our first vacation since arriving almost 1 year ago. 


We traveled with another volunteer and her boyfriend who is visiting from the U.S. Our first stop was Kisoro in southwestern Uganda. Being a vacation, aka, not a time for resting, we decided to get the most out of the trip. We took the boys up a trail we did last October that overlooks Lake Mutanda and headed to the lake to do some canoeing. Somehow everyone but Ashley, who was lucky enough to be handed a paddle, was able to relax as they were guided across the lake. 

Lake Mutanda

On Lake Mutanda-Center most mountain-Mt. Sabinyo

The next day we decided to try our luck at hiking/climbing/crawling, basically any way we could to get up Mt. Sabinyo. 

Mt Sabinyo is one of the three distinct volcanoes that can be seen in Kisoro, and unlike its neighbors, it has multiple peaks, the second being shared with Rwanda, and the third at 3,645m (11,959ft) shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Mt Sabinyo-Starting our Journey 

We started our journey around 6am packed lunches in tow and made our way to the park entrance. Being rainy season, we really did not know what to expect. The sky was overcast and there was a chill in the air, but we decided we would take our chances. Once we arrived we were introduced to our guides, one armed just in case we ran into any forest elephants (to scare them away) and the other to serve as a guide. We were given the option to hire a local porter, who carries your bags for a small fee, which we decided to do and are very happy we did. Once we all had our walking sticks in hand we set out a little before 8am. 

The beginning of the trek takes you through old farm land that has been reclaimed by forest. As you trek deeper the forest turns into a bamboo forest that thickens and the ground becomes your enemy. The trail turns from a solid dirt path to a mushy boggy mud that has the potential of swallowing your legs whole. This is where the sticks and the ability to balance on small logs and stones comes in handy. Somehow regardless of how careful we were, we still ended up with soaking wet shoes and mud to our ankles. Further up the trail, the landscape changes drastically into what looks like something out of a story book. 

Bamboo Forest

Trying not to fall in the mud

Enchanted Forest

After the enchanted forest, we started our ascent up the first peak and were introduced to our friends, the lovely ladders. They really aren't that bad. In fact, Ashley discovered that literally climbing/crawling up them made it faster and not tiring.

Once we arrived at the first peak, we took a few minutes to look around. The clouds from the early morning had cleared up giving us great views. 

Once we caught our breaths, it was time to head down the first peak and start our journey up the second. We were challenged with more ladders and for those of us afraid of heights (Ashley and Matt), were challenged by our nerves and weak legs. The path itself is not too narrow, but peaking over the side makes it appear to shrink to the size made for one extremely skinny person. At the top of the second peak the views were even more incredible. To the left, the mountain slopped down with thick forest and rolling hills into Rwanda. To the right, the thick forested mountain led down into a beautiful valley surrounded by tiny mountains that were at one time volcanoes themselves. 

Our Friends-The Ladders

At Peak #2

Then it happened. We looked ahead and saw ladders. Ladders that looked completely vertical the entire way up. We were done, plain and simple. Our friend, determined to make it to the top, headed up the last peak with the guide as the rest of us sat and enjoyed our lunch. Do wish we had did the last peak? Yes, it would have been nice, but seeing the straight up ladders was a deal breaker....clouds would have helped at this point.

Our friend headed to the 3rd peak

Usually it takes an average of five hours to go up the trail and three hours to make it back down. We were able to make decent time and made it back at the car around 6pm with not a single drop of rain. Not bad for just a couple of average explorers. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Week in Ashley’s Shoes

We know a lot of you are curious about what a day in our shoes is like, so we decided to share a week in our shoes with you. 
We will start this past week with Ashley.

Before I start, I want to really introduce my organization and project. My host organization is EMESCO Development Foundation. It was locally founded by the current director who was born in the district I live in, Kibaale District, before it even got its name. He’s a very amazing man. He saw the communities struggling in areas of development and the lack of aid/organizations being sent to the area and decided to start helping the communities himself. In 1999, the organization started with programs officially beginning in 2000. The original projects were focused in areas of water and sanitation; things like building protected bore holes, water catchments and pit latrines in communities and schools. In fact, if you visit many of the schools throughout the district, you will see EMESCO written on the majority of water tanks, latrines and bore holes. After 15 years, the projects have expanded into 5 main areas of: water, sanitation and hygiene, health, agriculture, education and environment. 

My project: Sustainable Organic Agriculture Project-Year 3

The project was recently renewed for its 3rd year this past month and I am very excited to see the program start from the beginning. The first 2 years the projected was focused in certain communities and during year 3 the program restarts by entering into new communities.
This project involves going out into the communities 4 out of 5 days a week, with an average one way travel being 1 ½ hours.

Here is a glance at a week in my shoes, although this week did have a holiday I wasn't expecting.


I woke up around 5am thanks to the neighbor’s rooster and tried to go back to bed…without much luck.

8 am I finally got up and got ready for work and at 9 am headed to the office. (I live right across the street, literally, and it takes less than one minute)

10am headed to our first community with one of my counterparts. It took about 1 ½ hours to get to the village and we spend the first half of the day with them. The meeting was the first official meeting in the community and we sensitized members about the project. 

Around 2:30 we headed into a nearby town and got lunch and by 3 we were headed to the next community and stayed there until around 5. 

Once we were halfway home, the rain started. Since we were traveling by motorcycle, which is a must to get into these villages, we had to stop. Luckily, there was a small auto shop and we ran inside and waited with some fellow travelers. We ended up waiting for 2 hours, the rain would not let up for anything. It was too dark inside, as they shut the door to keep the rain out, to notice that I actually knew the attendant at the shop and when he called my name I was very confused until I saw his face. It’s a small world; he is one of the local youth we have worked with that works at the shop during breaks from school. 

Finally after the rain stopped, we geared up and started heading home. The sun had started to go down and the air was cold making the ride seem longer, besides the fact it took double the time to make it home due to the wet ground. 

8:30 pm, finally made it home, frozen. I took a warm bucket bath in the house. Ate rice and g-nut sauce my neighbors had prepared and passed out by 11pm (which is early for me).


Woke up again around 5am thanks to the neighbor’s rooster and tried to go back to bed…..contemplated going outside and unlocking it from the neighbor’s kitchen so it could go out of the compound. Instead, I yelled for someone to make it stop….which did not happen.

8 am I got up and ready for work and by 9 am I was headed to the office.

10am headed out with my counterparts and traveled 1 ½ hours to a village nearby the ones from Monday. Spent the afternoon with community members and headed out to the next community. Due to circumstances we did not anticipate, the local healer (who is the chairperson), was praying/healing some of his followers, so we had to reschedule for next week. It happens. 
The chairperson from the first community gave us eggs and we took them to town and fried them for lunch. (As of writing this to post, I found out that the healer was in a serious motorcycle accident with the other driver dying instantly. He is in critical condition in the capital, so thoughts his way.)

Afterwards, we headed back and I got home around 6:30. Took a shower, worked on some things in the computer, ate pork Matt prepared, watched some shows on the laptop and went to bed around 12:30am.

Sensitizing new community about program


Woke up around 5am, again. Dreamt I was waking up my neighbor to unlock the kitchen to let the rooster out. It kept making noise for the next 3 hours…it was just a dream.

8 am got up and ready for work, not in the best mood from lack of sleep, and by 9 am I was headed to the office. 

10am headed with my one of my counterparts to new communities in another sub-county. The trip took about 1 hour to get 32k (~16 miles) and the ride was absolutely beautiful.
We spent the afternoon in the new communities and were welcomed with open arms. The great thing about the projects the organization does is they enter into communities from all sides; first are usually water and sanitation projects, then health and agriculture. This helps to give the communities a solid foundation of basic needs as they build up their other skills as well as a good relationship and trust. 

Made it back home at 5pm, worked out for a hour since I was back early, took my bucket bath, ate dinner, watched a few episodes of Chuck and headed to bed around 12:30. 

Did I mention they ate the rooster for dinner, finally.


8 am got up and ready for work and by 9 am headed to the office. 

10am headed with my counterpart to the villages in new sub-county. We spent the afternoon in the villages, ate lunch in the nearby town and headed back home. 

Made it back around 6 and stopped by the office to drop off paperwork. Also, I was told Friday was Labour Day so no work Friday…not going to argue with that. 

Went home, worked out for about a hour, ate dinner, discovered the Roswell series, and went to bed around 2am. 


Slept in, I enjoy my sleep. Woke up around 11. 

I spent the day catching up on closing out a grant, finishing activity reports and washing the sheets and blankets which amazingly didn’t take too long (I am getting faster at washing). Ended up staying up all night watching more Roswell.


Slept in and woke up around 11am, spent a few hours working on the computer and got ready to meet one of my youth. Around 1:30 I headed out to a nearby secondary school and meet with three new youth trainers from 2-5. I would have visited my Saturday group of kids I meet with to read and play games, but it was raining so I headed home, worked out, ate dinner and watched Roswell all night. Around 12 am I took a break to eat some yummy duck the neighbors had prepared, Matt missed out since he was already asleep, and stayed up until around 3 watching more Roswell. 


Woke up around 9:30 and started washing all of my clothes, it took about 1 ½ hours. 

Around 1:30 I headed to meet with the youth trainers at the secondary school from 2-5.

Afterwards, I made a trip to town and bought food for the night. Once I got home, I headed to the garden and weeded, then headed over the primary school next door and hung out with some of the students.  Once the sun went down, I headed home and worked out, took my warm bucket bath inside and cooked stir fry for dinner and worked on this blog entry while watching Roswell.
Around 12 I went to bed finishing out my week.

Traveling to the new communities

This Guy

This Bridge

No way we were going to let him go first

So there you have it, a typical week in my shoes. Next week, Matt.