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.