Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Close of Service! :)

I am an official Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) as of April 15, 2009! It's unreal, I am still trying to adjust to not being a PCV anymore. First things done after leaving Peace Corps:

1. Ride many a piki piki (motorcycle) throughout Kampala city.
2. Drank a few beers and shared a hookah with Christopher to celebrate
3. Saw some of the sites of Kampala in preparation to leave Uganda (using afore mentioned piki pikis).

We went to the Baha'i Temple in Kampala first. It was really cool to see it, one of only a few in the world and the only one on the African continent. We learned the history of the newest world religion and spent some time in the temple itself. You must take off your shoes and are not allowed to speak when in the temple, as it is used for meditation. While inside, Christopher and I were struck by the calm silence, though sometimes broken with the echoing sound of the birds outside. It truly was a holy place.
Next, we visited the Kasubi Tombs of the Baganda kings. It was interesting to see the momument built to honor the last four kings of such an expansive kingdom. We learned about the history of the kings, especially Mutesa I, who was the first Buganda king to come into contact with Europeans and even made a deal with Queen Victoria for some canons to ward off his enemies. The tombs themselves are housed in the largest grass thatched hut in the world -- which was cool to see. Also, there was the stuffed leoard pet of Mutesa I, to whom he fed a goat a day. Weird but cool!
We said our goodbyes to Kampala and headed West for the beginning of our African travels, but I am very happy we visited these two sites as they are an integral part of what makes Kampala special.

For more info on these two places, please visit the links below!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Christmas vacation, installment 4

When we were with my Mom and the fam we took Christopher to see the sights of the town and its surrounding areas. They are as follows:

1. My cousin Matthew's new house! It was a beautiful cottage on the lake -- I am a bit jealous! :)

2. The Peterborough lift locks--kind of like a small Panama Canal lock. Interesting, even though they were closed up due to the cold weather. It was nice though, as the canal leading up to the locks had frozen over and kids were playing hockey on the ice.

3. The Neil Young Museum: Awesome, even though it was closed.

4. The Lindsay river -- beautiful when its covered in snow and ice!!
5. Hockey, hockey and more hockey.

One of the best things we did was attend my Grandma's New Year's Day party. I love Grandma's parties because all of her sisters and brothers stop by whom I love to see and love to watch them interact. They are all so individual and unique, and by the the end of the party, they start to sing. My Great Aunt even played the organ this time. Christopher thought that was fantastic! There's always too much food and lots of laughs. Thanks Grandma!

Cody and Julian really wanted to take Christopher and I out ice skating. We went first to the indoor rink. Now, I am no pro skater. I hug to the sides of the rink like a kid, I would even push a chair in front of me as I skate if it wasn't silly for a 26 year old to do so. Finally when I got the courage to get away from the side, sure enough I fell. No injuries to report, we all had a good laugh. My brothers then took us to an outdoor rink they had made not far from the house. Christopher put on about 80 layers of clothing in order to face the elements and ended up sweating like crazy. It as a lot of fun though, I even made a goal, albeit a slow one into the hockey net. Thank goodness for our hot coffee though, as my feet were frozen after the skate.

After all this fun, food, and skating the time came to return to Uganda. It was sad to leave my family again but I am so grateful we were able to visit! Christopher had a great time too, even when Grandma asked him to play some Tony Bennet on the guitar! I can't wait to visit again, especially when it's warmer!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Daylight in Africa

There are days I wish I was more eloquent about my time and my surroundings in Uganda. I have always had a love-hate with Ugandan mornings. Once you hear the first rooster crow and the muezzin call the faithful to prayer, its over. You might was well just get up and do your laundry. But since I can't put it any better than that, here's an exerpt from a fantastic book I am reading, The Shadow of the Sun:

"The sight of the sun acts like a starter's pistol: the town instantly springs into motion. It's as if all night long everyone was crouching on his starter blocks and now, at the signal, at that shot of sunlight, they all take off full speed ahead. No intermediate stages, no preparations. All at once, the streets are full of people, the shops are open, the fires and kitchens are smoking."

Leaving Busia

So the time came for me to leave my home of 2 years. It came a bit before I was ready, due to unforturnate circumstances. It was overwhelming to say farewell, and even more so having to do it abruptly. Yet, all things must come to an end.

Its been almost 3 weeks since I moved out of Busia for good. It was very sad and I think I haven't wrote about it too much because its slowly sinking in that my work and life in Uganda is done. In some ways, there is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, as the burden of living in a risky border area kept me always tense. The gravity of the issues in Busia also weighed heavily on me though I think, over time, I became desensitized to it all. That crazy border town created an endless amount of work, as well. I loved it though, especially the girls' camp and the orphans and vulnerable children project development.

I am having trouble putting my 2 years in Busia into perspective. I think the beginning was really shaky, as I tried to find my place and apply what I learned in Peace Corps training to such a unique environment. With the knowledge I have now on how to get things in Uganda done, I wish I could go back and do some things again. Yet, I realize that learning is a process and I couldn't have done it any differently, especially in a place like Busia. There were days I wanted to give up -- my outlook on behavior change tarnished by endemic problems in the population. I think those days were more frequent in the first year. Coming to realize that corruption is the system through which things here get done, seeing street children treated like pests, hearing horrible stories of abuse, seeing the effects of HIV everyday, and witnessing the ways people have to use in order to provide for themselves and their families all mixed together in my heart and soul to block any semblance of a solution I could have come up with. These are also the things that I became desensitized to over the two years. I worry to what effect seeing these things and continuing everyday to work and live have had on me.

But, instead of focusing on the negative things, I know that I will never forget the people. What a difference relationships made for me! My best friend in Busia, Harriet, and her daughter, Gloria, provided solace and support through it all. I owe my sanity to Harriet as she helped me find myself amongst all the dirt, disease, and dust. She truly was an angel sent at the right time in my service, a time when questioning myself had become constant. Its amazing when we, as human beings, realize our connectedness, our humanity. Harriet helped me to this realization. Even though we were very different, we could be girlfriends -- something I so desperately needed. I think that the art program at New Hope Orphanage that I was able to participate in during my second year lifted my spirit as well. The children there are probably the most humble people I have ever met. They are truly and inspiration in selflessness. I learned from them that leading our lives with our hearts is possible. I think their faces will foever be in my heart and memory. Camp GLOW was another activity that helped me along my journey. I believed in the work more than any other work I have ever done. I felt a purpose and a drive to impart some of what I believe makes me who I am to my girls. I saw myself in them and found a kind of commradery amongst them. They truly are a light in the darkness of that town.

So, when I look back on my service, yes I could focus on Busia (or Busketchia as some of us fondly renamed it) and its problems, or I can focus on the people and thank God for the relationships I was blessed to make.
And that, more than the work, is my biggest accomplishment and what I am eternally thankful for.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Jonathan Swift poem

In preparation for my travels in East Africa, I am reading a book on the history of Indian Ocean trade. Here's a poem I found amongst the 500 pages:

"So geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs,
Place elephants for want of towns."


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hey Jude!

Happy Birthday to my little brother, Julian! Love you!

Christmas vacation, installment 3

After leaving Kansas, we travelled to see my family. I had met Christopher's family when they came to visit in Uganda in 2007, but he had never met any of my family. And meet the family he did. Now, I must preface this family meeting business with a small note on the SIZE of my extended family. It's huge. We're Irish. I meet new people I am somehow related to everytime I visit.

We got in late as our flights were cancelled/delayed (seemed to be a running theme of the vacation) and I got off the plane with reindeer ears that blinked and Christopher with his maple leaf hat. I can't really explain how overwhelming it was to actually see my family's faces after 2 years of being apart. My first thought was, holy crap, Cody is huge! It seems my youngest brother grew up while I was gone...a reminder of the length of my absence.

First thing we did was get some fast food (another running theme of the vacation) and coffee to warm us up. Again, that side of the world is COLD! We arrived home around one in the morning without our luggage, as it was unfortunately lost. Christopher and I were sick over the lost luggage as we had brought half of Africa home to give to my family and friends but the airline promised to deliver the luggage later.

Over the course of the week, we had visits from so many family members it was exhausting and great! Poor Christopher, everytime the house would empty out at the end of the day I'd see him go downstairs to the basement to get a cold beer. He was a trooper, there were a lot of people to meet!

We went out to my Aunt and Uncle's place for New Year's Eve to watch USA play Canada in hockey. The Americans among us tried to rally our team, but a USA victory was not to be. Let's face it, Canadians know hockey! By the end of the night, even Christopher was wearing a Canada hat. Traitor.

The final chapter in Christmas vacation 2008 witll come soon...