Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I hope it was nice and delicious. With some boda riding, and major craziness, we managed to pull off thanksgiving and feed around 20 people. Here is how...

We had some dedicated people in our group who were insistent that we would cook a real thanksgiving meal, but we didn't have an oven. In order to cook a pie, pigs in a blanket, baked mac and cheese, green bean casserole, stuffing, pumpkin muffins, and I am sure I am missing some, a few people bodad to San Kofa, a place that we often eat at and used their oven while also helping them cook a thanksgiving meal for their costumers. Meanwhile, a lot of us stayed at our house cooking on two charcoal stoves and one gas stove. I personally, had two focus groups in the morning, and then went to the market several times to get food. I cooked Malakwang (it was mostly the woman who works here named Linda and I watched) and no bake cookies. Everyone else cooked some guacamole, beans, rice, chappati (that was bought but shhh), turkey (One girl got a turkey, brought it into our house, and then killed it in our backyard with  Linda when I was out), some more stuffing, and I am sure I am forgetting things again. In the end... we had too much food, and everyone was pretty happy with their meals.

Earlier that day I had my first focus groups. They went amazing because I had a 4th year medical student helping me translate. Along with helping me translate, he also helped rewrite many of my questions and really was personable so people would feel comfortable answering. I had one focus group of 6 males and one with 6 females. Their answers were very informative, and complete opposite of each other.

Anyways, I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving!

Oh, and theres only 23 days left...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life is awesome sometimes.

I am so incredibly happy today, and here is why...

I met with my academic director this morning to get my research started. We started by taking tea, of course. He then showed me all of these articles on the stigmitization of HIV/AIDS here in Gulu and then gave me all of the statistics that are present here. Here are some statistics he told me... 1) The municiple district I am in has an HIV/AIDS prevelance rate of 1 in 4 (2) The barracks that contain Ugandan soldiers have a prevelance rate of 50% (3) A pub here called Buganda Pub on any given night would have a prevelance rate of over 70% (4) You go outside of this district, and the prevelance is 12%. First, that is insane... Second, it is also really messed up. I asked Dr. David why the prevelance is so high and he explained that it was because Kampala sends their infected soldiers here to Gulu, where it is then spread to the rest of Gulu. I am not sure if the government does this on purpose, but either way, it is not okay.

So that isn't why I think life is awesome sometimes... this is why...

I have been dealing with some added B.S. from the US on an action I participated in last May. I was protesting AIDS budget cuts to PEPFAR. I have been doubting my action ever since there has been all of this extra drama from the US court, but today made me really happy to have done the action. I was speaking the the head doctor of the Infectious Disease Clinic and she asked me where I was from.... I said the US. She then looked at me and said "Oh, you guys scared us this year when you were deciding the budget for PEPFAR". I asked her how the cuts would have affected her unit (it is a government unit), she said they would have had to cut staff by half, and may not even have been able to keep it running. I then told her how I participated in an action against it, and she gave me a big hug and said thank you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Let's blog it up...

It is ISP time! Yay! What is my project you may be asking? Well, I was hoping you could answer that for me. Just kidding...

This is part of my proposal because I am lazy and don't feel like rewording it.
The Effects of ARV Treatment on Patients’ Risky Sexual Behavior in Post-Conflict Northern Uganda


Uganda is often looked at as a model for HIV/AIDS reduction because of their very successful campaign to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The campaign started in the late 1980s, and has lost momentum since then. Currently, the HIV/AIDS prevalence is increasing at an alarming rate despite the increase in access to life-saving ARV treatment. Antiretroviral drugs have changed the perception of AIDS from a death sentence to a treatable, manageable disease. This change in the perception may have reduced the fear surrounding HIV; therefore, it could have led to an increase in risky sexual behavior. The research that will be conducted will look at the perception of HIV/AIDS and how the perception changes sexual behavior.


The history of HIV/AIDS in Africa has three distinct phases. The first stage was the rapid increase of HIV/AIDS in urban areas and areas along highways; especially in the Lake Victoria region. Doctors’ in this area began to call this disease “slim disease” because it caused people’s bodies to waste away. The first official diagnosis of AIDS came in 1982 and doctors’ quickly linked “slim disease” to HIV/AIDS. In 1986, when the civil war ended and President Museveni came into power, the first major HIV prevention program was founded. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS had become an epidemic by this time and affected 30 percent of people. In 1987, the first AIDS control program was set up to educate the citizens of Uganda on the ABC approach (abstain, be faithful, use condoms) to preventing HIV/AIDS. The program also ensured safety of blood supply and started HIV/AIDS surveillance. There was very strong political leadership that committed itself to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Along with the strong government programs to stop the epidemic, many grass-roots programs began. TASO, a community-based organization was formed in the late 1980s along with The AIDS Support Organization.
The second phase of the HIV/AIDS epidemic ran from 1992 to 2000. During these years the HIV prevalence fell from 30 percent to 5 percent. The decline was due in part to the ABC prevention method and the grass-roots movements. A majority of the reason is said to be because there was little treatment available, so the high-numbers of HIV/AIDS patients simply died out in this time period. In 1998, the Ugandan government ran a test trial to see if it was feasible to provide HIV/AIDS treatment to developing countries.
The third phase of HIV/AIDS in Uganda is the rise in HIV/AIDS prevalence. In 2004, free ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) were made available in Uganda. In 2006 the prevalence of HIV/AIDS jumped from about 5 percent to 7 percent. There are two popular theories to why the sudden increase in HIV/AIDS prevalence. The first theory is that Uganda’s shift away from ABC and towards abstinence might have caused the increase. The second theory is that ARVs have made HIV/AIDS a treatable, livable disease so people have lost the ambition to practice safe-sex.
The Problem Statement
The recent increase in ARV distribution in post-conflict Northern Uganda has also been met with an increase in HIV/AIDS prevalence. This could be attributed to a new misperception of HIV/AIDS as a minor life-long illness rather than a death sentence that HIV/AIDS used to be a mere ten years ago.


The reason of this research is to determine the cause of the steady increase in HIV/AIDS prevalence in post-conflict Northern Uganda. The data collected will be used to provide information on how to improve the use and distribution of ARVs. If risky sexual behavior is a cause to the rise of HIV/AIDS further research will have to be done on how to provide a more multifaceted treatment program that would target the issue of risky sexual behavior.

On to ISP time...

I am living with all the other students in a house near a place called Acholi Inn. I have been cooking which is fun. We had family dinner night where we attempted eggplant parmesan with pasta and no-bake cookies for desert. It went well. Last night we made mexican Acholi food, which meant chapati, rice, beans, and a gauc salsa... Delishhh.

I am heading home in a month and am really excited to see my mom and dad and my new kittens they got the day after i left which I am still bitter about, and of course my sister (but most important in this group is the kittens... just kidding family). I am going to cook dinner for them and start helping out around the house... now since it is in writing and announced to everyone who reads this it will be done.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Millenium Village Whaaa Whaa?

Yesterday, 96% of us went to the Millenium Village here in Rwanda (I like using percentages that may or may not be completely incorrect to make myself sound more legitimate). What is the Millenium Village you may be asking yourself? No worries, I got your back...

The Millenium Village project was started by the Earth Institute at Columbia University under the guidance of Jeffrey Sachs. The village project uses the eight Millenium Goals to frame its objectives (end hunger/poverty/HIV, TB, Malaria, other dieseases/ reduce maternal and child mortality/ promote education and gender equality and global partnership/ ensure environmental sustainability). It uses evidence-based techniques to bring one village to complete the Millenium Development Goals. See its website/wikipedia for more information...

To get a tour of the village it costs 30 USD... I was surprised in its overly touristy feel. We had a tour guide take us to meet of the village's farmers, the medical facility, basket weaving women, and in the end we saw traditional dances. At first, I was incredibly dissapointed that the entire village and everyone in it had become a tourist attraction... I still don't know how I feel about it.

Something did change that made me happy with my visit. Once you got past the overly touristy feel, I could see something I have yet to see here in my stay... a sense of genuine happiness and peace. The village is determined to bring unity to the survivors of genocide and the perpetrators. I thought this was impossible, and though I was only there for five hours... there was this sense of peace. What gave me this feeling? I honestly could not tell you... Mostly because there was no specific instance or thing that made me feel this... It was just there.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween.

Going to three genocide sites on Halloween is quite the feet. In case you were worrying I wouldn't get my skeleton fix on Halloween, rest assure, I got my fix... and then some.

I could go on forever about the fact that there was a genocide here and the memorials are graphic and overwhelming and disturbing and whatever other word you can use to explain seeing thousands of skeletons or clothing items or the occasional blood stain from children being thrown against the wall or hearing several accounts of survivors.... but no matter what words I use or how I phrase the experience it cannot be properly expressed because you have to see it to feel it... even believe it.

Here are my immidiate thoughts...

Genocide sucks... along with: Murder, rape, torture, discrimination, prejudice, ignorance, inhumanity, evil, death, colonization, super-powers leaving one million people to be murdered within two months. I don't know how Rwandans (or any people from most of Africa) look at people from developed nations (aka myself and my group) and smile and act friendly. Colonization put Rwandans into Hutu Tutsie ethnic groups and created the imbalance. France supplied the Hutu extremists with weapons to commit genocide. When genocide was occuring, we left. Genocide ended, and we come back giving money because we feel guilty. If I was Rwandan I would hate my presence.

Also... My dog died? How does the sadness an animal dying fit into this larger picture of sadness over people being exterminated like "cockroaches". I feel pretty pathetic for being sad... I guess that is how it fits.

Oh the irony Halloween brings.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Everything is in French...

I am in Rwanda today... I was also in Rwanda yesterday.

Yesterday was my first day in Rwanda, and since they use Franks, I decided to go get some money from the bank. In Uganda there are plenty of banks that love my Mastercard... Rwanda, however, hates my Mastercard. A simple task of getting money from the invisible space and into my pocket was quite the experience. I first asked a Rwandan man what bank would take my Mastercard... he laughed at me. I asked our director, and he asked his friend, and I found out Bank of Kigali likes them some Mastercard... so I went.

I walked into the bank and it was so crowded. One thing I learned I hate now? Lines. There are no lines in Gulu because there are no people... It is not the same here. I waited in line for twenty minutes only to be told I had to go to the headquarters. This would seem easy enough right? Wrong. I took a motor-taxi to the first bank without any money. I needed to take the same one to the one in town... with no money. My boda did not understand why I was not paying him,and I though he was going to punch me in the face. Luckily... another boda came over, gave him 500 franks, and told me he would take me. He was cool.

In Gulu driving on a boda is quite easy because they go so slow because there are no real roads. Here, there are real roads so they go fast. As badass as I felt afterwards, I thought I was going to die the whole ride. When I finally got to the bank my hand had been holding on so tight to the back handle that it hurt to stretch it out.

Good news? I got some money...

I also celebrated Halloween here. We went to a bar dressed as soccer players because all we had were jerseys. Rwanda knows how to dress for Halloween and we were laughable in our soccer jerseys. To say the least, it was fun.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bloggity Blog Blog

I have been in Kampala for the past week. Showing up to Kampala I was a little shell-shocked. There were 40 million cars and 100 million people on the street. It was terrifying. We pulled into the same hotel we stayed at our first night and we all looked at eachother and said "shit". The first day we were in this hotel we thought it was awful. It wasn't clean, the shower pressure sucked, and the food was not good. Pulling into the same hotel a month and a half later, we were in shock of how nice it was. It is not only clean, but we have toilets, mirrors, hot showers (the most satisfying thing of all), and the food (though repetitive) is delicious. Apparently, Gulu has lowered my standards of living by quite a bit.

We went to the Garden City Mall the first day after lectures. We all walked in with faces that probably had the security gaurds saying what the eff is wrong with these poeple. The mall is four stories big and had thai food and indian food and ice cream and a supermarket and spas and a bowling alley and an escalator and a coffee shop that was identical to starbucks. We (or just me, but I will say we so I don't sound like the only idiot) acted like kids who were given 3,000 pixie sticks and then some sugar on the side. I calmed down after I ran around the whole place looking at all the stores.

I can analyze this and think about developed nations and developing nations and why does a place like that exist when there are places like Gulu or Kitgum or any of Northern Uganda. I can sit and think how awful it was that I spent 90,000 shillings that day (around 35 USD) on a facial and really good food, I can even analyze the fact I got so happy by material things. This program causes a lot of self-introspection along with a lot of thinking of your surroundings (I think that would occur with or without the SIT program). I rationalize that day by saying this... 1) Garden City exists even though Northern Uganda is in shambles because there is money in Kampala because of corruption, tourism, and corruption. 2) It is not awful to spend 90,000 shillings because who wouldnt want a facial and really good Indian food. All I can do is be greatful that I can do that. And no, (I am now talking to myself who thinks it would have been better to not spend the money and give it away) I am not bad for not giving that money to the homeless person infront of Garden City because had I given that money it owuld have sustained that person for maybe 3 months and created a dependence thought process (not that one donation of 90,000 would do that, but it encourgaes the idea). There are many more reasons for why it is not awful and I would love to discuss them with anyone who would want to discuss them. 3) Material goods do provide a sense of happiness... I lived without them for a month and half and I was happy, I got them for a day and I was happy. It is a different kind of happiness that yes, you can loose yourself in, or enjoy for one day and then make a rule not to go backk until the last day to have a fancy dinner with your study abroad group on a revolving restaurant that overlooks the city of Kampala.

We leave to Mbarara(sp?) tomorrow to look at refugee camps. Fun stuff.

Btw... Obama sent 100 US troops to Uganda to fight Kony. Kony and the LRA are not in Uganda... I see a problem with this logic. Maybe...  the US sent 100 US troops to keep Al Shabab in Somalia and maybe they are here to check out the huge oil supply found in Northern Uganda. Good ol' Musevini has been fighting the war in Somalia for the US for quite some time. Recently, Al Shabab has gotten a little crazy and attacked refugee camps in Kenya... and recently the US sent 100 troops. Maybe there is not a connection to the oil and Al Shabab.... but I think it is worth asking why 100 troops were sent to Uganda when the target is in the Congo.

Who knows.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Here we go Kampala

Today we left our homestays with all of our stuff and we are going to head to Kampala. For breakfast this morning... My mego made me samosas, chapati, odi (peanut butter but better), milk tea, banannas, papaya, guava, orange juice, oranges, and boiled eggs. To say the least... I loved it and am spoiled. I will miss my mego so much. The conversations we have had have been life-changing (corny) and the work I have done with her may or may not have taught me how much of a lazy-ass I am at home. I can feel that I have changed, I think it is all for the good. I hope I can keep this change for when I reach home.

I will visit my family when I get back from Rwanda, but I will be living with the other 13 students in a huge house. It has running water, electricity, and a huge modern kitchen. I feel a little bad about this... but I will also really want all of these things while i am doing research.

My research project is why has HIV/AIDS prevelance risen dramatically with the introduction to ARVS... My advisor thinks that HIV has gone up because people are simply giving the drugs out without infomring people that they can still spread HIV on medication.... I think it will be interesting and open up a whole new lot of questions as well.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It is Almost the End of the Beginning

Tomorrow is our homestay farewell parties. On Wends. we will travel to Kampala for one week and then Rwanda for two.

Two nights ago we hung out with SIT Rwanda at a rooftop bar. I have always been told that Rwanda is the prime example of a country using aid to further a countries progress. What I have never heard is that the government is incredibly oppressive when it comes to freedom of speech. The SIT kids are not allowed to talk about the government in class, in their homestays, or anywhere... if they do, they could be kicked out of the country and SIT could never be invited back. They are not allowed to read certain articles or books. A main reason they come to Uganda is to debrief on their entire experience in Rwanda. The students told us that Tootsie and Hutu as present identities are not spoken of due to government constraints. When I am in Rwanda I will not be able to blog about certain things. The students told me that had I visited without this knowledge I probably never would have seen it. In the last election, the current government scared away the opposition.

On a different note..

Mussevini was talked about in the NYT as America's best ally in Africa. I am happy to know our best ally steals millions of dollars in aid, has committed countless war crimes, has killed up to 10 people for protesting rising prices in the past year, and has been in power for 20 years. He hates terrorists though...

On the bright side... in the beginning he did a lot for HIV/AIDS and education?

Scattered, I know... but I will compose a better one later.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just something to read

Since I have been discussing this so much in this blog and not doing it justice... here is an actual semi-intellectual writing. I don't agree with everything, but I think it is good to think about.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mbale... The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hi readers...

On Monday SIT took us to Mbale. Mbale is in Eastern Uganda. The program wants to introduce us to all of Uganda so we are not able to overgeneralize Uganda when we go back to the US and talk about our experiences.

Something that I have written about before is how difficult it is to be in Gulu/ Northern Uganda and constantly be surrounded by the ghosts of its destructive war torn past. I was beginning to think these ghosts where everywhere except Kampala, where the central government is located and oppresses the North. Peace is not known here in Northern Uganda and it can be pretty taxing on the spirit when you are trying to study post-conflict transformation and all you can see is conflict.

For example, we went to talk to students in a high school. I had a really great conversation with three high school students. One of the things we talked about was the Bible. The girl who was speaking of the Bible was a Christian who took "eye for an eye" very seriously. I told her that I believed in forgiveness and she responded by saying "How can munos (white people) forgive so easily all the time?". I thought about how this was way too over-generalized, and thought about arguing it, but another thought came to mind. I told her most munos can forgive so easily because America as a country has never experienced anything like Uganda since the civil war. Americans have not seen war on their soil, and most Americans do not know what it is like for their home to be invaded by either the government or a rebel group, their siblings taken or killed, their parents taken or killed, themselves taken or killed, or all of their belongings being stolen. Most Americans can forgive easily because we have not experienced such trauma or evil. I told her this and she responded, "If that boy hit you, I would make him bleed to make you happy, that is love in Uganda".

This is the mentality that is here. The students I was speaking to go to the best high school in Norther Uganda. They are bright, engaged, and educated; yet they still have this deep need for revenge. Peace is not here, even in the generation that is supposed to be hope for the future.

This lack of peace has definitely gotten to all of us... I think we all realized it when we went to Mbale.

Mbale is peace. They grow bananas and coffee and are relatively well off. They are the center for opposition to Musevini, yet they are peaceful and sane. There is very little NGO presence, yet they are still doing well. It became clear that the reason Gulu and the rest of Northern Uganda is messed up is not because of political oppression, IDP camps, laziness, or any other reason except war. This part of the country has not been stable since Independence. Northern Uganda has hope. The hope is to rebuild peacefully. The virtue needed is patience. Mbale taught me that Uganda is not hopeless. I say that then think of how Northern Uganda is on the verge of another war. NGOs here have to have one purpose as Westerners. Continue to give hope by promoting peaceful negotiations with the central government to end the corruption and oppression so there is not need for a war. I am not sure how Westerners can do that, but if that is not their main issue they are just promoting a dependence mentality that will destroy this part once again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Yesterday we took a very long day excursion to the land of Joseph Kony. Joseph Kony got his inspiration to start the LRA on this beautiful cliff. People are told that is where evil spirits entered his body to start the atrocities that occurred over the past 20 years. Before we went to this cliff, we met with his brother/uncle  Jarred Kony. Jarred Kony spoke to us about IDP camps, and a little on knowing Kony before he was known as he is now. He said Kony was a shy boy, which is he he believes he was possessed by spirits.

We went to visit an old IDP camp, where people still lived... 5 years later. We met with this one man whose profession was digging. He had 13 children and two wives, and no income to support them going to school. He also adopted 7 other children because his sister died in the war. I am obviously not here to judge; however, when you look into the eyes of  13 big malnutrition tummies, you begin to wonder "why". Why have two wives and 13 children? Yes, it is a culture, but just because it is culture does not mean it is humane. Yes, I cannot be the one to say this because I am not from Northern Uganda and I am not in this culture, but someone who is in this culture must see it as destructive. People in this culture do see it as destructive, but they also see people who are still living in camps as hopeless lazy causes that will never change. Maybe this is true for the older generations, but what about the thousands of children who have no choice? Another why that is asked... Some most present destruction is that of the culture, I am not in the culture, I cannot fix the culture, nor would I want to... but why am I here. Why are we here as white people who will never understand the conflict and are we doing good.

I asked this to a speaker today in reference to Invisible Children. The speaker pointed out that we do not understand the depth of the conflict. We all agreed. He then spoke of the good things Invisible Children are doing. I asked him how they could be doing good work without understanding the conflict. He said that they would not exist without this conflict and their organization was based around this specific conflict with expertise that Uganda simply does not have right now. I can tell you one thing... Had Africa remained untouched by colonization and slave trades, it would be far better off than it is now. It is our fault this continent is as destroyed as it is. It may be our responsibility to fix it; however, we can not fix it by influencing it anymore than we have. We need to help the people who are here and have been fix this in the way they seem fit.

That was long and drawn out and vague. I am not sure if it made sense.

Back to Odek (rock of inspiring evil)... It was the most beautiful scene I have ever seen. Which leads to the next question... How could you look out on something so beautiful and be inspired to do such evil? It is pretty daunting.

I hung out in a cramped car for 6 hours with Joseph Kony's uncle/brother... that is pretty absurd and unreal. I am still processing how close we are to it all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Home sweet home

I got back from Kitgum last night, and I felt as though I was returning home. I had a huge smile on my face as I started to see familiar buildings on our ride home. It was actually really really nice. I missed both Gulu and my homestay a lot more than I thought. Although the hotel had water and electricity, I find myself more happy and comfortable in my homestay than I did there. Today my mego took me to find fabric and a tailor for my two African dresses... yes two. I am pretty excited. That is all.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Oh Africa...

This has been a while... sorry.

Since my last blog I was hospitalized overnight for typhoid. SIT sent me to the nicest hotel in Gulu, and it still sucked hard core. They took my blood with a syringe which hurt like hell, and left a nice bruise in my wrist. The room was really nice, the actual medical care was really quite awful. There was no food, toilet paper, sterilization, the IV drip was really quite painful. They put in some other drug through my IV with a syringe and pushed it all in at once... ouch. I will take this opportunity to pity myself for being in the hospital, but also to point out that this was the nicest, most expensive hospital in Gulu... What are the not-so-nice ones like. I would be terrified if this was it for hospitals for me. I am lucky because I get to go back to the US where hospitals are fantastic (I never realized how fantastic until this experience). I guess this little piece is to point out something to be grateful for in our lives in the US.

Some other things that happened...

I got really frustrated with my host father. I woke up on Sunday, cooked breakfast, did laundry, and cooked lunch. Wego on the other hand, woke up bathed, napped, and showed up for lunch. I sat down before lunch to just take a little break. As soon as I sat down he told me to get him water. I said no. I explained to him that I had been working all day and it would not kill him to get up and get some water. I know this may sound incredibly rude to the readers out there, but I would like to point out one thing. SIT told us before we went to our houses to bring some American culture. What better culture to bring than some equality in the household. After I explained to him why I said no, I went to my room. He asked Samuel to bring him water, which Samuel did. One of my many older siblings was at the house that day. He came into my room and told me Wego respected me for saying no. Later that night, Wego and I chatted about male female dynamics. He explained to me that although I only saw Daisy in the fields harvesting all the plants, I never saw all the work he did planting the crops. He said that men in Acholi plant, and women harvest. Women have all power when it comes to the food in the house. I explained to him that I know he works hard to pay for his many kids tuition (He was polygamous at one point, but his second wife died and now he has Daisy, but that is why there are so many kids)but Daisy also works hard. He told me Daisy doesn't work because she doesn't make money. I argued that the money he makes would be nothing if Daisy didn't do the work she does at home. He chuckled, agreed with me, and told me he would wash dishes with me and even cook. Win.

This past week I have been in Kitgum. It borders Sudan and was the site of even more war trauma than Gulu.The road from Gulu to Kitgum is one that has seen so much bloodshed. Hundreds of thousands of people died on that road during the past decade. LRA soldiers mass murdered anyone on the road one day to prove to the Ugandan government that they do not have control. One thing that has been really hard here is dealing with ghosts.

I am not Ugandan, and I never will be. I did not experience the war, and I never will. These are two very simple and obvious statements; however, they were necessary to really come to terms with so I could continue my trip here without loosing myself. It was incredibly hard to hear the stories of my mego and wego and go to sleep in the same house where such evil had been. Robbin's night terrors and the constant feeling of death and trauma and destruction started to turn into ghosts. I could see it all. Driving on the road to Kitgum I could see the thousands dead. Lying in bed at night I could start hear the LRA knocking. I wasn't there, but being here and having those memories be not only so vivid for these people, but relevant makes it difficult to understand my part. Should I be this connected when I haven't even been there? The answer for me (it could be different for others) is only if I want to loose myself. I am not Ugandan and I did not suffer this war, I should not see ghosts, but instead I should see the people who are there today and where they could be tomorrow. Pure evil is what occurred here... knowing that this evil is not just in the movies is enough to haunt someone. If I were to focus on this evil over the steady rebuilding, my time here would be wasted. People are moving on, I do not know how after all that they have seen or done, but they are moving on and it would just be backwards for me to focus and drown myself in the atrocities that happened here.

Side note/prediction... Kony will come back to Northern Uganda. Northern Uganda is incredibly oppressed by the South. People are frustrated but do not want to fight. They are waiting for the "fight that will end all fights". Hundreds of thousands of college students are graduating each year in Uganda and only a select few get jobs. Highly educated young people without jobs.... sounds familiar. The people that start protests will be stopped by Musevini. When this happens, anger will arise and they will look for someone to lead them against Musevini...

Back to Kitgum. It has been a great break from the homestay. I have spent all week with the SIT kids and it was exactly what I needed. What we all needed. It has been hard living with homestays and going to class, and never really having time to debrief with fellow friends. This week was just that. A long debrief.

I am going to be doing once in a lifetime research with Doctor David. I will be monitoring 5 HIV patients who will start ARV treatment in the month of my ISP. It is said that ARVs can alter one's psychological state.... I will be meeting with these patients over the course of the month to see if this is true in my small sample size.

Overall, I love it here. I am coming into my own here, and I am just really liking who I am becoming.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time for Some Religion

I just posted a long message and it got deleted so here is round 2...

I am agnostic. I usually believe in a higher power, but that higher power could be an alien race that is more intelligent, or it could be a God. I really don't know. I do not think this makes me a bad person because I would like to think if there is a hell (which I don't believe in) God (the Christian God versus Allah, or Jewish God, or Greek gods, or any other gods) would judge me based on my actions rather than faith in Jesus (not that my actions are anything great, but there a lot more plentiful than my faith in Jesus as God's son [which is non-existent]. Africa is really religious, so I try to avoid all discussion of religion...

However, I met a reverend when I got lost going to school. He walked me home because he also lives in Laro. He told me about his orphanage and told me to visit... Today I did just that.

I was kind of terrified because I had no idea what kind of Christian he was. I decided to go because I am only in this experience once (and I can always bite my tongue if things turned towards the controversial). I say I am Christian here because here you are either Christian or Muslim, and anything else usually turns into a long discussion filled with misinterpretations. So, today I told the Reverend I was Christian. I let him lead discussion so I could see what I could and could not say...

It turns out I could say a lot. I told him I am a Christian but I question my faith a lot. I told him I do not believe I have the power to judge, and he agreed. He does not believe in stigmatizing HIV/AIDS like most of the villagers here, he believes in family planning, he believes he does not have the power to judge... only God does. I was scared his orphanage was going to be a school for judgemental Christians, but it is not. They believe in love and charity and it is refreshing.

He took me to their gardens and I saw where they grow food for the children. On the walk back, discussion got real.

Ready for the kicker

He wants me to be a minister for RockLife... his evangelical christian ministry. He wants me to spread the word. I told him I am not evangelical and that certain Evangelicals in the US have a bad name for condemning people rather than loving their neighbors. He said that he was sorry the US has ruined the meaning of Christ for me, and that he just wants me to be the American "ambassador" to his orphanage. He told me I was blessed and that my presence is God. He also told me it was God who introduced us and that God will take me to do big things. I was a little uncomfortable with hearing this, so I nodded my head and smiled. I told him I would think about it since I am still in college. He offered me and any friends a place to stay in a Ministry house whenever I came back. He told me I could travel Tanzania and Kenya with him... He also spoke of marriage with me and I am not sure where he was going with that so I told him I don't think of marriage because I am too young... he laughed and gave me a high five so I think we are okay.

He and I spoke of how the Catholic church condemns the use of condoms and contraceptives (The use of condoms is now sort of okay in Africa according the Pope). He got saddened by this and said that is not Jesus' message to condemn people for such actions. We spoke of certain religious groups that use religion as an excuse to act on their personal biases or prejudices. He said any Christian that judges is not a true Christian because they are ignoring Christ's word.

I talked to him about my beliefs on how damaging NGOs can be when they do not work with the government. He totally agreed and he even semi works with hte government (he is a registered NGO with the Ugandan gov't). I told him I know the government is corrupt and he cannot work with them until the corruption is gone, but that part of an education is teaching children how to be mindful and active participants in their government. That is the only way the corruption will end. He agreed and told me I could work with the students on this.

He says he doesn't believe in stigmatizing HIV, he doesn't believe in judging unwed pregnancy, he doesn't judge a lot of things that I often tie evangelicals to judging. However, although he communicates with Muslims, he does not like them. He thought Obama was one, and although he likes Obama, he did not like that. He also hates the homosexuals. He thinks they are wrong and are going to hell. He does not believe they should be killed, though... which is a positive.

It is these contradictions (I don't judge, but I do judge any non-Christian and homosexuals), that make me loose faith in religion. At the same time... his religion is inspiring him to help 20 children. What if one of them wants to be Muslim, or atheist, or even worse... gay. Would he kick them out? I don't know. I want to help with his orphanage because he is offering so much freedom with it... but how can I when I don't believe in Christ and I don't fully believe in the message the organization is founded on?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Time to Apologize...

I made a big mistake in the post I made yesterday. For that, I am apologizing and correcting it. I always say that I hate children. The reason why I hate children is because they can pull on the heart strings more than adults and I think that can create a lot more problems than it can help. Everyone says the future is in the children's hands... but how do you expect them to live up to the expectation without guidance from the elder generations? Here is where I made a mistake...

I painted a picture of black and white, and then realized I did this and tried correcting it by posting two small paragraphs at the end about Daisy and Santo not being bad people. The fact is, I can paint this picture in whatever way I want and make Samuel the bad guy, Daisy the bad guy, or Santo the bad guy. This oversimplification of these stories is the exact fuel for the war in Northern Uganda. So... here is my correction, making everyone a bad guy and everyone a good guy...

Daisy does manuel labor all day. Picking dried corn from the cob (a task I got three blisters from doing for an hour), doing laundry (a task I got another few blisters from, and overall exhaustion), cooking (without hot pads and on a charcoal hand made stove with no ventalation), cleaning, and picking food from the garden. All of this she does without sitting down, she is constantly standing and doing heavy and difficult labor. When Santo comes home, she works even harder to get him food right away, to get him tea, to wash his hands, to wash his shoes, to pamper him. Santo sits on the couch acting like he worked harder than Daisy all because he sat in an office and got paid to do so. All of this money goes to his 15+ children's tuition. Daisy has been taken by the LRA, she has had three miscarraiges, and has been outcasted because she is Santo's second wife. She has gone through more than anyone who has not been in her shoes can imagine, yet she still has room in her heart for love. She has pictures of all her children and has such love and admiration for them. She would die for them, and almost did when the soldiers entered her house. She risked her life for Santo and her children by not telling the soldiers where he was. She was tied up with her 7 children walking to what seemed like her death. She hid Robbin from them until they heard him crying. She takes care of her son Robin, and nurtures him. She sings him to sleep, comforts him from his night terrors, and shows him the motherly love Santo is too busy to give him. She teaches him English, she helps him with homework, she helps him with his clothes. She loves Robin, and she loves me as well. She works tirelessly to provide a good nurturing environment for me. She teaches me to cook, clean, do laundry, all with such patience. Meanwhile Santo comes home and talks about his day and his idealistic views on life that seem more preachy and self-ritious than they do real. He does not let me ask questions or even speak, he just talks at me and everyone just looks at him with admiration while they are washing his hands... See, now Santo is the bad guy, and Daisy is the good guy.

I already made Daisy the bad guy last night, so let's make Santo the good guy...

Santo's first wife died a long time ago. She was the love of his life, and I still cannot figure out how she died. He had some children with her (I still don't know how many because it is very confusing family history, when I find out, maybe this blog will too). During the war, he walked back and forth from Kampala to Gulu in the nighttime 4 times, 1 of which he was carrying luggage on his head and a child on his back (If you don't know the distance you should look it up on a map, it is crazy... it took us 5 hours to drive). He walked in the night so he would not get killed by soldiers. He walked 1 time with his family to take them to shelter in Kampala. The other three times were trips back and forth from the fields of Gulu to bring his family food in Kampala. He walked each time with so much weight, and for so long, and without sleep. As most men ran, Santo stayed with his large family and provided for them. He then went to work for the Human Rights Watch and continued to use his big heart even after his wife died, his children were taken by the LRA (one of which he still hasn't seen), and his sister (Samuel's mother) dissapeared. He then took in Samuel to his home when he was literally skin and bone and about to die. He began paying for Samuel's schooling until an organiztion could help pay (even though he already has more than 9 tuitions to pay). He now works for the Acholi Institute and helps preserve the Acholi culuture. He is dedicated to justice, equality, and family. His main concern in life is making enough money to support his family.

See... Santo and Daisy are great people who have suffered so much. Samuel is also a great kid with a heartbreaking story.... but Daisy and Santo's stories are also heartbreaking, but since they are adults, they are not as heartbreaking. Everyone here needs help rebuilding. Without people like Santo and Daisy, Samuel would be dead. In order to help rebuild, we cannot think of these issues as black and white, or good and bad... We are all smarter than that. These people deserve better. So... I am sorry for falling into the exact trap I hate. I hope that anyone who is reading can see my family is good people who deserve all the love and support in the world. Thinking of Daisy or Santo as "bad", will not and never will help Samuel. In order to really help Samuel and other children like him, one needs to work on helping his supports, which in this case are Santo and Daisy. They too have grief. Psycho-social support is immensely needed in this region.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

If you don't want to feel depressed

...stop reading...

Okay, storytime. This afternoon we dropped off Daisy (mego) at the fields. She is going to live in the fields for the next week harvesting beans from dusk to dawn. It really sucks. Meanwhile Santo (wego) is on a bus to kampala for the week and chilling in a hotel. The problem I have with all of this is that Daisy works her ass off all the time and never complains; meanwhile Santo (who works in a cozy office and doesn't do manual labor) comes home and sits on his chair and acts like he did years of manual labor. He cannot get up to make dinner, clean dishes, or even his own hands. It is kind of absurd. He is a good guy but the dynamics here are so far from what I am comfortable with.

So here is the depressing part...

Since both my host parents are gone, it is just Samuel, Robbin, and me in the house. I have been really curious of how much Samuel likes it here, but have felt that he is censored when Daisy is around. I probably never should have asked, because now I cannot imagine not doing anything... but here is his story in full.

Samuel's dad was a Ugandan soldier who was killed by the LRA. Samuel's mother left him with her sister when she went to Kampala for a weekend. She left feeling ill with Malaria and some other sicknesses. Samuel's mother (Santo's sister) was never heard from again. To this day they do not know if she is alive.

Samuel moved from house to house for a year. One house he stayed at he did not eat for an entire week. He went to school, came back, slept. By the time Santo took Samuel in, he looked as if he were going to die.

I have always been curious why Samuel looks so thin while Robin, Santo, and Daisy are decently filled out. I have also felt this weird tension between Samuel and the rest of the family. While Robin is constantly playing, Samuel is constantly working and doing whatever Daisy or Santo says. Daisy and Santo both say they took him in as one of their own, but it just doesn't seem that way.

With both of them gone, Samuel really opened up. Daisy "cains" (hits) Samuel all the time. If Samuel gets home late, if he does a chore too slow, if he says he doesn't want to do a chore, she will beat the hell out of him. She also constantly reminds him that he is not her son and she has no responsibility for him. She gives Robin money everyday to take to school to buy treats, but never gives Samuel any. Currently, Samuel's schooling is being paid for by an organization here in Gulu that helps out orphans. The organization is closing this year and Samuel is screwed for next year. I am going to work something out with Santo so he does not end up not going to school. I asked Samuel if he was angry... he said he does not get angry because anger is what took his family. Instead he says he likes to just think that one day he will be free from all of this. He also mentioned he is happy because I am here. When I am here Daisy feeds him lunch and dinner and does not beat him. When I am here Daisy is good to him (The reason he is so skinny is because he is not fed very often). This is why he needs to go to school somewhere. He needs to get out of this house where his talents and potential are being wasted and beaten out of him. He needs a life where someone will hug him and love him and treat him as their own. If I wasn't so young, I would love nothing more than to do this. You can just tell he is something special and deserves so much more than this.

Some other depressing things I just thought of... Samuel has three outfits and Daisy won't buy him more... Robin has 10. Robin has 2 backpacks, Samuel has none and Daisy won't give him one. Samuel works for little pay when he is not working at home to pay for his books... Robin has never worked in the house or outside of it.

With that said... Daisy is not a bad woman. I have no excuse for how she treats Samuel, but I cannot judge her for it. Look at her life... She is working under the hot sun, dusk to dawn, living in a hut for a week to pick beans Santo planted. She is constantly serving Santo and the rest of the family. Her life is not hers to live.

Santo is also not a bad guy. This is just how it is. Men make money, women work at home, that's life. Samuel tells me Santo's heart is so good, he is just not pratical and has too many children (I found out Daisy is his second wife, his first wife died). I am not sure how many kids Santo has, but I think it might be near 15 or more....

So this is my story of everyone else's story. Basically I want to take Samuel back right now. This all sucks a lot that he is suffering so much and all I can do is try to email some people about a scholorship...

Friday, September 16, 2011

It is Time

It is time for a blog about me feeling awesome in Africa...

I finally know how to walk home 3 different ways. I know how to catch a boda boda and distinguish good ones from bad ones. I also have a boda my family knows that I can call for late night outings. He takes me to school everyday and for the first time today and talked to me! I got him a coffee and we chatted for a bit. He lives in Laro just like my family. I actually didn't chat much, but he is nice. It just feels good to have his number and make some connections. Everyone in Laro now knows me. They call me Lamaro if they are older than me. Lamaro is my Ugandan name that my Ugandan mother Daisy gave me. It means "loved one". The market place by my house knows me and when I am in town I often run into fellow Laro"ions" and they always come over and say hi. I honestly just feel very loved and accepted. I am even becoming comfortable with being called a daughter and calling my family mego, wego, omera, or even mother father or brother. I even said I love you to them today. They smiled so much. My mother always tells me how happy I make her, and she is always so appreciative of when I help her cook or clean or iron or whatever else I do around the house. My father talks a lot... but it is good. He has been through a lot, like most people, and he has this unrealistic optimism that I cannot even begin to understand. He thinks America is the greatest country ever and does no wrong. I do not argue because I don't want to crush his spirits (The Acholi Culture Institute (his work) gets funding from USAID). I figure part of it must be coping... and who can argue with that.

Here are the things I like...
My host family
Hot bucket baths in the morning
The whole no electricity thing is making my sleep schedule incredibly healthy and I feel pretty great about it. (I go to bed around 830 or 9 and wake up at 630 or 7)
I really like my classmates
I like what I am learning and how I am learning (not test based)
I like that I am picking up Acholi and can speak with my Laro Forest"ians"
I like tea time... so much tea time.
I like that I have a phone... it makes me feel legit
I like that my bed is like a princess bed with the mosquito net. I am safe from all creepy crawlers at night
I like that I go to bed and it is in the 60s and during the day it gets up to 85
I like that since I have no electricity I don't have a toilet that doesn't work when there is not electricity.
I like that I don't think the pit latrine is as gross as I used to
I like being part of this community.
I like how friendly people are and how genuine most of them are
I like that I can walk alone during the day and do my own thing and know what I am doing
I like how inexpensive everything is here
I love that my mother is taking me to a tailer to make me an African dress
I love that she is going to teach me how to wash clothes here and cook chicken
I love that I am starting to love how natural it all is.
I like that I am not focusing on negatives anymore
I like that I am not looking forward to my plane ride home as much, and instead I am excited about what will happen today or tomorrow
I am falling in love with Africa.

A class in language. However, Acholi is also a tribe here in Africa. They are rich in culture.. I will write more about it later. All you need to know is today was Acholi culture day and we all danced. It was hilarious.

A little thing that was thought about today...

Somebody was very disturbed by how there is no system of garbage disposal here in Gulu/Uganda. Well... let's think about this.

You miraculously get the funding for a waste management facility and all the trucks and workers and whatnot. The trucks take countless hours to get around because of the potholes and flooding of the dirt roads. They also slow down traffic an immense amount. You have to educate the citizens on how to dispose of trash. How do you do this? TV? No, very few people have TVs. Newspaper? A lot of people read it, but what about the rather large population who cannot read...

Which brings me to education. You want better education? We get the funds for that too, miraculously. How do you transport the students (on the shitty potholey roads)? How do you learn when electricity is off 50-60% of the time? How do you get people in school who need to work for money and survival. How do you get everyone vaccinated for school?

Hospitals... Ambulances don't really work on such shitty roads. There is also a lack of medical staff... Partly because of all of the reasons listed above. Why live somewhere like that when you can live somewhere nicer. How can a hospital run when they need to use generators half of the time? How can you deal with the overflow of people suffering from diarrhea because... there isn't a proper waste management system.


One more thing.

Joseph Kony is not a good man... but in order for a man like Kony to gain power, there had to be a powerful negative force at hand. Yes... you Ugandan government (Musevini). The LRA and the war in Northern Uganda isn't as black and white as so many people think. I could argue the Ugandan government committed just as many crimes against humanity as Kony and the LRA. It is important people know this so we can learn from it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Short Post

Tonight we all decided to go out to eat as a group because it has just been one of those weeks. One person decided to leave, and one person was in the hospital for tonsilitous (sp), and 2 people are in the hospital for typhoid. We are a winning group. Every week is getting easier and easier. I suppose the only hard thing is understanding how I have a new life here, and an old life at home. I guess I am concerned my life at home won't keep a place for me as it does not really have a place here. It is all about balance though, and I will figure it out. It is only week 2 even though it feels like a lot more. I just have to remember to give myself time. Africa is so friendly... on the brightside. I got lost walking home yesterday and a reverend decided he would walk me home and invited me to talk to his orphanage one of these days. I am excited, he is really cool.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Kid and the Vulture

I finally have begun to process my time here in Uganda. I think the first step was admitting that I have had this mental block. I finally am beginning to accept that this is my life for the next 4 months and instead of being afraid I am learning to love it. It is a truly beautiful place to be. I have had an internal battle trying to cope with what I am feeling about being here. I feel an immense amount of guilt saying that this is hard. The guilt comes from the fact that this is life for so many. I honestly hate going to the bathroom in a smelly broken down shack that is just a hole in the ground with a lot of gross bugs and a place I have to bring my own toilet paper. After that experience I hate not being able to go to a sink and wash my hands. I hate the constant use of alcohol wipes. I hate that the area I bucket shower in has limited privacy and smells really bad and is not clean. I hate that when I try to help cook I go into a really dark small hut where chickens sleep and have to leave after five minutes because of all the smoke. I hate that I want to cook for my family but have no idea how to cook on a stove that is made of stone and charcoal. I hate that I have this much to bitch about and this is a well off family in Uganda. I hate that I even want to bitch and am not fully appreciative of this experience. I hate that I don't have electricity. I hate that I signed up for this knowin there was a good chance I would have no ammenities and that it would be really cool and didn't even think of how much it would suck. I hate that I feel guilty for saying it effing sucks... but who would say, "hey this is awesome! Look at me I am living an impovershed life!" Sure you would say that the first day, maybe, but day after day? No, no one wants to live like this. If you think you do, you are lying to yourself and should try it. I hate so many things and having ignored all these things because of guilt I made myself unable to process the good things. I finally realized today, I am not supposed to like these things. I used to think the poverty of these places is what kept them so naturally sane and happy. That is really easy to say when I have running water and a toilet. After living here for a mere 3 days I understand what it would really mean to modernize, but not westernize. Everyone should have running water and everyone should have proper sanitation. Don't get me wrong, I actually really enjoy bucket showers, but my family should have the option to choose what kind of shower they want to take. It took me so long to find a new towel the other day. Everything in these shops is second hand. Yes, it is good for the enviroment, but it should be the people's choice of whether or not they want secondhand clothes. Why since these people are poor they get limited options for all of this shit. They live more environmentally friendly than any other culture I know of, but it is not a choice.
Okay, so that was me starting to cope with the culture shock... Now onto my host family.
Gulu as you may or may not know was the hub of the Ugandan war. I knew this, but for some reason I thought my family would not be affected by it. I was severely wrong...
My brother, Samuel, I found out today is not my Mego (Mother) and Wego (father)'s child. Samuel is Wego's sister's child. Samuel's mother died of disease and his father disappeared with the LRA, he is an orphan. I am emailing MPS tonorrow to see if they have a scholorship available becasue all he wants is to study in the US so he can go back to Uganda educated and able to change things for the better. My Mego and her 7 children were abducted by the LRA in 1999. They came in the middle of the night and told her if she did not open up they would throw a grenade in... The same house in which I am writing this was a witness to these autrocities. Anyways, Mego opened the door to the LRA who stole everything (clothes, food, money, Mego, my siblings, etc.) She was tied to her children, and she had Robin, my little brother in her arms as a baby. She was forced to then go house to house with the LRA and witness them do this again and again to her neighbors. Neighbors here are family. For example, I am an auntie to about 30 neighborhood children and a sister to countless adults and a daughter to countless more. So she went to her families houses and watched the LRA take everything from her community. Robin began to cry after countless hours of walking and the LRA soldier stopped and looked at her. (Before all this, back at the house, they asked for my Wego, Mego said he was sick in the hospital. Wego's sister lied to another LRA group about the whereabouts of her husband and she got her lip cut off. Mego was lucky and he just took her instead). Anyways, the LRA soldier told Mego to go back because they do not need mothers and children. Mego had to leave her 7 children to the LRA. 3 days later my sister was able to convince the LRA to let her take her two younger brothers home and keep her instead to work because they were too young. The LRA agreed and let my two younger brothers go along with my other sister. They walked for 2 days and eventually were picked up by a random man who carried them home to Laro Forest. The other siblings were there for 3 months and were all able to escape.
My Wego then came home...
In 1999 he worked for 7 days dusk to dawn planting food for his starving family in Kampala. As most men left their children because it was too much to try to provide, he worked tirelessly. He was constantly hunted down to be killed because he was working class. He told me that he saw a picture of a starving boy and a vulture waiting for the child to die so he could feast. Wego said this image haunted him and made him work to rpovide for his family. My Wego worked for the human rights watch and now works for acholi cultural instititue. He wants to go for his PhD but does not have the money for schooling him and his 9 children. If anyone knows a way for him to get a scholorship or grant, you should let me know. He has his Masters in human rights and wants to write his disertation on how conflict affects the child more than anyone else, and how to stop the child from being affected since they are the future. Point is, my family is great and deserves the help.
I cried with my family as they were telling me these stories. I was especially heartbroken when I heard about Samuel. He is such a good boy, but since these are not his real family he owes them a lot. Because of this, he works nonstop to help Mego around the house while Robin just sits around and plays. Samuel deserves an American education and would benefit both the US and Uganda if he were to get a scholorship.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TIA (This is Africa)

It took me an hour to get on this site... and this is the nicest internet cafe here (there are two).
On Saturday I moved in with my host family. They instantly said that they loved me and called me their daughter. They are a middle class family so they have a house they built. They do not have electricity or running water. I do, however, have my own room. My host parents have 9 children... 7 of which are at school. I have a brother Samuel and a brother Robin who live at home. My father works for the Acholi cultural institution. He is quite knowledgable and cool. This blog is short because I am going to try to walk home with some friends from SIT until I don't know where I am going and call myself a boda driver. I am not going to lie, this is all really difficult. The language is very hard to learn, it is kind of awkward, and I in general hate feeling like a guest. I know it will get easier and I am happy to be coming to school everyday and talk with my SIT folk. I think these blogs will start to get better when I start to understand what is actually going on in my head. So far, I have just been just trying to live and understand everything that is going on that I have not stopped to just live. I suppose I will sit in my room tonight and write down everything that is going on so I can start to process everything and stop feeling this disconnect when i go to actually blog. I think it is partially a defense mechanism because I am here for almost 4 months.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Few Days

I arrived in Entebbe Uganda at around 9am and was picked up by some SIT folks with around 9 other kids who were on the same flight. We then drove an hour to Kampala, the capitol. Kampala was crowded, but surprisingly a lot more efficient than I expected. I think since Bangladesh is still fresh in my mind I keep referring back to it when I look at the infrastructure or cultural differences. I am realizing how messed up Bangladesh actually was after being here for a few days. Uganda is obviously not incredibly well off, but it is worlds better than Bangladesh. For example, cars move for ambulances and police cars and cars obey some sort of traffic law. People are much more willing to come and say hi to you, and they are also much more willing to smile. There aren't as many gender disparities in Uganda and people stare much less. I also have not been asked for money yet. Bangladesh had this weird class difference where there was extreme wealth right next to extreme poverty. This allowed for us to stay in a really nice guesthouse with AC, full shower/tub, warm water, generator, and washing machine... these things aren't here. Here there are no Sheratons next to really impoverished villages, it is way more balanced. I would much rather take cold showers and have spotty electricity and no wifi for this different mindset. Here there are phrases like "African Time", which means (for example), food will come when food comes, no need to rush. Money isn't constantly on one's mind. I have only been here for three days and maybe this will all change, but I thoroughly am enjoying this different pace.

Anyways, back to the trip... I am in Gulu now and arrived last night. We took a bus from Kampala to Gulu, and it unfortunately broke down. SIT was pretty amazing and tracked down two taxi buses and strapped our luggage to the top and we were on our way within 20 minutes. On the drive we saw the Nile and a lot of baboons. Baboons apparently are the vultures of the land which I was sad to hear about because I thought they were cute. We are staying in a hotel until Saturday when we will be picked up by our host family from the hotel. The weather here is beautiful. I sleep in pj pants and a sweatshirt. During the day it gets pretty warm and rains a little. I absolutely love the weather. So far so good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Less than a month

Let's see...

There is less than a month until I leave. I think it just hit me that I will be in a forgeign country for 3 and half months. I think I just realized how long 3 and a half months is... It is really really long. I have bought a camping backpack and plan to pack everything I plan on taking in it. For a semester at SMC I usually pack two carloads of stuff, and here I am packing everything in a backpack. I hope this works. I have had a fantastic summer and I don't think I could ask for a better one to have prepared me for this semester. I tried everything I could've and said no to nothing. It is an attitude I plan to take with me. I will be leaving from Logan September 4th at 815AM to London. London to Uganda. I will arrive in Uganda on the 5th. That is all for now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The US of A

I got back to the US yesterday at around 3. My lovely parents drove 3 hours+ to the airport to pick up my suitcase, give me a smaller bag, and take me to get some food. I am spoiled. I then took an hour flight to DC and spent the night at a house. I then woke up early to go to court. I was arrested for protesting AIDS budget cuts that intended to kill 2 million+ people. I am now in the court room cafe writing this blog waiting for my 7pm flight to Boston.

Traveling back from Bangladesh was full of emotions. We got to the airport at 745pm and our flight was changed to leave at 8. We arrived at the desk and the man at the desk upgraded our tickets to buisness class. Let me rewind... We left from the guesthouse and Amina and Michel walked us out. Amina was crying and Michel gave a nice Dutch goodbye with three kisses. We showed up at the airport and Shobuj was there to say bye. He left work early and waited for us an hour at the airport. Luckily he was there ebcause our taxi driver tried to hassle us for more money and beggers started to surround us until Shobuj told everyone to go away. He also showed us to our terminal. I will miss all three of them very much... but I have plans to go back to Bangladesh next year and see them. I want to study water there because A) It is green and gross B) India sucks and either floods them or causes a drought and C) Because I am looking for a reason to go back to see the three amigos.

Anyways... Now I am in America and it is incredibly comfortable. Driving seems very slow and I get impatient. Everything is in excess and it is kind of annoying. Everything is also really expensive.

I will be posting pictures in the next few days. I will also be updating on the writing of the book and plans for Uganda. That is the future of this blog. The major writing will start in September again when I am in Uganda/Rwanda.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

One day left.

I wrote an entire blog, and it was deleted... Boo. Here we go again...

This trip has been crazy. There has been so many emotions that have occurred... I am going to start negative and go positive...

Negative 1- I have been sick this entire trip. When I don't have a fever I have a really bad pneumonia-like cough. When I don't have a cough I am throwing up. I am also very tired. This has not been so fun, but I have developed this attitude of... act now, cough later. So luckily, I have not missed any opportunities because of illness

Negative 2- Our first meetings were with USAID. They were informational and pretty comprehensive. USAID set us up with more contacts. We tried making our own contacts; however, if there is not an initial contact, no one emails you back. Since USAID put us in contact with many of the NGOs we visited, we were given very biased tours. The NGOs were either funded by USAID or looking for funding from USAID, and they all thought we were from USAID. Being seen as a money sign is kryptonite for research. For example, we went to Ad Din hospital in Dhaka. It is said to be one of the best and busiest hospitals in Bangladesh, especially for woman and child health. We went and we got the grand tour and a delicious lunch. It seemed amazing... it was clean and high tech. We came out saying, "Wow, they are amazing". However, when you ask people who have been patients of Ad-Din how it is, they are not so happy. Everyone we have spoken to outside of Ad Din has said that it is horrible. There is a long wait, and it is very expensive. What is worse is that many people say Ad DIn does C-sections when they are not needed to get more money. BRAC said one of their biggest problems in there system is the hospital part because the hospitals are so bad. BRAC is not so perfect either. Their plan for MCHP (Maternal child health program... read about it, it is pretty genius) is innovative, practical, and culturally sensitive. We went to a rural village in which the BRAC MCHP was being implemented. We met with community leaders... we asked the community leaders questions, and the BRAC people who were supposed to translate for us, answered them instead of asking the people... fishy? I think so. Then, the BRAC people and the community leaders had a pretty long debate. We were told by BRAC it was about the terrible hospitals... However, we found out it was actually the community leaders confronting BRAC about the fact that there is not community health worker that BRAC promised. This was disheartening because their program is so genius, yet is not being enacted properly.

Negative 3- Man, woman, child, elderly, mentally cchallenged, physically handicapped, rickshaw driver, store owner, gate guard, school children, taxi driver, waiter, waitress, BRAC, Ad-Din, Smiling Sun, Grameen, anyone you see will look at us and think "money" and then ask for "money". It is hard to constantly be seen as a bank and it wares on you to constantly say no. Giving money to a child who asks for a tip, or an elder who asks for a tip, or a physically handicapped child or a mentally handicapped teen will not save them or even help them, but it does make me feel like an ass. Michel, the owner of the guesthouse, gets very irritated by this issue because he constantly wants to help, but knows he can't (he has already taken 2 kids into his home). He has learned to joke about it to be able to get by. Often, by joking, he gets past being seen as money and is able to get to know the genuine person behind the begging. I have learned that if I don't have a sense of humor, I will not make it by with empathy. I will become a cynical evil person who turns off all empathy. I do not want that, so instead I have learned to laugh. I have learned that if you pretend to be Spanish, and speak really poor Spanish (and sometimes a little French), people will look at you quizically, laugh, no longer ask for money, say bye, and walk away. It is a bullet proof method. Sometimes, we ask for their name, which then also confuses them, but then they will talk to us for a little and forget the money aspect. Money sucks.

Neutral 1- We went on a tour with villagers, and although our tour guide was an arrogant ass, it was a very fun and interesting experience once we learned to ignore him. He showed us a wealthy village and a poor village. The wealthy village would be looked at in disgust by most Americans. Why? Because it is very open and their are bugs and lizards and no AC. However, the houses were big, there was electricity, and the outhouses had plumbing. I realized that in America, "nice homes" are big and really cut off from nature. In Bangladesh nice homes are comfortable, and very open to nature. It is refreshing.

Good 1- Amina broke the news to Shobus about my plans to marry him in the very far away future. He was totally down for it, but said I would have to move to Bangladesh... I told him I would consider (Disclaimer, everyone in this situation is kidding). On a serious note, I have the utmost respect for Shobus. He literally works 24/7 and never ever complains. He supports his entire family both financially and mentally. No problem is ever too big for him and he is my age we found out. He is quite admirable.

Good 2- Tonight is family dinner and also family portrait night with Shobus, Michel, and Amina. We bought a really nice cake and I am excited.

Good 3- Once you get past the money, people here are incredibly strong, genuine, and kind. The strength these people have provides so much hope for their future. I truly believe that once people start to think they deserve certain rights, like a good health system, or fair paying jobs, they will be able to achieve them despite the corruption.

Good 4- There are 398409328 more "goods". Most of them involve the people. Another is the natural beauty this country has. I suggest everyone comes to Bangladesh because although it is not perfect, it is worth it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I am so in Love...

I am so in love with this country and this trip. We have been spoiled rotten in Bangladesh (Something I thought I would never say) and it is going to be incredibly hard to go home. I did not ever think that I would be dreading the end of this trip... I thought the heat would get to me and two weeks would just seem like too many. But now, Claire and Matt will have to drag me out (that is if they even leave). There are a few reasons to why this trip has been so amazing...
-Amina. I have already discussed Amina in a previous blog, but since that blog her and I have spoken a lot. I have never ached more to give someone the opportunities I have had. Everything about this woman is amazing and I know if anyone were to give her just one educational chance, she would take that chance and do something absolutely incredible with her degree. She is one example of why people should care about developing nations. Knowing there is talent like her being squashed by society and lack of funding for education, should absolutely kill each and every one of us. I am not kidding when I say she could probably find the cure to HIV or discover time travel. She is not only brilliant, but her need and want to learn is unlike any I have ever seen.
-Shobus and Michel.... I have also blogged of them. I love them both. Michel took us to "Coffee World" where, again, he made us laugh the whole time. He is so blunt and naive and honest. He is hilarious and I will truly miss him. Shobus is just a symbol of hospitality on crack. He will do whatever whenever and just loves to socialize and be with people. I am secretly going to marry him... I will let him know that in a few years.
-The US Embassy... I have my issues with them, but they have made this trip a huge success. The diplomat who got us all the contacts at USAID wanted to eat lunch with us on Sunday. We went to the American club on Sunday and he was absolutely fantastic. He was completely down to earth and was totally chill. He gave us some awesome tips on Bengali culture and got us even more contacts. He was a really good person who I was proud to have represent us. One of the USAID workers has also made our trip fantastic. In the middle of packing up her life to got to her new station and traveling to Singapore, she got us 4 meetings with hospitals and clinics. She has been writing us page long emails and just been so helpful. Today, she got back from Singapore early and asked us to dinner with her at the American Club. We spent 2 and a half hours just chatting with her and having a really good time. I am also really proud to have her represent the US.
-The Bengali people. The Bengali people are incredibly hospitable. If I stated that I liked someone's shirt, they would literally take it off there back and give it to me and apologize that it is not new. We have come into contact with this kind of hospitality everywhere we go, but especially on our hospital visits...
   On our visits to the hospitals, we are usually picked up in a car and brought to the place. When we arrive at the hospital or clinic, the doctor of the clinic/hospital will take an hour and half out of their day to show us around. During this tour, the doctor in charge will always say "Thank you so much for coming and your interest in the clinic/hospital". Are you kidding me? You are thanking me for you taking an hour and a half out of your day? No no no, thank you. All meetings here follow with some sort of juice or tea or coffee and either crackers or fresh fruit. Everywhere we go there is food or tea and often both being offered to us... almost forced on us. The people are so grateful that someone is interested in their work that they halt their entire days for us to be their guests. It is absolutely insane but wonderful.

I love it here. I may be a giant in comparison to everyone and I do kind of get tired of the stares... but people stare, I smile... and then they smile back with the biggest smile... so I think I can deal with the stares. I am going to cry when I have to leave Amina, Shobus, and Michel.... especially Amina though. She has really impacted the way I think and I will miss her the most. I still have a week left, so I will stop talking about this goodbye stuff...

I must write about Saturday...

Saturday we went to the Liberation War Museum...
   For those who don't know... Bangladesh suffered a genocide in the hands of Pakistan. Pakistan killed 3 million Bengalis, raped 200,000 women, and 10 million people became refugees of this Liberation War. During this mass killing, women, children, and intellectuals were targeted. Pakistan killed all famous poets, professors, authors, and any other well known intellectual. Bangladesh won this war with the help of India, and has rebuilt their country since this genocide in 1971.

The museum was much like Bangladesh... disorganized, small in physical size, large in how many things were in the small space, and underfunded. We went to the museum with Embassy folk.... Here is who is representing America in a small developing nation...

-We were driving to the museum and a doctor pointed out a slum in which he visited. The reply of two of the people in the bus was a disgusted, "Why?!?". The doctor said it was because of work (He was USAID) and they replied with, "Oh, well thank goodness you didn't go there by choice".
-When we got out of the museum... which was incredibly depressing and very moving (It was full of pictures, clothes, and skeletons)... the first thing one of the people said was "Well that was disappointing". Really? You just saw genocide and you are criticizing the organization of the museum... It is a free museum in Dhaka... if you are so disappointed... donate money.

It really discouraged me knowing that the people who represented the US and the people who could actually make decent change in this country were so ignorant and rude. However, after meeting with the rest of the embassy and hearing their thoughts on these ignorant embassy people, there is hope. The embassy people I am proud of are aware of the ignorance of the "bad" embassy folk, and work their hardest to not fall into the trap of "We are Americans and we are better". I encourage everyone to get involved with foreign affairs and make sure the people representing you in such countries are doing a job you would be proud of. Otherwise... we will forever (and rightfully) known as the stupid, ignorant, and rude Americans.

Another thing...
   Although I love this country, it has made me appreciate America more. I am free in America. I am free in the simplest but most appreciated ways. I can wear whatever I want, say whatever I want, and I can be whoever I want. Yes... there is the whole Patriot Act thing, which is a major concern, but I can drive a car and I can wear silly clothes I can be comfortable and be me. The only time I can be comfortable in this country is in the guesthouse. Everywhere else I have to dress a certain way and act a certain way. In this country I would not be an equal to a man. This would piss me off. A man could hit me all he wants, and if I ever hit him, I would be in some serious trouble. That is some b.s....

Friday, May 27, 2011


I am going to call today our cultural immersion day to make us sound fancy. I am a tad bit scatter brained so I will talk about today and then I will discuss yesterday...

Today we went with Michel and his two boys Mitu and Allemand to their homes. Friday's are holidays in Bangladesh and they are very similar to Sunday's in America. The streets are less crowded and people attend their religious services in their fancy garb. Every other Friday Michel goes to the boy's homes and pays them their salary. He goes home with them because he gives the money to their parents so they do not spend it on small unimportant things. We entered into Allemand's home first. It was a small hut in which half was taken up but a straw bed that was about the size of a queen bed. To be honest, I am unsure of how many people live their but I know a lot of people sleep on the bed and a few people (including the father) sleep on the floor. Surprisingly, there was a fan. I would not be exaggerating if I said half of the community tried to pile into the small hut to see us white (and two women) folk. They just stared and often smiled (It felt like we were human manikins... in both homes). Allemand's neice was probably the funniest baby I have ever seen. This baby posed as soon as the red light came on from the camera and then reached out her hands so she could see the photo. Amazing? I think so. Pictures will follow as soon as I understand how. Everyone was quite friendly and loved their picture being taken. It was extremely nice to finally see where people live. It was poor, yes, but everyone in Allemand's community seemed happy and were living rather than trying to survive. Michel told us the community that Allemand lives in is very protective of each other. Random thought... We have rarely seen young girls on the street... We found out where they are... at home. Today was the first day there were more females than males in an outing.... Back to the community... It was a good experience. We also went by bicycle rickshaw which is always an experience.

On to Mitu... Mitu was a different experience. Mitu, I am told, moves every time Michel visits. Michel thinks his father gambles away their money so they constantly have to move. I had to duck in Mitu's home and there was only space for the bed. Michel was more on edge at Mitu's place because although the community swarmed like at Allemand's, some people were not as friendly. Michel was worried that by having white people in his home made him a target to his community. We didn't stay long. The trips were definitely awesome in terms of cultural immersion and eye opening-ness.

On to the second half of the day...
We went with Shobus to Adventureland. What is Adventureland you ask? It is Dhaka cities amusement park. It is within walking distance of our guesthouse and it provided me with more laughs than I have had all year... combined. First, we went on tea cups, then a "water coaster", then a "Ferris wheel", and bumper cars and a "western train". We played some skeeball in front of a rather large audience... and was asked to get our picture taken with a few Bengals in the process (Kind of celebrity of us I know). I cannot even describe the rides in "" because they were so tiny and not very safe and everyone... I mean everyone... was taking pictures of us. It was a real whiplash in terms of wealth. Everyone in Adventureland was dressed extremely nice and was on the heavier side. Oddly, it seemed as though women had also become more equals to men in Adventureland... I don't know if as the wealth increases so does the equality? Either way... although it was fun, and it was a total joke... It did turn out to be a good cultural learning moment.

Correction... It is Wonderland... I was just informed.

Yesterday we went to a Smiling Sun clinic in Dhaka... It was a really cool experience and I suggest everyone read more about Smiling Sun and how it operates. It is a coalition of 27 NGOs with 323 clinics and also gets funding from USAID and the Bangladesh government. The clinic had a C-section room and was pretty impressive overall... Unfortunately I blacked out while I was there due to a fever and the heat... but I quickly recovered once I got some mango juice and sat down.... Either way... Smiling Sun is cool.

We have mixed our cultures a little... Everyday we try to have a Siesta because the heat truly wears you down... But Bengali people do not Siesta... In fact, they work all day non-stop. Their work ethic is insane, and anyone who says "poor people are lazy, they should just work and then they will get opportunity to further themselves" should come to Bangladesh. These people are dirt poor and work their asses off all day and rarely take a break. Most of them will continue to work harder than I have seen any millionaire or even any middle class American to the day they die and they will never see the wealth they do. For example.. Bicycle Rickshaws... These men bike all day in 90+ degree weather without water bottles toting around up to 500 pounds across miles of city land. A 3 mile rickshaw ride gets these guys 50 taka tops... 75 taka is 1 USD. I literally could not do what these men do and I am halfway done with my college degree. I could go to school forever and it would never help me do what these men do. But I bet, if you gave 100 of these people the opportunities that I had... 98 of them would be able to do it... and out of those 98... 97 of them would have done it better. Yet... I could never do what they do.

I hope the message I am trying to display is getting across here... I know it is a little round a bout and confusing and full of ... but it is how I think?

The message is... These people are amazing. You would be so wrong to ever think you can look at them and feel distinguished or "better". Because, yes the work can be "simple", but you can never call it easy and you could never call them lazy... Most importantly, you can never say they are not deserving of success.

That is my rant for the day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


So... I have not been keeping very up-to-date on this whole blog thing. There are many reasons for that and I plan to discuss each one...

We were picked up at the airport in a taxi by a young boy named Shafit (sp?). He took us to our guesthouse which is about 193248032984 times nicer than I thought it was going to be. When we entered the guesthouse we were greeted by Amina who I just found out is a 26 year old woman. Amina is the most amazing person I have ever met. She works at the guesthouse from 7am to 9pm and has two sons. She cleans, cooks, does laundry, shops for food, and speaks amazing English. Although this sounds pretty average, she is not. First of all, shopping for food is one of the hardest things in Bangladesh. We went to the market with her the other day and was amazed by how she handled herself. The market is overcrowded, kind of smelly, and incredibly hectic. She examined each piece of food and if anything has even a spec on it she would give it back (Women are not equals to men so her holding her own in the market is quite impressive). I do not even know how to describe it, but she has such commitment to her job. Whenever we try to help her pick up she does not let us because she takes her job so seriously. She constantly has a smile on her face and her 5 year old son does not leave her side (he is on summer vacation). I was so shocked when I found out she was only 26 because she is more mature and put-together than anyone I know. I just re-read this paragraph and it gives her no justice. She has been our savior on this trip and we have begun to call her mom. I consider her a hero of mine.

There is young guy (22) that works the night shift at the guesthouse (9pm-7am) named Shobus. He sleeps at the guesthouse. He has one of the warmest smiles I have ever seen. He is the oldest of 3 siblings and works two jobs... he fixes air conditioners from 8am to 6pm and then works at the guesthouse from the above times. All of the money he makes goes to support his brother and sister's schooling. He is incredibly kind... For example, he went in late to work on Monday because we asked him how to get to the embassy and instead of giving us directions he decided he would physically guide us there. He has been our second savior.

Michel is the owner of the guesthouse... Michel is someone I thought only exists in movies. Michel took this guesthouse from a fellow co-worker when she became ill. Amina was working for him at his house (He did not want a "servent" but he also did not want to put her out of work) and he decided to give her a salaried job at the guesthouse. He hired Shobus because Shobus asked if Michel had any work. Michel currently has two boys "hired" to clean his house. Last night Michel was angry with them because they have been cleaning/watching TV more then they have been studying their English. He said, "There one job is to learn English"... all the cleaning and stuff is to give them a good work ethic. Michel met these two boys in crazy situations... The first boy Michel became friendly with. Michel realized this boy had a good heart. One night the boys friends came knocking on Michel's door telling him they need his help because the boy is in jail. Michel went to the jail, paid the cop off and took the boy into his home. The boy was arrested because he was with a group of kids that were stealing mirrors off cars. The second boy was the first boys cousin... He came knocking on Michel's door with his mother and his hand in a bloody towel. The boy had cut his finger climbing a wall and his mother took him to a rural clinic where they amputated his finger... it got infected so they went to Michel's. Michel took the boy to the hospital and paid the bill. The mother asked if he can stay at the house much like his cousin. Michel said yes and hired these two boys. He is so incredibly relaxed and so incredibly trusting and kind.

Now that is my guesthouse... here have been my past few days...

I got fluey symptoms (high fever chills cough achey) on Monday while we were at the embassy. I luckily was able to drink lots of water and sleep a lot and by Tuesday afternoon I was better.

On Monday we went to the US embassy and it was a pretty cool experience. We met with 4 USAID people to discuss the MDGs. We met one woman who worked on child and mother health who has been increidbly helpful. She is currently in the middle of packing up (it is the end of her two years in Bangladehs and is moving to Kenya)... yet has found time to get us to go with the embassy to the Liberation War Museum, meetings with Smiling Sun, 2 "field trips" with BRAC, and recommended us to a touring group. She has been our savior when it comes to research. A woman named Sophie guided us around the embasys and took us to each meeting. She gave us some key insights into Bengali culture and the dos and don'ts of it all. She also spoke to us about being a member of USAID and it sounds pretty surreal. I would go into more detail but I am getting sleepy.

Oh the reasons I have fallen behind... one is the illness and two is because it is hard to blog about these experiences because there is so much to say so it seems impossible to blog so I put it off...
Just a little sidenote... In Bangladesh each embassy has a club... The American club is the only one that is considered its own soil (for example the dutch club is still Bangali soil). We will be going there with the diplomat we were put in contact with on Sunday... We are bing introduced to two completely contrasting worlds on this trip but I think it is good.

Oh yeah... it is hot and humid and when it rains it pours.

That is all for now.... Hopefully I will be better on keeping on top so they are not all so long...

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Time changes are confusing. What I know is that I left the US on May 21st at 8am and flew to London. From London I flew to Bahrain where I am currently writing this blog and it is May 22nd at 117AM for the US for it is 817AM Bahrain time. I realized a few things...
1. Airplane food is gross
2. Flying this far is not fun
3. I am really bad at math because I cannot calculate time changes.
4. Ironically... Planes get nicer when flying from developed to not-so-developed
5. Bangladesh is incredibly far from the US
   On a more serious note...
I often do not think things through entirely. The thing I did not think through entirely was the incredible culture shock this travel would bring me. First of all, we went from a dryish 66 degree London to a very humid 90 degree Bahrain. I thought of this, but the whole terminal to terminal thing makes everything seem surreal. Getting on the plane to Bahrain I had a little of a "Woah, this is different"; however, it did not match up to getting off the plane. I realized how little I know about social cues and culturally appropriateness. I also realized I was a complete outsider and that this is a totally different world. I thought I was all culturally aware because of Haiti and Honduras, but I once again gave myself way too much credit. I am pretty humbled by this and I expect to only become moreso once we enter Bangladesh. Currently, I am shell-shocked, jet-lagged, tired, hungry for real food, nervous, and really excited. Although I am really nervous I am determined to make this an awesome trip and get some good info for da book and immerse myself in the culture once I understand how to without being a stupid American.