Author: cindysmiles09

You Are Lost!

Begin Scene. 

Local Ugandan:

Eh, you are lost!

The Ugandan exclaims dramatically, approaching the American.

Lost American:

Hi Ester, ah, no. Not really. I’m just walking to that duca.

She states with a puzzled look, pointing at the shop. 

Local Ugandan:

How is there?

She asks in a long drawn out baritone, descending the pitch with a long breathe out.

Lost American:

There?

She pauses, perplexed by the question.

The duca?

Again, she half-points and pauses.

I haven’t made it there yet…. I…. um….. I don’t know.

She states slowly, now more amused than perplexed.

Local Ugandan:

She laughs a deep bellowing laugh, every inch of her body beginning to shake.

She reaches her arm back wide, open palm, then smacks her hand into the American’s hand,

making a loud crack. She holds tight, swinging the American’s arm,

locked into the local Ugandan handshake.

How is home? Did you bring gift for me?

She gives a jolly laugh.

 Lost American:

Ester, you know, I live here now.

She speaks slowly, trying to speak clearly.

 I live in Uganda.

She waits for Ester to acknowledge this known fact.

 Local Ugandan:

But how are the people there? How is Obama?

She continues to swing her arm, with the American’s hand in grip,

swaying her hips side to side as she shifts weight between feet.

Still smiling a big jolly grin, with her mouth slightly open.

 Lost American:

Which people, my neighbors?

The American shakes her head a bit in confusion.

Wait… What?… Obama?

She changes her posture and lowers her tone once she realizes the confusion.

Ester, I just walked from my house, you know that I live just down the road.

Now leaning into the Ugandan grip, waiting for Ester to acknowledge the confusion.

 Local Ugandan:

Ehhh… but you’ve been lost. How was that side?

She asks gleefully, not fazed by the American’s inquisitive expression.

 Lost American:

Lost? I’m not lost.

She speaks quickly, forgetting to use her Ugandan accent.

Which side?

She shakes her head again in confusion, with a burrowed brow.

 Local Ugandan:

Hahahahahaaa!

The local Ugandan gives another deep bellowing laugh, swinging the American’s arm;

confirming that the handshake has not yet met the minimum 3 minute local standard.

The Ugandan continues to smile that big jolly grin, with mouth slightly open,

as if waiting for a response.

 Lost American:

Wait… are you talking about my home here or my home in America?

She now is very amused and smiles a jolly grin back to Ester.

 Local Ugandan:

Yes.

Ester replies quickly and emphatically. She continues to stare at the American,

only now her big jolly smile has reduced to a soft polite grin.

 Lost American:

Yes?

She asks slowly.

As if she were a teacher repeating a wrong answer to the student,

in order for them to recognize the mistake. She is still quite amused with the conversation.

 Local Ugandan:

Arnold Schwarzenegger!

She exclaims loudly, the jolly grin is now bigger than before.

 Lost American:

She joins Ester for another grand laugh as they continue to shake and sway hands.

Ester, we talked about this.

She pauses to re-consider explaining the bad news again to Ester.

Arnold lives in California. I’m from Florida. They are different states.

She laughs, so entertained with Ester’s enthusiastic spirit.

 Local Ugandan:

You send greetings to Arnold for me!

She leans back, cupping the American’s small right hand into both of her large hands.

She squints her eyes and flashes all of her white glowing teeth,

as if someone shouted “cheese” for a picture.

 Lost American:

But, I haven’t been back to America in over a year,

and someone like me wouldn’t know Arnold or Obama in that way…. why….

Ester interrupts before she can finish.

 Local Ugandan:

How is the voting, those people in Florida will pick the next president soon?

She speaks quickly, not concerned with getting an answer.

 Lost American:

Okay, now you have the right state… kind-of….

She mumbles to herself, as Ester continues to talk over her.

 Local Ugandan:

Eh, I have been missing YOU!

She dramatically emphasizes the “you” as she once again cups the American’s right hand with both of her hands.

 Lost American:

Ester, you just seen me last Friday!

Now the American is laughing in amusement, fueling Ester’s energetic conversation.

 Local Ugandan:

Your family was missing yoouu. Those people must be so happy to see yoouu!

She speaks almost in rhythms, as if singing the words, elongating the “you”s.

 Lost American:

But I didn’t see my family. Ester, it has only been two days.

She again leans in, locking eyes, trying to help Ester understand.

I didn’t fly back to America for the weekend.

She waits for Ester to acknowledge the confusion.

 Local Ugandan:

Yes, friend!

She pauses, gives one final shake to the hand.

You have reached!

She shows all her teeth again for the jolliest of all smiles.

She drops the American’s hand, raises both palms up and gives a small sort of bow, turns, and walks away.

 Lost American:

Okay Ester, nice time.

She chuckles to herself, arms hanging freely at each side,

and watches Ester walk away with a very cheerful sort of stride to her steps.

 

End Scene.

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As a foreigner in Ugandan, there is one thing that you learn very quickly.

And this one thing is so vital for your everyday survival.

This one thing must be taken very seriously.

Laughter.

Every day is a new experience, and, every conversation is a new adventure.

Often times, it is not the topic or the words you choose that matter here. It is your tone, your expression, and, your willingness to share a smile or a laugh. As a foreigner, we must let go of what is “right” or “wrong” and just enjoy all the little things that just feel right.

Many times, people in Uganda are just appreciative if you have taken your time to stop and greet them. They have a moment to feel special, to feel important. And in that moment they seem to be truly happy with you presence. After all, they say being present is present enough.

But, if you are “not around”. If your presence has been missed,

the locals here will let you know it. Here is another common phrase from Ugandan 101:

You are lost!

This is not the sort of “lost” you are familiar with. Not the confused wanderer lost in a foreign city without a map.

The Ugandan “lost” simply means “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”

And some cases, a Ugandan “long time” may be just two days.

Just know, to be “lost” in Uganda is to be missed.

Take it as a heart felt acknowledgement that they were wondering if you were okay.

My Peace Corps service has been flying by at hyper-speed!

I’ve just celebrated ONE YEAR in country! Although, it feels like I just arrived a couple months ago.

And now as I have a few weeks to relax and reflect on my blog, I realize that I’ve been lost!

So, here it is.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

It’s about time to let you all find out where I’ve been.

Recaps and Updates to come….

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Another Perspective…

Many volunteers in Uganda have a unique experience specific to their site and their sector. But, mostly we all encounter similarly strange scenarios in the field. Check out this very realistic and funny comic created by a Returned PCV from the health sector. Yep, this sums it up. Shout out to Emily Cobbs… Hope you’re enjoying life back in Amerika’

comic about PCV in Uganda

Delivery!!!!! Thanks Laura!

On Thanksgiving Day there was one thing that I became very thankful for… The Mbale Post Office. There is nothing better than receiving mail; such a feeling of joy and excitement rushes in when we discover a package in our PO Box.

Big shout out and thank you to my friend Laura for the package. We used the seasonings to make stuffing for Thanksgiving Dinner, it was delicious! Also received some awesome Yankee Candles and Magazines… You’re the best!

But unfortunately, Teresa the Turkey did not get to enjoy the “turkey snacks”….. she had already made the trip to the farm. I’ll save the snacks for our next fury/feathery guest 🙂

To Laura : Miss ya chick-a-dee! This Thanksgiving was great, but, nothing can compare to Turkey Day ’12 at our apartment in Delray…. the look on Fluffy’s face when we found him with the gravy was priceless.

Much love to my family and friends back home!

Two Foot Won Feet

Shifting my weight from left to right, I was able to ease the pressure building on my thigh. A discomfort caused from balancing my weight on a bench only 6 inches wide. We joked about packing his friend into my suitcase on a return flight to America…. We considered whether or not airport security would notice the stowed-away passenger, or, if a person could survive the 15+ hour flight from Africa to the States. We teased and laughed at the thought.

The man seated beside me on the wooden bench was thin, like most Ugandans, with smooth skin and a genuinely jolly appearance.

He began to translate for the elderly man who was working diligently to repair my broken sandal.

At times we all quietly observed people moving through town, without a need to fill the air with small talks. It was a comfortable silence you would have with a close friend. Sitting in the side alley looking out, we could see a woman dressed in a white satin gomezi with purple flower print take a short break. She crouched down for about 15 minutes, leaning against the post centered perfectly in the cracked sidewalk. The bodas kicked up dust from the street construction and cars politely honked to signal their arrival as they merged back into traffic.

It was there, sitting under the cast iron stairway in the narrow corridor, that we find happiness. Each of the five men continued with their normal routine, managing their small businesses. The youngest man selling phone cases shared his rice with the eldest man, whom was seated below him on a small concrete block. A box with a pile of shoes queued for repairs rested patiently at the old mans feet.

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The watch salesman quietly counted his shillings hidden in the lower drawer of the slim glass case, then stared into space. It seemed he was daydreaming about an extravagant lifestyle away from the hustle of Mbale Town street vendors.

The man seated on the brick ground in front of me greeted every neighbor that passed by. He took extra time with the young primary school boy whom came to pick up his repaired sneakers.

The boy tested the newly stitched soles with a few swivels, then looked up at me coyly with a smile of satisfaction.

Surely the boy was pleased to have his shoes back, with soles fully attached.

My bench mate and companion during the wait for shoe repair shared stories about his dream to visit Tijuana. He introduced me to the group of men working under the stairwell when I first arrived to inquire about sandal repairs. As we talked, he assisted the other two men with gluing the sandals, and completed the final inspection after the others completed the stitching.

After showing him the photo of his friend stitching the sandal, he comfortably took hold of my iPhone and scrolled through my pictures. Without words, I demonstrated how to zoom and sweep through pictures. He mostly enjoyed seeing pictures of sunset at Tororo Rock.

When a man approached, my bench mate quickly gave up his one foot section of butt space for the elderly customer. As he reached for his crutches, I noticed my bench mates well polished shoes, but, there was something strange with his right leg. He quickly left then returned with a small spool of thread requested by the customer.

Once they exchanged seats again the difference between my bench mate’s legs was obvious.

His right foot hung lifelessly, about one foot shorter then his left.

He told me about the organization for disabled Bugisu and the Savings Institution that they established for members. The group repairs tarpaulins and work side jobs to raise funds for their organization. I was invited to attend their Wednesday meeting, and in true Ugandan fashion, I was told that I would be “most welcome”.

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As agreed, we exchanged 8000:/ ush for both pairs to have the deluxe mending; a combo of reinforced stitching with highly toxic glue. It was sad to crawl out from my bench below the staircase. My five new friends shared with me a new perspective of Uganda, as well as a new love for the people.

That two foot section of shared bench won my heart. And with newly repaired sandals, they won my feet.

(Cheesy enough for ya?). 😛

Want to learn more about the savings initiative for the disabled? Well then, Google this long beauty:
National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) Programmes for Economic Empowerment

Or just click here:
“We Can Manage”

Celebrating 50 Years of Peace Corps

The east. A beautiful place of green tropical mountain sides speckled with thatch roofed mud brick homes. We gathered to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps Uganda in the town of Tororo.

The first Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) landed at Entebbe International Airport in 1964, swearing an oath to serve as teachers in the rural schools. Today there are 100+ PCVs serving as teaching, health and economic development volunteers in all regions of Uganda.

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Can you find me in the “5”?

How do we commemorate 50 years in eastern Uganda? By celebrating the opening of a new library established by our fellow volunteers at Atiri Secondary School in Tororo. They partnered with Books for Africa and found the grant monies needed to fund the Red Ribbon Library. There were speeches, food, music and even story time. What better way to celebrate volunteering then to read to secondary school children.

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A volunteer returns to Uganda after serving almost 50 years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

We hiked up Tororo rock to watch the African sunset.

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Current volunteers Wayne and Vanessa lead with Country Director Loucine behind them.

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At the top of Tororo Rock with our guide and volunteers Wayne, Josh 1, Brie, Molly, Josh 2 and Teresa.

We played with some fireworks and watched the red moon rise from a hill side cave.

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Fountain fireworks with Josh, Wayne and PC Staff Angela.

But most importantly, we took the time to enjoy each others company. As volunteers we have an undeniable bond to one another and to our communities. This was a time to celebrate the life long friendships that started on these same grounds every year, for the past 50 years.

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Sunset hike with the volunteers from the east. One love, Uganda.

Read more about Peace Corps Uganda here:
http://uganda.peacecorps.gov/content/50th-anniversary-speech

Mud mud mud mud muddy mud.

The truck began to fish tail, slowly creeping towards the gravel ditch running parallel to the road. It was no longer raining but the waters were now steadily flowing down from the surrounding mountains, carving out deep grooves into the dirt path ahead. The water was murky from the debris and orange clay, which was being stirred up by the rushing water.

The woman slowly stepped over the ditch with one foot and learned closely against the hill side to avoid the vehicle. Balancing the heavy bundle of sticks on her head, digging her walking stick into the mud, she was able to prevent herself from slipping. The children quickly scurried off of the mud-slick road, knowing very well that there is no predicting a truck’s path in these conditions.

The driver calmly shifted gears in the bouncing truck just before rolling up his window in preparation for the large pool of water ahead. The truck was just picked up from the washing bay earlier that morning. Now the white truck was layered with orange clay and collecting splatters of black mud across the front window pane.

We were determined to arrive in Mtufu. The village agents were expecting us within the hour, but the collection of mud stuck vehicles on the more popular road lead us to a detour. A local village woman guided us on a rural path where the homes were so close to the dirt road that it felt like we were driving through their front yard. I glanced back to the village woman to find that she too was holding the hand-bar, fist tightly clenched.

Our heads bobbed side to side as we struck the pot holes and bumped around from one tire path grooves to the other. It was as if we were in a bobsled, sliding on the ice track, with only the walled embankments forcing us to continue straight on the path. Motorcyclist were driving with both feet down, shifting their gum boots through the mud as if they were training wheels for a child’s new bike. Everyone was in the thick of it… The thick of the Ugandan rainy season.

On our return from the training at Mtufu, we followed the same path that the woman had showed us. Only this time, the small streams of rain water flowing along side the path began to saturate the open road. The truck fish-tailed again and the driver continued to calmly shift between 4H and 4L.

Just as we began to slide up the small incline, the mud slowly sunk beneath us. The front tires slipped into the small water carved ditch as the rear wheels lost all traction in the thick, thick mud. The heavy truck bottomed out, we were finally stuck.

Luckily, the entire village arrived to help, and, to watch the excitement. After a quick attempt to push the truck free with the help of some locals, the driver decided to use a little strategy. The village men brought a large heavy log from around the row of brick ducas. They dug out a space with hoes to prop up the jack.

Now out of the truck, I began to greet the kids who screamed “muzungu” from across the path. The children gathered around as I shared pictures; and we laughed at the silly faces made during our impromptu photo shoot. The men continued working to free the truck with a combination of ropes, props and brut strength.

After being set free, the driver reversed 15 meters below the slue of mush to prepare for the 2nd attempt. More than 30 villagers quickly moved away from the mud path, knowing that the truck could easily lose control at any point. The truck was just a few yards past the very place where it was stuck when the tires began to lose traction. The men hurriedly ran to the back side to push, while three brave men grabbed the tow ropes and ran in front of the massive truck. They pulled and pushed the truck until the wheels gripped the bits of thick debris and rock on the center path.

My muscles clenched and eyes began to close as I prepared to witness a man get pummeled by the truck. The men were far to experienced with this endeavor. Surely, their nimble bare feet gripped the clay road as they sprang away from the moving truck in perfect timing.

The villagers laughed to see my muzungu self try to manage the road by foot. Unable to risk stopping in the sinking mud, the driver continued ahead around the bend. Myself with the support of 25 villagers began to walk, following the tire trail left ahead. The ground was impossible to traverse, let alone stand on. After just a few steps, the locals knew it would be a matter of seconds before I fell straight into the mud. A man gave me his arm, which I happily grabbed to prevent a full back hand flip.

My thick sandals were like two large suction cups, being pulled back into the earth. The school children in the baby blue matching uniforms took a audible gasp when I stepped bare foot into the mud. Since my new friends knew to walk shoes in hand, feet in the mud, I decided to follow suit. After the gasp came giggles. My guess is that they were shocked to see a muzungu woman walking bare foot through their very own village.

On my fifth near split in the relentless mud, my new walking assistant threw my arm around his neck, better balanced with me close to his side. The crowd burst into a fit of laughter. Their neighbor was now walking bare foot through the mud with a muzungu woman hanging from his side…. This would definitely be one for the front page, only if they had a newspaper.

The driver was waiting just past the road’s fork with the dozen men that helped free his vehicle. They too broke into laughter when they saw their friend with the muzungu strung around his neck. He proudly smiled and rambled a few things in Lugisu; maybe a joke about having a new muzungu wife, I’d imagine. I was just happy to arrive at the truck with mud only in my feet.

Once my escort received his share of shillings for the good work, we all exchanged a few fare-wells and continued our journey home. The village rescuers and onlookers footed back towards the sinking mud. The driver continued towards Sironko main road. The African sky began to display it’s beautiful array of gold colors behind the blue shadows of Mount Elgon.

The wheels soon firmly gripped the pavement as we traveled back towards Mbale. With the mud drying to a soft crust between my toes, and the breathtaking views of East Africa all around me, I could not help but think that there is no place that I would rather be.

So Fresh and Clean

Everything is harder in Uganda. Any mundane task done in America will take twelve times longer and require six times more energy to complete in Uganda. Don’t try to fact check my calculations, my friend. Just trust me on this one; daily chores are difficult for a spoiled American living in Uganda.

Maybe we need an example to explain. Let’s consider the arch nemesis, laundry day.

Back in the states the process of sorting laundry, carrying it to a machine, adding soap, then pressing a button was annoying. Now, We sort clothes according to line-drying time. Heavy or thick clothes must be washed first for optimal sunshine hours. If water is running low or off, you may have to be choosy* on the Mormon swag wear for next week. (No offense Mormon friends; it’s just the best way to describe the ankle skirt with t-shirt look).

Next you have to wash the dang clothes….. by hand…… with buckets….. and a lab experiment of chemicals somehow labeled soap in Uganda. The process is long and tiring. You’re left with calloused hands and an aching back.

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Yep, laundry most definitely is my arch nemesis, and, African orange mud is it’s close accomplice.

But if we have to find some good in hand washing and line drying, here it is: my back is much stronger and my bed sheets are now naturally scented with that ‘fresh mountain breeze’.

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*The word “choosy” has been brought to you by a legendary man known as “D”. I’m keeping it real in the motherland my friend. 😉