Saturday, July 12, 2008

Preparing to leave Uganda

Hello amazing friends, family and Florida State Seminoles!

I hope this blog entry finds you well and that you are having a wonderful day. I wish that I could give you all a big hug (I guess I can to a few of you in a few days, since I am returning to the United States so soon)! In fact, I leave in THREE days on Tuesday July 15th!

Anyways, I am going to try and figure out how to write down in words how I am savoring my last few days in Uganda. It is so hard to compose all that I am feeling, so I am sorry in advance if my writing sounds off topic and crazy. Woops!

So, here we go!

Wednesday, July 9th:

Today was my last class teaching at Kikaaya College. I knew that it was going to be a hard class to say goodbye to, as I really bonded with my 60 Senior Two students. They have such a powerful enthusiasm for learning and they made the classroom environment so welcoming each week as I made my way through the village to start class at 11:00 a.m. every Wednesday.

Since it was my last class, I decided to do a review of the class so that I could get some feedback from them about what lessons stuck out to them and to discover what comments they still had to give. They were VERY interesting to read through later that afternoon and were so encouraging! Apparently, I am "one of the most beautiful women they have ever met with my tall and thick hair" and "I always brought a smile to the classroom and was the best teacher ever". I still have the evaluations and am definitely bringing them home with me to look at whenever I want to remind myself of how I had a blast teaching in Uganda.

I think they enjoyed this personal reflection time (they do not do this sort of thing in their usual classes) and what was even more exciting to them was that we took some photographs outside after we wrapped up the lesson and I gave them some Winnie-The-Pooh stickers I got from The Dollar Tree before I left home (since they had been such a fantastic class)! They were so loud that I was afraid the Headmaster was going to come out of his office but when the time came to say goodbye, it was not as emotional as I thought it would be. I am going to miss those crazy kids, but I know that I have definitely made a difference in many of their lives for the better and that is all that I need to know that my work here is ALL worth it!

Later this afternoon, the KACCAD staff got together and had a meeting to decide the winner of the HIV/AIDS mural design contest! We ended up with 13 design submissions, ranging in talent and creativity, but finally decided on three top choices. My favorite looks amazing and I can't wait to show you the picture of it in the very near future (when I put all my photos up on-line when I can get back to the USA). Anyways, the Headmaster of Kikaaya College agreed that this Senior 6 student had the best design.

I am so excited to announce the winner at the school general assembly on Monday afternoon. They are going to be so excited! They get to not only help paint the mural project on the school wall but they will receive one semester of school fees paid for (about 120,000 shillings or about $100.00 US). And for those artists that were not chosen, we are going to be able to showcase their designs in the school library so that all of the other students can see their hard work! I am glad that we are able to do that for them!

Thursday July 10th:

Today was one crazy day. I wish that you all had been hear to witness it. After we got back from home visits, where I put on a heavy backpack full of things like (maize flour, sugar, soap, rice & beans) and go into remote villages to counsel and educate those suffering from extreme poverty and are almost always living with HIV or AIDS, we had a crazy show down.

*I think you all know what the Home Visit program is by now, so I am not going to talk about it in full now. But if you want more details, please refer to a previous entry so that you do not miss out on the amazing opportunity that I have to step into the shoes of local Ugandans who are in such dire circumstances and ridiculously poor living conditions.

Anyways, back to the show down. So, we were all enjoying our lunch outside on the steps when we see Destroyer (Amanda's cat) walk into the compound with a apparently dead rat in this mouth. It was so gross. He just kept walking by and went around back to get to the window that lets him into Amanda's house. After Amanda finds him inside, she screams from the kitchen that there is a LIVE rat in her house and that she needs help!

So we all get up and run over to see what we can do. We finally get the rat out of her kitchen and it is now trapped in her garden. Derrick (our director) actually came out of the office with a freaking hammer, saying not to worry and that he would take care of it! It was so ridiculous! Then, Tiger (our dog) comes up and finds the rat and starts trying to kill it. But, the gross rat starts biting the poor dog and there is a crazy 30 second mid-air-action fight between Tiger and the rat. However, in the end, Tiger was the winner and all of the afternoon chaos came to an end. What a story, right?

Anyways, later that afternoon Amanda, Nick and I took a three hour hike/walk to visit some local secondary and primary schools in the area so that we could check in and see how their teachers who had attended our HIV/AIDS teacher's training workshop (the one that I facilitated my first week here in Uganda) were doing. We went to one school in Ssumbwe (which is a village that is very hard go get to) that was called All Saints Secondary School and I was impressed to find that the teachers here had put together a sensitization seminar for their fellow co-workers and staff with all of the information they had taken from the workshop. I was proud to see that.

However, at the second school that we went to called Bbira primary school, we did not have such luck. They had not done anything since the workshop and were very disorganized. I was a bit disappointed with them, to be honest. I was also a bit disturbed to see that some of the teachers were walking around with big sticks (definitely a form of corporal punishment to ensure discipline in the classroom). It was a big shock to me, as I am not used to seeing such behavior in schools in the United States. It was just another cultural shock that zapped me when I was not ready or expecting it.

While the work we were doing was informative, I also really enjoyed the time spent roaming the land of Uganda and running up the random 80 degree hill someone thought it was a wise idea to construct in the middle of nowhere. It is such good exercise and it feels so good to sweat under the hot African sun and at the same time to work that I absolutely love to get up to do each morning. Isn't this the life? :)

On the way back from the second school, we stopped off on the side of the road and got some banana juice from this women's market and I must say it was one of the most amazing things that I have tasted in my entire life. So delicious and it was actually cold somehow...I am still trying to figure that one out. It was so gooood.

Friday July 11th:

Today was my last lesson of teaching ever. Wow. I can't believe it. It seems like my first lesson was just a few days ago. I guess time really does fly when you are having fun!

Anyways, I brought my amazing teaching experience with KACCAD to a close at the women's school we work at called Haji Kiyemba Memorial Vocational Institute (what a name, right?). Today's lesson was on something very close to my heart: self-esteem. It is such an important topic to discuss and reflect on, especially here in Uganda. So, for this lesson we decided to make a rainbow.

With the rainbow, you have to make 7 arcs. Then, each arc stands for different things such as "Things I am good at", "What are my values?", or "What makes me feel good". Then, you fill out the rest of the arcs with the answers. It was such a fun activity to do with the students here but I must say that it took a lot longer than we thought it would. It is really hard for students in Uganda to think critically or creatively as they are taught to be obedient and to just repeat what the teacher says without question. It has been a very challenging barrier to break down and it is something that I hope the other volunteers continue to address after I leave.

What is also hard is the fact that some of the students here in Uganda have such a lack of responsibility for their actions. I am saying this here because during our lesson today, only 1/3 of the students came to class with a pencil or pen to write notes with. So when we asked for them to start drawing their rainbows, they were unable to. It is so disrespectful, especially since they know that we are coming to teach and learn together every Friday.

It is just frustrating to see that they have SO much potential (I mean, they have the chance to actually go to school and to DO something with their lives when so many of their peers do not), but that they do not do anything with what they have been given. I know that it is hard to live here in Uganda, but if they took the initiative to create the change they want to see in their country that things could be so much better. I want them to REALIZE that they have the power to create this positive change and that they are the ones that need to take responsibility and make it happen. It is something that I have been struggling to convey to all of the students, clients through our home visits and teachers that I have had the opportunity to meet and cross paths with during my two months here in this country.

Overall, the lesson went very well and I was pleased that some of the students really enjoyed the fact that they could keep their rainbows for the future. It makes me smile and my heart warm to know that they are enjoying life and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes their way (even if it is in the form of a 19 year-old college student from the USA).

We also took pictures after this lesson too and I have them to share with you all very soon! Oh, and before I forget, I had a wonderful surprise on Friday evening! Steve (the Ugandan who took me and Amanda to Namugongo for Martyr's Day) stopped by to say farewell to me! He recently got a government scholarship to Makere University in Kampala and he is also working at the head office of a bank too (in the Accounts Office). I am so proud of all that he is doing in his life and am inspired by his daily perseverance to take action. What a great guy!

He brought me a pineapple to share with all of my friends here and we had a jolly time enjoying it and toasting each other with our pieces to our health and future lives. It was such silly fun but it absolutely made my evening! He is one of the most genuine and sincere Ugandan men that I have been fortunate enough to become close friends with during my experience and I am going to miss him so much. He is actually from Kikaaya Village too, but I won't be able to see him before I leave again as he is busy studying and working. :)

Now this is where I usually end off a day. However, last night was crazy. I got up to make a short call (use the bathroom) and when I was opening the door I found a HUGE cockroach. I screamed so loudly that I woke up the other two girls (Kylie and Eri) even though it was 2:00 a.m. I was so scared and am surprised that I still freak out every time I see these suckers (which is a daily occurrence). It was not a nice night time present, let me tell you!

Saturday July 12th:

This brings me! I officially have 3 days left in Uganda. Wow, that is so crazy. I do not even want to think about it. I am excited to come home but at the same time I am going to miss Uganda (and EVERYTHING that goes with it) so terribly. It is going to be like leaving a bit of my heart and life in this crazy yet beautiful country.

Today, I woke up to find out that our propane tank is out. This basically means that we don't have any way to cook our meals until we refill it (which usually takes about 5 days so I definitely will not be having it before I leave). It also means that we cook all our meals and heat our water for tea (yes, I drink it so much here, it is like an addiction) by a siguri (the traditional charcoal pot of Uganda). It takes a lot longer but is actually quite fun to use once you get the hang of it!

After breakfast (2 eggs made ready to order on our siguri), I got ready to go to Kampala with Eri. But before I left, I helped Sarah (the lovely woman who cooks for us sometimes) peel some matooke (the plantain-like green bananas that is a luxury here to eat and is not too bad either). It was so much fun but I was nervous that I was going to cut myself so I decided to only peel one. But, I am very proud of it! It was great fun!

Anyways, Eri and I went to town to get some last minute gifts and souvenirs. It actually took me a while to decide on what to buy, I hope that most of you enjoy your gifts. If you don't, just know that they came from the heart and that I was thinking of you anyways. :)

When we got back from town, Eri and I found Derrick (our director) outside burning something. I was really curious and as we got closer, we found him burning three boxes of expired condoms that the Wakiso District had given us ONE month before they were due to expire. Makes sense, huh? So, to make sure that those that KACCAD serves do not use them, Derrick decided to burn them. So, I jumped right in and it was great fun. A bonfire of expired condoms...what a day, right? At least they will not do damage now, but it was hard to see all of the smoke they created and how it was hurting the trees around us by making them a bit black. But, what can you do?

We have to burn all of our trash here anyways, as there is no trash collection system. This is because Ugandans do not pay taxes (no one can afford them). So, trash is EVERYWHERE. The street, houses, schools, etc. It is so dirty and a bit disgusting. So, the only place for trash to go is to the pit of the fire. It is very safe and no, I am not allowed to start the fire (we know how accident prone I am). But, back to the story. I was able to help out Derrick and join the fun too. What a last Saturday in Uganda!

Sunday July 13th:

Today we decided to make banana pancakes at Amanda's house. They were delicious! We even had some honey to go on top, which made my tummy so happy. It was a great way to spend Sunday morning!

After that, Derrick took us to where they are hoping to build the new volunteer center so that we could learn to make bricks! Yeah, that is right! I learned how to make bricks! I have a cool video and some nice pictures from the fun. It is great. You take a slab of mud, then you mix it with some water and put it in a rectangular block. Then, you get really dirty and flip it over and hopefully it turns out OK. It was so much fun, I made 4 bricks total. I can't wait to show you my new many times in your life do you get to learn how to make bricks, for real?

Monday July 14th:

I officially only have ONE day left in Uganda. Is that not sad or what? I just can not believe it! This morning at our Monday Meeting, I said some of my goodbyes and was able to distribute some gifts that I bought from the Florida State University bookstore to the KACCAD staff that I have become so close with! They really enjoyed the gifts, which I gave to everyone along with a personal letter that I wrote to them all to let them know how much they have inspired me and touched me during my time here. I think that they all enjoyed it, I know that I did!

Before I continue, something crazy happened last night. Apparently, two men tried to break into our compound, along with 30 other thieves in the village. It was crazy! Sam and Nick joined the local men last night in catching them. They were up all night. I feel sorry for all of the ones that were caught. Theft is a very SERIOUS thing here in Uganda. In my village, if you are caught stealing you are tied up, put in a tire and burned. No lie. Justice is taken into the people's hands here. It is insane. I know that this is not justified, as you can not counteract immorality with immorality, but it is hard to explain this to the locals here. Even our KACCAD staff. It is just awful that people try to steal here, everyone is suffering and it does not help life when you take from someone who is just as bad off as you are.

Then, we left for my last day of home visits. However, on our way the heavens opened up and it started POURING with rain. It was insane. So, we ducked into the closest place we could find, which turned out to be a local barber shop. We were waiting there for TWO hours, talking with the women and one male worker about hair, life in Uganda and village gossip. I was disapointed that I could not see our clients for the last time, but the weather is something that I can not really change! Yikes!

After the rain finally cleared, we made our way through the mud back home. Sadly, while I was waiting on the side of the road for a random police car to pass, the tires flew mud all over my clothes, just like in the movies (you know in Bridget Jones Diary Two....if you have seen it, it was like that!). Well, I don't mind getting dirty!

Well, I am looking forward to my last days in Uganda. My flight is on this Tuesday July 15th at 10:20 p.m. from Entebbe Airport. From Uganda, I arrive in Amsterdam. Then after another 8 hour flight I am back in the USA in Atlanta. Finally, I arrive home around Midnight on Wednesday July 16th. Wow. I know you are jealous, I would be too!

Well, bye for now! See you all soon! I am going to put up all of my pictures (more than 1,000) and video footage on-line as soon as I get back to Florida and my own computer where I can do it very fast and without worry. Sorry to keep you all waiting!

Lots of love!

Mirembe (Peace) & Sula Bulungi (Good Night),

Babirye or Ssuubi (Hope) ....a.k.a. Beth Pagan :)


Christine said...

Hey B, What an end to your amazing journey!A mud bath from a passing police car!! It kind of matches your arrival. So things really have gone full circle! Did you think that the girls may not have been able to afford a pencil. We take so much for granted, even a pencil and paper. Anyway,have a great trip home. See you Wednesday night. Stay safe. Love you.

tennisfrak said...

I can't wait to see you goreous!!! Be safe, and have fun on your flights back home! :)I love you so much! :)

Marie said...

Sounds like quite the last week! :) I hope that all your final goodbyes went well and weren't too hard! It was crazy to read about your "cultural shocks" even after 2 places can constantly surprise you :) I can't wait to hear from you and talk to you when I get back! :) Much love!!