Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Peace Corps anymore

Tonight at 10:30pm will be my 1-week anniversary of living in Uganda. Yesterday I was paid the highest compliment: when Monica found out that I’d only been here for 6 days, she was surprised. She said that when she had met me earlier in the week (maybe Tuesday), she had had the impression that I’d been here for much longer than that, because I was so comfortable. I am certainly very happy to be back in Africa (speaking of the entire continent as one place is something I struggle against, but in this instance I don’t know how else to speak of Niger, Malawi and Uganda in the same breath), and my living circumstances here are so ‘posh’ compared to a Peace Corps experience, that I don’t have anything to be uncomfortable about!

I have a bathroom all to myself, with running water, a flushing toilet, and the first couple of days my showers weren’t warm (maybe the water heater wasn’t turned on? I don’t know), but now they are sometimes HOT! Compare that to bucket baths with water I warmed up by letting it sit out in the sun and a hole in the ground out back and you can see why I’m a happy camper!

Alice is a wonderful cook who prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner for me. “Good appetite!” they say, which is the Ugandan English equivalent to ‘Bon appetit!’ I don’t have to lift a finger to feed myself, though maybe some weekend I’ll prepare a Mexican meal (“tortillas #1!” my watchman John used to say) for her and anyone who’s around. We have electricity most of the time. It’s gone out a handful of times, but it usually doesn’t last long, or happens during the day, when it doesn’t matter so much for lighting. The hospital has a generator that is turned on every night from about 7–10 or so, so I can charge my gadgets and get around without a flashlight — I didn’t even bring a headlamp to Africa this time around! I have a dongle, a stick drive that allows me to access the internet on my computer over the cell network. So I can upload pictures of baby goats the same day that I take them…that certainly wasn’t happening in Peace Corps!

Yesterday I accompanied some of the team to some rural villages to observe their activities — at one school Monica was teaching some girls in P7, the seventh and last year of primary school. I was shocked to learn they were 10–16 years old, because most of them were quite small and looked about 8 years old. They were all very smart (I mean, intelligent — ‘smart’ in former British colonies means well dressed; most of them were that too), and they asked me if I would be their friend. Duh! Earlier in the day Audrey was concerned for me for lunch: “Have you ever eaten in the bush?” she asked. I had to laugh. I ate what they had prepared for all the boarding students: rice, beans, and meat (goat? Beef? I’m not sure). I even used the school bathroom, which was that familiar hole in the ground. If I had had any doubt, now I’m sure: I’m really back in Africa!

After lunch we returned to another primary school where we had dropped off three other members of the team. By the way, when I say ‘we’ I at least mean me and Toby, the driver. Yes, it feels so luxurious to get jetted around everywhere in a private car, rather than biking or walking or using overcrowded minibuses or sketchy bike taxis, as we Peace Corps Volunteers did in Malawi. I’ve seen some bike taxis here, but motorcycle taxis, or ‘boda bodas’ are more common. (‘Kabou-kabous’ in Niger, if I remember correctly). Motorcycles were pretty rare in Malawi, I think because it was expensive/difficult to import them.

At this second school, the team were leading a training for adults in the community about the curriculum they would be teaching the girls. Therefore the adults can adequately support the girls as they learn. The meeting was conducted in Luganda so I couldn’t understand anything, except that there was some debate. Apparently, they were discussing the definition and instances of ‘sexual violence’ and there were some disagreements. I said, “That’s good! It means they needed this training!” As we were leaving, a woman introduced herself to me as the pastor at the church, and then asked me about the US.

“How are they?”

“They? In the US? Who are ‘they’?”

“The children.”

“What children?”

“Your children. Or you don’t have?”

“Oh no, I don’t have!”

“Then I will pray for you.”

Ha! I was laughing. Let’s hope her prayers aren’t answered, at least for another 6 years. I’ve got too many things to do and places to be, not to mention a tall, dark, handsome, intelligent, interesting man to meet first!

When I returned to the guesthouse yesterday evening Alice informed me that I would be dining at the convent for dinner. They were having a celebration for Sister Josephine, who just graduated from a midwifery program. She came in at one point wearing her cap and gown over her habit. I wish I had taken a picture, she was so cute! I finally met the other 2 doctors (there are 3 at the hospital; 1 is brand new and currently staying at the guesthouse with me until they find him housing). Hopefully I will be able to go jogging with Dr. Jude, but he says he goes only occasionally, at 6:30 in the morning…how badly do I want this again?

I drank two Ugandan beers — Bell was the name. A priest named Bonny (apparently it’s a guy’s name here; I also saw it on a server’s nametag at the fancy mzungu-filled restaurant, Prunes, we lunched at in Kampala) told me that BELL is known colloquially to stand for Better Education Less Labor. I can’t argue with that! But there was another beer called Club, which he said stands for Can Ladies Understand Business? Yes, yes they can! I definitely argued with that. One of the sisters noted that Fanta stands for Foolish Africans Never Take Alcohol. I thought that was funny, because aren’t the foolish ones the ones who take alcohol?

I learned that an American medical student will be coming next week to stay at the guesthouse and help out at the hospital. I am also very much looking forward to October 12, which is Bishop Asili day, the namesake of the hospital. The sisters promised we would taste local gin. They said they usually enjoy/imbibe so much, people sleep in their shoes! I said, “If I wake up the next morning and I’m not wearing my shoes, I’ll be disappointed!”

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