Homestay has been interesting.

When we all got back from Future Site Visit, we met our families at our training centre in the afternoon. We talked for a little while. Then we went home with them to start our homestay living. One of my brothers and one of my sisters met me at the centre and walked me home.

My family, excluding me, is 13 people. Six boys, five girls, and mom and dad. They aren't all brothers and sisters; some are cousins but in Africa, that basically means brother or sister after a while. The boys are Johnson, 2, Junior, 10?, Freddy, 12, Godfrey, 19?, Brian, 19?, Adema (who goes by Robin), 22?. The girls are Daisy, 8, Joy, Sanyu, Gertrude, and Barbara, 20. Mom is Lenia and Dad is Roy. Going from living with just my Mom at home to living with a very large family is to say at the very least, overwhelming. I've also never had brothers and grew up most of my life with my Dad kind of being in and out, so figuring out those relationships has been somewhat difficult.

The family keeps two dogs, but not really in the American sense of pets. In Uganda dogs are more for security than anything else, and not pampered like in the US. Children may hit them with sticks or shoo them away from food (since kitchens are outside). They eat what they can find or sometimes the family will give them scraps from meals. During the day they are usually chained up in the “backyard” (behind my building) and let out at night so they can protect the compound.

Their house consists of three buildings, a main building where my parents and the girls and small children stay, another one which they just finished where the older boys stay, and my building, which has my room and a separate room (separate locking doors to the outside) where a few sisters and the smallest boy stay. The grouping of buildings are commonly referred to as compounds, just because it's typically not one large house, but smaller buildings where more buildings can be added on when there is more money.

I wake up at 6:30 or 6:45 every day. I sleep with earplugs in because there are a multitude of noises which happen during the night, including dogs from various compounds barking at each other or at noises their hear, goats crying out in the night, and loud music pumping from various sources around the community. Usually even with the earplugs, I'll wake up in the middle of the night to the dogs or to the music or to a radio in my compound, because one of my earplugs has fallen out. I can usually get back to sleep pretty easily.
When I wake up sometimes, it's to the radio that my building-mate/sister is playing outside. Everyone here listens to the radio, and I mean everyone. They listen to it at crazy volumes, and sometimes they'll have two radio stations going at once. To me it sounds like noise, but I've learned they have become accustomed to it and have extremely good selective hearing. Sometimes my mom will call one of my sisters from inside the building while we're outside and the radio is blaring, and my sister will respond. Mostly I don't even hear it when she calls.

After waking up I run to the latrine, because for some reason as soon I wake up I have to pee like I have never had to pee before. I am not alone in this after talking to a couple of my fellow Volunteers. We have a few theories, one being that there is more water in the food, since everything is cooked in a sauce/paste. Another is that we just drink more water here than we do at home. One of my theories is that it just takes longer to go to the bathroom here. At home you open and close a door, and then sit down. Here you grab your toilet paper, if it's dark you grab the flashlight, unlock your door, and walk maybe 50 ft. All that takes time that my bladder is not used to. One of my friends said that he gets up in the middle of the night to go, which I generally just avoid doing because of the abundance of mosquitoes.
The latrines consist of two stalls in a small tin roof building where the doors don't lock. When you go in, there's a small rectangular hole about six inches by four inches. Aim well! There's a wooden rectangular piece on the end of what resembles a long two-by-four that you use to cover the hole when you leave the latrine. This keeps the flies down, but my family seems to do it off and on and not really on any regular routine.

When I'm done at the latrine I grab some soap from my room and then pour water over my hands from one of the large jerrycans outside to wash my hands. Sometimes there is “running” water from an outside faucet, but depending on how many people are using it, it runs out by the end of the day. At that point, my sisters go to fetch water from the borehole (well with a large pump attached to it).

After this I go back to my room to try to prepare my bag and the clothes I'm going to wear for the day, while my sisters get water for my bath. I've tried to tell them that I want to do it on my own, but they spoil visitors here and so far I've only been able to fetch water for myself once. Sometimes they do it even before I'm even awake so I can't really say no. Then it's time for a bucket bath! Exactly what it sounds like. I've bought a small plastic cup that's usually used for drinking, but I use it to rinse my back because I can't get the whole cupping water in your hands thing down.

Then I rush to eat breakfast in about fifteen minutes and walk over to another volunteer's (Jamie's) homestay so that we can walk to school together. We used to walk with a third volunteer, Joseph, but we ended up being on different time schedules in the morning so now it's just Jamie and I, and we all get to our training center around the same time. Now we end up walking with a different volunteer, JJ, who lives a little farther from us but meets us on the main road.

It's about a 30 minute walk every morning to school, through multiple villages, across one bridge and crossing next to one bar. At some point in our morning walk, a crowd of small children will appear, usually chanting something like “Mundu how are you?” where Mundu is white person. We've told them our Lugbara names – Jamie is Ayikoru and I'm Letaru, both meaning happy or happiness – and sometimes they use those, but not the same kids show up every morning. They follow us for a while and grab our hands and try to feel if our skin is different from theirs because the color difference is so drastic. They usually run back home when some adult yells at them in Lugbara or when we reach some invisible line that they don't cross. Jamie and I keep walking in what seems like people's front yards, but there's an obvious well worn trail.

We cross down a slope that has banana trees and rice paddies at the bottom and cross the bridge over a stream and start the long climb up the hill out of our village area. That feels like the longest part of my day (unless I walk into town that day). At the top of the hill we cross a road where there's a bar on our left and we keep walking through some fields and reach another road, where we cross behind our training center and take sort of a back route to get to the front gate. We used to take a more roundabout way before we discovered the back route.

I'll talk more about language training in my next post but it's been pretty challenging and fun.

For the majority of language training we've been getting out anywhere between 3pm and 5pm. So then we walk back home and hang out and talk with our families. Part of the homestay experience is having them teach us language and work with us on language outside of class. I think most of the families then ask us to bathe before dinner (because at this point we are covered in dust), then we eat dinner and can usually hang out with the family after dinner or go in your room and do your own thing. We've got both extremes in our group where some people spend a lot of time with our family, and some people hardly any. It has a lot to do with personality.

I've tried to talk to my family a lot about where I come from. They tell me that it's so cold that if they went there, they would die. I haven't told them about how people live in Minnesota, if they can't even handle Michigan. We talk about what crops are available here that aren't at home and how the cooking is different. Most Ugandans cook outside with charcoal on small wire baskets called sigiris, or they have holes made in a slab of concrete where they put charcoal and place pots over them. Baking is done using a dutch oven, which is basically like placing smaller pots inside larger ones that have sand so that the heat is more consistent. Then you place something on top of both pots and put coals on top so there's heat from both sides.

A lot of the kids in my family love American pop and rap music, a lot of which I don't have on my iPod, so I just play them other music. A few of the kids really liked Flogging Molly, an Irish (Scottish?) punk band. They thought it was hilarious and could not understand a word.

We've also talked about some American politics, taxes and culture in general, mostly with the older kids. For them, it's strange to meet someone my age who doesn't have kids or isn't married. A lot of the kids go to school in Kampala (the capital city, about 8 hours away by bus), so they are introduced to different ideas of family and culture. The culture in the cities is much different than in the villages, much like the culture in American cities is different than farm culture.

These are the pictures and videos I have of my family (and random neighborhood children who like to dance). A lot of my family I didn't manage to capture on camera. The kids always want to be on camera, but my older host siblings are always doing something (the girls, cooking, cleaning, washing and the boys off playing at another family's house or in town somewhere). Plus I don't take a lot of pictures naturally, so I was trying to force myself to take pictures so that I would remember this experience. Here's what I've got!

 Passionfruit juice which my mom makes. I wish I could take jugs of it home with me to America.
 My homestay mom, Ilenia. She's awesome.
 An example of what I might get for tea: rice, bread and butter, cucumbers, eggs, tea.
 Fish and chips. Literally.
 Close up on the fish.
 Another tea meal: watermelon, avocado, bananas, carrots, passionfruit juice.
 I probably should have asked, but I think this is savory bananas cooked in a sort of meat sauce. I didn't like this one that much.
 Bananas, carrots, bread and butter.
 Jackfruit! This stuff is pretty good. If it's not quite ripe it smells weird, but it's delicious. It was the original flavor for Juicyfruit gum.
 Chapati, chips, sausage, beef.
 My youngest sister, Daisy.
 The main compound from the back as you come in from the path.
 The kitchen!
 The main building from the front.
 The building where I stay, across from the main building. My room is the window on the right.
 The building next to mine where the older boys stay.

 Another sister, Barbara.
 Isaac, who works in the family's field (unsure if he's related?). They all call him Lago.
 Compound as a whole.
 My homestay Dad, Roy.
A shirt my mom got me because I said I liked hers. It's short sleeve and pretty comfy.


Future Site Visit

Future School Visit

So from the 17th to the 20th of December, I visited the school I'll be working at for the next two years. It's pretty far north, about an hour or so from the South Sudan border. We left Shimoni on the 17th at about 6AM (before sunrise)., and after dropping everyone else off at their sites, I arrived at my site at around 7PM (after sunset). My principal met me in the last large town before mine to drive me the rest of the way. The majority of the journey was made on a rented bus (coaster) which was provided by the Peace Corps.

The roads in Uganda are pretty terrible, and even Ugandans will tell you this. It's one of the things they request most from their government, local and national: fixing/updating/paving the roads. Asphalt is referred to as tarmac here.

The roads between the large city where I can do a lot of shopping and my specific town are worse than I had seen anywhere else yet in the country. The road was more like a collection of potholes with no vegetation. My principal kept talking to me about their condition, and how they were supposed to be worked on at least once a year, even if it's just bringing more dirt to even out the levels. But the ones we were on hadn't been worked on in over a year. We were in a small truck which belonged to the college, and it was still taking us a very long time to reach our final destination.

My school is breathtakingly beautiful. I keep saying this to everyone I meet. Large trees with lots of shade and red dirt paths, green grass and green-yellow hedges, mango trees, giant palm trees, and a nice wind to keep the air circulating. Some people at the school said that God has blessed Africa and Uganda in particular because anything planted will grow. I explained that in America, the percentage of people who grow the food relative to the amount of people eating the food is very small, and many people in cities have problems with hunger. I said that there is no way they can grow all the food needed to sustain them, mainly because of climate. If you can't plant outside, it takes a lot of investment to grow all your food inside. They just shook their head and said that Africa was lucky.

The girls dormitories.

 Classroom block.
 Administration building.
The college vision.

I spoke to my principal about my preference to teach maths and computers and he was totally on board, which was really nice. I'm actually excited to lesson plan (weird) but I'm also excited to move into my house, which I got to see while I was there.
My house is not actually finished, but I got to see the work being done on it. Pouring concrete, laying plumbing lines, and a place where I will probably be able to have solar electricity. Solar is super popular here, and even if most families can only afford one, they get one. Sunlight is guaranteed, so it charges during the day and gives you a few solid hours of light at night (after 7PM).

The really local market is just down the street from my house, and we learned all the market phrases in language class today ( the price is too much – aje tu, how much are the mangoes? - mango mi ozi si?). It's nice because it's sort of a smaller town and that way I don't have to walk far to get food. My house is also just down the road from my school, so even in rainy season it's not hard to get to school. There is a police station across from my house, and I live near a bunch of nuns and priests, so I feel pretty safe. Still locking up my house at night, but I think it will be good be in such a small community.

My principal is a really good guy, and tried to introduce me to a lot of people, many of whom I'm sure I won't remember. But I also greet people on the street all the time (it's what you do) so they will probably remember me.

Next entry I'll talk about our language classes and maybe homestay – with pictures!