Sunday, June 30, 2013

Internet is like Chocolate: So Sweet

Recapping a bit... 

Thursday night: we got news of another death in the community. The burial is tomorrow. Two funerals in the first week of work is not a good start. 

Friday: We attended the burial. This time only 4 of us went (Trisa, Andrew, Juliana and me). There were fewer people this time, but the staring did not stop. This time at the burial, we walked out to the back with the coffin and saw it buried. It was the first time I had ever seen something like this and I couldn't help but get emotional. Having two burials in one week hits pretty hard. 

Saturday: We had lunch at a large landowner's house today. He has a nice plot of land next to the church. We walked around his garden passing by many banana trees, 1 guava tree (where I ate an unripened one given to me), and some coffee trees. The lunch included matooke (mashed up bananas), rice, and some meat. With no forks, it was a finger food type of lunch. As we left his house, we found out a little more about this old, nice, and classy landowner - he has 3 wives, 24 children, and hoping for more. It was hard not to look surprised and angry. Still, I am grateful for the kindness and hospitality they showed me. Post lunch, we had a focus group meeting with representatives of the 50+ club. Again, we split up into men and women and again, family planning became a central topic. 

Sunday: In town today! Took a boda boda all the way here. Needless to say, my back hurt quite a lot. Anyway, it's been a treat with the internet, but now I got to go! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rain in Africa

We had our first focus group meeting today. As part of our community meeting yesterday, we had 10 representatives of the middle age group (26-49 years) come to discuss health needs of their group. We split the women and men up and what a great decision. We asked the four women of our group what their biggest health need was. After some issues such as malaria and safe water were discussed, family planning became the center topic of the meeting - different methods, side effects, reasons why women don't use, and the patriarchal society they are forced to live in. In the villages, men are in charge of all decisions and the women told us that the men do not want them to use family planning methods. Thus, many of the women are forced to have multiple children. By multiple, I mean anywhere from 5-10 kids. One woman said she is a mother to 10 children, a wife of 3 to 1 man, another wife has 9 kids and is pregnant, and the last wife has 3 children. She pleaded for a method that wouldn't be obvious to her husband, but would stop her from having any more births permanently. In fact, all 4 of the women asked for the permanent method: Fallopian tube ligation. It was clear that they did not want any more kids. Additionally, the women spoke of their other responsibilities: fetching water from the borehole (which can be as far as a mile for some women), tending the garden, working the fields, cleaning the houses, and taking care of the kids. Most of the time, they can't even take care of their kids so their younger siblings do. We see kids (boys and girls) as young as 5 or 6 holding babies 2 or 3 years old on their backs walking around all day. These stories have truly made me realize how lucky I am to be a free woman. To be able to make my own choices is something I will never take for granted again.

While we were walking home, we saw two giant black birds in the middle of the road. The villagers told us they are very rare to see and are really special in the Ugandan culture. It's forbidden to kill one and when one dies, they are folded up in a bedsheet and buried like a human. They are also said to walk around praying for rain. At the time they told us, I didn't believe them. But boy did it rain.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Milky Way

Community meeting today! Yay! But first thing's first, chores. Everyday/every other day, we sweep the entire house and mop the floors as well. That isn't too bad. What laid ahead of us - washing the latrine. So I said I would describe this "toilet" and I shall. It's legitimately just a hole in the ground that leads to a large pit where human trash goes. It reeks, it attracts flies, ants, rats, and other insects, and it is just so unclean. Additionally, becuase it has 4 walls, it traps in heat making the entire experience quite sweaty. (I'm getting better at my squats though.) But back onto cleaning. First, the remains (either human or animal) are swept into the hole. Then a basin of water is thrown into the latrine and the floor is washed using the brush. Then we smoke it by throwing dried banana leaves into the latrine and lighting it on fire. Though nasty, the latrine now has a nice smoky smell. Hopefully it lasts at least a day. 

Post cleaning, we traveled to the church where the community meeting was held. We arrived at 2PM, but the meeting did not start until 3:30/4PM because no one arrives until we show up. Still, it was a great first meeting. Many people asked questions, vouched and supported us, and we were also able to ask them questions. Overall, it seems the entire group is really enthusiastic. We didn't get back to our house until 6:30 so there was no soccer game today, but on the way back we met some girls coming home from school - Gertrude, Winnie, and Brenda. All of them are so curious and happy.

After dinner, we walked out to share a team exercise of brushing our teeth and was immediately shocked by the beautiful night sky. With no moon, the stars twinkled and shined beautifully! It is so refreshing to see stars like tonight. It was absolutely brilliant and gorgeous. You could even see the Milky Way! Ah beauty! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boda boda

Today was the first day when I rode a boda boda (a motorcycle)! It was definitely a thigh and ab workout. We went to visit the Buvule village for an obstetric fistula meeting under a nice giant mango tree. Julius, a past UVP intern and an experienced fistula coordinator, came and talked about OF in Uganda. To be completely honest, prior to this internship, I had to look up obstetric fistula. I think it’s just another reminder about this whole experience being one huge lesson. The people that live in this village suffer from extreme poverty and the consequences of it – poor health, sanitation and hygiene, and the inability to escape from the poverty trap. It’s so visible in the young babies of the children that come to watch the older boys play soccer. Many run around in old clothes with numerous holes, but the small ones that sit and stare at us constantly have these flies that surround their eyes, ears, and noses. There are many more of these lessons that I must try to understand.

Around late morning, we came to learn that we were having chicken for dinner! Yet it was tough to obtain the chicken. At first, the man who sold it to us told us that the chicken had not come back home. But, as dinner arrived, the cooks asked the children to chase it and bring it to us. A few of my team members (Andrew and Kenzie) and I followed to meet the man and saw the children chase it. Surprisingly, it only took 5 minutes! They were master chicken chasers. Then during our usual football match in the front lawn, one of the children, about 12 years old, came out with the chicken, a banana leaf, and a small machete. It was time to cut. I watched the whole ordeal, screaming and jumping the entire time. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a chicken slaughtered so it was something I wanted to witness, but I was sad the entire time. It makes me think about becoming vegetarian…. Hmm.

In other news, tomorrow is our first large community meeting. We will be introducing ourselves, UVP, and what we will be doing this summer. We wrote up a script and practiced it over dinner. Hopefully it will go well. My Lusoga is getting better and better each day.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The First Day

This was our first official day in the village and it was quite somber – we spent a good part of the day at a burial. As part of UVP policy, we do not hold a normal working day because it is customary for us to attend the burial (which I will get to). After a nice breakfast of bread and Nutella (a nice reminder of home), we headed out to our first VHT (village health team) meeting. We walked about 20-30 minutes to Kasambika 1’s house where the meeting was set. We met most of the VHTs and got to see some familiar muzungu faces. After setting up a community-wide meeting for this coming Wednesday and learning about the expectations from both the UVP teams and the VHTs, we stepped outside for a quick picture! All the VHTs are so excited and extremely kind. But in all honesty, I think our VHT team is truly the best so far. After the VHT meeting, we took a different path back to our house, visiting some houses and compounds of local leaders. Let me just say, oh my God the African sun!! It was scorching.

Once back at our place, we took lunch and hung around for a little bit. Then we headed to the burial. It was about a 10 minute walk. As we walked up, it looked as though 100+ people were there. Numerous heads turned towards us and the usual murmuring began about muzungus. The casket had been brought out and a priest was talking. We took some seats under the shade of a coffee tree and sat through the entire burial. Team members from Kasambika 1 said a speech, introducing us muzungus and giving our condolences. There was singing, speeches, and food. It was the first burial/funeral I had ever been to. It was very experiential. All of the speech was in the local language so I could not understand much of it, but it was nice to see an entire community come out to see the man off.

After the burial, we came back and set the rules of our living contract, surrounded by curious children. I really love my team. They’re so funny and chill!! Our living contract was half a page hand-written as we all felt the same way about common sense issues. Hopefully, by the end of this week, I will be able to introduce them to you all!

As we took our tea outside on the front lawn, an interesting thing happened. One of the VHTs who had been hanging around with our cooks asked how much the tea bags we bought were. After hearing the price of about 5000 Ugandan shillings (the equivalent of $2.50), she asked if we could have our used bags. Immediately, all of us were surprised. We all wanted to get up and give her the box of tea bags. Yet, as part of UVP policy, we can’t give things away and that broke my heart. It was a small reminder of the state of poverty this village is in. I tend to forget that sometimes as I walk around and take in the beautiful scenery. Yet, I am also always ashamed and shocked at myself for when I do remember because it is visible in the tattered clothes many children wear, the run-down mud brick houses, and the borehole where villagers get their unsafe water. I hope to be able to cope this as the days go by. The giant smiles of the children help a lot.

After a very salty dinner and a cooling shower in the dark with only a headlamp, we all had a nice meeting out in the back of our house to brush our teeth together and use the latrine. Maybe I’ll get to that another day, but the gist of it is a hole in the ground.

With the crickets chirping and the threat of a mouse skittering around the house, I am headed to bed. Tomorrow, we will head to Buvule, another UVP village for an obstetric fistula talk. If any of you are eager to have a life changing experience, look obstetric fistula up. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Makeshift Football

Today we headed to the village! After eating breakfast and saying goodbye to the Nekoli guesthouse, we traveled to Iganga town to grab some groceries and other materials for the week. With two other team members (Issac and Juliana), I went to the market to grab most of the groceries. We bought sweet potatoes, rice, wheat flour, beans, peas, etc. The market is a beautiful place that reminds me of a giant farmer’s market back home. Once we met up with the rest of the team who went to various supermarkets around town, we headed out on the bus to the villages! With the two other Launch teams, we first dropped off the team at Buwerempe and then we were next! As we pulled up to our house, we saw one of the village health team members in her bright green UVP shirt running down the street to tell others that we’ve come. Once we parked and unloaded, a number of adults had come to help us move our luggage to the front door. That’s one thing that I’ve noticed – Ugandans are so nice!! There are so friendly and extremely kind. I met many of the local leaders of the village today and was able to use some of the Lusoga I’ve learned (flashcards for the win!).

But the best thing of the day? Oh man, the children. As we pulled up to the house, so many kids came and looked at the muzungus (the Lusoga term for foreign). After saying “Jambo!” (which means Hi!) many times, one of my team members pulled out a Frisbee. After a while with the Frisbee, the makeshift soccer ball came. It looked like a compilation of foam wrapped and tied up in a net. The kids first played a game of keep away in a circle, which I joined. Then all of sudden, one of the children said a couple of words and branches were torn off nearby trees and shoved into the ground on two sides of our giant front lawn. Thus, the soccer game began. It was so much fun! But so so so hot.

After the soccer game, we cleaned up the house (sweeping and mopping the concrete floors) and then unpacked our stuff in our rooms. We had tea as a snack since lunch was skipped. I had roasted corn for the first time. It tasted pretty hard actually… but interesting. Then after tea, we unpacked some more and then finally had our first team dinner together in the light of kerosene lamps. We had rice, cabbage, and sweet potatoes. After that, it was only sleep. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013


After landing in Entebbe and getting to the Nekoli guesthouse Thursday night, I've been busy trying to absorb all of the information that UVP is throwing at us these past few days. With full day orientations added to the excitement of getting to meet everyone, it's been a hectic few days. I'm just trying to really appreciate it all before heading out to the villages. 

Today was the last day of our orientation. It was filled with many emotions for me. The orientation itself covered all of UVP’s programs in depth: Malaria, Shallow Wells, Water and Sanitation, HIV/STIs, Obstetric Fistula, and Family Planning. It was interesting and enlightening to hear the various services that UVP offers as well as listen to the challenges that the staff and past interns have faced. Learning about obstetric fistula and the suffering that women face was difficult. OF affects pregnant women and can be caused by obstructed labor. One of the symptoms of fistula is the constant leaking of urine and sometimes feces from the vagina with no ability to control it. I keep imagining women who have to deal with this in a rural village and it’s just so heartbreaking to think of what would happen. One of the staff said that the first loss is the baby (they said sometimes women with OF give birth for up to 5 days), then it’s the job, then the house (since the husband usually makes the wife move away from the compound), and then maybe even the village. Yet, there is some hope with what UVP can provide and I’m trying to hold on to that. It is extremely humbling to be here.

Even though orientation was long and emotional, I have one thing to look forward to: tomorrow, we are heading out to the villages! Kasambika 2 it is for me! I AM SO EXCITED. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Running on Dunkin'

Sipping on the last coffee that I will have on American soil before traveling to Africa, I can’t help but think of a film we watched in my Global Poverty and Practice intro class called “Black Gold”. The documentary inspects the international coffee trade, depicting the addicted dependency of “First World” countries on this caffeine source and the inadequate compensation to “Third World” farmers and workers for their hard labor. Following the travels of an Ethiopian manager of a cooperative in his quest to find better prices for his coffee farmers (which is a coincidence since I’m waiting to board my 14.5 hour Ethiopian Air flight), the film depicts the issues of “fair trade” in the context of coffee – how the sale price of coffee beans is a minute fraction of the price at which people actually buy coffee. At $3.99, I can’t help but think that most of the profit from my purchase of a medium sized French Vanilla coffee goes towards the person I see in front of me and not the farmers who handpicked the beans that made this black gold. This film truly changed my outlook on the rules of the game in the international arena of trade, policy, and politics. I highly recommend it to anyone interested!  

As I look around at the people waiting to board this plane with me, I remember how interconnected the world is now. At this point in our lifetime, we (mainly in the Global North) have the privileged opportunity to travel to almost anywhere in the world. International travel has dramatically increased over the past few decades and this has led to some great things such as the incredible ability to share knowledge and the rapid response to deadly disasters. Yet, it also has allowed me to reflect on how skewed the rules of the game are - how the people who work the hardest in the commodity chain are not the ones who get paid the most, how difficult it is for a country to develop without accepting aid with conditions on how to spend that money, and how the lucky chance of being born in a high-income country has led to so many privileges. Though I have no answer on how to fix the rules, I think acknowledging the skewedness and advocating for and supporting the small choices such as buying higher priced fair trade Ethiopian coffee could help change the rules of the game. As the world becomes more and more interconnected and interdependent, it is essential that we all understand the rules of the game and how to better help and work with one another. My Global Poverty and Practice professor this last semester once mentioned a theory on conceptualizing poverty that has stuck with me. Formed by an anthropologist, the theory suggests a kinship model whereby if you think every person in the world is part of family, you would never allow that person to experience hunger or poverty; you would never let that person sleep on the street or suffer from a vaccine-preventable disease. Because they are family, you love them unconditionally and you care for them.

Just a thought….  

Monday, June 17, 2013

21.6 = 27.6

"So is there any rock climbing there?"

"Haha, no Mom. I wish."

As we pass the giant columns of light that so mark the infamous LAX airport, I can't help but wonder how much I will miss bouldering. (Shout out to all my rock climbing buddies back home. I miss you!) Waiting to board my first 5 hour flight to Washington Dulles, I had to write a quick blog post!

First off, I need to say a giant thank you to my family for dealing with my last-minute packing. I love you all so much and you all have supported me without judgement or hesitance. The procrastination is about 60% from laziness and 20% from forgetfulness and 20% from the part of me that actually doesn't want to leave. I am terrified of what lies ahead of me, but all of your support in the last few hours have helped push me forward.

Currently sitting on the floor at Gate 63, I have to keep pinching myself to make sure this is real. I'm so grateful and happy to have the opportunity of a lifetime working in Uganda. I have learned so much in my Global Poverty and Practice classes in Berkeley that I feel as prepared as possible to fully experience working in the development field. So what's next? The only thing in the way: a flight consisting of 5 hours to Washington, 3 hours in layover, 14.5 hours to Ethiopia, 3 hours in layover, and finally a 2 hour and 10 minutes to Entebbe, Uganda.

They're calling Group 3 to board! See you all in Washington!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Uganda Travels

During a recent time of reflection, a dear friend (whom if I ever became famous would probably write my fact, I expect it from you Matt) broke my life down into chapters of a book. The first couple consisted of all the baby steps I took, the elementary years, all the way to my awkward middle school times. Then came the high school chapters (yes there is an s there) where Esther learned more awkwardness, humility, and embarrassment. From my first experiences with eyeliner and mascara to those red-haired months to that time my phone had a...let's say water incident..., there were crushes, mosquito bites, AP classes, yearbook signings with maps of lunch time cliques, major failures, and few successes. One of which was Berkeley. Filled with amazing friends and inspiring people, newly found passions, and incredible experiences, these are truly the best years and chapters of my life so far. 

But with only 6 days left before I live in a new country, a new continent for the next two months, I have other things on my mind besides reflecting on these college chapters. For those of you who may not know, in less than a week I will be traveling to Iganga, Uganda and living in a rural village called Kasambika. As an intern for the Uganda Village Project, I will be working on public health and development programs focused on the community's wants and needs. I plan on reflecting on the experiences and lessons I've learned here for my future self and for anyone who wants to follow my adventures. 

I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm absolutely terrified and extremely excited to start a new chapter: The Uganda Travels