24 June 2008

Random Pictures & Busy with Projects

It's been a while. To reward all you diligent checkers of my blog, here's some pictures (there's some cool bugs too):

Introduction Ceremony

I managed to invite myself to an introduction ceremony1, which was pretty cool, although mostly what I'd expected from other volunteers' descriptions.

  • The spoils of having a daughter (and these are just the stocking stuffers):

  • Wasswa2 (left, spitting out chicken bone --flattering, no?) and me feasting with nature's fork:

    Visiting Joe and Bird "Watching"3

  • left to right: Rustum (finished and soon to be heading back to grad school is physics, there's more nerds out here than you think), Joe (crossword guru who just put up a basketball hoop at his site in the middle of nowhere, and general cool guy), Jenna (behind, short-term volunteer, who may have mentioned that Peace Corps Costa Rica is way better), Rishi with the "isn't that the rare ___?" look (the bird "watching" organizer and source/go-to-man for many fun events -- check out his blog), and a Ugandan man nice enough to put up with us and paddle us around the lake.

  • Rustum and I chilling on the very top of a big rock outcrop that we camped on.


Dedicated to Amy G. & Tara (now in PC Madagascar!), ladies of biology.
These first two beetles were about the size of a chapstick tube and each one managed to make enough noise in my room to wake me up. You could hear the jaws of the second one clack, it could probably take a finger off. This spider could win a staring contest with two people.

What I'm doin'...

I've finally gotten busy and feel like I have enough (not yet too much) work to do. I know, it took a year?! What have I been up to this whole time? Well let's just say I was doing good things at times, but now I'm doing good things that 1) I care about and motivate me and 2) others care about and motivate them:

  1. Co-teaching P7 (6th grade) math at my school. This can be both a lot of fun (like starting a group clap for an impromptu music lesson) and frustrating (to mark pupil's work who have trouble adding when they're supposed to know some algebra). Because of the latter aspect I've mostly become the "remedial" math teacher, going over topics that they should know already. This last week we covered the multiplication table, with an emphasis on having it memorized4 and receiving a sweetie (candy) for reward.
  2. Teaching the "Computa" to Teachers at my school. With a "theory" lesson every week on word processing and spreadsheet programs5, a recent typing test, and continuing practice sessions 3X per day on my laptop, the teachers at my school are slowly becoming a bit more conversant with the digital world. It's heartening. It's also painfully slow, but teaching anyone to use the computer from scratch when you've been using one since 3rd grade could cause a little frustration.
  3. Starting a Village Savings and Loan group among my teachers. This is a cool program created by a group called VSL Associates which allows people to create their own savings group with minimal materials (basically a metal box with three locks). To illustrate why this is valuable it takes me about $7 and a whole day to get to a bank where I can withdraw money. So, my teachers can get together every few weeks, put money in a box, then after a couple meetings start giving loans to themselves (and thus sharing the interest at the end rather than losing it to a bank). That all makes it sound easy-as-pie and informal, but there's quite a bit of detail including writing a Constitution and stuff. We've done two of the nine 2-hour sessions and it seems like it's going well. If this works out I might try to start some more outside my school5
  4. (Computer Lab). Made a budget for this, but it's on the backburner until VSLA is mostly done. + other little projects.

Well, that's all I have time/energy to write today. Know that I miss you all.




1 An Introduction Ceremony is an important aspect of marriage here, it's more important than the actual wedding. The idea of it is that the family of the bride and the family of the groom get together and have a big conversation about these two people getting married and then the groom's family brings a whole bunch of presents on top of which they give the dowry, which is usually something like a few cows and can be refused by the bride's family. I've been told that "Here in Uganda it's the man that marries, and the woman that is married." Hmmm.

2 Wasswa is the teacher that I'm co-teaching P7 math with. He usually dresses very "smart" and will often be wearing a tie just for fun. He's also one of the teachers I'm giving extra computer training to, so that they can run the computer lab (whenever that gets moving).

3 "Looking for" may have been more appropriate because we were canoeing on this lake to find the elusive (and frankly quite ugly) shoebill. However, few birds were seen, but much fun was had.

4 One thing I've discovered here in Uganda is that my memory sucks. It's probably partly the Emerson aspect that if a man gets a watch he loses the ability to tell time by the sun--so I've lived in America where reminders abound and have lost the ability to remember :). The value of memorizing important or often-used things has also come up quite a bit. Memorizing names, or memorizing basic concepts saves so much time in the end. Memorization is also a big part of the VSL&A system which makes it transparent. Then again, memorization can be overdone at the expense of understanding, and sometimes there's just too much crap to remember--I still suck at crosswords and may never know who "Poet St. Vincent Millay" is.

5 I didn't say "Word" and "Excel", because we're running Ubuntu-Linux here. None of that Microsoft junk, only Abiword and Gnumeric, and Open Office, yo. Actually, beyond that nerdly fervor, I would suggest that people check out Open Office. It works on pretty much all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix, etc.), is free, and does pretty much everything that Microsoft Office does, and probably more.

6 VSL&A is designed for the poorest of people, many of whom may be illiterate. Although my teachers should benefit from it, they are better off than many of the completely subsistence farmers in the area. That's one thing that's a bit sad about doing work here: you can see a lot of people that need help, but it's also very difficult for you to go out and help them if you feel so much like an outsider. This is the main reason why pretty much all my work has been at my school. I feel like I belong here and am accepted and don't have to worry about being called "muzungu" or constantly asked inane questions about Barack Obama or whatever. I've also travelled to some places that could really use a Peace Corps volunteer (or just some dedicated teachers), but they're so "deep" that no one wants to live there--no electricity, small dirt road impassable most of the year, and practically no goods available. Then again, I know some volunteers in "deep" places like that, who are struggling to find ways they can help. < /random_musings_on_development>

02 June 2008

Emotional State, Letters Received & Awesome News!

Just another small blog post here, mostly due to the fact that I've been receiving a lot of awesome letters and really need to get my butt in gear to reply to all of them.

Letters Received

  • Mom: Cute card. Gyebaleko (trans. nice work!) on hosting Eraetu.
  • Grandpa Dick: Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted. Something small coming your way soon.
  • Michelle: Awesome pictures & beautiful letter. Like some of the past ones it's a work of art that should be displayed rather than put on the shelf, I haven't figured out a good way to do it yet though.
  • Amy Nicholas: Laughed my butt off, even the blueprints on the back (no carpet in the collection center ;).
  • Dave: I've been listening non-stop to the new music. Thanks for taking the time during busy finals week to make those. I just recently got some ugandan music on my computer. I'll try to organize it a bit and repay the favor.

Also, I managed to lose the letters I got from Tara and Lizzy (I know, it was lost once and now again -- MADNESS!). But I have your addresses so I'll just write/draw some random things for you.

Lastly, I've been keeping track of my emotional state by drawing in my planner smiley, frowny, and blandy faces, respectively :) :( :|. And I assigned them numbers from -2 to 2 with blandy at 0 and made a graph. Here it is:

Note that the mean (orange line) is above 0, and that March was very manic depressive. Things seem to be smoothing out though, which is good.


It just so happens that I am DEFINITELY coming home August. I'll be flying in on the 6th and then heading out the 25th. WOOT! TWO AND A HALF WEEKS OF AWESOMENESS!!!

Please put in your orders for cool african things, drums, games, carvings, whatever. More to come.

The Jonesinator