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Patch Blog: Dispatches from Uganda; My East African Adventure Begins

Lori Freeman Cleveland, who grew up in La Cañada and attended La Cañada Presbyterian Church, is experiencing a new way of life, halfway around the world. Her adventure begins.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Well, I have been in Uganda, East Africa, for about 10 weeks. Now that I am really here, it seems like just yesterday when I started this process. But in reality, it started almost 3 years ago when God put a fire in my heart to fulfill a dream of service to those less fortunate. I am 55 years old with 2 children. In 2010 I quit my job as a nursing instructor for a community college in Northern California. Through a 2 year process of revelation of God’s power, uncertainty of the future, and trust in God’s promises, the Lord has brought me to Uganda to serve with the Peace Corps for 27 months.

Since the first 3 months of Peace Corps is spent in training, this first blog is mostly about my initial experiences in a new country.

  • First and most important: the people are wonderful here. Very welcoming and if you are willing to try the language you will make many friends.
  • Bucket bathing – a new experience in cold water. Kind of like a mega spit bath.
  • Handwashing clothes – a very slow process and takes all day to dry on the line (or two to three days for your underclothing to dry in your room).
  • Ironing with a coal heated iron – there may not be any electricity - it’s probably a toss-up trying to decide if you want to iron. Ironing helps to kill the eggs the Mango Flies deposit in your clothes in certain areas of the country.
  • Mosquitos and bed bugs and itchy skin.
  • Different food – usually a bit bland and lots of starch. Great fruit. Cereal with boiled milk because there is little refrigeration here. Fish, complete with bones and head. Amatooke which seems like a staple here is plantains steamed in banana leaves and mashed. Rice, beans, greens, and meats like goat, cow, and chicken.
  • Language and cultural training. And all at the same time: a HUGE challenge for me.
  • Geckos in the room keep the mosquito population down.
  • Riding in a matatu (taxi) is an experience as there are no traffic lights, no speed limits, no limit to the number of people they try to squeeze in, and pedestrians definitely do NOT have the right away. For example: One day on my way into town I squeezed into a matatu (5th person in the back seat of a small car). I was literally sitting on the door handle with one arm behind a lady and the other above the door hanging on to try to keep my rear end off the lady’s lap. When I got in she said, “wow, your bones are hard….and developed!” LOL. I just said, “sorry” and tried really hard not to laugh. I’m glad it was only a 15 minute ride, at least the way they drive!

We had a month with a “homestay” Ugandan family which was a wonderful experience. My family was fantastic and very accepting of my “muzungu” (white person) ways. They have no electricity, running water, or toilet. Suffice it to say, I pretty much gave up on the pit latrine and fell in love with my “night bucket”! My routine generally started at 6:30am with a trip down the hill to the latrine to empty said bucket.

There is usually hot water waiting for me near my room and I wash my face, feet, and anything else that smells; rinse out the bucket; brush my teeth; and get dressed. They have a light breakfast of boiled eggs (sometimes scrambled), bread, banana, and juice or tea and if I need to I will make a lunch for later. Anyway, then walking 30 minutes to class or taking a taxi and spending the day at school.

Sometimes we have an activity we do in town to work on language and integrating into culture. After class (around 3:30) I usually go home and study or spend time with the family practicing language. Early evening and before dark I take my bucket bath (outside, in an enclosed area, with warm water that they boil for me). I then help with cooking or study. Cooking is done in a room out back over a fire or a small charcoal grill. We eat between 8:30 and 9:30 pm and then visit for a short while and off to bed.

As I said before, the people here are fantastic. In my homestay, all the children pitch in when requested, often doing many chores including pumping water from the borehole (well) and bringing the water up our hill in Jerry Cans (look like our gas cans). You may see them walking barefoot around the house, to school, or to fetch water. The women wash, sweep, cook, and dig in the garden. The Father of my family drove a private hire car taxi. They work harder than most people in the States, but I never heard them complain. Not even the children. Often I would come home from training to find many women gathered at our house dancing and singing. And the children who passed me on their way to school laughed and chattered when I spoke to them in their language.

I just arrived at the site where I will be staying for the next two years. As a Peace Corps volunteer I will be working with a Nursing School, helping the students with clinical skills and teaching. The school has been opened for 2 ½ years and was started as a response to community request for vocational training in that area. They are running 5 classes equivalent to our LVN/LPN level in medical/surgical and midwifery.

The hospital where the students practice is a government facility and despite the challenges of too many patients, too little staff, and a lack of funds, functions to the best of their ability. The education of the students is well thought out with teachers who are knowledgeable and competent but have to work with limited resources. As Peace Corps volunteers we are here to offer our knowledge and skills while exchanging cultural awareness. For the next few weeks I will be learning about the school, the hospital, and the community in order to recognize ways that I can help them build on their own capacity to enhance their standard of living. 

More to come.........

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

JT Hampton August 09, 2012 at 06:49 PM
What an incredible journey you are on, spiritually and geographically. Looking forward to your future blogs! Thanks for taking us with you!
Maura Leglu August 14, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Wow, Lori! This is the first time I have ever read a blog and I am glad it it yours! Very informative. I think of you often!
Michael Boudreaux April 25, 2013 at 05:19 AM
Hi Lori, I am a former Peace Corps volunteer and traveled through Uganda after my tour. I befriended a young man, Emmanual, who I later sponsored for school. Emmanual is telling me he has a serious medical condition that he needs help paying for. I'm looking for a volunteer posted in the Fort Portal area to help me assess his situation before I just send money. You can email me privately at boudream....at....gmail I tried to disguise my email a little to throw off the spammers, but I think you can work it out. Thanks so much for any help. It's really important!

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