That’s right folks! After 4 months, I have finally gained the technical skill of an 8 year old and figured out how to move the Sherry Bento and all its wonderful content to an actual, real, true blue “.com” address. Not only does it sound cooler, (“sherrybento.com”), but it will also allow us to do more in depth technical stuff with pictures, flash player, etc. Of course, that is contingent on me learning it all, so don’t hold your breath.
So please, if you have been following us here at the sherrybento.wordpress.com blog continue to do so at now at sherrybento.com. If you were a subscriber here (all 15 or so of you), please resubscribe at the new address so that you can continue to get email updates. That capability will be available in the next few days. I’ll even be nice and link the new blog below! Get your butt over there and bookmark it, fools!
DISCLAIMER: the following is an entry from the journal I have to write from my one class. Therefore, it is a continuation of the “emotional, self-enlightenment, talk about my feelings” blog posts I’ve been putting up. Though i think it’s actually really good and kinda ties everything together, I will not be offended if you skip over this post and wait for my next one (which will be about my daily life and maybe even include a video!) Enjoy.
“The past week has been rough. I’m not going to sugar coat it. But as I sit here in my bedroom and listen to the goings-on of my house, I have to ask myself one question: WHY? Why have I been struggling so much? Why do I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster? Why isn’t this perfect?
After all, I have been dreaming of this experience for the past three years, ever since I heard of this program as a freshman. The thought of Africa, with its exotic animals, fresh fruit, and rich culture had me sold from the very beginning. So why, now that I am at the very center of it all, do I feel like being anywhere else but here?
Perhaps I expected something else, a four-month mission trip of a “hold-your-hand” journey through Uganda. But this is real life here. I may not be saving orphans or building churches, but I’m learning how to sit and drink tea and speak their language, literally. This is full on culture immersion, the good and the bad, the exciting and the boring. Everything.
So as I take a mental note of “hey, transitions aren’t your thing,” I am beginning to draw one conclusion: attitude makes all the difference. It is easiest to sit and complain about every small difficulty, and to say I haven’t done that on multiple occasions would by lying; but I will never get this day back. Heck, I’ll never even get this moment back. So I can either waste it by wanting to be somewhere else or I can face it head on and see where it takes me. The scary part is… the choice is all mine.”
After writing this entry, I went outside to help my sister cook dinner (meaning i watched) and tried talking to her. Out of everyone in the house, she speaks the least English, so sometimes it is difficult. However, we always end up laughing at each other for one reason or another. As she stoked the fire, she said, “Code. When you leave… we will be missing you.”
And in that moment I realized that this is exactly where I need to be. It may have taken me a week and a lot of internal confusion to get there, but I got there. And now things are GREAT. I’m about to leave for home so that I can set up a volleyball net (meaning a string tied to the house) to play volleyball with my family! Life is good here.
No, my parents were not married on this day 74 years ago (at least I think that’s how long they’ve been married). But today is, in fact, an anniversary. I HAVE BEEN HERE ONE WEEK! 7 days. How it has only been one week I have no idea, considering it feels like I’ve lived under the relatively hot Ugandan sun my entire life. Yet at the same time, things are still so new. A Ugandan girl I met told me and some friends that “you look like you’ve been on this campus for at least one month” to which I replied “BWAHHH!??!” If there is anything further from the truth, it is that 28 white, bright-eyed American students look like they belong on this college campus. However, she assured me we fit right in.
That is good to hear, considering at times I definitely don’t feel like it. To be honest, things have still been difficult in my adjustment to my family and to this country in general. However, as I have appropriately titled this entry, I realize that I have only been here for one week. Things should not feel comfortable, at least not yet. And I should definitely miss home, considering I have left so many awesome people and places behind. So in a sense I am right where I should be.
Changing topics, I was told that my entries lacked detail due to a cross-comparison with another USP-ers blog (thank you, olivia weideman). However, I have posted pictures with everything I have done since I’ve been here, so check them out on Facebook! Plenty of pictures of cute African children (and even more to come!) If that doesn’t motivate you to get there quick, I don’t know what will.
I love you all. As soon as something terribly interesting happens (including trying out for the volleyball team or possibly singing in morning chapel), I will let you know!
Written by Val, posted by Travis. In case you haven’t heard, the internet capabilities in sub-Saharan Africa are generally considered “subpar”, hence the inability to access WordPress effectively and the lack of pictures. And while it is long, I assure you it will probably be the best Zambia to Zanzibar Christmas travelogue you have read this year!
I should have known that my trip was doomed the second I walked into the Serenje train station and noticed that the clock on the wall was roughly two and a half hours slow. Ok, perhaps “doomed” is too strong a word, maybe “ill-fated” or “disaster prone” would fit better. Either way, when the rest of the world uses trains to regulate their clocks and this station couldn’t even manage to be in the right timezone, I really should have known better.
Five of my friends and I decided to take a fabulous Christmas and New Years getaway to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. Working on my tan while drinking frosty beverages sounded like wonderful way to avoid homesickness. And really, is there a more adventurous and romantic way to get there than by train? I had images of old James Bond scenes when Sean Connery orders an extravagant dinner for his latest love interest in the dining car (“…And madam will have the lamb…”) dancing in my head. What a fool! The train travels from central Zambia all the way to Dar Es Salaam. The trip takes about two and a half days, so naturally we reserved first class sleeper cars. We were excited, even more so because we negotiated a 50% discount with our expired student ID’s. As everybody knows, a Sherry LOVES a good deal, so I was beside myself with glee as I entered the train station. So excited was I, that I didn’t even mind the shattered windows, lack of electricity and plumbing, and hoards of village children demanding that I give them my shoes and sunglasses.
As I mentioned before, I couldn’t help but notice that the clock was two and a half hours wrong. There was also a disturbing lack of TaZaRa (the train line) employees. We finally found a man who claimed to be in charge of ticket sales, and we asked about our reservations. He stared at us blankly for a moment, contacted the main office, and informed us that our reservations did not exist. We stared blankly back. It has only taken five months for us to be used to disappointment, and we have all learned how to think fast and come up with a plan D (plans A, B, and C NEVER come to fruition). We did a little fast-talking, and a little more begging, and bought whatever tickets we could get. Luckily for us, we were told, there were a few tickets left. Not in first class, or second, but third. If we played our cards right, we would get on the train and then work our way up to first class. We jumped at the opportunity. We just wanted to be moving toward the beach… did it really matter in what condition we traveled? Readers… the answer is “Yes”. A strong and resounding “YES”.
The train (obviously) arrived very late. We climbed in and got seated in the dining car where we were told to wait until a car was found for us. I ordered a coke and chatted with some British tourists and a young missionary couple from America. About two hours passed without a single conductor speaking to us. Finally it dawned on us that we were forgotten and that the tickets we bought were for a seat that didn’t really exist. After tracking down a man who looked like he knew what was going on, we were led to the bar car and shown some threadbare and smelly (even by African standards) couches. Our accommodations for two nights were two tiny love seats between six people and a sticky floor. In a bar. It seemed that my life had hit an all time low. After we sat in silence for a moment, we all started to laugh. What else could we do? I found the bathroom, which didn’t have a light and was just a hole in the floor, and soon discovered that peeing standing up in a moving train in the dark cannot possibly end well. At this point, it was pretty late.
Sleeping is the best time-killer, so we all gave it our best shot. I stretched out on the floor and finally drifted off (holding my purse tightly to my chest, because the train is full of thieves), only to be awoken by Megan yelling ‘AHH! I just saw two fatty rats running by you!’ I shrugged and fell back asleep. I think we all only succeeded in getting about 2 hours of sleep before we gave up and watched the sunrise reflected off the linoleum table tops. Not quite the romantic moment I had imagined. The train ran out of water, so I couldn’t even wash the exhaustion out of my eyes before I went to help Megan negotiate for a soon-to-be-available first class car. The conductor was tired, we were tired, and the conversation did not go as smoothly as we may have wanted. At one point the conductor informed Megan that he would only deal with me. “Why?” I asked. “Because you don’t talk much. This one, she talks too much and isn’t very nice.” I could only manage to look shocked. I mean, it’s not everyday those words are said to me. Let’s be honest. But Megan responded with “Oh. You like women who don’t talk back? In America men like women with opinions.” I suppressed a giggle, jabbed her with an elbow, and we successfully weaseled our way into a sleeper car.
Needless to say, when we finally pulled into the station at Dar, we were thrilled. We were actually singing Christmas carols with our new missionary friends upon our arrival. It was a wonderful feeling! We practically jumped out the windows with our backpacks in our haste to get to our hotel so we could shower and sleep. We hired the first mode of transportation we could find, which ended up being a mini trailer pulled by a motorcycle. I’m pretty sure they are meant for luggage, but the driver accepted our offer, helped us climb in the back, and sped off into the mean streets of Dar weaving in and out of traffic and running red lights. We were on the homestretch, and we barely paid any mind to the police officers that pulled us over and then proceeded to escort us to our hotel. I felt like it was a modern version of the triumphal entry. I would have demanded palm fronds to be thrown on the street as I stepped down from the trailer, but it was the wrong holiday. Oh well.
The next week and a half were a blur of sunshine, seafood, cute dresses, and awkward tan lines. Ah, what a vacation. If you have a chance to go to Zanzibar, you should take it. It was gorgeous! All six of us felt refreshed, clean, and well-fed. We were ready to face the terrors of the train again. Or, so we thought. We heard a nasty rumor that the train was sold out. TaZaRa only leaves on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and since we had to be in Lusaka for conferences right after our vacation, we started to get a little anxious. Well, I was. Most Peace Corps volunteers are much better at rolling with the punches than I am, so I kept my worries to myself. Once again we pleaded for any tickets we could get. Third class was the only place available, so we bought the tickets hoping that we could work our way up to first class again. We raced, literally, onto the train to claim our seats.
I feel as if I need to describe a third class car on an African train. Readers, it is what nightmares are made of. People were sitting in the aisles, huge sacks of fish were being passed through the windows, babies were screaming, children were pouting, adults were arguing, and everybody was staring at us. Six Mazungus did NOT belong in third class. I don’t know much Swahili, but it doesn’t take a linguist to know when you are being talked about. A few hours of being crammed next to hundreds of mildly hostile and very sweaty bodies was all it took to begin the begging-for-seats ritual. This time around we used a combination of befriending people who already had sleeping compartments (in this case, a semi-attractive Italian and his British friend) and charming one of the older conductors. We all found a bed in somebody else’s car. I fell asleep with a group of 5 other Zambian strangers, and was cruelly woken up when half of the top bunk broke off the wall, threatening to crush the passengers in the two bunks beneath it. How did I handle that? Well, the same way I handled the rats. I put my earplugs in and went back to sleep. We spent the rest of the train ride trying to avoid the conductors so that we wouldn’t have to pay for our ‘upgrade’. I hit a new low, once again.
We were almost successful, too, but they found us late the second night as we were all dozing off. That same night Emily’s cash and passport were stolen out of the sleeper car. The passport was found 7K from one of the railroad stations. If any of us had the energy to have been angry, maybe we would have attempted it. We only had enough energy to pour ourselves into a cab and go to the central province peace corps house for a cold shower.
We all arrived safe and relatively sound in Serenje yesterday. Spending almost six full days in a loud, smelly, cramped, and dirty train is a nightmare I hope never to have to repeat. I will say this, however: It is hard to stay cranky when you can look out your window (which inevitably is held open by a crowbar or well-placed stone, or both) and see mountains obscured by low clouds, endless fields, giraffes, baboons, and enough stars to make you weep. Living in Africa, I am discovering, is like running a marathon. When you cross the finish line you are sweaty and sore, but you can’t help but smile.
Hello America. For those that did not see my status update on Facebook, I MADE IT. At this very moment, I am sitting in a small room with 5 other Uganda Studies Program students talking about fanny packs. We call this place IMME headquarters and the eleven students who are doing homestays share this room when we are at the University. Home sweet home, you might say.
I arrived 3 days ago (thought it has felt like a month) in Entebbe, Uganda. We boarded a bus from the airport and made the 2 hour trek to the University. You’ll be proud to know I rode on the bucket seat in the middle of the two actual seats, acquiring the nickname “Buckets.” Apparently those seats aren’t even called bucket seats, but whatever.
Everyone spent the first night in the dorms, where I encountered my first American-African culture clash. Upon my mattress sat a mosquito net, which was to be expected. However, I was on the top bunk and the ceiling was about fifteen feet above my head, with no hooks to attach the net. I looked to my roommate AJ for help, who had no idea how to work one of these nets either. So, we banded together and decided to just sleep inside of them. Picture me in a white mesh cocoon and that’s about right. It was pretty sweet actually, and when I got up to get something out of my bag, I just left it on and mosey-d around my room. Suddenly I realized the purpose of America’s latest popular invention: the SNUGGIE. If my mosquito net had sleeves on it, I’d be set for life. I think I may have just stumbled across something brilliant.
The next day we were sent to our homestays. We packed up our essentials (sheets, basin, medical kit, water) and headed out. To be honest, I have never been more nervous in my entire life. As the IMME students left four by four, my time got closer. I hopped in the van and drove to my home, located right on the main road going from Kampala all the way to Jinja. As we pulled up to the house (yes, a legitimate house), I was instantly greeted by Mama Margaret, my mother for the next four months and beyond. She took me into her arms and said, “You are my son. I am your mother.” What a great start to this experience.
However, from that moment on, things weren’t all that easy. It has actually been very difficult to adjust to a completely new culture. This isn’t a trip where you get to watch something cultural from afar. I got dropped off and spent the next 48 hours with them, alone. Most members of my family (and there are MANY) speak some sort of English, but when talking to each other they speak in Luganda. They love to laugh and talk and spend time with each other, but I’m definitely on the outside looking in. I would love to joke and laugh too, but Luganda is something I haven’t quite mastered yet…
So to be completely honest, things aren’t exactly as I expected. In a sense, I feel like I’m not doing as well as I should be. It shouldn’t be hard to connect with my family, right? Yet somehow it is. I know that in time this will completely change and it is only my 3rd day living with them. Pretty soon, I will be cooking matoke, pooping in a hole, and cracking jokes in Luganda with the best of them. But for now, I am still in the transition period.
I’ve been missing home like crazy, but trying not to think about any of you (hopefully that doesn’t make me sound heartless). If I dwell on how much I miss hugging Matt Deans or dancing with the roommates or annoying Broccoli Head, I’ll definitely lose it. So know that you all are being thought of and missed. Please keep me in your prayers, specifically in my adjustment to my new family. I don’t want to waste a moment of this amazing experience.
P.S. I have a phone! My number is 784716247, which actually means nothing. In order to call or text me, you would dial 011-256-784716247. I have no idea how much that costs, though I think texts aren’t very expensive at all. I think going through Skype would be the cheapest. So if you ever feel so led, give me a call! Remember, I am 8 hours ahead of you.