Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Travel Tips and Tricks

This is a really random list of tips or tricks I learned in my 3 trips to UG (and nearly 10 weeks) away from home this past year. I am NOT a pro, but I did gain some things along the way.
This is NOT a comprehensive list (and is sort of Ug@nda specific)... it is more of a list of things you might not think of or know to think of.

Prep to Go:
- Don't over pack... do all you can NOT to pack too much. I brought literally a WHOLE row from the pharmacy section... and though I would have wanted if I had needed it, but I never did. Bring benedryl, pain meds, stomach meds and your malaria meds... everything else you'll be able to find there.
- DO get a script for "cipro" or a med to ward off "travelers diarrhea"... seriously! I called it "boda belly" and it isn't fun to have when public restrooms aren't real available!
- Pack a full set of clothes in your carry on, and all your paperwork (don't let it leave your person) and for me a sleeping mask and a pillow were a MUST!
- Plan out the first 4 or so days on paper, it will help you clean your mind and relax.

In the Air and Along the Way:
- Don't get an adapter (electronic one) until you get to the second leg of your journey. I had one, from Walm@rt that was useless. But then found one in London that rocked!
- Remember to eat and drink and sleep as good as you can along the way, getting some "night time" meds might help you sleep in route.
- Take some photos of you on your way, all your bags and the over all journey... I forget that.
- Shower in a sink (or freshen up) if needed, people might stare, but you'll feel better.
- Get a ziplock or envelop and start NOW saving all your receipts! You will appreciate it later!
- After you arrive go straight to get a cell phone... just do it, you will use it! Also you family back home can call you via skype on it any time and it won't use your "minutes".

- Find a place you feel safe, at home and relaxed... if a place isn't working for you, move. Finding your "home" is important. I stayed 4 places and would only call 1 of them home. It makes a lot of difference in how you feel, how you sleep and the people you have to live with.
- Take out money and pay every week or twice a week for your lodging, it will eliminate you being stuck with a huge bill at the end of the 3 or 4 + weeks you are there.
- Get to know your "cleaning lady" and the other people that work there... it will help you with issues that could arise later.

Jack Fruit

- Prior to coming get a little receipt book at an office supply store and document your driving with gas you paid, date, driver name and amount you paid him, have him sign it before you pay him each day. Driving costs add up! Plus it will give you a record of events.
- Make friends with your driver, 2 of mine are dear friends in UG and we still talk with them often. I knew these two were "good drivers" because they'd come with me where ever I went and just not sit in the car, they'd help me grocery shop, take a child to the bathroom or just be helpful.
- A few times I asked my friend/driver to get me more "minutes" for my phone, he'd go buy it, and text me the code.
- If you don't like a driver, don't use them. Find someone you feel safe with and can trust.
- Realize that most drivers don't own their car, they must pay for it every day out of what you pay them. So if you pay them, say $40 for the day, it is a good chance that at least 1/4 of that is going to gas, another 1/4 to pay for the car and the remainder is for them to live on... make it fair for them. Tip for LONG or hard days.

A child's headlamp was hours of fun and entertainment

Stuff to Bring Other Than The Obvious:
sport sandals
rain coat
your pillow (if it is important for a good nights rest to you)
a headlamp or a small battery operated table lamp (one for your kiddo too)
bring some music that relaxes and calms you
bring a good water bottle
some ziplocks
some small trash bags ("ruffys") for dirty diapers
2 cloth diaper covers (for parasite poop containment)
If you have a semi mobile baby a seat (bumbo style) of some sort for feeding and containment
An ergo style baby carrier (I wore Thea in it while we drove and made me a smidge less concerned about having her out of a car seat)
Earplugs (for roosters, city noise and the late Friday night parties... that are ALL over town until 3 or 4 am)
1 pair socks (it does get chilly sometimes)
blank thank you cards

Sugar Cane

-Bringing gifts for care workers, drivers, and people you meet along the way. Here are some ideas:
- Instant coffee... like St@rbucks Via (because coffee is REALLY good in UG, but many locals like instant because they don't have coffee brewing systems)
- Nail care products.
- Feminine hygiene products.
- Cute flip-flops
- Satin pillow cases or sheet sets.
- A small assortment of chocolate or tea.
- A small hand bag.
- Going and getting rice, beans, flour, sugar and posho or matoke at a local market... you will spend less, get people things they really need and also supporting a family who runs the small market.

Enjoying a Traditional Meal

Court, Medicals, Baby Homes and The Embassy:
- As hard as it is, don't plan on getting to your kiddo right away. Allow yourself AT LEAST one good nights sleep, and a relaxed morning or day before you go see or pick them up. Get rest, try to get over jet lag and don't rush it... you'll regret not getting recovered when you have a scared little one who doesn't sleep either. Realize you need to be at your prime for loving and caring for them.
- Before or as soon as you arrive arrange to get an appointment at a reputable clinic or doctor's office. Have a full physical of our child, blood work, urine, stool, age assessment, make sure they weigh and measure your child (I had to ask every single time for both) and ask for a note with the doctor's evaluation. Ask about sickle cell, anemia, obvious diseases, parasites, ringworm/head/skin fungus, and get the appropriate meds for them. You want to start treating parasites, even if to just keep yourself from getting them. We were HIGHLY lucky to get both of our kids parasites (one having giardia) cleared up before traveling home... trust me, it is a blessing not to deal with on an airplane. And then you will also have something to give your doctor once you arrive home.
- Ask for copies of vaccination records, baptism, and other important documents the baby home might have. You will want them later.
- Make a list of "life book" questions you need to ask caregivers or remaining family members.
- The day of court bring food, water and fun. Bring a happy heart and all the grace and forbearance you can muster. It will be a long day... and if it isn't, you are blessed.
- Tell your driver to stay near by, warn him it might be a long day, ask him to go get you food or sodas if you need it.
- When you go get your IOM medicals be aware that you might need to make yourself known (ie they forgot us often). Very important... They will say they will send the results to the embassy... make sure they do, if they haven't after 2 or 3 days call IOM and remind them you are waiting on them to do this!
- As a parting gift bring the baby home/orphanage a gift of sorts... we brought some biscuits and juice for the kids and a few stalks of matoke... it was received with thanks.

Culture, Communication, and Helping Others Help You:
- Speak slowly... but don't treat people like they are dumb... I really hated hearing people say, "WILL - YOU - TAKE - US - TO - THE - STORE..." like their driver is stupid or deaf. Just speak normal, a tad slower is all that is needed. Don't use slang or expressions, they don't always make sense. Undoubtably they will understand you better than you will understand them. ;-)
-When listening, learn to take note of common phrases or sounds that don't compute to us American's... how letter "l" or "r" are often said slightly differently.
"When can I pick you" = When can I pick you up?
"I am making 10" = I am 9 going on 10 years old.
"Hoot at the gate" = Honk at the gate.
"Minutes or credit" = the amount of time left on your cell for calling
"Petrol" = gas
"Torch" = flashlight
"Empty fee" or "Do you have an empty?" = you have to pay extra for a glass soda if you aren't returning an empty bottle... that really confused me.
"To produce a child" = to bear a biological child... ie you might be asked, "Can't you produce a child?" or "Did you produce that child..." They mean, did you birth that child or can't you get pregnant...
"What what..." = Basically it is like saying, etc... etc... or "this and that"... it is an expression that is said when you don't really know what to list as all the things that were there or included...
"That side, this side" = it is a way to differentiate areas of town... so "you are on this side" meaning "this area of town", or "We will have to pass that side..." meaning "we will have to go to the far side of town."
"Jam" = traffic

- I think that with every request you ask for... a smile, patience and sincere thanks is needed... this includes even the most unhelpful or incompetent people you'll meet. People will make your life hard if you are acting frazzled, rude, demanding and ungrateful. And that gets you no where.
- When one of my drivers got pulled over for nothing he wisely made the officer laugh by cracking a little joke, she sent him on with out further delay. He told me, "If you can find a way to make some one's day better and to make them laugh they will usually repay you for your goodness and send you on as a thanks..." Wise words from a smart man!
- If you think you've been forgotten while waiting (which I did a lot) just "play dumb" (ie naive) and meekly say, "I am sorry, I am so confused about what I ought to do... I've been waiting for -x- minutes for the ___. I'm I doing what I should be doing?" Undoubtedly the receptionist will feel bad for you and go check and get you right in... be endearing... it can't hurt.
- If you are hitting road blocks with mean or incompetent people politely ask for someone else... I only had to do this twice. Once at our own embassy... just getting in the door (imagine that... not letting me in!) and once at a doctors office with a really nasty nurse that wanted to torture my son. BUT when you get that new person be meek, and endearing again... don't take out your frustration on them, ask them to be your helper. It never fails!
- DO NOT act superior. YOU AREN'T. Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with a superior or pushy person... and often people will want to "punish" you for it. Function in the system and culture around you... don't be tempted to fight it! You can control more around you if you just implore others to help you in a really humble, yet honest way.
- Don't bad mouth, gripe or loose your cool about things (really anywhere, except in your own private room). Assume everyone is listening... because they are... and it does have a reflection on you (other AP's, American's and people of your faith group). I have heard parents say in front of newly adopted kids (who knew English and where old enough to understand, while a room of local's listened in), "If we had known how hard this was going to be... we wouldn't have done it..." Everyone is listening. Somethings are better left unsaid, even if you feel them.

- Bring a lot of comfort foods... my list included: a big bag of dove chocolates, tea, beef jerky, powdered fruit drink, popcorn, beef bullion (very useful for many things), tortillas, cheddar cheese (freeze a block of it and it will be barely thawed on arrival), mac and cheese, ramin.
- Hit a grocery store and get some fruit (oh salivating now... pineapple, mangoes, avocados!) Get yourself some Spam... it would never be on your list in the US, but it is your new best friend!
- I generally would eat a very big breakfast: eggs, pan fried potatoes, toast and often spam... it would carry me to dinner with a small snack in between.
- I found a pizza place that would deliver... YOU have to try the Hawaiian pizza... oh the fresh pineapple! Forever ruined because of Palm Cafe and their amazing pizza!
- Local food is served many places... I really loved it... and so did our son. It is inexpensive.
- Try a vendor food at least once... chicken on a stick and Rolex are both really good, made fresh and piping hot to ensure food safety!
- Our kids had very limited and decided food preferences... I would NOT bother bringing any kids foods, baby foods (other than formula) with you. Our son was most happy, initially, with beans and rice, any thing resembling soup or stew, eggs, potatoes, posho (porridge) plain bread, pasta and tomato sauce, any vegetables or fruit and chicken. He would NOT eat mac n cheese, any cheese, pizza, hamburgers, and most crackers, cookies or "kids snacks" like gummies.
Our baby would NOT eat any of the baby food I brought, eggs, most fruits. She would eat porridge/posho, potatoes, eventually bananas, tomatoes, beans and rice, beef flavored soups or broth over potatoes. She did like those baby "puffs" and I thank the Lord because that was super helpful.

Health and Safety:
- Eat only HOT foods made by others.
- Don't get too worried about fruit and veggies.
- If you are feeling "off" drink a coke... it has to kill some stuff... and get on your cipro if your lower stomach starts feeling like something is riding around in circles... you can often "kick" it before it starts.
- If you or your kid has a fever get to a doctor... don't even wonder it might be something like a virus. Our baby woke with a 103* fever... two days prior, this same bacterial infection had killed an orphanage mate of hers. :-(
- If your child is sick you might as well ask the doctor what med you would need if you got sick too, they will likely proscribe it... and you would want it on hand if you are alone caring for your child.
- Drink hot tea after meals... I think the hot water kills things too (but I might just be nuts?... but it can't harm you).
- Take some yeast infection creme with you... it is more humid there. :-)
- Find another family to "buddy system" with... call every few days or daily check up on each other... this seemed to happen naturally with people I knew... it was never official, but still very very reassuring.
- ALWAYS lock up one of your suit cases with your electronics and valuables!!! EVERY time you leave your room!

Having Fun and Staying Sane... Things You "Ought" to do Before You Leave:
- Eat at least one traditional meal.
- Eat at least one road vendor food.
- Go to Jinja sight seeing with a really good driver... that road scared me silly.
- Go to church at least once.
- Go to Friday market... every Friday.
- Try some "Jack Fruit" and raw sugar cane... it is worth the experience!
- Go to a coffee shop... my favorite is 1000 Cups.
- Try these sodas: Stoney Tangawizi, Crest, Miranda... mmmm so good!
- Go to La Petite Cafe near the embassy... it is so cute and has AMAZING breads, danishes and "African Tea" ... I would stalk up on bread and breakfast foods there!
- Just sit and be people's friends... resist the urge to be on your phone, computer, ect... I had a really sweet conversation waiting (that happens a lot) with a young Muslim man reading the Koran about why people (like me) would care about kids in Uganda... he ended by thanking me for my "kind heart"... Make the most of the amazing opportunities you are given!
- Don't barter too much at markets... when you think about it, when you pay 3000 sh for a necklace that is about .75 cents... really?... why barter down at that price? People work hard making those things you can't tell me you wouldn't be willing to pay even 5x that amount in the US for the same necklace...
- Do go to the Nile! It was so fun and amazing to see.
- I wish I had gone to see our son's village of heritage... where his great grandparents use to live or gone to Fort Portal where our daughter's life began.
- Walk around with a friend... you'll be safe.
- Serve at another home, ministry or school. I wish I had gone to a few different ones just to serve a day here or there...

That is my limit of help... I hope it helps someone out there.
Oh and last... make memories... remember to capture them... (not on film, but in your heart).

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