Remembering

January 12, 2014

I don’t know how I can even put it into words. There are times in life when the pain of missing something hurts so much, and there’s no remedy. It almost seems that the older I get, the more memories I have to look back on and reminisce. I have had the fortune of having a life with so many fond memories to look back upon. I think that that’s why Facebook has so much sway over us; it allows us to compartmentalize and look back on our past with others and remember the time that we spent with loved ones, friends, and nights that never ended. But we also are selective in our memory, and the bad ones tend to fade as the good ones become exaggerated to mythical proportions. Yet, if the good memories are all that we can remember, then we tend to want to return back to those “good old day”.

I was reminiscing hardcore a few hours ago when I was going through my friends’ Facebook profiles. I use a slightly modified version of Facebook that doesn’t use as many pictures so as to cut down on the data usage since I have to buy internet data per month since there is no free Wifi here.

Aside: For those of you who are interested, I am using one of the phone carriers’ modem, Orange, that plugs into my USB port on my laptop and allows me to access the internet anywhere in Uganda except for the Karamoja Region to the East. However, the internet signal varies greatly from site to site.

While I scrolled through my newsfeed, a picture popped up from my old Boston University A Cappella Group: Allegrettos. This sparked up a series of memories from hearkening back to my freshman year when I tried out and was accepted as a member of the Allegrettos. It’s hard to explain it to people who never joined an a cappella group, but a cappella represented a large part of my life in college. I became friends with my group members and bonded with them in ways that can only be made by relying on each other’s voices and talents to create a harmonious cacophony that recreates and reinvents a chosen song. I partied with these people, had adventures with them, busked on the streets of Boston with them, and had some of the craziest adventures in college with them. Memories of almost winning the BU Amazing Race hungover after our winter concert or spending two nights together on retreat in Cape Cod reminded me of how much I missed singing with this group.

And this memory led to other memories from college and the months spent between graduation and my departure to Uganda. I won’t try to explain what I did during those months, because they’ve been documented well enough in my Facebook photo albums and my other blog. And I suppose that those pictures that were taken and time spent writing down my experiences allowed me to have the gift of remembering those moments. If I close my eyes, I can sometimes re-imagine saying goodbye to one of my intern friends in Berlin during my internship, dancing my heart out at my friend’s birthday at a Dirty Phonics concert at Royale, or biking through the streets of Boston in search of an unexplored street.

These memories are important, because our history defines how we change and what we can become. Yesterday my language group’s Luganda teachers, Herbert and Dan, took the language class on a field trip to see a mass grave site of casualties of the Luwero War (Ugandan Bush War). This war was a guerilla was held from 1981-1986 in the Luwero District of Uganda between the NRA (National Resistance Army) led by the current president Yoweri Museveni and then president Milton Obote.

There was contested election fraud, and Museveni declared an armed rebellion against Obote and formed the NRA. Museveni was trained in bush/guerilla combat, and sought to bolster the opposition to Obote. He sought support from the Cental Region of Buganda, namely the Luwero District where I know reside. Obote’s government set up roadblocks, created prison camps, and decided to eradicate many of the civilians in the Luwero Triangle in order to oust the rebels and kill civilians and villagers who may have supported them.

Our guide at the mass grave explained how warnings were sent out before some of the attacks, and villagers had to quickly escape throughout the night and had to leave the sick and elderly behind. The next day, government forces swept through the villages of the Luwero District and shot anyone who lived there in order to eradicate support for the NRA rebels. Those who did not receive the warning in time to escape were also shot in their homes. In the years after the war, people’s skulls were collected in six mass graves throughout the Luwero District with the largest one being in Nakaseke. Our guide opened up a small door on top of a rectangular marble box, and through the metal bars we could easily make out hundreds of skulls. We were told that the skulls filled this mass grave in a volume of about 10 ft wide x 20 ft long x 15 ft deep.

These weren’t just statistics, but the skulls of people who used to live where we are living now and who had died as a result of the war. The graves did not discriminate between the rebels and the government soldiers who had died, because various acts of war were perpetrated by both sides, including the NRA who even armed children to fight as child soldiers against the Obote regime. The irony of this situation was that many of the people killing the communities of villagers who were allegedly supporting the NRA rebels were Acholi who were also victims of Idi Amin’s ethnic purges.

It almost seems impossible for us to actually believe in the phrase “never again”. I’ve heard it said and written many times after my friends visited the Holocaust museum in New York, watched Hotel Rwanda, saw a news special about Darfur, or saw the Kony 2012 video. Yet it seems as if history continues to repeat itself and not in a good way. The memories of the past concerning oppression continue to resurface again and again in cultures all over the world. And when I look at my life and memories in this way, I no longer feel the pangs of missing my old life as much anymore. At the very least, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to make good memories. I guess it could be said that one of my personal goals as a Peace Corps volunteer is to allow others whom I meet to have a chance to create good memories of their own.

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This is my life right now: Homestay Edition

January 9, 2014

It’s dark right now, and the only light comes from my laptop that I am typing on while I lie on my bed underneath my mosquito net. It’s pitch black outside and sometimes I can hear a boda boda drive by one of the back roads or a drunk man meandering through the matooke fields. Let me just say that I have loved this family more and more with each passing day. I never thought that I would acclimate this way with my family. The other day I was talking with my host father and mother and they both told me that they would miss me when I left. They had become used to me and regarded me as a member of their own family.

So during the weekdays I take a 25 minute walk north up the main road of the Kampala-Gulu Highway and pass through the trading center of Kasana and then turn into the Luwero Boys compound where I have Luganda Language Classes with 11 other Peace Corps Trainees. We comprise the central region, and have been learning Luganda since we left our Future Site Visits. We liken class to a strugglebus; in other words, it’s a shitshow. Honestly, our language class is hilarious to watch because we’re very dysfunctional and usually don’t know what’s going on regardless of whether or not we’re told something in English or Luganda. Usually in a session we’ll have: someone grossly misunderstand what one of our teachers said, someone laugh very loudly and awkwardly, someone get upset, someone respond with the completely wrong answer, someone try to make a joke about either not having any cheese in Uganda or about the latest trend in North Korea, someone looking very confused, or someone drawing a picture of the current strugglebus (i.e. matatu).

Fortunately, we have a break and lunchtime during which we usually stop by one of the street vendors to get a chappati, samosas, or stop by one of the three restaurants that we usually frequent. So these restaurants in Kasana are extremely small, and have maybe three or four tables with plastic lawn chairs. The prices are cheap by muzungu standards, but they are still more expensive than what many working Ugandans earn if they were to eat at one everyday. But they are our only option for lunch unless one buys or brings fruit, bread, chappati, or something else that is filling. These restaurants also do not always have all the dishes on their menu, because it’s not economical for them to have all of the items if they wouldn’t be consumed everyday by the Ugandans that live in the area. These items for lunch are usually a type of main dish (beef, goat, fish, chicken) paired with starches and veggies (matooke, po sho, beans, rice, millet, chappati, cow peas, doodo, squash, or pumpkin). There really isn’t much variety in terms of the food here, even though there are a plethora of ingredients with which to cook.

We return for the afternoon sessions, which have consisted of us really needing a nap after the carbo-loading that is lunch. At this point we give presentations about our day in Luganda, and we usually implement something that we learned earlier that morning if we can remember it. We make our way back to our homestay families, and I make the 25 minute walk back to mine. As I turn to go into my small neighborhood village comprised of huts, tin-roofed shacks, and dusty roads familiar faces of the children wave at me and yell, “How are you Uncle Marvin?” I wave back and respond with, “I am fine. How are you?” They then smile and continue waving until I am out of sight. As I approach my homestay house, my four year old brother Davis and my six year old sister Diana come running up to me and ask me to bake a cake, do some training with them, or take out my laptop to play Shakira’s “Waka Waka”.

I take this time to pick them up and then carry them to the backyard where I greet maama and taata who are washing the dishes and doing the laundry. Aww man, and then I have some moments where I realize just how awesome life is. I remember the look on my maama’s face when I showed her how to bake with the DIY African triple saucepan Dutch Oven method (mentioned in my previous blog post) or when I did an Insanity workout routine from my laptop with about 20 of the village children as Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” played as the sun was setting in the background. I am also deeply humbled by how hard my Ugandan mother works here. She wakes up around 6am everyday and continues doing housework until she goes to sleep around 11pm. Regardless, she continues telling me that I must rest and not tire myself by helping with the chores. Then I have talks with the father who wanted to know if it would be possible for him to teach in the United States and open up a primary school similar to how he is opening one right now behind our house. Honestly, I feel like I’m sharing a lot of my culture with my Ugandan family, while also learning so much about Ugandan culture here.

Then just the other night I decided to go use the pit latrine around midnight, only to see my host father standing upright outside next to the back door of the house and wielding a huge stick while clad only in a towel around his waist. I asked him if there was something going wrong in the neighborhood, and he responded that one must protect his property from thieves. I quickly peed, and then hurried back inside because I could not stop laughing from the absurdity of the situation. I scurried back to my room, washed my hands using the buckets filled with water in my bathing area, and then jumped underneath my mosquito net as a cool breeze drifted into my room.

Life here is good.

Life in a Day (Obulamu mu Olunaku)

Life in a Day

There has been one film that has stuck with me for these past few years, and it was called “Life in a Day”. You can watch it right now for free on YouTube if you wanted to do so. The premise of the movie was to show the universality of life in all of its forms and manifestations throughout the world over the course of a day. The movie is comprised of video clips taken from people all over the world, and edited together to form a day detailing people’s normal routines, birth, death, religion, chores, love, life, and scenes that both complement and juxtapose each other.

Yesterday, my Luganda language group held our cookout at one of the trainees’ host family house. It was located near where we hold our Luganda language classes: LuweroBoysPrimary School. The goal of the cookout was to share some of our favorite American dishes with the Ugandan family, while we also learned how to make some of the favorite Ugandan dishes. We decided to create a local fruit salad, homemade fruit juice, OldBay seasoned beef, baked beans, and pasta with both a Bolognese sauce and a Gouda cheese sauce. We were especially excited for the cheese sauce, which was created by my fellow trainee, Alaina. After we had our fill of food and just chilled in the living room, the topic that we started discussing centered around blogs. Alaina talked about creating a blog post about a normal day in the life of a Ugandan family, and that inspired me to create my own mini version of Life in a Day.

So today I decided that I would take photographs, videos, and write about a typical, whole day living with the Semuddu family:

“Obulamu mu Olunaku” – January 5th, 2014

I wake up around 7:40 am, and take my time because it’s Sunday and I have the day off from language classes. I take a look around my room and decide that it’s about time to clean it. I have clothes draped over the mosquito net around my bed and hanging from nails sticking out from a wooden plank that runs around half of my room. I also see that that plants that I had received from Nurse Betsy, aglaonema commutatum, are not faring so well in the soil that I had planted them in. I decided that I would instead resort to the root-cutting method and place them in old Rwenzori plastic bottles so that they would have the chance to first grow roots before I planted them in soil.

I then walk out of my room and through the main part of the house, which houses the only working electricity socket, and get to the sitting/dining room where I take a breakfast of bananas, biscuits, and tea or hot chocolate. I love the biscuits here, so I eat the biscuits, and then decide that I want to sleep some more, so I got back to bed. I sleep through the mass service, and then wake up again around 9am. I still can’t see because I don’t have my contacts in yet. Directly across from my bed is a small bathing room with two holes. One hole is a pipe that will eventually be used for a toilet, and the other hole is the drain where the water flows after I bucket bathe. I drench my bed head hair so that it stays down, I insert my contacts, and then attempt to shave even though there isn’t a mirror within a 1km radius.

I decide to be productive and do laundry. This involves me bringing buckets and jerrycans with me to the nearby tap. My family gets water from this tap, whereas other families obtain their water from boreholes. The only difference between the two is that boreholes require one to physically pump the water out of the ground, but taps operate on electricity so no physical effort is needed except to turn the handle and the spigot. Also jerrycans are these rectangular, yellow containers that seem to be very common in Uganda. They are mainly used to hold and transport water from taps and boreholes to one’s house, since it is rare for a family to have running water inside the house.

I then use my favorite blue perfumed laundry soap, Chapa Nyota, to wash my clothes. After almost two months in this country, I have finally learned how to rub my clothes against one of my wrists in a back and forth motion that allows for the soap and water to remove any dirt. I fill up my family’s jerrycans as I wash and rinse my clothes.

I finish my laundry, and maama tells me to go have some porridge for break tea time. I eat up the porridge, and attempt to convince maama that I can mop my room for myself. She continues telling me that I am tired and have already done so much today. I mop my room, and then wait until lunch comes.

A few days ago, I told maama and taata that we could create a favorite American/Mexican dish called a burrito on Sunday. Therefore, we had rice and beans for lunch today, and saved the leftovers for the burrito at dinner. I ate a late lunch around 2pm, and then left to go buy groceries for banana bread. I wanted to show maama and taata how to bake using three cooking pots and a sagiri, charcoal stove. I walk to the Kasana trading center, and into my favorite store called Quicky Picky. The people there are always very helpful in letting me know where to find items. They even try to help me learn and practice my Luganda.

I pick up the needed ingredients to make the banana bread, and head back to the house. I didn’t purchase eggs because my family has a chicken coop. On my way back home, one of my fellow trainees, Rebecca, calls and invites me to join the language group in an impromptu Settlers of Catan game. I wanted to play, but decided against it because I had already made plans with my host family. I get back to my host family, and demonstrate to maama how to create the banana bread batter.

Taken from the Peace Corps Uganda Cookbook issued to us during training:

Banana Cake

Ingredients:

½ Cup Blueband (it’s like margarine)

2 Cups Flour

1 Cup Buttermilk

1 Tsp Vanilla (optional)

1 ½ Cups Sugar

1 Tsp Baking Powder

1 Tsp Baking Soda

2 Bananas Mashed

2 Eggs

Directions:

1)      In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

2)      In another large mixing bowl, mix together the Blueband and sugar.

3)      Beat in eggs, vanilla, and mashed bananas one at a time into the Blueband and sugar mixture.

4)      Alternate adding flour and buttermilk to the mixture until everything is mixed together to form a smooth batter.

5)      Pour into a greased saucepan and bake until cooked thoroughly.

*To make Buttermilk, add 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar to regular milk.

I followed these directions and explained each step to maama who was eager to learn how to bake. She remarked that it was much easier than she had originally thought. I poured the resulting batter into a smaller saucepan, and then found two large saucepans that the smaller one could easily fit into. I placed enough rocks to line the bottom of one of the large saucepans an inch high, and then placed the smaller saucepan on top of these rocks. I then placed the second large saucepan upside down on top of the first large saucepan, and then placed heavy kettle filled with water on top of it to make the homemade Dutch oven airtight. This “oven” of sorts was then placed on top of a very hot sagiri, and then we waited for about 1 ½ hours until the batter had baked and risen to the consistency of banana bread.

While the bread was baking, I decided to do “training” with my little host brothers and sisters. Ever since we started exercising, they continuously ask me for training. We usually do jumping jacks, mummy walks, burpees, jogging, push-ups, planks, and some yoga poses and stretches followed by a game of Fishy Fishy Swim By Me. As we do this training, more and more neighborhood children join. I think that they are just curious as to why this muzungu does these weird physical actions that seem to serve no purpose other than making himself tired.

We train for about half an hour, and then I decide to get a head start on the flour tortillas. The Ugandans call it chapatti, and use it to make the Rolex Street Food. I mixed together 2 cups flour, ¾ cups water, 1 tbsp Blueband, and 1 tbsp baking powder in order to make the tortilla/chapatti dough. I used an empty Krest Bitter Lemon glass soda bottle as a makeshift rolling pin. I fried the chapattis on the second, smaller sagiri and then diced tomatoes, avocadoes, and onions in preparation for dinner. Then I thinly sliced 1kg of beef, and then seasoned it with chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and sugar. I pan fried this dry-rubbed beef and then cut it into small bite-sized pieces just like the steak at Chipotle.

And so dinner and dessert was prepared and I demonstrated how to make a burrito. I have been trying to hard everyday, but the children are very picky and refuse to eat anything other than sweeties (candies), cakes, chapatti, chips, fish, tomatoes, macaron (pasta), and juice. However, maama and taata loved the flavor of the beef and the mixture of various textures and tastes all in one bite. Most of the Ugandans whom I have encountered do not normally like spice, so I opted not to add much chili or pepper to the dishes. It made me glad to see my host parents enjoying the food and the banana bread, because now I know that they can save some money instead of purchasing expensive cakes from neighbors or stores.

They told me that they were glad, because now they could experiment and make sweet breads, cakes, and tasty beef whenever they wanted to without having to spend too much money. One-by-one the children fell asleep, and then I retired to my room where I had a cool bucket bath, took my post-infection medication, and then prepared for sleep.

Nurse Betsy

January 1, 2014

This counts as Day 6 in Nurse Betsy’s house and I am ready to get back to work. I’ve done my time in recovery here in this house of healing, and it’s about time for me to get back into the thick of things. However, I must first express my gratitude not only to Nurse Betsy, but also to the administration staff consisting of Dr. Francis, Dr. Joann, Agatha, and the drivers who brought me here and transported me to and from the Peace Corps HQ.

I owe my recovery in no small part to Nurse Betsy’s care and hard work. She continuously told me that she was amazed at us Peace Corps volunteers, especially the young ones. She marveled at our nerve to go forth into the unknown and leave the comforts of home behind and do good work. I replied that a big reason why we can do good work is because of people such as her who help to nurture us back to health. So this is her story:

In the early 1990’s, Betsy Kasamba won a lottery allowing her to accompany a child from Uganda to New York who was slated to have open-heart surgery. While living in Long Island, New York she stayed with Freddie and Gloria who took her in and treated her like a member of their own family. Betsy said that she owes so much to them, and that she experienced more in those four months in New York than even ten years spent in Uganda. Her host family brought her to the top of the TwinTowers, to the football stadium, drove her to see the sites, and made her feel at home. She remarked that she was so well taken care of and loved by Freddie and Gloria that she could never pay them back. When those four months were over, she returned back to Uganda.

Years later in the mid 2000’s, a couple, an American woman and a British man, lived in Uganda. They resided in Kampala with their two kids, and were relatively well-off. During a walk one day, the woman falls down and it turns out that she had a stroke. This left half of her body paralyzed, and Betsy was contacted to take care of her. Betsy would take this patient to surgery and in the process would come into contact with Dr. Stockley, who was the PCMO of Uganda at the time. Betsy would continuously see many Peace Corps volunteers at Dr. Stockley’s place. They were there for various reasons, ranging from having a checkup to receiving treatment while staying overnight.

Eventually one of the PC nurses, Anni Nyanzi, contacted Betsy and arranged to have her meet with the then Country Director, McGrath (sp?). The discussion went on in Nurse Betsy’s house, she remembers the day well: it was a Saturday and McGrath’s PC driver was Karim. This pivotal discussion revolved around how and where volunteers would be treated while staying near the Peace Corps Medical Office. It was suggested that maybe Betsy could work at the guest house and tend to the volunteers when they were sick. Betsy countered that that would not work because guest houses at rules and times for meals. Sick volunteers would have needs that did not follow schedules and if a volunteer needed food or drink at odd hours, then how would she look after them. It was proposed and decided that Betsy’s house would be the place where she would look after sick volunteers.

As I stated in my one of my previous posts, Betsy lived in this house because she had taken care of Mille Scent’s mother. After her mother passed away, Betsy was asked to live in this house and help take care of Mille Scent herself.

The Administrator Gary then interviewed Betsy, and so it came to pass that Betsy Kasamba became the healer Nurse Betsy who opens her house to sick Peace Corps volunteers who are far away from home and need someone to look after them. She told me that she has been treated so well by her family in the United States that she only hopes to take care of us too.

Life is funny in that way, because who would have thought that the kindness demonstrated by Freddie and Gloria, the incidence of Dr. Stockley, and the ownership of Mille Scent’s house would have all contributed to having this place be where all sick Peace Corps volunteers go in order to be healed and looked after within the vicinity of the Peace Corps Headquarters. Well, I am very thankful that it worked out this way, and I know that I was not Nurse Betsy’s first patient, and I will not be her last.

2013 – A Year in Retrospect

January 1, 2014

It seems that ever since I started these essays that the years have gone by even faster. Every year has honestly brought in so many surprises, lessons, challenges, regrets, and successes. But I think that it many ways 2013 has been a bringer of growth. I think that that was the theme of 2013 more so than past years for me: growth and change.

I started the New Year with a return back to Boston with my two best friends: Tyler and Sean. I’d say that that was a very fun and hazy week involving bike rides all throughout the Boston area. I loved sharing my city with my two friends from back home who have heard so many of my stories from my late nights talking on the phone. We experimented and ate so many delicious meals ranging from spaghetti squash and roasted eggplant with tomatoes to pan-fried pork chops with pomegranate glaze. The feelings felt while biking with these two awesome friends on the bridges and pathways of the winding streets of Boston as the cold air whipped around us made me feel alive. And whenever the frigid air got too cold we would stop by at one of my favorite, local coffeeshops and have some coffee or a cinnamon bun. I know that New England and many of its former and current inhabitants will be a part of what I miss the most.

And after the past 3.5 years at BU, something finally clicked and I understood how to act. I was in the midst of Senior Design, managing my a cappella group (Allegrettos) as Vice-President, tutoring literacy at the Winship Elementary School through BUILD, tutoring BU student athletes through the Student Athletic Support Services, thriving in my off-campus apartment, and performing very well in my academic classes. Then in January I was invited to have an interview for the Peace Corps since I had submitted my application last November. One of my biggest concerns during this time was holding true to my original goal of the Peace Corps even though some teachers advised me not to pursue it and to go into industry instead. I even had a few moments of doubt after seeing my fellow classmates get jobs with Saint Gobain, Raytheon, General Electric, Phillips, etc. However, I kept myself in check and knew that I would regret putting my dream on hold for money.

 

The next big even involved the Mr. and Miss BU pageant. One of my good biomedical engineering friends, Ana Sofia Camacho, had asked me if I would be her partner in the competition. I said yes. I had met Ana Sofia on my dorm floor in WarrenTowers during our freshman year at BU. We’ve been close friends since freshman year, and she was the first friend that I had made on campus. Funnily enough, we’ve also had our falling outs, but we were also able to put the pieces back together each time. After going through months of dance rehearsals, brainstorming sessions, and video creations we finally made it to the Mr. and Miss BU competition day. I will never forget that moment when the auditorium of the GSU was filled with so many engineers who were cheering for us even though we had lost the trivia round. And then we won. It was hard to believe it, but we had won the competition and I was Mr. BU. I still laugh about the whole situation. If there’s something that most people do not know about me, it’s that I have had problems with low self-esteem.

The next event to occur was Marathon Monday in Boston. I remember biking the entirety of the marathon route all the way to Hopkinton and back on Marathon Monday’s eve. The prior year I had taken a train there and then biked back to Boston. It felt absolutely wonderful to bike through as fast I could to the start of the marathon line and see it all the way through just like the runners would the day afterwards. The next day started out like all Marathon Mondays, with me wheeling around a large pot of homemade sangria as I made my way to my various friends’ houses in Allston and Brookline. There are many traditions associated with this day, such as Kegs and Eggs during which people host a drunken breakfast of sorts with friends before heading down to cheer on the marathon runners. Almost like a ripple, we heard the news about the bombing at the finish line and everyone was in disarray. It shocked so many of us, because Boston was our city.

That day and the following week involving the city being on high alert and the manhunt for the two Chechen bombers left so many of us in disarray. But I knew that this city was my home too. It was my town and never before had I felt more like a native Bostonian than during these days. My heart swelled with pride with statements concerning how hardy Bostonians were and how we stood together as one Boston Strong. Then I remember the celebration of things returning back to normal once the manhunt was over. After a day of being told to remain indoors as the police searched for the bombers, we were finally free to move on with our lives. I had some friends over to celebrate and there was a celebration with the Boston Police at the Boston Commons where students and police alike celebrated an end to the disarray and panic.

In addition to growth, my last year at BU allowed me to accept loss as well. I remember hanging out at one of my friend’s houses on Linden street and telling him how his apartment felt so much like a homely hostel with so many visitors. The next morning I later found out that there was a fire sometime after I had left and that one of his roommates passed away in the blaze. I had known the friend who died, her name was Binland and I had taken Shotokan Karate with her during our freshman year at BU. I took a picture of the newly blossomed cherry flowers for her the following day.

It was also a time to say goodbye to old friends and friendships. As the classes wound down and senior design came to an end, I remember fervently documenting my final adventures as a BostonUniversity student. Everyday came with an adventure with friends both new and old. I participated in many of the school-sanctioned events as well as created my own adventures with my friends. I attended my first EDM performance with Sean and Matt at Royale with Dirty Phonics, witnessed a BU Pub knighting with the Dean, biked the Riverway on the Emerald Necklace, explored the hidden store Bodega, hosted a day kegger, saw the sunset on the roof of the College of Arts and Sciences, rode the high roller coasters of 6 Flags, toured breweries, had lunch at the Dean’s house, hosted my dad, brother, and mom during their stay for graduation, finally graduated from Boston University.

I can still remember those events with clarity and can still feel the emotions present during that time and the faces of the people whom I shared those special moments with. I left Boston for Maryland two weeks later, and found out that I was nominated to go to Uganda for the Peace Corps. I was deeply humbled, but also very excited because I was finally making some headway into my new life post-college. I got a head start on the seemingly endless medical forms, and then prepared for a month-long July Eurotrip with Tyler and Sean. It wasn’t until I stepped foot again on German soil that I realized how much I had missed Europe. It was a different experience being the one who led the adventures this time around. I felt at home back on the cobblestone streets of Europe’s old cities biking through Berlin, exploring the bikepaths of Amsterdam, witnessing the Tribute to the Sun in Zadar, discovering local designer clothes in Budapest, having a historical bar-hopping adventure with a couchsurfer host until 9am in Vienna, walking through old Prague, and finally saying hello to old friends in Dresden. Just as soon as it began, the adventure ended and I had to go back to Maryland for two weeks to recover from my wisdom teeth extraction

During this time I felt at such a loss. I knew that my Eurotrip was the last time that I would be able to be in Europe for many years. I also returned back to Boston in order to put my things in order and pack up my belongings from my Allston apartment and bring it back to Maryland. Those two weeks in Boston represented my farewell to that other city that I loved. But so much had already changed, and all of my old friends who still lived there had already moved on to their jobs, relationships, and new homes. It just didn’t feel the same anymore, but I held my last few adventures and last few hangout sessions with my good Boston friends. I biked through the abandoned aqueducts of Cambridge, partied one last time on Pratt Street, found a local glass-blowing shop in Allston, and finally explored the fabled Blue Hills Reservation where I discovered an organic farm. I bid farewell to my many friends over there in Boston knowing full well that I would not be able to see them for many years. I then headed back to Maryland for the last two months.

The last two months of September and October were a bit odd for me. I knew that I needed to save up money for the Peace Corps and could not rely on my parents for help, so I worked during the weekdays as a landscaper for Greenfields Nursery and on the weekends as a caterer in Chef’s Expressions. Haha, it seems like such a long time ago, but I remember waking up early every weekday in order to work with four others in making rich people’s yards look beautiful. We dug, planted, seeded, weeded, drove, and laid sod. Those two months felt like a dream. I had rekindled an old friendship with Audrey during a bike adventure on Labor Day, and that friendship brought me to new experiences and vistas that I had never before fathomed. During the days I would work and save up some money, and during the evenings I would organize bar-hopping adventures through Fells Point, chill sessions in Baltimore City with Drew, late-night visits to Tyler in College Park, and spend a lot of time in what I considered my second home at Sean’s house.

I felt a different kind of pull and tug towards Baltimore during those days. I felt displaced and disillusioned because I knew that this too would also become an old home as I prepared for my Ugandan one. I learned a lot about my family during these days, especially my younger brother Drawde. Before long, I packed my bags for Philadelphia during the 2nd week of November. The rest has already been covered in my past blog posts since I arrived in-country.

It’s weird to me, because I am finally living the dream of the Peace Corps. I am in my dream right now, and achieving one of my long-term goals that I have talked about for many years. Now it’s the New Year and the start of my first total year spent in Africa. Honestly, I am surrounded by amazing people over here from other PCVs to fellow trainees to the administration and so many others. I feel as if my two months in this country have taught me so much more about life and what I can handle as a person. I’ve already faced some challenges, and I know that there are many more to come. For example, I have been out of my language classes for almost a week in recovery at Nurse Betsy’s house. However, I’m in this for the long run and no disease or mishap can keep me down for long. I have been studying Luganda for the past few days that I’ve been here and am looking forward to rejoining my host family and fellow language trainees. It’s January 1st, 2014 and I’m ready to start.