Little Victories

February 10th, 2014

It’s about 8pm on this fine, dark Monday morning and the electricity is out again. I’m waiting for my fellow PTC Math and Integrated Science teacher. We planned to meet at 7pm, but I am already a bit used to Ugandan time. I made a dinner of matooke, Old Bay/sugar rubbed steaks, garlic/rosemary steaks, and caramelized onions. The plan was to discuss the upcoming classes because there was some miscommunication concerning classes. It’s definitely not anyone’s fault, and I am more confused about the process than anything else. About two weeks ago I thought that classes would start last Monday on February 3rd, but it turns out that that was the orientation week and that Primary School Classes would start since it is a government-run school as opposed to the private Luteete PTC. Also because there has been no power in the office, the timetable (schedule) has not been available. I was also told that I would be teaching one class every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday involving Math, Integrated Science, and ICT. I had already met with my fellow teacher and discussed a planned approach to lesson planning, and we assumed that we would have two classes each week. I guess that I misunderstood him, because there are four instances each week when both Math and Integrated Science are taught. I realized this when I was given the rough draft of the timetable after I taught the 3 PTC students who showed up to class this morning.

Later on I was informed that the secondary school examinations were being released from Kyambogo University. Many of the incoming 1st year PTC students were awaiting their results. One of the administrative staff members explained that I should still continue teaching and that more students would show up. And that was what I did this morning: I asked the 3 students what they wanted to review, since I didn’t find it conducive to begin teaching the curriculum until more of the students arrived. We reviewed systems of equations. For example: solve for x and y if (3x + 2y = 12) and (2x + 4y = 8). It was nice to get somewhat of an understanding of what the 1st years students’ skills were pertaining to basic algebra. We solved the system using the substitution method, addition/subtraction method, and then attempted to use matrices but it turned out to be too confusing for the students since they had forgotten much about matrices.

Nevertheless, it was nice to get back in the element of teaching. I am just looking forward to getting into a general routine when I can expect to teach classes with planned lesson plans on certain days of the week, maybe play Ultimate Frisbee or Soccer with the students, fetch 20L of water for the day, come home and do laundry, cook, bathe, watch an episode or two of The Wire (B-More represent!), and then prepare for the upcoming days. However, I am sure that I can only plan for the future to some extent. I mean, this is the Peace Corps right? It’s not ever gonna be routine or predictable, but I guess that this is part of what I signed up for.

In spite of never really knowing what is going on, I feel that some days I can go to bed knowing that I achieved some sort of small victory. For example, yesterday I was biking back to Luteete from Wobulenzi the back wheel of my bicycle popped as soon as I arrived on the school campus. I was thankful that it didn’t pop anywhere on the 11km stretch of hilly and dusty road that I had ridden upon. So today after I had finished teaching my class of 3 students, I removed the back wheel, tube, and tire from my bicycle and walked the 1km stretch to Bamunanika where I purchased a new tube (5,000/=), tire (15,000/=), and air pump (5,000/=). I then hurried back home so that I could use the bike tools that I had brought with me (allen wrenches, wrench, bicycle tire tool, and pliers) to install my new tube and tire. About 12 Ugandan children stared at me as I put in the new tube on the new tire. At first I was worried because the tire that I had bought rated at a thickness about .75” wider than the bicycle wheel. But I forced it in, and it just so happened to fit and I felt like I had accomplished something tangible. Sure it was a basic tire replacement on a bicycle, but to me it represented overcoming a problem that I did not expect. I learned some new Luganda words concerning bicycle parts, now know the prices for buying bicycle parts, and now can overcome this problem in Uganda in both Luganda and English.

For all of the failures and screw-ups that I do here, I achieve a few small victories. It’s all part of the ebb and flow indicative of my time here in Africa. So maybe I won’t be making any grandiose breakthroughs anytime soon, but these little victories are building up and slowly-by-slowly I am making it.

Mpola Mpola

January 4th, 2014

I guess that it’s a good thing that I don’t have internet for the first few weeks at site. Since my Orange Modem doesn’t Furniture Blueprintshave good 2G Edge connection here, I don’t have the ability to connect to the internet at site until I procure an MTN or Airtel Modem. In the meantime, I’ve been productive in making this house feel like more like a home and getting shit done. By that, I mean that I have actually gotten off of my butt and attempted to take initiative on projects such as ordering furniture from Moses, the local carpenter from Bamunanika. I had spoken to him yesterday about having him make me a bookcase, dining table, and two kitchen tables. Honestly, having furniture in here will really help, because then I could organize the rest of my belongings here, cook more efficiently, and hang things up on the wall. We bargained over the price for all four pieces of furniture, and we eventually agreed upon 235,000/= for a bookshelf made out of soft wood and three tables made of hard wood.

I feel that one of the benefits of living in the United States is variety. A simple grocery store has food from all different parts of the United States and imports from a good part of the world. The seasons in the more temperate regions can vary over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the course of a year. And we have almost unlimited access to various amounts of information and media in almost any form. In a sense, I felt spoiled by all of the benefits offered by my time spent in the United States.

Borehole ConstructionOver here, I’m grateful for the little things in life. I get excited when clouds provide shade during hot-as-ballsack hour (12:30pm-4pm) or when it rains so that I can get water from the nearby rain collection tank rather than walking to the borehole at the far end of campus. The fact that I pooped well today, washed my clothes, fetched water, ate dinner early, and am slated for a solid night of sleep is exciting to me. Even though I miss the comforts of my old life, I am happy here. Yes, I get bored and wish that I had internet access, but my free time is forcing me to go out and interact with the members of my community. This interaction is really helping me to learn more Luganda.

I have to deal with the fishbowl effect on a daily basis. Whenever I step foot out of my house, hundreds of Primary pupils’ eyes stare at me and ask me questions. Today I was called a liar for saying that I was 23 years old and that I had a wife named Mary Roxas. Okay, so I know that the second part of it was a lie, but I was wondering why I was called liar. However, I am succeeding in small doses. I have established a small rapport with some of the children in my village who know me by name, attempt to teach me Luganda, and use their bicycle to help carry water to my house.

I also have yet to figure out the key to becoming more fluent in another language. I was conversational in German, can read basic French, and can almost fluently understand Tagalog but I have yet to say that I have mastered any other language other than English. Everyday I am learning more words, phrases, and idioms, but I wonder if I need to actively study my Luganda textbook and learn even more. I am becoming more and more comfortable with the language, but I yearn to be able to speak it like a true Baganda. But as I’ve been told time and time again, things here happen mpola mpola (slowly by slowly). And so I guess that I’ll take it that way.

Early Motivation

February 3rd, 2014

Today was an interesting day at site. It was the first day of classes for the Primary School pupils and the first day of Orientation Week for the PrimaryTeacherCollege students. I set my alarm for around 8am and set further alarms to wake me up for every 10 minute interval since I was slated to meet my supervisor, Mr. Othieno sometime this morning. I was a bit tired when I woke up since I had spent the weekend traveling to Masaka in the west for a Peace Corps gathering of central volunteers.

This gathering was organized by one of the volunteers from the previous education group who had joined us for FrikadellenChristmas in Luweero a few months back. It was my first time independently choosing to travel, and it was an awesome experience. I packed up my bags early Friday morning and spent 45 minutes biking the dusty 11km road to Wobulenzi where I met up with Mary and Rebecca, the two Nakaseke PTC PCV’s. I left my bike at the Police Station and took a Matatu, taxi, to Kampala for 5000/=. We arrived at the New Taxi Park about 1 ½ hours later and then took a Matatu heading to Masaka for 12000/=. As we took off towards the west, the landscape changed from dusty roads to a paved highway surrounded by open expanses of green fields. I noticed that everything towards the west was greener than I had previously expected, and as we crossed the Equator line we passed by many small stalls selling drums.

Frikadellen FoodAfter around 3 hours, we arrived in Masaka and met some of our fellow PCV friends exploring the town before our meeting at the Frikadellen restaurant. In the meantime, we also met up with some of our trainers and volunteers from the previous education group at the Maria Flo hotel since they were having their MST, Mid-Service Training which happens to each group 1 year after being sworn-in. It was a bit odd seeing our trainers being trained themselves. We soon left to eat out at Frikadellen, which was a restaurant by the top of one of the hills in Masaka. Now this restaurant had an outdoor grill and seating area for dozens of guests if one reserved in advance. We sat down and began eating the all-you-can eat 30,000/= buffet consisting of tomato soup, fresh bread, cucumber salad, tomato salad, salsa, tartar sauce, Heinz Ketchup, fried cheese sticks, fish sticks, grilled chicken, grilled beef kebabs, guacamole puree, hot dogs, chocolate cake, and coffee. Now this may sound like an odd combination, but it was amazing to eat all of this food and taste these flavors that I have not tasted for such a long time. It’s funny, because even now I can still remember each flavor and think about how delicious it all was.

I also met some NGO’s at Frikadellen. There was a group of women from Denmark who was visiting Masaka as well as several Germans. I had the opportunity to use my German, although I was upset that I was having trouble expressing myself since I had been forcing myself to think more in Luganda. But I shared a really cool conversation with a Ugandan man who had lived in Germany for 5 years and could speak German. For a few minutes we talked and alternated sentences in Luganda and German which was really cool for me. It took me some time to get back into the groove of using my German, but it slowly came back to me.

Afterwards, we started chilling around the hotel with some of the older volunteers. I showered and started pre-gaming a bit for clubbing at Ambiance. I enjoyed busting out my moves with the local Ugandans and my volunteer friends. Funnily enough, it almost felt like freshman year in college again with all of the accompanying drama and shenanigans that I witnessed.

On Saturday I continued to explore Masaka and spent the night with two PCV’s, Eric and Elyse, who have a beautiful Elyse and Eric's Househouse about 1 ½ hour walk out of Masaka. Their house reminded me of a small, rural European house complete with running water, shower, toilet, sink, and a rustic-looking backyard with a football pitch bounded by a lush forest and a marsh. Sunday morning rolled about, and I set back to Kampala and then back to Wobulenzi where I picked up my bicycle and biked back to my home in Luteete.

And now that the weekend is over, I have to actually start working again. It’s been slow going, because I know that my checklist of things to accomplish is long and not feasible to finish quickly. I designed the furniture that I wanted for my house, and met with the local carpenter of Bamunanika. It was funny because there was a slight miscommunication where he told me that the bookcase that I wanted him to make would cost 500,000/= when he actually meant 50,000/=. I also have to start on my School Profile Tool questions which continues throughout the duration of my first three months at site. I also have to begin lesson planning for my classes that I will teach next week at the PTC. My answers to these questions must be sent to Peace Corps Staff members every week by email, except that my Orange Modem doesn’t work at site so I will have to obtain a new modem and sim card from MTN or Airtel. Even then I have to coordinate with the teachers whom I have not met yet concerning when I will be teaching the physics aspect of the Integrated Science course, as well as how to teach ICT without computers or a curriculum.

Taking a step back and looking at this list of things to do I now understand how I felt a bit disheartened earlier this morning. I looked ahead too much and felt the looming dread of ennui of living here for two years and having to plan when to pee and poop in a pit latrine, fetch water from the far-away borehole for my cooking and shower, when to do laundry in a bucket, and if I will always have the motivation or energy to keep on going. So I took a nap this morning after meeting and receiving the PTC Math and Integrated Science Curriculum books from Mr. Othieno and did what I do best, which was get my ass off bed and start doing the tasks on my checklist. And now, the house is clean, I have a plan for ordering my furniture, I will have enough money to purchase a modem for internet access, the electricity is working, I am somewhat clean from my bucket bath, I pooped, and slowly by slowly I am getting work done.

Settling In

January 28th, 2014

Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” is playing in the darkness of my living room as I type this blog post. There’s no power right now and I’m running on my less powerful, backup laptop battery. I came back from my nightly pit latrine poop accompanied by cockroaches, geckos, and various flies of all shapes and sizes. The only light in my house right now comes from my cell phone torch light, my laptop screen, and gas stove that I use to boil water since my electric water kettle isn’t working. But you know what? I’m happy and content right now. Even though I have been at my site for less than a week, I feel that I’ve already laid down a good base here. I have shared some conversations with several of my fellow neighbor teachers who have asked how we could improve the education system here in Uganda, why I would ever want to learn Luganda, and whether or not I knew how to dig.

Over the past two days I have prepared the front of my yard for a lawn. Thanks to my stint as a landscaper back at Greenfields Nursery in Maryland, I shaped the lawn bed in an S-shape and lined the edge with bricks and rocks for both an aesthetic as well as a utilitarian purpose of rain drainage. I also tested out by bicycle today by riding it from the school 11km through the hilly, dirt roads leading northwest to Wobulenzi, a town that lies on the Kampala-Gulu Highway. I met up with two other Peace Corps Volunteers from my education group. We did some shopping for our respective homes and caught up. We all agreed that it was nice to talk to some familiar faces in English. On my way back from Wobulenzi, I stopped by a Coffee Nursery and picked up a 6 coffee plant cuttings: 3 Arabica and 3 Robusta. Unfortunately, I almost crashed on my way back to Luteete PTC and somehow lost one of the Arabica plants. So I would say that I have been successful in accomplishing a lot in a short period of time, but there is still so much that I want to do and even my Luganda could be vastly improved.

I have many projects that I want to complete here in my apartment. This includes painting the walls of my apartment some other color than the white walls that are already here. I have some interesting color fusion ideas for my apartment rooms. The next step is to acquire furniture for my living room, bedroom, and kitchen. So far I only have a bed, two plastic chairs, and a wooden desk that is currently being used as a dining table in the main room. I aim to have a book case for the bedroom that will not only hold books, but also various other things that I own. I also want a dresser or cabinet of sorts for my clothes. The desk will then be transplanted into the bedroom where it be. However, I am the most excited for the kitchen. I hope to place my two-burner stove on top of a table, have another one to prepare food, and a series of shelves where I can place my food items, dishes, pots, and other kitchen related materials. And then I will hang oil lanterns all throughout the house in-case the electricity goes out like it did tonight.

My New Home

January 25th, 2014

Moving in to the Site

I finally made it to my site here at Luteete. Yesterday was an extremely tiring and stressful day, because I left Lweza My Homeand all of the other volunteers early in the morning around 7am. My supervisor was waiting near the exit of the compound in his car. My biggest concern was that I would be unable to fit my newly acquired Peugeot bicycle inside the car. Fortunately, I was able to fit it inside the backseat along with the rest of my stuff that I bought during the two shopping days at Kampala. The next big event was purchasing a gas cylinder so that I would be able to actually cook on my gas stove bought at the Shoprite near the OldTaxiPark in Kampala. As my supervisor drove me northwards through Kampala, we stopped by several gas stations. The goal was to acquire a gas cylinder that was small along with a regulator on the top and a hose that would connect to my stove. Unfortunately, all of the gas stations were out of the small 6kg cylinders. This would have been the most economically viable option since the empty, small cylinder would only have cost 145,000/= (50,000/= for the empty cylinder and 95,000/= for the refill) if purchased from a Shell Petrol Station. Instead I decided to opt for the 15kg cylinder which set me back 270,000/= (150,000/= for the empty cylinder and 120,000/= for the refill), 50,000/= for a regulator, and 24,000/= for 2 meters of gas hose.

I didn’t expect to incur this much cost so quickly into my move-in, and I was left with about 50,000/= left in my bank account. The next order of business was to purchase a mattress for my bedroom, which would cost 100,000/= that I didn’t have. I explained to my supervisor that I was more than fine with sleeping on the floor for the next week or so until I received my next monthly stipend allowance. He retorted that I was now a teacher and that it was unprofessional of me to sleep on the floor in my own house. He posed the question: “What would people think of me if they saw me moving into my house without a mattress?” He suggested that I accept one of his extra mattresses from his house and that I can pay him back later. Knowing that I did not have much money left, he brought me to a shop to purchase saucepans and jerrycans on store credit.

Goodbye to NeighborsA nice surprise was stopping by my host family’s house at Kasana near Luweero in order to pick up the remainder of my belongings that I left in my bedroom there. As soon as the car reached the newly built enclosure of the Texas Primary School, the neighborhood children and my host brothers and sisters ran up to me and yelled, “Uncle Marvin-eee!”

*The “eee” sound is added at the end because there seems to be that added sound at the end of people’s names.

I said goodbye to my host family, and my supervisor drove me back to my house. I started unpacking my items and two of my fellow neighboring teachers came over and I prepared a simple dinner of rice with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and Royco. We then had a conversation about the differences in food and weather between Uganda and America. They also remarked about how nice my appliances were from Kampala, especially my hot water kettle that would automatically boil water and then turn off when the water reached the boiling point. I think that I made a good impression on them, especially since they informed me that I was the first muzungu who had spent this much time talking to them.

They stayed for a long time, even through awkward silences during which I continued to unpack. They left around 9:45pm as the electricity went out, and I finished doing the dishes, unpacking with my very limited set of furniture, and bathing before I went to sleep for the first time ever in my new home.


January 22, 2014

It’s been nice being here at Lweza. I guess that I forgot how much I missed all of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees. Lweza MeetingWe’ve been separated from each other for a whole month in our specific language groups, while staying at homestay and now we have all reunited for Supervisors’ Workshop at the Lweza Conference Center near Kampala. It’s very interesting to see the relationships of people here and how different people have become friends and how the impact of living with a certain group of people for over one month has changed the group dynamic. The first day we arrived from our homestays, we were all so excited to reunite and see each other. I was excited to see my old Kulika and Shimoni roommate Ravi as well as my other friends whom I have made here in the past two months. The weather was also much cooler here along with a more verdant landscape of towering trees that lined the grounds of the conference center.

We also pre-gamed that night and eventually ended up at the Bubbles Bar/Club near our training center, while also watching the Patriots vs. Broncos Football game. I enjoyed just having the opportunity to drink with some friends, watching the game, and dancing with some of the locals to Rihanna.

The next two days involved us receiving our LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) results. Most Peace Corps programs around the world usually had about 10 weeks of language training and require an Intermediate-Mid level of language mastery. However, the Uganda Peace Corps program required an Intermediate-Low level of language mastery because our language training lasted only 4 weeks. Other reasons involved having a variety of regional-spoken languages for the different geographic groups of Peace Corps Volunteers as well as not having many written resources that could be referred back to for the learned languages since most of them were only spoken. One example that we were given was that one of the languages learned in the north of Uganda only had three people who could actually write and read in that language in the agreed, standardized method.

I had worked hard and tried to practice speaking Luganda everyday, and so I was awarded an Intermediate-Mid level for my LPI. This made me want to continue learning Luganda even more and to eventually become more fluent in it.

The past two days also gave us the opportunity to purchase items in Kampala for our sites. On Tuesday, we were dropped off at the Muzungu areas of the Lugogo Mall that had a Shoprite store, that is similar to a Target, and a Gain, which looks like and is owned by Walmart. Then on Wednesday we were dropped off at Oasis, but my goals for the day were to purchase a gas stove and a bicycle. The trick for these shopping days was to purchase enough for our respective sites, but also to have some sort of method of transporting them back to our sites. It was also nice to stop by the Dutch Broods Bakery and then eat some chicken pizza in Kampala.

Kampala StreetsI was very fortunate in procuring the bicycle and stove, because one of my fellow trainees, Rebecca, informed us that her host family sister was coming into Kampala with two of her friends in order to help us bargain down bicycles and stoves. My small group of four trainees succeeded in getting these things, and I myself was extremely glad to get a Peugot bicycle for 300,000/= and a two burner gas stove for 110,000/=. The host sister’s friend was able to save us 50,000/= each and Ravi was Indian and the Indian guy who was selling the stoves gave him a discount because he remembered him from almost two months ago when we had the Kampala tour and purchased Powermatics.

And so tonight was a very chill night. A lot of us decided to sleep a bit earlier and relax in preparation for tomorrow, which will be our swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Ambassador’s house when we finally get the chance to be actual Peace Corps Volunteers instead of just trainees. But I absolutely loved tonight. Everyone had split off into their own little groups in our dorm rooms here. Some of us were playing guitar by candlelight, others were giving and receiving haircuts, a few groups watched a movie, couples were forming, and I was observing and feeling content. This is the last night that we will be Peace Corps Trainees. I finally get the chance to achieve my dream and become a Peace Corps Volunteer. I know that I’m going to miss being surrounded by so many friends and other Americans, but it’s now time for all of us to go our separate ways and face some seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Of course I am excited to enjoy my time here, but even more important than that is my commitment to serving others. Even now I still have to remind myself why I am here and to remember those moments that make me feel like I am where I need to be right now in my life.

Weeraba “Farewell”

January 19, 2014


My clothes are hanging outside on the clotheslines and I am resting in my room. This is the last day of homestay and Host FamilyI will be departing from LuweeroBoysSchool at 3pm to head towards Lweza for Supervisors’ Workshop Training before being sworn-in as fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers on Wednesday. I never really understood how much homestay would impact my life here. I had felt a kinship and a bond with many groups before and have acknowledged many people whom I have met in my lifetime as family, but I can honestly say that I have found another home here in Uganda. My host family told me that other day that they have become “used to me” and that I will always be able to call their house my home even when they are away. This wasn’t like your typical service or mission trip where you go to another country to volunteer for a while and then never return or see those host country nationals again. Instead, I have come to see my family members as my own. I call my host mother maama Diana and my host father Mr. Semuddu. It’s hard to put it into words, because there were so many small experiences that made me fall in love with my time here.

I will not soon forget walking down the Kampala Gulu Highway through Kasana from Luweero Boys and then making the turn after the Bukenya Foundation Pepsi Sign, which signified that the off-hooting dirt road would lead to my host family. I remember feeling like a stranger during the initial days of homestay. There were many eyes, intensely staring at me whenever and wherever I walked. Children and adults alike would yell “Muzungu! How are you?!” As the days progressed, the neighbors near the Bukenya Foundation Pepsi Sign would instead call me “Uncle Marvin” and greet me in their native Lugana. Even the boda boda drivers and pineapple vendors by the Kasana markets would greet me in Luganda after I had explained to them that I was not a “muchina” because bakadde bange bava Philippines naye nva Amerika (my parents come from the Philippines but I come from America).

Then as I neared my host family house, my host family siblings and the neighborhood children would drop whatever they were holding, unless it was a baby, and run towards me while yelling “UNCLE MARVIN! Well be back!” They would then crowd around me and grasp on to my legs and ask me to bake a cake, bring my laptop out to play Shakira’s Waka Waka, or do some Insanity Training with them. Even if I was covered in dust and sweat and exhausted from over 8 hours of language training, the sight of Ugandan children running up to greet their uncle would remind me of why I was here.

I guess that I am making good on my promise of upholding the 2nd and 3rd goals of the Peace Corps which are:

2. To help people outside the United States to understand American culture.

3. To help Americans to understand the cultures of other countries.

Almost every night while cooking or eating dinner I would share stories with my host parents. They would explain to me some of the idiosyncrasies of Ugandan culture and I would share the quirks of American culture. In America, many men cook and it is sometimes even seen that the best professional chefs are men. In Uganda, it is mainly the women who cook. In the United States there is a growing movement of having equality between the sexes, whereas traditionally in Uganda the women are seen as being the domestic housekeepers who cook, clean, and take care of the children while the men work and then relax when they get home. I was fortunate that my host family is more progressive. Both of my host parents share the labor and work around the house.

In Uganda, there is no set public infrastructure other than the matatus and coaster buses that transport Ugandans from one village or city to another. Thus, boda bodas (motorcycles) are a way of life for Ugandans. For a small fee, a boda boda driver can ride you to a nearby city, house, school, store, or plot of land. It is cheap, more convenient than walking, and is sometimes the only reliable method of transportation especially if the destination is more remote than a trading center or village.

I have not only learned Luganda, but also how to somewhat effectively bathe myself using a bucket filled with water from the nearby tap (which is like a borehole, except that it requires no pumping because it runs on electricity), how to walk through dusty roads during the hot-as-ballsack hour (any time after noon and before 6pm), how to plan ahead to handwash my clothes and dry them in time, how to deal with Giardia/Amoebic Dysentery in my intestines for a week, and how to actually start living more like a Ugandan even though I will never really become one.

In return, I have shared stories, videos, and pictures from my travels around the world and in America. I baked cakes and breads with my family, cooked my famous Peanut Butter Pasta, explained the uses of white vinegar to my maama, and helped cook almost half of every dinner since I arrived.

So in my travels I can now say that I have a home in the heart of Africa.

Webale nnyo taata Peter, maama Diana, mwanyinaze Diana, muganda Davis, mwanyinaze Daniella, ne muganda Daniel.