A Weekend at Home

3/29/14

I apologize if I keep switching between the European mode of writing the date and the American way because I keep thinking in both ways.

This weekend is one of the weekends that I am staying at site; however, it is not a market day at Bamunanika. That’s fine because I already bought enough produce to last me until next weekend when I can either buy food at Wobulenzi during the weekly Friday market day or at Bamunanika on the fortnightly Saturday market day.

I will take a physical break today since I have accomplished most of my chores. I think that I will focus on finishing up the School Profile Tool and prepare some activities for the college. I have to lesson plan for this upcoming week in Unit 4 for mathematics. I am excited to finally be teaching the Year 1 students again. It’s been slow since I switched off from teaching with Mr. Nsereko after having finished Unit 2.

And the next step for the School Profile Tool is to come up with some tangible way to measure data to demonstrate a need for the school that I will continue to work on after In-Service Training (IST) at the end of April. My aim is to create a working media room that can be used for ICT classes and media education. There is a great desire by students, teachers, and community members to learn how to use a computer and the internet. However, the resources and knowledge set to teach them do not exist.

I will learn how to write grants during IST, and then I can really get to do the proverbial damage to the college. I want to start doing more at the school, and I just need to get up and start something. Personally I am waiting until Monday when I can start teaching again because then I will have the attention of the Year 1 students.

I plan to start a writing/newspaper club that will write articles every week about the college and surrounding communities. I also aim to continue adding subject matter to the blog/media website that will contain the media and writings of students and community members.

So today is a day that I will mainly spend at home doing some mental preparation and planning for the days of physical labor.

*Note: I keep getting upset with myself with not working on my vlog. I have a few videos to upload but not enough funds to supply an internet connection with which to upload them. I’ll try to make my videos more frequent.

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Gulu Intertwined

3/20/14 – 3/26/14

I had a very interesting and memorable week. Last Thursday I journeyed to Gulu to attend the Peace Corps Uganda Wet Hot Masindi Midnight SnackNorthern Regional HIV/AIDS conference in Gulu Town at the Bomah Hotel. I decided to go a bit early to meet up with some friends in Gulu who lived around the area. There were some volunteers from Masindi, Arua, and the surrounding area in Gulu. I was extremely excited to finally see some of the other volunteers from my education group whom I had not met since we were sworn-in way back in January. I had never been to Gulu before, so I decided to go a bit earlier in order to make my journey a bit easier. So on Thursday I traveled to Masindi and stayed with my friend Rachel. We made chili and ate it with Ranch dressing and rice which was very important for me because I was starving. Apparently, I contracted some sort of food poisoning (at least that’s what I think it was), that led to me having the worst ever diarrhea and nausea from Sunday night to literally the night before I left on Thursday. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to travel, but then like magic my bowel movements returned back to normal.

Then on Friday morning we traveled to Gulu. We hopped on a taxi bound for Kigumba, where we would then be able to find a means of transportation up to Gulu on the Kampala-Gulu highway. In Kigumba we were fortunate enough to come by a Kenyan driver who was headed up to Gulu on his weekly journey to set up fiber optic cables there. The highway deteriorated as we made our way north and passed the Nile. I thought that I was already used to Ugandan driving in a taxi, but my heart kept racing every time our driver swerved off the one-lane road in order to avoid an incoming bus, car, boda boda, or van. Judging from the road it looked as if it wasn’t maintained in a long time and the sides began to erode due to the rainy seasons.

Gulu Town Road
We eventually arrived in Gulu and set up camp at the Acholi Ber hotel. We ate at an Indian restaurant with some of my fellow volunteers and some new faces who were also denizens of the far north. The food was spectacular and the first time that I felt that I ate authentic Indian food in Uganda that was spicy. It was interesting walking through Gulu, because it seemed much more developed than many other Ugandan towns that I had seen. There seemed to be some sort of mini-grid system that linked the streets together dotted with cafes, restaurants, dukas, stores, hotels, and streetlights. Those were the first streetlights that I had ever seen in-country.

It was interesting to note that it was also the first time that I did not feel like I was living in a fishbowl. None of the Ugandans seemed to pay any notice to the group of walking Muzungus. Due to its troubled history with displaced people and the LRA, Gulu still has many NGOs and development agencies from around the world with doctors, teachers, and volunteers hailing from white-countries. I met German, American, and Danish workers and saw so many other white people that could have come from any number of European countries.

Gulu also seemed very different from the other parts of Uganda. It was the first place in Uganda where I couldn’t find many Ugandans who could speak Luganda other than the drivers.

That night we went clubbing at Butterfly, which was a bar with a dancing area. It was fun to let loose and mingle with both volunteers and Ugandans. I never realized just how much I loved dancing until I got to this country. It was even cooler to see other groups of Muzungus and ask them where they were from and what they were doing in Gulu. We played a few games of Beer Pong and Flip Cup and then somehow found our way to another club called BJs. This was a larger bar/club with many more Ugandans. I remember meeting a Ugandan who talked about my hometown of Baltimore and how he loved the National Aquarium there. He explained to me that he had traveled throughout a large part of America while working with the group Invisible Children.

The next day we spent relaxing by the Bomah Hotel pool where we would be spending our HIV/AIDS conference fromBomah Hotel Pool Sunday to Wednesday. It felt so nice to just feel cool and not burning hot like how I normally felt at site. We also met two grad students from UCLA School of Law who were working on a video production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo called Restore the Villages. She told me that her name is Jenevieve Discar, and I promised that I would remember her name and project and look it up when they finished filming and editing it.

I remember that they asked us what we were doing in Gulu. They then continued by asking us what the goals of a Peace Corps Volunteer were. We responded by saying that the Peace Corps is primarily not a development agency. We aren’t in countries to provide physical development to a village or economy, although that may be a benefit from our work. Rather we are working as a soft power to be the face of the United States to the rest of the world rather than our armies and bases. We are present in order to share our culture with those who might never have access to it, as well as to learn about an entirely different culture and share that back in the United States. In other words, the three goals of the Peace Corps (http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/).

That night we hung out with a doctor who was slated to present the basic biology behind HIV/AIDS. He had a gorgeous house inside of a compound complete with washing machine, oven, stove, kitchen, and several rooms. It’s actually funny to think that what would be considered normal or even sub-par in the United States feels so luxurious over here. We then hung out at BJs again. However, this time it did not feel like such a fun time. I was actually approached by a Ugandan woman who questioned me about another non-PCV Muzungu who was also at the club.

She came up to me, pulled my ear close to her mouth and blatantly asked me, “Is he gay?” Seeing as how I didn’t know that Muzungu, I responded, “No, I’m pretty sure that he isn’t.” She then looked at me and said, “Well, you better not be gay.” When I assured her that I wasn’t she then told me that she liked me and that even though I informed her that I had a wife in the Central Region, that since I was here with her in Gulu it didn’t matter. Apparently, my supposed wife didn’t need to know what I did here in the far north. I was pissed off at her and told her that in my culture, I respect my wife and love her with all of my heart and would never be unfaithful to her. Eventually she relented, I walked away to the barbecue stand to buy some grilled pork, and then left to go back to the hotel.

It was the first time that I actually felt any personal response or attack stemming from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Of course I will not post any personal or political feelings concerning the bill because I am supposed to be neutral as a representative Peace Corps Volunteer. But the events of the night lingered with me and made me feel very uneasy, because there really isn’t much that any of us can do about it.

Bomah Hotel Conference RoomOn Sunday the conference officially started at the Bomah Hotel. Every PCVs’ counterpart was also invited to the conference. There were sessions every day that were divided into a pick one out of the four available seminars and general sessions that everyone needed to attend. This HIV/AIDS workshop was tailored not only to inform volunteers and counterparts about the biology behind the disease, but also about the myths, preconceptions, talking to youth about sex, the connection between violence against women and HIV, positive living and nutrition, involving males with female health, HIV and malaria, and engaging the local community through the arts, music, and drama. I actually felt as if I learned about ways to involve my community in becoming more aware about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, which is such a big killer in Africa and Uganda.

Much of the problem results not only from a lack of accessible resources for people in the villages, but also a lack of HIV Toolkit Postereducation. There were misconceptions regarding the ways HIV could be transmitted and how it could eventually turn into AIDS. In some villages, the people believe that AIDS is caused by witchcraft, or that a woman who has HIV contracted it because she was unfaithful to her husband when it was the husband who had given her AIDS. It becomes even harder to treat the disease with the two available first-line ARVs (Anti Retrovirals) because many people who live with HIV and AIDS are viewed as pariahs. Even kissing was seen to be risky by some of the Ugandan counterparts who attended the workshop.

However, a conference like this also signaled hope. I, along with many of my fellow volunteers, felt inspired by the commitment of the many volunteers, Ugandans, and NGOs who put there time into creating and supplying the resources that would enable us volunteers to work alongside our counterpart in spreading awareness in our local communities.

Talking to Youth about SexMy biggest goal is to share the stories of those affected by HIV/AIDS at my college. I want to give my students a voice and let them be heard around the world. That’s why I’ve been setting up another blog that will allow me to post media created by Ugandan students. These will include stories, videos, songs, and art created by the students at the Luteete PTC who come from a multitude of regions in Uganda. By giving them a voice, they become empowered to choose their own fate without having to rely on anyone else. I guess that it could even be said that the greatest fear and hope of every Peace Corps Country’s Organization is for it to no longer exist in that country.

On another note, it was absolutely spectacular to stay at the Bomah Hotel. The food was some of the best Ugandan food that I have eaten in-country, the sessions were held in air-conditioned rooms, every room had an air-condition and satellite tv, the showers were hot, there was actual carpet, and the floors were tiled. I felt like I was in a really swanky motel, but for us PCV’s it felt like the Bellagio.

I wanted to share the last night spent the hotel. We were told that we would be given a barbecue by the pool, which turned out to be the same food that we had been given all-throughout the conference. There was live music, which wasn’t the most conducive music to dance to. We eventually switched the music with someone’s iPod and the pool party was on. We danced for a bit and then decided to go jump into the pool sometime around midnight. Honestly, it felt so nice to just let go and have a nighttime dance/swim in the pool as Rihanna blasted in the background.

And I believe that events such as these warrant the need to get a bit crazy because there’s just so much pent-up Midnight Pool Partyenergy at site. Having to be “on” 24/7 and representing the United States even without any other Americans to emotionally support you in the area can get tiring. Times like a midnight pool party definitely allow you to feel like you have some good friends in this world who are also willing to let loose before returning back to local norms in the village where a nighttime swim would be frowned upon and most likely unhygienic (probably with a case of Schistosomiasis).

What I got most out of this week away from site is that everything is intertwined in this world. HIV/AIDS represents a much bigger issue than just a disease. It’s an intertwinement as great as the sexual network and polygamy that isn’t as frowned upon in Ugandan society as it is in the United States. It’s the misconceptions about HIV vectors and the stigma associated with the disease. It’s the lack of technical knowledge, improper use of a condom, and ignorance about HIV testing in local clinics. It’s the misconception that virgins don’t have HIV and that a family with one HIV+ member means that the entire family is HIV+. It’s the withdrawal of millions of dollars from the World Bank and 67 funded positions in the Ugandan Ministry of Health that were cancelled after the passing of the recent bill.

There are many political, social, cultural, and socio-economic reasons are at play here. In spite of this, here we are as PCV’s attempting to work as deputy ambassadors in our own communities where try our best to represent the best that America has to offer. So we will continue to live in a culture of opposites, because it’s worth it to take a single step forward even when we fall back two steps.

 

*Note: Some other good places to eat are:

Uchumi Supermarket Bakery (where you can buy beef and fish pizza)

Abyssinia Ethiopian (also serves some Italian food)

Sankofa Café (serves burgers, salads, and thin-crust pizzas)

Just Being

March 18, 2014

This past weekend I visited Masaka for a Saint Patrick’s Day Weekend Celebration with some friends. As usual I packed up on Friday morning and biked the 11km stretch to Wobulenzi where I dropped my bike off at the police station and then boarded a taxi headed to Kampala. I met my friend Rachel there and we had lunch at Broods Bakery. I don’t know if I ever mentioned this place, but it’s near Nando’s Pizza smack dam in the middle of Kampala near the large Barclay’s Bank. It’s actually very interesting navigating in a place where there are no road signs and everything is navigated by remembering where to turn based on landmarks and what the locals say. This bakery is frequented by urban Ugandans, PCV’s, and NGO’s alike. Broods Bakery is a Dutch Bakery that bakes some of the best bread that I’ve eaten in-country. It actually reminds me of the bread that I would eat when I lived in Germany and the Netherlands. On the packaging for Broods it even states that they have outlets in Amsterdam and Hague. As usual, I treat myself with a Ham and Cheese sandwich on a multigrain loaf. It just tastes so fresh and clean and filling and not fried or filled with a meat sauce like everything else that I’ve eaten here. It also seems to be the place where many PCV’s happen to meet up and bump into each other when passing through Kampala.

As we were walking back to the NewTaxiPark, we stumbled into the Green Shop. I remember Rachel saying, “Marvin, look it’s the Green Shop!” At first I was a bit incredulous because I had been to a place called the Green Shop before and it was located on one of the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam. However, this Green Shop in Kampala was a secondhand clothing store with shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, and all different types of clothes that were all 50% off the original prices of 3,000/= to 10,000/=. The quality was also better than the clothes usually sold at the open air stalls during market day. We both ended up buying some green clothes for the Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. It’s actually funny now when I think back on clothing drives back in the United States that will be sent to Africa. Even in the poor villages in Uganda, many Ugandans have clothes that are worn out that have obviously been donated from other developed countries around the world. But most of the clothes go to market stalls where they are resold at a fraction of the price, and that is where most of the Ugandans get their clothes. If they’re lucky, then even a nice dress shirt or pair of slacks that would have cost upwards of $50 can be sold for 10,000/= here.

Plot 99 GazeboWe make our way to Masaka where we meet up with our friends by the Good Samaritan grocery store. Friday night was a chance to let loose and celebrate with Guinness Beef Stew, Shepherd’s Pie, mashed potatoes, beer games, and dancing at Club Ambiance. Then on Saturday we met up at Plot 99, which is the other big restaurant apart from Frikadellen that serves Muzungu buffets. We had reserved the place, which like Frikadellen, is located on a hill with gazebos, tables, and tire swings that overlook Masaka. At Plot 99 if you reserve beforehand with 8 or more people you can order a buffet of your choice. They offered Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and Ugandan. Of course we ordered the Mexican buffet, which turned out to be more like a family style meal where plates and bowls of food were brought to us and we served ourselves. There was more than enough food to make us full.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling, and we eventually found our way to a pool. From what I have learned from the PCV’s living near Masaka there are two pools that are worth going to. One of them is larger and bland while the other is peanut shaped and is more hidden. The first pool was filled with insects so we opted to go to the peanut shaped pool which was located off of a path from Plot 99.

The rest of the evening was spent getting dinner from street vendors off a side alley where we purchased a crate of Street Food Masakabeers (Nile, Bell, Club, Tusker, and someone also got a Smirnoff Ice for some reason) for the evening. We drank and chilled that night and before we knew it the weekend was over and we headed back to our respective homes.

It’s actually interesting about how much we look forward to the weekend and meeting up with other Muzungus here as PCV’s. I would surmise that most of us would have initially thought that we would be super local and integrate so well into our community that we would not really need to hang out and be social with the other Muzungus. As it turns out, so many of us yearn for a reminder that our home exists across the ocean. I think about how some days the best conversation that I had was with a fellow PCV on my cell phone. I also think about how some people have said that some of their favorite days spent in-country were weekends when they visited other PCV’s. It’s funny because I think that the ideal image of the Peace Corps Volunteer is one who is wearing the local garb, fluent in the local language, effortlessly moving throughout the community, and content with life. I believe that there are those volunteers who exist, but for the most part many volunteers seem to yearn for the comforts of their old home.

Peanut Shaped Pool MasakaWe never seem to be content wherever we are. When I was back in the United States, all that I could think of was about how I would be living the dream in Uganda. Now that I am here, I think about how I want to use a real bathroom, watch a YouTube video, see my old friends, eat cheese, and explore an urban city. At site I look forward to the weekend, and then when it’s the weekend I can never seem to shake off the feeling that I will eventually have to return back to site and do work.

The biggest challenge for myself here in Uganda is learning how to just be. I have to learn how to be content just being present here in this very moment without reminiscing too hard about the past or looking too far forward into the future. What matters is the moment to moment interactions, because that’s what I’m living right now. When I go back to the United States I hope that my memories will revolve more around the moments spent with my local community: biking through the hilly pathways of the Luweero sub-county, teaching the neighborhood kids how to ride my bicycle, watching my Year 1 students teach their own lesson plans, having to pump water from the borehole everyday, and the normal routine of living in the Ugandan sub-county. Sure the weekends are fun, but the time spent in my community is when I truly feel like I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer.

One Out of Many

March 10, 2014

They say that whoever saves one life saves the entire world. It has also been said that if you brought something to share with a classmate, then you better have enough to share with the entire class.

So what are we supposed to do when encountered with situations when life is unfair and we just want to help that one Areas of Improvementperson who needs help. We are consistently being bombarded with the two ideals of caring for each individual who can be impacted by our personal actions, as well as trying to cost-effectively help as many people as possible whereby we reduce the human faces into emotionless statistics.

One of the girls in P7 at the LuteetePrimary School called to me from the window this evening and asked me for help. I was inclined to help her out without even knowing what her problem was, because she was one of the few children who actively tried to start a dialogue with me when I first arrived. She taught me how to plant cassava and gave me some advice on how to dig and plant some crops on my plot of farmland near the PTC. She asked me if she could borrow some money because she needed to pay her registration fee for her final P7 year at the Primary School. I really wanted to help her out and give her some money. I mean, it was 200,000/= that she needed to pay, and I could just easily reach into my wallet and give it to her and wait until my next month’s stipend. But I knew that if I helped her out, then I would feel as if I would then have to help her other classmates who also were in the same situation. When I told this to her, she shot me a perplexed look and asked me, “Why?” I explained to her that I could not pay for everyone’s registration fee, and that it would not solve the problem.

The problem became harder when she explained to me that if she did not pay by Friday, then she would be pushed back down to repeat P6 again. I couldn’t believe that there was a school system that would actually force children to repeat an already completed year just because they couldn’t afford to pay for the next year. This girl had no other relatives who could help her, and her mother had a broken cell phone and was currently working as a teacher in Kampala at some school. If I had heard this story in the US, I would have called bullshit. But over here in Uganda, this seems to be a very normal story. Children are left by the parents all the time, and they normally have to clean, wash, fetch water, farm, cook, and care for the little ones even before they hit the double digits.

I told her that I would talk to her teacher on her behalf, but she pleaded that I not go because the pupils were told that if a teacher found out that any of them had talked to me during the school day then they would be caned. Corporal punishment is still regularly employed in many Ugandan primary schools even though Uganda is one of the countries that has signed the Declaration of the Rights of the Child agreement from the United Nations. Instead, I advised my friend to go explain the situation to the teachers and ask if there was some way that they could contact her mother so that her mother could send the money somehow. She knew that her mother had the money but wasn’t aware that the fee was due this Friday.

She nodded her head, and I suppose that this was a starting point for her. Then before she walked back to her home, where she lived alone since all the adults had left town to work elsewhere, she asked if I wanted to go with her to Bamunanika in order to buy some bean, corn, or potato seeds so that she could show me how to plant another crop at the PTC farm.

They say that whoever saves one life also saves the world, but I can’t save them all.

Upswing

March 6, 2014

It’s funny how the same things that annoy me are also the same things that make me feel amazing. For example, yesterday I finally discovered that my internet modems get a better EDGE and 3G signal on the other end of the PTC campus. I also explored around the area and found out that there’s a consistent 3G+ signal in front of the Kabaka’s Palace near Bamunanika trading center about 1km away from my house (he’s the king of the Buganda Kingdom in the central areas of Uganda). While sitting on a rock outside of his gated compound, I looked out upon the trading center and said hello to passing Ugandans as I finally had the opportunity to check my email, see my Facebook notifications (I can use the 0.facebook.com to use the data-less MTN Mobile Facebook website) and post on my blog. My friend Sean back in Baltimore informed me that he gets excited whenever I get internet because then I post a blog-dump on my blog.

Anyways, I was sitting on the rock and a bunch of local children came and we started conversing in Luganda. Before I knew it, about 100+ primary school children started surrounding me and inundated me with questions about my laptop, bicycle, and started stroking my leg, head, and arm hair. Many of the Ugandan children do this normally because for them they rarely see a Muzungu up close and most of the ones whom they do meet don’t speak any Luganda. I decided that I needed to leave after the crowd of school children grew to about 200+, and I hopped on my bicycle and headed down back towards Bamunanika trading center. Most days I would be annoyed by the unwanted attention and American feeling of that need for privacy and the minding of one’s own business. But as I bicycled back down one of the paths to the trading center, I looked behind me and saw that mob of school children running after me down the dirt path with glowing smiles on all of their faces.

The feeling was hard to describe, but it was one where I couldn’t believe what was happening in my life at the moment. It was a mixture of elation and pure joy after a day of realizing that I had internet access somewhat nearby, exploring more of the sub-county, and having a wave of Ugandan children run after me as I literally biked towards a dusty Ugandan trading center as the sun set. Honestly, I feel that if someone took a picture of me at that moment, that it would instantly become posted on one of those inspirational pictures of the year lists on Buzzfeed.

After my recent low, I feel as if things have started to upswing. The librarian is opening and closing the library on time, the PTC cook gave me a gift of 30 eggs (9,000/= worth), my Luganda is improving at a faster rate, my students are excited to learn more, and life is good. I have to keep remembering that, because it’s so easy to forget how much I love it here when things go to shit and suck. But for the time being, I’m gonna bask in the joy, 3G+ internet, and all of the fried eggs and omelettes that I can eat.

A Wake of Dust

March 3, 2014

I like to think that some of the best writing can come out of either a really well-thought out and researched topic, or from an emotional response to an event or series of events. For me, I’d say that today was one of those lows and one of those days when I felt like I was stuck in a funk. I just returned from the central group’s welcome weekend in Entebbe, and was exhausted after traveling all day Sunday with a ton of groceries from the giant lime-green megamall complex near the Old Taxi Park and the Chinese grocery store on the road that goes northeast from the Old Taxi Park to Kampala-Jinja Road. Today was a bit rough, because I felt that I could have accomplished so much more than I actually did. I remember making a checklist and hoping that I would be very productive today. Instead, I ended up teaching an ICT lesson to the Year 2 students who seemed to be very bored. And it’s still very frustrating trying to get them to learn how to use a computer when the only one available to them is my small laptop that I used to demo File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Tools, Table, Window, and Help on Microsoft Word today.

Then I was told by some Year 2 students that they wanted to learn how to play Ultimate Frisbee later in the evening, so I told them that we would meet at 5pm. I decided to stop by the library around that time, since the Year 2 librarian told me last week that she would be at the library every weekday to open it and stay there from 4pm – 7pm. When I arrived at the library, the door was closed and the other students informed me that she went to Bamunanika. It was just frustrating trying to coordinate events to happen, especially when people tell you that they’re committed to making them happen. I then played some Ultimate Frisbee with some of the students, and then I went home to make dinner. But for some reason I just couldn’t make my dinner taste good and it was probably one of the worst dinners that I made in country. Then to add to the funk is the fact that I get no viable internet connection at my site through any of the available internet/telephone carriers of Orange, Airtel, or MTN. And when I use MTN I get about 10Kbps download speed if I’m lucky. It takes me about 2 minutes to open up the Google front page and checking email is a no-go at my site. So vlogs, YouTube, Facebook, pictures, and even blogs will have to wait until I bike to a place that has a better internet connection

But I expect these lows, because they’re part of the package deal. Similar to the thin layer of dust that seems to coverBrownie and Ice Cream every single surface in my house every morning, there will always be some small annoyances that just whittle away at my physical and emotional energy. I also think that maybe I’m experiencing the withdrawal from the weekend’s activities of hanging out with other volunteers at the Backpacker’s Guesthouse in Entebbe and eating so well for every meal that I was there: chicken schnitzel at Faze 3, Jaeger and Hookah at Red Rooster Bar, Spanish Omelettes at Ana’s Corner, chicken sandwiches and brownie/ice cream at Carpe Diem, and amazing Ethiopian food at Abyssinia. So I’m probably experiencing the effects of withdrawal here at my house where I only have Ugandans surrounding me and a new way of acting. Also, let me mention that on Fridays at the Red Rooster Bar, there are maybe a dozen or so prostitutes who were all propositioning any man whom they could find for sex. Every guy in our group, including myself, was propositioned about 6 times and they promised to use a condom. I remember telling them in Luganda that I already had a wife. There response was funny, because they would respond by saying that it was alright and that they understood.

I also kind of think that life here is like my 12km weekly bicycle journey to Wobulenzi on the hilly, dusty roads. Whenever a boda boda (motorcycle) or truck almost hits me as it overtakes me, I have to look away because a building-sized cloud of dust pummels me as I continue pedaling on my bike. And then I am inundated with dust on both the inside and outside, but I continue biking to my destination undeterred. There are challenges here that I expected to face, but actually facing them is very different from expecting to face them.

African Sunset by HouseI’m not going to lie and say that life is amazing here, because it’s not always great. It’s hard, and I do miss life back in the United States. There are times when I think about how easy it would be just to call the Peace Corps Uganda Office and let them know that I want to ET (early terminate) and just start a well-paid career back in the comforts of home. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about the small annoyances and hardships here.

But if I did that then I wouldn’t have experienced the good that happens here. Despite the funk that was today, I will not forget returning back to my house right before dinner, and having the two small twin girls running up to me and hugging me. Each one grabbed my hand and pulled me as we walked behind the staff houses and we stood together for a while on the grassy area next to my house as an orange African sun set behind the tall banana trees behind my house. I then realized that without the dust, the African sunset would not be as beautiful.

A Teacher

February 27, 2014

Name: Marvin Roxas

Date: 2/27/14

Unit: Uganda Blog

Subject: Blog Post

Teacher: Too many to count

“I am a doctor, you know

I am a man of the brains

Oh you all know that you depend on me

Oh without me you wouldn’t live

A mechanic here I come

A great man I am

Oh you all bring your cars to me

Oh without me you wouldn’t drive

Build builder here I come

Yes you depend on me

Oh without me there would be no house

A teacher, a teacher, a teacher

I’m the greatest of all…”

These are the lyrics to a simple song shared with me by my counterpart, Mr. Kyazze Dan who is the music and art teacher here at Luteete PTC. I had a talk with him the other day about his personal motivation, likes and dislikes about the college, and his own personal goals. It’s exciting to have these one-on-ones because I get the chance to really find out what these teachers want to accomplish here. It turns out that Mr. Dan has a laptop and some basic recording equipment in order to record some of his music students singing so that they can see a small side of music production. Now I haven’t seen his getup, but it still astounds me to see these pieces of technology in a place like the sub-counties of Luweero District.

His goal is to have enough funding and support to create a music school for the Luweero District. Students of all ages from all around the sub-counties would then have the opportunity to study a wide variety of local musical instruments, while also learning classical music theory, playing on a keyboard, and using their voice. I told him that I would be more than glad to help him raise awareness by adding some videos of the college choir singing on a blog site dedicated to works by the students of Luteete and the surrounding areas.

I never would have believed it a couple of years ago if you would have told me that I would be a teacher in Africa. Even now it’s funny thinking that I’m doing the stereotyped stint of living in Africa and teaching in a less than ideal conditions but feeling that it’s all worthwhile in the end. Even my friend from BU and Dresden, Matt Musto, commented on my teaching profile picture from Shimoni that I looked like the main character from Freedom Writers (And yes I do think that I have an uncanny resemblance to Hillary Swank). I spend some hours every other day planning my lessons so that the students would actually be excited to learn and be challenged. And as I teach, I remember my own teachers as I grew up.

I remember my elementary school teachers from ChurchLaneTechnologySchool. Even now I can name my homeroom teachers as well those who taught me specific subjects and made me learn.

Kindergarten – Ms. Pearson

1st Grade – Ms. Gray

2nd Grade – Mrs. Lang

3rd Grade – Mrs. Ellison-Wood

4th Grade – Ms. Massey

And then I moved away from public school to catholic school. During this transition, the more specific subject-oriented teachers left a bigger impact on me than the homeroom teachers, especially since we would then have different teachers for different subjects rather than one teacher for all subjects. I learned about culture and discipline in Church Lane. I learned how it felt to be the minority as I was called “Chinese Boy” by most of my classmates. It’s funny how right now I am still mistaken for Chinese in Uganda. But I got a solid start with my basics in reading comprehension, writing, basic arithmetic, and use of computers at such an early age.

And then in 5th grade and middle at Sacred Heart of Glyndon had my teachers push me to be better than I already was. They weren’t content that I was doing well with the material, and when I failed they straight up told me that I could do better. I remember acting out a lot in 5th grade and not getting the best grades. My Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Tebbs, sat down with me for a one-on-one session when I was serving yet another recess detention. She told me that she couldn’t change my bad behavior and the way I was acting, but that only I could make that decision for myself. Along with this, I needed to focus on my grades and study better because she knew that I was smarter than I demonstrated in class. I specifically remember during that day in 5th grade that I told myself that I would make a personally concentrated effort to become a better student.

I shaped up and got better grades and started off middle school strong. I had a solid education in middle school with teachers who really wanted us to master content even though we had just become teenagers. It was around this time that math and science began to really pique my interest. And I owe a big part of this inspiration to Ms. Goode and Mrs. Riley. I remember that Ms. Goode was a science and math teacher and she just had this certain playful quality yet stern demeanor that held such a powerful classroom presence. She would also work alongside with us middle school students in order to solve difficult math problems. I remember that she didn’t always have the answer to a problem from the get-go, but she would somehow be able to give us the tools needed for us to find the answer on our own and feel accomplished. And her projects were always really engaging. Then there was the crazy Mrs. Riley who would sing songs and talk about hanging us from a ceiling tile of our choice in the science lab if we became too rowdy.

But I remember that she made biology and chemistry fun. I loved doing the science projects for the science fair and I can still remember the section about making a rocket that we launched at the end of the year. We also watched the movie October Sky, based on Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, who also had a Ms. Riley as a science teacher.

Then in high school, I had amazing math and science teachers again. Now don’t get me wrong, I also had solid teachers in other subjects but the purpose of this blog post is to talk about my own inspiration in wanting to pursue math and science because of those techers. Ms. Warfield taught me Calculus like no other, and it is because of her that I feel like my math skills are as solid as they are right now. And back then I definitely did not feel like admitting it, but Physics Honors and AP Physics during my junior and senior years in high school really made me choose to become an engineer in college. I remember staying up past 4am trying to work out physics problems for homework as well as take-home test corrections for force and momentum problems that I just couldn’t understand. But other than just content, Mr. Baier taught me a new way of thinking. He allowed all of us to use our notes, textbooks, printed papers, old tests, equation sheets, and anything else that we had at our disposal in order to help us during his tests and quizzes. Regardless of these things, I remember failing a good portion of his tests and quizzes. But I eventually caught on and learned about a new way of thinking about a problem that wasn’t as straightforward as plugging in numbers to a formula and chugging.

I’d say that because of these two teachers, I was as successful as I became in the College of Engineering at Boston University to the point that I didn’t really learn any new material during my freshman year. And I remember Mr. Jariwala, my Physics II teacher during sophomore year fall semester at BU. After the first lecture, he already had everyone’s name memorized, and knew what questions we were capable of answering. And he challenged us just as much as Mr. Baier had challenged me two years prior, but I was prepared. And thanks to these and countless other teachers, both academic and non-academic, I have learned subject content and various other life skills. I learned how to learn, and as a result I have also learned a small part about what it means to teach.

And before I end this post, I also want to give a shout-out to my parents who were my first teachers. It was because of them that I started reading chapter books and knew my times tables by 2nd grade. But more importantly, they taught me about the meaning of a family and what it means to always have a home.

Here’s to you my teachers who have taught me throughout my lifetime. I hope that you know that I’m using what you taught me over here in my own classroom in Uganda.

Savoring the Moment

February 24, 2014

I have to write this down quickly, because if I decide to wait then I’ll forget the feeling. So here I am writing again by candlelight because the power decided to go off again, and I just had a chain of thoughts. Jack’s Mannequin’s song Lullaby started playing on my iTunes shuffle and the line “and I still hear your ghost in these old punk rock clubs…” I know that it sounds corny and angsty, but there was a time late in high school and early in college when these songs resonated so deeply within me and my feelings. As I thought about those words, I remembered the first time I was able to return back to Dresden, Germany about 1 year after my spring study abroad semester back in 2010. I remember moving through the hallways of our old dorm, the Max Kade Haus, and feeling as if I could still see ghosts of my friends dancing around those halls feeling like life couldn’t get any better than that. There weren’t too many worries, and everyday was an adventure and those six months felt like it could last forever. But the thing is that it didn’t last forever, and before I knew it my time at Boston University living it up in Allston on the Fords of Ash too came to an end. Eras began, I lived through their experiences, and then they ended.

And so I realized that as long as the days seem to drag on and as long as these next looming two years appear to be, I understand that before I know it I will be reading these blog posts back in the comfort of my friends’ apartment in good old B-more and reminiscing back to how awesomely idyllic life appeared to be in my home in Luteete in the middle of the Luweero District in Uganda. I’ll be calling my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and ask them about meeting up in the United States, and it will feel so weird seeing them in a developed world with the use of cars, running water, electricity, Mexican food, unlimited Wifi, and other amenities. But for now, I am living in Uganda and loving it.

Yeah there are the highs and the lows, but today was definitely a high. I got to sleep in, and accomplished my morning checklist consisting of: buying two rolls of 500/= each toilet paper because I really needed to poop since last night, printing my compiled excel spreadsheets for the library stock, updating the PTC Curriculum library excel sheet after receiving 120 new curriculum books, and preparing for my ICT lesson for the Year 2 students. I explained to them how a computer mouse and laptop touchpad moved the cursor on a computer screen, as well as how left and right clicks accomplished different tasks on a computer. I actually seemed to capture the students’ attention, and they actually asked me, “Why?” when I explained to them that the touchpad would move the cursor if I used my finger but not when I rubbed an inanimate object across it. I even got a small round of applause afterwards.

Lunch afterwards was amazing, because it was the lunch before a faculty meeting. Instead of the normal pos ho and beans we got meat with sauce, stewed cabbage, pillau rice, matooke, and pili pili peppers. The meeting afterwards also exceeded my personal expectations. It was somewhat entertaining due to the wide variety of teacher personalities. During the meeting, it was discussed that teachers must retain their integrity in holding continuous assessment for the students and being fair. If students don’t show up to class, then they will fail. My supervisor also acknowledged my role in organizing the library and many of the teachers suggested ways to implement its use with the students. Without my prodding, they proposed a current events section with daily newspapers put on display, reading groups, mandatory library hours, and more use of the library’s book borrowing system. I was actually astounded that the simple act of cleaning up the library would actually lead the teachers to finding uses for it.

The 3 hour meeting eventually ended, and many of the teachers entered the library in order to borrow books from the library using the excel file system that I put in place. And then as I headed back to my home, my neighbors shared with me that one of my brown Year I students told them that I was a good math teacher. She said that I was very clear and that she really learned a lot from what I was teaching. I then played with my neighborhood kids, cooked some chappats, watched some Breaking Bad and The Wire, called a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, and then successfully cooked eggplants so that it tasted somewhat good.

Honestly, today was great. And I want to remember it as one of the highs and remembering how for this one day everything seemed to go my way.

*I was notified today that Museveni passed the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Some Notes

February 21, 2014Han

You know it’s interesting how much humans can adapt to different situations. I used to think that life became a bit more difficult back in the United States when the shower or internet weren’t working. I remember how much water I poured into Tupperware containers during Hurricane Sandy and Snowstorm Nemo because I thought that the water and electricity would be out for a couple of days. I never would have expected that having access to a shower would be one of the most sought after luxuries here in Uganda. I remember that back then I was so excited and ready for whatever the Peace Corps experience would throw at me. And here I am writing this blog post on my reserve laptop battery power after having cooked my dinner by candlelight. I will say though that I splurged and bought a 300/= avocado and 2,000/= worth of goat meat (about 1lb). In total, this meant that me splurging for dinner cost less than $1, whereas my dinner back when I was in Boston could cost upwards of $10 if I decided to splurge when I went to the grocery store.

I remember my first few days at site when I was so worried about speaking Luganda and being judged for not knowing much, using a pit latrine, having to haul 20 liters of water daily from the borehole at the other end of campus, and living by myself. However, right now I feel almost adjusted to life here in Luteete. A good day involves me accomplishing some other extraneous task in addition to teaching, the School Profile Tool, and my daily chores of fetching water, cooking, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, doing dishes, boiling water to drink, working out, and bathing. I have discovered that about 5 liters of water are all that I need in order to fully bathe myself using my bucket. Last night I found a gecko swimming in my bucket water.

I guess that I feel more or less physically adjusted to Uganda, but I am still mentally and emotionally adjusting. The hardest part is missing friends, family, places, and events back home. I often find myself reminiscing back to life in a developed country where the problem was that there were too many options to choose what to do. Over here, life is much simpler because there is less to do and more focus on what is important in life. Sure there are a lot of chores, but many people here can’t afford to worry about trivialities such as gaining weight, who’s the most popular singer at the moment, or whether to drive to Chipotle or Qdoba. The focus is about survival and helping the family. The education that one receives goes to getting a job in order to help the family. Saving money is not as praised as spending money right now to help the community and family.

I guess that when the future is so uncertain, only the present moment can be trusted. I remember reading somewhere that what the United States lacks in many different rankings when compared to many European countries, it makes up for in entrepreneurship. Americans are risk-takers, because we can afford to be risk-takers. There is always some sort of safety net. Even the poorest people can get food stamps and go to soup kitchens whereas here no such initiative exists. Food stamps would only be useful for lighting coals here. I have felt it myself: the drive to strive for some sort of American Dream where I can say that I’ve made it. It’s the feeling of knowing that your hard work paid off and that you have the status, money, and things to prove it.

It’s a much more individualist society back at home, and that was my life for the past 22 years. But now I am in an extremely communal society where privacy is non-existent and everyone looks out for each other. Word spreads quickly around the community and sometimes can travel even faster than I do. But that is where the strength in Ugandans lies: in community. Things are always shared, and not to do so is considered selfish. If someone is sick, neighbors check up on that person. If a child needs to be babysat for a weekend while the parents work in Kampala, then a neighbor will take over without hesitation. After having prided myself on getting things done by myself in the United States, I would say that this is one of those things that I still have trouble adjusting to.

And so I sit here in the dim light of the candle, living in contradictions. I have worked with teachers who know basic Wave Theory but don’t know that skin cells shed every second. I cook caramelized onions and various assortments of foods, while the school serves po sho and beans every single day. I am typing on a Dell 4200 laptop that has about 6 hours of battery life, while some students have trouble finding paper to write notes on. But the hardest thing to live with is knowing that many of these things are luxuries that make me feel like me and like my life back in the United states, but are seen as very unnecessary and affluent by the Ugandans in my community. Because of this, I hold the dozens of Ugandans that I have met in the highest regard, because they don’t need that much to thrive whereas I need so much to simply survive.

States of Mind

February 20, 2014

I’m in a different state of mind right now, probably because it’s 1am right now and I didn’t take my usual afternoon Dinner Table by Candlelightnap yesterday. One of my worries during the past few weeks was that I was waking up late (even here 6:30am is late and my neighbors’ laundry are already hanging up on the wires to dry) and finding that I really had nothing to do for the day since very few people were on campus. I mean, I couldn’t even accomplish some of the required tasks on the School Profile Tool even if I tried. However, this past week dispelled my worries of inactivity. I actually followed the Integrated Science curriculum during the first few days of the week. Even though only 5 students showed up, I felt accomplished. Today was awesome, because I woke up and had a brunch of chappats, leftover beans, and rice. But the most fulfilling part of the day occurred when I walked up to the PTC and started working on organizing the library.

The library is located in the main PTC building behind a preliminary door and then another wooden door that leads to the room that the known as the PTC library. It’s exciting because the library has at least 300 books ranging from Ugandan curriculum books to fiction books by classical literary greats to biographies of random people and even a manga about the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. There were three three-shelved bookcases lining three of the walls and a fourth two-shelved bookcases that lined the wall with the windows. There were also 12 wooden seat-and-desk combos that seemed to be in a perpetual state of a Kampalan traffic jam covered in literal mounds of dust and either gecko poop or silverfish sheddings.

So I went to work and made some room by moving a few of the desks out of the room. It was difficult to maneuver anything in this room because it was also being used as a storage room for two gigantic speakers, a staffroom tv, 12 large paraffin lanterns, and cooking saucepans. I then pulled out all of the books from the many shelves and strewn-about piles in order to organize them in some way. There were two books that I received from the Peace Corps that helped to guide me during my library cleaning venture: Setting Up and Running a School Library and Libraries for All: How to Start and Run a Basic Library. I decided to move one of the three-shelved bookcases that was blocking part of the blackboard in the back of room towards the middle of the room to be used as ½ of a double-bookcase. The other ½ would come from the two-shelved bookcase lining the wall with the windows. After about two hours of removing books and nails that kept the bookcases glued to the cement walls, I was finally able to rearrange the bookshelves into their spots.

I then organized the books back on the dusted shelves according to a simplified, numberless, and personalized Dewey Decimal System according to the stock of the PTC library: Ugandan PTC Curriculum, Ugandan Primary School Curriculum (Years 4-7), Science, Mathematics, Agriculture, Health, Social Studies, Drama, Art, Music, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Religion, Biography, Sexuality, Dictionaries, and Reference Books. The most intriguing section that I saw was the Sexuality section because it had two books: one about LGBT culture in the 1990’s urban environment, and an On the Road-esque novel about a guy trying to find himself. Now this wouldn’t be that weird, except that they both were stamped with a seal marking it as being received as a donated book. I don’t know what this means, but I think that it’s interesting that these books exist, especially since the Ugandan Parliament has attempted passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

I loved cleaning the library, and actually feeling like I was starting to make a tangible difference. I know that having a successful library is a great asset to any school system. My hope is that it can only continue to grow, because after my consolidation efforts I was left with fully empty shelf at the opposite wall of the blackboard that could be used for new books, displays, student stories, works by local artists/authors, or even a school newspaper. There is so much possibility and so I continue to work here.

Cabbage Head Kid

I also just wanted to share some stories concerning some of my recent non-academic experiences. So when I stopped by the carpenter last Thursday to pick up my ordered furniture, I brought one of my Primary Teacher friends along with me. We had to bring back three meter-long hard wood tables down a 1km dusty road. He suggested that we each carry one on our heads Africa-style and then hold the third one in-between us. I agreed, and we walked down the 1km dusty road back to the house. Did I mention that it was 1km and dusty? Haha, I honestly remember thinking that I would never forget that moment as the muzungu who was carrying 1.5 tables with a Ugandan whom several other Ugandans asked if he was hired by me to help.

And then there was the time when some of the nearby village-children ran up to greet me and one of the kids had a full hat of cabbage on his head. He stared intently at me and would violently rip a piece of cabbage off of his head and then forcefully chew it.

I also have the cutest neighborhood children. Two of them are twin girls whom I had earlier mistaken for one boy who seemed to always be in two places at once. One of them likes me a lot, and the other is still taking some time to get used to me. Another funny story was when one of the neighborhood girls told me that she was putting a chicken to sleep. She placed the chicken in a jerrycan (it’s kind of like a big, rectangular, plastic jug for fetching water) and then turned the jerrycan upside down. She looked at me and said, “Now the chicken is sleeping.” I wanted to tell her that it was merely upside down and probably just very uncomfortable and the opposite Baalongoof sleeping. Then one of the twins ran up to the jerrycan, flipped it, the chicken flew out, and the twin began crying out of fear. She’s even scared of the three cute, black piglets that come to graze by the trash and pumpkin vines that grow out of my neighbor’s rock.

I tend to ask myself, “What is life?” about three times a day.

We were told at training that sometimes we would not see any tangible differences at our site even after 12 months, but it’s been less than 1 month since I arrived at site and already I can see some differences. I’m excited for what the coming 11 months will bring.