Video of My Site

I feel that one can only get so much from reading someone’s summary or views of an experience. So I made a two-part video explaining what I’m doing at my site in Luteete PTC as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, Africa. I hope that you enjoy it and get a small taste of what it’s like to be living in my village and walking in my shoes.

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hC7lZ_BWnc

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLmeKiXAXe4

Mwebale kulaba videos zange.

Advertisements

Patience

4/24/14

I honestly think that one of the biggest talents that I will gain from the Peace Corps is patience. I have learned to be patient waiting for the internet to work on the only nearby hill that has any semblance of 3G+ internet (since my Orange EDGE and 3G don’t work), when children rush to touch and look at my computer screen, when I never know when a meeting will start, and when things don’t happen as fast as I want them to. Honestly, everyday is similar to waiting at the DMV except that there isn’t a line or the anticipation for your number to be called. You simply just have to wait. I have found myself getting very good at just recalling fond memories from my adventures, movies that I have seen, performances that I have been a part of and witnessed, successes, foods that I look forward to eating, and stories that I have read. I let myself doze off into daydreams or just sit back on a rock on my hill and just soak in the setting Ugandan sun and the cool rushing wind. Waiting for about 30 minutes will sometimes reward me with about 4 minutes of internet access during which I rush to check and send important Peace Corps emails that were due a week ago, while simultaneously explaining what I am doing in Luganda to the local children who surround the rock that I sit upon.

After I feel that it is getting too late, or that I can no longer wait for the internet to come I disembark from my rock and walk back down the hill to my home. As I look around I see Ugandans hauling their bikes loaded with jerrycans totaling over 100 liters of water, chappati vendors hard at work rolling and frying dough, children bringing the goats back home from their grazing grounds, and the women preparing the dinner on the charcoal sagiris for the families. Then I laugh at myself because I realize that no matter how patient I am, I will never be as patient as a Ugandan. Because for them, they endure.

A Chill Easter Weekend

4/22/14

It feels so nice to return back to my home in Luteete after a weekend of traveling. I left site last Wednesday to go helpMasindi Malaria Day Fact my friend Rachel and Brittany put on a Malaria Awareness event at the Kamurasi Demonstration School. They had previously asked me to be the media specialist guy to take many pictures and videos of the event. They had applied for a small Peace Corps grant and acquired $75 to fund the day’s events. It included Pin the Net Over Opio (similar to pin the tail on the donkey), Mosquito Net Repair, Malaria Freeze Tag, Beware of Ms. Mosquito Read-Aloud, Risk Field Obstacle Course, 9 Facts of Malaria, and Malaria Hangman. The pupils at the Kamurasi school would rotate through the sessions, and during the events of the day the winning artists in a the malaria mural competition painted a Fight Malaria, Save Lives themed mural on one of the walls of the school and the older P6 and P7 pupils played soccer on the field while learning about malaria facts.

What astounded me was how supportive the primary school teachers were. The stereotype has usually been that it was difficult to motivate many of the primary school teachers into doing any sort of event where they wouldn’t explicitly be paid. However, the teachers seemed to be very excited to hosting some of the sessions and helping set up the events for the day.

After helping with the event, we headed over to Arua to celebrate Easter with the northern Peace Corps Volunteers. The bus ride from Masindi to Arua sucked because I had to share a two seats with 6 other people (three adults and two babies). It was hot and we intermittently stopped to offload and accept random passengers who wanted to hitch a ride which is the norm for Ugandan public transportation.

After departing Masindi around 10:30am, we arrived in Arua around 6pm and made our way to Café Cosmos where they served delicious Muzungu food. I had only had the opportunity to eat chappatis  that day, so the burger that I ate there was absolutely delicious, especially in tandem with the Heinz Ketchup and crispy fries.

We then walked back to our friend Jamie’s house near the Arua Core PTC. She has one of the largest houses in Peace Corps Uganda with two living rooms, a separate bathroom and toilet area, four bedrooms, a kitchen, a backyard and a separate cooking area all complete with electricity and running water. She was so gracious to host the two dozen volunteers who were celebrating the Easter Weekend together.

Easter Arua CrewWe spent Friday night drinking together and dancing to select tunes from one of the volunteer’s iPod and portable speakers. The next day was spent going to Arua town in order to procure groceries for the weekend’s meals and to buy some fabric and clothing in the fabled Arua Fabric Market. The fabric market is one of the coolest places that I have been to in Uganda. It seemed like I was lost in a maze of stalls all covered in kitenge fabric ranging in a multitude of designs. I thought that this place would be the perfect setting for a action movie chase scene through the stalls. I promised myself that I would definitely return to Arua and the fabric market in order to procure locally made clothes for myself and friends. We purchased tomatoes, peas, lettuce, minced meat, carrots, limes, lemons, potatoes, onions, beef bouillon, chicken bouillon, soy sauce, cumin, chilli powder, pasta, rice, flour, green peppers, milk, sugar, avocadoes, cilantro, and mangoes in order to cook for 20+ people for Saturday and Sunday. I volunteered to cook for everyone and so on Saturday I organized people to cook seasoned ground, flour tortillas, rice, fresh pico de gallo salsa, and mango salsa for a Mexican themed dinner. After dinner, we pregamed and got ready for Club Matonge, which is the big club in Arua. We paid 10,000/= for the VIP 2nd floor area and danced. It’s funny hearing the music played at these clubs, because many of the Muzungu-club songs are from the top 40 lists of 2009 – 2011 with very few of them coming from the past year.

Sunday, April 20th, was my favorite day by far, because we just chilled at Jamie’s house. We took it easy in the DSC_0121morning, and got a slow start on the Easter meal. I cooked beef stroganoff, beef with soy sauce and onions, shepherd’s pie, pasta, deviled eggs, potato salad, and fresh lettuce salad while the rest of the remaining volunteers dyed Easter eggs for the Easter egg hunt. We ate the meal in the afternoon and then played a few rounds of Easter egg hunting, which was a lot more fun than I remembered it many years ago.

Honestly, I enjoyed this weekend so much and prepping food and cooking for so many people. It just made me feel happy to make delicious food for others and let others not have to worry too much about the food aspect of the weekend. I even got compliments about my food from the Ugandans who attended the Easter celebration.

It’s funny, because sometimes I worry that I will leave this country in 22 months and not have anything to show for it. I worry that I will not be able to leave my mark on this place. I mean, I’ve already been in Uganda for about the same amount of time as the average study abroad program. And I can honestly say that I feel that I’ve only made the slightest of dents. There is a sort of guilt associated with my preconceived notions about what I expected life to be like in the Peace Corps and how I actually act while here.

Easter Egg PaintingI’m on vacation right now since Term 1 ended during Easter Weekend. I spent today watching the first two episodes of Game of Thrones season 4, picking up my refilled gas tank, battling a horde of ants near my doorway, and taking a nap with the weirdest mefloquine-inspired day-dream* that I’ve had in a while. I pretty much stayed in my house the entire day and vegged-out. Never before would I have imagined that Peace Corps volunteers easily fell prey to the NGO-syndrome of always yearning for home once you leave it. I mean, I want to integrate so much into my community and go harvest the cassava that I planted, but then again I also just want to eat a bowl of mac ‘n cheese in front of my computer or pour a ton of Heinz Ketchup on some fries while I drink a non-tropical milkshake.

It honestly makes me question why so many volunteers are still here when it seems that we all continuously strive to achieve or acquire the same things that we had back in the United States. However, I have also come to realize that many of these yearnings usually occur during the weekends and vacations when we can treat ourselves. When I take a step back, I feel as if I’ve been able to integrate well into my local village community, I am conversational in Luganda, love eating po sho and beans, planted cassava, fetch water everyday from the borehole, play with the children, bike to Wobulenzi when I want to accomplish anything, cook on a sagiri when my gas tank is empty, and am getting more and more used to Uganda as a home rather than a temporary part of my life.

And it feels as if these past 5 months have gone by so quickly. Staging in Philadelphia feels like a lifetime ago and by the end of this June my education group will no longer be the newest group in-country. Pretty soon we will be helping train the new group and acting guides for their questions.

So life continues and goes on as it always has been regardless of whether I’m present or not. I think my immediate goal now is to be more present than not and appreciate this world around me rather than missing what I don’t have.

*Note: I want to summarize my day-dream, because I feel that it represents a marriage of the dreams inspired by the malaria prophylaxis drug mefloquine and my experiences thus far in Uganda.

I remember being in what I called my Peace Corps house which was located by a pathway next to a large river, similar to the Charles River in Boston. My house was originally two stories tall and had many nice rooms with old Victorian furniture. I had several Peace Corps friends visiting. They were arriving shortly because they had just visited the kitenge market a few minutes walk down the pathway running parallel to the river. When I entered the house with them, I saw a huge parlor room with antique furniture. I explored the other parts of my house and saw weird patterns in the floor, but it wasn’t scary. I then left my friends in the parlor room of my house and chased a chipmunk that had made its way to the stairwell. I followed it up the stairwell and discovered that my house was actually in fact 5 stories tall. As I made it past the 2nd story, I came to realize that the hallways and rooms of my old Victorian Mansion had not been entered in a long time due to dust and the boarded up windows and doors.

I then opened up a barred, steel door that led up to a storage room where there was a missing maid and two other women who were feeding beans and chappatis to zombies in the room. I left the room and continued exploring the upper levels of the mansion until I reached another stairwell. However, this stairwell scared me because I looked up and saw a silhouette of a girl standing behind prison bars. I quickly ran downstairs and saw my Peace Corps friends. I told them about what I had just saw they agreed with me.

Then somehow I was transported to a scene at a shipyard where I learned about the fate of a lady who was leaving a train but then died when another train backed up into her. Then I was in either a streetcar or a trolley or train where this mysterious man/conductor told the passengers that no one should shoot the voltage box underneath the compartment we were traveling in because it would electrocute and kill us all. Apparently, it was some sort of reference to the Final Destination movie because not everyone died, such as the maid and the little girl, and the rest became the aforementioned zombies.

It was at this very confusing moment that I woke up around 4pm on my bench in my actual Peace Corps house in Uganda wondering if I would continue having these weird day-dreams.

Forbidden Hills

4/11/14 – 4/13-14

This past weekend was different than most weekends, because this time I ended up hosting some other PCVs. Mary and Rebecca from Nakaseke, Jay-C from Gulu, and Rachel from Masindi. I was so excited to finally show them my place which was different than other volunteers’ places because it’s not near any big town with many muzungu things to do. Instead, I felt as if I was able to truly share how I lived at my site with my visitors. We fetched water from the borehole, cooked and baked using milk supplied from the community reverend, ate streetfood from the Bamunanika trading center (while seeing the police carry away the local drunkard), and explored the surrounding areas.

I made sure to bring my friends to the palace of the Kabaka near Bamunanika. We walked up to the front gate, and I Kabaka's Palacehoped to meet the caretaker who would usually approach me and ask me if I wanted to see the palace grounds. There wasn’t anybody working nearby, so we decided to take some pictures in front of the palace gates. Then some plucky teenager approaches us and tells us that it’s forbidden to take pictures of the palace grounds. We wait in front of the gate as he calls to some other caretaker who is walking towards us down the road. When the caretaker realizes that he’s being called, he turns down another road and tells the teenager that he’s busy.

I start laughing at the entire situation: about how it’s forbidden to take pictures and how the caretaker clearly doesn’t want to deal with 5 muzungus who are trying to get a free tour of the palace. So instead we walk towards the hills to the west of Bamunanika. A few weeks ago I remember exploring the pathways near the trading center. I happened upon a trail that continuously led upwards towards the foot of one of the taller hills in the sub-county. I brought my friends to this hill this past weekend. After asking the local farmers if it was alright, we decided to climb up the hill. There was no path, so we navigated through the bushes, rocks, and brambles that were considerably thicker due to it being the rainy season (as opposed to when it looked more barren during the dry season).

Hills of LuweeroThere was a rocky outcropping at the summit followed by a flat, rocky space. But the view was breathtaking. Sure it wasn’t any famous hill, but it was a local hill that was probably climbed for the first time by muzungus. We could see far into the horizon past the many villages and smaller hills that undulated through the sub-county. We chilled there for a time, and then returned back to Bamunanika to buy a sagiri and charcoal because my gas stove ran out of gas.

Then on Sunday I finally accomplished one of my goals after the Gulu HIV/AIDS workshop. I held a small HIV/AIDS awareness session for the Luteete PTC students with the help of Rachel and Jay-C. We held an HIV/AIDS Biology, myths, and sexual panel question session in the PTC courtyard where most of the students attended. I remember my satisfaction after hearing laughs from the students during the condom on a stick demonstration, or when the students couldn’t tell if “having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS is okay if you already have HIV/AIDS” was true or false. I felt that I as able to inform the students and raise awareness about the problems that it posed to all communities.

It felt nice to host people again. And it also felt nice to have a more local, low-key weekend compared to the ones spent in Masaka or Masindi where the schedules for the day involve pools, expensive restaurants, Wifi, and a lot of English speaking with other muzungus. I admit that those treats are necessary every now and then, but I think that it’s also important to see the local side of where other volunteers live and experience playing with the neighborhood children and living in a house that some Peace Corps staff have described as being “makeshift”.

Never the Same

9/4/14

So I’m in the midst of teaching my Year 1 students in the hopes that they can somehow retain the knowledge of basic pre-algebra. These are students who are in their upper teens and the spread in knowledge and experience is very vast. I have some students in class who are very bored because they know all of the answers, and then I have some students who don’t pay attention because the material is too difficult for them. I started off teaching last week with basic addition, then moved on to subtraction, multiplication, division, incorporating decimals and negatives, and then on to powers today. I’ve been teaching a bit more thoroughly than the Ugandan curriculum (which has some typos and mathematical errors) for mathematics in a PTC.

I never thought that one day I would be the teacher giving the quizzes and expecting the students to understand concepts to a certain level. However, I cannot blame the students who are performing poorly, because many of them come from educational backgrounds that are less than ideal. I have some students in the classroom who were struggling with basic addition, and then I have some students who are ready for higher level algebra. That much is apparent in the daily quizzes that I give my class with questions pertaining to the lesson of the previous day.

I believe that giving these students a thorough background in the basics of mathematics can help inspire them to be better students and eventually better student teachers. I want to give my students a fighting chance to grow and have the opportunity to achieve more than the average Ugandan’s life can achieve. As I was grading the quizzes concerning the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of negative numbers I was dismayed at first by the lower marks on the first dozen or so quizzes. However, as I continued I found that the majority of the students scored around the 70%-80% range and a few of them even managed to get 100%. I felt as if I was at least reaching some of the students and that hopefully there is a Gaussian distribution of grades.

I had also promised my class a prize for a game that we were playing. So today I brought my saucepans and ingredients to make a banana cake from scratch. I had asked the custodian to bring a sagiri and charcoal to the college at 5pm today in order to show them all how to bake without an oven. So I shared with them the recipe from the Peace Corps Uganda cookbook and demonstrated how to make a makeshift dutch oven using a smaller metal saucepan placed on top of rocks inside two larger saucepans placed on top of a sagiri. We played a quick game of Ultimate Frisbee while we waited for the cake to bake.

I was even able to incorporate some math and reading into the demonstration by having the students read and copy down the recipe and show how recipe proportions worked.

However, what stuck to me the most today was a comment left on my blog from a Ugandan who had moved to the United States. It was a very eloquently written comment concerning your typical culture shock but also how living in another country changes you. The perspective of the comment concerned moving to the United States from Uganda and how that person missed so many things from her homeland. It almost seemed as if she was describing the exact opposite of what I was feeling. She talked about eating marshmallows and hamburgers and missing Ugandan dishes. She would travel hours across many state-lines just to hang out with other Africans. However, she stressed that experiences such as living for many years in another country or volunteering in the Peace Corps makes you change forever. No matter how much I yearn for the things that I was once used to back home, once I eventually attain them in 22 months they will no longer mean what I thought they meant to me. Of course it is okay to miss things from back home, but right now I am living in my home of Uganda. I can either embrace the culture and truly attempt to understand how a Ugandan lives, or I can continuously try to only speak English, eat pizza, watch American movies, and never really know why Ugandans act the way or think the way that they do.

Even know after 5 months I feel that I have changed. I no longer have the urgent need to always be on the internet, I decided that po sho and beans are amazingly delicious, how everything in the world is linked, how difficult it is to accomplish almost anything in this country, and also how much I feel that I love the life that I am living right now. I love going to sleep underneath my mosquito net, taking cold bucket baths, fetching water from the nearby water tank after a heavy rainfall, talking with the cutest, young children in P1 who can’t speak any English yet, and surprising villagers by speaking to them in Luganda.

I worry a lot about many of my friends from back home moving on. But I know that the ones who matter the most in life will most likely still be there and ready to hang out when I return as if nothing happened. But something will have happened; I will have new friends from my time here. I didn’t replace the ones that I had back home, instead I changed and this stage in my life has the friends whom I have now. These are other Peace Corps Volunteers as well as host country nationals whose lives I actually understand far greater than if I had just visited Uganda for a couple weeks or months.

I’m never gonna be the same person after this. Life here is starting to normalize for me, and the feeling of the new has definitely given way to routine. Sometimes I look at my free, data-less, picture-less version of Facebook (0.facebook.com) on my Airtel modem (because that’s the only internet that even marginally works sometimes at my house) and see the going-ons and accomplishments of my friends and acquaintances. There is a new Mr. and Ms. Boston University, a colleague from my Berlin internship is starting his PhD in Biochemistry at MIT, friends are getting engaged, there are four seasons, and the world is getting smaller. But whenever I start to feel uneasy about my own accomplishments, I realize that I have made a living here in a Ugandan village as a Peace Corps Volunteer and that’s pretty fucking fantastic.

Good Enough

6/4/14

I wonder if this habit will stay with me for the majority of my life. I feel as if I am never satisfied with how I am behaving or what I am doing here. After every success, I feel that sense of accomplishment and meaning. Soon afterwards that feeling disappears and I become restless. I compare myself with other Peace Corps volunteers and feel as if I need to find a way to excel as a volunteer. I even designated today as my rest day after my 52km roundtrip bike ride to Kasana to eat at Beat Retina restaurant and to say hello to my host family. It was a bit sad because the two youngest children in the family didn’t recognize me and were terrified when I tried to approach them.

Today I slept in and watched a lot of The Walking Dead and Parks and Rec. I tend to alternate between the two shows. I rested a lot, drank some coffee, ate some hash browns, and I also made some extra furniture today: I built a shelf for my bathing area so that I could finally hang my towels and put up my toiletries.

*Aside: There are literally a thousand insects flying everywhere at night, which is why I turn off all of the lights inside the house when I don’t really need to use them. Even this computer screen has a few mosquitos, moths, and flying ants buzzing around it. Also every now and then I hear scurrying above my makeshift plywood ceiling. I believe it to be the resident mouse who plagues me at night by taking bites out of my potatoes and tomatoes that I leave in my kitchen baskets.

Yet I still feel restless. It was the same feeling in college; that feeling of wanting to do more. But now I’m living in a culture where more planning and efforts to initiate something may not always be the best course of action. I’ve heard it said that sometimes the Peace Corps Volunteers who waited and acted slowly accomplished more than those who wildly rushed in headfirst. I go on Facebook and I see so many posts about volunteer activities concerning DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) Day, Malaria Awareness Events, HIV/AIDS workshops, track and field days, and other events at Primary Schools and Primary Teacher Colleges.

I realize that that’s my problem. I keep comparing myself, my actions, and the consequences with those of the volunteers around me. I keep wondering what else I can do here at my site, rather than just being present in the moment. My best technological aid is also my biggest crutch; my 1TB external hard drive. It’s so easy just to plop down on my living room bench and watch any tv show or movie that I desire and forget about the world that I am living in. It’s like a very limited version of YouTube, since I don’t have any real internet access here in the house.

I then ask my supervisor, counterpart, fellow teachers, and neighbors and they all seem to think that I am doing a good job as a Peace Corps Volunteer and teacher. But I can’t shake the feeling that even though others think that I’m alright, I don’t feel that I am working to my full potential. I’m good at going at my own pace and setting my own goals, but I feel that I also have this need to fulfill the desires of someone else. I believe that that’s why I performed so well in college. I get my fulfillment by achieving other people’s goals. If I can exceed the standards of those who are observing me, then I meet my own standards.

I think that the first step is to view each day as a small victory. Every moment counts as me living in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer who is trying to do some good in this world. Now I just need to see that what I am doing right now is good enough.

Time After Time

4/4/14

It’s funny to think about time here in the Peace Corps. I remember back to my Senior Year at Boston University and how I don’t think I could have survived all of my commitments if I had not had a bicycle. I remember rushing from one meeting to the next with a fully packed schedule from the moment I woke up at 7:45am (15 minutes before classes started) until midnight (when I finally finished cooking and preparing dinner). If I wasn’t doing anything, then simple waiting, thinking, and being present in the moment was alright. But if I had something planned to accomplish and nothing was happening, then I would get frustrated at the loss of time.

Right now I am in the Tervan Gardens Hotel in Bamunanika because a local Ugandan youth invited me to join his ICT information session. This guy approached me the other day and explained that he was starting a small ICT, internet café business in Bamunanika. He and his father pooled their resources together in order to allow him to allow the locals to use the computers for printing, surfing the web, getting music, and other things that computers can be used for. I was very excited to meet him, because I thought that he could be my way of reaching out to the local community outside of the school through ICT education. I felt that his knowledge of how the local system works could mesh well with my ideas about fostering an ICT environment in Luteete PTC and in the surrounding areas.

I was informed by my friend that the meeting was supposed to start at 9am, but that I should show up at 11am since it was Ugandan time. I showed up close to 11:15am after registering the new Kiswahili books in the library, and I have been waiting here in the meeting room for the past hour. Of course this isn’t anything new, because meetings like these always start late and then everyone wants to leave early. Also a man had just arrived who said that he was informed to arrive at 9am, but he had to do some office activities and so he delayed a bit and arrived at 12:20pm.

Delaying a bit = 3 hours and 20 minutes at least

I can’t even get internet access to respond to messages sent by the Peace Corps or other correspondences. He Orange 3G/3G+ networks were not working near the Kabaka’s Palace yesterday and so I was unable to accomplish any of my online work. But that’s how time works here. I keep thinking back to my earlier post back when I was on the organic farm at Kulika; when the Ugandan trainer (now full-time staff) Ven said that “Ugandans are the masters of time.” In a sense, I feel as if I can somewhat agree with her. In the same way that someone who accepts death as a natural way of life becomes the master of death, the person who accepts the natural flow of time and doesn’t attempt to constrain it by schedules, timetables, and punctuality becomes the master of time. I suppose that my time in Boston made me a slave to time with the clock and alarm acting as my whips.

Even though I have gradually acclimated to Ugandan time, it is still bothersome to never really know when something happens. I am still not used to it, and I never know whether or not I must add a few hours to the starting time of a meeting or just arrive on time.

In spite of never knowing the microscopic details concerning time, I am very much excited about the macroscopic attributes of time. In the following weeks I will be hosting a fellow Muzungu friend for a day, working as the media specialist for a World Malaria Day event in Masindi, celebrate Easter Weekend in Arua, go to In-Service Training (IST) with my education group in Lweza, and then work as the media specialist in Gulu for the northern BUILD camp for Ugandan youth.

 

My only hope is that in time I too can become its master.