It feels so nice to return back to my home in Luteete after a weekend of traveling. I left site last Wednesday to go help 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.
We 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 morning, 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.
I’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.