Butterflies

27/5/14

I would definitely say that today is a high. It’s almost as if everything is okay again. I feel that I am right where I need to be in life. I am sitting on the Kabaka’s Hill near his palace cool in both the shade of a gigantic mango tree and a cool breeze. I was able to teach again today. I tried to make it as hands-on as possible since it was a physics lesson about the different kinds of forces and how they made objects move. I was also able to successfully create these stick cages around these berry saplings that I got from the organic farm on Kulika during TOT (Training of the Trainers). I also mopped my floors and did my laundry in preparation for training tomorrow at Lweza.

The wind feels amazing; no matter where I go I always appreciate the breeze the rustles through the grass and trees around here. When I close my eyes, it reminds me of biking on the Esplanade of the Charles River in Boston or through the neighborhoods of Berlin or the forest pathways of Amstelveen in the Netherlands. I’m sure that the sun and the breeze and the falling mangoes will be one of the things that I will miss the most about this place when I go.

Also since rainy season ended, there are a plethora of butterflies wandering around through the air. It almost seems too idyllic to be true. I am sitting on this rocky outcropping of a hill and off in the distance are small huts and trees dotting the rolling hills of the Luweero sub-county and a seemingly endless stream of butterflies are emanating from the distance. It’s peaceful up here, and I thin that this spot may be one of my favorite spots in the entire sub-county. It’s gorgeous up here. and I wish that I could take a picture to show you, but I left my camera at home. But like all things in life, the moment is so much more beautiful than any picture.

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Welcome Back Satellites

5/19/14 – 5/22/14

So on Monday I travelled back to Kampala in order to make it to TOT (Training of Trainers) for the incoming Health and Agriculture group of PCVs arriving at the beginning of June. The training was held back in Kulika, where the past few cohorts had their PST (Pre-Service Training).

So in my last post I talked about my delicious coffee at Acacia Mall in Kisementi. The mall was absolutely gorgeous Definition Store Acacia Malland breathtaking, and it reminded me of those really upscale malls in the United States that had a nail salon, gelato, elevators (a big deal in Uganda), supermarkets, movie theaters, restaurants (like KFC), and hipster stores. Other than the Rwenzori coffee and hazelnut gelato that I obtained, I also explored the Definition Store (https://www.facebook.com/definitionafrica) that is all about Ugandan pride. The store reminded me of a small Urban Outfitters feel, but had stickers, shirts, pants, pillows, fabric, bags, postcards, and buttons all about Uganda such as: Live Aid Let’s Trade, RUN KLA, Matooke Republic, Banange! (My Goodness), R&B (Rice and Beans), RAP (Rice and Peas), and various other hipster Ugandan-inspired designs.

Return to KulikaI especially appreciated the first one about focusing on trading with African nations and their own economies as opposed to band aid solutions or throwing money at the problem. Eventually I left the mall and made my way back to a takisi that was supposed to take me to Lugogo Mall where a Peace Corps coaster (large van) would take me and several other volunteers to Kulika. I then received a call from Rachel Belkin, my fellow PCV friend and warden, explaining how there was a terror attack alert for Lugogo Mall and areas with heavy traffic. Of course, I was stuck in a takisi in traffic. As my takisis slowly crawled back to the center of the city, I continued receiving more and more calls from Rachel asking about my whereabouts. Finally, it was decided that the Peace Corps coaster would just pick me up from where I was stuck in traffic at Nakuwa Taxi Park.

Fortunately there was no terrorist attack, and all the PCVs safely made it to Kulika for TOT. My first evening there was weird, because it brought back memories when I had first arrived in country. It was odder still for the older PCVs who had arrived in-country more than a year ago. A lot of them kept saying that they were not the same person whom they were when they had first arrived in Uganda. And even though I have only lived in-country for 6 months, I too feel as if I am such a different person.

Now I return as the satellite liaison for the incoming Luganda language group (each incoming group of PCVs are split Empty Kulikainto different language groups dependent on their future site after PST). I have experienced what it means to start teaching, implementing project ideas, and am getting used to the difficulty associated with accomplishing seemingly simple tasks in this country. It was cool to see the messages posted on the incoming PCVs’ Facebook group wall concerning their last minute packing questions and anxieties concerning their departure.

Honestly, this TOT just got me excited to see how a new group adjusts to life in-country. I think that their enthusiasm and wonder at the newness of things in this country will only serve to re-inspire me to give back and help teach these newbies what I already know. I also expect to learn a lot from them in return.

Yet, despite these changes things still remain the same at Kulika: the farm is still organic, the dorms look the same, the grass is still beautifully manicured, the food is still delicious, the bathrooms still have warm showers and toilets, and there are still some familiar faces around. I still can’t shake the feeling that there are ghosts of my time spent there when my fellow PCVs who moved to Uganda with me were still felt a sense of wonder at the newness of everything and the adventure ahead. I still believe that there is an adventure lying ahead, but this time I will no longer just be an observing passenger.

*Note: Satellite Liaisons are a special type of trainer whose duties include visiting the language site of the incoming PCVs group (in my case Luganda) and helping the group members better integrate into the culture and help them understand the importance of the language learning.

Right Now

5/19/14

Right now I am sitting at La Patisserie, adjoined to the front face of Acacia Mall, which is one of the nicest malls in Uganda. I stopped by here on my way to Lugogo to get picked up for TOT (Training of the Trainers) back in Kulika for the incoming June 2014 group of PCVs. And for the time being I am enjoying the divine breeze and relaxation that always comes with a good cup of coffee. This is why I love the city; I love the diversity of people and cultures that live within it from the vaulted hills of Kisementi on Kololo to the flood of people on Luwum Street. Even though I now live in a small village in Luteete, I still find comfort in the going-ons and happenings of a city like Kampala.

*Note: Of course I am only ever in Kampala when Peace Corps allows me to visit, because to do so otherwise would be a blatant disregard for the Safety and Security Guidelines.

Acacia Mall Outside

Acacia Mall Outside

Acacia Mall Inside

Acacia Mall Inside

 

 

 

 

Tukomyewo (Let’s Go Back)

5/12/14 – 5/16/14

So Ravi, the Rachels, Lindsay, Alaina, and I spent the week on the Ssese Island. It was finally nice to spend some timeSsese Island relaxing after the stresses of attending IST and being the media specialist at Camp BUILD. It turns out that Ravi and I chose the best method of getting on the island, because the other girls described their “journey from hell” that involved delayed takisi’s leaving from Nyendo near Masaka to take the “free” ferry to the west side of the island, and then having to take an island takisi to the northeastern part of the island where the hotel was.

We stayed at the beautifully serene Panorama hotel, which is located about 5 minutes walk south from the northern port of the Ssese Island. Since it was the off-season, we were allowed to stay in huts that had four beds in them for 15,000/= per person, per night. It was complete with a toilet, hot running water, and an open air restaurant. The hotel is run by a Ugandan man named Arnold, who demonstrated some of the best hospitality/administration that I have seen in country.

Lake Victoria Canoe RideI was happy to take it easy on the island, which doesn’t really have that much to offer in terms of adventuring other than walking up the dirt road to other small trading centers (where one can purchase local Kalangala honey) or paying 50,000/= to have one of the local Ugandans to paddle you in a leaky canoe on the island inlet as the sun sets. I loved chilling on the island, and I can honestly say that the sunsets witnessed on that island were some of the best that I’ve seen in Uganda.

I was surrounded by some of my closest PCV friends on a leaky canoe, and didn’t care that we actually had to use a half-cut jerrycan to pour water out of the canoe as we paddled in the evening. Later during the week we met a German traveler, Karl, who was making his way through Uganda. Ravi and I spoke to him in German. I had no problem understanding; however, I had trouble speaking and verbally forming sentences and narratives in my head because I was thinking in Luganda. Karl told us that he has been a mailman in northern Germany for the past 62 years and that back in the 50’s he heard traditional African tribal music on his radio. That music inspired him to explore Africa. Ever since then he has traveled through over a dozen African countries. He shared his knowledge of the history and politics of the different countries and the ones that had more native German speakers (such as Namibia).

I actually thought that it was poignant that he was this lone German man who was still living out his life based on that Ssese Island Beach Desksmoment of inspiration from decades long gone. In a sense, I suppose that I too am living out my dream at the moment. I was also surprised to find out that our Ugandan hotel owner, Arnold, also spoke fluent German that he learned at his Secondary School in Entebbe. Once again, I was able to have a conversation with someone in both Luganda and German, just like that other Ugandan whom I met at Frikadellen restaurant at my trainers’ MST three months ago.

However, despite feeling comfortable at the hotel, I felt this urge to go back home. I wasn’t comfortable being too comfortable. I was restless, even though I this was my only week to really relax and not have any responsibilities other than chilling. As the week progressed, I understood that I was ready to go back to my home in Luteete where I could actually do what I came here to do. So at the end of the week we packed our bags, bid farewell to our German friends and boarded the ferry back to Entebbe where we took a takisi from Nakiwogo Port to Kampala.

Ssese Island Trees TwilightRavi and I had a farewell lunch at Brood, where we met some other NGO volunteers about this restaurant and bar that they discovered in Kampala. Funnily enough the area is located in the Kabalagala neighborhood of Kampala, which is also the Red Light District. The NGO volunteers told us there was this restaurant called Jakob’s Lounge that served decently priced American cocktails as well as burgers and bagels. At first I wasn’t impressed, until they showed us a picture of the menu involving mojitos, whiskey sours, white Russians, mimosas, and long island ice teas ranging from 8,000/= to 12,000/=.

Afterwards, they told us to go to De Posh, which was this local, bumping open-air nightclub with all of these flashing lights and Ugandan/White Girl American club music. Unfortunately, I told them that I had to head back to site and couldn’t party in Kampala without a good enough Peace Corps reason to stay overnight since that was against Peace Corps rules and guidelines.

I bid farewell to Ravi and headed back to the New Taxi Park where I took a takisi to Wobulenzi and then rode my mud-encrusted bike back home where I knew I rightly belonged.

Tu Gende (Let’s Go)

5/12/14

So today was fun and a bit stressful, because my friend Ravi and I were delirious from exhaustion after returning back from Gulu yesterday. Then this morning we knew that we had to make the 2pm ferry from Nakiwogo Port in Entebbe, headed to the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria. We left the house around 8:30am this morning, but then it started raining so all transportation stopped until the rain had passed. By this time, it was already 9:30am and we knew that it would be a rush to make it to the ferry in time. So we biked from my house in Luteete to Wobulenzi, and it took about 45 minutes. We arrived in Wobulenzi and took the first takisi (taxi) headed to Kampala.

It was funny, because I was covered in mud and was drenched after my bike ride on the dirt roads of the Luweero Sub-County. When I was entering the takisi, the passengers kept telling me not to sit next to them because I was dirty. I was a bit annoyed at first, because I was being discriminated against for being muddy. I took a few deep breaths in the takisi and calmed myself down after rushing through the muddiest bike ride ever. We got into the New Taxi Park in Kampala round 12:30pm and quickly rushed to the Entebbe Taxi Stage where I was once again discriminated against for being muddy. I actually laughed when the driver said, “Don’t sit in here with your bag. You’re a dirty man.”

Naturally I proceeded to bring my dirty bag inside the car, place it at my feet, and sit down on the chairs. The takisi Ferry Ride to Ssesequickly filled up, and we made our way to Entebbe. We got into Entebbe sometime after 1pm. Ravi and I split up as soon as we got off the takisi: he withdrew money from Stanbic Bank and I pooped in a nice muzungu-ish sports bar/restaurant nearby. We reconvened after finishing our respective tasks and ran as fast as we could to Nakiwogo Port. We literally reached the pier where the ferry was taking off at exactly 2pm and then found our seat in the ferry just as it took of for the day.

Right now I am sitting in the basement area of a non-crowded ferry that is travelling south on Lake Victoria towards the Ssese Island. I bought a chappat and coffee from the small food vendor and am surrounded by water in the middle of Lake Victoria. This was just another adventure, and once again I can continue my streak of never missing a major transportation deadline.

Tu gende.

We are the Ones Waiting

5/5/14 – 10/5/14

I feel exhausted beyond belief; it’s actually funny because I feel just as tired as the many sleepless nights spent duringCamp BUILD Running Colors my College of Engineering days in Boston University. We finally finished the last day of Camp BUILD (Boys of Uganda in Leadership and Development) at the Ocer Secondary School in Gulu, Uganda. Tired and delirious doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel right now at 1am after the final celebrations for the week.

I will be brief in my description of camp, because I aim to post a video documentary about camp within the following month.

This week was dedicated to providing an educational and fun camp experience for Ugandan males aged 16-18. They arrived on Sunday and were sorted into different colored groups that corresponded to different leaders ranging from national heroes such as Nelson Mandela to local leaders such as Tekya Abraham who founded Breakdance Project Uganda. Like other leadership camps, the week progressed with a theme revolving around heroes and villains. Monday and Tuesday were devoted to focus group sessions concerning HIV/AIDS, Agribusiness, WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), Nutrition, and Malaria. In addition to these sessions were classes based on leadership, public speaking, creativity, heroes vs. villains, and the sticky issue of gender in Uganda.

Camp BUILD GroupsEach group was led by a PCV counselor and a Ugandan co-counselor. The sessions were also taught in a similar fashion by PCV and Ugandan specialists. Out of all of these classes, I thought that the gender classes were extremely intriguing. Uganda has a very interesting gender dynamic where men are seen as being very superior to women. For example, a woman must kneel when they meet men, especially if she is that man’s wife. Men are also allowed to have several wives and if a girl gets pregnant in school, then she is forced to leave and the guy who impregnated her can still remain.

The goals of the camp were to empower the campers to become leaders in their own right, as well as to become more knowledgeable in subject areas that are important to emphasize in developing countries such as Uganda. As the week progressed, the campers were given more and more responsibility for the focus group sessions. Then on Friday the campers presented skits, dances, and demonstrations involving the subjects of the focus groups, while incorporating the skills learned through the other sessions.

Another big contribution to the success of the camp was the inclusion of the In Movement, which is an organization Camp BUILD In Movementbased in Kampala that utilizes singing, art, and dance to inspire Ugandans of all ages and groups. Its members, who are Ugandan, have worked with students from schools over Uganda as well as various other camps.

This camp has drained me of my energy reserves, especially as the Media Specialist Staff member. I was in charge not only of documenting the activities of camp and making the Facebook Page, but also of taking videos in order to eventually make a mini-documentary showing what Camp BUILD is all about, and making the end of camp slideshow.

Honestly, I don’t think that there is any easy job at camp. And as the days progressed, the thousands of white ants started swarming in the night, the electricity would go off, the bathrooms would flood, the campers would get rowdier, and the counselors and staff would stink since we couldn’t wash our camp shirts for a week.

We are the OnesBut I’m hooked. Even though I was unable to bond on a more personal level with the campers like the counselors did, I felt that I contributed in my own way to the success of this camp by using a skill that I had. With the theme of Heroes in mind, In Movement created a simple song that could be sung by three different groups of people. Two of the groups sing, “We are the ones, we are the ones waiting” in harmony as the third group sings, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Despite its simplicity, as the groups combine and merge together while still singing their distinct parts, I couldn’t help but feel that I was doing the right thing here. I mean, who else can say that they helped volunteer at a summer camp for Ugandan teenagers as a Peace Corps Volunteer

We wanted the campers to know that they shouldn’t wait for someone to help them or to lead the way to a better future, but to understand that they are the ones whom they’ve been waiting; they are their own heroes. I can’t believe that camp and IST are already over, but that’s how time works over here in Uganda.

Camp BUILD Forward

IST (In-Service Training)

27/4/14 – 2/5/14

And it ended as quickly as it began. On Friday I left my site in order to get to the Lweza Training Center, situaPrunes Cafe in Kampalated somewhere in the middle of the main road between Kampala and Entebbe. I stopped at Kampala on the way there and hung out with some other PCVs at Brood and then at Prunes, which reminded me of a hipster café with free/fast wifi, fruit smoothies, sandwiches with cream cheese, and silly names for all of these food items designed to appeal to the young adult demographic of this generation. Afterwards, I wanted to explore Nakivubo Market, which had previously burned down in November while my Education Group (Cohort 2) was still in PST (Pre-Service Training). The location of the market on Google Maps didn’t match the location of the physical location of the market.

We get to the market, and it’s literally on the small corner of a block located near the New Taxi Park. All of the vendors were groping us and asking us to buy their wares and clothes. We didn’t find anything interesting, so we made our way to the Kajjansi Stage Taxi headed towards Lweza.

Lweza Volleyball ISTWe arrived at Lweza, and even before checking in I joined many of the other volunteers at the volleyball court. It felt so much like a reunion. However, this time around it seemed that everyone had matured a little bit. Sure we still enjoyed going out and having adventures, but it seemed that as a whole we weren’t too concerned with having to hang out with certain people or needing to be loud or acting like we would never see each other again. We had gone through the many highs and lows of living as Peace Corps Volunteers at site for the past three months, and we had some stories to share with each other.

The training itself seemed like a rehash of what we had already learned about cultural acclimation, teaching with positive behavior systems, and using the VRF (volunteer reporting form). However, the most important part of IST seemed to be the presence of our chosen counterparts from our respective sites to join us and attend the same sessions that we did. In some ways, it felt as if the counterparts were more in-tune and realistic when it came to contributing to discussions and activities.

We reconnected with other volunteers, and shared stories and methods that worked and shitty situations that others IST Discussionshad to deal with. However, the most memorable events of the training was dancing and hanging out with the PCVs at Bubbles Express, having a South Sudanese man to buy me and “my girlfriend” drinks, playing volleyball with counterparts and other PCVs, seeing the return of our literacy coordinator Audrey and our Safety and Security Advisor Fred (who had just returned from a liver transplant), holding a Chopped-themed cooking competition using sagiris (charcoal stoves) and a grill and the three mystery ingredients of matooke, spicy Doritos chips, and mangoes, and participating in a trivia contest on the last night held by the PCV duo Rachel and Rachel. It didn’t really hit me until the last night.

Iron Chef Matooke ISTThe Rachels played the PST Music Video about our time at Kulika during the final tallying of the points during the trivia contest, and it made us emotional. I remember making that video the night before Thanksgiving 2013, and I included every volunteer in our group. Since that time, four members of our group had ET’d (early terminated) their service. I remember joking about the music video and saying I wanted to film and include all of us while we were still blissful and happy. I wanted the video to be a reminded of how we came in as a group and how we would be able to support each other and have fun at the onset of this adventure that is the Peace Corps.

Right now I am back in Gulu as the media specialist (ha!) for the Northern Camp BUILD. I left Lweza this morning and took a Postbus from Kampala all the way here in a 7+ hour journey. Even the bus ride was an adventure; I had the driver stop at Wobulenzi so that I could pick up my mosquito net, bedsheets, and contact solution that I had forgotten at my house. My counterpart had left the day before and preemptively left them at the police station in Wobulenzi. I picked them up, after having asked the Post Bus to wait for me, and then we continued our way up the Kampala-Gulu Highway.

About 6 hours later we arrived in Gulu and hung out at Coffee Hut and at the Indian Restaurant a street over from the Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant. We later reconvened at Coffee Hut and boarded a taxi to get to the Ocer Secondary School where both Camp BUILD and Camp GLOW would start.