Where There Is No Checklist

22/6/14

For the first time in a long time I didn’t leave my site this weekend. I have been able to meet all of my obligations for the time being: training sessions, submitting the ICT Lab PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) Grant, finishing up the physics unit for Year 1, emailing organizations for potential project collaborations, grading tests, editing writing club papers, and establishing Nakaseke Community Radio segment with Mary. I have been so busy since IST, that I forgot how it felt to have a free weekend without any obligations to anyone. My biggest worries this weekend was whether or not the milk I bought was already pasteurized or if I was spending too much time playing Age of Empires II.

I actually have a running checklist saved as a Word document that has a list of things to eventually accomplish along with important details and information regarding them. As of this moment the checklist has a bunch of errands to accomplish, but I either have to be in Kampala to accomplish them or wait until another party accomplishes their end of the task. For example, I’ve already sent in my grant application, but I can’t work on actual fund-raising until Peace Corps Washington Headquarters allows it to go up on the website. I also need to do some work on the internet; however, I would require the real 3G+ speed that I can easily obtain once in Kampala. Then there are those tasks that I can’t accomplish because they occur in the future, such as the Central Luganda satellite liaison visit to the PCVTs in Mityana during their homestay month.

So I just chilled and enjoyed myself this weekend. But just like in college, I get restless and antsy when I find myself with nothing pressing to work on for more than a few days. I feel as if I get insecure comparing myself and wondering what more I could do with my time rather than just sit in my room and play a computer game or marathon watch Community.

In order to find a balance between enjoying my downtime and fulfilling my need to experience something new/challenging, I biked around some new paths around the hills of the sub-county. Yesterday I discovered that beyond the Kabaka’s palace is the Mulajje parish whose church is celebrating its 100th anniversary. I was told that in its heyday it could hold over 10,000 parishioners, but now barely a fraction of them make it to a service. Today I biked up the pathways of the hills to the west of Bamunanika and discovered a upwards sloping pathway. I noted how the houses in the sub-county are all equidistantly spread apart along the sides of a pathway or road.

I liked to imagine what the Ugandans thought of me as I rode my bike past their houses. I could tell that they were confused and wondered what I was doing there. The children were all excited to see me and would run up to my bike and yell, “Bye muzungu!” Eventually I found my way to the tallest point of the path and took a small break on a rocky outcropping named Impango Hill. It was literally some Ugandan’s backyard with tons of goats around me. Beyond me in the distance were the rolling hills of the Luweero sub-county that undulated beyond me until it met the open sky. For the next ten minutes I finally felt at peace for a while. Of course the quiet had to end and I had three Ugandan men approach me to ask in a high-pitched voice about my laptop.

I couldn’t get upset, because I knew that sooner or later this eventually happens whenever a muzungu stays in one place too long in an area inhabited mainly by Ugandans. I calmly explained to them that I understood them better when they didn’t speak to me in a high-pitched voice and left to go back to Bamunanika to buy tomatoes, eggs, and rice for dinner.

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Submitted PCPP Grant Application

I just finished submitting a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) Grant Application for the construction and furnishing of an ICT Lab building at the Luteete PTC. The unique thing about this grant is that it relies on donations from donors who give money through a link on the main Peace Corps Website. It’s pretty much a Peace Corps backed GoFundMe website in order for Peace Corps Volunteers to get their projects crowd-funded. I’ve also contacted people at my middle school, high school, and university in the hopes that some of them would be able to support me in this project. Honestly, I think that it would be the coolest thing to know that the institutions that were instrumental in shaping me also helped in supporting this community that I have also started to call home.

Banana Bread, Coffee, and Local Radios

18/6/14

It’s a cool morning over here at the Nakaseke PTC. Mary and Rebekah are the PCVs at the Nakaseke Demonstration School and Nakaseke PTC. I had previously talked with Mary at Lweza during the Student Friendly Schools and Gender Based Violence workshop back at the end of May. She explained to me that Rebekah had planned an HIV/AIDS workshop but the electricity was out at the PTC. They were then referred to a local telecenter in Nakaseke town where they could print out their materials.

Mary and Rebekah then went on a mini-adventure and went into town in order to find this telecenter. They asked around town and were directed to this building that was tucked away in the corner of the town. They were greeted by Jimmy who used to be a counterpart for a PCV named Zack Mayor who had helped set up the telecenter several years ago. It turns out that the community telecenter had a working radio station, computers with UTL Wifi internet access that was set up through funding from UNESCO, and a full library with books arranged with the Dewey Decimal System.

After explaining this to me, I told Mary that we should look into doing a radio segment once a week where we discuss an issue or topic concerning Uganda and the United States. We could talk about what we learned at our workshops concerning Cultural Differences, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Positive Discipline in schools, Family Structure, Food, etc. After the workshop, Mary went back to the telecenter and met the head guy named Peter Balaba who was Zach’s supervisor. Mary pitched the radio segment idea to him, and he seemed interested and scheduled for me to meet him at the telecenter on Tuesday.

So I arrived at Nakaseke yesterday and together with Mary we pitched our radio segment idea to Peter. He responded positively about the idea. We fleshed out the radio segment and decided that we would also play a few Billboard Top 100 songs from the United States to share some of our music with the local community as well as accept calls and text messages from listeners. Peter then invited us to go into the studio and introduce ourselves on the radio. We talked about being PCV teachers and our ideas for the radio segment every Tuesday at 6pm. Mary and I were very impressed with how professional Peter was as the RJ. It makes sense seeing as he was the supervisor of a Peace Corps volunteer for 27 months.

So right now I am enjoying the Nakaseke morning with freshly baked banana bread and French pressed coffee before I head back to Luteete. I’m now in the sweet spot where I have a bunch of projects going on at the moment: grant and fund raising for the ICT lab, managing the Facebook page and merchandise for Peer Support Network, acting as the Luganda Satellite Liaison for the PCVTs (Peace Corps Volunteer Trainees), making videos and taking photos for camps and other Peace Corps events, and now having a regularly scheduled radio segment.

I find that I work very well when I have a lot of things to do. I feel that I can do a lot in terms of accomplishing my personal goals as well as those of the Peace Corps during my time here and I have 20 more months to really devote my time to these projects.

Who I Am

7/6/14 – 16/6/14

June 7 – Saturday

It’s been a doozy of a week and so much has happened. I left site after a week of teaching on Saturday June 7th. I biked to Wobulenzi and picked up my Burning Ssebo rave outfit from the local tailor who left it with one of the MTN telecom workers. I then took a takisi to Kampala where I met a guy named Vincent at Brood on Entebbe Road. He was recommended to me by one of my fellow PCVs, Taylor, who informed me that he was a trustworthy computer salesperson who had sold computers, projectors, and other ICT equipment to PCVs in the past. I discussed the preliminary plans to purchase computers from him in order to furnish the ICT lab that is currently being constructed on the Luteete PTC campus. I then walked west on Entebbe Road past the Total gas station and turned northward where I met James near the Shumuk House who was the go-to guy for unlocking phones and modems in Kampala.

I made my way to the New Taxi Park where I new that I wanted to take the Busunjju Taxi Stage in order to get to Kulika for my Survival ICT session. However, I made a fool out of myself by arguing with the Busunjju stage taxi conductor that the correct fare was 3000/= instead of the normal 5000/=. I had just assumed that he was overcharging me because I was white. Instead of swallowing my pride, I took the Kakiri takisi for 3500/=, which took me Kakiri where I had to get off and then pay an extra 2000/= for the takisi to the Kulika training center. When I got there, the new Peace Corps Volunteer Trainees (PCVTs) were learning how to light a charcoal stove, wash clothes, and how to dress appropriately.

Honestly, it felt weird to be back there once again since Training of Trainers; this time as someone who has experience. I prepared for my Survival ICT session, and presented it to the PCVTs at 5pm. I was very pleased with my presentation and with how I was able to explain the necessary information in an easy-to-understand manner. It was interesting no longer being part of the new group anymore. I realized that some of the volunteers whom I have become friends with have started to COS (Close of Service) and go back to the United States and that some of my new friends will come from this group. What struck me the most about them was how clean they were and how all of them were healthy. No one was sick yet.

It felt nice sharing stories with them and having them ask the trainers questions regarding life in Uganda, the crazy stories that we have, and the hardships/successes that we’ve faced. As the night came to a close, I chilled with Loren and Nicole who used to be my trainers 7 months ago. It felt weird hanging out with them instead of looking up to them as people who knew more than I ever could know. They too expressed how weird it was that the volunteers in my group were no longer newbies, but volunteers who have gone through some trials and understand a little bit about what it means to be a PCV in Uganda.

I almost get this feeling that there exist friends of a PCV from back home who know you, and friends from your service who know you as your PCV self. They understand the hardships faced in this country and the difficulties and joys that can only be experienced here. I believe that experiencing the same hardships and trials earn respect among PCVs here that can be easily overlooked when sharing stories back with friends in the United States.

As I was getting ready for bed, I opened up the package sent to me from my two best friends back home, Sean BMO Hard Driveand Tyler. Inside I found an external hard drive with my old music from my laptop back home, movies, pictures, and the Eurotrip documentary from last summer. I was also given portable speakers, and a nice pair of headphones. I was so unbelievably ecstatic and overjoyed to look at the footage from the Eurotrip and remember that I once adventured there with my best friends. I then reminisced hardcore by listening to the music that I enjoyed during my high school days and remembering the associated memories with each song. I specifically remember listening to the songs sung by my high school chorus back in 2006 at Loyola Blakefield and knowing now that there are some members of that group who are no longer living.

June 8 – Sunday

Kampala Old Taxi Park        I woke up early and got in the Peace Corps van headed to Kampala to give the PCVTs the Kampala tour. We were all split into groups of 4 with a PCV or Ugandan guide to lead us through the day. We were dropped off near the New Taxi Park, and I led Cindi, Dave, and Mebrat with the help of one of the Rachels. We exchanged money at a Forex Bureau, bough Powermatics, registered sim cards, passed by the Green Shops, chilled for a bit at Brood, passed through the Craft Market, checked what was inside the New City Annex, passed through Nakumatt Oasis, reconvened with the other groups at Garden City, ate lunch at Prunes, and then made it back to the New Taxi Park where we took the Busunjju Taxi back to Kulika.

I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the cooked Kulika food and a game of volleyball with the PCVTs.

June 9 – Monday

I returned back to Kampala today after helping give a Welcome to Uganda skit put on by the Peace Corps Uganda staff and other PCVs. I checked into the Annex and then met up with Rachel at Garden City. We ate at a nice Indian Restaurant on the roof and then chilled at the hipster Sound Cup coffeeshop until we met up with some other PCV friends at Brood. We were all convening in Kampala for a Femke Psychology training session at Peace Corps Headquarters.

That night at the Annex was intense because we had found out that one of our volunteer friends was sexually assaulted. We heard about the possibility of things like this happening, but it’s hard finally hearing that it can happen to one of your fellow volunteers. However, this is the Uganda that we live in and unfortunately it includes people who want to harm others.

I think that events such as this really showcase how each Peace Corps country’s PCVs act as a family. When something bad happens, we react in such a way to help that person or let that person know that you care. We even joke and say that even though we may severely dislike another volunteer, we wouldn’t deny him or her the opportunity to stay at our house for the night. We are a family in every sense of the word. We don’t always like each other, we may even hate each other at times, but we still support one another.

Then again events such as these showcase how difficult Peace Corps is from country to country. It has been said that Peace Corps Uganda has one of the highest ET (Early Termination) and lowest volunteer satisfaction rates among Peace Corps Countries in the world. It’s not like the United States where everything is fairer, laws are followed, and the bureaucracy eventually gets things done. In the Peace Corps, we have to deal with problems that may never go answered and issues that may never be resolved due to one reason or another.

June 10 – Tuesday

The majority of the day was spent at the Peace Corps Headquarters on Kololo for the Femke psychology meeting and a PSN (Peer Support Network) meeting. The Femke training involved ways PCVs coped with stress and the problems that we all faced in-country and ways to deal with them. One of the biggest issues discussed during this meeting was how we could make psychological treatment and therapeutic sessions available for PCVs who needed it and just wanted to talk to a trained professional.

The next session involved PSN and what the group could do to become more active. PSN is a group comprised of PCVs in Uganda who want to support the other volunteers in-country. In the past this involved getting Peace Corps Uganda shirts created, preparing regional Welcome Weekends for recently sworn-in groups, and calling random volunteers in order to check up on them. However, during his meeting it was discussed that PSN should play a much larger role by offering up weekly meditations, helping out those who are getting site changes, and having more of a Facebook page presence for our fellow volunteers.

June 11 – Wednesday

I spent today eating delicious, soft-serve ice cream on Entebbe Road hidden inside of a small shopping center. IHidden Soft Serve Ice Cream Kampala then took a Jinja-bound takisi with the Rachels and Ravi to Lugazi where I then took a PH (Private Hire) with one of the Rachels and Ravi to a PCV’s site in Mabira Forest. The PCV’s name was Aaron and he lived at the start of the forest trails in Mabira Forest. His project involved ecotourism and the creation of the Skyview ziplines that crossed over the river that ran through the forest. We were going early to Aaron’s site in preparation for the Burning Ssebo PCV camping event.

The ride from Lugazi to his Griffin Falls site was absolutely breathtaking. We passed through rolling fields of sugar cane and winding pathways that made it feel as if we were driving through a large corn maze. In the distance we could see rounded hills with forests on the top.

We spent that night resting from our journey from Kampala and playing Settlers of Catan.

June 12 – Thursday

Sugar Cane Fields to Griffin Falls    Rachel, Aaron, Ravi, and I trekked through the trails of Mabira forest and I loved every minute of it. It was such a new experience for me, because I had never walked through a tropical, rainforest before. The foliage and smells were so different compared to the ones back in the States. We made our way through winding pathways of decomposing leaves and good earth, crossed a log to get over the river, and then passed through muddy trails until we made it to a clearing near Namusa Hill. This was the clearing where Burning Ssebo would take place. We started collecting firewood and prepping our future campsites by shoveling away cow pies and slashing shoots coming out of the ground.

We ate a delicious lunch of lentils and rice prepared by Aaron’s cook back at his campsite. We then trekked all the way back to his house at Griffin Falls where Loren was waiting for us. Once again we played Settlers of Catan and prepared food for the next few days. I specifically remember cooking pasta and what was left over for the rice after Aaron’s pet goat, Django, ate through the cavera (plastic bag).

Journal Entry this Night:

     “It’s so nice right now, clean and comfortable in our own tent. It feels so good andCrossing Mabira Forest River

cool out here. I absolutely loved today, it’s adventures like these that I will remember for a long time.”

June 13 – Friday

Today was the start of Burning Ssebo. I left with Rachel, Ravi, and Loren to get to the clearing and setup camp earlier in the day before everyone else arrived. We take a different route to get to the clearing and cross the river on an old, wooden bridge instead of a log. We get to the clearing and it starts drizzling as we set up camp. Ravi, Rachel, and I set up our camp in the middle of three trees that we connected with neon rope, clothelines, and a hammock .Other groups started arriving throughout the afternoon and evening and it was just such a cool experience. Everyone set up their tents in different areas and every congregation of tents had its own decorations and setup.

It felt like a dream or adventure at this time. In this clearing were 30+ PCVs camping together just for the hell of it. I don’t remember too much about this evening except that there was a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni salads being shared, and singing in harmony with Aaron by the campfire.

June 14 – Saturday

 Journal Entry:

“I want to just stay here and chill I want to just enjoy the day and for a time forget all of the stress and projects associated with my site. To recharge and not stress about it here for the time being.

I love knowing that I can look back on this experience and remember it as being such a cool time out on the 2nd clearing in Mabira Forest.”

Burning Ssebo Hair Wraps    I remember waking up freezing because I was sleeping in a tent with minimal clothing on. The sun rose and the day got warmer and lazier. One of my PCV friends traded a piece of a homemade chocolate chip cookie for the pasta salad that I had shared with her the night before. Aww man it was such a tasty cookie and I couldn’t remember the last time that I had eaten a cookie like that.

I helped collect firewood, make mint tea, eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, took a nap, took pictures of the girls making hair wraps in our camp. I remember as I chilled in my hammock looking up at the sky and how crazy it was that we were all still in Africa, but in a very remote location in a forest clearing. I knew then that I would look back on this weekend and feel as if it was just a dream.

I also remember meeting Andrew Boston, a PCV who coaches the Ugandan National Lacrosse team and who Andrew Boston - Blakefield Don Class of 1999had also graduated from my Loyola Blakefield, my high school in Towson, Maryland. I thought that it was the coolest thing to meet another Loyola Don in this specific clearing during this specific event. He had also gone on the Kairos retreat, and he shared with me his love for our high school. Andrew told me that whenever he’s asked where he went to school, he tells them not only about his alma mater but also about Loyola Blakefield and how his experiences there shaped him to become the man that he is today. That was an awesome experience to meet him here.

Evening came and 15kg of pork were brought in to cook dinner. Several of the volunteers created a pork preparation assembly line that led to pork being placed on skewers for the grill. Man that was some damn good pork that we ate that night. I even made a peanut butter and soy sauce glaze for the pork skewers. After dinner, we pregamed a little bit and then gathered around a wooden man that we burned after hearing the history about this site and the volunteers who first stumbled upon it.

It seemed that people were too tired to dance, so the music wound down from the portable speakers (the batteries were dying anyway) and we started making our way back to our tents. Before I went to bed, I asked the Rachels and Ravi what lesson they took away from Burning Ssebo.

Burning Ssebo June 2014Rachel B: It was nice to see all of the different Peace Corps groups together in one place.

Rachel C: I don’t like camping nor too much time relaxing and not doing anything.

Ravi: I need alone time after too much time spent with others.

Marvin: There are so many cool PCV experiences and sites that wildly vary.

 

June 15 – Sunday

This was a very rough day. We woke up, struck camp, packed up, and made our way down another pathway that turned into a road running parallel to power lines. We made our way to Aaron’s site, took a PH to Lugazi, took a takisi to Kampala, and then I bid farewell to my friends and took my takisi to Wobulenzi where I took a brief respite at the NB Hotel restaurant. I charged my dead laptop and phone there and prepared myself for the wave of work that I had to do this week. I called my dad and wished him Happy Fathers’ Day and talked to my little brother about his life now that he just finished his Freshman Year at UMBC.

 Journal Entry:

“You know what? I’m just so beat from this week. So much was done and so much was experienced. I honestly feel as if that 2nd clearing was a beautiful place. We made our temporary home over there for a time. Also, I’m right. What I experienced this weekend was a beautiful blue of trails, good friends, and warm camps.

I’m so tired right now, but there are things that I still need to get done, such as wish dad Happy Fathers’ Day and work on the many projects that I’ve started.”

June 16 – Monday

I decided not to teach today and instead focus on writing the PCPP Grant for the ICT lab construction. My supervisor called me and told me to see the progress that has taken place concerning the building of the ICT lab. When I had left the week before, a 60ft x 20ft plot of dirt was dug up. Now I could see a foundation and brick walls that were almost as tall as me. I was excited to see tangible results for my project thus far and how enthusiastic my supervisor and fellow community members were to have an ICT lab.

I performed my daily chores, ate po sho and beans lunch, and then biked to the top of the hill in order to do grant work, which requires internet in order to write the proposal. However, I got mad at the children who surrounded me at the top of the hill. There’s literally no way for me to avoid them, because they see the white guy on a bicycle and start yelling, “MUZUNGU!” and then start running towards me. It’s one of the most annoying and frustrating things for me to deal with when I’m sitting on a rocky outcropping at the top of the hill and these Ugandan children form a circle around me and poke me, poke my laptop screen, and rub the hair on my legs when I tell them that I’m busy working.

I got frustrated and decided to bike away from them. I biked to the far end of the hill and when I looked back they had laughed and run after me. I then lost my cool and yelled at them in Luganda: “I don’t want to play with you!” Their smiles vanished, they stopped laughing, and they slowly backed away and walked home. I felt like shit after doing that because I knew that they were just curious to see what I was doing on my laptop, but I just couldn’t deal with them today. I just needed some privacy to work on my computer without interference, especially with on/off internet access and needing to concentrate. If only I could impart to them that what I am doing can only help them in the long-term if they just gave me some time to do my work without distraction. I have attempted to tell this to them, but every time I bike to the top of the hill they seem to come to me.

A large part of this frustration also comes from knowing that all the attention that I’m getting comes from my Burning Ssebo Outfitskin color. They do not seem very interested in what I have accomplished; rather they want to know where I am from and what I am. However, I place great stock in judging a person based on that person’s personality and experiences instead of what that person looks like or what that person’s status is. I don’t want someone to like me just because of how white my skin color is. What hurts me even more is when I ask the children what they want to be and they respond, “I want to be white!”

I would say that this week describes who I am as a PCV. I train, help in different groups, teach, and chill out with other PCVs. I go through a wide array of emotions within the course of an entire week and get to travel through many different methods and see very different horizons and landscapes as well as hear dozens of stories and tales. I do believe that experiences are what make you who you are as a person, and the experiences that I go through in even just one week change my outlook on the world and viewpoints slowly by slowly. In other words, this is a brief summary of a week in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Coming From a Different Perspective

6/8/14

It’s interesting being in this new position. I used to be part of the group that was the newest group, but now I feel like a sophomore. I’m asked to share my opinions, experience and knowledge of this experience. And it’s humbling. I remember where I was and what I would think or do before this experience.  But this is my life right now. It’s crazy remembering back to when Africa was this mysterious continent where all the aid from developed countries would end up in. However, right now I’ve been given a broader perspective on the world.

I see these new volunteers, and have gotten to share some stories with them. But there’s still this distance between us and them. It’s almost like we don’t really share who we really are with them because we know that they aren’t in the same mindset that we are in right now. They wouldn’t be able to understand why we do the things that we do without having first understood the days we have spent here.

The new volunteers are at this cusp where their life literally turns upside down. What once was a fantasy becomes a reality. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to go back to life in the United States and say, “Well, I’m back.” To have that finality for this glorious stage in one’s life that others can only dream of. We’re living the dream, and that’s pretty awesome.

However, I can’t wait for them to learn the ropes and start to continue a legacy of new PCVs who come in and then drastically change in some way, shape, or form during the 27 months.

Life seemed so simple back in the United States, but right now it feels like there are just more layers to our life. It makes me think about what I will be bringing back to the United States. Will there be any way for us to really re-integrate back into our natural culture?

A Writing Club

One of the other secondary projects that I’ve been starting at Luteete PTC has been the writing club where students write whatever they want and then share it with the group for editing. After the editing process, the works are uploaded on this website (http://toseethevillage.wordpress.com/) for the whole world to read.

I’m going to add this site as one of the pages on this blog so that others may have the opportunity to read what my students are writing.

A Normal Night

4/6/14

Okay, so yesterday was a bit stressful and describes a typical night here in my house. I had spent the majority of the day teaching physics to my students, collecting assignments, biking to the hill to email the survival ICT presentation, leading a writing club, and tutoring some students in mathematics. I decide to reward myself by playing a computer game for a few hours. That was my first mistake.

By the time I had finished it was too dark to see anything outside and it started raining. I forgot that my clothes were still drying on a line outside. I hurriedly removed them from the line and brought them back inside. Dinner consisted of guacamole from over-ripe avocadoes and rice. After finishing my Insanity workout, bathing, and washing the dishes I get a start on grading my students’ assignments. The assignment was to diagram the forces between the earth and the sun as the earth revolved around the sun. The only force that they were supposed to draw was the gravitational force between the two bodies. However, most of them cheated off one another because all of the answers included the same exact diagram and wrong explanation of forces.

I then start lesson planning for the next day, but sausage flies start buzzing around the room. Sausage flies are these insects that have the body of a small, undulating sausage and they sound like the devil’s hair buzzer. I try to smack one out of the air, but instead hit the lightbulb in the ceiling which breaks. I take the lightbulb from the bathing area and affix it to slot in my room so that I can have light. I then enact a revenge killing of the next four sausage flies that enter into my house.

Once I sit back down at my desk to lesson plan, I hear a crackling sound outside and the power goes off. So I use my laptop as my only source of light to continue lesson planning. Then the sound of a zombie-like creature emanates from right outside my window. I look outside and see that there are several dogs that are consistently growling and circling around my house. I was glad that I didn’t need to pee then. The dogs eventually ran away, but then random men started walking by the window of my house and then walking away into the dark bush. It was about 1am at this time.

I finally finish lesson planning and go for my pre-sleep pee when I see a small creature poke its head above my bathing area shelf. So the scratching and scurrying sounds that I hear every night come from this giant rat the size of a small cat. I then go outside armed with a large hoe in case any rabid dogs, random men, or giant rats decide to attack me on the way to my pit latrine since I refuse to pee inside a bucket inside my house.

*Note: Other volunteers have what is fondly referred to as a “night bucket” where one can pee in around and during bedtime because the pit latrine area is too far away and too dangerous to go to at night.

I safely make it back from my pee, wash my hands, climb into bed, and thank God that at least it rained so that tomorrow I could fetch water from the rain collection tanks rather than pump water from the new, nearby pit latrine that still tastes like gasoline.

Life is calling and sometimes I just don’t want to pick up.

Frustrations

3/6/14

You have to be frank sometimes, because it gets hard to fake it. Today Uganda celebrated Martyrs’ Day, which is a national holiday. There were parades all over the nation, family celebrations, and schools also closed for the day. However, it was still a work day for me. I would say that Peace Corps teaches patience, but that it also makes one frustrated. I still have that piece of America that values some sort of privacy and respect. I don’t mean that many Ugandans whom I meet here aren’t respectful, it’s just that social boundaries and respect come in different forms here.

It felt good to sleep in today, and I continued the routine of making breakfast chappats, French pressed Nile Coffee, and washing clothes. I decided to be more proactive today and attempted to make the promotional video about Northern Camp BUILD. However, as it turns out my Adobe Premiere Elements 10 continuously crashes after I add any video segment, which greatly increases the time needed to create a video. Even after uninstalling and reinstalling the program, it continued to crash, which did not bode well for future video making endeavors.

So I decided to then bike up to the hill where I can get internet access in order to work on the Survival ICT presentation that I would be giving this Saturday at Kulika for the new group. I would also be able to check on the progress of the project that I am currently working on concerning the creation of an ICT lab at the PTC. My supervisor and I had been working together over the course of the past three weeks. He consulted the college architect, and a plan was drafted that would lead to the setting of a foundation and creation of a building block ICT lab. The total cost of the project is 17.25 million shillings, and he said that the college and community would be able to fund 7.25 million of those shillings.

My plan is to have the other 10 million shillings funded by organizations, friends, and families back home through a crowd funding website. I had luck with GoFundMe before, but in order for donations to be tax-deductible a GoFundMe page must be associated with a certified charity with a 501(c)(3) tax id. Every day I have been in contact with members from my Maryland high school, Loyola Blakefield, and the Boston University Catholic Center in order to see if it would somehow be possible to use their charity’s id for the GoFundMe page so that donations would be tax deductible. It’s been slow work, since I sometimes have internet in my house and on the hill.

The other option would be to register my project on the actual Peace Corps Volunteer Projects, which would allow all donations to be tax deductible and sent to me 100% without any charges. So far, I am waiting on that to pass through the Peace Corps administration.

So that the possibilities are going through my mind while I sit on a rock on this hill, and every so often a group of Ugandans stop by and literally crowd around me as I type on my laptop. I know that they’re just curious to see me working on the laptop, but it really disrupts my concentration. Here I am attempting to work on training presentation and ICT lab funding as 10+ Ugandans squat within 2 inches of my being to see and poke at my laptop screen. It shouldn’t bother me; I shouldn’t even be bothered by it, but it took so much of my effort not to just tell them to go away. I continued to tell them that I was busy working (even as my power was draining and my internet intermittently would switch from 3G+ to EDGE), and they continued to ask me questions.

I think that they realized that I was upset, because they later came back to give me mangoes. But even ripe, juicy mangoes couldn’t help me update my ICT presentation with information from the non-customer friendly websites of MTN, Orange, and Airtel. Honestly I used up so much data and time in my attempts to find seemingly simple information about each company. Sometimes I would click on a link on one of the websites and the link would bring me to a blank page.

I then bike back home, and by then I’m already frustrated with how the day off turned out. I know that I have no reason to be frustrated, but I just am. The last frustrating event was when some of the neighborhood teens waited by my front door as I was bringing back my semi-dry clothes from the clothesline. They asked me for my bicycle and where I had just returned from even though they knew that it was too late to ride my bicycle and that I had just come from the clothesline. When I answered their questions in Luganda, they all burst out laughing. That just irked me.

*Right as I wrote the previous line in this entry, my neighbor knocked on the door and asked to be given a Microsoft Word lesson. I spent the last two hours showing him how to type, highlight words, make a table, and change the font.

To be honest, helping my neighbor this time was both annoying and satisfying. I was glad to help my neighbor and his great curiosity to learn about computers, but I was also not in the ideal mindset today to be as effective a teacher as I hoped to be. The feelings that I am going through now remind me of my college days when I was spending upwards of 8 hours in the computer lab in my attempts to solve a homework set or class project.

The problem now is not that the problems are too complicated, but that they are too simple. I love my neighbors and this community, but sometimes it bothers me that even the adults whom I work with have no idea how to type a simple sentence on Microsoft Word, let alone open up an internet browser. And then there are teenagers around the world who have created websites, revolutionized coding languages, and changed the landscape of global technology.

My hope is that through the creation of an ICT lab in this community can help educate and empower the Ugandans in this community to forge their own path in life and show them that there are possibilities greater than the life that they live in right now.

I also understand that my frustration, along with all things in life, too shall pass.

Student Friendly Schools Training and Homestay Orientation

Student Friendly Schools Training and Homestay Orientation

1/6/14

“It’s hard living a double life; one at site and the other one when you leave it.”

Last Wednesday I once again left site to attend a SFS (Student Friendly Schools) regional workshop at Lweza. On my way there, I stopped in Kampala to eat at Prunes again. It’s funny, because I get excited for an excuse to stop by Kampala in order to get something that reminds me of home, such as a sandwich or a burger. I guess that now I believe it when they say that a Peace Corps Volunteer will literally travel several hours and walk for more just to get a solid burger.

I finished eating and then made my way to the Entebbe Road intersection where I was able to hail a takisi, instead of having to wait at the New Taxi Park Kajjansi/Entebbe stage. There were only 14 volunteers there who were participating in the workshop, and 12 of them are the same group of volunteers whom I shared the homestay experience with in Luweero back in December-January. The other two were Brittany and Rachel from Masindi. Honestly, it felt very weird going back to Lweza so soon after IST with only a handful of us volunteers rather than the entire education group of volunteers.

I personally felt that the workshop could have been condensed into a session or two during IST, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I liked hanging out with the other PCV’s and eating free, Ugandan food. I guess that these 6+ months really got me used to Ugandan food and showed me how much I love it.

The rest of the workshop was dedicated to find ways of discussing gender based violence and corporal punishment in schools and surrounding communities. I think back to PST when I first arrived in country and how I was very attentive during sessions and training. But now I pay attention for the first 30 minutes of a large group session and begin to lose focus. I also learned that my love for ice-breaker activities and energizers is inversely proportional to the amount of time that I spend in country.

Then on Friday I was whisked away to stay at the New City Annex in Kampala since I was slated to leave early to go help for homestay orientation in Mityana for the incoming group. Saturday morning was a bit rough for several reasons: I was overheated from sleeping in one of the single rooms which literally is smaller than a jail cell without a window, I was tired from having to consistently wake up early every morning and move from one training site to another, and I had also had a few (many) drinks the night before. Fortunately, I rallied just in time to be picked up by my old Luganda language trainer, Herbert, and the training coordinator, Mary-Anne, to be driven to Mityana.

I loved the drive because I was sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle with leg room, space, and the knowledge that the driver wasn’t inebriated while driving (like some takisi drivers). We get to Mityana and the families arrive late. We go over reasons why they were chosen to host Peace Corps volunteers, what they expected from Americans, their pre-conceived notions about America, the financial situation, important dates, and how my experience with my homestay family was. The coolest part about this session was that it was done primarily in Luganda. For the parts that I couldn’t understand or couldn’t express, Herbert would directly translate for the audience. However, I was still capable of giving small speeches and explanations concerning some of the medical and cultural points.

Of course, we finish the orientation session 2.5 hours later than planned. By the time I was driven back to Kampala, it was too late for me to go back to Luweero, so I once again stayed in the Annex. This time around I hung out with some of the older volunteers from the group before mine. However, the dynamic had changed since I last saw them. I had met most of them during training, and the way that we talked to each other then varies so much with how we talk to each other now. It’s that dichotomy that I had mentioned at the beginning of this article.

At site, so many volunteers are very conscious of their actions. They sit through meetings, share small talk with neighbors, follow a sense of decorum, and act as these ideal representations of America. However, this is only one half of our true personality. Literally as soon as another Peace Corps Volunteer is involved the speech changes from politically correct and slow to somewhat crass and fast. And usually when two or more PCV’s are gathered, there too will you most likely find alcohol or some other means of celebration or treating oneself.

Sometimes it’s difficult having to keep this “other” side of you hidden from the local community. Now I’m not saying that I want to drink at site, but I can’t show my crazier and adventurous side that is just a part of me as my quieter and subdued village side. As PCV’s we want to share the best that American culture has to offer, but that gives a skewed version of the US. Sure we tell them that not everyone in America is rich or has nice things or is smart, but how can they believe us when we can drop over 20,000/= for one meal on the weekends and some people in the village won’t make that much in 2 months.

The beauty of each person and country comes from both the successes and faults. I want my community to know that I am not a perfect volunteer, American, or person. Perhaps if they can see that then they can better see that America too is struggling in its own way. Yet, I still want them to respect me, and in this culture if one doesn’t save face or portray oneself as being good then respect is lost. I guess that sharing goals 2 and 3 of the Peace Corps is a bit harder than just telling good stories about the United States.