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 and 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
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. I 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
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 and
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
“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.”
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 had 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.
Rachel 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.
“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 skin 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.