Touch and Go

31/7/14

“And so it goes, and so it goes…”

I still feel like I compare myself too much with other PCVs whose accomplishments posted on Facebook seem to dwarf my day-to-day victories. After a good phone call with my friend Ravi in the Wobulenzi market today I feel a bit better. I just have to be comfortable being where I am at this very moment and understanding that there will be days when I feel like I’m accomplishing a great deal, and days when it feels as if I’m going backwards.

Yesterday I travelled to Wobulenzi en route to Nakaseke for the radio show. For some reason my Orange internet access stayed at EDGE the entire time which was frustrating because I had to figure out what was wrong with my personal student loan account. I had applied to have a portion of the Peace Corps readjustment allowance to be paid in monthly installments towards my personal loan payments. However, I was notified that my paperwork that I filled out during the initial application and during PST was never processed and so I was late in paying my payments this past July.

I had to deal with my bank’s customer service by using the Orange international bundle of 45 minutes talking time with anyone in the United States for 6,000/=. Funnily enough the customer service felt like it sped by at lightning fast speed compared to the way things move here in Uganda. It turns out through the bureaucracy of Peace Corps, Washington D.C., and the banks my paperwork was never submitted that allotted my monthly installments.

Fortunately, the problem was squared away by the nice employees at the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, which was a pleasant surprise.

Before I left Wobulenzi, a Ugandan man approached me and said that he noticed that I spoke with an American accent. He asked me if I had some time to speak with him about his daughter. I was a bit annoyed since I assumed he wanted me to sponsor his daughter, marry her, or bring her back to the United States with me. Despite my apprehension, I agreed to speak with him. He informed me that his daughter was about to depart for the United States in mid-August to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. She had been enrolled in some sort of international studies program that sponsored her to study abroad in other schools around the world. She finished that last two years of her high school studies in Italy after completing her O Levels here in Uganda.

I was very impressed to hear this man talk in superb English about his daughter. He himself obtained his Bachelors in Makerere University in Kampala and then his Masters in Nairobi, Kenya. It felt good to hear that there were programs that sponsored bright Ugandan students to have the opportunity to see other cultures and study in other places that allowed them to have chances that many of their peers and family members would never have. He requested that I meet with his daughter in order to answer her questions regarding the United States since it would be the first time that she would ever travel let alone live there. I felt honored to be requested by this man, who also correctly guessed that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and scheduled to meet him and his daughter in one week’s time. I then bid him farewell and left Wobulenzi.

I arrived in Nakaseke in the late afternoon and made my way to the radio station. I had originally planned to discuss the differences between the education system here and in the United States as the theme for the evening’s radio show. I had also hoped to bring the Luteete PTC and Nakaseke PTC Kiswahili teacher to talk as a guest speaker on the show. Unfortunately, she forgot about the scheduled date and told me that she couldn’t make it to the show. Coincidentally, the head of the Nakaseke Telecenter, Peter, was sick in Kampala and couldn’t host the show that night so it was cancelled and I made my way to Rebekah’s house to hang out with her for the rest of the evening.

I woke up to the smell of French toast and Nakumatt Blue Label coffee prepared by Rebekah before heading back towards Wobulenzi. When I got there, I called my supervisor to meet me and sign the grant paperwork for the VEW cookstoves for my college. He arrived, signed the paper, and asked me if he could see the ICT Lab appeal video that I had created to spread awareness about the project. I showed it to him on my external hard drive. I stepped away from the laptop to work on some other paperwork when I noticed that he was clicking on some files after the video was done.

I walk over to the screen and laugh because I see that he clicked on the Community folder and started watching an episode. I explained to him that Community was a famous American comedy tv show. He then bought me a Guinness, as he always does at Wobulenzi, and left to go back to his house. As I drank the beer and continued working on my laptop I got a little bit worried because one of the episodes of Community was titled Advanced Gay. In the wrong hands, the title itself could be misconstrued by a Ugandan who wouldn’t understand the satirical comedy of the show due to the current atmosphere and attitudes towards that subject in Uganda.

I wasn’t worried about it at all, but at the very least it got me thinking about repercussions involving a misconception with the episode. Furthermore, it bothered me to think that in this is such a non-issue in the United States to the point that the episode could be broadcasted on a family tv network, but it would be absolutely taboo and forbidden to say the same for Uganda. The situation here in Uganda is so different, unknown, and untested that it’s even suggested that PCVs create euphemisms and code words when talking about the subject in order to not attract any unwanted attention. Ah well, this is the Uganda that we live in today.

So I finish up my work in Wobulenzi, buy some linoleum flooring for my dirt floor kitchen, then bike back to Bamunanika where I call my mother who celebrated her birthday in California with my grandparents and relatives. It felt good just hearing their voices again and knowing that they were having a good time together. I guess that I’m getting old, because I’m starting to just enjoy the small talk and exchanges with good friends and family members back in the United States.

“…and you’re the only one who knows.”

~Billy Joel, And So It Goes

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Waning

7/24/14

Last week, I decided to do something good for myself and stay at site this whole week instead of going to Nakaseke for the radio show on Tuesday last. I was just exhausted from the weekend in Kampala and the constant moving back and forth from one place to another. It felt good to just stay put in my site and enjoy the company of my teachers, students, and neighbors. The Year 1 students are taking their Pre-Promotional exams and so classes are finished for Term 2. Right now I am in the middle of projects. The Peace Corps Administration has supported my idea of doing a Peace Corps Uganda video of Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. In addition to this project I have also been attempting to get more people to fund the ICT Lab creation in my village on the main Peace Corps Website. Interestingly enough, there aren’t as many views on the video that I made or as many initial donations that I thought I would receive for the project.

Honestly, this makes sense because everyone moves on. A status about the Peace Corps on social media receives a lot of likes, followers, and shares at the get-go but as time goes on the newness wears off and people lose interest. A lot of the messages and posts sent to me start and end with “How’s Uganda?” This makes sense because I too lose interest when one of my friends does something different and neat, and continues to do so for the next few months and years.

I guess that I just want this project to be funded and succeed so badly that I’m intrigued at the lack of interest that it’s generating. It’s probably also because it’s not a glorious or too out there project that would generate a lot of buzz. It’s just an ICT Lab in a village, which might be a bit banal for most people’s taste. And I put myself in my Facebook friends’ shoes and realize that if I saw a crowd funding appeal link and video, I probably would just scroll past it since I would feel that I didn’t have the money to spare on a project like that.

Interest in what I’m doing seems to be waning, but that’s alright because my passion for being a Peace Corps Volunteer hasn’t been diminished in the least bit. I just know that one way or another my college and I will find a way to succeed and create this very important resource for a community that lacks it.

Connection

27/7/14

I think that one of the biggest needs of a Peace Corps Volunteer is the need to connect. It’s the need to connect with the village and to feel integrated at site, as well as the need to connect with other Peace Corps Volunteers who know what you’re going through. Then there is the need to connect back with your old home back in the United States where most of our engrained memories and attributes stem from. I realize just how connected I am in my village with the village neighbors who lived around my house and the free picture-less Facebook that allows me to keep in contact with everyone when the internet access works.

However, as much as technology has progressed to allow us to stream videos of ourselves chatting with others it cannot replace the feeling that the physical presence of another human being can provide. I feel a marked difference between seeing a Facebook message written to me compared with a physically mailed letter. Then there is the familiarity of hearing a good friend’s voice on the phone telling you about his exploits of the past few weeks while you’ve been away. You hear the rise and fall in tones and the emotions behind the story that only the best writers could hope to capture in written text.

Yet I think that the physical presence of someone is something that we as social human beings crave. We crave to touch, smell, see, and listen to another living human being. We desire to be in the presence of another person who can empathize and share his or her problems, secrets, fears, successes, and joys with us.

I also believe that it is the human spirit that I am most attracted to. It is the enormous potential to do good and bad combined within one person who has a choice to do either.

This past weekend, I was able to experience that good side of human connections. On Friday I left to meet up with my Safety and Security Warden VisitPCV Safety and Security Warden, Rachel B, who was doing a checkup on the Northern Central Group’s evacuation point in Luweero should there ever be an emergency when we would need to congregate. We ate lunch in Kasana where I worked on filling out another grant for Virunga Engineering Works (VEW) Cookstoves that would be placed at my site and allow the PTC to save up to $360 every year from firewood transportation and purchases. We made our way back to Wobulenzi where we picked up a ton of groceries for the weekend.

Back at my site, we chilled and had good heart-to-heart talks while eating tikka masala and jalebi cooked with ghee, rice, and pumpkin bread. That was an awesome Friday night, just hanging out and not worrying about the problems that we would be facing with our projects or that lay ahead of us. The next day two to other PCVs, Rachel C and Lindsay, came over to visit for the day.

We explored the local Bamunanika market since it was market day, which occurs every Saturday fortnight. The girls where looking for prom dresses in preparation for the Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference that is themed as Peace Corps prom and happening at the end of August. We got some sodas at Bamunanika and then got a tour of the Kabaka’s Palace by the caretaker, Kimera, who also gave the tour when Hannah visited about 3 weeks ago. This time, he gave us gifts of cold bottled water, flowers, and a raw egg each from the palace chicken. We thanked him after seeing the grounds, and departed for home.

Rachel B, Rachel C, and Lindsay continued on back home and I plopped myself down on a rock by the dusty, main road leading to Luteete PTC from Bamunanika and called my two of my best friends back home. I talked with Sean and Audrey about their experiences in Baltimore and their most recent adventures. For some reason, just hearing their hungover voices and laughs made me feel like I was right there with them in a Baltimore apartment. I felt so comfortable talking with them on that rock as Ugandan children surrounded me and played this game where they tried to see how close they could get to me before freaking out and running away.

I just felt happiness and joy listening to my old friends tell me stories and how they were feeling after an eventful night. I Rachel and Lindsay in Bamunanika Marketwished that I were back home with them even for just 1 hour in order to just be with them. We said goodbye for the time being and I rejoined my PCV friends at my house. The dinner plan was to eat Philly Cheesesteaks, so they had brought cans of Campbell’s Cheese Soup. We baked bread from scratch, sautéed onions and green bell peppers, and broiled steak with garlic. Those sandwiches were amazing, and it’s funny because this whole weekend started because Rachel B said that we should eat cheesesteaks because she found can of Campbell’s Cheese Soup.

We chilled again at night, and then slept off the heavy meal. In all things, I find it hard to put into words how content I was with this weekend, with the friends who visited me, the meals that I cooked, the places I went, the people whom I talked with, and the connections that I made.

“Time is a linear dimension.”
~Lindsay Carrera, PCV Education

The Cost of a Soda

7/18/14 – 7/20/14

*A typical glass bottle of soda costs 1000/=

I left my site Friday and headed towards Kampala because I was asked by Peace Corps staff to help out with training for the Global Health Service Provider (GHSP) Peace Corps Volunteers over the weekend. I also had to work on the Peer Support Network (PSN) merchandise activities, such as putting in an order for more shirts and kitenge drawstring bags from the local tailors who live near the Taxi Parks. I made my way to Brood near Center City and realized that I had very little money left in my account and that neither my stipend for the month nor the most recent reimbursements had come in. So I literally had 100,000/= for the weekend with which I would have to pay for lodging, food, drinks, and transportation.

I bought a loaf of multigrain bread at Brood because in times when money is tight I figured out that having a large loaf of good bread will sustain me for at least a few meals. I then checked into the New City Annex, chilled for a bit, and then decided to explore a new area of Kampala since I had the extra time in the afternoon. Thanks to Jenn Ross, whose house I stayed at during my most recent Mityana Site Liaison visits, I knew about another new mall called Village Mall in Bugolobi in Nakawa Kampala. I took a takisi near Center City headed towards Luzira-Bugolobi and then got off at the Shell gas station near Village Mall.

The mall reminded me a lot like Acacia Mall in Kisementi (which also has a swanky KFC), but it was open air and had a Village Mallfew different restaurants and a totally legit café called Java Coffee and Tea. I took a picture as I was nearing the entrance, and the security guards told me to stop because it was illegal to take pictures of the mall. I played the dumb tourist, and they said that they would have to arrest me but that they would let me off the hook if I bought them a soda. I just smiled at them and walked through and wandered through the mall with the nicest bathrooms that I have seen in country (aside from Acacia Mall). There was a legitimate book shop, interior design stores, real leather shoe stores, and other shops that would only appeal to muzungus.

I walked into Java Coffee and Tea and ordered a normal house coffee. Ah that was some good coffee. I remember sipping on my cup of coffee, realizing how little money I had left for the weekend, and how alone I was.

Journal Entry:

“Right now I’m at Java Coffee and Tea at the Village Mall about to drink a nice, hot house coffee in the Kampala afternoon. It’s quiet and interesting doing all of this exploring by myself like I’m used to.

Peace Corps is truly filled with the experience of disparity that I have never seen before. I mean, I’m in a gorgeous open air mall with specialty coffees, but I woke up in a village without running water and nothing that comes even close to how nice this place is.

Yet, it’s more comforting in my village where I feel at home. There are times when I forget that I’m living the dream, and times when I wonder if I’m making the most of it. The newness of the experiences has been wearing off, but that is to be expected. I’m at the stager where real work can be accomplished.

I sometimes can’t tell if I’m happy or not. I feel the most alive when in motion: physical, mental, and emotional.

I feel like with each new life experience, I understand less and less about this world. I’m less sure about absolutes that I used to hold inviolable and eternal. I still believe that the purpose in life is to help others, but now I’m not so sure what that means or entails.

I’m just unsure of it all and what it all means.

At the same time the world seems both immensely large and small. I could be back home in 2 days if I needed to be back, but at the same time I still will not learn about all of the secrets that my village and sub-country have to offer.”

I bought 50g of sliced bacon and a jar of peanut butter at the Nakumatt in the mall, and then walked back to Center City. I finally met up with some other Peace Corps volunteers in the Annex who were spending their last weekend in Uganda before they left for good on Sunday. As a result, I decided to celebrate with them that night. I’ll spare the details other than that one volunteer ended up with 675,000/= more than he started with, there was a ton of dancing, a tooth was slightly chipped, and bedtime was around 4:30am. Despite the fun, it was very sad bidding farewell to the first somewhat large group of volunteers whom I considered friends.

The next morning was a bit rough, but I rallied sometime around noon and took a takisi headed towards Wandegeya-Bwaise where I would get off at the Kolping Hotel where the group of 13 GHSP volunteers was beginning its training. In the back of the takisi, I conversed with an older Ugandan man who is the director of the Lugoba Secondary School. He was very impressed that I could speak with him in Luganda, and was very friendly. The most interesting part about this specific conversation was that he said that I was speaking to his heart.

It reminded me of the phrase that was shared with us during training: “If you speak in someone’s second language, you’re speaking to the brain. If you speak to that person’s first language, you’re speaking to the heart.”

Kolping Hotel GHSPI arrived at the hotel and was briefed by the training staff about what the program was for the day and Sunday. I was slated to give the survival ICT presentation within the hour and then to show the volunteers around Kampala the day after in order for them to buy the necessary electronics that they needed. In the meantime I ate lunch at the hotel and was almost in tears by how good it was. It was your typical Ugandan buffet at a workshop, but it was beautifully prepared and there were grapes in the fruit spread!

It was at this time that I also figured out what the GHSP volunteers actually are: they are licensed medical doctors who are Peace Corps Response Volunteers who have either finished a whole Peace Corps before or have 10 years of licensed experience. So I presented the information to them concerning what phones to buy, how to load airtime, how to get on the internet, what a Powermatic is, and also allayed their fears since a bunch of them admitted that they were not very tech savvy.

I told them that I would meet them Sunday morning near Center City in order to give them a brief Kampala tour where they could pick up their needed electronics. A Peace Corps vehicle gave me a ride back to the New City Annex, and on my way back I thought about how weird it was that I was saying goodbye to PCVs who were leaving in less than 24 hours and giving presentations to PCV Trainees who had been in-country for less than 24 hours.

I ate dinner at this Turkish restaurant called Istanbul where I ordered hummus, babaganoush, and fresh vegetables with yogurt on freshly baked foccacia-like bread. I chilled in the Annex for a bit and hung out with some PCVs who had attended a Ugandan Football Game that evening. The Cranes beat Mauritania in an underwhelming (especially right after the World Cup) but nevertheless exciting match filled with Ugandan sports pride.

I woke up tired, and made my way to Garden City where I met the GHSP volunteers. Since it was Sunday, most of the stores were closed but we made our way south towards the Taxi Parks where they could get their Powermatics and burner cell phones. On the way there I got to know some of them. Five of them had already finished a full 27 months in the Peace Corps. So it was weird because in a sense they were already seniors who knew more about Peace Corps than most of the volunteers in-country, but they were also newbies who didn’t yet understand what it means to live in Uganda.

Yet I still felt more open and candid in my discussions with them, simply because they understood what being a Peace Corps volunteer entails. I shepherded them to the Shoprite on Entebbe Road where they bought Powermatics, and the nearby MTN store across from the Total Gas Station where they bought unlocked burner phones. We made our way back to Brood where I bid farewell to them.

As I picked up my backpack that I had left at the Annex, a Ugandan man started following me. He told me that he was born-again Christian and Catholic who had just come from mass and that he wanted me to give him 1000/= to buy food or pay for his ride back to his home. He kept telling me that he wasn’t lying to me and that he wouldn’t spend the money on alcohol or drugs. I told him that I would buy him bread at Brood, and he responded that he doesn’t like bread and that he would rather have rice and sauce instead.

I then offered him the rest of the water from the complimentary water bottles that I collected from Kolping Hotel, but he insisted that I give him 1000/=. I told him that I would pay for his meal or the fare for his ride, and he would tell me that I didn’t trust him. He was right. Even though I believe that people are really good at heart, my time spent here has made me a bit wary of strangers upon my initial meeting with them. Of course he would single me out because I was the muzungu and would help him.

I got really upset and pulled him aside on the sidewalk and told him that I was giving him money but not because he believed in God or was Christian. I angrily gave him 1000/= and then told him to pray for me without even looking him in the face. For some reason I was just very upset that he kept following me and saying that I didn’t trust him.

I started to slope down the roads leading to the Taxi Parks where the street children started to swarm around me and ask me for cash. By now they laugh because they continuously ask me, “How are you? Give me money. How are you? Give me money…” I try to talk to them in Luganda, but it seems as if their parents or leader instructs them not to divulge any information to passersby. Usually I just wave them off and make sure that they don’t steal anything from my pockets or bag, but this time I held out the remainder of my water bottle to them. I instructed them to share it amongst themselves and then to throw it away in the nearby trash can instead of on the road like everything is usually disposed of in this country.

Doing that brought a smile to my face as well as theirs. A nearby boda man who witnessed the whole exchange was also chuckling in the background. Honestly, I don’t know what to make out of this weekend and the experiences that I had during it. The only thing I do know is that there are times in life when you are utterly alone even in the midst of other people’s company, times when you feel so alive and energized when you are physically alone, and that 1000/= buys you a soda.

Journal Entry:

“I came in on Friday alone and I left today alone. But in-between there were a lot of people and experiences here. Lots of hellos and goodbyes and interactions. It’s honestly crazy. And now there’s a wild wind blowing.

Sometimes I feel as if I have to write down and reflect on an experience before I feel like I’ve had some closure concerning the event. I suppose it could even be said that the reflection itself becomes part of the event.”

The Traditions of Gods and Cookstoves

12/7/14

Friday was definitely a busy day. I woke up a bit later than I wanted to and started editing my video detailing the ICT Lab Construction and how to donate the money to the Peace Corps Website (search Roxas in www.peacecorps.gov/donate). I was scheduled to meet with an Economic Development PCV, Jim Tanton, who visited my site because he was working with Virunga Engineering Works (VEW, http://www.metamorfose.com/#!the-need-uganda/c16mg) to implement cookstoves at different PCVs’ sites. The idea behind them is that most schools and colleges throughout Uganda have to provide meals to the students, and most of them cook using the three-stone method. This isn’t the most efficient method of cooking since a lot of the heat is not directed upwards towards the ssefuliya (metal cooking pot) and is instead emanated outwards. Virgunga Engineering Cookstoves would are 70% more energy efficient than the three-stone method and also reduces cooking time by a little bit. This energy efficiency allows the school or college to use less firewood per term, which adds up to savings of sometimes more than 600,000/= per term.

So far Jim has visited a few other schools and colleges besides mine in order to take preliminary measurements regarding each individual site. The project would cost around $9600 which is covered by a PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) Grant through the Peace Corps Small Grants forum. The only catch with the project is that some of the initial money saved from the energy efficiency at the beginning has to go towards an HIV/AIDS related project such as a workshop, an HIV/AIDS testing day, an awareness day, or something other than just putting up posters on the walls. Other than that the project really helps out the schools and colleges and allows for the savings to be used for other expenditures every year, including volunteer projects.

So Jim met with the Luteete PTC bursar, cooks, and other staff members in order to take initial measurements of the college kitchen, which is a smoky room with two 70cm ssefuliyas that utilize the three-stone fire method. The estimate was that the college could save up to 300,000/= every term, which adds up to 900,000/= every year. I plan to draft a contract with the college that would allot a significant portion of this money to up-keeping the ICT lab as well as allowing for further development of the site in terms of paying tutors on time, purchasing new books, and future plans for later PCVs that will come to my site.

However, the only problem involved finding someone to write a grant for me since I am already in the midst of a PCPP Grant at my PTC. Fortunately, Rebekah Roland at the Nakaseke PTC agreed to help me in this regard. The goal is that I would write the contents of the grant and she would then put her name on it instead of me.

Jim then left, and I hurriedly went back to editing my video for the ICT Lab fund-raising. I was rushing because the power was out and I had limited time to use my laptop and then render the video, especially since Adobe Premiere Elements 10 still crashed on me, and I also had to make it to Mityana before it got dark since I was expected at the Central Luganda Group’s Homestay Farewell Celebration on Saturday morning. I finished the video by noon, packed up my things, and then biked to Wobulenzi. I took a takisi to Kampala and then had to walk all the way to the main Barclays Bank because I literally had 3000/= left in my wallet. I had spent a lot of money during 4th of July, and I also spent money every week travelling to Nakaseke for the radio show and then to Mityana for my homestay visits. Fortunately, Peace Corps has this thing where PCVs are reimbursed and given a stipend when travelling and training for Peace Corps events.

PCVs are given 22,500/= per diem for every day that he or she is travelling and 30,000/= per diem for every full day that that PCV is doing training: such as workshops, trainings, medical reasons, and any other reason that Peace Corps would need you to travel anywhere. In addition to the per diem, PCVs are also reimbursed for the travel costs incurred for these events.

Example: Volunteer Travel Reimbursement Form NOV 2013

Fortunately, the Peace Corps staff processed my previous reimbursement forms and the money was in my bank account. I withdrew my money and then made my way back to the New Taxi Park to get to Mityana. I walked up the road from Busuubizi to Kololo hill to stay at Jenn’s site again and passed out after very busy day.

I woke up on Saturday and shared a cup of coffee with Jenn. I went out on the porch to read some Peace Corps blogs, and I read a post about a PCV in another East African country who was distraught about what happened at his site. It turns out that he was teaching a primary school class and one of the male teachers took some of the students to the farm where he raped some of them. I was stunned to read his testimonial and hear about something so vile that could be done. The worst part about it was that there was nothing that he could do about it. The system was so corrupt that even if the girls were to testify against him, the male teacher’s word would still hold more weight than the girls.

It hurt me so much to read this, especially since I was also a teacher. I then thought back to my site and thought of the innocent children whom I played with everyday and how much I would give to ensure that something like that never happened to them. The testimonial that I read moved me so much, that I was brought to tears for a bit and just needed a few moments alone to process what I had just read. It’s one thing to know that these things happen, but it’s another thing to read or hear about it from a someone who’s grown so attached to his or her students.

I collected my thoughts and journeyed to the New Highway Hotel in Mityana where the 5 PCV Trainees were havingNew Central Group Dance their homestay farewell celebration. There was the usual sharing of traditional dances, proverbs, sayings, speeches, music, and a trivia contest. We finished up the celebration and the trainees, Herbert the Luganda language trainer, and I went to visit the Ttanda Archaeological Archives. The legend goes that the founders of the Buganda Kingdom were Kintu and Nambi whose descendents comprise the Royal Family of the Kabaka (King of the Central Buganda Kingdom). Nambi’s father was Ggulu, which means heaven or the above. Nambi had two legendary brothers known as Walumbe, meaning death or disease, and Kayikuuzi, meaning excavator.

At some point Walumbe began killing Kintu and Nambi’s children, and Ggulu told Kayikuuzi to bring Walumbe back. This resulted in a chase leading to Ttanda where Walumbe dove straight into the ground. Kayikuuzi would then dig deep holes right where Walumbe dove in order to excavate him. Mystically, Walumbe would appear elsewhere on the Ttanda grounds and mock Kayikuuzi. Walumbe kept diving into the ground and Kayikuuzi kept trying to dig him out until over 200 conical pits were dug.

*Note: Muganda means someone who is from the Central Uganda Kingdom. Baganda is just the plural form.

Ttanda Archaological GroundsWe walked onto the grounds which are still regarded as sacred to some of the Baganda people. The mysticism of the pits involve Baganda who have visions about certain things, such as twins, peace, colors, electricity, sweetness and other things that pertain to various senses that cause them to make a pilgrimage of sorts to the Ttanda grounds to pay respect to the ancestors of the Kabaka. Each pit represents something specific that a Muganda pilgrim would go to after seeing a vision. For example, if a Muganda in a far-off Central village was crippled and then had a vision about one of the pits, he or she would travel to the Ttanda grounds and go to the pit having to do with cripples and walking. That person would then spend anywhere from a night to several months there in the hopes that the ancestors would help her in some way. In the very least, the vision would have brought her there to allow her to pay respects to her forefathers and foremothers.

Local Brew PotsThere were many congregations of Baganda there. Some were drinking the local alcoholic brew out of clay pots, some were smoking joints around a smoky fire, others were praying on woven mats, some were offering sacrifices of pineapple and various fruits, while others were wandering around the Ttanda grounds. We were told that some of the Baganda who came there smoked in order to commune with the ancestors. Honestly, it reminded me a bit of some Native American tribes who smoke peyote in order to go on spirit quests.

To show our respects, we removed our shoes and continued wandering around the community filled with pits. One of the PCVs, who was a geologist, was completely befuddled by the pits because it didn’t make any sense how they came to exist. From a geological standpoint there was no obvious reason how they came to be near the Mityana area. Some of the pits went down for hundreds of feet and we were told of a story about a man who fell down one of them and died. He was eventually retrieved by a brave Muganda.

Kayikuuzi SpearsSo we continued through the grounds and made our way out of that place of pits and ancient beliefs. What intrigued me the most about the visit was the coexistence of these local beliefs with the overarching strength of religions of Christianity and Islam. I tried to relate it to the beliefs of Voodoo and Christianity in Haiti, the belief in the Holy Death and Christianity in South America, as well as the concept of basic superstitions in American culture coupled with our own religious beliefs.

So it was another jam-packed weekend filled with a lot of different things happening one right after the other. Fortunately, I have a full schedule ahead of me and I look forward to the weeks and projects ahead.

Ugandan Proverb Mashup:

“Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. If God is willing, teach that man to cook and he will eat for the rest of his life. If what he cooks doesn’t come out right, he still has to cut the grass.”

Meaning:

Giving a handout to someone only fills an immediate need and is sustainable. Our future is not in our hands, but if God decides it then we can give someone the skills to empower him and live his own life. But if it doesn’t work out he still has to deal with the life that he is living.

To Pass the Time in My Room Alone

10/7/14

“…days when I still felt alive / we couldn’t wait to get outside / the world was wide / the time was right / the tour was over we’d survive / I couldn’t wait ‘til I got home / to pass the time in my room alone…”

~Adam’s Song, Blink-182 Enema of the State

I think that one of the biggest worries of mine in all stages of my life is that I spend too much time goofing off or dicking around instead of focusing on what’s actually important in life. I specifically remember this in my later years in college, study abroad, and in my internships. I have found out that I work well when given deadlines, criteria, judgments, and criticisms from others because then I have the opportunity to overcome them and do even better. However, I have also known that even though I can self-motivate myself, I also have trouble keeping that motivation up.

I keep thinking back to my internship in Berlin and how I would spend hours exploring the city late at night with friends only to show up a little bit before lunchtime at the institute. I then remember my senior year at BU when I would sometimes skip whole semesters of classes simply because I didn’t feel like it was worth it to attend them. And now here in Uganda I find myself spending more time in my house alone rather than exploring the village or developing relationships with students and faculty members. I only go outside for a few minutes to play with the children, share food with the neighbors, to teach a class, or do some errands.

Instead of focusing on these things, I feel as if I’ve come to rely on my laptop for entertainment. Yesterday I took a nap early in the afternoon simply because the power was out and I didn’t want to do anything until I could watch another episode of Community on my external hard drive. Today on my way back from the college I spoke to two women who were my neighbors. We shared some small talk about buying the small eggplants and whether or not I cooked them or not since the season for harvesting them was ending.

One of them then said that I was never at site and the other one corrected her saying that I was usually at site for a few days during the week, but that I mainly stayed indoors. The other woman then said that she wished that her children would stay inside as well and develop their skills and work. They said that they were happy that I was doing work on my laptop to help the community. Their words struck me, because then I realized the amount of time that I had been spending alone inside of my house instead of outside in this world that I had chosen to live in for 27 months.

I think that I fool myself into thinking that I’m doing a lot of work, when in reality I’m doing bursts of hard work, and then relaxing around during the rest of the time. The hard part also comes from leaving site a lot for trainings, which helps Peace Corps and myself but doesn’t lead to an immediately tangible impact on my site. Then I think back to my experiences at BU, in Germany, and here in Uganda and realize that I have really enjoyed my life and what I have done so far. I love staying inside and chilling when I’m not really working on anything just as much as I also love going outside and exploring. But now I think it’s time to go outside for a bit and enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.

Squiggles, Monsters, and Moments

1/7/14 – 6/7/14

*Squiggles and Monsters is a game played by two or more people where one person starts off by drawing a small squiggle on a blank piece of paper and then the next person continues the drawing of the initial squiggle by connecting the beginning of the squiggle to its end, thereby forming a monster of sorts.

July 1st – Tuesday

After taking the Giardia medication and two acetaminophen on Tuesday morning, I passed out on my bed until around 1pm and missed teaching my Integrated Science class to my Year 1 PTC students. I initially felt bad because I had a lesson plan explaining the concept of moments in physics (M = r x F). Instead, I rested throughout the morning and then rallied in order to make it to Nakaske for the radio show. The show was about the history behind the 4th of July and American values such as freedom, the Protestant work ethic, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the need to control our own destinies and futures. Afterwards, I stayed with Rebekah at Nakaseke PTC where we made two special and delicious batches of brownies to share.

July 2nd – Wednesday

I woke up early in order to make it to Kampala en route to Mityana for a PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) presentation with the new Central Luganda group. They were having their homestay cultural sharing day on the 4th of July where it was decided that they would be having an American themed barbecue in order to share American food. They asked me to buy a wheel of Gouda cheese and 2kg of ground meat from the big green supermarket, Mega Shoppers, near the Old Taxi Park.

I made it back to Mityana and hung out with the group. It seemed as if they definitely become more comfortable with their homestay families and with life in Uganda. Their Luganda was also improving, but they seemed ready to get the LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) Test done and out of the way. I gave my presentation and then headed to two PCVs’ houses on Kololo Hill up the road from the Busuubizi Boda Stage. It was a long walk, but after about 1 hour I reached the Jenn and Robin’s site near the top of the hill; it was a gorgeous view. Their houses had multiple rooms, couches, kitchens with ovens and sinks, running water, and a view of the setting sun over the Mityana sub-county.

July 3rd – Thursday

Robin gave me a small tour of the Busuubizi Core PTC on the top of the hill including the fully-equipped science labs Busuubizi Churchand the dome-shaped chapel that resembled a small airplane hangar. Robin described it as being art-deco. I then made my way back to Mityana where I took at taxi back to Kampala where I met about a dozen other PCVs at Brood who were headed to NRE (Nile River Explorers) Camp near Jinja for the 4th of July celebration.

Since I had some time, I decided to get my first real haircut in-country since I left almost 8 months ago. Since then I’ve had other PCVs cut my hair using hair-cutting scissors that they brought from home. The Indian salon near the New City Annex was closed, so I made my way to Sparkles Salon in Garden City. It was pretty weird sitting in a nice salon that smelled and felt like an American barber shop, except that Ugandan men were cutting the hair and giving pedicures to customers. I got my hair cut, and it was pretty fly. I then also opted to have my hair washed, and as the shampoo mixed with my head the Ugandan man said, “Wow, you’re hair is very dirty and filthy.” I laughed and explained to him that I lived in a dusty village without running water and have to bike on dusty roads all of the time. He then washed my head a second time with shampoo.

Soon enough I was on a taxi with other PCVs to the NRE Camp near Jinja on the east side of the Nile River. This camp was literally by the banks of the river and it was one of the most spectacular places that I have ever been to. The Camp offered a variety of accommodations: two-person cabins, eight-person dorms, pre-set tents, and an open field on which one could pitch up his or her own tent. There was also a lounge area connected to a bar on a hill overlooking a sweeping panoramic view of the Nile River below.

NRE Trampoline LoungeI still remember the smile on my face as I hugged PCVs whom I haven’t seen for months and just chilled with them and a bottle of cold Nile Special beer. It’s funny to think how much PCVs miss the company of other muzungus, because then we’re able to just be ourselves. We don’t have to be the village PCV who talks in a certain way or has to be extra careful about what we say. I remember that we were all just laughing with one-another and smiling because of the exciting weekend ahead of us.

I shared that brownies that I had baked with Rebekah and some others shared some delicious, homemade chocolate chip cookies because PCVs love this kind of stuff. By this time I was already exhausted and passed out in one of the dorm beds.

July 4th – Friday

I woke up around 7:45am in-preparation for the Nile River Rafting. About 50 PCVs got on the NRE trucks headed Crossing the Niletowards another NRE site where they served us morning coffee, fresh fruit, and rolexes. One of the main guides then gave us some preliminary information about our day including some safety tips about white water rafting through class 4 and 5 rapids. We then hopped on buses headed for the takeoff point for the rafts. We divided ourselves into groups of 6 and huddled around the banks of the Nile River as the guides gave us tips about what to do in various situations. A bunch of us PCVs laughed out loud when he said, “Be careful because if you don’t listen to us then you will find yourself out in the middle of the Nile River in the middle of nowhere in Uganda.” I guess it’s because almost all of our sites are more remote than any section of the Nile that we would have rafted on.

Our group hopped in our raft, led by a Ugandan guide named Hassan, and paddled out into the initially still waters. We were given instructions on how to paddle, when to paddle, when to duck, and how to get back on the raft after we flipped over. Then we were off. It was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done in my life. I was on a raft on the Nile and going through class 5 rapids with some of my best friends here. It was funny seeing other rafts flip over in the rapids only to then have our own raft flip over as well.

Class 6 RapidsAnd then there were the stretches when we would have to paddle through the stiller parts of the river. Honestly, NRE did a great job of making this experience feel like an adventure. We passed around class 6 rapids, near islands with thousands of fruit bats flying around, ate biscuits and fresh pineapple, did backflips off the raft and swam to other rafts, and then finally got to swim through the last class 5 rapids after our raft flipped over.

At the end of our journey, we were greeted with a buffet of rice, hummus, beans, grilled meats, baked potatoes, fresh vegetables, and most importantly beer. It was just the perfect end to the adventure, especially since we were starving after paddling for several hours and our adrenaline was going down. We found our way to the camp after passing out on the buses.

That night was ridiculous. Everyone was in their most patriotic outfits. Everywhere I looked in that lounge bar I 4th of July Sparklerscould see American flags emblazoned on chests, red skirts, white tops, blue jeans, and hilarious and hot outfits all around. There was beer pong in the corner, specialty watermelon vodka drinks, grilled hotdogs, and American songs played all night long. I actually had three drinks bought for me that night: two from a New Zealander after a dance-off and one from a South African girl who wanted to borrow my shirt for a hot second.

It just felt fun to let loose after all of the work done in the village and the time spent travelling for training. I think that as PCVs we realize so much about ourselves with the amount of time that we have alone at our sites. Sometimes occasions such as 4th of July are needed in order to expend some of that pent-up energy that keeping it holed up inside because no one really understands you unless you’ve either let them in or you’ve lived that person’s life.

July 5th – Saturday

I woke up tired and got a rolex from the best rolex stand in Uganda near the entrance to the NRE Camp. Many rolex and chappati stands claim to have the best rolex; however, I would have to agree with this particular claim. The Ugandan guy who works there really understands what muzungus want. There are about 10 different options to choose from involving savory variations of cabbage, fried potatoes, tomatoes, onions, eggs, and curry powder to sweet options of bananas, nutella, peanut butter, and honey. Then I chilled in the lounge with a pot of coffee.

Some PCVs went to the Keep in Jinja town to get milkshakes and others went to the pool to chill for the day. I was just content hardcore chilling with some other PCVs who decided to lounge on the couches and not to think about anything other than the warm sunshine and the breeze emanating from the Nile.

Excerpt from Journal:Nile View NRE

“It’s the morning after 4th of July and it’s just so chill right now at the NRE Camp. It’s a bunch of us Peace Corps Volunteers just lounging around here on the open-air couches as a cool breeze blows up the hill from the Nile River and Ben Howard plays in the background. The hangover is slowly dissipating as the day progresses and it’s just a feeling of contentment being surrounded by good friends that are part of my Peace Corps family.

It still feels early because of the residual effects of the hangover, but I wouldn’t have spent the day after the 4th any other way. I rafted yesterday on the Nile River with some of my best friends here and it almost feels like a well-needed vacation. There’s running water, electricity, a beautiful view, and other people here who understand what I’m going through.

That’s the best thing about being among other Peace Corps Volunteers; we understand the hardships that we’re all going through more so than even our best friends and family members back in the United States. It’s just the shared experiences that help us to adjust and get through our struggles.”

In the afternoon we get up from the lounge and put on swim wear in order to swim to the nearby rope swing. In orderBackflip Into Nile to get there, we had to walk on a pathway down the hill to the water and then swim about 10 minutes to another path that had a rope swing. It felt surreal just flying through the air and knowing that you would be landing in the Nile. I felt so free jumping off of that ledge and doing backflips as I released the rope.

Everyone gets back to the Camp later in the evening and 40 of us register for the sunset cruise. We dress up in classier American-themed outfits and get on the “booze cruise”. For two+ hours they served us all-you-can-drink vodka, rum, and gin mixed drinks along with vegetable dips, barbecued ribs, grilled chicken drumsticks, sausages, and crostinis with hummus, tuna salad, and bruschetta.

The breeze was behind us, the view of the Nile was breathtaking, and the sun was setting as we danced, took pictures, and reflected about how awesome life was during those moments. We were in the Peace Corps living in the villages, but for this weekend we could let loose and once again take a break from the latrines, no running water, and Ugandan food.

The boat made it back as the sun set, and we chilled together for one more night as the Netherlands beat Costa Rica in one of the World Cup matches.

Education Cohort 2 Sunset Cruise

July 6th – Sunday

Departure days are always rough because it means going travelling when tired. This time around, I had a PCV friend, Hannah, coming to visit and stay with me for a few days. We shared a brownie sundae at Café Javas and then brought back some parmesan cheese and English bacon for a pasta carbonara dinner. By the time we made it back to site, pumped water, and ate dinner we were exhausted. We both collapsed on the bed and slept deeply.

July 7th – Monday

We both woke up refreshed and ready to start teaching. With Hannah’s help, we taught the Year 1 students a lesson concerning moments in physics. It was great teaching with Hannah, because she brought something new to the class since she was a primary school teacher all the way west in Ibanda. It gave me hope seeing my students solving physics problems involving moments and how they can be taught somewhat difficult concepts if they are given the tools and time to understand them.

We finished the lesson about moments, and then walked around Luteete. I brought her to the Kabaka’s Palace, but Hannah Hilltopthis time around the caretaker let us in. He gave us a short tour in Luganda after we signed the visitors’ book. He then told us not to take pictures and I motioned to Hannah to take pictures anyway as I distracted him with conversation in Luganda.

I then brought Hannah to the top of one of the hills in my area that overlooked a vast majority of the sub-county. We chilled on that hilltop as I played some music and just napped as the clouds loomed so near above us. Dinner that night consisted of the best steaks that I had ever cooked. I broiled slabs of beef in garlic-infused butter with some salt and pepper and it was amazing; I felt like I was eating a restaurant steak dinner back at home.

July 8th – Tuesday

Hannah and I spent the morning preparing for our journey to Nakaseke for the radio show. We stopped by in Nakaseke Community RadioWobulenzi for me to check on my ICT Lab Grant application, and I was ecstatic to find out that it had made it through Peace Corps Washington Headquarters and was on the main website. We continued to Nakaseke where we met up with Mary for the radio show where we discussed the difference between gender roles in Uganda and in America. The main focus on the show involved empowering women, but we also noted the need for men not to feel weak if they wanted to do things that weren’t traditionally seen as being manly, such as cooking.

That night we gorged ourselves on freshly cooked chocolate chip cookies and Rebekah’s famous no-bake cookies. Once again we were exhausted from our travels and passed out in the guest tent pitched in their yard.

July 9th – Wednesday

I bid farewell to Hannah after dropping her off in Wobulenzi. Once again I biked my way back to Luteete on the dustiest road ever. I made it back to my house and got dressed in order to lead a small tutoring session with my students. Instead, there was a ceremony at the Luteete PTC inducting the new student members of the Guild Council. There were synthesizer music playing, bottles of water, smartly dressed students, a reverend who made blatant references to walking with Jesus, and a “professional” photographer.

I laughed at the end of the ceremony because so many students came up to me asking for a “snap”. Now I understood how it felt to be a teacher or faculty member during a graduation ceremony and having the students ask you for a picture. I couldn’t help noticing how proud and happy the upcoming Guild Council members were to be honored as the next group of student leaders. As the sun beat down upon me, I took a moment and remembered my own graduation ceremonies in the US for high school and college. I looked back to how happy I was that I had finally made it and how things were changing.

Things too are changing now, and soon enough my Peace Corps adventures too will find their way to an end. But I find it fitting that the lesson plan that looped around this weekend concerned moments, because we all experienced a lot

ICT Lab Project

It’s finally here. After sending a detailed budget and dozens of paragraphs worth of information the Creation of an ICT Lab in a Ugandan Village is finally posted on the Peace Corps website. I am so excited for this project because it will finally give my teachers, students, and fellow village members in the community the opportunity to gain access to the rest of the world through media, documentary showings, powerpoints, and the understanding of basic computer skills. It is an exciting time, but I’m also nervous because I am hoping that I can raise the necessary funds. The community has already raised 25% of the total project cost ($2820), and the rest comes through the crowd funding on the Peace Corps website where the rest of the $8462 can be raised through donors. I’ve reached out to all of my friend groups and organizations that I’ve been a part of in the hopes that with my reach I will be able to have people help me in this project that benefits not only my own community, but also the sharing of cultures between Uganda and America. And in that respect, the goals of the Peace Corps, my passion, and the willingness of my community members can all be met.

Click on the link to donate: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfmshell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-617-059

Or search Roxas in http://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate

I would really appreciate any help regarding this project. And everyone who donates will have his or her name or organization’s name inscribed on a plaque in the ICT Lab to remember those who helped us in this collaborative journey.

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

A Casual Bout of Giardia

1/7/14

So I woke up this morning excited because I knew that it was the start of an exciting week of adventure. I had a busy week ahead of me. As I started to get out of bed, I realized that my stomach was hurting. I hurried to the pit latrine to poop a bunch, and I thought that it was just because I ate a lot of food last night in order to clear everything out of the kitchen in preparation for me leaving. When I returned back to the house I was horrified to realize that the pain in my abdomen was actually cramps and that my burps smelled exactly like the ones I had during my bout of Giardia back in January.

At first I wondered whether the cramps, gas, and pain signified another problem. However, the only relief that I could get from the pain was by child’s pose in yoga or hunching over in a sitting-fetal position as I consulted the Peace Corps Uganda Health Handbook which I simultaneously love and despise. The cramps kept coming and going and I felt bloated and gassy. I decided to attack my ailments head on and I called the Peace Corps Medical Officer. The Officer on duty told me to take the 2000mg of tinidazole and wouldn’t have to take anything else like gabbroral since I had caught Giardia early. Fortunately, back in IST I had preemptively asked the Medical Office for all the medicines needed to treat Giardia in the likely chance that I would get it again.

I took the tinidazole and some acetaminophen and then slept for about 3 hours. I dreamed about living in a house back at home and sharing a Christmas Eve dinner with my mom and brother. At least it was nice to se them in my dreams and share a meal with them. I then woke up and felt almost 100% better. I would just have to take it a bit easy today instead of doing most of the things that I had initially planned to do. I mean the 4th of July celebration is this weekend and there’s no way that I’m gonna miss it.