A Few Difficulties


I think that one of the biggest difficulties of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is the need to justify oneself. I feel as if I have to find a reason to convince myself that what I am doing is right, a reason to convince my community members that I was a good investment, and a reason that what I am doing is worth it. It’s true; there are times when I have to ask myself what I actually am doing here. One of my biggest personal flaws involves the need for self-validation. I want to be good at most things that I do and to let other people know it. Of course this is not a healthy thing, and it has been something that I have struggled with for years. My happiness shouldn’t depend on what others think about me, but the problem here is that a large part of a volunteer’s happiness stems from community approval. In the United States, swimming against the currents and uniquely marching to your own beat is considered to be good. But here it can be a bit jarring.

It is definitely a hard job. I sometimes feel as if I am exhausting myself when I bike to and from Wobulenzi in order to get to Kampala to attend a training session, workshop, or a celebration. I then stay up late at night whenever there is 3G+ Orange internet so that I can use the 2500/= midnight deal for 1Gb of data. This is when I can upload blog posts, upload pictures, add email attachments, download programs, and upload the videos that I have been working on at site. The sad part is that I know that a lot of my community members believe that I am often away from site for leisure. While it is true that I add leisure in with my work time, I feel as if I can’t truly convey how busy I am at times.

Even today one of my fellow neighbors who usually lives here during the weekends, which incidentally is when I am away from site, asked me how my day of leisure went. I was taken aback by her comment because I had spent the good part of the day editing a video for a fellow PCV’s science fair since there was access to electricity today. Of course, I also took advantage of the electricity by watching a few tv shows on my external hard drive. Another neighbor commented that I had woken up very late today, which is funny and foreign to them since they usually wake up before 6am to do their chores. I told them that one of the biggest problems involves the need for me to use my laptop, which requires me to wait until the electricity comes on in the late evening. My explanation elicited a few laughs from them.

I’ve repeatedly told me neighbors that I wish I could split myself into two people so that I could stay at site more often with them and still accomplish all of the tasks necessary out-of-site. One of my close PCV friends, who is one of the hardest working PCV’s in the group, discovered that many of her colleagues thought that she had all of this money and was always leaving site in order to party and laze around. The funny thing is that she is always travelling with a shitload of merchandise to sell with the proceeds going towards local schoolchildren who don’t have uniforms.

It’s as if working as hard as you can makes you still fall behind. Never before in my life have I seen so much work go unappreciated. I definitely feel more integrated in my community, but that just allows me to understand what my fellow members think about me. The last thing that I want my neighbors to think is that I am a waste of space. Hard physical labor is valued in this culture, and a child who doesn’t learn how to do chores, dig, or farm is not viewed with as much value as one who does.

Peace Corps Volunteers are seen as some of the best examples of American ideals and values. I sometimes wonder what my community would think if they were presented with a focus group of Americans from any city. If some of the best and patient of the volunteer world can’t measure up to personal community standards, then how would the average American fare? The average village Ugandan assumes that all Americans have money and that we are selfish for not giving it to them. Others believe that we aren’t as industrious because we use machines to do all of our work: digging, washing, driving, printing, cooking, and cleaning.

So is it okay for me to justify working on a training presentation here late at night, biking 12km to Wobulenzi, taking a takisi to Kampala, travelling to an event, giving the presentation, and going out to a club to blow off some steam if the community agrees that drinking a lot and dancing is idle and unproductive?

It pains me at times, because I feel like I do have it easy. My insecurity with being idle has forced me to do more work, take more photos, upload more videos, accept more training positions, and accomplish more events. The more I seem to do, especially away from site, the more it’s viewed that I am not being as productive. I like to think that my neighbors’ view of my productivity depends on the state of my front courtyard, whether the grass is cut and the dirt is swept. So I pedal forward like matooke-laden bikes against the wind, borne ceaselessly into the dust.

The 50th Anniversary in Kisoro

6/10/14 – 12/10/14

It was one of those weeks away from site where a lot of things happened, but it felt like no time at all. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps’ presence in Uganda. Technically the Peace Corps has been in Uganda for less than 50 years because it left during Idi Amin’s reign in the 1970’s and then again in the 1990’s. I guess that the 50 years represent the time that has passed since Peace Corps started having volunteers in Uganda back in 1964. Four celebrations were scheduled for this event: Gulu in the north, Kisoro in the southwest, Tororo in the east, and Kampala in the center. I was invited to the celebration in Kisoro, which was also the one that I wanted to go to since I had helped out Virunga Engineering Works in the past and wanted to go see the sites back there again.

6/10/14 – Monday

I woke up at the New City Annex and was picked up by a PC vehicle that brought me to the Peace Corps HQ. I then boarded one of the 16-seat coasters headed to Kisoro. Honestly, travelling in Uganda isn’t too bad if you have your own private driver who doesn’t stop to pick up livestock or cram 2x the legal number of passengers into the vehicle. In the vehicle were a lot of the Ugandan Peace Corps staff, a fellow PCV Julia, and the literacy coordinator Audrey. We made good time and passed through Mbarara and stopped at the Fuelex station in Ntungamo to get some lunch.

I ran into a takisi filled with other PCV’s who were also headed to Kisoro, and had decided to get a takisi together in Fort Portal. Before I knew it, we were passing through Kabale town and headed through the hilly mountain pass that connected Kabale to Kisoro. It still never ceases to amaze me; the setting sun beyond the winding hills and the hairpin turns. I opened the window to get some fresh air. I felt the cool wind breeze by my face almost as if it was an autumn wind. As the sun passed beyond the rim of the hills and the terraced farmland grew dark, we arrived in Kisoro. I got off the coaster and headed to the Golden Monkey guesthouse where I checked in.

I was instantly greeted by PCV’s from my cohort and those from other cohorts whom I was close with.  We all got dinner at the Golden Monkey, which consisted of pizzas, crayfish chowders, stews, curries, and quesadillas. I suppose that the large influx of tourism due to hiking the volcanoes, gorilla trekking, chimp trekking, batwa pygmy cultural experiences (whatever that means), and beautiful trails has led to the creation of guesthouses, restaurants, and groceries that cater to the particular tastes of the muzungu.

It was a long day of travel for everyone, so we all chilled in our own rooms and slept early in preparation for the official celebration tomorrow.

7/10/14 – Tuesday

I woke up early and got my favorite Kisoro breakfast at Traveller’s, which has this breakfast deal where you can get unlimited coffee, tea, cereal, US Ambassador's Speechmilk and your choice of an omelette, pancake, or French toast for only 10,000/=. Honestly that’s a steal right there. I just realized that as a Peace Corps Volunteer one of the aspects of any situation that I talk about is the food of a particular locale. I hung out there in the brisk autumn morning, while I wore my new kitenge hoodie from Peace by Piece. I then hurried back to Golden Monkey in order to prepare for the 50th Anniversary Celebration that was going to take place at Tourist’s Inn. Peace Corps had very recently informed me that I was the Master of Ceremonies and would be giving the introductory speech to kickoff the event. They told me that all I had to include was when Peace Corps was founded, Peace Corps’ story over the past 50 years, background of the southwest region of Uganda, the sustainability of volunteers’ projects, to showcase specific volunteer projects, thank the hosts, and then introduce the US Ambassador and honored guests. Of course there was no stress involved, especially since I was forced to write the speech in less than 1 hour. This is what I produced and then presented at the celebration:

“Welcome Ambassador Scott DeLisi, his wife, Country Director Loucine Hayes, PCV’s, PCV staff, counterparts, supervisors, and our hosts Virunga Engineering Works to the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Kisoro, Uganda.

In the immortal words of the rapper 2Chainz, “I’m different.” We’re all different and it’s the differences among us that make us stronger and allow us to find creative solutions to problems.

Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by the US President John F. Kennedy with 3 core goals in mind:

  1. To provide a service to the host country
  2. To promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served
  3. To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Right now we are celebrating this 50th Anniversary in Kisoro, Uganda. Kisoro is 8km from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is also home to the Virunga Volcanoes, and the endangered Mountain Gorillas. There are currently 53 Peace Corps Volunteers in the southwest region of Uganda. They speak Runyoro, Rutoro, Runyankore, Rukiga, and Rufumbira and work in the health, economic development, education, and agribusiness sectors.

So we’ve come together right here in the southwestto celebrate half a century of triumphs. There have been some hiccups along the way, such as when Peace Corps had to leave during the 1970’s and again in the 1990’s. But we always came back.

We tend to focus and showcase our own great victories and successes, and they are important and inspiring. But as a fellow PCV, I’ve since come to realize that it’s the little victories everyday that count:

  • getting my PTC students to read and add
  • lighting my sigiri coals without suffocating from smoke
  • not being squeezed by livestock and large Ugandan women in the takisis
  • getting neighbors to understand me
  • and most importantly, having a normal bowel movement

Open Space BoothsIt’s in finding that balance and change of cultures, worlds, and mentalities that allow us to communicate with one another.

Thus we get to our tagline “50 Years of Friendship”. But friendship, unlike most roads in Uganda, is a 2-way street. It’s the push and pull of a bike loaded with matooke, a give and take of shillings for produce at the local market, an up and down pump at the borehole, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and the sharing of cultures from both ourselves and our Ugandan brothers and sisters.

It is friendship that allows us to fuse western fashion with tradition kitenge fabrics, solidarity that inspires us to empower youth through leadership camps, and kinship that moves us together in the struggle to share our stories.

We tell people all the time that if you give a man some food he will eat for a day. If you plant a tree for him, then he will eat for a lifetime. But if you teach him how to plant trees, he will eat for generations.

So with the boldness of explorers, the resourcefulness of innovators, and the faith of martyrs we trek forward… like Gorillas in the Mist.

I think that P-Square and Akon put it the best in their immortal words, “Chop my money… chop my money… ‘cause I don’t care…” Because more important than leaving a legacy behind is letting people know that there are people in this world who still care.

All protocol observed.”

Needless to say, I was a bit stressed since I didn’t have that much time to rehearse it and there were some important people in the audience. However, people seemed to like the speech and a few PCV’s even told me that it was ballsy of me to say what I said. The ceremony itself was short and sweet. It featured a traditional song and dance, a speech by the US Ambassador, and then a speech by the LC5 chairman of Kisoro. Then there was lunch, an open space booth for PCV projects, and a dance party. I myself bought some ground Omwani coffee from the Kyambura Women’s Coffee Cooperative that apparently was named the “Best Cup of Coffee in Uganda”.

After some dancing, I left to go back to Golden Monkey where I met Max, the supervisor for Virunga Engineering Works. Max is equal parts crazy,Jackson and Bruce hip, intelligent, free, and giving. He has been living in Africa for the past 8 years and now lives at the Golden Monkey. He is an engineer by trade and Virunga Engineering Works is his brainchild. He had conceptualized and came up with the design and implementation of the cookstoves by utilizing the local volcanic rocks that acted as effective heat insulators. The unique thing about Max is that he is white and also the supervisor of the two PCV’s in Kisoro, Jim and Bruce. The counterpart and field project manager, Jackson, is Ugandan and works as a foil to Max. Jackson is more level-headed and better at getting things done after Max comes up with the idea. Jackson has previously lived in Sweden and would be considered a very modern Ugandan with more technological knowledge than the average Peace Corps Volunteer.

So Max and a group of about 6 PCV’s made our way up a nearby hill down a road off of Golden Monkey. We walked along a grassy trail that sloped upwards past stone quarries and sloping farmland. When we got to the top of the hill-ridge we entered a small forest that gave way to a grassy knoll between two large hills. To our left we could see the Virunga Volcanoes and to our right we could see Lake Mutanda. I still feel as if that grassy hill is one of my favorite places in all of Uganda. I find myself hard-pressed to even think of another place that is as natural, local, and cool as that place.

We continued our way down a gently-sloping dirt path that snaked its way down the other side of the hills towards Lake Mutanda. I felt that I passed through several ecosystems on this 2+ hour trek. At first we walked on a dirt road through winding down the side of a large hill that led to villages in the middle of a jungle that in turn led to typical Ugandan villages surrounded by what looked like vineyards.  I turned around at some point and asked one of my companions, “Are we in Napa Valley right now?”

Path to Lake Mutanda

Path to Lake Mutanda

Lake Mutanda Dock

Lake Mutanda Dock

When we arrived at Lake Mutanda we set up our stuff at the dock and then plunged in for a refreshing swim. The water felt so cool and good after such a long hike. Even though all PCV’s are warned about the dangers of Schistosomiasis from swimming in freshwater bodies in Uganda, most of us still do it. I guess that it’s the “live while we’re young” attitude, because if we don’t swim in the lake now then we may regret it later in life. Then again, I may also regret getting Schisto in about 40 years when the snails enter my spinal cord and cause damage to my nervous system.

After swimming, Virunga Engineering Works sent a truck to drive us back to Rafiki Guesthouse and the official dance party. There was some good Rainbow Roadbarbecued food here, enough ketchup for me since I love ketchup, and enough gin to get drunk. My fondest memories from the night involve being told that I usually have this glass box around myself that I use to hide my real self from people, seeing PCV’s who were celebrating their birthdays getting iced*, and dancing to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball. You know that moment when you all know and love a certain song and you’re drunk enough that you’ll just dance all out to it? Well that was our group of PCV’s in the courtyard of Rafiki as we jumped and danced to the beat of Miley Cyrus. It felt pretty epic, and was a fitting end to such an epic day of celebrations.

We then went back to our respective guest houses, chilled for a bit, and then went to bed.

8/10/14 – Wednesday

Today was much more low-key than the day before. I got breakfast at Traveller’s and then joined a group of PCV’s to do some morning yoga on the top of the hill between the volcanoes and the lake. It felt epic going through the Vinyasa with our certified PCV Yogi, Amanda. The reflection of the day was “I am fearless and immovable.” And on the edge of the hill overlooking the villages and lake below I felt very content. If I was feeling out of balance a month ago, then I felt very in-balance during this week. Life felt good.

Yoga on the HillWe finished our yoga as the rain started to fall. In the early afternoon, trucks came to pick us up for a barbecue on the shores of Lake Mutanda. There was this wall-less building with tables and a thatched roof where we hung out and ate some aged Gouda cheese and stroop waffles from Amsterdam that PCV Elmy brought back with her from her recent vacation. At one point we were all asked to walk up to this landing that overlooked the lake for a surprise. When we walk up there, Jim and Bruce reveal a washbasin filled with Smirnoff Ice. We were all iced! About 30+ PCV’s all knelt down on one knee in unison to chug our bottles. Once again, another epic moment that also showcases how PCV’s tend to recycle the trends of the past 5 years.

I wandered around the shores of the lake and shared some stories with some of the newer PCV’s. I even got to hear some new stories from some of the PCV’s from my own cohort, including this hilarious one involving Las Vegas, day-drinking, a pool, and being called your friend’s aunt because she drunkenly yelled “Aunt Mandy” as she was being dragged out of the pool by medics.

I stopped with some other PCV’s at Tourists, because I heard that there was a sauna there. I got to then sweat off my toxins in both a dry and a steamy sauna, which still blows my mind whenever I see them in Uganda. I felt so relaxed, especially with the eucalyptus leaves draped over the heaters in both rooms.

If yesterday was the party and adventure day, then today was the chill and relaxing day.

9/10/14 – Thursday

I started today once again at Traveller’s for breakfast with a bacon and cheese pancake which was an improvement from the breakfast that I had there yesterday. We then headed back to Golden Monkey Guesthouse. There was some discussion about travelling to see the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Eventually the group split up with some people going back to Lake Mutanda and another group wandering around Kisoro town. I was a part of this latter group and walked eastwards towards the market area of Kisoro, after realizing that my laptop wouldn’t register any charge. My new laptop doesn’t hold charge for any substantial amount of time, and even though it was plugged in it wouldn’t register that it was plugged in. I was pissed off because this would be the second laptop that broke with me in-country. I just decided to clear my mind and explore Kisoro for a bit.

I stopped by a Beekeeping Cooperative, the produce stands, and finally found what I was looking for: these tote bags made out of multi-colored strands of woven plastic that a lot of the local women use to transport produce to and from the markets. The woven blue, red, white, black, yellow, and green strands stand out in contrast with the natural environment and typical brown-woven baskets.

I returned back to the Coffee Pot and got the amazing bacon wrap with lettuce salad. It tasted incredible; with a sweet vinaigrette dressing and huge chunks of crispy bacon in a fresh tortilla. I was impressed at how delicious the whole meal was. I mean it was as if I was eating a wrap at a local café back in the United States. Back at the Golden Monkey I was still upset due to my broken laptop. Fortunately, I was able to consult supervisor Max who was able to offer his bedroom (that also doubled as an engineering workroom) in order to troubleshoot my laptop. Max suggested that I remove and then re-insert the battery of my laptop, so I did it and it worked. I felt so relieved that I could use my laptop again, because I was imagining that I would need to go without one again for an extended period of time. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing some much-needed napping.

When the group got back from the lake, we coordinated dinner at Jim’s house. We picked up the ingredients to make a Bolognese sauce for pasta. Then we arrived at his house which has two stories and is gorgeous. It was nicer than most college apartments that I’ve seen with a marble countertop, couches, and spacious rooms. We quickly prepared the Bolognese sauce using my favorite recipe that I saw during an Anne Burrell Food Network show. We also had a dessert of beer bread that we baked on top of the sigiri using a portable Coleman Oven. I felt like I was back in college as we just hung out in different areas of the apartment.

VirungaSome people were playing a game called Salad Bowl where each participant had to write down 5 different words on separate pieces of paper and then place them in a bowl in the middle of the table. The participants were split into two teams and during one’s turn he or she had to pick a piece of paper out of the hat and describe it to her team in order to get them to guess it. If successful, the player gets to pick up another piece of paper from the hat and continue until the 1 minute of allotted time is up. The number of correct guesses by the player’s team is the same number of points that that team gets for that turn. The teams each take turns allowing a representative to go and describe as many words as he or she can for the 1 minute of time. After all the words are used up from the bowl, they are placed back inside and the teams start the whole game again, this time with the player only being allowed to say one word to describe the word on the piece of paper. The third round involves charades.

It was a fitting end and night to being in Kisoro. It was a lot of good friends and people all gathered together in a communal atmosphere just to hang out and feel somehow normal. Even now I can’t believe that I’ve been here since Monday. Kisoro feels very different than the other regions of Uganda that I have visited. It’s much cooler here due to the higher elevation, and the background of the town itself is comprised of towering mountains, hills, and volcanoes shrouded in both mists and clouds. Another interesting thing that I noticed was that a lot of the locals here kept saying, “Give me money!” almost as if it was a greeting. I surmised that since there were a lot of muzungus who passed through here that they were used to be given handouts more-so than the locals in a lot of our own villages.

I don’t know if I can even put into words just how epic it felt to feel the breeze blowing through my entire being as I gazed upon Mount Muhuvura and Lake Mutanda again. Or if I could ever capture that feeling of adventure as I trekked on the winding pathways from the hill through terraced farms and dirt roads that stretched to the banks of the lake.

10/10/14 – Friday

Today was the travel day. I was hitching a ride with Bruce, Jackson, and some Virunga Engineering Works staff members to install two stoves at Ravi’s site in Butiiti in Kyenjojo. The ride there was an adventure in itself

Journal Entry:

Transporting the Virunga Cookstoves“the feeling of cool wind as I was perched on the metal frame of the truck bed, mist, clouds, fresh airs, and breezes”

I sat in the back of a truck bed and would stand up, supported by a welded metal frame that encompassed the entirety of the bed. This allowed me to get some amazing shots of the winding roads from Kisoro to Kabale. We continued past Kabale to Ntungamo where we shot northwards through stone quarries into Busheny and into Kasese where we drove through the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We stopped in Fort Portal for dinner at the Duchess, which is said to have the best pizza in Uganda. I would have to agree with this statement. As we left Fort Portal going east, we passed by tea plantations which were covered by a sprawling fog made eerie by the pale moonlight. I remember closing my eyes and inhaling the smell of cool, earthy pine for just a split second and imagine that I was back in New England on one of my autumn bike adventures. Eventually we arrived at St. Augustine’s Butiiti PTC and passed out from more than 12 hours of travel time.

11/10/14 – Saturday

This was the working day. Bruce, Ravi, and the VEW staff mobilized the PTC principal and cooking staff to begin the process of installing the new Installing the Cookstovesstoves. The problem was that the new stoves were supposed to be placed where the old cement stoves were. So the local carpenter came by and doled out sledgehammers and pickaxes for us to break away the old cement/brick stoves. The stoves were installed in the cooking area and the staff started instructing the cooking staff the most effective way to cut and store the firewood in order to maximize the usage of the new cookstoves. I made sure to document the installation as best as I could and even made a promotional video.

The PTC provided a vehicle for us to go to Fort Portal to buy some groceries for dinner. I got the food necessary to make Filipino Adobo and a simple Pancit for dinner. I had never really done anything in Fort Portal other than eat at the Duchess. It’s a beautiful town that has an almost American downtown layout of the shops. I filmed Ravi saying a few lines in Rutoro for my Oh the Places You’ll Go project. We headed back to the PTC as it got dark, and made some dinner. The noodles for the Pancit didn’t turn out the way I wanted them, but the flavor was still there and even the Ugandan VEW staff enjoyed it.

12/10/14 – Sunday

They say Sunday is a day of rest, but for me it’s usually a day of travelling. I left Butiiti in the morning and in Mukunyu, caught a takisi headed for Kampala. I slept for most of the ride and was eager to return home. Since I was coming from the west, I got off at the bypass outside Kampala and boarded a connecting takisi headed to Bwaise where I found a takisi going to Wobulenzi. This method was much more convenient, faster, and cheaper than first getting dropped off at the Taxi Park and then finding a takisi headed all the way to Wobulenzi.

I got back to Wobulenzi, did my normal market shopping, and then biked back to Luteete. I got back and unloaded all of my bags at home. Surprisingly, the electricity was on early today and I turned my laptop on. Instead of marathoning tv shows on my external hard drive, I decided to walk and talk with my neighbors. One of the girls asked me if I knew how to split firewood. I responded that I didn’t and she proceeded to show me how. I was laughably bad; bad enough that I gained an audience of village children who were pointing at my mistakes and joking about my bad form.

I too thought that it was hilarious. It wasn’t lost on me that I give them such a hard time when they have trouble understanding technology or dealing with something foreign to them that I deserved being mocked for what is considered a basic skill here. I was really bad. It got to the point where I completely missed the log at one point. Fortunately, my neighbor Godfrey showed me the correct way to hold and swing the axe. After a few swings I was able to split the log with a moderate amount of effort. It felt so good to cut wood, since I had never really done it before.

Luteete Sunset Maybe it’s something to do with being a guy, but I feel like splitting wood is a fun chore. I get some instant gratification from swinging the axe at a hunk of dead tree, and chop it into smaller pieces that the womenfolk can use to cook. I’m kidding of course about that last part, but still it was very gratifying to cut wood the old-fashioned way. I thanked my neighbors and informed them that they should let me know the next time they will cut firewood.

Before I knew it the week was already over. I had travelled hundreds of kilometers, cooked many dishes, and interacted with a multitude of people in a variety of situations and locations. It gets to the point where I feel that I live more in a week here than I could ever hope to live in a month back in the United States. I’m actually struggling to find a way to poignantly end this blog post, but I believe that in this case it’s almost impossible to succinctly summarize what I experienced in the past week. Once again there are no words that can capture these experiences. Simply put, the adventure continues.

The Passing of Days


It’s been a while since I had an uninterrupted full-week at site. The days themselves are also starting to pass by just as quickly as the weeks do. I definitely Balongo and Elvisbelieve that it’s the routine that makes this happen: I wake up sometime after 9am, put my contacts in and dress for teaching, go to the staffroom for break time porridge, teach a class for an hour or two, eat po sho and beans for lunch, head back to my house to do laundry, make chappats for an afternoon snack, nap for about an hour, grade student papers, pump water, bike to a nearby duka to buy either food or toilet paper, play with the village kids, wait for the electricity to come on around 8pm, do a Focus T25 workout, cook dinner, bucket bathe, eat dinner, and then finally get to do work on the computer like editing a video, creating a powerpoint presentation for entry into community integration, or writing blog posts.

It gets to the point that the sun starts setting just as I start to feel the most active. Then there are those days when it rains until noon and so I cannot leave my house until noon. I’ve forgotten that back in developed countries rain doesn’t really hamper the schedules of people’s days. However, before I know it the rain, cold, and clouds give way to sunny skies, which then allow me to go ahead and do what I need to do for the day.

Slowly by slowly, I have learned from the Ugandans to become a master of time. Time is adjusted to suit my needs and the needs of people. I can spend a few minutes talking about small topics with a neighbor or store owner, and I don’t really need to worry about looking at the clock. Sometimes there is no clock to look at, especially when my cell phone is dead. There is such an abundance of time here that I learn to take the time to savor something. I make eating my po sho and beans look like I’m eating a filet mignon and lobster tail at a 5 star restaurant.

There’s nothing really glamorous or anything seemingly noteworthy about these days at all. I’ve started having trouble answering Facebook queries asking Luteete Village Houseme: “How is Uganda? How’s life over there? What are you doing? What’s up?” In a sense it’s a loaded question and one that sounds exciting to someone who hasn’t lived here, but not particularly exciting to someone who has lived here. The highlights of the past few days have included seeing my neighborhood kids laughing around in the dirt, giving my Year 1 students an Algebra I test, and having normal bowel movements for more than a week straight. I can’t complain; life is good right now.

However, I would say that what I’m living right now in the village is what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about. It’s nice every now and then to eat some good food in Kampala or in another town, but it’s just not the same. I feel comfortable here. I feel at home here.

oku-kola ekissayizzi (Doing Exercise)


*The following blog post is written how I would perceive one of the neighboring Ugandan children to view me.

I woke up at 5am or maybe 6am about an hour or two after the cock started crowing. I started to get dressed for church with my parents. Afterwards, I began washing the clothes and hanging them up to dry. The muzungu was still asleep in his bed and didn’t wake up until well after 10am. Why does he sleep so much and did he already go to church while I was at the service or while I was washing clothes? Also what religion is he: Catholic, Born-Again, Seventh Day Adventist, Protestant, or Muslim? I’m sure that he has to be one of those.

Ah he’s finally out of bed, and he tries so hard not to make it seem that he woke up this late even though everyone can see him through the open bedroom Linda Neighborwindow. It’s interesting that he washes his clothes inside the house instead of outside. Now I can smell him cooking something, and now he’s eat what looks like chappati. I have to get back to my chores and prepare the fire for cooking lunch.

Now I’m digging and I seem the muzungu come out and wave at me. I wave back and he disappears behind my house. I hear him attempt to speak in his awkward Luganda with the younger kids. He plays with them for a while, and then returns back to his house. I hear some snoring and realize that he’s asleep again on his living room bench. How can someone sleep this much all the time? He already slept in for four hours!

I’m busy sweeping the compound when the muzungu comes out of his house and starts sharing pieces of this sweet, gingerbread with us. He tells us that his friend from a country called Germany brought it back for him and that he wanted to share it with us. He discusses something with my father and some o the other villagers before returning back to his house. He opens the door to let my sister borrow his bicycle and allow the boarding pupils to play with this weird, plastic plate that they throw to each other. I even get a chance to ride on the bicycle, which is fun but I have to ask him to lower the seat because he raises it up too much.

As it gets dark, he goes and fills up his two 20 litre jerrycans from the rain-collection tank. He fills those two jerrycans everyday, and I wonder why he needs that much water all the time. I had one of my fellow neighbor friends ask him what he used all that water for. She comes back to me and tells me that he uses it to bathe, cook, water the newly planted grass, and wash clothes. I’m still not convinced that he uses 40 litres of water just for himself every day. Even my entire family doesn’t use that much water in a day.

The darkness comes and fortunately the electricity goes on in time for me to finish cooking the rest of the matook for dinner in our cooking shed. The muzungu is busy in his room watching something on his computer and moving his arms in a weird way. I think that he’s trying to dance, but I can’t hear the music. Several of the other neighborhood kids knock on his door and ask him to come out do show them the exercise video. They were telling me that a few days ago they opened his living room window and saw him doing some interesting exercise moves in his living room by following a video that he watched on his computer. It was cool to see the nice video quality and it was funny because the muzungu was only wearing his pants.

The muzungu brought out his laptop and told us that we would all have to do the exercises with him if we wanted to watch the video. I was tired and didn’t want to do the exercises. I also couldn’t see the laptop screen because there were 20 other pupils crowding around. I kept laughing because the muzungu and my friends looked so silly moving their bodies in weird motions that made them tired.

Over half of us were just watching and the other half would do the exercises if the muzungu was watching them. I just wanted to see the video and listen to the music that was interesting. At the end of the video we all clapped, but the muzungu looked at all of us in his slow Luganda. I have trouble understanding his accent or what he means sometimes. I think that he told us that he wouldn’t let us borrow his bicycle, plastic plate, or watch anymore exercise videos until next week because we were not taking the video seriously. He then closed his doors and windows without saying goodnight.

Why is he upset? He gets to sleep as much as he wants and eat the food that he wants to make. He is also leaving the village to go to his Peace Corps workshops and he has this laptop that shows videos. I always want to learn ICT and how to use a laptop, but he tells me that he cannot yet because he is so busy. I think that he is lying, because he doesn’t even dig that much other than the grass he plants in his compound. He is also ever sleeping and complaining or giving excuses the us about why he doesn’t do something or does something differently.

I have already discussed with the other pupils and secondary school students that this muzungu probably has a lot of money. Why doesn’t he just give it to us to help us with school fees or to buy us sweeties. Sometimes I think that he is just greedy and on vacation here to take the easy way out. He has so many nice things and he doesn’t even let us go inside his house to see any of them. I know that I will share my nice things if I had a bicycle, plastic plate, and laptop with the exercise videos.

It’s time to go to bed now, and I have to wake up early again tomorrow for school. I wonder what time the muzungu will wake up?

Integrating Displacement


“To be in Peace Corps is to be displaced.”

On Tuesday I headed to Kampala for a TAC (Training Advisory Committee) Meeting at the Peace Corp Headquarters. The goal of this meeting was to plan PCHQ TAC Meetingthe schedule and sessions for the incoming Education Group’s training in November. My role is Community Integration Leader/Champion along with two other PCV’s Paul and Ellen. Our goal is to facilitate sessions that will present the new Peace Corps Trainees with ideas on integrating into the Ugandan culture and finding a balance. From past reports the Entry into Community Integration and Cultural Integration presentations have been the lowest ranked sessions of past trainings so a special emphasis was placed on these topics.

I was very glad to be working with Paul and Ellen on this project. Paul has a very bright energy about him and is one of those PCVs who runs around and is consistently “on” both in and out of his community. Ellen is one of those PCVs who can be described as being very “village”; she eats with her hands, hunts large, local rats with a bow and arrow, is building a mud hut, and dedicates a significant amount of her energies towards integrating into her local community in Kitgum. It was interesting holding discussions amongst ourselves and with some Ugandan staff members about the content we would be presenting.

We wanted to stress the importance of the local language and how even though everyone around you may speak English, the use of local language really helps improve the relationship between you and your community members. It demonstrates a level of respect for the culture as well as the people in your surroundings. Another point was shared that the first step towards successful community integration is for the PCV to have the desire to integrate into the community of his or her own volition.

We wanted to stress that no matter how “village” we became, how much we dressed like them, or how much local language we spoke we would still be foreigners. However, community integration doesn’t mean forsaking your own culture and mannerisms, but instead adjusting them to fit the cultural and traditional boundaries of the local community.

If there’s one Peace Corps Handbook (out of the dozens given to us during training) that has helped me the most, it’s been The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook. Compiled from the experiences of PCVs throughout the years, the Workbook describes how deep down inside we are all so different. We’re not the same, even though we’re all human beings with similar needs. A culture has certain beliefs, traditions, and actions that stem from sociological, religious, environmental, economical, and practical reasons.

As a generalization, in the United States:

  • It’s very common for someone to want to take risks and know that we control our own fate and destiny. If something doesn’t work out, we’re usually more likely to get back up and try again.
  • Change is good and we are consistently bent towards progress
  • Everyone should have access to equal opportunities, especially in job employment
  • Problems and statements should be said directly in order to allow for no miscommunication
  • It is seen as a good thing for bosses to socialize and get to know subordinates
  • People follow time
  • Status is achieved
  • Life is interesting and what is uncertain in the future is what also holds excitement and opportunity

As a generalization, in Uganda:

  • It is not common for people to take risks and destiny is dependent on whether or not “if God is willing”
  • Change is not necessarily good and traditions are important to uphold
  • It is important to favor others such as friends and family members to have better opportunities rather than everyone (like strangers)
  • Problems and issues should be approached in an indirect way in order to save face and avoid confrontations
  • Time follows people
  • Status is given to you
  • Life is scary, uncertain, and largely out of your control

I remember reading the workbook during training and not really taking to heart what the different concepts represented. Now after more than 10 months in country I am finally starting to understand just how different I am from Ugandans and vice versa. At first I was oblivious to how different I was from everyone here and thought that my firm beliefs and mentality gained from living in the United States and Germany were the correct ways of thinking. Once I arrived in my village, I realized just how different things were approached here. I started to become conscious of the mistakes I made and didn’t know how to stop making them. I remember planting coffee in front of my yard during the dry season on top of dirt mounds that couldn’t even hold water. After some time I started to consciously realize what I needed to do; I needed to scrap the dying coffee plants and focus on other things such as planting grass in front of my compound as the rainy season started.

I believe that I have gotten to the point where I can appropriately function and work in my community without even realizing how different I act now compared with 10 months ago. It’s funny because some other PCVs make fun of me of I break out in one of my Uganglish phrases or Ugandan mannerisms while hanging out. The habit literally becomes so ingrained in me that I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to act like a “muzungu” again.

This brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this blog post: “To be in Peace Corps is to be displaced.” We’re stuck between two worlds. There are Luteete VIllage Sunsettimes when I don’t even know what I stand for anymore or who I am. I couldn’t even tell you what my preconceptions about Africa and Uganda were during staging at the Hampton Inn right before the plane flight to Uganda. In the past, stories about Africa were just that; stories. The tales of revolutions, dictators, starving children, genocides, epidemics, poverty, the 3rd World, missionaries, savannahs, and aid were all that I had ever heard or seen through various media platforms. It was literally worlds away.

Now my life is filled with stories of pumping water from a borehole, taking pictures and video of Peace Corps activities, teaching at a PTC, writing grant, working alongside my fellow Ugandan teachers, living with my Ugandan neighbors, and playing with their kids. Now tales of new pop songs, new jobs, dvancements in technology, high profile scandals, new foods, viral videos, and general trends are stories that are worlds away. It’s almost as if the interest that many Americans had when the Kony 2012 video came out is akin to the interest that most PCVs have about the events that happened in Ferguson. Both went viral on the internet but to the audience, each event happened in a different world that had no immediate impact on life.

Of course, I still consider myself to be a newbie who has only spent just over 10 months here. I look forward to seeing how much more I integrate into this community and how much more I will feel displaced in the 16+ months to come.

A Dance of Light and Music


Have you ever done a dance when the electricity finally turns on? I just did one a few minutes ago and it was glorious. It’s been over a month since I had a working laptop in my house. I was sad last night because the electricity didn’t come on and I was unable to use my new laptop, which has a battery that doesn’t hold charge.  Therefore I need to wait until the electricity comes on before I can use this gigantic tome of a laptop. Fortunately a lot of my media and music were backed up on flash drives and external hard drives which allow me to act as if nothing different has happened since my old laptop stopped working. Since the electricity came back on I’ve been dancing around and listening to music and it has made me very glad. I literally forgot the sensation of putting in headphones and listening to your favorite music.

I am filled with contentment right now with things returning back to normal now that I have the ability to get back to work. As for now I will have to work based on the electrical availability of the surrounding village and internet on the nearby hill is out of the question but at least I can do work in the evening when the power comes back on. Life is good.