Nsanafu

28/5/15

The nsanafu are reddish-brown ants that you normally see on National Geographic or Discovery Channel with David Attenborough narrating their aboveground ant highways from one underground residence to another one. Here in Uganda, usually after a quick rainstorm during the day the nsanafu transport their grubs and their entire colony from one home to another. Many Ugandans stay out of the way whenever they see these ant highways and mass migrations of a seemingly endless number of ants. One of my neighbors even told me that whenever the nsanafu decided that their highway passed through a house, they put all of their bedbug-ridden fabrics and mattresses directly in the middle of the nsanafu pathways so that the nsanafu also killed the bedbugs in their wake. It truly felt unreal to see one of these nsanafu migrations right in the middle of the pathway that led to my PTC in the middle of the day.

Nsanafu Migration

Nsanafu Migration

Nsanafu Chain

Nsanafu Chain

Sentries

Sentries

Throughout the course of the week, the apple roots have started to sprout these tiny green buds. I can only hope that they literally come to fruition given the time and care that they need. In addition, Godfrey and I gathered a sack-full of brown leaves, freshly-cut grass, and manure in order to create a compost pile that would help to not only nourish his garden but also the apple trees and other plants that we would be planting near the ICT lab.

Creating a Compost Pile

Creating a Compost Pile

A lot of the stress from my Peace Corps service has gone ever since the money from the grant made it to my supervisor. Before and after teaching, I literally spend my free time gazing at the ongoing construction of the ICT lab and what it means for my students and the future of this college. It almost feels as if the hard work and perseverance over more than a year have finally shown their worth.

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Planting Apple Trees

25/5/15

Today Godfrey, my neighbors, students, and I planted over 14 apple trees. It was actually one of the coolest points of my time here in Luteete, because the man who brought them from Bweyogerere also showed us the correct way to plant them. He brought apple tree roots and composted soil from a forest. Using my previous experience with landscaping, I chose the spots where we would plant the apple trees near the PTC’s ICT Lab. We dug a shallow hole at each spot, and then poured composted soil on the root with the edge of the root sticking out of the ground at a slant. As we planted the apple trees, it started to rain. Godfrey and me neighbors informed me that if it started to rain while you planted then it meant that God was giving his blessing towards your plants.

Planting Apple Trees

Planting Apple Trees

It just felt so good to add another living layer of knowledge and partnership with my community. I can think of no other fruit-bearing tree that combines the flavor of New England apples with the equatorial African climate. Even though I will be unable to eat any of these apples, I know that in the years to come my PTC students will be able to lie down on mats on the grass in the shade of these apple trees wonder about them. Where did they come from? How do I plant my own apple tree? What can I make with apples? Then they can search for these answers in the adjacent ICT lab with the help of a future PCV.

Apple Tree Sprouting

Apple Tree Sprouting

In two months, the apple man from Bweyogerere will return and help with the next that will ensure that the sprouting branches will produce abundant fruit. I can only hope my students will do the same.

Let Girls Learn, Worms, Embassy Sponsor

22/5/15

In one of those interesting turn of events I was asked by the Peace Corps administration to work alongside the President’s YALI (Young African Leader’s Initiative) fellows to create a series of high-quality videos demonstrating Uganda’s willingness to participate in Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative. Thirteen Peace Corps countries are a part of this initiative and Uganda is the only one in East Africa. The goal of this project is to appeal to Ugandan youth, potential PCV’s who may want to apply to Uganda, and the broader global audience on social media.

I also stopped by the Peace Corps Medical Office and discovered that I may have worms. Finally, I discovered the culprit Albendazoleliterally behind my 2 month gassiness. As I contemplated going back to site, I was contacted by a graduate student from Colombia University who also works at the US Embassy on his way to become a Foreign Service Officer. It was only his 4th day in Uganda, and he lived in diplomatic housing near the Tank Hill area. Right now, I am typing this blog post in his dining area with carpet around my feet and the military tv channel on with real American commercials.

Now all I have to do is update my blog posts, find my way back to the taxi park area, and then get back to my site in time to plant 12 apple trees near the almost-complete ICT Lab.

The Futility of Dust

18/5/15 – 21/5/15

I spent the past week travelling with Loucine, the Peace Corps Uganda Country Director, to Gulu and Kitgum for a continuation of the regional site visits. The idea is to create a 5 minute promotional video of each region of Uganda so that when the new Peace Corps Education Trainees arrive in November they will be able to get a taste of what the different regions look like and what Peace Corps Volunteers have been doing in those regions.

I started off by biking to Wobulenzi from my house and waiting by the side of the road for the Peace Corps Vehicle to pick Homeless Man Wobulenzime up. In the meantime, I hung out with the resident homeless Ugandan man on the street. I gave him a piece of my homemade bread that I baked the day before, but the Ugandans who were seated next to me didn’t want any. In my opinion, I assumed that they didn’t want to eat the bread that this homeless man was also eating. As I looked around the trading center, it struck me how different poverty was. I mean, compared to many people in the developed world many of the Ugandans in or near this town are living well below the poverty line. However, I think that sometimes we tend to lump entire countries and cultures into the stereotyped image of a poor and third-world nation. Many of the Ugandans whom I know at least have a roof over their heads, enough to eat every day, and the mobility to travel or celebrate a wedding or graduation event with a bit of saved money.

Pupils LearningBefore I could get too deep into this reflection, the Peace Corps Vehicle arrived and picked me up. The ride was relatively smooth all the way up to Gulu. In the land of the Acholi’s who speak the Nilotic language Luo, we visited PCV’s who worked in mainly primary schools. I was very intrigued to see the work done with literacy and reading interventions with the education PCV’s. One of the volunteers worked at a primary school that used to serve as the school for the children of inmates and the prison staff, and eventually became a general primary school for the surrounding area. It’s really funny how the prison inmates are treated here in Uganda. They all wear bright yellow outfits, and are allowed to roam free outside of the prison walls during the day where they work as free day-laborers, farmers, carpenters, and electricians before returning back to the prison at night like good little boys and girls.

Another PCV was working on involving the schools of the surrounding districts to take part in the My Language Spelling Bee for Luo while another volunteer worked with blind pupils who took their exams using Braille books specially printed by the Cheyanne and Brailleschool’s Braille machines. The interesting dynamic about Gulu is that it has many municipalities and resembles a small grid-city system with 4-way intersections at every block. Due to the influx of NGO’s and other refugee organizations in response to the rebel activities years ago, a large western population consisting of expatriates and travelers exists in Gulu. This in turn has led to an increase in the quality of hotels, restaurants, cafes, and other amenities that travelling and working expatriates would enjoy.

I travelled to Comboni Samaritain where we stopped by the Wawoto Kacel Cooperative Society Limited which consisted of people living with HIV/AIDS, disabilities, and single parents to sell handmade and hand-woven goods to travelers as a way to provide a means of sustaining their livelihoods. We ate the best traditional food at Mama Kristina’s restaurant shack near Sankofa Café. Mama Kristina is this big Ugandan woman who operates a small restaurant business inside her shack where she cooks local dishes such as: lakoto koto (ground and fried simsim/sesame seeds), malakwang (pasted sour greens), fried beef, rice, beans, Odii (ground and roasted g-nuts and simsim), fried fish, and Bo (another green). It was one of the best local meals that I have eaten in this country, and many other Acholi and visiting Ugandans would agree because her stock runs out around 2pm.

Weaving at Comboni

Weaving at Comboni

Mama Kristina's Restaurant

Mama Kristina’s Restaurant

Aside from great Luo, Indian, Ethiopian, and Café food, I even got a chance to experience the expatriate life when I played a game of Ultimate Frisbee at the Acholi Inn field. Man, it just felt so good to run and play a competitive sport again. I missed that feeling of letting loose and just giving it your all. After the game, I hung out with one of the PCV’s and her Ugandan boyfriend at one of the traditional restaurants. One interesting point of discussion was that this Ugandan worked at the Invisible Children organization and at one point was also one of the Invisible Children. Out of respect for him and his girlfriend, I won’t share details, but he had to go through some very violent and scarring events during his time as a child soldier.

Currently he works as a videographer and media point person for the organization and shared some of his interesting viewpoints. I was told that the organization was very familial and a lot of the proceeds from donations went to the families of those Ugandans who worked in the organization, also the promotional videos about child soldiers didn’t tell the whole story. Like any good video or documentary, the narrative was specifically crafted with anecdotes that didn’t tell the whole story. It left out a lot of the more graphic and violent parts. However, as a whole it is a good organization that supports its main message.

The next morning as I was walking past the prison and through Gulu Town, I saw one of the cleaner women sweeping the Village Ellendust off the road. The rising sun illuminated her silhouette, and with every sweep of her broom the dust would swirl around her. I almost felt that her effort was self-defeating, because the dust would simply settle around her as she continued on with her endless task. I moved on past this futile task, and continued onwards to the Iron Donkey café where I would meet up with Loucine. That morning, Loucine was slated to attend what would have been the final court case of Danielle Gucciardo who died when struck by a drunk driver in Gulu back in April 2013. However, even two years later justice hasn’t been served. The Magistrate in-charge of this case conveniently decided that she wouldn’t show up for the scheduled court date.

What struck me the most was that even with the backing of the US Ambassador, the media attention, and the weight of public opinion against this driver still wouldn’t lead to a guilty conviction. There is a reason why mob justice exists, and that’s because of how difficult it is to go through the arduous process of court cases. Last year, even with all of the evidence against him the driver was not convicted; the reason being that he was drunk when he killed her and thus was not in control of his actions.

We spent the last two days of the trip going into Kitgum where we met the PCV’s over there. We visited a child care primary school, another prison primary school, a MercyCorps branch, and Uganda HipHop Culture. One of the most interesting things at the child care primary school was a book project by PCV Mary Williams. When she arrived at the school, she discovered a lot of books in the school’s library that did not respect or reflect diversity. Many of the books were not culturally appropriate, such as a picnic day, the beauty of Barbie and her white skin, an Aboriginal princess, or books that Ugandan pupils couldn’t relate to. Fortunately, a generous donor sent over a box of multicultural and diverse books showcasing the beauty of one’s skin color, picture books primarily featuring African-Americans, or stories featuring sub-saharan African characters.

One of my favorite sites was PCV Leah Walkowski’s Northern Uganda HipHop Culture Site. The members of this organization focus on reaching out to local Ugandan youth about HIV/AIDS through hip hop dancing, beatboxing, rapping, and dancing that would appeal to the youth. They regularly do HIV testing and seasonal male circumcisions. One of their coolest projects by the Kitgum youth was an HIV Song warning youth against the dangers of HIV performed by the members of Northern Uganda HipHop Culture (NHUC) in conjunction with StraightTalk Uganda with the lyrics in being both English and Luo.

https://www.facebook.com/nuhculture

Artists: Lil Nicha, Black MC, Kim, and Benny

Once again, I was exhausted after this week. All I wanted to do was just sit down alone in my own house and teach my students. I feel like I’m racing towards the end of my service, while also being stuck where I am right now. There is already so much to do, and I’m trying to accomplish it all before the end.

The Road Ahead

16/5/15

The other day a fellow PCV asked me how I felt and I responded with “weary”.  She wanted me to clarify what I mean by weary. I told her that I felt used. As I’ve stated before, to be used in Uganda means to become acclimated to the normalcy of things here that may seem odd to a foreigner.

Working in a village computer lab and having to shove goats out of said lab: Used

Enduring 4 hour-long speeches by local leaders who don’t know what they’re saying: Used

Creatively Facilitating sessions about HIV, Malaria, Reusable Menstrual Pads, and Gardening: Used

In the larger scheme of things, I feel as if I am living in the middle of things. I have long-since bid farewell to who I used to be before Peace Corps, and I am slowly forgetting who I was during the beginning of my Peace Corps service. Right now I am very comfortable with whom I am and what I am doing with my service, but I am starting to worry about life afterwards. I hung out with one of my PC friends and her visiting mom with whom I shared that I was stressed about going back to the developed world of the United States. In response, she told me that the bustle of a city like New York didn’t even compare to the chaos and craziness of a city like Kampala. More and more I am starting to notice the photos and posts from my friends in their lives back in the United States and wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy the things that I once used to enjoy.

Maybe it’s the mefloquine, but I have been having recurring dreams about being back in the United States. I have had these dreams earlier in my service, but this time around the mood is different. Whereas the past dreams would be about missing my US home, these dreams are about missing my Ugandan home. In these dreams, I would imagine myself at a bar or bicycling with friends through Baltimore or Boston and then feel sad because I missed my village and my life here in Uganda. I am torn between wanting to be back home and move on to the next stage in my life, but also know that my time here is extremely valuable.

I feel used.

It hurts to realize just how no one will understand me. My friends and family back home will try to pick what I am saying, and my villagers here still try to acclimate to my personality. The only people whom I will bond with are the other PCV’s around the world. I don’t know if I would be able to bond that well with other NGO’s, volunteers, or even other Ugandans. I guess that it doesn’t help that even I don’t understand what I’m going through at a given moment.

Currently, I am almost done with my month and a half long extravaganza of travelling to different trainings, camps, and facilitation sessions. I think that I am running on empty and need to replenish myself with some much-needed personal time in the village. Now I just need to make the usual trek back home where I can plant my rosemary and strawberry plants, watch the new Game of Thrones episodes, cook a village Tikka Masala with rice, take some photos of the ICT Lab construction, plan the date for the community HIV testing event, and maybe play with the village children. Because for me, that feels normal.

Sensitivity

5/5/15 – 15/5/15

I got over my slump during the remainder of IT Camp. It amazed me what Peter Balaba could do with his expertise in hooking up UTL (Uganda Telecom Lines) to a village PTC and allow students and tutors access to reasonably fast internet speeds. I performed the typical action of taking photos and videos of campers and the directors, since the long-term goal of the camp was to follow up the skill of the youth with another advanced IT Camp in August. I documented sessions regarding Microsoft Office, YouTube, Typing, and even some basic Python Programming. A lot of these students never had the opportunity to be exposed to a computer program, let alone a computer.

I also got to spend more time with some of the facilitators from the Centre for Creative and Capacity Development (CCCD). They shared with me part of the story concerning how they came together as artists, dancers, and musicians a few years ago through YEP (Youth Empowerment Project). A lot of the members of In-Movement and CCCD shape the typical Peace Corps Uganda camp experience through kinesthetic learning. The message propagated by these facilitators empowers Ugandan youth to feel special and witness their ideas being brought to life. In the United States, it could be argued that not every youth should be told that he or she is special, but in Uganda more often than not most youth are told on a daily basis that their ideas do not matter.

With this perspective in mind, a lot of the creative facilitation sessions at camps such as IT Camp involve free and valued expression of self through skits, songs, dances, and group presentations. In many instances, these artful expressions evoke deeper emotions from the youth. During one River of Life session during a Peace Corps camp, the youth were asked to draw and write their life stories on a mural. One of the youth depicted herself being raped by her father, and shared this information with the group. The facilitator of the session shared that it was very probable that this was the first time in her life that she was asked to share her life experiences in a comfortable, safe, and non-judgmental manner.

It’s during moments like this that the problems concerning logistics, arguments, and petty difficulties among PCV’s take a backseat towards the larger issue that we are working to address. I feel like I’m making good use of my time exhausting myself through my participation in different camps in order to share the stories of these youth. By giving them a voice, they can be heard.

After a busy week at IT Camp, I spent the weekend in Kampala where I was able to simply chill and relax. On Saturday, I attended a TEDx Talk at the Serena Hotel where Ugandans shared their ideas concerning, healthy lifestyles, productivity, and smartphone apps. Not only was it cool to be at a TEDx talk, but it was amazing to hear Ugandans give short, succinct, and reasonably engaging presentations that delivered a message. One of the most interesting presentations came from a recently graduated Ugandan university student who developed a smartphone app that would easily relay the amount of produce that farmers could provide and transport to market day consumers.

Afterwards, I spent the rest of my time in Kampala watching YouTube videos and catching up on some news stories and pop culture over the past two years. I mean, I realized that within 7 months I will depart Uganda and head back to the developed world. In this sense, I am slowly easing myself back into what I used to be used to doing. I then went back to the village for two days where the money for the ICT Lab finally arrived in my supervisor’s bank account. Funnily enough, as I enter the home stretch of my Peace Corps service I can see my projects and worth as a PCV coming together. Right now I am back at the NARO agricultural center in Mukono where I am planning Community Integration sessions for the incoming Health and Agribusiness June 2015 group.

If the key point for the last training group was to be realistically positive about our experiences in Uganda, the modus operandi for this incoming group is to acknowledge sensitivity concerning pressing issues about gender, race, and poverty. Desensitization for older PCV’s vs. hypersensitivity for newer trainees is the overarching theme that we as community integration trainers have to address. There have been some complaints about older PCV’s that they don’t care enough the issues in Uganda.

I hazard that so many people back in the US can take the moral high ground and have the opportunity to discuss thoughtful articles and responses to those articles articulating the idiosyncrasies of gender identities, gentrification, and double standards. Here I believe that PCV’s have to choose their own battles to fight. Idealism only gets us so far and sometimes the haggard, pragmatic, and slightly jaded outlook of a PCV who just finished a male/female condom demonstration can bring about more positive change than someone gives a riveting speech in the village about the beauty of abstinence, family planning, and respecting your fellow person

Exhaust

5/5/15

I’m at it again, which surprises no one. I am at Nakeseke Core PTC where I am taking photos and videos of the campers and sessions at the IT Camp. Similar to other Peace Corps camps, this camp aims to empower youth (again with the word “empowerment”) to make healthy life choices through the medium of IT, Information Technology. The sessions revolve around basic typing skills, presenting with a powerpoint, the basic functions of a computer, and Microsoft Office. While I am glad to be here and help out, I am also exhausted and wish that I had chosen to stay at home instead for the remainder of this week.

So after the Central Mukono Youth Technical Training I chilled in Jinja for two days and then spentLate Night Art a night in Kampala. I had several errands to accomplish, including transferring 17.35 million shillings from my Barclays account to my supervisor’s account so that we could continue constructing the ICT lab. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the bank teller assured me that the transfer would occur within 2-3 business days. On the 28th, I traveled to the Arua Youth Technical Training to help facilitate the Permagarden session since the Peter Jensen, the Agricultural expert from Peace Corps Ethiopia, had to go to the Gambia. I personally accepted to go to the far West Nile because I wanted to develop my Permagarden skills to bring back to my community.

After spending the rest of that week up there, I went back to my site where I hosted a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer for two days. I mean, by this point I was tired and wanted my own space. Still it was nice to share my site with someone else. However, today literally felt like shit. All I wanted to do for the majority of the day was shout until my throat got sore or punch a bodaman in the face. I needed to expend some energy and I felt as if I just had it with this country. With the logic of an engineering undergrad, I knew that these feelings would pass, but for several hours today all I could think about was spending a few days in my home where I could watch movies, sleep in, read a few books, and maybe resolve the perpetual gassiness that has plagued me for the past 4 weeks.

The anger built up during my usual bike ride from my house to Wobulenzi. It’s always physically easier to bike away from site but mentally more challenging because the people start to recognize me less and less. I also answered my essential Facebook messages and email for a few hours with my internet access, which just depressed me. I got emotional reading the news about the Freddie Gray death and the ensuing riots and looting in Baltimore. I just wanted to be back there and getting to share my love for a city that I hope to live in. Naturally, everyone looked amazing and happy on Facebook and I just felt disgustingly bloated and fat from my gassiness and eating oily Ugandan food from all of the trainings and street food vendors.

My supervisor then called me to inform that he had not yet received the funds in his bank account. I called Barclays customer service and they told me that I had to wait until they resolved the issue. I waited in the Wobulenzi taxi park for a few hours for the takisi to fill, even though riding my bike to the PTC would have been much faster. En route to Nakaseke, the customer service representative called me back and said that the transfer never processed because I crossed out my name. In utter bewilderment, I exclaimed to her that I had the letter “x” in my name (Marvin Roxas), which is how I spell my name. She said that that was no problem and all I had to do was drop everything and travel to the nearest Barclays branch about 3 hours away and sign the form again. Maybe this time I would need to omit the “x” in my last name, which might also invalidate the transfer.

I called me supervisor who asked if I could just go to Kampala tomorrow and sign the form since he had already had the wooden roof frame installed in the lab and the iron sheets wouldn’t arrive until the money was in his account. He worried that the wood might rot from all of the rain during this week. As I got off the takisi at Nakaseke, all I could think about was how karma definitely did not apply to me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was as if I wanted to just help out where I could, and Uganda just wanted to dishearten me until I decided to just give up. It hurt even more when someone said that I was just too nice and needed to learn when to say no to people. It was as if they think I’m just a kitenge sheet over a door frame that lets anyone pass through. I’ve said no to a lot of people. My problem lies in the unexpected surprises such as an unsuccessful transfer when I was told that it was successful, assuming that I will drop everything and work on a project days before an event, or immediately prioritize another project when two items on my agenda conflict.

These feelings caused me to push Ugandans in the takisi, ignore those who wanted to converse with me, yell at my supervisor on the phone, and show up in such a foul mood at the IT Camp that almost everyone asked: “Are you alright?” “Wow, you look exhausted!” “Are you mad at me?” “You seem very down.” What could I do? I felt like this swelling rage would burst at any moment. Fortunately, I busied myself with taking photos, a fellow PCV listened to my ranting, and an improv session by the Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development boosted my spirits.

I am exhausted and don’t even know how I’m still making it. I’m just gonna take this month day-by-day, because at times Peace Corps is a thankless job. All that I ask is that peeps just try to understand.

P.S. – At the time of posting, I already feel much better.

Permagardens and Flying

20/4/15 – 25/4/15

I feel like I dedicated the past two weeks of my life towards very sustainable trainings and sessions. From April 20th – 25th I brought a group of two Luteete PTC students and my village neighbor Mingling HandsGodfrey to the Central Youth Technical Training in Mukono. During the past 5 months Peace Corps staff and an extended Peace Corps Volunteer designed regional youth technical trainings that refined the Peace Corps camp model. The goal was to present and facilitate soft leadership skills and sustainable agricultural practices, IGA’s (income generating activities), and creative facilitation skills to a team consisting of a Peace Corps Volunteer, Ugandan counterpart, and two Ugandan youth. This would ensure a transfer of skills and further provision of resources by the Peace Corps Volunteer.

I was absolutely enthralled by this training, because the focus was on fostering youth-adult partnerships. There were sessions about creative facilitation, HIV/AIDS myths and condom (male and female) demonstrations, gender empowerment, compost and permagarden creation, and youth-led clubs. Every session presented the topics with an emphasis on gender and youth empowerment. The Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development, consisting of Ugandan artists, dancers, singers, and actors, facilitated the majority of the sessions. A special emphasis was placed on having females and other youth leading the sessions as opposed to traditional male Ugandan facilitators.

Permagarden NotesI think that I was in a stage of my service where I had this close relationship with my Ugandan team members and knew specific ways and methods that could be employed in my community. I met a Ugandan facilitators dedicated to motivating youth through hip-hop dancing, offering free HIV testing in rural communities, and demonstrating the successes of youth-led clubs. However, the session that excited me the most was the permagarden tutorial led by a Peace Corps Ethiopia agriculture specialist, Peter Jensen. A permagarden utilizes many of the concepts of permaculture design, by manipulating a pre-existing landscape with sustainable, easy-to-access, and readily available resources in agriculturally-based societies. Once created, a permagarden would allow a family to plant various fruits, vegetables, and perennials throughout the year regardless of dry season or rainy season.

Mukono Sunset

Mukono Sunset

Water is stored underground during rainy season underneath the subsoil and deeper layers of clay. After double-digging and loosening the soil down to a depth of 50cm, the water from the rainy season will rise through the dry upper layers of subsoil and topsoil through capillary action. By adding charcoal powder, dry cow manure, and wood ash the loosened layers of soil in the plant beds will hold more air, water, and minerals essential for plant growth and deep roots. My team members were ecstatic about this new concept and decided that they wanted to create a permagarden near the ICT lab near the PTC. I too got excited about introducing various vegetables and greens to my community in a easily-created way.

Furthermore, these trainings allowed the youth to voice their own ideas and feel as if anything they said carried the same magnitude as any other adult or Peace Corps Volunteer regardless of age or gender. I could summarize my time in Mukono as being very inspiring. I was surrounded by devoted Peace Corps Volunteers and even more devoted Ugandans. Similar to other Peace Corps camps, the Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development taught leadership and creativity sessions through art, skits, dancing, singing, and movement. The idea revolved around kinesthetic teaching methods as opposed to powerpoint presentations and blackboards.

Arua Sunset

Arua Sunset

Towards the end of the training, there were two sessions that really captured the essence of training. The first one was late-night art where all the participants of the training gathered around the edges of a long table draped with white cloth and all kinds of drawing and painting materials. The idea was to dance around the table and draw certain images at certain intervals. It started out at face-value by drawing our favorite foods on the cloth, and progressed to drawing images that reminded us of youth-adult partnerships. At one point, we were instructed to draw an image of our personal dream for someone in this room. After we were done, my Ugandan student pulled me arm and showed me her drawing of a school building. She told me that her dream was for me to teach students like her at my very own school. Another youth pulled me aside and showed me an image of a camera and said that her dream was for me to take the best photo in the entire world.

Sometimes I forget that as much as Peace Corps volunteers here dream about helping Uganda, To FlyUgandans also have dreams for us. Peter led the second session where we each held a piece of paper and slowly crumpled it every time something he said applied to us. For example, if he said, “I have been a victim of crime”, “I have a leaky roof”, “I have HIV”, or “I have been persecuted for my beliefs” then I would crumple my paper each time a statement was true in my life. Afterwards, we exchanged papers with someone else and straightened the paper out. Step-by-step he instructed us how to build a paper airplane, and explained that even though we could never truly get rid of the crumples in our life, we could still change. After everyone successfully created a paper airplane, he instructed us to lift it into the air and in the stillness of that moment he uttered, “No matter how damaged you were; now you can fly.” Immediately after he said that, over 60 paper airplanes, goals, and visions were soaring through the air of the main hall.

The Monster

18/4/15

It is the time of the term break doldrums when the students have finished Term 1 and the tutors are done teaching until the beginning of Term 2 next month. I have followed the formula:

9:00am – 10:00am waking up, putting in my contacts, opening the windows to prove to my neighbors that I woke up

10:00am – 11:00am – do some laundry, make chappatis for breakfast

11:00am – 1:00pm – eat breakfast, read books and articles on my kindle, use the pit latrine

1:00pm – 3:00pm – go to the PTC to eat lunch, sit down and wait until students approach me with questions*

*Note: These questions have ranged from algebra to women’s sexual health to possible income-generating activities

3:00pm – 5:30pm – dress down from PTC attire, play with the village children, take a nap, read books on kindle, study Swahili, call PCV’s concerning future projects

5:30pm – 7:15pm – bicycle to nearby Bamunanika trading center, buy necessities (tp, flour, rice, tomatoes), purchase 5 samosas, set up laptop at the hill to get internet, check email and Facebook

7:15pm – 8:15pm – chill in the house and share some conversations with the neighbors, fetch water

8:15pm – 9:00pm – electricity comes back, I watch tv shows on laptop, charge cell phone, and cook rice

9:00pm – 9:30pm – I do Focus T25 workout

9:30pm – 10:30pm – cook dinner, bucket bathe, eat dinner, wash dishes

10:30pm – 1:30am – write blog posts, lesson plan, watch tv shows, poop, brush teeth, go to bed

Normally, I would have gone elsewhere to preoccupy myself, but I felt that I needed to stay put for once and just spend some quality time at my site with my students, neighbors, and children even though I wasn’t teaching at the PTC. I also knew that the next few weeks would involve a lot of hectic travel for me involving the Central Youth Technical Trainings, Training of Trainers for the incoming group of PCV’s, and traveling to the Acholi-speaking regions of PCV’s with the Country Director. Either I have too much free time or not enough of it.

However, today presented itself with some new circumstances. A few months ago, my neighbor Godfrey acquired a baby kitten that he keeps as a pet. The problem is that Ugandans dislike pets that serve no use such as a dog or cat. It is not uncommon for Ugandans to kick cats and dogs in the village or to even kill them if they continued to eat ones chickens. As a result, the empathy and kindness towards cats and dogs that are normally taken for granted in the United States do not apply here. Time and time again I have to explain to the children to pet the cat gently and not hit it with a rock or a stick. It doesn’t help that many of the adults kick the kitten if it’s in their way. Today, one of the children picked up the kitten by the tail and started swinging it around as the kitten cried. I was fed up with the situation and ill-will with which the children treated each other and the kitten so I picked up the child and held him upside down.

Normally, I would do this with the children and they would laugh because I was one of the few adults who would throw them in the air, flip them, and then catch them before they landed. He started crying and I proceeded to playfully throw him in the air but the suddenness with which I threw him startled him into crying even more. Honestly, I didn’t feel bad about making him cry, because he cries every day. Their cries rarely move me anymore, because they instigate it by hitting each other, slapping each other, falling over each other, smashing the other’s face with a stick, or biting each other. It is rare that children that young here resolve their problems through words or by saying, “Sorry.” Instead, it’s much easier to get the message through corporal punishment.

As I walked away from the kids who now all wanted to be held upside down, one of the older village neighbors in his late-teens walked up to me. He normally would ask me questions about my life, America, or my bicycle. This time we shared a lively discussion about cats and pets. He told me that he believed that cats were demons. When I asked him why, he told me that cats had no bones. I explained to him that while he is entitled to his own opinions, he still had to respect that the cat was Master Godfrey’s pet and so he shouldn’t hit or kick it. He disagreed with me and told me a story: “Marvin, you know when you have some come visit your house or room and even though you don’t know her you just hate her? That’s how I feel about cats.”

I was just fed up with the ignorance as I argued with him. Normally in a town or trading center I would have ignored these false musings and spent my time doing something more productive. The difference in this situation was that he was my neighbor and I had been living here for over a year now. This was someone in my direct sphere of influence in my home village. I explained to him that cats were animals and even though they didn’t serve a direct purpose such as chickens, goats, or cows they shouldn’t be treated with cruelty. I guess that it just worries me that if both children and adults get pleasure from physically torturing another creature that didn’t harm them then physical violence could be engrained in them at an early age. Sometimes I shuddered as I saw the smile and laugh as they hit each other or the cat with rocks, sticks, or their hands.

I told my neighbor that I would physically show him direct proof in the PTC library that cats had a skeletal system and therefore bones. He said that he still had to perform some chores, but insisted that cats were demons. A few minutes later, he was back at my door with more topics of intellectual discussion. At first he asked if I could find him a sponsor for his school fees to which I replied, “No.” I told him that it was unsustainable and that he himself and his family were well-off enough to provide him with the money needed to pay tuition and board.

He continued by telling me a story about how some of his friends got sponsors from visiting Bazungu (white people), but he himself did not receive one even though he spoke the best English. He started to say, “You people, the Bazungu…” I cut him off mid-sentence and explained to him that it was rude to categorize all of us as white people. I reminded him that even though my skin was light, I was not white but Filipino. This started us on an interesting discussion about how one could be both an American as well as Filipino, that using a lot of idiomatic expressions is good, and that Obama is a part of the Illuminati and not American because his father is Kenyan.

I sighed almost every time that my neighbor opened his mouth and started spouting nonsense. My favorite statement of his was that Lil Wayne, Bebe Cool, P Square, and other rappers worshipped the devil because he read about it on the internet. Furthermore, Akon was a sodomizer because a pastor came to his school and showed the students a video that proved it to them. My neighbor then told me that I had to agree with him because if I disagreed with him then I would be lying to myself. The circular logic stunned me, because I started to get a better understanding of why some beliefs and values took root so deeply in the Ugandan culture, whereas others did not.

With the use of effective rhetoric and passion, I could see that a single web page, visit from a pastor, or village superstition could have such a strong influence over my neighbor. My other worry was that this kid wasn’t an uneducated guy from the deep village, but a student at the respectable Luteete Secondary School. This was a kid who could rattle off the chemicals on the periodic table, talk in full English sentences, ask about apartheid, draw the parts of a computer, and recite all sorts of memorized information from his classes. However, the critical thinking aspect was very lacking.

At one point in the conversation when our discussion heated up he asked me what the word “hit” meant. In my anger, I punched my wooden front door as a demonstration and in the process I bruised my knuckles. It made me realize just how much harder I would need to work to even change a small part of a person’s mind over here. Even backed by legitimate textbooks, internet sources, and sound reason/logic in both Luganda and English he would still disagree with me concerning something he saw on the internet or heard through the matook leaves (my own metaphor of “through the grapevine”). As a generalization, there is a lack of personal judgment concerning what constitutes a good, objective source of information as opposed to passionate prose and strong opinions from “big people”.

Note: Ugandans refer to leaders and people in high positions of power as big people.

How do I get someone to agree with me that disagreeing with me on a certain opinion is alright when that person sees me as a big person who cannot be contradicted? How do I get someone to understand the difference between facts and opinions when almost anything written through a permanent or semi-permanent form is seen as the truth? It’s in times like this that I understand and appreciate the value of Peace Corps. I have started to gain the trust of my community and what I say can be trusted or explained through their lens rather than through that of a short-term visitor who cannot possibly begin to understand the idiosyncrasies and subtleties that make up general Ugandan culture.

The biggest enemy that I have to face as a teacher in Uganda isn’t some bureaucratic behemoth, but ignorance. I try my best to empower my students with creativity and critical-thinking, but some days I just want to hit people until they agree that what I am saying is correct. It would be a much easier method, but I would have then replaced their ignorance with my own. I would be colonizing their minds, with me as their king. Instead of becoming a monster, I have to become a paragon instead. Instead of colonizing their minds, I have to free them. Instead of showing them right from wrong, I have to give them the skills and tools to discover their own, educated truth.