The Next Adventure

It has been a while since I left Uganda, and I can’t even begin to share how odd it is to look back on my experiences in the Peace Corps and feel as if these past two years were a dream. I think back to how different life was and how to reconcile that with the life that I am living right now. The past two months have been rough, and the transition has been everything but graceful. But I am still alive and getting used to a life that does not seem to hold meaningful value on the surface like it did during my service. Instead, more of an effort is required in order to find meaning in one’s life here.

My next story will continue in my new blog Twelve Years a Rave (twelveyearsarave.com), where I will chronicle my musings and adventures in my new home community of Baltimore City, Maryland. Thank you all for sharing in these past two years, but rest assured that my adventures and stories are still continuing.

Webale Nnyo Bassebo ne Bannyabo,

Marvin Roxas

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Idiosyncrasy

21/10/15

It’s the immensity of life that’s hitting me right now; remembering a life beyond the villages, the workshops, the shitty public transportation, and our role in the greater world perspective. I’m sitting at my desk trying to reconcile all of these feelings of how I can go back and still reconcile, explain, and integrate these new traits and perspectives that I have gained here. I think it’s such a unique experience to willingly choose to spend more than two years of paid career experience in order to do the ultimate volunteering experience. While we may be living in rural villages and towns, we’re viewing our transformations and the changing cultural perspectives from the lens of someone from the developed world where social and semantic nuances make all the difference.

In the beginning, almost everyone thinks, “Wow this country is so quaint and the people are so loving and friendly.” I thought the same thing too, and yes I do believe that on the surface level everything does appear to be very simple and free. In the developed world, there are layers of depth and meaning to almost every thought, word, and action. People spend hours poring over quotes by politicians, religious leaders, and friends whereas here so many words can be said without much meaning. I’m thinking of the 45-minute long speeches that signify nothing but pure sound. So on the surface things seem to be relatively straightforward here, but after spending two years here I have begun to see the reasons why things occur. I have started to see that western criteria for efficiency, best practices, and right and wrong do not always coincide with the cultural beliefs and local environment of Uganda.

In the United States time must be planned because everyone else is making a schedule that works in harmony with the local situation of the day. Public transportation is more or less on time, meetings have agendas, school and work have certain hours, and timed actions concern most things. Missing an important work meeting even if your child is sick or your local grocery store ran out of bread can be detrimental to your work colleagues. Here, it is a perfectly valid excuse to miss a work meeting or be hours late because people and your work take priority since time bends to whatever actions are required. If I attempt to chastise a co-worker for being late to a meeting when his or her child is sick with malaria, the cow has wandered away, and the lack of rain means that he or she needed to gather water from the borehole to water the farm then I would be seen as being in the wrong.

I still don’t know the best way to tackle this problem. What does it mean to develop a village if making it more time-efficient, wealthier, and more educated leads to lesser empathy among people and more emphasis on American individualism and entrepreneurship?

This is just one of the puzzling questions that I ask myself that would have made almost no sense to me pre-Peace Corps. It’s the idiosyncrasies that I catch through my westernized, critical thinking lens coupled with the slight understanding of life here in Uganda. It’s all about the context rather than absolutes. In the United States, we want emotionally fulfilling, efficient, and innovative solutions that fit our criteria for good feels and restoring our faith in humanity whereas in Uganda we want to slowly-by-slowly make a lot of easy money, provide for the entire extended family and one day make it to the United States.

It’s the intersection of sweeping generalizations and anecdotal circumstances that I believe are true. The hardest part will be going back and knowing that most people will want a one-sentence answer to the age-old question: “How was Peace Corps?”

Defeated

23/10/15

I spent the majority of the day on my hill so that I could send out more job applications. This is harder for me than other PCV’s, because I have to squat beside a rock that is half covered with biting ants and hope that the signal for my internet USB modem is 3G+ because 3 and EDGE don’t allow me to access any internet. It’s hard concentrating on gathering details about the company for whom I’m writing a cover letter and supplying relevant information about my current life when insects are biting my legs, the sun is blazing on my back, and the service is temporarily down. The worst are the job applications that require me to go on an internet portal that shuts down when my service shuts down.

I wished that my potential employers could have seen me hurrying to finish an application as the clouds raced in and started to downpour on me. I didn’t want to close my laptop in the middle of a portal application, so I huddled underneath a large mango tree and shielded the laptop with my body as I continued to gather information about the company and add it to my cover letter. I am sure that if any of my employers saw the dedication that I put into applying for their open positions that my resolve and self-motivation would not be of any question.

It’s hard trying to find a job with access to village technology and such a large time difference. I get worried sometimes because I feel as if I need to have a job or internship set so that I can finally relax and no longer worry about it. It’s causing me to focus almost all of my efforts on my future when I get back and it’s exciting and disconcerting knowing that my future career and life will depend on what company accepts me.

I’m tired. It’s not the tiredness that comes from working too hard or partying too hard, but the weariness from sustained work without a solid break from looming projects and commitments. I feel ready for a vacation from my service and then off to start a new journey in engineering design. It’s a long way away, and right now it feels as if I’ll never get there. However, I know that I just have to keep on networking and applying for jobs and hopefully one of them will turn out in my favor.

Passing Away

11/2/15

I was messaged by my mom on Facebook that my grandmother, my Lola, was very sick. I was informed that she had fallen down, she wasn’t eating as much as she used to eat, and that she had to be hospitalized. Her condition worsened over the course of the past few months, and recently my mom had sent me some urgent Facebook messages informing me to call her while I still could. I remember calling her in Kampala last week. My uncle had picked up the phone and told me that I should just talk to her because she could no longer speak, but she could hear.

Today, I was fortunately able to see my mother’s Facebook message urging me to call as soon as possible because Lola could pass away at any moment. I bicycled to the nearby duka to buy airtime, and returned to my house. I called my mom who was in San Diego at the moment, who allowed me to say my final words to my Lola. I told her how I prayed for her, how much I missed her, how I did good work here in the Peace Corps and followed my dreams, how I drank some good Ugandan coffee out of the mug that she gave me the last time I saw her, and how I loved her.

There was some discussion with my mother concerning whether or not I would consider coming back for a week to attend the funeral. I really did not want to go back to attend my Lola’s funeral, but I asked my mom what she thought Lola would really want me to do. Of course my mother told me that I should come back for the funeral, but my grandfather, my Lolo, said that I shouldn’t put myself through the hassle of having to fill out all the paperwork just to travel back for the funeral. I know that it would put my mom at ease if I came back for a short period, as well as to console her, but I know that the best way for me to celebrate my Lola’s life is by doing the best job that I can as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

At 1:42 am Ugandan time (2pm California time), my Lola passed away. From what I heard, she had gone through a lot of suffering. While she could still communicate, she decided that if she passed away she didn’t want to be resuscitated. In my memories, I remember my Lola who cooked my favorite Filipino dishes, came to my high school graduation, and would welcome me with open arms whenever I had the chance to see her. When I think of a loving person and archetypal grandmother figure, I think of my Lola. Even when my dad divorced my mom, Lola still had his picture up with the rest of her sons and daughters-in law and told me that of course she still prayed for him and considered him a part of the family.

She had a capacity to love that made me stay on my best behavior whenever I was with her. Because of her and Lolo, they created a family of 7 kids who all grew up to start families of their own with over 20+ grandchildren.

My mom called me in tears, and told me that Lola just passed away. Even so far away I can feel the vulnerability and sadness that my mom feels. I remember looking back at a photo album in my Lola and Lolo’s apartment and seeing my mom with her brothers and sisters posing in front of their house in the Filipino village. I think back to their humble village beginnings and about the humble village beginnings of the Ugandans whom I work with here. I think about the importance of family and how right now my Lola is surrounded by her husband and all of her sons and daughters who have loved her and each other as a family.

Right now there are too many memories flooding through my head. I remember being a small boy in the Philippines and praying the rosary with her and hoping that after we prayed together 100 times I would be granted 1 wish, I remember her crying whenever we had to leave her after visiting, I remember her celebrating 50 years of marriage with Lolo during a family reunion in California, and I remember making sure that whenever I said goodbye to her on the phone or in-person I ended with “I love you Lola.”

What I do and accomplish as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I do in part for my Lola and how she inspired me ever since I was a baby. So for one more time, I love you Lola.

I See Fire (Christmas)

22/12/14 – 25/12/14

I was a bit sad after leaving the Duchess, because I was really looking forward to hanging out with some of the PCV’s there for a birthday celebration. I think that there was some stress and emotions involving a hike the next day and who would be sleeping where. So Ravi, Godfrey, and I set off to chill at the Mountains of the Moon hotel. It literally felt like a nice hotel in the United States. The scenery was beautiful and there was a hotel lobby with luggage service.

We hung out by the side of the pool, but it was overcast so we decided not to swim. Godfrey asked us about some physics principles, which Ravi and I were very happy to explain to him. PCV Emily arrived and we gathered together for yet another Indian meal at the Delhi Garden restaurant. After dinner, we headed over to YES (Youth Encouragement Services) Hostel. I was a very big fan of the place, since it had free wifi and a place for us to store our bicycles while we were away for the next few days.

Ravi iced me as I got out of the shower. I then uploaded a small update about completing my journey, and was very happy to see all of the birthday wishes from friends and family members back home. The next day, Godfrey departed to go back home as Ravi and I took a takisi headed down to Mbarara. We had to pay almost double the original cost of the ride since it was the holiday season.

PCV Rebecca at Bishop Stuart PTC right outside Mbarara was hosting Christmas for any PCV who wanted to come down there as well as for the trainees in the southwest. The celebrations involved reading the story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke, singing Christmas carols, hearing the story of the Christmas Armistice 100 years ago, swapping gifts during White Elephant, playing a mandatory Ultimate Frisbee Game on Christmas Day, having a po sho snowball fight, playing Salad Bowl, and bonding with each other over missing our families and traditions back home. As per usual, Rebecca did an amazing job cooking sloppy joes for Christmas Eve dinner, and preparing stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cauliflower and broccoli salad, roast chicken, and roast duck for 20 people.

Christmas Ultimate Frisbee Team

Christmas Ultimate Frisbee Team

For some reason, I just felt bipolar during the entirety of my stay at Rebecca’s place. At some points I was beyond excited to be hanging out with friends and making new ones in such a happy atmosphere. Then at other times I would get extremely frustrated or upset with something, someone, or even myself. As I type this, I find it hard to explain my frustration, anger, and irritation.

Po Sho Snowball Fight

Po Sho Snowball Fight

I found myself getting angry with random Ugandans who annoyed me. I got irritated by PCV’s who kept telling me that they were okay when they obviously were going through some trouble. I was frustrated with myself for feeling this way. In the middle of some of the Christmas celebrations I found myself wanting to get away and spend some time by myself.

Journal Entry:

“I don’t necessarily like who I’ve become or what I do or how I act anymore.”

I think that I was going through another one of those funks. However, as the one year mark approaches I find myself becoming more and more blunt and expressive in my emotions. My patience runs thin at times and I show it to many PCV’s and Ugandans around me. It’s not a very healthy thing for me, but it’s something that I am working through. It’s weird, because I never thought that my service in Peace Corps would make me act or feel like this, and when I do it makes me feel rotten.

But not everything was bad. When it was good, it was great and I loved sharing Christmas with PCV’s and trainees alike. I loved singing Oh Holy Night together with everyone as well as calling my friends and family members back home. I even got to double ice Ravi back after he iced me on my birthday. What really helped though was an after Christmas lunch/dinner yoga and meditation session where I was able to clear my body and mind of all of the stresses and thoughts that irked me.

Also, there has been one song that kept getting stuck in my head during the course of the week. It was “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, which was also featured at the end of the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug movie when the credits start rolling. I just felt very inspirational and uplifting especially after the bike ride, reading Eiger Dreams, and the cold nights shared with good friends at Bishop Stuart PTC.

I definitely am going to have to work hard to keep my cool and succeed in this following year. In some ways, I am sad with how much things have changed since I’ve been in country, but in many ways I am very pleased with what I’ve learned and how much stronger I’ve become. And in countless other ways, I feel very blessed to realize all of the things, events, and people that I am thankful for.

”If this is to end in fire, then we should all burn together, watch the flames burn higher, into the night. Calling out father, oh, stand by and we will watch the flames burn all around the mountainside.”

~I See Fire, Ed Sheeran

Becoming Used

29/10/14

Sometimes I wonder about how different life was like back in the United States. I had a dream (most likely Mefloquine induced) about staging in Philadelphia the day before we left for our flight to Uganda. I definitely know that I have changed since that day. One of my PCV friends here explained her concern that when our friends and family members see us back in the United States, they will see us as a changed person. They might say, “Marvin, you’ve changed since you left 27 months ago.” However, for them the change that they see is just one large change in outlook, appearance, and personality whereas the change that I and my fellow PCV’s know consists of many small minute changes that occurred throughout the entirety of our service. What I am at the one year mark is different from what I was when I first arrived and what I will be when I depart.

As I’ve acclimated to daily life here, the epiphany moments become less and less frequent as the mundane day-to-day moments become more and more frequent. I may not notice how I’ve changed because of how gradual the changes have been. As an example, when I first arrived in country I was extremely confused as how to navigate anywhere without a Peace Corps Driver driving me everywhere. The concept of finding another Peace Corps Volunteer in the middle of a Ugandan sub-county was daunting. I couldn’t understand how to get from one place to another without the guidance of sign posts or a pre-printed list of Google Maps directions.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I got more and more comfortable travelling to different areas of Uganda by myself. I began to see familiar roads and intersections. I could tell when I had left one region and started entering another one. As the Ugandans say, “I started to become used.”

I think that the hardest adjustment will be re-connecting with old friends as well as connecting with new ones. I’ve already started thinking about that concise one-sentence response that will answer the question: “How as Peace Corps/Africa/Uganda?”

My tentative responses thus far:

“It was hot. It was sultry. I learned where Uganda was on the map. I was a physics teacher in a Ugandan village armed with a blackboard and a piece of chalk. I pooped in a hole. Ebola wasn’t near me at all. I could never tell what was inside me.”

I guess that I’ll figure out my witty, informative, and awe-inspiring response sometime in the coming 15 months.

So the rest of the day involved me going to a dedication ceremony for the primary school pupils here. There was a Christian (Seventh Day Luteete Primary School Dedication CeremonyAdventist maybe?) church service and the P7 and P1 pupils were honored. From the few words I could gather from the pastor’s 20-minute long speech (he said that he was wrapping up the speech at the 5, 10, and 15 minute mark) he made a poignant comparison between the P1 and the P7 pupils. It was interesting placing myself in their shoes and imagining how it must feel to have once been that young and then be on the verge of entering secondary school.

I thought back to when I was a middle-school student in Sacred Heart of Glyndon in Maryland. I remembered my graduation night and how I felt that those three years in middle school represented an end of an era.

I look back on that now and think about how far I’ve come and how many personal eras I’ve lived through since that graduation night in a far different church. In that air-conditioned church, all students and family members were present for a graduation ceremony where the speeches were brief and the prospect of eating out at the nearby Bill Bateman’s was tantalizing. In this heat-filled church, all pupils and some family members who could make it for the day were present for a dedication ceremony where the overtly religious speeches were endless and the prospect of eat fresh cassava and beans was on everyone’s mind.

After the ceremony ended, I taught a brief lesson about light dispersion and the formation of rainbows. I then walked back home and saw the entire congregation gathered underneath the tamarind tree. They were having a harvest auction where each grade level of the primary school brought in something  such as beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cassava, etc. to auction. It was amusing seeing one of the primary school teachers playing the role of the auctioneer as pupils, teachers, and parents alike bid on the various harvest goods. I outbid one of the villagers for a pumpkin by 100/= (roughly 2 cents).

Right now I am roasting some pumpkin in my dutch oven in order to make some pumpkin bread and pumpkin based tikka masala as a small treat for me since its hump day at site. Tomorrow I’ll use the remainder to make some pumpkin soup. So yeah, I guess that I’m getting used.

The Night Will Go On

14/9/14

“Keep your head still, I’ll be your thrill, the night will go on, the night will go on…”

~Blink-182, All the Small Things

I want to dedicate this blog post to my friend Dave D’Alessandro. He died on August 28, 2014 in Pensacolo, Florida according to his obituary. He was a friend and a fellow classmate of mine in the College of Engineering at Boston University. I didn’t even realize that he had died until I logged on Facebook last weekend in Entebbe and saw that a lot of our mutual friends had changed their profile picture to be one with him in it. I then messaged one of our mutual friends and realized that he had passed away. It sounded very weird to know that this person who was so full of life and who was a good friend of mine had just ceased to exist.

I first met Dave during freshman year at Boston University when I played on the rugby team. I remember him as the guy who had played soccer in high school and was now trying out a new sport. I didn’t really start hanging out with him until junior year of college after we had both finished doing study abroad experiences. He played a large part in many of my fond memories from senior year at Boston University. His apartment on Verndale along with Nick, Dave, Mike, and Saeed was one of the apartments where a lot of parties were held. The apartments on Ashford and Pratt were the other two apartments. I remember that whenever the Verndale crew came over to a party, that a classic Blink-182 song soon would be played. One of my fondest memories was going over to a Pratt party and dancing to Blink-182’s All the Small Things in the basement as everyone was already coupled up and dancing like fools.

We attended engineering classes together and worked in the same CAD labs. During the later end of senior year I would organize bike trips to the Arboretum in Jamaica Plain and DaveRollerblading Arboretum would be the one who rollerbladed and carried a lunch box filled with an iPod attached to portable speakers. After my last a cappella concert during Spring 2013, I received a text from Dave asking me if I wanted to chill with him and one of our mutual friends at the Boston Harbor and watch the sunrise. I responded with a yes, but fell asleep instead because I was hosting the concert after-party. I regret not making it to see the Boston Harbor sunrise with him.

After graduation I would still come over to chill with the Verndale crew. We would chill well into the night and play story cubes, which involved going around one-by-one in a circle and telling a part of an overall, made-up story depending on what image appeared on the die that you rolled. The last story that we made as a group involved some character named Fuckelberry Hin and Hark Main in the 7th Dimension. During these ridiculous stories, we would also have some real talk. Dave was planning to go into the Navy for Naval Aviation and I was gearing up to go into the Peace Corps. We remarked about how we were both going into differing corps that both strived for a goal involving peace. I had to leave on a plane that left around 6am for Maryland, so I left the Verndale house at 3am in order to make it to Logan Airport on time. That was the last time I saw him, and the image of him rollerblading with a life-size cardboard cutout of Legolas from Lord of the Rings the night before BU graduation will forever stay engrained in my head.

A few weeks after I left Boston for good, he sent me this email:

“Hey Marvin,

I just wanted to let you know that we just brought back the tent to your apartment. Thank you so much for letting us to borrow it, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect tent in Canada. And so you know, camping in Canada is a fucking blast, I definitely recommend it.

Also, thank you for the ash tray and other gifts you gave us when you left, they are awesome and have come in handy!

But more than anything, thank you for being an amazing friend and classmate for the past 4 years at BU.  I can honestly say that you are one of the coolest people I’ve ever met in my life. I literally think you are way cooler than myself, and that’s saying a lot because let’s be serious, I’m really fucking cool. All joking aside, you are one of the kindest, most sincere, and fun people I have ever known.  I admire and respect you in so many ways, and you are seriously a role model for me. Not only because you are awesome, funny, kind-hearted, and just super cool, but because you are doing something you seem to be quite passionate about with the Peace Corps.  It’s so super awesome you are doing that, and I know you are going to do an amazing job while having a blast.  In every conversation we have ever had, you taught me something about traveling, engineering, the world, or life in general. I consider myself blessed to have had you as a friend in college, and you are one of the few people who really made BU a life changing and awesome experience for me.

I can only hope that our paths cross again soon (maybe somewhere in the 7th dimension with Fuckelberry Hin and Hark Main), and if they don’t before you leave for the Peace Corps, have an awesome time and good luck!

Thanks for everything man.

Peace and Love,

Dave”

I was very flattered by this email, and found it hard to believe some of the things that he wrote in it because I didn’t believe it myself. However, I would also say that it was people like him who also made my experience at BU the experience that it was.  I find it fitting that I have brought the concept of story cubes with me to Peace Corps and continue to share it with my friends here, especially when we’re just chilling together. So Dave will continue to live on in my own stories here, in the night that goes on, a missed sunrise from partying too hard, and in the 7th dimension where I’ll be able to play story cubes with him and Hark Main.

Never the Same

9/4/14

So I’m in the midst of teaching my Year 1 students in the hopes that they can somehow retain the knowledge of basic pre-algebra. These are students who are in their upper teens and the spread in knowledge and experience is very vast. I have some students in class who are very bored because they know all of the answers, and then I have some students who don’t pay attention because the material is too difficult for them. I started off teaching last week with basic addition, then moved on to subtraction, multiplication, division, incorporating decimals and negatives, and then on to powers today. I’ve been teaching a bit more thoroughly than the Ugandan curriculum (which has some typos and mathematical errors) for mathematics in a PTC.

I never thought that one day I would be the teacher giving the quizzes and expecting the students to understand concepts to a certain level. However, I cannot blame the students who are performing poorly, because many of them come from educational backgrounds that are less than ideal. I have some students in the classroom who were struggling with basic addition, and then I have some students who are ready for higher level algebra. That much is apparent in the daily quizzes that I give my class with questions pertaining to the lesson of the previous day.

I believe that giving these students a thorough background in the basics of mathematics can help inspire them to be better students and eventually better student teachers. I want to give my students a fighting chance to grow and have the opportunity to achieve more than the average Ugandan’s life can achieve. As I was grading the quizzes concerning the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of negative numbers I was dismayed at first by the lower marks on the first dozen or so quizzes. However, as I continued I found that the majority of the students scored around the 70%-80% range and a few of them even managed to get 100%. I felt as if I was at least reaching some of the students and that hopefully there is a Gaussian distribution of grades.

I had also promised my class a prize for a game that we were playing. So today I brought my saucepans and ingredients to make a banana cake from scratch. I had asked the custodian to bring a sagiri and charcoal to the college at 5pm today in order to show them all how to bake without an oven. So I shared with them the recipe from the Peace Corps Uganda cookbook and demonstrated how to make a makeshift dutch oven using a smaller metal saucepan placed on top of rocks inside two larger saucepans placed on top of a sagiri. We played a quick game of Ultimate Frisbee while we waited for the cake to bake.

I was even able to incorporate some math and reading into the demonstration by having the students read and copy down the recipe and show how recipe proportions worked.

However, what stuck to me the most today was a comment left on my blog from a Ugandan who had moved to the United States. It was a very eloquently written comment concerning your typical culture shock but also how living in another country changes you. The perspective of the comment concerned moving to the United States from Uganda and how that person missed so many things from her homeland. It almost seemed as if she was describing the exact opposite of what I was feeling. She talked about eating marshmallows and hamburgers and missing Ugandan dishes. She would travel hours across many state-lines just to hang out with other Africans. However, she stressed that experiences such as living for many years in another country or volunteering in the Peace Corps makes you change forever. No matter how much I yearn for the things that I was once used to back home, once I eventually attain them in 22 months they will no longer mean what I thought they meant to me. Of course it is okay to miss things from back home, but right now I am living in my home of Uganda. I can either embrace the culture and truly attempt to understand how a Ugandan lives, or I can continuously try to only speak English, eat pizza, watch American movies, and never really know why Ugandans act the way or think the way that they do.

Even know after 5 months I feel that I have changed. I no longer have the urgent need to always be on the internet, I decided that po sho and beans are amazingly delicious, how everything in the world is linked, how difficult it is to accomplish almost anything in this country, and also how much I feel that I love the life that I am living right now. I love going to sleep underneath my mosquito net, taking cold bucket baths, fetching water from the nearby water tank after a heavy rainfall, talking with the cutest, young children in P1 who can’t speak any English yet, and surprising villagers by speaking to them in Luganda.

I worry a lot about many of my friends from back home moving on. But I know that the ones who matter the most in life will most likely still be there and ready to hang out when I return as if nothing happened. But something will have happened; I will have new friends from my time here. I didn’t replace the ones that I had back home, instead I changed and this stage in my life has the friends whom I have now. These are other Peace Corps Volunteers as well as host country nationals whose lives I actually understand far greater than if I had just visited Uganda for a couple weeks or months.

I’m never gonna be the same person after this. Life here is starting to normalize for me, and the feeling of the new has definitely given way to routine. Sometimes I look at my free, data-less, picture-less version of Facebook (0.facebook.com) on my Airtel modem (because that’s the only internet that even marginally works sometimes at my house) and see the going-ons and accomplishments of my friends and acquaintances. There is a new Mr. and Ms. Boston University, a colleague from my Berlin internship is starting his PhD in Biochemistry at MIT, friends are getting engaged, there are four seasons, and the world is getting smaller. But whenever I start to feel uneasy about my own accomplishments, I realize that I have made a living here in a Ugandan village as a Peace Corps Volunteer and that’s pretty fucking fantastic.

A Teacher

February 27, 2014

Name: Marvin Roxas

Date: 2/27/14

Unit: Uganda Blog

Subject: Blog Post

Teacher: Too many to count

“I am a doctor, you know

I am a man of the brains

Oh you all know that you depend on me

Oh without me you wouldn’t live

A mechanic here I come

A great man I am

Oh you all bring your cars to me

Oh without me you wouldn’t drive

Build builder here I come

Yes you depend on me

Oh without me there would be no house

A teacher, a teacher, a teacher

I’m the greatest of all…”

These are the lyrics to a simple song shared with me by my counterpart, Mr. Kyazze Dan who is the music and art teacher here at Luteete PTC. I had a talk with him the other day about his personal motivation, likes and dislikes about the college, and his own personal goals. It’s exciting to have these one-on-ones because I get the chance to really find out what these teachers want to accomplish here. It turns out that Mr. Dan has a laptop and some basic recording equipment in order to record some of his music students singing so that they can see a small side of music production. Now I haven’t seen his getup, but it still astounds me to see these pieces of technology in a place like the sub-counties of Luweero District.

His goal is to have enough funding and support to create a music school for the Luweero District. Students of all ages from all around the sub-counties would then have the opportunity to study a wide variety of local musical instruments, while also learning classical music theory, playing on a keyboard, and using their voice. I told him that I would be more than glad to help him raise awareness by adding some videos of the college choir singing on a blog site dedicated to works by the students of Luteete and the surrounding areas.

I never would have believed it a couple of years ago if you would have told me that I would be a teacher in Africa. Even now it’s funny thinking that I’m doing the stereotyped stint of living in Africa and teaching in a less than ideal conditions but feeling that it’s all worthwhile in the end. Even my friend from BU and Dresden, Matt Musto, commented on my teaching profile picture from Shimoni that I looked like the main character from Freedom Writers (And yes I do think that I have an uncanny resemblance to Hillary Swank). I spend some hours every other day planning my lessons so that the students would actually be excited to learn and be challenged. And as I teach, I remember my own teachers as I grew up.

I remember my elementary school teachers from ChurchLaneTechnologySchool. Even now I can name my homeroom teachers as well those who taught me specific subjects and made me learn.

Kindergarten – Ms. Pearson

1st Grade – Ms. Gray

2nd Grade – Mrs. Lang

3rd Grade – Mrs. Ellison-Wood

4th Grade – Ms. Massey

And then I moved away from public school to catholic school. During this transition, the more specific subject-oriented teachers left a bigger impact on me than the homeroom teachers, especially since we would then have different teachers for different subjects rather than one teacher for all subjects. I learned about culture and discipline in Church Lane. I learned how it felt to be the minority as I was called “Chinese Boy” by most of my classmates. It’s funny how right now I am still mistaken for Chinese in Uganda. But I got a solid start with my basics in reading comprehension, writing, basic arithmetic, and use of computers at such an early age.

And then in 5th grade and middle at Sacred Heart of Glyndon had my teachers push me to be better than I already was. They weren’t content that I was doing well with the material, and when I failed they straight up told me that I could do better. I remember acting out a lot in 5th grade and not getting the best grades. My Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Tebbs, sat down with me for a one-on-one session when I was serving yet another recess detention. She told me that she couldn’t change my bad behavior and the way I was acting, but that only I could make that decision for myself. Along with this, I needed to focus on my grades and study better because she knew that I was smarter than I demonstrated in class. I specifically remember during that day in 5th grade that I told myself that I would make a personally concentrated effort to become a better student.

I shaped up and got better grades and started off middle school strong. I had a solid education in middle school with teachers who really wanted us to master content even though we had just become teenagers. It was around this time that math and science began to really pique my interest. And I owe a big part of this inspiration to Ms. Goode and Mrs. Riley. I remember that Ms. Goode was a science and math teacher and she just had this certain playful quality yet stern demeanor that held such a powerful classroom presence. She would also work alongside with us middle school students in order to solve difficult math problems. I remember that she didn’t always have the answer to a problem from the get-go, but she would somehow be able to give us the tools needed for us to find the answer on our own and feel accomplished. And her projects were always really engaging. Then there was the crazy Mrs. Riley who would sing songs and talk about hanging us from a ceiling tile of our choice in the science lab if we became too rowdy.

But I remember that she made biology and chemistry fun. I loved doing the science projects for the science fair and I can still remember the section about making a rocket that we launched at the end of the year. We also watched the movie October Sky, based on Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, who also had a Ms. Riley as a science teacher.

Then in high school, I had amazing math and science teachers again. Now don’t get me wrong, I also had solid teachers in other subjects but the purpose of this blog post is to talk about my own inspiration in wanting to pursue math and science because of those techers. Ms. Warfield taught me Calculus like no other, and it is because of her that I feel like my math skills are as solid as they are right now. And back then I definitely did not feel like admitting it, but Physics Honors and AP Physics during my junior and senior years in high school really made me choose to become an engineer in college. I remember staying up past 4am trying to work out physics problems for homework as well as take-home test corrections for force and momentum problems that I just couldn’t understand. But other than just content, Mr. Baier taught me a new way of thinking. He allowed all of us to use our notes, textbooks, printed papers, old tests, equation sheets, and anything else that we had at our disposal in order to help us during his tests and quizzes. Regardless of these things, I remember failing a good portion of his tests and quizzes. But I eventually caught on and learned about a new way of thinking about a problem that wasn’t as straightforward as plugging in numbers to a formula and chugging.

I’d say that because of these two teachers, I was as successful as I became in the College of Engineering at Boston University to the point that I didn’t really learn any new material during my freshman year. And I remember Mr. Jariwala, my Physics II teacher during sophomore year fall semester at BU. After the first lecture, he already had everyone’s name memorized, and knew what questions we were capable of answering. And he challenged us just as much as Mr. Baier had challenged me two years prior, but I was prepared. And thanks to these and countless other teachers, both academic and non-academic, I have learned subject content and various other life skills. I learned how to learn, and as a result I have also learned a small part about what it means to teach.

And before I end this post, I also want to give a shout-out to my parents who were my first teachers. It was because of them that I started reading chapter books and knew my times tables by 2nd grade. But more importantly, they taught me about the meaning of a family and what it means to always have a home.

Here’s to you my teachers who have taught me throughout my lifetime. I hope that you know that I’m using what you taught me over here in my own classroom in Uganda.

My New Home

January 25th, 2014

Moving in to the Site

I finally made it to my site here at Luteete. Yesterday was an extremely tiring and stressful day, because I left Lweza My Homeand all of the other volunteers early in the morning around 7am. My supervisor was waiting near the exit of the compound in his car. My biggest concern was that I would be unable to fit my newly acquired Peugeot bicycle inside the car. Fortunately, I was able to fit it inside the backseat along with the rest of my stuff that I bought during the two shopping days at Kampala. The next big event was purchasing a gas cylinder so that I would be able to actually cook on my gas stove bought at the Shoprite near the OldTaxiPark in Kampala. As my supervisor drove me northwards through Kampala, we stopped by several gas stations. The goal was to acquire a gas cylinder that was small along with a regulator on the top and a hose that would connect to my stove. Unfortunately, all of the gas stations were out of the small 6kg cylinders. This would have been the most economically viable option since the empty, small cylinder would only have cost 145,000/= (50,000/= for the empty cylinder and 95,000/= for the refill) if purchased from a Shell Petrol Station. Instead I decided to opt for the 15kg cylinder which set me back 270,000/= (150,000/= for the empty cylinder and 120,000/= for the refill), 50,000/= for a regulator, and 24,000/= for 2 meters of gas hose.

I didn’t expect to incur this much cost so quickly into my move-in, and I was left with about 50,000/= left in my bank account. The next order of business was to purchase a mattress for my bedroom, which would cost 100,000/= that I didn’t have. I explained to my supervisor that I was more than fine with sleeping on the floor for the next week or so until I received my next monthly stipend allowance. He retorted that I was now a teacher and that it was unprofessional of me to sleep on the floor in my own house. He posed the question: “What would people think of me if they saw me moving into my house without a mattress?” He suggested that I accept one of his extra mattresses from his house and that I can pay him back later. Knowing that I did not have much money left, he brought me to a shop to purchase saucepans and jerrycans on store credit.

Goodbye to NeighborsA nice surprise was stopping by my host family’s house at Kasana near Luweero in order to pick up the remainder of my belongings that I left in my bedroom there. As soon as the car reached the newly built enclosure of the Texas Primary School, the neighborhood children and my host brothers and sisters ran up to me and yelled, “Uncle Marvin-eee!”

*The “eee” sound is added at the end because there seems to be that added sound at the end of people’s names.

I said goodbye to my host family, and my supervisor drove me back to my house. I started unpacking my items and two of my fellow neighboring teachers came over and I prepared a simple dinner of rice with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and Royco. We then had a conversation about the differences in food and weather between Uganda and America. They also remarked about how nice my appliances were from Kampala, especially my hot water kettle that would automatically boil water and then turn off when the water reached the boiling point. I think that I made a good impression on them, especially since they informed me that I was the first muzungu who had spent this much time talking to them.

They stayed for a long time, even through awkward silences during which I continued to unpack. They left around 9:45pm as the electricity went out, and I finished doing the dishes, unpacking with my very limited set of furniture, and bathing before I went to sleep for the first time ever in my new home.