Little Victories

February 10th, 2014

It’s about 8pm on this fine, dark Monday morning and the electricity is out again. I’m waiting for my fellow PTC Math and Integrated Science teacher. We planned to meet at 7pm, but I am already a bit used to Ugandan time. I made a dinner of matooke, Old Bay/sugar rubbed steaks, garlic/rosemary steaks, and caramelized onions. The plan was to discuss the upcoming classes because there was some miscommunication concerning classes. It’s definitely not anyone’s fault, and I am more confused about the process than anything else. About two weeks ago I thought that classes would start last Monday on February 3rd, but it turns out that that was the orientation week and that Primary School Classes would start since it is a government-run school as opposed to the private Luteete PTC. Also because there has been no power in the office, the timetable (schedule) has not been available. I was also told that I would be teaching one class every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday involving Math, Integrated Science, and ICT. I had already met with my fellow teacher and discussed a planned approach to lesson planning, and we assumed that we would have two classes each week. I guess that I misunderstood him, because there are four instances each week when both Math and Integrated Science are taught. I realized this when I was given the rough draft of the timetable after I taught the 3 PTC students who showed up to class this morning.

Later on I was informed that the secondary school examinations were being released from Kyambogo University. Many of the incoming 1st year PTC students were awaiting their results. One of the administrative staff members explained that I should still continue teaching and that more students would show up. And that was what I did this morning: I asked the 3 students what they wanted to review, since I didn’t find it conducive to begin teaching the curriculum until more of the students arrived. We reviewed systems of equations. For example: solve for x and y if (3x + 2y = 12) and (2x + 4y = 8). It was nice to get somewhat of an understanding of what the 1st years students’ skills were pertaining to basic algebra. We solved the system using the substitution method, addition/subtraction method, and then attempted to use matrices but it turned out to be too confusing for the students since they had forgotten much about matrices.

Nevertheless, it was nice to get back in the element of teaching. I am just looking forward to getting into a general routine when I can expect to teach classes with planned lesson plans on certain days of the week, maybe play Ultimate Frisbee or Soccer with the students, fetch 20L of water for the day, come home and do laundry, cook, bathe, watch an episode or two of The Wire (B-More represent!), and then prepare for the upcoming days. However, I am sure that I can only plan for the future to some extent. I mean, this is the Peace Corps right? It’s not ever gonna be routine or predictable, but I guess that this is part of what I signed up for.

In spite of never really knowing what is going on, I feel that some days I can go to bed knowing that I achieved some sort of small victory. For example, yesterday I was biking back to Luteete from Wobulenzi the back wheel of my bicycle popped as soon as I arrived on the school campus. I was thankful that it didn’t pop anywhere on the 11km stretch of hilly and dusty road that I had ridden upon. So today after I had finished teaching my class of 3 students, I removed the back wheel, tube, and tire from my bicycle and walked the 1km stretch to Bamunanika where I purchased a new tube (5,000/=), tire (15,000/=), and air pump (5,000/=). I then hurried back home so that I could use the bike tools that I had brought with me (allen wrenches, wrench, bicycle tire tool, and pliers) to install my new tube and tire. About 12 Ugandan children stared at me as I put in the new tube on the new tire. At first I was worried because the tire that I had bought rated at a thickness about .75” wider than the bicycle wheel. But I forced it in, and it just so happened to fit and I felt like I had accomplished something tangible. Sure it was a basic tire replacement on a bicycle, but to me it represented overcoming a problem that I did not expect. I learned some new Luganda words concerning bicycle parts, now know the prices for buying bicycle parts, and now can overcome this problem in Uganda in both Luganda and English.

For all of the failures and screw-ups that I do here, I achieve a few small victories. It’s all part of the ebb and flow indicative of my time here in Africa. So maybe I won’t be making any grandiose breakthroughs anytime soon, but these little victories are building up and slowly-by-slowly I am making it.

Life in a Day (Obulamu mu Olunaku)

Life in a Day

There has been one film that has stuck with me for these past few years, and it was called “Life in a Day”. You can watch it right now for free on YouTube if you wanted to do so. The premise of the movie was to show the universality of life in all of its forms and manifestations throughout the world over the course of a day. The movie is comprised of video clips taken from people all over the world, and edited together to form a day detailing people’s normal routines, birth, death, religion, chores, love, life, and scenes that both complement and juxtapose each other.

Yesterday, my Luganda language group held our cookout at one of the trainees’ host family house. It was located near where we hold our Luganda language classes: LuweroBoysPrimary School. The goal of the cookout was to share some of our favorite American dishes with the Ugandan family, while we also learned how to make some of the favorite Ugandan dishes. We decided to create a local fruit salad, homemade fruit juice, OldBay seasoned beef, baked beans, and pasta with both a Bolognese sauce and a Gouda cheese sauce. We were especially excited for the cheese sauce, which was created by my fellow trainee, Alaina. After we had our fill of food and just chilled in the living room, the topic that we started discussing centered around blogs. Alaina talked about creating a blog post about a normal day in the life of a Ugandan family, and that inspired me to create my own mini version of Life in a Day.

So today I decided that I would take photographs, videos, and write about a typical, whole day living with the Semuddu family:

“Obulamu mu Olunaku” – January 5th, 2014

I wake up around 7:40 am, and take my time because it’s Sunday and I have the day off from language classes. I take a look around my room and decide that it’s about time to clean it. I have clothes draped over the mosquito net around my bed and hanging from nails sticking out from a wooden plank that runs around half of my room. I also see that that plants that I had received from Nurse Betsy, aglaonema commutatum, are not faring so well in the soil that I had planted them in. I decided that I would instead resort to the root-cutting method and place them in old Rwenzori plastic bottles so that they would have the chance to first grow roots before I planted them in soil.

I then walk out of my room and through the main part of the house, which houses the only working electricity socket, and get to the sitting/dining room where I take a breakfast of bananas, biscuits, and tea or hot chocolate. I love the biscuits here, so I eat the biscuits, and then decide that I want to sleep some more, so I got back to bed. I sleep through the mass service, and then wake up again around 9am. I still can’t see because I don’t have my contacts in yet. Directly across from my bed is a small bathing room with two holes. One hole is a pipe that will eventually be used for a toilet, and the other hole is the drain where the water flows after I bucket bathe. I drench my bed head hair so that it stays down, I insert my contacts, and then attempt to shave even though there isn’t a mirror within a 1km radius.

I decide to be productive and do laundry. This involves me bringing buckets and jerrycans with me to the nearby tap. My family gets water from this tap, whereas other families obtain their water from boreholes. The only difference between the two is that boreholes require one to physically pump the water out of the ground, but taps operate on electricity so no physical effort is needed except to turn the handle and the spigot. Also jerrycans are these rectangular, yellow containers that seem to be very common in Uganda. They are mainly used to hold and transport water from taps and boreholes to one’s house, since it is rare for a family to have running water inside the house.

I then use my favorite blue perfumed laundry soap, Chapa Nyota, to wash my clothes. After almost two months in this country, I have finally learned how to rub my clothes against one of my wrists in a back and forth motion that allows for the soap and water to remove any dirt. I fill up my family’s jerrycans as I wash and rinse my clothes.

I finish my laundry, and maama tells me to go have some porridge for break tea time. I eat up the porridge, and attempt to convince maama that I can mop my room for myself. She continues telling me that I am tired and have already done so much today. I mop my room, and then wait until lunch comes.

A few days ago, I told maama and taata that we could create a favorite American/Mexican dish called a burrito on Sunday. Therefore, we had rice and beans for lunch today, and saved the leftovers for the burrito at dinner. I ate a late lunch around 2pm, and then left to go buy groceries for banana bread. I wanted to show maama and taata how to bake using three cooking pots and a sagiri, charcoal stove. I walk to the Kasana trading center, and into my favorite store called Quicky Picky. The people there are always very helpful in letting me know where to find items. They even try to help me learn and practice my Luganda.

I pick up the needed ingredients to make the banana bread, and head back to the house. I didn’t purchase eggs because my family has a chicken coop. On my way back home, one of my fellow trainees, Rebecca, calls and invites me to join the language group in an impromptu Settlers of Catan game. I wanted to play, but decided against it because I had already made plans with my host family. I get back to my host family, and demonstrate to maama how to create the banana bread batter.

Taken from the Peace Corps Uganda Cookbook issued to us during training:

Banana Cake


½ Cup Blueband (it’s like margarine)

2 Cups Flour

1 Cup Buttermilk

1 Tsp Vanilla (optional)

1 ½ Cups Sugar

1 Tsp Baking Powder

1 Tsp Baking Soda

2 Bananas Mashed

2 Eggs


1)      In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

2)      In another large mixing bowl, mix together the Blueband and sugar.

3)      Beat in eggs, vanilla, and mashed bananas one at a time into the Blueband and sugar mixture.

4)      Alternate adding flour and buttermilk to the mixture until everything is mixed together to form a smooth batter.

5)      Pour into a greased saucepan and bake until cooked thoroughly.

*To make Buttermilk, add 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar to regular milk.

I followed these directions and explained each step to maama who was eager to learn how to bake. She remarked that it was much easier than she had originally thought. I poured the resulting batter into a smaller saucepan, and then found two large saucepans that the smaller one could easily fit into. I placed enough rocks to line the bottom of one of the large saucepans an inch high, and then placed the smaller saucepan on top of these rocks. I then placed the second large saucepan upside down on top of the first large saucepan, and then placed heavy kettle filled with water on top of it to make the homemade Dutch oven airtight. This “oven” of sorts was then placed on top of a very hot sagiri, and then we waited for about 1 ½ hours until the batter had baked and risen to the consistency of banana bread.

While the bread was baking, I decided to do “training” with my little host brothers and sisters. Ever since we started exercising, they continuously ask me for training. We usually do jumping jacks, mummy walks, burpees, jogging, push-ups, planks, and some yoga poses and stretches followed by a game of Fishy Fishy Swim By Me. As we do this training, more and more neighborhood children join. I think that they are just curious as to why this muzungu does these weird physical actions that seem to serve no purpose other than making himself tired.

We train for about half an hour, and then I decide to get a head start on the flour tortillas. The Ugandans call it chapatti, and use it to make the Rolex Street Food. I mixed together 2 cups flour, ¾ cups water, 1 tbsp Blueband, and 1 tbsp baking powder in order to make the tortilla/chapatti dough. I used an empty Krest Bitter Lemon glass soda bottle as a makeshift rolling pin. I fried the chapattis on the second, smaller sagiri and then diced tomatoes, avocadoes, and onions in preparation for dinner. Then I thinly sliced 1kg of beef, and then seasoned it with chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and sugar. I pan fried this dry-rubbed beef and then cut it into small bite-sized pieces just like the steak at Chipotle.

And so dinner and dessert was prepared and I demonstrated how to make a burrito. I have been trying to hard everyday, but the children are very picky and refuse to eat anything other than sweeties (candies), cakes, chapatti, chips, fish, tomatoes, macaron (pasta), and juice. However, maama and taata loved the flavor of the beef and the mixture of various textures and tastes all in one bite. Most of the Ugandans whom I have encountered do not normally like spice, so I opted not to add much chili or pepper to the dishes. It made me glad to see my host parents enjoying the food and the banana bread, because now I know that they can save some money instead of purchasing expensive cakes from neighbors or stores.

They told me that they were glad, because now they could experiment and make sweet breads, cakes, and tasty beef whenever they wanted to without having to spend too much money. One-by-one the children fell asleep, and then I retired to my room where I had a cool bucket bath, took my post-infection medication, and then prepared for sleep.

Future Site Visit

December 17, 2013

The 43 Peace Corps Trainees woke up very early this morning in order to depart for our future sites. Hearkening back to our sorting at Kulika, all of us were assigned different language trainers for our sites. Privately hired matatus, Peace Corps vans, and buses all arrived around 7am this morning in order to take the volunteers to their Future Sites. In the past, the trainees would first go to a homestay Ugandan family located in one of the regional areas for language training. However, this time around we will first be staying at our assigned site for a few days in order to get acquainted with the place before we actually begin living there. This change in procedure came about from issues involving past Peace Corps Volunteers who arrived at their sites after swearing-in only to realize that there was no house to house them, or that the school was not expecting them. Therefore, this Future Site Visit was enacted in order to establish a preliminary report with each volunteer’s supervisor as well as to carry out a series of tasks that will make the subsequent move-in less chaotic:

  • Fill out an emergency site-locator form detailing contact and address information of not only myself but of those in my community in case the Peace Corps needs to reach me, this includes a hand-drawn map detailing how to get to my site from the main roads.
  • Fill out a School Profile Tool form detailing my supervisor’s information, a map of the school, local trading centers, and costs of transportation to the local trading center and Kampala
  • Transport Assessment Form
  • Housing Evaluation Checklist
  • Being introduced to the LC 1 (Locally Elected Chairperson of the Community)
  • Review of what my future role will be at the school
  • Tour of the trading towns, and availability of goods

I accomplished a good deal of this today, and I will hopefully accomplish the rest of the deliverables tomorrow so that I can use the remainder of the Future Site Visit to become more acquainted with the trading centers and my supervisor. So far I feel that we have been able to bond. His name is Othieno Moses Othieno and he is very excited to be hosting a Peace Corps Volunteer from the United States in order to further develop the Luteete PTC that he founded 7 years ago. It is now a privately funded PTC, since it no longer receives government assistance.  I have been informed that it is also the only PTC in the country that has its own website:

I was able to share some Guinness with my supervisor off the clock and talk about my role at Luteete PTC. The goal is to help in the development of the math, science, and ICT curriculum as well as support the growth of extra-curricular activities. I am very excited, because I feel as if my background very much supports my intended role as seen by myself, my supervisor, and the Peace Corps.

Later on, my supervisor dropped me off at a guest house about 1km away from the Wobulenzi trading center. It has electricity, running water, and a personal toilet and shower which are awesome amenities. My Orange modem also receives 3G here so I am able to connect to the internet and browse Reddit and post on my blog. I walked to Wobulenzi town as the sun was setting, and explored the fresh-food open-air market, the Asian-run supermarket, and some of the street food stalls where they sold fried chicken, mandazi, samosas, chapatti, and rolex. I bought a rolex for my dinner and ran into my supervisor who also happened to be in town with one of the chairmen of the school who wanted to meet me. I then learned an important cultural note, which is that one must not openly display food when walking because it is rude. Therefore, I hid my rolex and chapatti in a black bag and my backpack on the way back to my guest house for the next few days.

I think that I’m gonna like it here. I’ve already started speaking in short, uncomplicated Lugandan phrases and am getting better at picking out words from overheard conversations among Ugandans.

Njagala okw-ogera Luganda era ngenda okw-ogera Luganda.


Muzungu Term

November 17th, 2013

Today was Sunday and our day off, but I feel like I used today to catch up on my errands and chores. I went to St. AlphonsiusCatholic Mass with a bunch of the other volunteers and it felt refreshing to go back to mass again since I had not been going religiously every weekend since I had graduated from Boston University. I really felt the universality of the mass at this Ugandan village’s Catholic Church. As soon as our bus entered the village, everyone started staring at the bus. We entered the church, and heads immediately turned towards our general direction. It was not everyday that a muzungu wandered into one of the core centers of a Ugandan community. The mass, which took about 2 hours or 1 hour and another consisting of community messages, eventually ended after we were called up to the head of the church and asked to individually introduce ourselves to the congregation.

You know, the term muzungu has a very interesting connotation. Ugandans refer to anyone who appears white to be muzungu and it comes from a Kiswahili word which means “aimless wanderer”. It is not a derogatory term, rather it is how Ugandans refer to foreigners such as many Europeans and Americans. From the stories of current PCVs, the term gets tiring sometimes since it is rude in American culture to call someone by that person’s race because every person is more than just a race. However, when it comes down to it I will attempt to think of the term muzungu in the terms of its original meaning. We have all become displaced in our own way. We have all become wanderers in our own way who are leaving our American home in order to wander and hopefully make some sort of difference here in the heart of Africa.


Dreams and Time

*Mefloquine is one of the three main prophylaxis drugs used to prevent the major effects of malaria in a person. It is taken once a week and side-effects can include vivid dreams, night terrors, hallucinations, and in some cases depression.

Already we’re starting to get into a routine and it’s still surreal to think that this is all happening. Even as I write this it feels as if I am in a dream world. It’s a world inhabited by strange flora and fauna, stories, foods, and people. It’s strange and different. Right now many of the PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and I are still in the euphoric, dream-world stage. We’ve been staying on this farm and attending service presentations and sessions given by program directors, administrators, and current PCVs. We have showers, electric lights, tea time, and three home-cooked Ugandan meals every day. And the only mention of the outside world comes from the stories shared during our presentations about safety and security, bank accounts, cell phones, malaria, and internet access. These are all sessions that are intending to prepare us for our eventual venture out into the “real-world” once we’ve had enough time in getting ready in this surreal state.Kulika Bonfire

Nothing feels real or even that challenging. The paperwork that we need is given to us, instructions are doled out, and even the people who come from Kampala to help us set up our bank account arrive in a white van from a dusty road that winds away into the jungle and hills. Since we arrived under the cover of night, I was unable to physically orient or place myself from Kampala or any other source of civilization.

Yet we interact with each other on this farm and with the other staff members here. We have had talks with the Uganda Country Director, health staff, and education coordinators. We are still living the dream, but I know that it will soon give way to bucket showers, pit latrines, inevitable malaria, disorganized schools, and safety threats during travel. I had a talk with several of the current Peace Corps Volunteers who are leading training sessions, and I felt such a unique vibe from them. It almost seemed as if they were unaffected and in some cases disillusioned to an extent with regards to the hardships and trials that we were expecting to face. Don’t get me wrong, they love their work and even now they say that they would volunteer again, but they are so real in their work and with the goals that they can accomplish tempered by the good that they know they are doing.

One of them stated that not every volunteer during training will make it to the end of service. One volunteer left during training after 10 days in, another had to go back home due to transportation accident injuries, and another volunteer died in an accident. These are real threats, and the way that he shared these situations with us seemed to resemble a tone accepting the reality of the situation and the real ability just keep moving and doing. The lives that the current volunteers live right now are very different than the ones that we have been experiencing here at the farm these past two days.

Kulika Wood SignHowever, I learned something other than some basic Lugandan phrases these past two days: Ugandans may not have much, but they have a lot of time. Time is not a master of the Ugandans, rather Ugandans are the masters of time. Schedules may be made, but at the end of the day the most important thing involves the patience and care that can lead to growth. If one is true to oneself and one’s own community, then growth can occur. There is a lot of wisdom hidden here on the faces of both Ugandans and their mountainsides. And right now all we can do is heed their wisdom and wait for the dream to pass.