Today

4/12/15

I was an emotional wreck today. I just kept panicking about things that were out of my control. As soon as I woke up, I bicycled to Bamunanika where I purchased 3 kg of beef for the celebration that my neighbors would be throwing in the late afternoon. Instead of making medium-well steaks, I decided to cook the beef the way that my neighbors would appreciate: by boiling it with an abundance of sauce until it softened like stew meat. Paulo Mulo, the black village cat, even returned for the day in order to say goodbye or eat the leftover meat. I had also set aside a lot of knick-knacks and small toys for the kids if they won some games like who could jump-rope the most or run the fastest.

DSC_0029

At some point after lunch, I took my usual short nap in the living room. But I started to panic because in my daydream I imagined driving alone through the empty streets of my suburban neighborhood in Maryland towards my childhood home. It freaked me out to imagine that such a real world existed back there unfathomable by my neighbors here in a world that was equally as unimaginable for people back in that small suburban neighborhood. I’m thinking of a specific 4-way intersection in Owings Mills with streetlights even though the traffic never gets bad enough to warrant it. I see the clean-cut grass of suburbia with the tidy sidewalks and people walking their dogs. I imagine how quiet it is and how much space people have with clean clothes, climate-controlled cars, and 4G internet everywhere.

In the meantime, I am leaving behind a house with semi-consistent electricity, a borehole with cloudy water or rain water collection tanks with leaky taps, ungodly heat or torrential downpours, all manner of insects and livestock and children invading personal space, and dusty roads. I guess that before Peace Corps, the thought of not having running water or a toilet bothered me so much. Now I have become worried about transitioning to a life filled with creature comforts and amenities that are often seen as a right and not a treat. And I am also leaving behind my neighbors who have lives in this small village that may never interact with the much larger world. The adults will go on herding the cows, teaching 100 pupil classes, sweeping the dust, pumping water, cooking the matooke, playing in the backyard, and life will continue here as much as it has continued back home.

In some ways Peace Corps Volunteers are peerless. Village neighbors will never understand the lives that we lived beforehand, and those back in the states can only guess what we underwent here.

DSC_0042

After having served the meat stew to my neighbors and received my own portion of matooke and rice, Master Godfrey played some Ugandan songs on his speakers. The children all started dancing and going crazy in the backyard. All I could do was smile as I drank some ginger caayi with a full stomach and the echoes of laughter and Ugandan dancehall music. The sunset through the backyard matooke trees and one of my neighbors, the mother of the twins, presented a hand-woven mat as a parting gift. After thanking them, one of the grandmother neighbors whispered to me, “You cannot forget this day.” It wasn’t a command; it wasn’t a reminder. It was simply a comment that today was remarkable in how normal and how special it felt at the same time. It was a particularly beautiful day living in Luteete village. She’s right though, I can’t forget this day.

Advertisements

Sounds and Furies

20/11/15 – 28/11/15

I’m reaching the end. This past week I said goodbye and celebrated the good times of my Peace Corps service with so many PCV’s. It’s just a lot to handle and either too many emotions to comprehend or a dull numbness in my soul. On Friday I visited my home-stay family in Kasana town. They hosted me in December 2013 when I was still a Peace Corps trainee. The house and compound had been turned into a burgeoning primary school since I had last been there. All of my little brothers and sisters had grown up, and they all knew how to speak English. It was very weird to think that two years ago the Semuddu family had welcomed me into their home and adopted me as one of their own. They presented me with a button-up village shirt, a plate of meat cooked my favorite way, and the biscuits that I used to eat all the time as a snack. It felt good “training” with Davis, Daniella, Moustafa, and Diana out in the backyard just like old times. Before I left, I asked my home-stay father, Peter Semuddu, to clarify the meaning behind my Luganda name.

Since I stayed with the Semuddu family, I became part of the Enkima (monkey) clan. The different kingdoms of Uganda have different clans, so the clans in the central Buganda kingdom would differ from those of the Busoga, Banyankore, Bakiga, Batooro, and Banyooro kingdoms. The kabiro specifies the sub-clan of a given clan, and the sub-clans of the Enkima clan are Kamukukuru (small dove), Byenda (offals or cow intestines), and Vuvumira (wasp). My specific kabiro is Kamukukuru, which is great because the rule is that one cannot eat his or her sub-clan. I had unintentionally offended some Ugandans in Kampala this one time when I told them that my sub-clan was Byenda and then proceeded to order the traditional Katogo dish of matooke and cow intestines.

houseparty

Later that night in Kampala, I attended a house party near Legends bar. Years ago, this specific house would host monthly house parties for both expats and Ugnandans who lived in Kampala. I felt weird going to a house party and forcing small-talk. I realized how much I didn’t care for uninteresting conversations that would lead nowhere, and instead played a game with the other PCV’s where we would attempt to see who could successfully engage random strangers in conversation. In-between drinking the free alcohol and eating the free cookies, I met some Ugandan street artists who recycled old shirts, hats, and shoes and made them into art pieces. I was especially interested in the crested crane design screen printed on one of the artist’s shirt.

So the next day I made my way to Destreet Art Foundation led by Destreet A Kabati on the Kampala-Kamwokya-Mawanda Road (After Mawanda Road police follow Potters House sign until Evolv www.destreetart.webs.com). I spent Saturday morning sharing coffee with some PCV’s, checking out the canvas prints and shirts at Destreet’s garage studio, and heading to KLA Ink tattoo parlor. My goal that day was to get my tattoo. The design is the silhouette of Africa with the word abantu overlapping it. I waited for a few hours in the studio with PCV’s who wanted tattoos and piercings until the tattoo artist arrived from his other parlor. I had forgotten how much tattoos hurt, but the entire time I kept trying to reflect on my service up to that point. It was exciting, I was getting a tattoo and a majority of the PCV’s in my group was coming into Kampala in order to meet the new trainees who would be replacing us at our respective sites.

carriers

The next day was one of the weirdest days of my service. I made my way to the Peace Corps office with about 30 other PCV’s from my group, and we boarded a coaster headed to the Muzardi training center near Mukono. There I met my carrier PCV, Justin. I felt like I had just met my doppelganger. Justin has many tattoos, is Filipino, has already started learning Luganda, enjoys cycling, has similar humor to mine, and other communal traits. The coaster ride back from the training center felt very odd; it was as if I could let go and know that my site would be in good hands. I felt so numb from all the emotions that I just wandered around Acacia Mall where I drank coffee, ate ice cream, and said goodbyes to even more PCV’s.

thanksgiving

I then left Kampala for Kaliro where I helped a PCV friend, Lindsay, sort 1000 of her Books for Africa shipment in her new library. The best part about having replacement volunteers is that the resources that we have established can be utilized and capacity can be built with the students and teachers. I had never been to Kaliro before, but some PCV’s have dubbed it the “fire swamp” due to the extreme heat and humidity owed in large part to the stagnant swamp water and marshland.

Thanksgiving was spent at another PCV’s house in Jinja. If Lindsay’s house in Kaliro could be described as being a very village house without electricity or running water, then the house in Jinja could be described as looking like a standard apartment in the United States. Electricity was always on, the water pressure was strong, and the tiled flooring made me feel like I was in the developed world. I thought that it was fitting to spend my last Thanksgiving cooking good food, eating sandwiches, dancing by the Nile, and reading spooky stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep.

Now that I am back in my village for the last time, I think about all the last experiences that I will have in this country. If things were moving too slow before, now they are moving too fast. Before long this will all seem like a dream and I will become used to a different life. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to put into pictures, videos or words the complex and multifaceted emotions and insights that I have and even this blog with its weekly posts can’t capture my day-to-day life here.

The First Goodbyes

19/11/15

I said goodbye to my year 1 students and one of my neighbors today. I finally felt better today, so I washed my clothes after the torrential downpour of the morning subsided and then made my way to the PTC. I gave my supervisor a very nice fountain pen from Boston University and discussed the last few discussion points of my service:

  • Term timetable for the ICT tutors
  • Driving me to Kampala from Luteete
  • What to expect to do with my successor
  • Schedule for my last three weeks in-country

DSC_0308

DSC_0312

I then spent one of my last days teaching in the computer lab. A few year 2 students came in and I taught them the basics of holding the mouse, practicing drag-and-drop with solitaire, and the functions of major keyboard keys. We also had a heated discussion where I tried to convince them that being black doesn’t make you any less intelligent, developed, or able to succeed compared to “whites”. What really riled me was when they said that they would much rather prefer a “white” person like me as a Peace Corps Volunteer than a black African Peace Corps Volunteer. They just couldn’t comprehend that black people could be successful or called true Americans because of their skin color. So honestly, it wasn’t that different than many of the discussions that I have had with them.

It feels weird, because I was teaching as if it was any other day during the term, but I knew that everything would soon be different. In less than a month I would be hanging out with friends in Amsterdam and I would breathe in the frigid December air. I left the ICT lab in the late afternoon and said goodbye to the year 1 students whom I could see. Naturally, they all wanted my contact information and photo.

When I got back to my house, I shared some samosas with my villagers and then said goodbye to Master Okia. Master Okia is one of the fathers who lives in a house near mine in Luteete, and he would be leaving next week for a month-long trip. Since I would be leaving in the first week of December, I made sure to knock on his door and personally say farewell. He requested that when I return back to the United States, that I not forget the people of Luteete.

Right now I am wondering how it could be possible for me to forget my experiences here. I honestly believe that I have enough life experiences here to fill a few average lifetimes. I tend to stop and gaze at things here for a few moments and reflect on my time. I look at the growing apple trees, the organized library that has progressed from having a part-time student librarian to a full-time librarian, and a functional ICT lab with eager students. I know that I will leave here with no regrets.

Distraught

18/11/15

I have been sick for the past few days. Through the help of ibuprofen, bananas from my neighbors, toast, and ginger tea I have started to feel much better. As I physically started to feel better, I became more emotionally weary. I began cleaning my house and preparing my bags for my eventual move to Kampala for Close-of-Service medical and then to Entebbe airport to fly to Amsterdam. It has been stressful saying goodbye to everyone in my village. I have had to deny so many people “snaps” or photos that they want to take with me, because my camera’s memory card wouldn’t be able to fit an individual photo of all of them. Also, I don’t have the funds or energy to print a few hundred photos to give to all of them. Everyone wants remembrances of me, and it’s interesting that even now as I am about to leave many of the older village kids ask me for things. They tell me that they want the kitenge stars hanging up in my room, the bicycle, or an old laptop that lies dormant in my room.

I worry about the transition to the developed countries where perspectives and experiences are different. Slowly-by-slowly my rooms are becoming more barren and packed into neat suitcases and bags that will make trip back to the developed world with me. I think about the children with whom I play in my little yard and how they don’t seem to understand the concept that I will be leaving forever.

Me: “Omanyi nti nja kugenda America omwezi gujja?” (Do you know that I’m going back to America next month?)

Child: “Ojja kudda ddi?” (When will you come back?)

Me: “Sigendanga kudda.” (I am never coming back.)

Child: “Tuzannye fishy fishy!” (Let’s play fishy fishy*)
*A game similar to Sharks and Minnows

DSC_0379

It’s weird thinking that soon I will be just a mere memory for my villagers and the children. Sure they will see my replacement Peace Corps Volunteer, but I wonder how many of the children will remember me. I think about the children telling stories about me to their own children when they’re older.

There is one recent even that I will remember for a long time: one of the secondary school boys, Waswa, came up to my window the other evening. I told him that I would be leaving for good and that I wanted to say goodbye to him before he left for another school. I then gave him an issue of The Atlantic magazine and a deck of playing cards that I got from Busch Gardens many years ago. He said thank you and walked away. An hour later he returned and was sniffling. He told me how he was crying and that he would miss me a lot. I usually don’t have much patience for the older secondary school students, but Waswa was different; he was always respectful and would invite me to play sports with him and the other students. He would offer me jackfruit, bananas, and avocadoes from time to time. But most importantly, he would listen and ask intelligent questions whenever we had discussions. What struck me about this specific interaction was that he cried.

In Uganda, it is not culturally appropriate for men to show signs of physical or emotional weakness, and crying is one of them. The only appropriate times to cry are when a close relative has died or if one is involved in a horrendous accident.

Before Peace Corps, I remember asking myself how to pack my entire life into two check-in bags. Now I am trying to comprehend how to take back this new life, this new perspective, and this new me back home. My home is changing and this house in Luteete will remain my home for 18 more days. In some ways, my worries are lessened because I have a carrier volunteer to follow up after me and I have planted some deep roots here.

Old and New

8/11/15

I finally finished all of the Peace Corps video projects that the office wanted me to film and edit together. As a result, I have four regional videos showcasing various PCV projects, a video about how a PCV saved a Ugandan Lieutenant’s life during the 1971 Idi Amin coup against Obote, and how PCV’s work with their counterparts. As I finished these videos, I took some time to reflect on these past few days in the village. The days are zooming by faster than ever, and in a few days we’ll be welcoming a new Peace Corps Uganda cohort. Looking back there my entire viewpoint and belief system has radically changed since that time I left Maryland back in November 2013. I have recently been connecting with old friends and acquaintances in Facebook in order to prep them for my eventual re-entry into the United States, and already I can feel see how much I have changed when I look at the last messages that I sent to my friends. I talked about going to Africa, helping people, and answering the call of adventure for a lifetime.

Now I look back on those messages and feel as if the person who wrote them was much more immature and callow than the one reading them. I will be unable to tell the “African story”, as the BBC news report puts it. I will still be unsure if I really helped anyone in the sustainable, long-term. But I will definitely understand that if I want it, then even back in the United States I can keep my edge. I don’t believe that there should be this fine line between the workday and the weekend, or between the work year and a vacation. I want to be able to live in the United States and still adventure every day or motivate myself to try something instead of just liking it on Facebook.

I’m still young, but at times I feel much older than I once was. Yesterday was the commissioning of the Year 2 students at Luteete PTC. I attended the ceremony, which started 2 hours late at 10am and continued until 4pm when lunch was finally served. By now I was already used to having a few hundred eyes staring at me, the long-winded speeches, a mass service where the preacher proclaimed that Jesus was a better leader than Hitler or Napoleon,  and a captive audience where I was asked to give a speech in Luganda. To be honest, I enjoyed the day with my fellow teachers, students, and their family members. As I daydreamed throughout the event, I reminisced about my own high school graduation in 2009 and my college graduation in 2013. I dreamed about baccalaureate mass, senior week in ocean city, fulfilling my college bucket list during my college senior week, the soundtrack of college graduation parties compared to Ugandan dancehall tunes, and how everything was about to change.

I have been living the dream for two years now. I am interested in seeing how it will be to look back on these experiences in a country where the African dream is still a thing. I’ll definitely have a tale or two when I get back and I’m sure that I’m ready for another adventure.

“The old taxis will stage at home again… the young bodas will ride away.”

Life in this Moment

23/7/15

There are days here where I can’t believe my life. After almost two years of work and vision the ICT Computer Lab has fully come into fruition. I spent the majority of the day hooking up the various computers to the electrical outlets and hoping that the village electricity was strong enough to support them. I added administrative passwords, installed Microsoft Office, and Computer Terminalsthis program called Learning the Computer which gives Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of learning how to use a computer. I spent the entirety of the day teaching my Year 1 and Year 2 students how to move the mouse, the difference between left click and right click, the double click, and how to left click on something and drag it somewhere else. It’s funny how intuitive these skills seem and how difficult it is for my students. I seem them spend literal minutes attempting to move the cursor on the screen over one of the arrows on the scroll bar. As exasperated and exhausted as I am, it is a noteworthy start.

At night, I presented the movie Life in a Day, which is a film of various YouTube videos concerning the variety of human life all over the world over the course of one day on July 24th, 2010. I would stop to gaze outside the windows at the village darkness and remember where I was a few years ago when I first saw this movie. I was in an apartment in a suburb right outside of Baltimore, and turned on Netflix. As I watched this movie, I remembered how inspired I felt and how I wanted to see different parts of this world and life. Back then I viewed the movie through an American lens and mindset. Now as I watched the movie with my students and villagers, I saw the scenes of the movie through a Ugandan lens and mindset. One scene from the movie that struck me was greeting exchanged between a Ugandan woman and a Ugandan man. The woman kneels to the man as she greets him as the man says that she should be kneeling down to him because he is a man. The woman agrees with him and says that it’s because of the culture.

Speakers and Projectors

Speakers and Projectors

Computer Lab Resources

Computer Lab Resources

Back in the US, I used to think that this is a mindset that comes from ignorance and that these viewpoints could easily be changed with a straightforward conversation. Now in Uganda, I understand part of the cultural background and mentality that supports notions such as gender inequality. After more than 20 months, I have just started dialogue with my villagers regarding archaic notions and beliefs that stem from a culture far different than that of the US.

Life in a Day

Life in a Day

At some point in the movie, the music background comes from three Angolan woman who are mashing dried corn into corn meal and singing along to the beat. I got emotional, because I felt that so much has changed in my own life. Now I was living a life worthy of a few stories and viewing the beauty of life from this side of the world. I was projecting a movie in my village and sharing a small piece of the cultures of the world with my faculty, students, and friends.

It’s a Choice

8/7/15 – 10/7/15

“Ah you know, for us Ugandans we don’t believe that. It is different over here.”

I have come to realize that even when armed with logic and sound reasoning presented in a straightforward manner, my target audience still has the choice to either believe what I am saying or disagree. Most of the time, the arguments are backed by opinions rather than by reason. Belief can easily be misconstrued for fact.

HIV Testing

HIV Testing

On Wednesday, Health and Care Foundation Uganda and Uganda Cares in partnership with Kasana Luweero Diocese came to Luteete PTC to perform HIV testing for my students and teachers. Health and Care Foundation Uganda also led several sessions regarding the biology of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, sexual gender roles, living positively, and condom demonstrations. I have come to realize that my Ugandan students and audience listen better when other Ugandans are presenting the information rather than when I present it. If I were to say something that provoked disbelief, my students could attribute it to differences in culture. The funny thing was that while Uganda Cares tested for HIV and promoted abstinence only since it was in partnership with a Catholic Diocese, Health and Care Foundation was explaining the use of both male and female condoms with the addition of water based lubricants. I specifically chose the Health and Care Foundation because its members were younger Ugandans who could easily relate to my students.

Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube

Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube

On Thursday, PCV Lindsay came from Iganga to present female sexual health, the biology of the menstrual period, and

RUMPs Materials

RUMPs Materials

how to make Re-Usable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs). Disposable pads cost around 1,500/= and if two pads are used each month then in one year that amounts to 60,000/=. RUMPs would only cost around 1,000/= to create and would last as long as the fabric stays together. Lindsay explained the biological process of the menstrual period and debunked the myth that there are safe days. While we explained the way to sew the pads, the students submitted their personal questions:

“Why does it hurt when I play sex?”Madam Lindsay

“If I have pain during my period, will playing sex get rid of the pain?”

“Will taking Panadal (pain relieving pills) cause me to become barren?”

“Can I get HIV if I plax sex with my girlfriend during her period?”

“How many holes does a vagina have?”

“Why does my skin itch after bathing?”

These questions were addressed as the students stitched together their fabric pieces around a towel in that would then be placed at the bottom of their underwear during their period. Afterwards, the students could remove the pad, wash it with soap, and then hang it on a clothesline where the sunlight would dry and disinfect it.

At the end of the day, one of my students continually asked Lindsay question after question. He seemed to believe that the blood of the female period was a disgusting and unsanitary thing.

My student: “Ah madam, I don’t want my wife cooking for me when she is on here period.”

Lindsay: “First of all, female blood is not unsanitary. Also we need to reduce the stigma behind the beauty of the female menstrual period and if it bothers you so much, you should reverse the traditional gender roles and cook for yourself and your wife while she is on her period.”

Making a Pad

Making a Pad

With these two full-day sessions I hoped to impart some knowledge to my students. I want to give them as many opportunities as possible to make the most well-informed decisions when the time comes to make them.

As I walked back home, my neighbors asked to borrow my wrench. One of my neighbor’s boda boda’s broke. They called a mechanic, who turned out to be a younger male student in his teens. The local reverend of the parish was walking by as the mechanic repaired the boda boda. During the initial discussions, it became known that this young mechanic could not read and had not finished primary school. My teacher neighbors attempted to convince him to go back to school and the reverend even offered a scholarship to him, but the boy refused. I guess that he thought that being a mechanic for the rest of his life and making some fast money was much better than investing in the long-term.

Then today a random policeman in camo gear attempted to arrest me as I was writing this post on top of the hill where I can get internet. I had been working on sending updates on PCV site development and sending photos from the HIV and RUMPs day events. I looked up from my computer and greeted him, and he asked me what I was doing:

*Exchange translated from Luganda

Policeman: “What are you doing here?”

Me: “I’m doing work on my computer.”

Policeman: “I need to take you in to the police station.”

Me: “No you don’t need to. I am a volunteer teacher here and have been living here for 20 months and always come on this hill. I am friends with the community members and the caretakers of the Kabaka’s Palace.”

Policeman: “I am taking you to the police station.”

Me: “I don’t want to go with you. You shouldn’t bring me to the police station, there’s nothing wrong. Stop touching my bike.”

Policeman: “Release your bicycle!”

Me: “No! I don’t want you to steal it. If I let go will you leave it on the ground?”

Policeman: “Fine, but come to the police station or I will hit you with this stick.”

Me: “Okay I’ll come, but let me first finish sending this email.”

*I send an email and take my time shutting down my computer. I then pick up my phone and call the Peace Corps Office Duty Phone number:

Me on the Phone: “Hey Nikki, no worries but I think that this random policeman is trying to arrest me for some reason. I’m not worried but I guess I’ll just walk down to the police station with him. If there’s a problem they arrest me, I just want to know that the safety and security manager will help me. Cool thanks.”

Policeman: “Hurry up or I’ll hit you with this stick.”

Me: “Don’t worry. Hit me with the stick. I have to wait. Don’t worry.”

Policeman: “Hurry up!”

*We walk down the hill to town as I whistle “Four Five Seconds” by Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney. As we pass through town, the village members greet me and laugh because I am being accompanied to the Bamunanika police station

Villagers: “Marvin, who is that with you?”

Me: “Oh this one? He’s my friend.”

Policeman: “I’m not your friend.”

*Meeting the Bamunanika chief of police

Me: “Hello, how have you been?”

Chief: “I have been well. Ah it’s so nice to see you again.”

Policeman: “I have brought this one in because he is suspicious on the hill.”

Chief: “This one has been living here for 20 months. He works as a volunteer teacher at Luteete PTC and sometimes goes to the hill to access the internet. Why did you bring him in?”

Policeman: “I thought that he was associated with the suspects who stole the fence last week.”

Chief: “No, let him go! There’s no problem with him.”

The chief scolded the policeman who then told me to leave. Honestly, I know that he was just trying to do his job, but I think that some common sense would have told him that a conspicuous suspect with much lighter skin who decided to return back to the scene of the crime with a laptop would not make sense. In the end, he too had a choice and he screwed up. There’s always a choice over here, whether to wear a condom, to purchase or create your menstrual pad, to arrest a “suspicious” character, to breakup with a loved one, to teach classes, or to continue trying when apathy abounds.

The Sustainable Dream

14/6/15 – 18-6/15

The Bishop of the Luweero District came for a visit on Sunday. I don’t think that I’ve seen this place so crowded before; over Bishop's Visit to Luteetea few hundred people arrived to attend a very long mass at the nearby church. It amused me to see many of the children wearing their Sunday best when I normally see them wearing tattered and dirty clothes. I usually don’t go to church here, but I decided to dress up and attend this very special community mass.

On Monday I started school supervision of my Year 2 students. During term 2, the Year 2 students of the PTC travel to various primary schools scattered throughout the sub-county and spend a few weeks teaching primary school pupils. The students get hands-on practice and the PTC tutors travel to these schools in order to supervise them. I was assigned four schools to supervise: Luteete Demo, Mity-ebiri, Nalweweta, and Mullajje Primary Schools. Throughout the week I biked to these schools and supervised my students teaching lessons.

Local language, Luganda, is the primary language taught to primary school pupils from P1 up until the transition year to English in P4. Then the classes transition into English, and therein lies the biggest problem for student teachers and pupils alike. Some of my year 2 students come from regions in Uganda where they don’t speak Luganda, so they lack the ability to further explain a concept in Luganda when their English isn’t good enough.

Student Teaching at Primary School

Student Teaching at Primary School

The biggest problem that I witnessed was the frequent lack of hands-on materials to demonstrate a concept (such as adding fractions with different denominators) and having the pupils regurgitate information without checking to see if they understand and can apply the taught material.

As an example, in one instance the student teacher taught the primary school pupils four difficulties facing the builders of the Uganda railway system. After having the class read the list of difficulties many times, the evaluation exercise was for the pupils to write down in their notebooks the four difficulties that the builders faced. Very rarely is the exercise designed to make the pupils think beyond simple memorization and regurgitation of material.

Unfortunately, this is endemic in the education system. When I explained this problem to my fellow tutors, some of them asked me what the difference was between understanding something and memorizing it. Coupled with the Ugandan concept that it is unprofessional to admit not knowing something with this lack of understanding, I can start to see how much the education system has to develop.

Real Example:

Me: When we jump up what happens to us?

Student: We fall back down.

Me: Why do we fall back down?

Student: We fall back down due to the force of gravity.

Me: Correct! And where does this force of gravity point towards?

Student: The center of the earth.

Me: Yes, and if we look at this globe of the earth *holds up a ball representing earth* where is the United States if Uganda is on the top?

Student: It is on the bottom of the globe.

Me: So are the people in America upside down?

Student: Yes.

Me: Okay, but if they jump will they fly away or fall back towards the center of the earth?

Student: They will fly away because gravity always points down.

Me: *slaps forehead with hand*

In some cases it’s laughable what beliefs my students have due to what they were taught in life. I still get shocked reactions when I explain that the sun is bigger than the earth, that poor people exist in the United States, and that pinching one’s nipples will cause the breasts to stop growing larger. In other ways, it hurts knowing how hard it will be to impart the concepts of creative thinking, brainstorming, the scientific method, critical thinking, and logic towards many of the problems that my students face on a daily basis.

My dream at this point is that what I have laid down on this part of earth can continue to grow long after I leave. Funnily enough, I no longer worry about whether or not my students and neighbors will remember me, but instead whether they can benefit from what I started here. I don’t want to leave and for things to return back to “normal” here in the village before I arrived. I hope that villagers, students, and pupils find a way to empower themselves through the ICT lab. I want them to think for themselves, challenge engrained ideas, and make well-informed choices for themselves and their families.

Even though right now they are not teaching perfectly, it’s a start to sustainability. It’s teachers teaching teachers and students learning from students.

Martyr’s Day Again

4/6/15

In typical village fashion several things happened all at once. The borehole next to my house broke when the chains that pulled up the piping snapped due to rust and no grease for over a year. The garbage pit was cleared out to be used for compost, and when the children decided to play near it one of the 2-yr old kids thought that it would be entertaining to push another one of the 2-yr old kids into the 6ft deep pit. The kid fell in and was covered in dirt and smashed avocadoes. Another surprise occurred when one of the wires from our power lines snapped in the middle of the day and draped over the matooke plants in our backyard. We debated whether it was live or not, and in the end decided not to touch it of course.

Repairing the Borehole

Repairing the Borehole

Broken Power Line

Broken Power Line

All of this happened around Martyrs’ Day, June 4th, 2015 which commemorates the faith of the Ugandan Christians who did not renounce their faith when the Kabaka ordered them to obey the local religion. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Africa congregate at Namugongo Shrine in Kampala to pay their respects to the absolute faith of the martyrs.

She Pushed Her Friend in a Trash Pit

She Pushed Her Friend in a Trash Pit

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.