The Aimless Wanderers

29/11/15

Muzungu (Luganda n). – white man, European

I made a small breakthrough with my neighbors today. I informed them that my replacement PCV is a Filipino American whose parents come from the Philippines, but is an American citizen. They seemed surprised that his name is Justin, since Justin (pronounced Justine by Ugandans) is a girl’s name here. At one point, my neighbor asked me why we Americans disliked being called muzungu.

Neighbor: “Why do you dislike being called muzungu?”

Me: “Well, first of all what do you think muzungu means?”

Neighbor: “Eh, for us it means a white person.”

Me: “The word muzungu is related to the Luganda word kuzunga which means to wander aimlessly.”

Neighbor: “EH! I have never made that connection.”

Me: “And is kuzunga a good thing?”

Neighbor: “No, to wander aimlessly is not a good thing.”

Me: “Yes, for us we don’t enjoy being told that we are lost and that we don’t belong here. Also not all Americans are white, so it is also a difficulty with identity.”

Neighbor: “Eh, we have picked. Thank you.”

oku-zunga (Luganda n.) – to stagger, reel about, whirl around, or wander aimlessly

Literally two years later my neighbors finally started to understand the reasoning behind the word muzungu and how it has a negative connotation. I also explained that muzungu relates to people who look white and is associated with wealth, short-term tourism, dependence, and not knowing where to go. For PCV’s who have white or semi-white skin the term lumps us all together as a homogenous grouping that disregards our personal identities or heritage. For PCV’s who are black or have brown skin, the term strips away the identity of that person’s heritage by assuming that since that person is from America, then he or she is like the other rich white people.

In the past, I have explained to Ugandans to first ask me to tell them my name or ask me about my heritage before calling me muzungu. I liken it to calling people from the Buganda Kingdom muganda instead of mudugavu. Muganda means brother, or person from the Buganda Kingdom, whereas, mudugavu means a black/dirty person. Mudugavu is related to the verb oku-ddugala, which means to become black or dirty. Even though using the word muganda denotes that the person is black, it also is respectable because that person hails from the Buganda Kingdom and central region of Uganda. However, mudugavu is an epithet because it calls a person dirty and associates the color of black skin with dirt.

When I was a trainee, our trainers told us that many of us would be called muzungu. They explained that it was related to the Kiswahili word kizungu which means of the aimless wanderer. Back then aimless wanderer sounded poetic. Now that I am here, I understand the silliness of that misconception. To be an aimless wanderer isn’t poetic or good, it’s seen as a sign of ignorance, dualism, and the disparity between the developed countries and many developing countries in East Africa. I still believe that it’s good to wander, but instead I feel that it’s better to wander with a purpose rather than without aim.

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Nile Waves

16/10/15 – 18/10/15

Nyege Nyege – Luganda, (noun) The uncontrollable urge to move, shake, and dance.

I will be hard-pressed to achieve the highs that I did during this weekend. It was honestly one of the most fun weekends that I’ve had during my Peace Corps service. The Nyege Nyege music festival was held this weekend at the Nile Discovery Beach about 1km off from the Nile Brewery Stage near Jinja Town. The venue consisted of large swaths of open campgrounds, a large grass main music stage, a smaller side stage in ruins by the Nile, and tortuous pathways connecting the venues disparate parts together. After many weeks of being sad and down at site, I was looking forward to this weekend. I had saved up a lot of my money in order to purchase food, drinks, and camping materials for the music festival.

Festival Ruins

Festival Ruins

I arrived at the venue around 11am on Friday and setup camp in a secluded corner of the campgrounds where we used the surrounding trees to hang our hammocks and make a physical boundary for all the PCV’s who were staying. As the day progressed, the number of PCV’s in our camp grew to about 15. Despite being in Uganda, the music festival had good facilities: the showering section consisted of bamboo stalls with 20 liter jerrycans positioned on top with showerheads attached, there were two working toilet areas, food stalls from Kampala (sushi, brownies, sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs, and barbecue), and of course festival clothes booths.

Over a year ago I camped in Mabira Forest with other PCV’s for Burning Ssebo and now I was once again camping with Main StagePCV’s and about 600 other people. The music consisted of an eclectic ménage of traditional tribal music, reggae, rap, acoustic, and edm. Artists came from all over Africa and the UK. During the day we would wander around to other campsites and swap stories or share some food, beer, or coffee in exchange for other goods. On Saturday morning I partook in an offshoot of Afrikans Yoga called Smaitawe Yoga. Compared to the Yoga predominantly practiced in the United States, this version of yoga was much more free-flowing and primal. The focus was on the hips and groin area and revolved around the elements of air, water, fire, and ground.

Even more-so than Vinyasa, the movements were all about the flow and freedom of expression in its directive rather than strict postures and holds. For example, instead of warrior 1 we would be instructed to take a pose similar to warrior 1 and then undulate our hips in a circle as we imagined the vibrancy of fire. To an outsider, the moves of Smaitawe Yoga would seem very sensual and suggestive.

It was rainy season, so as soon as it would rain we would all rush back to our tents and cover them with tarps since our cheap tents from Nakumatt weren’t waterproof. Despite the mud, the humidity, and the dirtiness that comes with a hippy dippy-like music festival I absolutely loved it. My mood pre-festival could not be compared to my mood now after the experiences at the Nyege Nyege Festival. I had always wanted to attend a music festival during my Peace Corps service, and I was fortunate enough to go to one by the banks of the Nile with my best friends and some new ones as a PCV.

I will remember hanging out on the hill overlooking the main stage as hot Ethiopian or Eritrean hot dog vendors made Nutella crepes, I will remember sheltering 11 PCV’s in a small tent during a rain storm, I will remember going wild surrounded by PCV friends as an African dj played a remixed version of Avicii’s Levels, I will remember female rappers with mad flow on the main stage, and I will remember how much I will miss being able to have experiences like this one.

PCV Ssebo Nnyabo Photo

PCV Ssebo Nnyabo Photo

I have around 50 days of Peace Corps Service remaining, and it’s hard to believe it. Now I feel ready to make the most of my remaining time here and I owe a large part of that to the waves of joy and kinship that I felt during this weekend. During a heart to heart talk with one of the new PCV’s on Saturday night, he told me, “This may have been one of the best nights of my entire life.” I just smiled and leaned back in my chair as I stared at the stars in the sky and thought that many of the nights of my own Peace Corps service have been the best nights of my entire life.

Time for Myself

9/10/15 – 12/10/15

This weekend surprised me. I took some personal time away from site where I wandered around the villages of Muduuma, Katuuso, and Mpigi in the sub-counties right outside of Mityana Town. I knew that I needed to fulfill a physical need by leaving my village, and in the process this weekend caused me to reflect a lot. On Saturday, I talked with one of my friends who is two years older than me, was a member of the Boston University Catholic Center, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. I had met with him a few weeks after I had graduated from Boston University back in the spring of 2013. I vividly remember nursing a hangover and  biking over to the Starbucks on Newbury Street where we had a long chat about what I could expect from serving in the Peace Corps. A lot of concepts that he shared with me didn’t make sense to me back then, and a few of them meant something different to me back then than what they mean to me right now.

As an example, he shared with me the concept of having to resort to morally gray actions in order to accomplish certain goals. In Ukraine as well as Uganda bribery is a very common occurrence that is sometimes necessary to facilitate meetings, camps, or almost anything that passes through strict bureaucratic channels. Back then I thought that I would have to struggle a lot with the prevalence of bribery here, but now I think of it as an alternative bargaining technique with some guards and officials when reason, cajoling, and influence fail. Instead, I have been recently reflecting on my faith regarding my Catholic beliefs.

In the liberal atmosphere of Boston University, the Boston University Catholic Center was a conservative bastion and I was often seen as the rebel Catholic with liberal interpretations. However, I still attended retreats and would often go back and forth between how my heart could feel so strongly about a certain issue but then I would either supplant or reconcile it with semantics and reasoning supported by church doctrine. Before Peace Corps, I would go to mass every Sunday and would infrequently go to the sacrament of confession. During my Peace Corps service I have been to mass maybe 3 times, have not attended a single confession, and have refused to believe certain teachings of the Catholic Church. However, I still consider myself Catholic and in the Peace Corps I am often seen as the Catholic volunteer who can answer questions regarding the Catholic faith.

To be frank, in college I used to justify my belief that LGBTI+ couples were justified as long as they didn’t call it marriage due to the historical and religious significance of marriage. Now I laugh at the overuse of semantics in justifying certain beliefs back then. Yes, after having lived in Uganda I believe in marriage equality, the use of contraception, and the belief that life at all stages in the situational context must be respected. As Catholics, when we commit a sin, which distances us from God, we ask forgiveness by going to a priest and asking for forgiveness. At this moment, I don’t feel that I could go to confession and ask for forgiveness for things that I have done that I don’t believe are wrong but the church says is wrong. If I confess then I would be lying and thus it would be empty forgiveness. I mean, I still respect my faith and the belief in the bread and wine being the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ but I wouldn’t receive it if I did attend mass.

In Uganda, most people whom I meet believe in some form of Christianity or Islam. I would be hard-pressed to make my way through Kampala on a given day without having some Bible thumper hoarsely yelling scripture verses at my face. When I ask my students or villagers why they believe in something, they tend to cite scripture without actual justification of why they believe in it. Fortunately there isn’t the religious tension between Christianity and Islam that is seen in so many other countries in the world.

Teacher and Student Conversation:

Me: “But why do you believe in your Christian faith?”

Student: “Ah, because it is true and the Bible says that it is true.”

Me: “Okay the Bible says that it is true but why do you believe in the Bible?”

Student: “Because the Bible is the Word of God.”

Me: “How do you know that it is the Word of God and that someone didn’t just make it up and convince you to believe it?”

Student: “Ah master, that is impossible. It is true because it is written.”

Me: “You still haven’t told me why you believe what you believe.”

Student: “Ah… but I am right because Jesus died for all our sins and if I don’t believe then I won’t go to heaven.”

The only problem that I have is that most Ugandans don’t question why they believe certain tenets. Scripture is often interpreted by fire and brimstone revival preachers with very little experience in contextual theology and the concept of anachronisms. It is a blind faith that many Ugandans believe. It is a faith of Christ without the Cross; no context and fundamental zealotry. It’s sometimes laughable how it is somehow permissible to stone the gays because they are living sinful lives, but then have 3 wives and 30 children because “side-dish” women are traditionally okay and contraception is bad.

The other sad aspect is the destruction of local religious shrines and traditions. Some Ugandans still honor the traditional holy places like the Tanda Burial Grounds near Mityana or the Nakayima Tree in Mubende but they often-times go in secret so that their church and family don’t find out that they are respecting their “pagan” beliefs. Some Christian Ugandans go out of their way to burn down and destroy local shrines in order to cast down the pagan idols. It’s almost as if there’s no middle ground or prior thought.

In the past, I used to be so unsure about certain principles. Now, I am very sure about my principles but less sure about the doctrinal rules espoused by the church. It is sad, because my faith is a large part of my identity and I still believe in it but am now less sure about it.

Then on Sunday I went through another series of formative experiences. As I passed through Kampala I stopped by the bank at Acacia Mall. I greeted the guard in Lugbarati and entered the cubicle which housed the atm. A Ugandan man was already inside withdrawing money and I remained a respectable distance away from him. When he left I heard him chastising the guard because she was sitting sideways on her chair and talking on her phone. I ignored it for a while until he said, “And you let another person inside while I was withdrawing.” Now I don’t think that it’s against policy to allow more than one person inside to wait in line for the atm, but I opened the door and attempted to defend the guard. I explained to the man that this woman has been a good guard and that I have only ever had good interactions with her during my time at the Acacia Mall atm. The man quickly derided me and told me that I was a visitor who didn’t know what Ugandans had to go through in order to keep their country safe. I started to get agitated, so I thanked the guard for her work and left in a huff.

I agree that she could have acted more professional in her position as a guard but this sort of power display rubbed me the wrong way. I made my way to the café to grab a coffee and do some internet errands. During this time, I discovered that I have the opportunity of living and working in New York City a few months after I return. For the longest time I assumed that I would live in Baltimore City for a few years and then maybe consider moving to New York City when I was more settled. This made me both very excited as well as very anxious since I would now have to look for jobs in a city where I had fewer connections.

Fortunately, an RPCV (Peru 2010-2012) hosted me that night. I had a warm shower, ate bacon, and had an electric fan blowing wind in my face during the entirety of my stay. It was good to reminisce about our services and shared experiences together. We talked about how she became jaded working as both a development worker for USAID and as a humanitarian in South Sudan. With development, results come very slowly and very often bigger organizations don’t really understand the local needs and resources of a community to build itself up. With humanitarianism, the local communities who receive assistance from NGO’s concerning a vital need end up depending on that. The issue revolves around whether it’s better to continue feeding starving refugees in war-torn South Sudan who depend on the food and will continue to depend on the food forever, or to leave after having started a food program. When is there a release so that the NGO’s no longer need to feed the people of another country?

The other problem involved the case where most NGO’s have lofty goals of achieving community self-sufficiency but they don’t ever really want that to happen because then that NGO will no longer exist. The ideal goal is for an NGO to work its way out of existence. In the meantime, viral videos and media campaigns will raise millions of dollars in humanitarian aid that will definitely help people in need, but then discourages the government to grow and address the needs of its own people since foreign assistance comes without a cost and at a higher standard.

With the thoughts about my own efficacy as a Peace Corps Volunteer, my future life in the US, and the jaded/faded idealism of helping people I went to bed on a leather couch with a fan blowing cool air in my face after an amazingly warm shower and dinner of bacon. I needed some time to go through some things. Right now I don’t have any answers to these issues, but I feel much better about living with them.

My Date with a Ugandan

9/6/15

I wish that this could be a story filled with great success, witty conversations over a solid dinner, sultry glowing coals from chappati stands, and steamy one-bedroom stories. Unfortunately, you will hear none of these things and hear of the adventurous hijinks and mishaps that characterized my date with a Ugandan last night.

I had met this Ugandan at a club two months ago in Kampala. For anonymity’s sake, I shall refer to her as Carol. We had exchanged numbers before departing and that was that. Every now and then she would text and ask me about my day and I would text her back. On my way back from Masindi, I finally decided to call her back and ask her out on a date. Since I was attending PST for the new group in Mukono over the weekend, I decided that my best chance would be to have this date on Monday. I did the typical basic survival skills, Kampala tour, and survival ICT session for the newly-arrived trainees but could only think about my upcoming date.

On Monday I left the training venue and spent the whole day wandering around Kampala. I meandered my way from the embassies of Kololo to the alleyways of electronic stores where I made a deal with a Ugandan to purchase 10 desktop computers for the ICT lab. I had a pillau lunch at Uhuru’s and then took at a nap at 1000 Cups as I awaited her call. I grew more and more worried as the day continued, because she wasn’t answering my calls. At first, I assumed that she was at work and didn’t have her phone on, or that she had lost her sim card. All I could think about was this date.

I eventually checked into the Annex and chilled until she called me late in the afternoon. We decided that we would meet around 8pm at the nearby grocery store Nakumatt because that’s how romantic dates start over here. At 8pm I arrived at Nakumatt and spent the next hour reading cookbooks in the book section, and my thoughts changed from thinking about the date to how much I missed food. She arrived at 9pm and we started the awkward conversation about our respective background and life since we didn’t verbally really discuss much at the club.

The first restaurant didn’t have working electricity and only the pizza oven was working, so I decided to instead have dinner at the ritzier Cafesserie in Acacia Mall. Still I felt weird, and I don’t know if it was due to the culture difference or that our chemistry worked so much better dancing in the club. I also had trouble gauging what would have been an appropriate restaurant since the two options are either really expensive ethnic foods or very cheap Ugandan restaurants. One choice is really expensive and could send the message that I am a sugar daddy, while the other message could potentially turn her off.

Dinner progressed well, albeit with forced conversation mainly from my side of the table. I suggested ice cream after dinner, to which she replied, “It’s too cold for me.” We walked for a bit and then the conversation got to what are plans were since it was now midnight.

Our conversation:

Her: “Wow, I’m getting really tired.”

Me: “Me too, where are you staying tonight?”

Her: “My house; it’s not too far from here. Where are you staying?”

Me: “I’m staying at a guesthouse, but the room is way too small.”

Her: “My brother stays with me in my house, but it’s pretty big. I think that I want to go rest.”

Me: “Well, would you like to show me your house?”

Her: “Yes.”

Naturally, I got excited and we took a 45 minute private hire vehicle to her house. As we approached the gate, I assumed that she lived in a bigger house.

Conversation:

Me: “Is that your house?”

Her: “No.”

Me: “Oh, so is that your apartment?”

Her: “No, it’s that house over there.”

I looked in amazement at the one-bedroom house that was a bit smaller than my own village house in Luweero. It didn’t matter, because I had been in smaller houses before. As we approached the house, she knocked on the door. I heard a murmur and saw that her brother was already sleeping in her bed. I walked inside and she introduced me to her brother who was also her roommate. I don’t know exactly how I felt in that moment, but it was like a mixture of incredulity, deflation, disappointment, confusion, and acceptance. In my naiveté, I had assumed that when she said that she wanted to rest, she meant something else other than physically sleeping and resting.

I sat in the one chair in the room facing a wall coated in born-again Christian crusade pamphlets as her brother asked me if I had ever gone to them. While he correctly deduced my ethnicity as Filipino, he incorrectly deduced that I had interest in going to a born-again crusade in Kampala. My date laid down a blanket and sheets for me on the floor and turned on the stereo radio before turning the lights off. I slept on and off through a night filled with some regrets and many mosquito bites.

In the morning, I made the taxi ride and walk of shame back to the Annex where the cleaning staff asked if I had spent the night there or not. They laughed, when I responded that I had most definitely spent the night there.

I really don’t know what happened during my date with Carol. As I am writing this, she called me and asked how I was doing. So honestly, I’m more confused than ever about whether or not this date could be considered a success.

The Adventure

7/3/15 – 26/3/15

I have finally found some time to sit down and write a blog post about my experiences during the month of March. This month marks a turning point for me, because I truly feel that everything that I am headed towards the end of my Peace Corps service. In a little over 8 months I will be flying away from Uganda and gonging out at the Peace Corps office. This blog post, will be devoted to the adventure of Alex Bansleben and Marvin Roxas who journeyed to the far western and southwestern regions of Uganda in order to destroy the One Ring of Mt. Nyiragongo.

Saturday 7th – Sunday 8th

I arrived in Kampala in order to participate in a meeting of the Geography Club of Uganda. We Geo Club Dinnerstayed at the New City Annex and purchased the ingredients to make a huge three-course dinner at the house of the Director of Programming and Training. The meeting involved discussing the issues regarding LGBTI issues in Peace Corps Uganda both as a support system and how allies could lend their own support to other PCV’s. At some point, I raised a concern regarding what the response should be if another Peace Corps Volunteer stated that he or she did not support LGBTI PCV’s. This sparked a healthy discussion where PCV’s and allies bounced around ideas regarding how one should respond to the person in question. Some people said that everyone was entitled their own opinions, while others stated that they would debate that person. However, it was unanimously agreed upon that the person who did not support Geo PCV’s should not be attacked, especially since he or she is voicing an opinion and should also not feel victimized.

The three-course dinner consisted of:

  • Lettuce Salad and Pumpkin Soup
  • Tomato and Basil Pasta, Black and Tan Pasta, Alfredo Pasta, and Pasta Salad
  • Lemon Squares topped with Mint, Gooseberries, and Kiwi Slices

After dinner, I received a call from my friend Alex who had gotten on an overnight bus from Nairobi to Kampala. That night a lot of us went out to the clubs and we got back to the Annex around 5am.

Monday 9th – Thursday 12th

Four hours later, Alex arrived in Kampala. Fortunately, Alex took the Modern Coast bus which dropped him off right in front of the Annex. I ran out to meet him and he dropped his bags off at the Annex.

We headed to Prunes for brunch and catching up. Honestly, I hadn’t had a lengthy conversation with Alex for over 4 years and I didn’t know what our common interests were. I shared with him the basics about how Peace Corps Uganda worked and about my work here, and he shared with me his work as a consultant at Accenture. This would turn out to be a theme throughout the duration of our adventure in Uganda and Rwanda. Every now and then we would share something with the other that helped explain how our personalities and experiences since high school drastically changed us.

We napped a bit back at the Annex, and then headed down towards the taxi park area so that Alex could buy some kitenge from the vendors and get them made by my favorite tailor. Alex bought some kitenge, which is Congolese fabric, from some Congolese vendors with whom he spoke French. We then brought the fabric to my favorite tailor who agreed to make them into button down dress shirts and regular t-shirts. We continued towards the Gaddafi Mosque, which was closed since it was past 6pm, so we hurried to grab a small dinner at the Acacia Mall area with other PCV’s. It was at this point that Alex was introduced to the bluntness and openness of PCV’s that night. The conversation revolved around vibrators that female PCV’s brought or had surreptitiously sent to them. I explained to Alex that PCV’s chiefly talked about three topics: poop, sex, and other Peace Corps Volunteers.

Alex and Village ChildrenThe next morning I brought Alex with me to the Peace Corps office because I had a PCVL meeting concerning the site development process. The procedure was being personalized for the older education PCV’s in-country in order to make it more personalized and give PCV’s a voice in sharing why they would like a future PCV to continue the work that they had started at their sites. The meeting ends in the late afternoon, after which Alex and I take a private hire down to the taxi park and then take a taxi back to Wobulenzi where we purchase produce from the local market. We make it back to my village where all of the village children immediately run up to him to stroke his leg hair and hold his hands.

As we prepare for dinner, Alex takes out some of the gifts that he brought: a Kindle, incense, acne facial scrub, books for the students, and some money that would go towards a needed project. We chill that night with the incense and some fennel steak dinner.

Journal Entry:

“It’s interesting hearing the different perspectives that Alex has and brings here from the US. Like some offhand comments or responses about how he “gets it”. Or it’s the weirdness of being around someone whom I still have to explain everything to rather than the silent solidarity of knowing the life that we live here, like other PCV’s…”

The next day we get up and prepare for a day of teaching and local exploration. We start off withAlex Teaching teaching a division lesson to Year 1 students. Afterwards, we gather them outside to hold an HIV/AIDS session with them where we explained the biology behind HIV/AIDS, exposed the myths, and demonstrated the fast rate of HIV transmission through unprotected sex. Afterwards, I brought Alex to the nearby hill where I can get internet access, and then to the Kabaka’s Palace. We grabbed a rolex from a chappati guy in Bamunanika and then walked to another hill that overlooked the majority of the sub-county. As the sun set and I chilled up there with Alex, I found it hard to believe that I was embarking on this journey with an old friend whom I haven’t hung out with for almost half a decade.

On Thursday we sleep-in, pack up, and head back to Kampala and stay at the Fat Cat Backpackers. We check out Acacia mall and I show Alex the Definition store and Nakumatt. We meet up with PCV Wayne Wong who shares how some other PCV’s whom he met at a Malaria Conference in Senegal remember me from the weekend spent in Kigali, Rwanda last August during the Guma Guma event. Funnily enough, later that night we meet an NGO guy who went to University of Maryland College Park and now works in Gulu. I still find it crazy how regardless of where we go in the world, we will somehow meet someone with whom we have had shared experiences.

Friday 13th – Saturday 14th

We spent the day walking to the Gaddafi Mosque, which was very grand to say the least. I found it Gaddafi Mosquehard to believe that there was this gigantic, public mosque whose carpets came from Morocco, mahogany handrails from the Congo, and funding from the benevolent to many African countries but his own, Gaddafi. Apparently, so many African countries other than Libya are huge fans of Gaddafi because of the money that he so generously shared with them in order to build things such as this mosque, which is also the 2nd biggest mosque in Africa. After climbing the tower with a  spiral staircase and walking barefoot on the plush Moroccan carpets, we met up with PCV Ravi Sahai and walked towards the Kasubi Tombs of the Kabaka.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is the location of the past four Kabaka’s tombs as well as his tradition grass-thatched round house. Unfortunately, the main house was destroyed in a fire five years ago, and the perpetrator has still not been apprehended. The tour guide shared with us the history of the past four Kabaka’s. We heard stories about the many wives of the Kabaka, how one of them was assassinated by Idi Amin’s agents, the dissolution of the tribes of Uganda, and the eventual reinstatement of the tribes under the current Kabaka with the collaboration of Museveni.

Kisubi TombsWe passed by the other ceremonial straw houses that housed actual families. Each house had a modern-day fire extinguisher attached near the front entrance. However, one of the most intriguing parts of the tour was a mud hut that was over 100 years old. I mean the tin roof was repurposed from scraps that the British colonizers discarded, and the mud was packed and repacked through the years. After arguing with the receptionist in both Luganda and Runyoro we were able to receive the price of an East African Resident, while Alex had to pay the full fee.

We took several taxi rides back to Acacia Mall and bought some whiskey to pregame for the night. That night, we pre-gamed at Fat Cat and then danced at both Iguana and Cayenne until around 6am. I had planned to go out to the clubs in Kampala this Friday since it was the COS (Close of Service) conference of the PCV’s in the CHED (Community Health, Economic Development) cohort that would be leaving Uganda within the next three months. By the time I got back to the hostel, a random Pakistani man was sleeping in my bed so I just crashed on the bed/couch in the common room. There were a few funny stories from that night, but the most memorable was when we were entering Cayenne and the bouncers stopped one of the guys in our group from entering since the dress code stipulated that all men wear long trousers and he was wearing shorts.

Conversation:

Us: “Okay how much do you want us to bribe you to let him in?”

Bouncers: “We don’t accept bribes.”

Us: “Okay, can we talk to your manager please?”

Bouncers: “The manager will not want to talk with you or accept your bribe. This is why Uganda is not a great country; because of corruption and bribery.”

Us: *sarcasm* “Oh yes, we definitely agree that by not letting in a man with short trousers is making Uganda a worse country”

Us: *one of the girls and the guy in shorts switches pants so that the guy is wearing the girl’s capris and the girl is wearing his cargo shorts* “We’re ready!”

Bouncers: “Okay, you can enter now.”

A few hours later in the morning, I wake up in the common room couch and am probably still drunk. I eat the breakfast provided by Fat Cat and pack up my things in preparation for the journey to Fort Portal. Wayne Wong decides to tag along for a few days. We go to the Barclays in order to withdraw some money that we then converted into $US in preparation for our eventual sojourn into Rwanda. We take a taxi from the taxi park to Fort Portal. I kept pointing out to the equally as hungover Alex the places where Ravi, Godfrey, and I biked during our bike journey.

Jenna's Pit LatrineWe met up with PCV Jenna Marcotte at Sweet Aromas bakery, which had changed spots from the last time I was at Fort Portal during Camp Kuseka. Now it was located near the Kasese Road. It was here that we bought the One Ring at the local Indian Store. The goal was that Alex would eventually destroy it in the fiery pits of Mt. Nyiragongo in the DRC during his trek later that week. In the meantime, we shared a dinner together of the best pizza in country at the Duchess restaurant.

I can still remember feeling the cool, slightly damp air of the night breezing through the open windows of the private hire as we headed towards Jenna’s site at Kazingo. In the middle of the journey, Jenna pointed out the fire on one of the nearby foothills of the Rwenzori’s that signified the beginning of farmers clearing the brush for farming since rainy season was soon approaching. Jenna’s house was one of the most comfortable houses that I have ever stayed in as a PCV. Even though there wasn’t any running water or electricity, I felt like I was at home. The best part was that the house got very cold at night.

Sunday 15th – Tuesday 17th

We left the Rwenzori foothills of Kazingo and went back to Fort Portal. Wayne Wong and Alex wentNyakasharu Setting Up the Tent to reserve a taxi headed towards Mbarara while I rushed to the market to purchase some produce for our stay at Dave the Cave Nyakasharu Eco Lodge. The lodge was located about 3 hours south of Fort Portal a little bit after passing Kasese and Kyambura. We arrived at the eco lodge and were welcomed by handful of other PCV’s who agreed to come here to preemptively celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and hang out with me and Alex. We were located near a crater lakes, and the place was called Dave the Cave because the Ugandan owner is named Dave and the eco lodge overlooked a crater lake and a small cave.

Alex, Wayne Wong, and I set up our tent and hung out with the other PCV’s. What struck me the most from this place was how organic everything felt. I mean I’ve been to other eco lodges and other ecotourism sites in Uganda, but the energy and passion that Dave had was infectious. As I was cooking tomato sauce in his kitchen, he urged me to pick some fresh basil, oregano, parsley, and rosemary from the nearby demonstration garden. Later in the day, as the golden sun set behind traditional dancers and drummers, PCV Hannah Long and I walked down the dirt road that skirted the eco lodge and led to Dave’s garden.

I couldn’t believe how vast and expansive his garden was. We walked through the garden and Rosemary in Gardenpicked fresh: rosemary, coriander, parsley, oregano, arugula, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, thyme, sage, turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, husk tomatoes, leeks, celery, gooseberries, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, cucumbers, okra, and various other vegetables and leafy greens that I hadn’t seen in over 16 months. Dave stated that he wanted to inspire other Ugandans to utilize the rich soil and grow a variety of plants and produce to both consume and sell at the markets.

When we returned to the eco lodge, we chilled by the nearby bonfire and ate fried local fish from the crater lakes. That night, the temperature dropped to the low 50’s, and I was freezing in the tent even though I was bundled up in several layers worth of clothing. In the morning, we hitched a ride with a truck driving Ugandan who was headed past Kalinzu Forest where Alex, Wayne Wong, and I paid 50,000/= to go chimp trekking. We had woken up before the sunrise, and by the time we got to the forest, the air still felt damp and cool from the night’s chill.

Chimp TrekkingI took in a deep breath, because the air smelled so earthy and fresh. One of the chimp trekking guides led us deeper into the thick forest. About 45 minutes into the journey, we came across an adult chimpanzee at the end of the road. As we approached him, he scampered away and we continued to trek him. About 30 minutes later, the guides stopped in a small clearing and pointed out several chimpanzees swinging from the branches of the nearby trees. We saw a mother and her chimp swinging from branch to branch. We even heard the distinctive roar/cry of the chimpanzees as they swung from the boughs of the overhanging tree branches.

At some point, the guide suggested that we head back to the base. On the way back, we departed the forest clearing and entered into the rolling green fields of a Majani Tea Plantation. It’s sites and days like this that still astound me; seeing the countless tea plants that stretch far into the distance as Ugandan field workers snip the fresh tea leaves into their baskets. We then took a Tea Plantationvery crowded private hire sedan to Mbarara and then onto our next stop at the Bishop Stuart PTC where PCV Stephen Elliott hosted us. The stipulation was that we could stay if we tossed the Frisbee at the nearby field, climbed his water tower, and drank beers with him. Naturally, we agreed that this was well worth the price of lodging for the night. If the night at the eco lodge felt like winter and the morning in the forest felt like spring, then the afternoon at Bishop Stuart PTC felt like the end of a solid summer’s day. The sun was shedding its golden rays down the suburban-like streets of the tutors’ housing. And a warm breeze wafted by us as we sat on Stephen’s cement porch.

We bid farewell to Wayne Wong on the morning of the 17th. Alex and I took a taxi on the Mbarara-Kabale road headed towards Kabale and he took a taxi headed back towards Kampala. It was at this point that Alex started to notice the different landscapes of the southwest. He continuously Kabale Elephant Manstated that this was such a beautiful ride, and I told him that it would only get better. I helped Alex print his visa papers for his eventual hike in the DRC, and then we bought straw elephants from the elephant man in front of the Indian grocery store. Let me explain this a little bit more, within the space of less than 100 feet on the main road of Kabale there is an Indian store and usually this old man in a wheelchair with a hand crank that he uses to roll his wheels. Whenever he sees non-Ugandans pass into the Indian shop he would yell “ELEPHANTS!” and plunge his hand into a black cavera and display handmade, straw elephant figurines to sell. I had heard stories about this man, and Alex and I bought two elephants from him.

Conversation with Elephant Man:

Elephant Man: *sees us* “ELEPHANTS!”

Me: “How much?”

Elephant Man: “10,000!!!!”

Me: “No, 5,000!”

Elephant Man: “Yes!” *He then displays the straw elephants from his black cavera where he stores them*

Indian Man: *Talking to Ugandan store workers in very Indian accent* “You bring for me fifteen eggs!”

We took a pit stop at PCV Carl Mulhausen’s house at the Kabale NTC where we also met up with PCV Paul Benz. Carl shared his own experiences climbing Mt. Nyiragongo in the DRC several decades ago when he was a PCV during the reign of Idi Amin. He recalled that his experience climbing that volcano and hearing the perpetual roar of the lava inside the crater would be one of the most amazing and memorable experiences of his life. I got excited for Alex, and was definitely jealous that I wouldn’t be able to join him on his journey to destroy the One Ring.

By this point it was the late afternoon, so Alex and I quickly found a taxi headed towards Kisoro that took about 2 hours to fill. However, it was worth it because we saw the sun bursting forth from the clouds that surrounded the Virunga volcanoes of Kisoro. Even though I had seen this view before, it still felt very epic to witness the winding road with hairpin turns and steep drops that led to sloped farmlands, elevated lakes, and towering hills and mountains. If I thought that this was gorgeous, I couldn’t imagine what Alex must have felt witnessing these views for the first time in his life. By the time the sun had hit the horizon, our taxi arrived in Kisoro and we met up with PCV Bruce Haase at the Coffee Pot. We had burgers and turned in for an early night.

Kisoro SunsetIf there was one thing that I was beginning to learn from Alex’s visit, it was that he reminded how amazing my life was here in Uganda. At one point he told me that my life here was not normal. I guess that after 16 months I forget that what I do on a weekly basis here is not normal, at least by American standards. Hearing about the sites that I was used to seeing on a semi-regular basis reminded me of how much I loved my life here. It took having a part of home come to visit me in order to remind me of how life-changing my Peace Corps experience is. It’s very easy to get used to the ups and downs of day-to-day life here and to forget that living in such a unique environment with the opportunity to see both great and terrible things is not the norm. As Ugandans would about us, we are used.

Saturday 18th – Monday 20th

Alex and I woke up early in order to see the sunrise at the hill with the gorgeous view of Mt. Alex and Lake MutandaSebinnyo and Lake Mutanda. We filmed a few scenes of us with the One Ring. Once again, I felt weird about Alex visiting these sacred places of my Peace Corps service. Whenever the various stages of my worlds collide, I can’t help but notice just how different all of me and my friends have become. We took our photos and met Bruce at Traveller’s for their 10,000/= breakfast, which includes bacon and cheese. We quickly packed up back at Bruce’s house, and made our way to the border at Cyanika.

Alex had to pay a $30 visa fee ever since they mandated that persons with American passports must pay a fee to acquire a visa at the border with Rwanda. Fortunately, Bruce and I sweet-talked Virunga Mist Beerthe right people at the border office and explained to them that we were East African residents, so they gave us the Interstate Pass which allowed us to travel to and from Rwanda for free. From Kyanika, the taxi driver drove us on the other side of the road to the transit town of Musanze. We chilled here at the French/Italian bakery and restaurant called La Paillotte with their amazing Boulette (meat balls), baguettes, and Virunga Mist beer. Honestly, that beer was one of the best that I’ve had during my Peace Corps service. It’s a darker beer, but not as dark or as filling as a stout and still refreshing enough with the taste of oats and barley.

Lake Kivu PierWe took the afternoon taxi to Gisenyi where we stayed at the Discover Gisenyi Hostel near the shores of Lake Kivu. While the town seemed very local and small, the lakeside felt very serene. I could have thought that I was on vacation in a small, European beachside town or Riviera. From the manicured lawns of our European beach chalet, we could see Rwandans doing flips off of a stone pier into the clear waters of Lake Kivu and then walking back onto the sandy shore. That night, we have dinner at a local restaurant, with food that resembles Ugandan food but tastes a bit more flavorful. Also thanks to the Belgian colonizers, the Rwandans know how to bake bread in many of the towns as opposed to Ugandans who mainly adopted tea time from the Brits.

Journal Entry:

“It’s interesting at this point in the journey, because I feel like we’re past the awkward stage of meeting and hanging out since high school, but I feel that we have vastly different personalities and interests and ways of approaching situations. I think it also has to do with the trouble of understanding how life is here in the Peace Corps.

But now on our coaster ride to Gisenyi from Musanze, I feel giddy. I’m excited with the prospect of new adventure and experiences.”

As the sun set, we could see the far off Mt. Nyiragongo in the DRC shrouded in clouds like Mt. Doom itself.

Thursday 19th – Friday 20th

During these two days I chilled at the lakeside chalet hostel and chilled by the lake. I even took a dip into the clear waters because the staff assured me that there was no schistosomiasis in the water. In the meantime, Alex took a boda from the chalet 1.6km northwards to the DRC border. As I chilled safe in Rwanda, he prepared for his sojourn to the mountain of doom in the DRC, and here is his story:

Alex’s Story:

“My heart was pounding as I approached the border called La Grande Barriere.. I mean all the stories on any international news site would tell you about the problems regarding rebels and disorganized governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both Anthony Bourdain’s No Entering GomaReservations and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness painted a very bleak portrait of this center of Africa. I’m sure that not many people would ever do what I am doing right now. When got to the border, I had my bag searched and a nurse checked my WHO card to ensure that I had received all of the required vaccinations. I then had to hand over my passport to the border officials along with a visa confirmation explaining that I had registered for a visa a month earlier online through the Virunga Trekking website. In total I had paid $250 for the park permit and trekking, $105 for the visa into the DRC, and about $23 for transport to the Kibati Patrol Post from the border crossing.

As I waited for the officials to process my visa, I met some other travelers who would join me on my hike up Nyiragongo. Even though I had spent my summers in French Switzerland, I was glad that my other companions also spoke French. After the officials stamped a visa into my passport, I boarded the Virunga Treks jeep and they took me and my new companions through Goma town towards Kibati Patrol Post. It was such a new experience to see this forbidden part of the world. As an American with two passports, US and Italian, I always believed that travelling anywhere in the world was an easy task. However, it always gave me a rush to know that I was treading on land that few people would ever have the opportunity or will to traverse.

Blackened GomaThe developed part of Goma town looked nice compared to most other towns in Uganda. However, once we passed into the neighborhoods, the color scheme of the entire environment changed. Instead of the brown of dust and dirt, the villages surrounding Goma were all black. Fences of black and dark red volcanic rocks were built by enterprising villagers, and the houses and huts looked like log cabins that wouldn’t have looked out of place in northern United States. Some of the houses had the traditional tin roofs while others had brick shingles. Even the cloudy sky cast a shadow on an already gloomy-looking town. But what struck me the most from this journey was the reaction of the people.

In Uganda, people were always friendly and willing to wave at you if you waved at them. In Rwanda, it required a bit more effort to get them to wave back at you. However here, some of the villagers would just stare at us, throw stones at us, give us the finger, or ask for money. Only a select few of them greeted us when we said hello in French or Swahili. Every few minutes our jeep would pass by a United Nations vehicle with blue helmets riding with their rifles. Apparently, the nearest rebel group was only 11km away from Goma. We also kept passing by what looked like an elongated, wooden bicycle that the villagers used to transport jerrycans of water, livestock, and sacks of food.

We approached the Kibati Patrol Post and consolidated our supplies for the trek. Some of my Congolese Guardscompanions hired porters for $12, but I decided to carry my own backpack up and down the mountain. Our Congolese guides and armed guards explained to us that we would be reaching an elevation of about 3400m and that the trek would take about 4-6 hours including rest stops at designated intervals. There were also 12 hidden, armed guards stationed at various points along the path who would protect and alert us if any rebels got too close.

The trek up was definitely miserable at points, but the harder it got the more worth I placed into this experience. We first started on a path that led straight into the heart of the Virunga Park forest. It steadily climbed upwards at a slight, muddy gradient until it gave way to broken up Rain on Volcanic Rocksvolcanic rocks that sloped at a steeper gradient. About two hours in, we left the forest behind and were clambering up steep volcanic rocks the size of baseballs and stretches of slick volcanic outcroppings as the rain started to pour. I felt miserable going up, because I knew that both my body and my backpack with my sleeping bag was getting wet.

About 4 hours into the journey, our guides stopped us and told us to look at a small fissure in the ground overgrown with trees and plants. He explained that in 2002 the lava from the volcano welled up here and then overflowed down this face of the volcano where it pooled in a small crater and then reached Goma town and eventually Lake Kivu. That explained all the black volcanic rocks and black dirt in Goma Village. As I turned around to look at Goma, I couldn’t believe how high up I was. I could see a green, football pitch-sized crater below me and Goma Village in the far off distance as if it was a small lego town.

At this point, we were approaching the clouds. We passed through another stretch of steep forest View above the Cloudspaths, and then made our way to the last stretch of clearing, which consisted of small volcanic crags that acted as stepping stones. The path ceased at this point, and each one of us chose his or her own path up the last 100m of the climb. During this stretch of 30 minutes, the clouds parted from the blustery winds and the clear skies greeted our final ascent. Behind us lay what looked like the Savannah and the lonely towns of Goma and Gisenyi hugging the eastern side of Lake Kivu.

The guides told us that we were to choose a small cabin built near the crater of the volcano where Sulfur Cloud Sunsetwe could place our things and sleep when night came. The cabins were literally just planks of wood nailed together to keep rain and wind out, and inside each cabin was a heavy-duty tent designed as an extra layer of protection against the harsher elements of wind and mist. Outside, everything was bathed in a golden glow as the sun set behind clouds of both water and sulfur. Everywhere I turned was a gorgeous and breath-taking view. It feels hard explaining how amazing it felt to be up there at what felt like the end of the world. As I approached the crater, I could see a reddish glow beyond the emanating sulfur clouds. I will never forget that perpetual rumbling of the lava in the crater that reminded me of an ocean wave that was forever crashing down on the surf.

When the clouds cleared, we could look down into the crater where we saw these sheer cliff dropsMt. Nyiragongo Lava Lake that led to a lower level of the crater, which led to another lower level of the crater, which finally led to the lake of lava itself. Even though we were far away from the lava, we could still feel a remnant of radiating heat from the lava. As night came, the lava lake became much easier to see. All I could do for hours was gaze at the lava and listen to the never-ending rumble and roar of lava explosions. The pool of lava was forever changing with the solidified rocks on the surface of the lake forming and re-forming into different shapes. At some points the surface looked like a fractured mirror, spider-web, penises, or even the Eye of Sauron himself. At some point in the night, I took out a bottle of white wine which was chilling in the winter-like air. I shared the bottle with my new companions, and as the clouds whipped around us we listened to Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire, Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, and Howard Shore’s Breaking of the Fellowship.

Sulfur SunriseYou know, I felt alright with my life up there. I really believe that I was on a true adventure of a lifetime that I would never forget. That time spent on the volcano felt almost spiritual. Something had changed within me and I knew that when I descended from this mountain that I would never be the same again. The night got darker and deeper, and I retired to my cabin where my sleeping bag kept me warm throughout the night. Funnily enough, all I could think about was how delicious the burrito Marvin told me about at Meze Fresh in Kigali would taste.

I set my alarm for 5am since the guards told me that the sunrise would be at 5:40am. As I rose, I heard my other companions join me to witness the sunrise. Even though I felt miserable, slightly hungover, and cold I was happy to witness a new sunrise on Mt. Nyiragongo. Behind me, I could see Goma illuminated by the fires of a thousand villagers and the intermittent lightning of a far-off storm cloud. And in that moment, I made my decision to destroy evil for good and I threw the One Ring into the fire chasm from whence it came (even though I technically bought the ring in the Indian Store in Fort Portal with Marvin and Jenna’s help). The sun rose and as the clouds whipped around our feet they covered the lake of lava and I bid farewell to such a beautiful view.

The trek down was uneventful in that it rain the entire way down and we were all soaking wet, muddy, and ready for our next meal and warm shower. We made it to the Patrol Post within 3 hours since we didn’t stop for a rest, and the jeeps took us back through Goma. On the way back, I bought a Simba beer from a local shop, because I wanted to know what it would taste like. I re-entered Rwanda without much trouble, and met up with Marvin and Bruce back at the hostel.”

When Alex told me his story, I was beyond jealous and knew that before I left for the United States that I would do this trek. In the meantime, it felt nice to relax by the lake and chill with Bruce. We ate a local lunch at the bus park, and then took a bus to Kigali. One of Alex’s companions joined us on the coaster back to Kigali. Her name is Josie and she shared her story with us: She wanted to visit Rwanda ever since she was 14 and had volunteered with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Quebec where she had worked in Haiti, Madagascar, and then in Rwanda as a peanut butter factory worker rabbit farmer, and then as a teacher. She shared her knowledge of Ikinyarwanda with us and explained why most of the towns had two names. For example, Gisenyi was also called Rubavu because after the genocide the government wanted to rename all of the towns so that they could put the past behind them. As a result, many of the towns in Rwanda other than Kigali have two names.

We picked up a wheel of local Emmentaler-like cheese at Muhoko trading center, and continued on our coaster ride to the semi-developed city of Kigali. We had booked dorm beds at the Mamba Clubhouse in Kimihurura neighborhood near Papyrus Club. We ate a well-deserved burrito with nachos at Meze Fresh, chilled with some Rwandan PCV’s, and passed out in warm dorm beds after an even warmer shower.

Saturday 21st – Wednesday 26th

Honestly, after Alex’s adventure on Mt. Nyiragongo I felt that nothing could top that experience forRz Manna Bakery the duration of our trip. As Alex went to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum, Bruce and I hung out at different cafes in Kigali. We started at Rz Manna where we could eat authentic baked goods ranging from cinnamon buns to croissants and jelly doughnuts and waffles. Bruce and I then continued to the MTN House where we swapped stories over a French press of Lake Kivu coffee at Bourbon Café on the third floor. I felt so relaxed hanging out here with a good friend over some good coffee after an already-packed adventure.

We met up with Alex at Hotel des Milles Collines, and got dinner at a French restaurant called L’Epicurean near our hostel. The fact that I had the pleasure of eating Chicken Cordon Bleu is something that I will not forget for as long as I live in the village.

Early in the morning, Alex, Bruce, and I arose and got our shit together to reach Uganda by the early morning. We arrived back in Kisoro by 10am where we bid farewell to Bruce. Arriving this early gave Alex and I more than enough time to reach Kabale by noon and then arrive at the Byoona Amagara docks. Instead of paying for a motorboat, we decided to just paddle a canoe to the island for free. Chilling at Lake Bunyonyi was perfect, because it was just so quiet and relaxing after almost two weeks of constant traveling. I pretty much just napped on the docks, napped in the café area, and in my cozy bed.

We spent Monday night in Kabale town at PCV Amanda Throckmorton’s house. Alex and I broughtLeaving Bunyonyi over a kilo of live crayfish along with the remnant of Muhoko, Rwanda cheese in order to make a black and tan crayfish mac ‘n cheese. That was a good night to talk about experiences, because Amanda asked Alex about his adventure up Mt. Nyiragongo, which started a conversation about the adventures that we have in our 20’s that define a large part of who we become. She shared her own experiences and adventures in India and Myanmar that helped define a part of who she is today. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were discussing this over a full box of wine each.

Tuesday was literally one of the worst travel days in-country. It took 12 hours to get from Kabale to Masaka after waiting for over 4 hours in total and then squeezing in 24 passengers in a 16 person taxi and then forcing everyone to get off into another one in the middle of the road leading to Masaka. By the time we reached  Wandegeya PTC where PCV Eric Chu hosted us, it was already 9pm and we were exhausted from sitting in a crowded taxi all-day. This was the last homely house of the adventure before I had to say goodbye to Alex. Out of all the PCV houses in Uganda, Eric’s house felt the most comfortable with the cool air, fully-stocked kitchen, and clean sheets on a guest mattress.

Wednesday was our last day together. We celebrated it by picking up Alex’s shirts from the tailor and purchasing more rolls of kitenge for him to bring home. We then stopped by the 1000 Cups café where Alex bought coffee to take home with him, and then we registered for his last night in Uganda at Fat Cat Backpackers. We had hoped that it would be the Wine and Cheese night at the Bistro, but instead we just got three gin and tonics during happy hour and then bought a 1.5L bottle of wine, hummus platter, and various cheeses, meats, and bread from the Nakumatt deli to have our own wine and cheese night on the rooftop of Fat Cat.

Under the influence of our last night together, Alex and I swapped pictures and reminisced about our journey that took us through different climates, time zones, and seasons. At some point, the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer called and informed us that a terrorist attack might occur at a muzungu-heavy area in Kampala according to the US Embassy. As a fitting end to any adventure, it was raining at 6am Thursday morning when the private hire picked Alex at Fat Cat and drove him to the airport. And this adventure came to a close.

Journal Entry:

“How can I go back to “regular” life after these experiences? It’s just so many thoughts and memories that have shaped who I’ve become today. I don’t know whether to cry or not concerning all of the feelings and adventures that I’ve gone through in these pat two weeks and how they remind me of the stages of my life that brought me this far. Even though I wasn’t there, I feel that the roar of Nyiragongo will resonate within me for the rest of my life.”

Privilege

13/2 – 22/2 Two weekends ago I spent some time hanging out with some of the new education PCV’s in Masaka. Initially, I didn’t plan to eat at Frikadellen, but I ended up partaking in the 30,000/= buffet and from what I can remember it was definitely worth it. We spent the rest of the Ndegeya Bonfire Circlenight drinking, hanging out, and eventually dancing at the local club Ambiance. For some reason, four of us decided to share a bed in an extremely small and hot hotel room filled with mosquitoes and the stench of alcohol. The next day we sluggishly made our way to the pool located in one of the neighborhoods near Plot 99. Honestly, this weekend was going according to plan: I wanted to go out dancing, eat some good food, and spend the hungover Saturday swimming in a pool. In the evening we headed back to Ndegeya PTC where PCV’s Eric and Elyse hosted us for dinner. The last time I was at their house was almost one whole year ago, and their house is still as beautiful and posh as I remember it. After dinner, a few of us sloped up the nearby roads to the Ndegeya Art Community (Weaverbird Arts Foundation). It was founded 7 years ago by a Ugandan/Rwandan man who wanted to create a place where artists from Uganda and abroad could collaborate, hold workshops, and be free to express themselves in art. Every 3-4 months they would hold some sort of art workshop week where dozens of artists would gather together and live on top of the hill. The hill had a large grass clearing dotted with a bonfire pit, art houses, latrines, bathing areas, campgrounds, and sculptures made out of stone, brick, and recycled jerrycans. Since it was Valentine’s Day, not many artists had gathered for the meeting that weekend. This allowed us to have some more personal time with the founder of the movement. He told us that the meaning behind the art was to empower Ugandans, especially those in impoverished settings, to view art as something to help them in their lives. I posed the concern that many Ugandans view art as a detriment to survival since it would be viewed as a hindrance to daily tasks such as farming, tending to the children, cooking, fetching water, and everyday life. I felt that he wasn’t able to provide an answer that satisfied me, but I felt that I would need to spend more time there to better understand what he has done and accomplished with this movement. Most of the PCV’s left on Loucine Walking with Dr. JosephSunday, but I decided to stay another day at the cottage house at Ndegeya PTC. Man, it felt so comfortable being in a clean house where I could really stretch out, sleep without a mosquito net, shower, and eat homemade coq au vin since they had an oven. More than 15 months in-country, and I have come to appreciate the value of being comfortable. I left for Kampala on Monday, and did the usual routine of eating out at the fancy food court in Acacia Mall. I mean where else could I get decently priced and decent Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Ugandan, and American cuisine all in one area? I spent the night at the New City Annex just like old times, since I was told that a Peace Corps vehicle would pick me up early on Tuesday morning. Honestly, I assumed that I would just be going up to Lira in order to film an interview with a retired Ugandan colonel, but it turns out that I was voluntold to film promo videos of each region of Uganda with the Country Director. Personally, I am extremely glad that our country director is making an effort to personally visit the PCV’s in the different regions, because this was a complaint over the past few years. There is always some sort of disconnect between PCV’s and PC Staff since one group has trouble really empathizing or seeing the reasoning behind the actions and decisions of the other group. I also Benjamin Ferraro Stone Quarryam excited to be able to participate in such a cool project, but felt that I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I stepped into that air-conditioned Peace Corps vehicle that Tuesday morning.  There is another issue at work here that Peace Corps uses volunteers to fill needed staff positions and tasks. In my case, I provide free videos for Peace Corps without any payment. I have heard the arguments of both sides: on one hand we are volunteers and can accomplish the 3 goals of the Peace Corps through various means, and on the other hand the true experience of a Peace Corps Volunteer involves the integration of being at one’s site. In my case, sometimes I don’t even know where I stand anymore. It felt weird travelling in a nice vehicle with air-condition. I felt separated from both PCV’s and Ugandans by glass and cool air. There is a prevailing attitude that many well-intentioned Peace Corps staff don’t understand what many PCV’s endure because they have the luxury of private vehicles, access to clean food, access to running water, and the resource availability of Kampala. Regardless, I really enjoyed taking pictures and videos at my fellow PCV’s sites in the West Nile region, namely the towns of Arua and Maracha. First of all, it was hot as balls from 9am – 5pm. I felt fortunate that I lived in Central where the temperature of a 24 hour span varied from chilly in the night to hot in the afternoon. We visited primary schools, demonstration schools, NTCs, PTCs, a hospital, a honey organization, sexual health center, and an organization for orphans. Journal Entry: “I’m still so impressed with my fellow PCV’s and the hard work that they do. I’m still so frustrated by the bureaucracy here. I can see that there’s a lot of opportunity here, and in so many places, but those in charge of these opportunities don’t utilize them for what they’re worth. It’s all about saving face, building ones self-image, and very vague promises of far-reaching pipe dreams. A lot of self-aggrandizement. In many ways and times the wonder and initiative of the pupils an students are quashed by the rote inactivity of the administrators in power. I need to take more initiative and advantage of the resources at my Bee Natural Assembly Lineschool. People want things, boreholes, fences, internet, and so any things but how willing are they to work to make them come about? I am still so intrigued how sometimes adults here almost ruin the imagination of children. Pure wonder is hard to come by here. I go back and forth between not wanting to be staff and feeling like staff, but being constantly reminded that I am a volunteer. I am pulled in so many different directions. I understand that in certain cultures there are differences. But are some differences better than others, such as time management, gender roles, and societal structures in hierarchy. I mean what do we mean as a long-term goal of development? What does development really entail? Does it mean that we want developing countries to be like developed countries and share their ideals? What does it mean to rally empower people to do things in a culturally-conscious way? It’s a big mess and its not our job to fix every problem, nor is it our job to just leave and ignore all problems. Of course money alone does not solve the problem, but it can definitely help. And who am I to even have this discussion? In this air-conditioned car, I feel comfortable and as if everything is nearby. But it makes me feel so removed from PCV’s because part of service involves the hardships of dealing with the transportation and accommodations of the host country nationals. Almost that guilty feeling of not being one of them.” Maracha Primary School“If I give you a cow, do I feed your cow for you?” ~Emily Lamwaka, Peace Corps Education Progam Director Site after site, I saw what PCV’s were doing. Some tasks were successful, and some seemed impossible to overcome and it all depended on the site administrators. More than one primary school didn’t have the resources to provide pupils with lunch. In one instance, one of these schools was resource rich due to a nearby stone quarry but didn’t bother to sell the stones as an income-generating activity to provide lunch and build fences to keep livestock away from the school. Fortunately, for every four inept administrators there was at least one person at each school who was dedicated to really empowering the students by whatever means were available. On Friday, we left the West Nile and made our way to Lira to interview a retired Ugandan colonel. We found him near Café Path on Wan Nyaci Road. One of the GHSP Peace Corps volunteers ran into him at one of the stationary stores in Lira, and he told her that several decades ago a Peace Corps volunteer saved his life. On Friday, he shared his story in full. This man was born September 20th, 1940 with an education background that brought him to Russia. In the late Lira Colonel Portrait60’s, he joined the army and the military academy where he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant and posted in Masaka. He and his squad mates heard about the news of Idi Amin’s coup against Milton Obote on January 21st, 1971. During the coup, Amin’s people were killing the ranking officers and officials of Obote’s military. He had to flee home, and a Peace Corps Volunteer who was teaching at the Aga Kan Secondary School sheltered him for two weeks. She would go to Tropicana Hotel to check on the situation of the coup. Eventually, she told him that it was too dangerous to keep him at her house. She disguised her as a student, and drove him in her car towards Kampala and then to Lira. When they got to Karuma bridge that crossed the Nile River, they saw Amin’s soldiers slaughtering captured members of Obote’s soldiers. They let the Peace Corps volunteer pass through since they were still on friendly terms with the “whites” and didn’t recognize the lieutenant. There were so many dead bodies on the bridge, that she had to drive over them. When they passed over the bridge, they stopped at a trading center to drink beer due to the shock at the Meeting the Colonelbridge. She asked him to drive the rest of the way up to Lira. They bid farewell to each other, and the Peace Corps volunteer boarded a bus headed back to Kampala. It was the last time that they saw each other, since the Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from the Uganda. At this moment in his story that he got a little teary-eyed. He explained to us that she was more than just his friend, but his girlfriend. Of course she was the side-dish in the relationship since he was already married to another woman, but still this Peace Corps volunteer risked her life to save his. The rest of the story revolves around his narrow escapes from Amin’s soldiers, his time spent as a refugee in Dar es Salaam, and his fight to retake Uganda. I will be working on editing together his story, and at the end of it he shared with us his dream for the youth of Uganda: to know their history and not care about the mindless politics and instead care for each other so that mindless slaughter can be avoided. The next day as we drove across the Karuma bridge in our air-conditioned car, we all fell silent as we reflected on what occurred there 44 years ago. Instead of flowing blood and dead bodies, all that we could see were the rushing Nile underneath us and the balmy breeze of your typical Ugandan afternoon. In some ways this country has improved, and in other ways it has remained just as impoverished as it used to be. Now more than ever, I believe that it’s experiences like that Peace Corps that make me feel privileged to work alongside my Ugandan brothers and sisters.

Camp Kuseka (Special Needs Camp): The Tale of Marvin and Deus

10/1/2015 – 16/1/2015

After my Satellite Liaison duties in Mityana town, I proceeded to Fort Portal where I met up with other Peace Corps DeusVolunteers. We gathered together at the Kyaninga Child Development Center (CDC) near YES Hostel where Camp Kuseka would take place from January 12 – 16. The goal was to empower youth, caretakers, and parents connected with special needs in the community. The following tale is one of the relationship between myself as a counselor and my camper Deus.

I was eager to start this grand adventure at the CDC, but the Camp Directors informed us that we first needed to go through two days of training. The camp was to take place in this beautifully walled-off compound with areas designated for sports, arts and crafts, reading, and lectures/dancing. During this time, we underwent basic information involving special needs education in Uganda and how little it is understood. We discussed worst-case scenarios, how to act with different special needs campers, basic Ugandan sign language, basic Rutooro, adapting activities to suit individual campers, and the various Ugandan groups who were involved with this camp:

TOCI – Twerwanemo Orphans Community Initiative

YAWE – Youth and Women Empowerment

KCDC – Kyaninga Child Development Center

RSNF – Rwenzori Special Needs Foundation

YALI – Young African Leaders Initiative

On the last day of training, each counselor was matched up with unique camper with a special need. Each counselor and camper duo was then placed in a specific color group: yellow for auditory, orange for physical, and red for mental. I found out that I was to be paired with Anifa, a 16-year old girl who had problems with fine motor skills. Despite having an older camper, I was eager to start off this journey.

“You call yourself normal, but you’re not normal. No one on this world is normal.”
~Swaib, Ugandan Counselor

12/1/15 – Journal Notes

I don’t feel nervous at all for this beginning part of camp. I felt that I learned a few new things about PWD (People with Disabilities) during ToT (Training of Trainers), but now I’m excited to once again get this camp started.

At lunchtime, I switched campers from Anifa in the orange group to Deus in the red group. Deus is a 12, 14, 15, or 16 year old who has a mental disability. He is easily distracted and has the mind of a 6-year old.

It was a fulfilling and tiring day. I wasn’t nervous, and funnily enough I felt confident in my abilities as a counselor. I guess that in the past, I’ve always worried about being good enough in situations like this.

I was sad that I had to switch from Anifa to Deus by mid-day, but I think that the fit worked out in their best interests. In the end, I suppose that my energies and personality jive much better with Deus and his interests than with Anifa’s. She is a girl’s girl and Deus likes to do more guy things.

13/1/15 – Journal Notes

It was another long day in the tale of Deus and Marvin. It went by so fast from the get-go. We started by playing Camp Kuseka Readingsports and continued our tradition of throwing cones in a hoop, cricket bat fighting, and me chasing Deus with hula hoop fingers. One of our favorite past-times was hitting the indestructible ball back and forth to each other.

During library time, we read all of the books with the pictures, especially Richard Scarry with the fruit and vegetable cars. I’ve realized that in this journey, he likes to attend to literary obstacls and encounters with a judgmental eye. If there are no good pictures, he rushes through the book. Words are his greatest downfall. For example, space was impossible to navigate. The adventure continued with speeches right before lunch, where I was very tired and sleepy.

Lunch was good, and I got to meet Deus’ father, who was also a part of the Amooti pet name clan.

Lunch: Beans, matooke, cabbage, meat, tomatoes, sweet potatoes

Verdict: Filling

A cool session was the arts and crafts session with scenarios for the campers. It was cool to see the campers answer somewhat complicated questions concerning scenarios. Then there was an excruciating Ugandan panel that welcomed questions from the audience consisting of the campers’ parents. Anifa’s mother asked the panel what she could do to protect her daughter from the men in the village community who want to seduce her and have sex with her.

As the panel attempted to answer this question, Deus and I drew in my notebook and threw hula hoops at each other. After the panel, all the campers, counselors, and parents joined in a dance party consisting of our favorite Ugandan dancehall songs.

14/11/15 – Journal Notes

Stuart "Crazy Legs"I have realized that I haven’t described many of the other campers here at the CDC. Accompanying us on the journey are campers with autism, Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, deafness, and various other disabilities. At any given moment I can see Mary or John crawling faster than I can run through a soccer game with the indestructible ball. Then I’ll see Michael and Apolo laughing with Benson as they sign jokes towards each other. Meanwhile, Alex, Michael, and Deus are all taking pictures of each other and “crazy legs” Stuart is dancing his heart out in the middle of the dance floor regardless of whether or not there’s any music.

Stuart is one of my favorite campers. Our directors informed us that their first memory of him was when they visited his school and saw him kicking a ball out on the field. His head perpetually swings to either his left or right shoulder, his mouth is open and askew, and his limbs move in a jerk-like fashion due to cerebral palsy but for all intents and purposes he is a 9 year old at heart. The directors watched him kick the ball for a while, fall down, get back up, and run towards them to give them a hug.

In the morning, Stuart comes up to me and starts signing the tattoo on my left forearm.

endlich daheim = finally home

During the morning session, Deus opened up. He said that he wanted to be a lawyer and make friends as his goals in life. He didn’t want to participate in singing with the group, and just wanted to kick the ball. We discussed HIV/AIDS during discussion time, drank some tea, and made origami during arts and crafts. We made a paper bag, in order for us to store our items, as well as a pet paper bird to accompany us on our journey. Mine was the smaller and inferior one compared to Deus’ amazing mama bird.

The red group really enjoyed having the opportunity to use their hands and make something tangible. I got annoyed with one of the Ugandan counselors, because he kept trying to fix the bad folding job of his camper and wouldn’t let his camper do it himself. The goal was to empower them, not to be the best origami maker. We wanted them to fight their own battles.

One of the directors led us with animal yoga and then with the parachute game filled with multitudes of colors.

Sad Anecdote: John the scout with no feeling in the lower half of his body, spends most of his day on the potty at the child center because his caretakers don’t want him soiling himself or the center. But it still doesn’t give him an excuse to act out during camp.

We made it over the hump of the week, and it’s downhill from here. Since the beginning, I have started to notice that my partner is becoming more and more independent. I am fearing that he won’t have much need for me anymore.

15/1/15 –Journal Entry

This morning the other counselor group’s caravan broke down again. They’ve already had problems with water and Brianfood. My partner was late today, and I hope that no mishap occurred to delay him.

He made it late today, and surprised me during song time with travelling bard PCV Paul.

“Strong Love, Strong Heart”

Karate was taught by a visiting German lady in knit elephant pants. I suppose that it’s good for us to learn how to defend ourselves. I have started to grow accustomed to my partner.

He laughs and makes me smile.

Deus really loves that indestructible ball. We colored some maps of Africa in order to expand our knowledge of the surrounding areas. Grandmaster Country Director Loucine stopped by to visit and see how our respective journeys have been.

We are here, near the end of the journey, and sloping down.

Watercolors are a small way of reflecting on life after camp. The fourth day in and already it feels like a liftetime on the Kyaninga CDC Road. Though well-versed in the art of bean eating, ball kicking, and friend-making, Deus’ color-identifying skills are rudimentary at best, as are his literacy skills.

But out of all his traits, dedication and full commitment to a task are his greatest assets. His favorite thing to draw is a cow. The day ended as per usual, but with more of an emotional reaction for me.

It made me realize just how different my partner’s life was compared to my own life. How he saw the world through is own eyes and mindset and how I saw the world through my own eyes and mindset.

I wonder if he even realize that he has a different mindset compared to other children and young adults who are his age. Will he ever be able to feel that sense of contentment and self-worth from life or just focus on the immediate road in front of him?

The more Deus and I travel together; I become sadder and more confused about how life works.

I end the day with other counselors on an open air patio with a thatched roof on top of Phylicia’s family’s compound garage as the sun sets in violet hues over the waves of dust-covered matooke. I wonder if Deus sees this too at his house.

“Stay with Me”

16/1/15

MattIt’s the last day of the journey. As soon as Deus saw me, he smiled and said, “Marvin!” It warmed my heart. I hope that he feels the same about me when he sees me.

He’s found an interest in using the camera and taking photos of the world around him. I wish that I could give him a camera of his own, and to see a small snapshot of the world in his own eyes.

We started filling out our final assessment of the week, and what we learned from our journey through Kyaninga.

Now, there’s a little bit of an arts reflection with drawing and homemade play-doh.

He’s very proud of the photos that he takes. He even showed the drivers for the Rides for Lives mobile HIV/AIDS testing clinic some of his photos that he took on my camera.

I’m definitely gonna miss these kiddos. I like to think that for this one week, they get to feel like other kids in their community.

He’s a big eater and has a big belly. Fortunately, we had beans and meat today. He got seconds. And now he finally got his certificate of completion. I don’t know if he understands that this day is the last ay of camp, because he asked me what we would be doing tomorrow.

“This is just the beginning.”
~Rachel Ceruti

I honestly feel that this was one of the most memorable weeks of my Peace Corps service. Despite it only being a day camp, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by the end of each day. This caused most of the counselors to sojourn to the Sweet Aromas bakery near Gardens Café at the bottom of the Fort Portal hill. Aw man, I can still taste the pumpkin glazed cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, and tea cakes baked fresh to order each day. I also made an effort to exercise every evening, whether it was running 5 miles (which reminded me why I’m not a runner) or doing a T25 workout video.

This week was a very cool Peace Corps experience. I got the opportunity to really see a new side of Fort Portal, while participating in a special needs camp in Uganda. Once again, I felt that I was right where I needed to be in life.

Dusty Coasters

23/11/14 – 6/12/14

“Ah it seems that you have been eating well, because you have put on weight.”

~Several of my neighbors after seeing me return from my travels these past two weeks

I would say that this has been one of the more hectic two weeks of my time here in Uganda. I’ve been busy travelling on behalf of projects, holidays, celebrations, trainings, and my own benefit. As per usual, I feel the need to blog about my experiences in order to make sense of what has occurred and move on to new experiences.

On Sunday November 23rd I left my house in order to go to my old host family’s house in Kasana/Luweero as the guest of Texas Primary School Luweerohonor for the opening of their Texas Primary School. While I lived with them last year the brick structures of what would eventually become school classrooms dotted the family’s compound. As I walked up the familiar roads that led to their house, I could see metal sheets that fenced in a compound of classrooms, staff rooms, a small media room, and the house that was converted into dorm rooms.

It felt very odd to be back in my host family’s house, because the last time I had spent any significant amount of time with them was 9 months ago right before I was sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There were so many children around the compound and my host brothers and sisters were all grown-up. I could tell that they weren’t as wild as they used to be during the day, because there were a lot of important guests around. Ministry members, teachers, the LC3, staff, students, and other invited guests. The ceremony had all the regular fixings of a typical Ugandan event: tarpaulin, speakers, joking MC’s, traditional dances, and musical performances lip-synced to Ugandan dancehall songs. I even got to join in with the entirety of my Enkima (Monkey) Clan. I still think that it is so cool that I am part of a clan here. Even my host parents’ parents told me that I was true Muganda.

Graduating to Primary SchoolI saw my tiny host brothers and sisters singing, “My name is ___insert name here___. Welcome our visitors!” Then there was a performance of some kid pleading either to God or to a king of sorts to help give him food. Interestingly enough, the speeches given by the officials were more succinct than usual and only averaged around 10-15 minutes per speech. The food was some of the best traditional Ugandan food that I’ve ever had in country.

Throughout the course of the event I noticed that my host brothers and sisters were avoiding me or not really interacting with me whenever I went up to them. I was worried that maybe they forgot about me since I had been gone for so long. However, towards the evening when the majority of the guests left, the eldest host brother and sister (around 6 and 7 years old) warmed up to me and started playing with me. I was laughing very hard as they ran races, attempted to carry jerrycans that were twice their weight, and asked me to do some training with them.

As the night approached, I filled jerrycans from the outside tap for my bathing and prepped my old bedroom for sleep. One of the recently graduated students danced into the room with some headphones on. She told me that she really loved Akon. Another student approached her with some glasses, and she said, “Ah! I don’t want to wear that because then I’ll look like a nigger.” I was completely taken aback by the casual way this statement was said. I realized that a lot of hip-hop music makes its way from the United States to Uganda without any cultural context or background. I explained to her that it was inappropriate to say comments like that, especially in front of children due to the meaning of the words she chose to use. To her, “nigger” just meant a cool, well-dressed person with a lot of money. As I thought about it, I could see how someone growing up in the village here could associate it with that concept after hearing the frequent use of that word in hip-hop songs.

After clearing up the misunderstanding, my host mother asked me to show a movie to the pupils who stayed in the house. I hooked up my portable speakers to my laptop and premiered the movie Frozen to them. They absolutely loved it, and I guess that the concept was foreign to them because of the liberal use of ice and snow that comprised the majority of the movie. Their favorite character was the snowman, and the concept of making a person out of snow and wasting a perfectly good carrot in order to give him a nose was another foreign idea.

*Note: Attempt to explain holiday ideas such as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny to any group of village Ugandans for comedic effect.

I woke up early on Monday and my host family members walked me to the main Kampala-Gulu Road. I hopped on a takisi headed to Kampala. I had to first withdraw some money from Barclays and then pick up some newly screen-printed PSN t-shirts. I made my way to the Kisenyi Bus Park, which is further west from the New Taxi Park where I took the Global Bus to Mbarara. That was a very difficult bus ride not only because I traveled alone, but because of how freaking hot it was. There were two seats on either side of the aisle, and the lady in the aisle seat kept closing my window once it got too windy. She would literally lean over me, my plastic bags, and my travel bag in order to close the window.

I kept sleeping a lot, but after almost six hours I made it into Mbarara where I met up with PCV Mike. I got to see the Peace Corps Resource Room where PCV’s can leave books and other accoutrements there for other PCV’s to use. There is also the added benefit of couches, free wifi, and we are also right across the hall from one of the Red Pepper newspaper offices who are notorious for publishing lists “outing” gay members of the Ugandan communities.

We bought some ingredients from the Nakumatt in town in order to make a Mediterranean shrimp scampi infused with some Vegeta seasoning that PCV Sam bought for me during his trip through Croatia. We cooked a tomato and white wine shrimp scampi over a bed of fusilli, which was deliciously amazing since I hadn’t tasted shrimp in over a year. I was glad that I made it over to Bishop Willis PTC before Mike left. We also danced to some dubstep and shared some music with one another before I went to bed.

Tuesday was a very memorable day for me. I walked from Bishop Willis PTC to the main road leading out from Mbarara. I caught a takisi headed to Kabale. About 3 hours and 3 takisi switches later I arrived in Kabale town. It always seems that a woman throws up on this journey as we twist our way through the winding hill roads of the far southwest. I arrived in Kabale town and walked to Amanda’s house.

Amanda's House Thanksgiving MealAmanda’s house reminds me so much of a real house or apartment back in the United States. The way things were laid out felt very homely and welcoming. Also the air inside the house made me feel as if the air-condition was on the entire time. I felt very relaxed as I shared a cup of coffee and a glass of red wine with Amanda and Matt. Matt started quizzing me about the world map mural that he had drawn on one of the living room walls. I did a decently good job of locating the countries in Europe and Africa, but had a difficult time with those in South America. In the evening, more PCV’s came in order to celebrate a pre-Thanksgiving of sorts. We made mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, creamed peas and carrots, broiled chicken breasts, and boxed stuffing complemented with a jar of cranberries.

It was such a delicious meal that I shared with good friends in a good atmosphere. The night ended as the box of wine depleted and we all spent a night of snoring and labored breathing due to a lot of ingested food, cat allergies, and boxed wine.

The next day we headed over to Lake Bunyonyi after painting a world map mural at Amanda’s primary school. There were about 30 of us celebrating together on the islands of Byoona Amagara and Bushara. It was so great just to be in a place where I felt cold and surrounded by friends. The first night was mainly spent catching up with one another and enjoying the literal and figurative atmosphere. It had rained a little bit in the evening and the sunset cast a gorgeous rainbow in the background of the lake, which made the area look even more beautiful than it usual looks.

Painting a World Map Mural

Painting a World Map Mural

Rainbow at the Docks

Rainbow at the Docks

Lake Bunyonyi's Reflection

Lake Bunyonyi’s Reflection

On Thanksgiving Day, everyone from both islands and those from Kabale Town met up at the Birdnest, which was a hotel/bar/restaurant on the shore of the mainland. We all ordered some Muzungu food, drank, connected 3 portable speakers together to an iPod, and gathered around in a circle in order to tell each other what we were thankful for. Personally, I’m thankful for:

Good PCV Friends

Good PCV Friends

Having the opportunity to live out my dream of joining the Peace Corps.

Sunlight.

Good food.

A cold gin and tonic.

Good coffee.

A job well done.

Good friends that I never lost.

My family (Filipino, American, Ugandan, Peace Corps)

As lunch ended, we all gathered together at Byoona Amagara for a follow-up dinner before the PCV’s from Bushara headed back. As the night progressed, the number of us who stayed up dwindled. It was cold and rainy, but a few of us rallied and went skinny dipping off the docks around midnight. It was actually quite hilarious, because of how cold the water was and that it was still raining.

*Note: At this point in my home I had to take a break writing in my blog in order to eradicate an ant colony that was under my desk as well as a black baby snake that I hope isn’t a Black Mamba.

I spent one more day at Lake Bunyonyi. At this point more than half of the PCV’s left for various reasons: to go gorilla trekking, explore Rwanda, or head back to site to attend a Ugandan wedding. After breakfast, I decided to canoe over to Bushara to see what the remaining PCV’s were up to over there. The last time I was at Lake Bunyonyi, there were three of us in a canoe and we had the hardest time getting the canoe to go straight. This time, I finally got the hang of it and made it to the other island after about 45 minutes of paddling.

As I approached the other island, I was greeted by the remaining PCV’s who were sunbathing on the dock. We chilled, listenedBushara Docks to some music, and enjoyed the rope swing. Honestly, that rope swing spot might be one of favorite locations in all of Uganda. I just felt so free as I fly through the air, release into a backflip, and know that I will land in really cold lake water. I played a card game called Ligretto after having a lunch of crayfish quesadillas. PCV Julia, who was my trainer a year ago and who is about to COS, invited me to hang out at her house the next day. I excitedly agreed since I needed to do something for a day before I made my way to Shimoni for Teacher Bootcamp Training with the new group. It had been raining on and off throughout the course of the day, so after a light shower gave way to a patch of clear skies I hurried back to the canoe to return to Byoona Amagara.

Rainy CanoeAbout 10 minutes later, the wind started whipping around me and waves started to rock my canoe. All of a sudden, it started to downpour. I placed my camera bag underneath my legs and paddled against the rain, wind, and waves towards the island. I had to be sure that I paddled perpendicular to the waves, because whenever I started to paddle parallel to them the canoe would rock violently. I felt epic, I felt like a hardcore explorer, but mostly I felt stupid for not leaving earlier when there was a much larger patch of clear skies.

That last night at Byoona Amagara was chill. The remaining PCV’s played Salad Bowl. I turned in for an early night because I knew that tomorrow would be another busy day. On Saturday a boat picked us up from Byoona Amagara and swung by Bushara in order to pick up the PCV’s over there. As the boat made its way to shore, Julia asked what we should do for dinner. I posited that we should purchase some crayfish and steam them for dinner. Julian added that we could do a Bouillabaisse. When we got to the docks, I asked some Ugandans if we could buy some crayfish, and they pulled up some large crayfish catching baskets from underneath the dock.

The baskets functioned as a trap for the crayfish with either corn, a piece of chicken, or some po sho used as bait. One end of the basket was inverted inwards so that the crayfish could easily enter but couldn’t exit and the other end was like the end of a wine bottle except that it was stuffed with reeds so that the crayfish couldn’t leave on their own volition unless poured out by someone. We bought 2kg of live crayfish, and I finally was able to purchase two small crayfish catching baskets in order to add to my growing basket collection from different parts of Uganda.

Crayfish Basin

Crayfish Basin

We stopped by the Kabale market so that we could pick up leeks, onions, tomatoes, and garlic for the Bouillabaisse. Then we took a private hire to Julia’s site, which is known as the sprawling village trading center metropolis of Bukindo. Julia had already removed most of her items from her house, but it still felt pretty homely. There was a dining room with a couch bed, a guest bedroom, and a kitchen and bathroom with running water. We first steamed the crayfish using the Luwombo method. The method involves steaming food without a fancy steamer or wire rack. One simply lines the bottom or a ssefuliya (metal pot) with the thick stems of a matooke leaf and then pours water or beer on the bottom. Then whatever is being steamed is wrapped with the leafy part of the matooke leaf and placed on top of the stems. Another ssefuliya or cover could be added to the first one in order to allow the steaming process to be more efficient.

Crayfish Racing

Crayfish Racing

Traditionally this method is used to prepare matooke, sweet potatoes, and chicken Luwombo. However in this case it was used to steam crayfish, which had a slight taste of the matooke leaves and the Nile Beer that we poured in it. While we prepared the vegetables for the Bouillabaisse, we had a small crayfish race with our chosen champions. Julia’s crayfish, Rambo, won whereas mine, Old Man Jenkins, died at the starting line.

Crayfish Luwombo "Crayfish Steamed in Matooke Leaves"

Crayfish Luwombo “Crayfish Steamed in Matooke Leaves”

Crayfish Bouillabaisse

Crayfish Bouillabaisse

The dinner tasted amazing as well. The steamed crayfish was just so sweet and really reminded me like I was eating mini lobsters. It was bittersweet to finally be hanging out with a bunch of my trainers right as they are about to leave, but I was thankful that I had the opportunity to at least hang out with them before they left.

On Sunday I left Julia’s house early in order to get to Kampala. Emily, who also stayed at Julia’s house, and I hopped on a Bismarkan Bus Waiting BukindoBismarkan Bus passing through Bukindo that was headed to Kampala. The ride wasn’t as bad as the ride to Kabale or Mbarara, but it wasn’t great either. It was very hot at one point, then it got chilly because of the rain, then the window started leaking, then it was humid again. Eventually we found our way to Kampala. I said goodbye to Emily and met up with Ravi at the Old Taxi Park at the Kira-Bulindo stage headed to Shimoni PTC where the new trainees were having their School based Training/Teacher Bootcamp.

I felt very weird being back at Shimoni after more than a year. I couldn’t tell if they had fixed it up and made it look nicer or if I had just gotten used to things here because I thought that the venue was much nicer than I remembered it. I had noticed that the trainees had changed a bit since I last saw them. They seemed to be a bit more stressed, anxious, and worried about their training and the future afterwards. I think that some of them were worried that the 27 month would take much longer than they had originally expected since training was dragging on forever.

As I entered the main hall, I was greeted by trainees and trainers alike who all asked me what I was doing there. I explained that I was asked to be here by the Literacy Coordinator Audrey who wanted me to create a video detailing the Primary Literacy Project training model. Therefore, I wanted to get some footage of what training looked like from the perspective of both the trainees and the trainers. For some reason I also felt anxious about being back at Shimoni. I just felt weird, as if something was off. Then again I feel like that whenever I spend a significant amount of time away from site.

I started the majority of the filming on December 1st. I filmed the trainers doing demonstration lessons at the PTC and some trainees performing literacy workstations at the demonstration school. Honestly, just being here at training for a full day took a lot out of me. I felt exhausted being on the entire time and filming lesson after lesson. However, it felt very refreshing to see the trainees eager to teach and implement the skills that they were taught when they were at Kulika.

In the evening, Ravi and I chatted a bit about some problems and concerns that we were going through. He talked about the stresses of training and shared a few anecdotes with me. I talked about what I had been doing in the meantime and how I was so worried that my ICT Lab wouldn’t be funded by February. We exchanged some advice and chilled on my hammock for a bit before doing some T25. We then had dinner and I finished my first full day of being back at School Based Training.

I spent the entirety of Tuesday filming at the PTC. I made the parts that I filmed look good; however, there were a few problems involved with trainees’ lesson plans. Of course this was expected, because it was their first actual day of teaching. For some of them it was their first day of real teaching in their entire lives. During lunchtime one of the trainees approached me because she was having some trouble. She felt like she had bombed her lesson and had trouble reconciling why she didn’t feel any emotional attachment to her students afterwards. She expressed to me how difficult she felt it already was living in country and how she felt that she hasn’t been the real her since she left the United States.

I explained to her that as PCV’s we all have different facets of our personality that we exhibit at different times. I told her that while many short-term volunteers look for meaning in the things that they do, Peace Corps Volunteers tend to do things and inadvertently stumble across meaning in the process. As for the concerns involving being invested in ones students, I shared that I didn’t feel that much emotional connection with my students until I started teaching at my PTC.

To me, it was interesting being approached for advice, because I still feel like I have more questions than answers. But I think that sharing my personal perspective was helpful to her in understanding how to approach the rest of training.

Finally it was Wednesday and I packed up my stuff to leave Shimoni for a week before I returned for Cultural Integration and Homestay Preparation Sessions. I was dropped off at Kira and took a takisi headed back to Kampala. I switched to another takisi where I was dropped off at Kisementi and I walked to the Peace Corps Office. I needed to work on a few projects where I could use the internet. As chance would have it, Jason and Loren were both there preparing for the My Language Spelling Bee celebration that would take place on Friday November 5th. They approached me and asked if I would be willing to take pictures during the event. I agreed given that I would be reimbursed for my stay in Kampala in the meantime.

It was perfect timing, because I still needed to do some work at the office and in Kampala where the internet is fast. I edited a first draft of the Primary Literacy Project video and called my middle school and high school in order to see if they would still be willing to have fundraising events for the computer lab at my PTC. I was pleased with the first draft of the video, and I passed out on one of the beds in Fat Cat.

I spent the next day meeting up with other PCV’s who were COSing. It was weird seeing them hit the gong, which signified that Tara Gonging Outthey were no longer a PCV but an RPCV. I imagined being in between the two worlds of life in the midst of being a Peace Corps Volunteer and the life of one who has to think about adjusting to life in a developed country.

I napped hardcore during the day and when I woke up I hung out with some PCV’s at the Bistro for Happy Hour gin and tonics. We had a delicious dinner at Ari Rang, which was a treat since I missed tasty Korean food in an ambient setting such as this one. I didn’t get much work done during the day, but I did discover that one of the stores in the Kisementi area had Leffe Blond beers stocked in the refrigerator section. Ah the taste of a good Trappist beer took me back to Europe and traveling through Brussels airport on our way here from staging.

I took a ton of pictures during the My Language Spelling Bee celebration where the winners, teachers, and family members of the My Language Spelling Bee championships had a ceremony dedicated for them. The cool thing about this one in particular was that the prime focus went to the pupils who were the champions in their respective language region. In many Ugandan events the chairpersons, administrators, and other adults are the center of attention. However, a special effort was made so that the pupils knew that today was their day. I loved it.

Champions and Organizers

I showed Audrey the first draft of the Primary Literacy Video, and she liked it. There are a few things that we would like to include in it, but the meat of the project is there. After the event, I got drunk with some other PCV’s over Desperados and Leffe Blond at Fat Cat. I also ate this delicious sandwich that was reminiscent of Subway. I went to bed exhausted.

When I woke up I was tempted to join some other PCV’s at the pool in Entebbe, but decided against it in favor of going home for some much needed rest. On my bike ride back from Wobulenzi to Luteete I lost a travel towel that I bought while I stayed at Fat Cat. I also lost my toothbrush and toothpaste which was just as unfortunate. When I made it to my front door, I was bombarded with hugs and smiles from my neighborhood children, but I couldn’t reciprocate their energy. I just wanted to collapse from my two weeks of travelling, training, and working. It didn’t help that I was drinking more than I usually do during several of those days.

I discovered that I don’t really eat that healthily during travel days. All that I can eat are fried foods that are high in fat along with sugary sodas. Then whenever I stay in Kampala I can’t find any cheap and healthy options other than burgers, highly processed foods, cheese, ketchup, sauces, and snacks. I think that I have to rethink the whole concept of “Treat Yo Self” whenever I pass through a town or Kampala. It’s not sustainable or healthy, especially when I leave site for an extended period of time. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised when my neighbors told me that I had eaten well and gained some weight. My lifestyle in the past two weeks made me gain a bit of weight. Ever since I returned back at home I feel that I’ve been eating healthier, drinking more water, and getting back on a regular exercising schedule.

Kampala DuskI also learned that goodbyes get more ritualized the more that they occur. I don’t even get that emotional knowing that I may never see some of these people ever again after they COS. Also while it Uganda is a small country, I have realized that there are so many aspects of it that I have not yet even come to grasp. I think that some PCV’s can fall into the trap of getting into a routine here where they eat at the same restaurants, stay at the same guesthouse, hang out with the same people, and complain about the same things. I don’t want that to be the case for me. I think that there are so many different things to do, people to interact with, and experiences to share that go beyond the places that I have been to time and time again. These past two weeks reiterate the need for me to go beyond my current rituals and comfort zones in favor of something new.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to leave my site just as often. My goal for the holidays and birthday is to go on a long distance bike ride in order to raise money for the computer lab funding. Currently the goal is to bike to Fort Portal from my village, which is around 350km, and have people back home pledge money per km. I have to get it approved by Peace Corps, and I’m banking on the people who wish me happy birthday on my Facebook to also see my project and pledge money. One of the new things that I look forward to this year is using the ICT/Computer Lab as a teaching resource for my students, teachers, and community members here.

Honestly, every single day has been some sort of dusty coaster ride. I start off excited and somehow refreshed at the beginning and somehow end up covered in dust, sweat, and back in a home without a towel.

 

A Year In… Somehow

19/11/14

Okay so this post is a few days late, but I finally made it back home after a week and a half of travelling and training. I am physically sick with some sort of cough (sennyiga) and I feel weary. I don’t think that I’ve ever really yearned for a restorative vacation as much as I long for it now. This past year has given me highs, lows, and everything in-between.

In the past year, I have seen a lot of good and learned a lot about living in a developing country. I think that I am becoming what I pledged I would not become when I was a trainee; jaded. I’m not bitter; rather, I am a bit weary. I know that it’s only been a year but I’ve started noticing that the wonders and disappointments are becoming less frequent and smaller in magnitude. I go through the day with a resignation that things may not turn out how I want. I am more comfortable accepting what happens during the course of a day and understanding that there is always more time, somehow.

I find it harder to empathize with the struggles of issues back in the United States, especially complaints lodged on Facebook.

“Blackout for 6 hours today made me miss the premiere of (insert name of tv show here). I’m pissed off at (insert name of electric/tv company) and I’m gonna give them an earful.”

“Bored with nothing to do today.”

“Life is so hard and sucks.”

“I can’t find the remote control for the tv, First World Problems.”

“No internet for a day… what hell am I in right now?!”

“There’s a mouse in my room and I can’t find it. Someone come over please!”

I think that I’ve actually shaken my head and laughed out loud when I read some of these statuses. It’s a part of my old life that is very foreign to me.

I think that I personally progressed through several stages since I touched down in Entebbe airport. At first I was marveling at the breadth and scope of what I was doing here. I was incapable and very excited at accomplishing tasks. Then there was the period where I decided to hunker down and really work as hard as I could. This gave way to disappointment when the things that I worked on didn’t turn out as I had hoped they would. I think that at this stage I am at the point where I am just very tired from trying and working as hard as I can, knowing full well that despite my best efforts very little might actually happen.

There is an emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical weariness that I feel. Fortunately, I am right where I need to be on the Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment, which dips to a low around the one year mark. Two of the biggest issues at this point involve withdrawal and disappointment. While it is good for me to be realistic concerning how things generally occur here, it is not healthy for me to not attempt doing something simply because I believe that I will be disappointed in the long-run. To do so would stop my creativity and the possibility of pleasant surprises.

In times like these, I realize that I have to look back on the events that have happened in the past year to allow me to realize how I got to this point. I got to bond with my training group in Kulika. I transitioned to Shimonic Core PTC where I did some school based training and recovered from my first bout with Giardia. I lived in Luweero with the Semuddu family for homestay and learned some Luganda. I got sworn-in and moved into my house in Luteete. Thus began my life at site. I planted some grass, started teaching, met my trainers at Masaka, went to Gulu for the Northern HIV/AIDS conference, spent Easter in Arua, saw rhinos in Ziwa, spent welcome weekend in Entebbe, had IST back in Lweza, went to Northern Camp BUILD, hung out in the Ssese Islands, camped out in Mabira Forest for Burning Ssebo, rafted the Nile on 4th of July, talked in Nakaseke Radio Telecenter, organized getting t-shirts for PSN, trained as the Luganda satellite liaison in Mityana, helped out volunteers in Kabukunge, Wanyange, and Kisoro for video projects, chilled at Lake Bunyonyi, attended and led sessions at the All-Volunteer Conference in Lweza again, vacationed in Kigali, Rwanda, filmed video at Kasese Coffee Camp, MC’d the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Kisoro, represented PSN at the Ambassador’s house and at the US Embassy, hiked on the hills between the Virunga Volcanoes and Lake Mutanda, rode a cattle truck with cookstoves from Kisoro to Fort Portal, spent Halloween in a cave at Sipi Falls, finally traveled to the east in Mbale and hiked Wanyale Falls, and then helped out as a community integration leader for this most recent group’s training all while filming scenes for Oh the Places You’ll Go.

As I wrote this down, I realized that a lot of it has to do with places that are far away from my site. However, I spent just as much time at my site as I did away from it. Today one of my neighbors asked me if I even knew her name, and I was able to correctly answer it back to her. I understand now more than ever that this second year is crunch time. My biggest goals are to start working as a literacy instructor at the primary school, raising enough funds for the ICT Lab construction, and visiting other PCV’s sites in remote parts of the country.

In the adjusted, immortal words of most bodamen, first I rest, then I go.

At It Again

15/11/14

I’m back on the Kulika organic farm again for training a whole year since I first had arrived in-country. I feel more connection as a trainer with this group as opposed to the most recent HAG (Health/Agribusiness) cohort that arrived 5 months ago. I think that I am at the position that my own trainers were at back when I was a trainee and participated in all of the mandatory training sessions. Immediately I start to imagine how a lot of these trainees will turn out after having lived in-country.

But more on that later. Let me first explain how I got to Kulika again.

Last week I visited a few other PCV’s near the Jinja area to help out with taking pictures and videos at a Science Teaching Fair at the Wanyange Science Teaching Fair Lungs ActivityPTC. The goal of the event was to give several outstanding PTC students to teach biology lessons by demonstrating experiments to some P5 pupils at the nearby Mwiri primary school. It was so neat seeing their bright and shining faces as they marched in their yellow and khaki uniform. The fair started off with PCV Penelope having the pupils draw a vector for a disease. The catch was that the pupils had to be creative in the creation of this vector; for example it could have 100 legs, 32 eyes, be the color purple, and spread a disease that causes a swollen head and hands.

Most of the pupils created already known vectors such as fleas, mosquitoes, bed bugs, and other insects but few of them really showcased creativity outside of the norm. This sessions was designed to allow the pupils a chance to creatively express themselves as well as allow the PTC students a chance to find ways to foster creativity in the pupils. Then pupils were split into 7 groups. Each group went to a different station where a biological concept was explained and demonstrated through lecture, experiments, and activities.

The Activities:

  1. Hygiene- Singing a Bill-Nye the Science Guy song about washing hands
  2. White Blood Cells – Rock, Paper, Scissors turned into Antibody and Antigen game
  3. Lungs – Hula Hoop game
  4. Digestive System – Order of the organs and drinking upside down race
  5. Heart – Heart shaped sponge relay race
  6. Red Blood Cells – Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide race
  7. Muscular/Skeletal System – Arm pumps and raw chicken wing demonstration

Teaching MusclesThe fair came to a close as the students and pupils alike came together for a big group reflection. Pupils got to answer questions concerning what they learned during the fair as well as choose their favorite PTC student teacher. Similarly the PTC student teachers had the opportunity to choose their favorite pupil. The event felt very successful, and was a great way to combine content based instruction with teaching practice.

It felt good to stay over at Penelope’s site, since I had yet to really see any part of Eastern Uganda. Penelope’s site was located in Wanyange which was about 10 minutes east of Jinja. While at her site, she brought me to a quaint, Catholic convent called St. Benedict’s, which was located on the banks of Lake Victoria. It was one of the earliest times that I woke up in country so that I could make it to 7am mass. I also had the opportunity to see PCV’s Stephanie, Linda, and Josh who brought me around Jinja Town and the Jinja Market. During my second night in Jinja I stayed with Stephanie at her house, which had recently gained electricity.

My goal was to explore a bit more of the eastern region before I headed over to Kulika for training I felt that Penelope’s invitation to come and help at her Science Teaching Fair was the perfect excuse to travel to Jinja and beyond. My viewpoint is that many PCV’s travel a lot during their first year at site and explore specific areas and towns of Uganda in big groups during large gatherings and events. Then when the excitement settles down, they start to focus on seeing the same old people and staying more and more at site. Furthermore, there are a lot of cliques within Peace Corps. I’m not saying that cliques are bad, only that they are a natural occurrence after living through very high and highs and just as low lows with people who truly understand you in this country, this region, this village, and in this specific circumstance. I wanted to break a bit of the mold and spend my one-year anniversary doing something different and travelling to see other PCV’s in another cohort in order to see something new and get to know them a little bit better.

So on Wednesday I bid farewell to Jinja and boarded a takisi headed to Mbale. Technically, the takisi headed to Mbale was empty and I waited inside of it for an hour before taking another one that went most of the way there and then taking a connecting one to Mbale town. When I got to Mbale town I got some coffee at Cosmos Café, which was located on the second floor of storefront on Republic Street with Mt. Elgon looming in the eastern horizon. Mbale town reminded me a lot like one that you would see in an old western movie: there were the wide dusty road and saloon storefronts that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place during the days of sundance kids and cowboy vigilantes.

I met with PCV’s from the most recent HAG (Health Agribusiness) cohort group. Cindy met me at Cosmos and we made our way to Molly’s site, Cindy, Baby, and Kittenswhich was an orphanage that took in children from parents who died. I felt like a short-term volunteer when I got to the orphanage because I saw dozens of cute infants who were lying helplessly around the nursery area and just as many toddlers waddling and peeing around the orphanage/church compound. Molly explained to me that this site was the location of many short-term volunteer projects and mission trips where groups came in, took pictures, maybe even built a stove, and then left without having really accomplished anything substantial.

Cindy and Teresa had a very large house inside of a compound on the outskirts of Mbale town, and fortunately they loved having people over; they even had their house registered on CouchSurfing. So I spent my one-year anniversary in Uganda with PCV’s from the HAG cohort ahead of me while we enjoyed some red wine (courtesy of Uchumi) and some homemade Bolognese sauce (courtesy of OiLibya gas tanks and the giant indoor Mbale market). It was interesting hearing stories and inside jokes from an outsider’s perspective concerning their cohort.

The next day, Cindy took me on a hike to Wanale Falls. If you looked off in the horizon a little bit southeast of her house, you would see a sort of green mesa jutting up from the ground with a small forest surrounding it. The coolest and most confusing part of the mesa was that there was a waterfall smack dab in the middle of it that didn’t make sense because it was well above the normal height of the ground of the Mbale region.

The hike to the top of the falls took a bit more than 2 hours, but it was one of the more difficult hikes that I’ve done in Uganda because the slope wasn’t gradual. After walking through open green fields of grass, small trading dukas, and houses hidden in the forests, the path gave way to steep rock steps and muddy slopes carved into the structure of the mesa. When we were almost at the top, we encountered the wooden ladder made out of interlocked tree branches and logs that allowed you to scale a 30 foot rock wall. Then we made it to the top where a few Ugandan farmers lived and tended their farms using the water that flowed on the top of the mesa.

Open Field Path

Open Field Path

Climbing Rocks

Climbing Rocks

Climbing Stick Ladder

Climbing Stick Ladder

The view was spectacular. I could see as far as the clouds would let me and I had to just take it all in for a moment. My tendency is to take out my camera as soon as possible to capture to the visual side of a perfect moment, but sometimes I like to first close my eyes and enjoy the unadulterated moment in its entirety. I definitely got knots in my stomach as I sat near the edge of the cliff by the waterfall, because the drop was at least 400ft and I would definitely die if I fell. We enjoyed the moments, shared some stories, took some pics, and made our way down on the other side of the falls.

Top of the Falls

Top of the Falls

Ledges and Falls

Ledges and Falls

By the time we got back to the house, we were exhausted. Fortunately, the tap was back on so we had access to unlimited water to wash clothes, bathe, and refill the jerrycans for later when the tap turned off at sunset. Two of the PCV’s from the older group joined for a dinner of steak, mashed sweet potatoes, and creamed peas and carrots. It really felt like a good American meal after a long day of hiking.

This whole time I was dealing with what started as a tickle in my throat but then progressed to an annoying sore throat. Every time I swallowed it would hurt, and at some points I would just spit because it felt better than swallowing.

Then on Friday morning I took a bus from Mbale to Kampala. I had a few errands to do at the Peace Corps Office including: getting my flash drive back, receiving the translated scripts from Lukonzo into English for the Coffee Camp Video, getting my schistosomiasis test results back (negative), selling a PSN t-shirt, turning in my reimbursement form, and prepping for training at Kulika.

In the early afternoon, I finally decided to make my way down to the Busunju taxi stage to get to the Kulika training center. I got there before the training group returned from their field trip to Kamurasi PTC, so I set up my hammock between the two brick posts outside the main conference room. As I lay in the hammock in the same spot where I had lain in last year, I reminisced about my own training experience. I remember the sessions, the smell of the farm, the food, the staff, and how excited it was to be starting this experience. As the trainees trickled in, I started associating their individual personalities with people from my own training group.

It felt weird being asked so many questions all at once, and being seen as the expert in-country. Honestly, I still feel very naïve and clueless about many things. One of the trainees said that the trainers all looked rugged and seemed to walk differently. He said that it had something to do with how we looked as if we’ve been through a few struggles since we first arrived and that we walked with a certain confidence and surety. While answering the trainees’ questions, I definitely felt a sense of sureness and confidence with my answers and my actions. Most of the questions were very straightforward.

We had the Kampala tour on Sunday, which was pretty fun. We split up the trainees into groups of 4-5 with either a PCV or a Ugandan trainer to bring them around Kampala. It was fun rushing my group through Kampala in order to buy a Powermatic/Dr. Volt, exchange money, buy unlocked modems, purchase cell phones, get sim cards, and then meet up with some hungover PCV’s for lunch at Prunes. As we approached the table of my fellow PCV’s, I noticed a marked difference between my group of trainees and my friends. That was by far the funniest part of the day for me, because my trainees looked fresh, clean, and energized and the PCV’s looked haggard, bedraggled, and extremely hungover. Fortunately, I convinced the waitress to ice them with a Smirnoff Ice that I had bought earlier at Nakumatt. Overall, I thought that it was productive for the trainees to see PCV’s early on who weren’t trainers and get a more well-rounded perspective concerning PCV’s compared to the generally formal nature of trainers.

I also felt a bit more of a connection with this group than with the past cohort. I don’t know what the reasoning is. Maybe it’s because this group is an education group or that it is one year since I too arrived in Uganda as a trainee. I also felt as if I was able to bond with this group from the get-go. I answered their questions truthfully and with tact since I was also their trainer. I gave the survival ICT session, helped out with the basic survival skills, and assisted in the survival Luganda lesson. From this side of training, I could really see a lot of the disorganization and the reasoning behind the complaints that many of my trainers last year made. I no longer have the lens of newness and wonder with which I can view this world.

So on the last night of training Ellen, my fellow community integration PCV, and I hung out with the trainees as they hung out on the concrete dais of Kulika with wireless speakers, champagne, good wine, incense, Rwandan beers (Skol), and some good conversations. I’m a fan of this new group, especially since they’ve already started getting acclimated talking about the three eternal topics that all PCV’s talk about: poop, sex, and alcohol.

“Guys, I love this song; it’s the one that I had sex to the night before I left.”

~Education Cohort 3 Trainee