Soon

1/11/15

“Goodbye Marv. See you soon!”

Those words hit me hard. I stepped off the taxi from Gulu where I had spent this past Halloween weekend with Peace Corps Volunteers. I’ve been saying goodbye to so many places recently, and I said goodbye to a lot of friends and PCV’s in Gulu. I know that I will most likely not see many of them ever again. Most things that I will do in my last 6 weeks in country will be the last time that I do them. I most likely will not see the flat plains of the West Nile, the slopes of Elgon, the matooke and tea fields of the West, or the small town of Masindi again. It’s definitely a lot of goodbyes that I have said and a lot of emotions all mixed together.

In Gulu, I spent most of my time hanging out at the Iron Donkey Café and Guesthouse. The quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches were on point, and it didn’t hurt having unreasonably fast wifi. On Saturday I had phone interview with a small solar energy company based in Kigali, Rwanda. The interview revolved around my current skills and what I could offer to the company that needed someone who knew CAD, community needs assessment reports, and local training skills. It’s hard because I still don’t know what I want to do at this crossroads in my life. I don’t know if I want to continue the whole adventuring and not settling in a semi-permanent location or go back to the United States and establish a more permanent base there.

I could go on and on about readjusting. But now, I will focus on the job applications and the goodbyes to my villagers, PCV’s, and friends here. Goodbyes hurt a lot, especially when it’s been a whole lifetime worth of experiences and impacts that end with stepping off a taxi and waving your friends as they ride away.

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Idiosyncrasy

21/10/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linking Hills

2/3/15

I’ve been living at site for over a week and honestly right now in my Peace Corps service it almost feels as if the days meld together. I can’t keep track of when the weeks begin and when the days end. I think that the routine that I’ve settled into has allowed me to feel as if time moves much faster than when I’m in a new environment. Recently, I’ve been reviewing Year 1 mathematics with the Year 2 students. It still frustrates me to no end that many of these college-aged students still have trouble with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of numbers. However, I feel that I’m making progress with some of them.

On top of that I have been discussing the way forward with the construction of the ICT computer lab. My supervisor and I decided that it is unfeasible to wait until we reach our original goal of fundraising $7800 and will instead content ourselves with raising $5000. We looked through the budget and realized that the community can make an additional contribution and investment in this lab that it can provide over the course of the next few semesters. The construction of the ICT lab also reminded me that I need to start taking note of my accomplishments during my service so that I can showcase them to potential employers.

The other day I had a mini-panic attack on top of my internet hill, because I looked through the possible engineering job opportunities near Baltimore, Maryland and worried that my Peace Corps service caused me to become out-of-date. I have become rusty with my engineering technical skills. In Uganda, we’re using technology that is over a decade old, so I will definitely have to reacquaint myself with CAD, coding, and modeling software that can make me more marketable as an entry-level engineer.

After calling a few other PCV’s who also graduated with a B.S. in engineering, I was reminded that my experience here has been invaluable. I guess that with too much time to think by myself, I forgot that I have been developing soft skills and creative ways of problem-solving that will definitely set me apart from other candidates for the same job. Last night, I spent a few hours fine-tuning my resume in preparation for job applications in the next few months.

It’s too early for senioritis, but I’m already counting down the days until service ends. I am torn between the next stage of adventures and the one that I am living right now. I keep reminding myself to live right here and now; even though I already know that I will depart Uganda in early December 2015. I think that it will do me some good to work on some other projects outside of my village, and to continue doing what I can do with the remainder of my time here.