Worlds and Murals

24/10/15 – 27/10/15

I hosted a PCV who was traveling around the country in order to paint large world map murals on walls. He had already painted 17 world maps on library walls, water tanks, and the outside walls of school buildings. Over the course of two days he made a grid pattern on the wall about 4 meters long by 1.5 meters wide and then drew an outline of all the countries of the world. The next day we painted in each country as well as the entire ocean and added the words “the world” around the map in 24 different languages. It was nice to have a good chat with another PCV and I guess that we talked about the usual topics: food, sex, and life after Peace Corps. The weird part was acknowledging that he was probably the last PCV to visit my site before I depart. Already there are a lot of things that will be the last time I do anything.

Computer Lab World Map

Computer Lab World Map

On Tuesday I traveled to Masindi to hang out with Rachel for the last time at her site. As usual, the route from my village to Masindi was fraught with perils. I did the usual 45 minute bike ride to Wobulenzi town, and then struggled to find a taxi headed to the Luwero bus junction. Using what I thought was my better judgment; I boarded a GaaGaa Bus headed towards Gulu. I had good experiences with GaaGaa in the past and knew that it would be better than any taxi or sketchy hitchhiking that I could obtain. I was wrong. Within an hour of boarding the bus, a sound like a gunshot burst from the seat to the left of me and the whole bus filled with smoke and the cries of Ugandans yelling and praying. As the smoke dissipated, I could see that everyone was alright but one of the bus tires had exploded. We got off the bus and waited for the mechanic to attach the spare tire.

Normally this would have been fine, except that GaaGaa bus has 8 wheels: two wheels per corner. The mechanic made it soGaaGaa Breakdown that the tires that exploded were replaced with just one tire. About another hour later the same thing happened except that there was more crying and more smoke. During both of these tire explosions I thought that I was going to die or that the bus was going to crash. I literally thought to myself that this was going to be the end as even the normally stoic Ugandans clutched my arms in abject terror after the sound of gunshots and smoke exacerbated the shrieks of the women and men on board. When the bus stopped I just picked up my bag and walked out of the bus. I didn’t even look back, and I walked to Cafu junction where I then boarded a 4-person sedan with 8 other people headed to Masindi Town. I don’t think that I could have asked for better luck than to once again have the tradition of typical shitty public transportation to Masindi; a ride that would normally take only 3 hours from Kampala but takes me 6+ hours even though my village is nearer.

I am just torn. It definitely feels like life as usual, but I know that in a little over a month my life will once again be turned upside down. As I end Peace Corps, it’s hard for me to see how much of an adventure this has been. I am focusing on future jobs after Peace Corps, the new friends I will make, and the new experiences that I will undergo coupled with the new skills that I learned during my 2+ years here. Many times these days I will daydream about how other-worldly this experience is. I don’t even know how to explain just how odd this life has become and how the unusual and weird have become the norm. As I gazed at the world mural behind my students in the computer lab, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I did something during my service. Maybe it wasn’t all in vain and selfish for me to have chosen a life of adventure before committing to something less transient.

Gulu Skyline

Gulu Skyline

It’s a big world in which we live, and it’s taken me until now to realize that.

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Taking for Granted

13/7/15 – 20/7/15

I spent the last week traveling with the Country Director to the southwestern and western regions of Uganda. We stopped at PCV sites in Masaka, Kisoro, Kabale, Bushenyi, Fort Portal, Kyenjojo, Hoima, and Masindi. Even in an air-conditioned Peace Corps vehicle, it was exhausting to see so many sites in such a short span of time. I have since come to regret agreeing to this project of creating Peace Corps Uganda promotional videos because it takes me away from site for long periods of time during the week. On the other hand I have been able to see the amazing projects and empathize with the difficulties of my fellow PCV’s. It was funny hearing complaints inside the Peace Corps vehicle about how difficult it was to reach a PCV’s site, and then realize that a PCV had to travel to and from that site with the use of limited public transportation.

Peace Corps Yoganda

Peace Corps Yoganda

We saw projects concerning coffee farmers, energy-efficient cookstoves, Ugandan yoga, reading interventions, cow dung to natural gas conversion, public health clinics, and kitenge scrap quilts. The more I saw my fellow PCV’s sites and projects, the more I wanted to get back home to my own site. My favorite part of each day was staying with a PCV at a his or her site and getting to know that person’s unfiltered story. I realized that I felt the most comfortable among other PCV’s and in my own village.

Cow Dung to Natural Gas

Cow Dung to Natural Gas

After finishing the site visits, I chilled in Masaka over the weekend where I got my haircut by Ugandan students of another PC, Jamie who was teaching them how to cut muzungu hair at St. Agnes Vocational School. I felt as if I really relaxed over the weekend, because Jamie’s house felt very cozy in the middle of town with a living room filled with couches and carpet. I finally was able to just lounge in a carpet and walk barefoot on carpet. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine that I was in a small college apartment instead of inside a nice Peace Corps house.

Cutting Muzungu Hair

Cutting Muzungu Hair

Then on Monday I organized the pick-up of computers, projectors, extension cables, padlocks, and a projector sheet for the Luteete PTC computer lab from Kampala. It was a bit stressful withdrawing over 6 million shillings, carrying the computers across two streets of busy traffic, and then making it back home by public transportation because I still had errands to do in Kampala. After passing out that night, I awoke the next day to start of the college’s computer lab. With the help of some Year 2 students, we assembled the ten computers on the side walls of the lab and organized the furniture so that students could work on the wall computer terminals while others took notes on the middle island tables. It really did feel like a dream come true.

Wiring the Computer Lab

Wiring the Computer Lab

I remembered when I first arrived at the college and how I knew that my college would really benefit from computer lab. I also remembered how I thought to myself: “This is gonna take a long time and a lot of hard work.” Now, the computers are ready and all that is needed is to connect the electricity from the college to the computer lab. I take a lot of things for granted here in Peace Corps, like the freedom to leave my job whenever I want/need without any questions. I also know that I am also taken for granted at times. However, the one thing that I will never take for granted are my shared experiences with other PCV’s and my own time here in my home nestled in Luteete village.

The Works

19/6/15 – 30/6/15

One thing that I’ve come to learn about myself is how much I value rest. I need physical, mental, and emotional rest from time to time. At the beginning of last week, I felt alone. I had a taste of United States culture when I attended a US Embassy event at Big Mike’s bar/club. I felt very alone even though I was surrounded by dozens of US Citizens. I just felt that I couldn’t connect with their lives, their experiences, and their tight-knit community that isn’t very welcoming to outsiders. I get it, and I feel that I would be that way too if I was a part of the US Mission, but I’m not. Had I been in a Ugandan club or bar, almost everyone would have welcomed me and danced. However here, there was a lot of awkward standing and not a lot of socializing outside of the immediate group of US Mission folk. Even when I returned back to my embassy sponsor’s house, I felt lonely. There weren’t any neighbors to welcome me back, no children to incessantly knock on my front door, or villagers to welcome me into their homes when a downpour started in the middle of a bike ride.

At some point I met some GEO activists. It was fascinating talking with them and hearing about their experiences championing GEO rights in Uganda and sharing their stories in countries all over the world. I had asked them if they received a lot of animosity in Uganda, and they explained that when the Anti-GEO Bill came out they were attacked and almost beaten to death had it not been for some very brave and supportive friends who came to the rescue. They tell me that they are a part of a passive organization that performs community and village health outreaches. They offer medical counseling and services, but they are also very open to receiving GEO Ugandans and supporting them with the pre-existing and also tight-knit community that exists.

I helped Peace Corps Uganda staff with a Let Girls Learn video of Ugandan celebrities that was filmed at the Serena Hotel. ILet Girls Learn Prep was given a high quality Canon camera to record a close-up of Ugandan celebrities, singers, politicians, and women’s rights activists championing the need for Ugandan girls to learn. I wasn’t star-struck by the celebrities, but it just felt so weird being in one of the nicest hotels in Uganda (complete with waterfall water fountains, lounges, fine dining, and plush carpets) but also because I was filming famous Ugandans whom most villagers would go crazy to see.

I continued on with community integration training with the new cohort’s PST. I followed the same powerpoint model from the last time we presented this session 6 months ago. It was actually very refreshing to hear about the aspirations of these trainees. This time around, they kept saying, “Wow, you’ve been here for 18 months! That’s crazy how long you’ve been here!’ I’ve learned to just share a few of the truisms and generalizations that I’ve learned along the way, coupled with disclaimers that my stories are based solely on my experiences. I fully admitted to them that their experiences could vastly differ from my own.

"No Hookups During Homestay"

“No Hookups During Homestay”

After training, I hung out with Rachel and some other PCV’s at Masindi. Other than another surprise Giardia attack, I felt so content. I had been “on” and travelling for an entire week and just wanted to collapse on a couch and sleep for days. I also wanted to chill with PCV friends with whom I have shared common experiences. I didn’t have to explain myself, where I was coming from, or what I wanted to do. I could just be myself and relax.

I returned back to my house after more than a week of work. I didn’t know what my body wanted. Part of me wanted to sleep, another part of me wanted to go and landscape the area in front of the now-completed ICT Lab, and another part of me wanted to hide in my house until my feelings of apathy and exhaustion subsided. Funnily enough, what it took to get me out of my funk was a visit from a fellow PCV who co-taught a science experiment lesson to my Year 1 students and then got stuck in the middle of a torrential downpour in the middle of Bamunanika trading center.

Rainy Day Rolex

Rainy Day Rolex

We had just ordered rolexes from a chapatti stand dude, and then it began to rain. At first we stayed under the chapatti stand, but the rain intensified and one of the nearby women motioned for us to seek shelter inside her house. She brought out two stools for us to sit, and busied herself cooking porridge for her 3 year old daughter and cassava and beans katogo. Meanwhile the chapatti man welcomed himself into this woman’s house and started cooking our rolexes on her charcoal sigir. So as the rain pounded around us, this drenched young man cooked our rolexes in this stranger’s house as we sat on her chairs and played with her daughter. I realized just how special experiences like these can be and how I would rather get stuck in torrential village downpour in a stranger’s house, than engage in forced conversation in a Kampala bar/club. It is here in the village and in my home where I feel normal, happy, and content.

Let Girls Learn, Worms, Embassy Sponsor

22/5/15

In one of those interesting turn of events I was asked by the Peace Corps administration to work alongside the President’s YALI (Young African Leader’s Initiative) fellows to create a series of high-quality videos demonstrating Uganda’s willingness to participate in Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative. Thirteen Peace Corps countries are a part of this initiative and Uganda is the only one in East Africa. The goal of this project is to appeal to Ugandan youth, potential PCV’s who may want to apply to Uganda, and the broader global audience on social media.

I also stopped by the Peace Corps Medical Office and discovered that I may have worms. Finally, I discovered the culprit Albendazoleliterally behind my 2 month gassiness. As I contemplated going back to site, I was contacted by a graduate student from Colombia University who also works at the US Embassy on his way to become a Foreign Service Officer. It was only his 4th day in Uganda, and he lived in diplomatic housing near the Tank Hill area. Right now, I am typing this blog post in his dining area with carpet around my feet and the military tv channel on with real American commercials.

Now all I have to do is update my blog posts, find my way back to the taxi park area, and then get back to my site in time to plant 12 apple trees near the almost-complete ICT Lab.

The Futility of Dust

18/5/15 – 21/5/15

I spent the past week travelling with Loucine, the Peace Corps Uganda Country Director, to Gulu and Kitgum for a continuation of the regional site visits. The idea is to create a 5 minute promotional video of each region of Uganda so that when the new Peace Corps Education Trainees arrive in November they will be able to get a taste of what the different regions look like and what Peace Corps Volunteers have been doing in those regions.

I started off by biking to Wobulenzi from my house and waiting by the side of the road for the Peace Corps Vehicle to pick Homeless Man Wobulenzime up. In the meantime, I hung out with the resident homeless Ugandan man on the street. I gave him a piece of my homemade bread that I baked the day before, but the Ugandans who were seated next to me didn’t want any. In my opinion, I assumed that they didn’t want to eat the bread that this homeless man was also eating. As I looked around the trading center, it struck me how different poverty was. I mean, compared to many people in the developed world many of the Ugandans in or near this town are living well below the poverty line. However, I think that sometimes we tend to lump entire countries and cultures into the stereotyped image of a poor and third-world nation. Many of the Ugandans whom I know at least have a roof over their heads, enough to eat every day, and the mobility to travel or celebrate a wedding or graduation event with a bit of saved money.

Pupils LearningBefore I could get too deep into this reflection, the Peace Corps Vehicle arrived and picked me up. The ride was relatively smooth all the way up to Gulu. In the land of the Acholi’s who speak the Nilotic language Luo, we visited PCV’s who worked in mainly primary schools. I was very intrigued to see the work done with literacy and reading interventions with the education PCV’s. One of the volunteers worked at a primary school that used to serve as the school for the children of inmates and the prison staff, and eventually became a general primary school for the surrounding area. It’s really funny how the prison inmates are treated here in Uganda. They all wear bright yellow outfits, and are allowed to roam free outside of the prison walls during the day where they work as free day-laborers, farmers, carpenters, and electricians before returning back to the prison at night like good little boys and girls.

Another PCV was working on involving the schools of the surrounding districts to take part in the My Language Spelling Bee for Luo while another volunteer worked with blind pupils who took their exams using Braille books specially printed by the Cheyanne and Brailleschool’s Braille machines. The interesting dynamic about Gulu is that it has many municipalities and resembles a small grid-city system with 4-way intersections at every block. Due to the influx of NGO’s and other refugee organizations in response to the rebel activities years ago, a large western population consisting of expatriates and travelers exists in Gulu. This in turn has led to an increase in the quality of hotels, restaurants, cafes, and other amenities that travelling and working expatriates would enjoy.

I travelled to Comboni Samaritain where we stopped by the Wawoto Kacel Cooperative Society Limited which consisted of people living with HIV/AIDS, disabilities, and single parents to sell handmade and hand-woven goods to travelers as a way to provide a means of sustaining their livelihoods. We ate the best traditional food at Mama Kristina’s restaurant shack near Sankofa Café. Mama Kristina is this big Ugandan woman who operates a small restaurant business inside her shack where she cooks local dishes such as: lakoto koto (ground and fried simsim/sesame seeds), malakwang (pasted sour greens), fried beef, rice, beans, Odii (ground and roasted g-nuts and simsim), fried fish, and Bo (another green). It was one of the best local meals that I have eaten in this country, and many other Acholi and visiting Ugandans would agree because her stock runs out around 2pm.

Weaving at Comboni

Weaving at Comboni

Mama Kristina's Restaurant

Mama Kristina’s Restaurant

Aside from great Luo, Indian, Ethiopian, and Café food, I even got a chance to experience the expatriate life when I played a game of Ultimate Frisbee at the Acholi Inn field. Man, it just felt so good to run and play a competitive sport again. I missed that feeling of letting loose and just giving it your all. After the game, I hung out with one of the PCV’s and her Ugandan boyfriend at one of the traditional restaurants. One interesting point of discussion was that this Ugandan worked at the Invisible Children organization and at one point was also one of the Invisible Children. Out of respect for him and his girlfriend, I won’t share details, but he had to go through some very violent and scarring events during his time as a child soldier.

Currently he works as a videographer and media point person for the organization and shared some of his interesting viewpoints. I was told that the organization was very familial and a lot of the proceeds from donations went to the families of those Ugandans who worked in the organization, also the promotional videos about child soldiers didn’t tell the whole story. Like any good video or documentary, the narrative was specifically crafted with anecdotes that didn’t tell the whole story. It left out a lot of the more graphic and violent parts. However, as a whole it is a good organization that supports its main message.

The next morning as I was walking past the prison and through Gulu Town, I saw one of the cleaner women sweeping the Village Ellendust off the road. The rising sun illuminated her silhouette, and with every sweep of her broom the dust would swirl around her. I almost felt that her effort was self-defeating, because the dust would simply settle around her as she continued on with her endless task. I moved on past this futile task, and continued onwards to the Iron Donkey café where I would meet up with Loucine. That morning, Loucine was slated to attend what would have been the final court case of Danielle Gucciardo who died when struck by a drunk driver in Gulu back in April 2013. However, even two years later justice hasn’t been served. The Magistrate in-charge of this case conveniently decided that she wouldn’t show up for the scheduled court date.

What struck me the most was that even with the backing of the US Ambassador, the media attention, and the weight of public opinion against this driver still wouldn’t lead to a guilty conviction. There is a reason why mob justice exists, and that’s because of how difficult it is to go through the arduous process of court cases. Last year, even with all of the evidence against him the driver was not convicted; the reason being that he was drunk when he killed her and thus was not in control of his actions.

We spent the last two days of the trip going into Kitgum where we met the PCV’s over there. We visited a child care primary school, another prison primary school, a MercyCorps branch, and Uganda HipHop Culture. One of the most interesting things at the child care primary school was a book project by PCV Mary Williams. When she arrived at the school, she discovered a lot of books in the school’s library that did not respect or reflect diversity. Many of the books were not culturally appropriate, such as a picnic day, the beauty of Barbie and her white skin, an Aboriginal princess, or books that Ugandan pupils couldn’t relate to. Fortunately, a generous donor sent over a box of multicultural and diverse books showcasing the beauty of one’s skin color, picture books primarily featuring African-Americans, or stories featuring sub-saharan African characters.

One of my favorite sites was PCV Leah Walkowski’s Northern Uganda HipHop Culture Site. The members of this organization focus on reaching out to local Ugandan youth about HIV/AIDS through hip hop dancing, beatboxing, rapping, and dancing that would appeal to the youth. They regularly do HIV testing and seasonal male circumcisions. One of their coolest projects by the Kitgum youth was an HIV Song warning youth against the dangers of HIV performed by the members of Northern Uganda HipHop Culture (NHUC) in conjunction with StraightTalk Uganda with the lyrics in being both English and Luo.

https://www.facebook.com/nuhculture

Artists: Lil Nicha, Black MC, Kim, and Benny

Once again, I was exhausted after this week. All I wanted to do was just sit down alone in my own house and teach my students. I feel like I’m racing towards the end of my service, while also being stuck where I am right now. There is already so much to do, and I’m trying to accomplish it all before the end.

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.

Ride to the Fort

17/12/14 – 22/12/14

Back at Shimoni I was discussing with one of my best PCV friends, Ravi, that I still needed to raise about $7500 more in order to cover the cost of building and furnishing the ICT/Computer Lab at Luteete PTC. One of the things we discussed was how difficult it would be to raise the rest of the money through social media alone without offering some sort of incentive. I thought about what I should do in order to motivate people to donate money to this cause. As a result, I came up with the idea to bike ride and have people back home pledge money for kilometer or mile biked. After training, I stopped by the Peace Corps Office and talked to the Country Director and the Director of Programming and Staff in order to ask for their advice.

I was told to put together an itinerary detailing the route that I would take over the course of specific dates. They also suggested that I would receive their support and blessing if I found two others to bicycle with me in case of emergency and chose a route that wasn’t too dangerous to bike that close to the holidays. In Uganda, public transportation goes gumbles* during the holidays.

*Note: Gumbles is a fake, adjectival word that means crazy or nuts.

I quickly asked me Ravi and my Ugandan neighbor, Kato Godfrey, to accompany on my 300km (200mile) bike ride from Luteete Village to Fort Portal. I still had to type up the itinerary and proposal to the Country Director, borrow an extra bicycle for Godfrey, plan out the route, figure out where we would be staying, and when exactly we would be undertaking the venture.

I returned to Shimoni for some language and cultural sessions. During this time I was able to get both Ravi and Godfrey to agree to this venture, mapped out a route from my village to Mityana and then to Fort Portal on the Fort Portal Road, received the go-ahead from the Country Director, secured an extra bicycle for Godfrey, and asked some PCV’s along the route if we could stay with them. There were so many things that could have halted the start of this fundraiser, but everything somehow came together.

The original plan was to leave December 16 and make it to Fort Portal by December 20; however, the plans changed at the last minute in order to allow Ravi and I to have an extra day of preparation. Therefore, we changed the departure date to December 17.

Ravi arrived at my house on the 16th with his bicycle. The funny thing is that he lives in Butiiti which is one the Fort Portal Road about 40km east of Fort Portal. So the majority of the ride would bring him closer to his own home, whereas I would be biking away from my home.

We did a final packing checklist of: clothes, toiletries, water bottles, bike tools, patch kit, extra tubes, electronics, granola, maps, and money. Our dinner that night consisted of rice and tikka masala cooked with ghee to give us that extra fat.

December 17, 2014 (Luteete to Mityana, 60km)

Ravi, Godfrey, and I left Luteete at 7:25am. The weather was misty and cool. Instead of taking the Wobulenzi dirt road to the main Kampala-Gulu Road, we went by the southwesterly route towards Kalule. At one point, another Ugandan on a bicycle yelled, “This is not America” to us, which made me laugh because that was a new phrase that I haven’t heard here. We pause for some water at Kalule, and figure out that it takes us an average of 1 hour to bike 15km on the dirt roads. After crossing the Kampala-Gulu Road, we make our way through the Nakaseke and Wakiso sub-county dirt paths to Busunjju. It started to get really hot and dry since it was the middle of dry season. We had a few problems with Godfrey’s bike, because the PCV whom I had borrowed it from had a relatively small frame and Godfrey was much larger than her.

Dirt Roads

Dirt Roads

At some point past Mwera trading center, a random man ran towards my bicycle and pushed me. I almost fell off of the bicycle, but steadied myself at the last moment. I was furious and told the man to come back to me. He warily kept walking away until he disappeared into the bush and matooke trees surrounding the dusty trading center. I yelled at him to return and apologize to me, but all that I did was attract the attention of the trading center residents.

Conversation (Translated):

Me: “I’m not leaving until he comes back.”

Residents: “But he has already gone away.”

Me: “Where has he gone?”

Residents: “There!” *Points to the bush and matooke trees

Me: “I am very upset that he pushed me.”

Residents: “Ah, but he is sorry. Forgive him.”

Me: “I want him to come here and say sorry himself.”

Residents: “But he has already gone.”

Ravi: “Marv, let’s go.”

Me: “Okay, you let him know that I am going to call President Obama and tell him to send the police here to find him and arrest him.”

Residents: “Oh, he is sorry. Forgive him.”

Me: “No, I would have forgiven him if he himself came here.”

To be honest, it was pretty funny remembering this conversation. My goal was that by shaming him, he would think twice about pushing someone on his or her bicycle trip. I have started to realize that a year in-country I have started to lose patience with people much faster than when I first arrived. I want people to be accountable for their own actions and take responsibility for what they do. I think that I’m starting to understand what Loucine told me a year ago in Kulika: “To hold people to high standards not high expectations.”

At some point the dirt road turns into a paved road, and we purchase some bottled water in this trading center called Semuto. Once again, we continue on dirt roads until we hit Busunju, which lies on the paved Hoima Road. We get lunch at the Trust in God restaurant, which was okay by village standards. The rice, greens, beef, and g-nut sauce were solid and they allowed Ravi and I to take naps on the benches in the eating area. We also ordered plastic bags of passionfruit juice, which would also be a staple of our journey.

Arrival in Busunju

Arrival in Busunju

After a groggy awakening, we continued the last 28km leg of our first day’s journey to Mityana. We ran into some trouble during this part, because my back bicycle wheel lost air pressure. I assumed that the valve was leaking, so I pumped some air into it. When it started leaking again I changed the entire tube, and assumed that the problem was fixed. When that tire started losing pressure, I started to get worried. What if we didn’t make it to Mityana before sundown?

Ravi and Godfrey suggested that we once again take the new tube out and check to see if there were any punctures. Sure enough, we found a small thorn in between the wheel and the tube. Fortunately, Ravi brought a patch kit with him and we patched up the small hole. During the course of this incident we lost an hour of sunlight, which gave us less leeway in terms of making it to Mityana before it got too dark.

The patch held, and we biked up and down the dusty trails. At this point, the dust had penetrated every single pore on our bodies. The sweat didn’t help either, as it caused the billowing dust left in the wake of passing cars and bodas to cling to our skin. Whenever I wiped my brow with my forearm I could see this brown ooze coalesce that consisted of sweat and dirt. I am pretty sure that I breathed over a full cup of dust during the course of this day.

Continuing on with the eventfulness of the day, my front wheel rubbed against the Ravi’s back wheel and I crashed Falling into Dustinto the dustiest ditch known to man. I am also pretty sure that there were some nettles there, because I felt all scratched up from the mini crash. About 10-20km away from Mityana, depending on which bodaman we asked, we passed through this odd trading center called Kyaterakera.

As we entered into the center there was this bible-thumping Ugandan who was yelling at anyone who passed by him. At one point I think that he was talking about Chinese people and how they usually owned chickens. Another crazy man approached me after I had bought some bottled water for Godfrey, and told me, “Oh thank you for the water.” I explained to him that the water wasn’t for him, and he continued to follow me around and call me JaJa (grandmother in Luganda). Then a younger man with a cool accent comes up to me and starts conversing with me about where we are from. He introduces himself as a Nigerian named Christopher who works as both a hustler and a chapatti stand ownder. As he’s talking to me, the bible-thumper gets nearer to us and the JaJa man gets closer on the other side. At one point the JaJa man looks at me and then his shutter shades that were resting on his forehead slide down in front of his eyes which surprise him as he stumbles back.

So here I am laughing at the situation as JaJa man is clearly drunk, high, or just affected by decades of dust inhalation, the bible-thumper is attempting to convert us to his own Chinese/chicken version of Christianity, and our Nigerian friend is telling us about his hustling business and his successful chapatti stand. Behind me, I see a group of weird children approaching us so I just decided to take off and continue the last leg of our journey to Mityana.

Tea PlantationThis last stretch of dirt road hills was gorgeous. Our roads bounded fields of tea plantations that stretched off into the distance. We kept asking bodamen, Nnyabos, and stall vendors how far Mityana was and we were given estimates ranging from 10km to 2km. At one point a woman told us that we were 6km away and after half an hour of hard biking we were told that we were only 8km away.

As it got dark, we finally made it to the tarmac roads of Mityana. We saw giant lights illuminating the night sky, and saw these tiny insects flying around. I had forgotten that we were in grasshopper season. Giant floodlights were pointed towards the sky, and grasshoppers (enseneni) were attracted to them. Slanted tin sheets were placed by the light source, and then the grasshoppers flew into the sheets they would slide down into a catchment basin where workers would peel off their legs and fry them for consumption and sale.

Grasshopper "Enseneni" Collecting

Grasshopper “Enseneni” Collecting

We made our way to PCV Robin’s site on the top of Kololo hill near Busuubizi PTC. Man, we were exhausted after our first day of biking. We showered off the thick film of dust, and partook in a delicious dinner prepared by Robin. Even though our bodies were aching, it felt good to have succeeded in our first day of biking.

December 18, 2014 (Mityana to Mubende, 80km)

We shared breakfast in the morning with both Robin and the soon-to-be PCV, Joshua, who would be taking over her site after she COS’d. Robin suggested that we visit the Nakayima Tree in Mubende when we got there. All of us seemed taken to that idea, and we agreed that we would discuss it with our PCV host in Mubende when we got there.

We departed from Robin’s hill, and after 15 minutes of biking we met the tarmac of the Fort Portal Highway. Godfrey’s On and On You Will Bikebackpack started ripping, so we stopped at a trading center to get it re-sewn. While it felt nice to be biking on a real road, the challenge now was that the stretches of hills seemed endless. It literally felt like hills on hills on hills. At some points, the grade of the hill was too steep and we would rest by walking our bikes up the hills.

We had lunch at the hottest, smallest restaurant in the world called Shifa Hotel in Kalamba Town. Imagine the volume of two phonebooths placed side-by-side, and you would still have more space than this restaurant. It didn’t help that there wasn’t any cloud cover and that the food was cooked by the doorway so that any breeze that blew through consisted of hot oven air. We ate our fill of meat and beans and I was able to ferret out some bagged passionfruit juice. I had asked one of the Ugandan duka owners if she sold any passionfruit juice. She responded that there wasn’t any left, so I walked up to her fridge and told her that I wanted three of them. I guess that she forgot to take inventory of her stock.

I was talking with Ravi that our bicycles represent our personalities. Mine was short and squat, Ravi’s was sleek with a big butt, and Godfrey’s was black and slightly disgruntled (mainly based on the PCV who lent it to us). The rest of the 40km to Mubende NTC was characterized by choice napping patches of grass, hills on hills, and me telling off Ugandan men who called me muchina (Chinese Man). Right before the sun set, we arrived at the Mubende NTC sign which heralded our destination for the day.

Roads and HillsPCV Brent welcomed us to the NTC campus and his home. I was extremely sore after two straight days of hard biking. Brent was a very gracious host and had bottled water, sodas, and beer ready for us. The dinner that night was a feast consisting of teriyaki beef, a fresh salad tossed with Ranch Dressing, stir-fried broccoli, and rice. It was very interesting staying with Brent, because we were his first guests. Most of the PCV’s in our cohort hadn’t heard anything from him in months, and it was very refreshing to hear him tell us how much he loved his site. He shared his exploits concerning his initial foray into mushroom farming and how the local community could use it as an IGA (Income Generating Activity).

December 19, 2014 (Nakayima Tree, 0km)

We woke up to a breakfast of toast, potatoes, and fried eggs. We washed our clothes and set them out to dry. We pitched our idea to Brent that we should take the day off and see this Nakayima Tree in Mubende Town. We didn’t know anything about the tree except that it was connected to the local religion of the Buganda Kingdom. We were dropped off by one of Brent’s fellow teachers near the New Town Hotel up the hill overlooking Mubende Town. We followed the road that wound itself around the hill, after a 20 minute walk we entered into a clearing with a gigantic tree in the middle of it. The tree’s leaves resembled oak tree leaves, and the trunk had grown to more than 20 feet in diameter exhibit buttress roots that extended from the ground. A local community of Ugandans set up small dukas, pit latrines, and cooking stations around the clearing that supported its caretakers. This community is called Boma Village.

Overlooking Mubende

Overlooking Mubende

Nakayima Tree

Nakayima Tree

After paying 5000/= and then 4000/= more for a guided tour, we found ourselves walking around the 1500 year old Nakayima Tree. Each side of the tree represented a different aspect of the pantheon of local Buganda spirits. The story goes that Nakayima, who was married to King Ndawula, was protecting the tree against some tyrant. She walked and disappeared into the tree, and became one with it. Someone tried to cut the tree down once, but that person died in an accident so the tree is protected by the spirit of Nakayima.

Immensity

Immensity

Tree Rooms:

Maama Nabuzana: prepares the cooking, takes care of the children, and represents fertility as witnessed by the offerings of pots and jugs filled with water placed by the base of the tree.

Nakayima Room

Child Tree: Food for children, they are allowed to eat it if it hasn’t spoiled yet, otherwise the insects eat it

King Ndungu: guides the hunters, his symbol is smoke

King Kalisa: brother to King Ndungu, he feeds everyone on earth

Maama Kiwanuka: like lightning and thunder she brings good things down and brings the bad things up and away with her

King Mukasa: lakes and rivers

Similar to the Tanda Burial Grounds near Mityana, the belief goes that Ugandans must first dream about the Nakayima Tree in a vision and then will come here on his or her own accord. Even though a woman in a far-off village dreams about fertility but has never heard of the Nakayima Tree, she can still dream a vision about it and be guided to Boma Village on the top of the hill near Mubende. Also similar to the Tanda Burial Grounds, everyone must remove his or her shoes before walking on the sacred ground near the base of the tree.

Ravi, Brent, Godfrey, and I participated in a blessing ceremony at the base of the tree with a Jaja dressed in very colorful and ceremonial garb. We all sat by the base of the tree and presented offerings of boiled coffee beans wrapped in dried banana fibers shaped like samosas. She started chanting in Luganda, wishing us good health, many children, a car, safe travels, and money. We then handed over our pods of dried banana fibers to her and she opened them for us. Without breaking cadence from her prayer, she asked for 2000/= and we placed it in the basket along with the boiled coffee beans that she gave back to us after opening the banana fibers pods. We then ingest some of the coffee beans, and I instantly start choking and coughing on one of them.

Jaja

While I was thinking whether a Nalgene bottle would be appropriate to bring out during this ceremony, I heard her choking on one as well. So she halted her blessing in order to spit the remnants of her coffee bean out, and continue the prayer. The ending of the prayer involved each of us standing up, touching the trunk of the tree, then touching our face, and walking back down. It sounded simple enough, but we kept screwing up the directions. Apparently we weren’t supposed to turn around after touching the tree, but instead back up without turning. This caused some confusion as Godfrey was translating to us: “Come as you are!” An exasperated Ravi retorts with, “I am as I am!?” Meanwhile Brent and I are laughing and the Jaja is still praying, oblivious to what’s going on around her.

The ceremony ends, we all shake hands with the Jaja and wander around the tree. We collect some seeds to plant our own versions of the tree, and I pick up a leaf that I press into my journal. At this point in the day, it’s the late afternoon and we are very hungry since boiled coffee beans do not make a good enough snack. We eat a late lunch at Agnes’ Restaurant on the Mubende Main Street, and purchase the produce for the night’s dinner.

We also eat well that night. We share sodas, beer, and stories over a dinner reminiscent of the night before except that in lieu of beef we have grilled chicken sold by the Mubende street food vendors.

December 20, 2014 (Mubende to Kakabara, 65km)

We had an early breakfast at Brent’s house, and I prepared some last minute homemade granola using some oats, oil, and honey over the stove. The majority of the day was overcast and the hills were less daunting than the second day of biking. The air was much cooler and we transitioned from the Buganda Kingdom to the Butooro Kingdom. At this point, Ravi took charge in the translating since his learned language was Runyooro/Rutooro and mine was Luganda.

Butooro Dancing

Butooro Dancing

Since the road was much more level than previous days, we made good time and arrived in Kyegegwa by lunch time. There was a traditional Butooro dance at one end of Kyegegwa Town, and as I stopped to take some photos two men came up to me and told me to pay them money. I laughed at them and told them that I would not pay them money. The crowd sided with me, especially as I greeted them in my basic Rutooro and told them my Rutooro pet name, Ateenyi (Guardian Snake). I continued to watch the dance, which I later found out was being performed in the honor of a local religious leader called Bissaka who would “bring all religions together”. Still, Bissaka couldn’t assuage the annoyance of the two men who repeatedly asked me to pay them to watch the traditional dancing. I still refused and they told me to leave and never come back. I smiled and extended my hand to shake their hands. One of them dumbly extended his hand to shake mine most likely out of instinct, but pulled it back at the last moment and turned his back on me.

Since we were making good time, we continued biking past Kyegegwa to find a trading center/town that was closer to Ravi’s site in Butiiti so that the next day’s journey wouldn’t be too difficult.

Journal Entry:Eucalyptus Grove

“I’m enjoying this grove/glade of eucalyptus trees in the afternoon for a short break. We’re 2/3 of the way through our journey, which is incredible to me. I love that ideas like this one can become a reality. Looking at the map, it’s hard to believe that we’ve traveled as far as we did in the past 3+ days on bicycles with everything loaded in our backpacks.

After resting in that small grove, we got stuck in the rain for a few minutes and found shelter by some nearby dukas. By the evening we found ourselves in the sprawling, urban village trading center of Kakabra. After talking to some locals, we set down our things at the Nu World Leisure Center, which felt safe enough by village guesthouse standards. I mean sure the pit latrine door wasn’t connected to the hinges, my mattress was awkwardly slanted upwards (I firmly believe that there was a dead prostitute underneath my mattress), the blanket made me itch, and there were condoms and candles covered in cobwebs on our windowsill but it felt very comfortable after a long day of biking.

Nu World Leisure Center

Nu World Leisure Center

We explore the trading center for a few minutes, because it literally took a few minutes to explore the town. Dinner at one of the local restaurants held a surprise for us. There was a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup served with hot milk that tasted like home. I smiled thinking about the journey that this syrup bottled made all the way from the fields of Pennsylvania to a wooden shack restaurant in Kakabara.

Journal Entry:

“In undertakings as long as this one, it’s a bit hard to remember that there is a life not involving a bike ride. That is abnormal, even for life in the Peace Corps.”

I believe that I have to explain this last entry. I guess that by this point, I was getting used to the routine of having to bike these long stretches only to reach a hill by the time exhaustion set in and then enjoy gliding downhill until the next challenge presented itself. I became used to biking, and my immediate goal was first to make it to the top of the nearest hill, make it to the next trading center, and make it to Fort Portal by the 22nd.

December 21, 2014 (Kakabara to Butiiti, 56km)

We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and bananas courtesy of Nu World Leisure Center’s hot water flask. The journey was relatively uneventful, except that we passed by the cool looking Matiri forest reserve. At some point before Kyenjojo, my right knee starts hurting to the point where every single pedal causes me intense bursts of pain. We take a lunch break in Kyenjojo just in time for me to rest my overworked knee. Ravi purchases food at the market as I take a small nap in the shade of a mosque-like building.

Hills Before ButiitiI press onwards for about 10km more until I make it to the turnoff to Butiiti PTC. After a 1.6km ride through dirt roads, we arrive at Ravi’s house where I feel right at home. The afternoon is spent baking some coffee spice cake, drinking Java Coffee, and doing some extra laundry. Aw man, I wish that I could just bottle that feeling of feeling the cool afternoon breeze as the warm sun sets and I wash our dirty clothes. It was also nice knowing that the last stage of our journey would only be 40km.

Godfrey, Ravi, and I all prepped dinner together. We made Ravi’s famous Eggplant Curry, Sautéed Potatoes, and Cilantro Chutney (since his Cilantro plant grew a ton during the wet season).

Eggplant Curry Recipe Outline:Cilantro

Sauté eggplant and green peppers with cumin, coriander, and paprika. In a separate saucepan sauté garlic, ginger, and onions with cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, chili powder, and black pepper. When the onions become translucent, add the tomatoes and a bit of garam masala in order to make a tomato sauce. When the sauce thickens, add it to the eggplant mixture and cook down for a bit.

Cilantro Chutney Recipe Outline:

Blend together two cups of fresh cilantro, a few tomatoes, 5 cloves of garlic, half an inch of ginger, salt, chili powder and lemon juice.

That was another amazing dinner, courtesy of Ravi’s signature recipes.

December 22, 2014 (Butiiti to Fort Portal, 40km)

It was my birthday! I turned 24 years old on the last day of the bike ride. Ravi prepared his famous German Pancakes and Java Coffee for our breakfast. We decided to take it easy today since the ride wasn’t too difficult nor long. As I chilled in the morning, I read Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer (yes the same guy who also wrote Into Thin Air and Into the Wild). Ravi had his book on his bookshelf, and I took some time reading it. While I had never done any bouldering, mountain climbing, ice waterfall scaling, donned any crampons, or rappelled down any canyons I came across a passage at the end of one of the chapters:

“Lying on a delicious slab of granite toward the evening, letting the warmth o the pink rock suck the chill from my dripping back, it dawned on me that it was my birthday. I couldn’t have picked a better place to spend it, I decided, if I’d tried.”
~Eiger Dreams, pg 115

Eiger Dreams - Canyoneering

Eiger Dreams – Canyoneering

24th Birthday Marker

24th Birthday Marker

On this last victory lap of 40k, I too would have to agree that “I couldn’t have picked a better place to spend it”. We passed by the Mwengo Forest Reserve, Kibale National Park, Kihininga Swamp (that curiously also has guided tours 8-12pm and 3-5pm), and the Tamteco Kamara Tea Estates. Honestly, the ride didn’t feel like it took that long, and a little bit after noon we arrived in Fort Portal. Ravi suggested that we walk up the hill that led to the main street, but I posited that we should bike this one last hill before we met up with our welcoming party at the Duchess. Man, it was such a relief to bike to the restaurant, hug some other PCV friends, and eat a well-deserved pizza and drink a few Nile beers.

I even got a dope Christmas present of a journal from PCV Jamie and a letter from PCV Jenna:

“Life is like a camera,Godfrey's First Pizza

just focus on what’s important

and capture the good times,

develop from the negatives

and if things don’t

work out, just take

another shot.

Wishing you the perfect shot this birthday!”

As I sat there and ate my pizza and watched Godfrey eat his first pizza ever, my mind drifted off. The thought that we had finished the bike ride was unfathomable to me. Every single pedal contributed to the overall goal, and with my buzz from the combination of dehydration and two Nile Special’s I couldn’t think. I just enjoyed the moment and the relaxation.

I think that after 300km of dirt and roads I was undergoing some sort of immediate withdrawal. I guess it’s just that I poured in my passion for biking and fundraising this computer lab and went through with this idea with my best PCV friend and my closest Ugandan friend. Now I was surrounded by loving and caring people on my birthday, but the focus was on the future and not so much on what had happened. That week of biking felt as if it lasted much longer than a week, but for everyone else life continued on pretty much as it always has.

My respect for Ravi grew tremendously during this journey. The Director of Programming and Training was right, I needed my two partners. I definitely would not have been able to make it alone, especially on the first day when I got a tube puncture. I mean, after one simple question my best Peace Corps friend agreed to bike ride with me in order to support me and my project. The same thing goes for my neighbor, Godfrey. He is very village and very Ugandan, and is my most trusted Ugandan friend. His open-mindedness and willingness to accompany and continue biking with me on this ride meant so much to me.

I would definitely say that this undertaking was a success in every way. We raised over $1500 for the computer lab, I bonded much more with both Ravi and Godfrey, and I understood just how much my friends and family cared about me and what I was passionate about.

“On and on you will [bike], and I know you’ll [bike] far, and face up to your problems whatever they are.”

~Oh the Places You’ll Go

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.