Closing

After a week of office paperwork and goodbyes, I am finally sitting in the waiting area of Entebbe airport. I have waited over two years for this moment when I can say that I finished my Peace Corps service and can continue on my life with the next adventures. I like to think that I will look back on my experiences here from time to time and think about how they changed me in unimaginable ways. To attempt to sum up my entire service in a few measly sentences would be futile, so instead I present the three Close-of-Service reflections during the three days that I remained in the Peace Corps Uganda office in Kampala.

End of Peace Corps Service (Post 1 of 3)

Engatto zange, my shoes. Since November 2013 I have worn this pair of shoes and experienced the entirety of my service in Uganda while supported by them. I hiked up volcanoes, squatted in pit latrines, canoed/swam across lakes, danced in dancehalls, biked across the country, taught lessons, walked over 1000km, waded through muddy impasses during rainy/landslide seasons, braved the dusty dervishes of the villages during dry seasons, and literally experienced all the highs and lows of the past two years while walking in these shoes.

Paraphrased F. Scott Fitzgerald: “So we beat on, wanderers against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the dust.”

shoes

End of Peace Corps Service (Post 2 of 3):

Abantu = People in Luganda, which is a branch of Bantu languages spoken in over 500 dialects throughout subsaharan Africa. It’s meaning is related to the South African Zulu word “ubuntu” which means humanity and the belief in the universal bond of acknowledging one another’s worth as a human being. I am because of you. In my experiences, I have understood the importance of great ideas, philosophies and words. But I have also come to know about the importance of people; the people who make up cultures, enact beliefs, and whose very existence make up who we are.

I won’t be able to tell the “African story”, and I won’t be able to even tell the “Ugandan story”, but I will be able to share the story of my time in a small village called Luteete that was my home.

abantu

End of Peace Corps Service (Post 3 of 3):

At 5pm today, I hit the Close of Service gong with a branch of matooke and officially ended my Peace Corps service. I have no more words to share about these past few days other than the ones that have inspired me and stayed in my heart and mind: “Do it for the story.” It’s the stories that stay with us and allow others to travel in our shoes for a short time and share our humanity.

Peace Out!

gongout

Advertisements

Taking the Red Pill

2/12/15

Peace Corps fucks up your life in the best way possible.

DSC_0373

I think that sentiment expresses how I feel in this moment. I am lost in a vortex of emotions: anger, denial, sadness, regret, excitement, joy, longing, and frustration. This last week at site has been one of my toughest weeks in-country. I feel as if all I want to do is finally say goodbye to my neighbors; however, I’ve been stuck in my house and with my reflective thoughts. Saying goodbye to my Year 2 students was anti-climactic. They were in a session with the academic registrar concerning behavior during exam period, and as they were dismissed I said goodbye to them. Less than half of them turned towards me to say goodbye. I felt a bit disheartened, but would it have made any sense for them to have made a bigger deal out of the goodbye?

There’s a side of the world and a multitude of perspectives that I will never be able to forget even if I wanted to forget them. The concept of a homogenous Africa no longer makes sense to me, I will give different cultural attitudes the benefit of the doubt, and I will be much slower to judge an action as being either right or wrong. I have ceased to see things as being black or white. It’s all a mixture of variant grays that all have a background and a story.

DSC_0247

For example, what will I do if someone asks me to donate $5 to a charity dedicated to feeding starving children in Africa. I think that I will first have to look into the organization to see if the feeding is humanitarian and if it is relief based. Then I will also look into the organization itself to see if the majority of the funding goes towards the relief effort. But then I will have to see if the food is being disbursed in an ethical way that eventually leads to self-sustenance on the part of the recipients. However, this is rarely the case as conflicts and civil wars lead to refugees who rely on the food deliveries. In this case, would it be right for me to donate to a cause that may help satiate the hunger of a few children if the larger issue at hand isn’t being addressed? Is it still alright to blindly throw money at an issue if even just one child benefits from the money?

I don’t think that there are any easy answers to these questions. Yet, I believe that I am better off for seeing a different side to issues that I used to see as being one-sided. Despite the grander complexities of social issues, one tenet still remains true to me: that compassion and the acknowledgement of the humanity of another human being is paramount to the discussion of said issues.

After all this, how can I possibly go back?

The Aimless Wanderers

29/11/15

Muzungu (Luganda n). – white man, European

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “And is kuzunga a good thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing

15/11/15

Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Bujumbura

I spent this weekend helping out at the final round of the Luganda and Sign Language My Language Spelling Bee, and celebrating one of my closest PCV friend’s birthday as well as our 2-year anniversary in-country. Two years is both a short and a long time. Coincidentally, I also got very sick during this weekend with extreme diarrhea and intense heat fluctuations where my body felt like it was an oven one moment and then felt like a freezer the next. Other than my sickness and fatigue, it was a very enjoyable weekend. I spent a lot of money on good food; the hung-over morning following the birthday celebration consisted of 10 PCV’s splurging on an all-you-can eat buffet at the Kampala Protea hotel complete with champagne, pastries, bacon, smoked salmon, kiwis, strawberries, cappuccinos, waffles, and eggs cooked to order. It was a sloppy breakfast; we ended up feeling very full and queasy because we all ate too much and were also still a bit drunk. At one point someone tried to stand up and knocked over a champagne glass, which shattered on the floor. But it was nice saying goodbye to PCV’s after such an enjoyable weekend.

On the other hand, there were other less-joyous events happening around the world. There were the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead, as well as attacks in Afghanistan and Lebanon, and the beginnings of genocide in Burundi. I started to see my Facebook newsfeed filled with notifications about the Paris attacks and solidarity with France. This was a very tragic event, and so many people seem to come together praying, sending positive messages, and standing together. However, I wonder how many people also feel just as passionate about the attacks and reckless violence happening in other countries. With Facebook as a platform for raising awareness and activism, is it our duty to make sure that people know it’s not just the developed world that we should care about?

I think back to my time before Peace Corps, and the discussion of rebels in the north of Uganda were such a foreign concept to me. The statistics of child soldiers, rebel attacks, and rampant diseases were so far removed that they just remained as numbers to me. Now they have faces and stories that have impacted my own life. I can’t ask every Ugandan about his or her tribe due to old tensions, I am friends with former child soldiers, and I am hard-pressed to find a Ugandan who hasn’t been threatened by malaria, HIV, or some form of dysentery. Now whenever I hear a news story that mentions Uganda, those numbers won’t remain mere numbers, but people with lives and stories.

It is kind of crazy the disproportionate amount of social media attention that stories in the United States, the Middle East, and Western European countries receive when tragic events occur. I’m not saying that it’s bad to grieve or spread awareness about events such as the Paris attacks, but it’s just interesting that genocide is beginning in Burundi and there seems to be little to know media attention or solidarity with the Burundians.

After the Holocaust, people proclaimed, “Never again.”

After the Darfur and Rwandan genocides, people proclaimed, “Never again.”

Now it’s happening in Burundi and the world can’t do anything about it.

Is it fair to place more care and emphasis on people’s lives that directly impact our own lives? Was it fair for me to feel solidarity with Boston during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing where a handful of people died as opposed to solidarity with Syrians when nerve gas used against them in Syria a few months later? In the United States social media erupts when there is any hint of racial discrimination and in some countries there are blatant attacks against groups of people due to their religious beliefs ethnic background, or social status.

It makes me wonder about the power of social media and if there are some things that just seem more glamorous to support or discuss. Honestly, I think that a temporary profile photo change to support France would be more likely to be seen as patriotic, sensitive, and appropriate compared to a photo depicting victims of terrorist and sectarian violence in African and Middle Eastern countries. Maybe it’s because the developed countries are seen as bastions of safety and freedom where attacks aren’t expected and Africa and the Middle East are seen as places where attacks happen all the time. There’s no longer any surprise if people were killed there but God forbid that people were attacked in developed countries, because that hits too close to home.

I still don’t know how I feel about these issues. Maybe part of the American Dream is that once you get to the US, you no longer have to worry about the troubles that plague other less stable countries. You can ignore the whisperings of a rebellion, the warnings to evacuate the village, or the last chance to board a refugee ship because those things no longer affect you. Perhaps that’s a bit why it’s called the Dream, because once you live it you no longer have to acknowledge all realities around the world; just the one that you care to worry about.

Is it a privilege or a right not to worry about what doesn’t directly affect our well-being? Should we worry about the plight of other people or only concern ourselves with our immediate spheres of influence?

Now as I am entering the last three weeks of my Peace Corps service I have fewer answers than I thought I had. I am looking forward to being worry-free and living with creature comforts. I don’t feel guilty anymore, but I am certain that there are things that could be done to make this world a better place. I guess that my version of the Dream is to find out what little I can do to achieve that.

Idiosyncrasy

21/10/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swinging

5/10/15

I literally feel torn between two worlds. It’s a mixture of so many different layers that I will never be able to explain let alone reconcile to people in my village and even people back in the United States. It’s the sadness at knowing something that is simply impossible to describe to someone unless they too have experienced it. Everyone is a bit blind to something, and every experience removes some of that blindness if that person is willing. However, it is impossible to explain something that you have seen to a blind person because that person has no context for it.

How do I even begin to put this into words? I am sad that I am leaving my village of course. I am sad that I will not be able to describe what it means to have made a new home here, taken a new name, and spoken a new language to people back in the United States who will take this as a misappropriation of culture. I am sad that my villagers will never understand the ubiquity of ice, air-condition, and technology but that they do not need these creature comforts to be better. I am sad at the misunderstanding among cultures and how we tend to judge and make assumptions too quickly. I am sad that most people in the United States will ask me questions in order to validate their preconceived assumptions about Africa and Peace Corps. I am sad that the only people who will truly understand this experience from this point of view will be other Peace Corps Volunteers and no one else.

But I am happy that I am no longer blind to the reality of this part of the world. I am glad that I can better perceive the differences in cultures and how one isn’t necessarily better than another one. I am glad that I might be having the shittiest day ever, but the unbridled laughter of my neighbor’s kids can make me laugh too. I am content knowing what I know and not being alone.

And these are the drastic swings in temperament that I undergo every day.

Burning Out

24/9/15 – 30/9/15

I feel that I have very little control over my feelings these days. I oscillate between feeling pure excitement for the future and then sadness at how things fall apart. I spent all of Thursday editing my resume and contacting old references from college, my internship, and Peace Corps in order to complete a job application in Maryland. I had to reread some of my old blog posts from study abroad and college in order to piece together the dates of my old employment and internship. The weirdest part was opening up my old college .edu email account where all of my old emails were stored. I had forgotten the people and administrators with whom I used to talk.

I spent the majority of the day working on applications and then treating myself to sandwiches and salads at Kampala cafes. I got emotional as I saw Ugandan families treating themselves out to nice restaurants because it was Eid. On Friday I finally closed my PCPP Grant with Peace Corps and Washington, which took much longer than I expected even though I had tallied all of the numbers together on an Excel spreadsheet. I then traveled to Fort Portal to participate in the West Welcome Weekend where the newest PCV’s in the Runyoro-Rutooro speaking areas of Uganda came together to celebrate with the older PCV’s in that region. I was honestly surprised at how cool the new PCV’s were, and how I wanted to get to know them better.

Usually at this point, PCV’s don’t really want to invest the time in getting to know the newest PCV’s and instead want to just spend quality time with the older ones. I guess that I felt excited to hang out with some PCV’s who reminded me of friends I used to have back in the United States. During the weekend we ate Indian food, drank, went out clubbing at Forest, swam at Ndali Crater Lake, drank some more, ate some pizza, and chilled hardcore as we pretended that it was Fall and Winter in the cooler western region. It’s been a long time since I laughed this hard or enjoyed myself as much as I did swimming in a beautifully sketchy crater lake or convinced everyone to play a categories drinking game involving a shuttlecock and rackets.

However, the hardest part was making it back home. We left the “high” of the weekend and were welcomed by the hot, stinky atmosphere of Kampala before a rainstorm. I just didn’t want to return home. After a last-minute burger at Iguanas, I made it to the Wobulenzi taxi and then boarded my dusty bicycle. A few minutes into the ride I started feeling better because the bodamen and children greeted me by name. My happiness soon faded as a truck full of Ssebo’s (men) passed by me and one of them threw a rock that hit me in the face. I was so stunned that I stopped the bike and stared at them as they whooped and hollered at me. I brushed the dust off my face and continued on my ride as the sun set. I made it back home well after dark, and wanted to pass out on my bed and cry. I can’t explain why I’m so emotional these days, but I’m a complete wreck.

Conservation Camp, Kisoro

31/8/15 – 4/9/15

“Let us not stop here, let us bring our ideas home to take root.”

~Booker, Ugandan Camp Counselor

I’m on a late bus headed back to Kisoro on the darkened tarmac road winding through the hills of the “African Alps”. It’s been one of those very memorable weeks of Peace Corps life where you feel like you’re in another world or life. I spent this camp working as the photographer and chef for the Peace Corps Conservation Camp. The camp was held in Kisoro, Uganda which is heralded as the “African Alps” due to the large amount of hills and volcanoes of the rift valley. During this week, 41 Ugandan youth from 6 local secondary schools spent a week at Seseme Girls Secondary School learning how about African conservationists, waste management, tree planting, basket weaving, permagarden construction, beehive construction, eco-tourism, and a city-street cleanup.

Planting Trees

Planting Trees

Kisoro Town Trash Pickup

Kisoro Town Trash Pickup

Basket Weaving

Basket Weaving

During this camp, I had the opportunity to take photos using one of the newer Canon DSLR cameras and editing the photos on Adobe Lightroom  as the campers went to sessions. This week felt very surreal, because of the beautifully cold Kisoro setting. The Peace Corps counselors stayed at a Peace Corps Volunteer’s house and the nearby guesthouse. Throughout the week the campers would attend sessions, do practicals, and create action plans as I took photos, then by 4pm I would leave camp early in order to prepare dinner. I think that we had the best camp food of my Peace Corps service: meat, g-nut sauces, and vegetables for lunch and sushi, stir-fries, pastas, burgers, soups, and pizzas for dinner at the Peace Corps Volunteer’s house.

Conservation Camp Group Photos

Conservation Camp Group Photos

As with all camps, it got more stressful and tiring as the week continued. But it also got more inspiring. Two times during the week we took field trips to Mgahinga Lodge near the base of Mgahinga National Park, the smallest national park in Uganda at the base of Mts. Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo. It felt really epic photographing the youth planting tree saplings along the village roads behind Mgahinga Lodge leading up to the overlooking Mt. Muhabura. I felt epic armed with such a nice camera in such a photogenic setting.

Most of the time, I’m profusely sweating in Uganda. However, in Kisoro it would  get so cold at night that I would actually shiver on the couches in the living room of the PCV’s house. Then during the day if I closed my eyes and felt the golden sun setting on my face coupled with the cool wind from the mountains, I could imagine that I was back in Maryland or Boston during the start of a new school year as the leaves were changing color. As camp ended, I started to think about the upcoming COS Conference for my cohort. It’s so crazy to me to think that this adventure is coming to its final stages. Before long, it will have been my two year anniversary in country, and I will be preparing to fly to Europe.

Conservation Camp Reflection

Conservation Camp Reflection

I find it very comforting to know that I have practically no regrets in my Peace Corps service. It just feels like every weekend, there is some sort of adventure or project happening that makes me feel like what I am living is the life that I am supposed to be living right now. This past week, this service, and this life has been a blur up to this point, and I am beyond incredulous to have made it this far. Two years ago I was planting trees as a landscaper in Maryland, now I am planting trees and ideas here and watching them grow before me.

“I know where you stand, silent in the trees, and that’s where I am silent in the trees. Why won’t you speak where I happen to be? Silent, in the trees, standing cowardly.”

~Trees, Twenty-One Pilots

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.

The Road Ahead

16/5/15

The other day a fellow PCV asked me how I felt and I responded with “weary”.  She wanted me to clarify what I mean by weary. I told her that I felt used. As I’ve stated before, to be used in Uganda means to become acclimated to the normalcy of things here that may seem odd to a foreigner.

Working in a village computer lab and having to shove goats out of said lab: Used

Enduring 4 hour-long speeches by local leaders who don’t know what they’re saying: Used

Creatively Facilitating sessions about HIV, Malaria, Reusable Menstrual Pads, and Gardening: Used

In the larger scheme of things, I feel as if I am living in the middle of things. I have long-since bid farewell to who I used to be before Peace Corps, and I am slowly forgetting who I was during the beginning of my Peace Corps service. Right now I am very comfortable with whom I am and what I am doing with my service, but I am starting to worry about life afterwards. I hung out with one of my PC friends and her visiting mom with whom I shared that I was stressed about going back to the developed world of the United States. In response, she told me that the bustle of a city like New York didn’t even compare to the chaos and craziness of a city like Kampala. More and more I am starting to notice the photos and posts from my friends in their lives back in the United States and wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy the things that I once used to enjoy.

Maybe it’s the mefloquine, but I have been having recurring dreams about being back in the United States. I have had these dreams earlier in my service, but this time around the mood is different. Whereas the past dreams would be about missing my US home, these dreams are about missing my Ugandan home. In these dreams, I would imagine myself at a bar or bicycling with friends through Baltimore or Boston and then feel sad because I missed my village and my life here in Uganda. I am torn between wanting to be back home and move on to the next stage in my life, but also know that my time here is extremely valuable.

I feel used.

It hurts to realize just how no one will understand me. My friends and family back home will try to pick what I am saying, and my villagers here still try to acclimate to my personality. The only people whom I will bond with are the other PCV’s around the world. I don’t know if I would be able to bond that well with other NGO’s, volunteers, or even other Ugandans. I guess that it doesn’t help that even I don’t understand what I’m going through at a given moment.

Currently, I am almost done with my month and a half long extravaganza of travelling to different trainings, camps, and facilitation sessions. I think that I am running on empty and need to replenish myself with some much-needed personal time in the village. Now I just need to make the usual trek back home where I can plant my rosemary and strawberry plants, watch the new Game of Thrones episodes, cook a village Tikka Masala with rice, take some photos of the ICT Lab construction, plan the date for the community HIV testing event, and maybe play with the village children. Because for me, that feels normal.