Sensitivity

5/5/15 – 15/5/15

I got over my slump during the remainder of IT Camp. It amazed me what Peter Balaba could do with his expertise in hooking up UTL (Uganda Telecom Lines) to a village PTC and allow students and tutors access to reasonably fast internet speeds. I performed the typical action of taking photos and videos of campers and the directors, since the long-term goal of the camp was to follow up the skill of the youth with another advanced IT Camp in August. I documented sessions regarding Microsoft Office, YouTube, Typing, and even some basic Python Programming. A lot of these students never had the opportunity to be exposed to a computer program, let alone a computer.

I also got to spend more time with some of the facilitators from the Centre for Creative and Capacity Development (CCCD). They shared with me part of the story concerning how they came together as artists, dancers, and musicians a few years ago through YEP (Youth Empowerment Project). A lot of the members of In-Movement and CCCD shape the typical Peace Corps Uganda camp experience through kinesthetic learning. The message propagated by these facilitators empowers Ugandan youth to feel special and witness their ideas being brought to life. In the United States, it could be argued that not every youth should be told that he or she is special, but in Uganda more often than not most youth are told on a daily basis that their ideas do not matter.

With this perspective in mind, a lot of the creative facilitation sessions at camps such as IT Camp involve free and valued expression of self through skits, songs, dances, and group presentations. In many instances, these artful expressions evoke deeper emotions from the youth. During one River of Life session during a Peace Corps camp, the youth were asked to draw and write their life stories on a mural. One of the youth depicted herself being raped by her father, and shared this information with the group. The facilitator of the session shared that it was very probable that this was the first time in her life that she was asked to share her life experiences in a comfortable, safe, and non-judgmental manner.

It’s during moments like this that the problems concerning logistics, arguments, and petty difficulties among PCV’s take a backseat towards the larger issue that we are working to address. I feel like I’m making good use of my time exhausting myself through my participation in different camps in order to share the stories of these youth. By giving them a voice, they can be heard.

After a busy week at IT Camp, I spent the weekend in Kampala where I was able to simply chill and relax. On Saturday, I attended a TEDx Talk at the Serena Hotel where Ugandans shared their ideas concerning, healthy lifestyles, productivity, and smartphone apps. Not only was it cool to be at a TEDx talk, but it was amazing to hear Ugandans give short, succinct, and reasonably engaging presentations that delivered a message. One of the most interesting presentations came from a recently graduated Ugandan university student who developed a smartphone app that would easily relay the amount of produce that farmers could provide and transport to market day consumers.

Afterwards, I spent the rest of my time in Kampala watching YouTube videos and catching up on some news stories and pop culture over the past two years. I mean, I realized that within 7 months I will depart Uganda and head back to the developed world. In this sense, I am slowly easing myself back into what I used to be used to doing. I then went back to the village for two days where the money for the ICT Lab finally arrived in my supervisor’s bank account. Funnily enough, as I enter the home stretch of my Peace Corps service I can see my projects and worth as a PCV coming together. Right now I am back at the NARO agricultural center in Mukono where I am planning Community Integration sessions for the incoming Health and Agribusiness June 2015 group.

If the key point for the last training group was to be realistically positive about our experiences in Uganda, the modus operandi for this incoming group is to acknowledge sensitivity concerning pressing issues about gender, race, and poverty. Desensitization for older PCV’s vs. hypersensitivity for newer trainees is the overarching theme that we as community integration trainers have to address. There have been some complaints about older PCV’s that they don’t care enough the issues in Uganda.

I hazard that so many people back in the US can take the moral high ground and have the opportunity to discuss thoughtful articles and responses to those articles articulating the idiosyncrasies of gender identities, gentrification, and double standards. Here I believe that PCV’s have to choose their own battles to fight. Idealism only gets us so far and sometimes the haggard, pragmatic, and slightly jaded outlook of a PCV who just finished a male/female condom demonstration can bring about more positive change than someone gives a riveting speech in the village about the beauty of abstinence, family planning, and respecting your fellow person

Advertisements

Exhaust

5/5/15

I’m at it again, which surprises no one. I am at Nakeseke Core PTC where I am taking photos and videos of the campers and sessions at the IT Camp. Similar to other Peace Corps camps, this camp aims to empower youth (again with the word “empowerment”) to make healthy life choices through the medium of IT, Information Technology. The sessions revolve around basic typing skills, presenting with a powerpoint, the basic functions of a computer, and Microsoft Office. While I am glad to be here and help out, I am also exhausted and wish that I had chosen to stay at home instead for the remainder of this week.

So after the Central Mukono Youth Technical Training I chilled in Jinja for two days and then spentLate Night Art a night in Kampala. I had several errands to accomplish, including transferring 17.35 million shillings from my Barclays account to my supervisor’s account so that we could continue constructing the ICT lab. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the bank teller assured me that the transfer would occur within 2-3 business days. On the 28th, I traveled to the Arua Youth Technical Training to help facilitate the Permagarden session since the Peter Jensen, the Agricultural expert from Peace Corps Ethiopia, had to go to the Gambia. I personally accepted to go to the far West Nile because I wanted to develop my Permagarden skills to bring back to my community.

After spending the rest of that week up there, I went back to my site where I hosted a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer for two days. I mean, by this point I was tired and wanted my own space. Still it was nice to share my site with someone else. However, today literally felt like shit. All I wanted to do for the majority of the day was shout until my throat got sore or punch a bodaman in the face. I needed to expend some energy and I felt as if I just had it with this country. With the logic of an engineering undergrad, I knew that these feelings would pass, but for several hours today all I could think about was spending a few days in my home where I could watch movies, sleep in, read a few books, and maybe resolve the perpetual gassiness that has plagued me for the past 4 weeks.

The anger built up during my usual bike ride from my house to Wobulenzi. It’s always physically easier to bike away from site but mentally more challenging because the people start to recognize me less and less. I also answered my essential Facebook messages and email for a few hours with my internet access, which just depressed me. I got emotional reading the news about the Freddie Gray death and the ensuing riots and looting in Baltimore. I just wanted to be back there and getting to share my love for a city that I hope to live in. Naturally, everyone looked amazing and happy on Facebook and I just felt disgustingly bloated and fat from my gassiness and eating oily Ugandan food from all of the trainings and street food vendors.

My supervisor then called me to inform that he had not yet received the funds in his bank account. I called Barclays customer service and they told me that I had to wait until they resolved the issue. I waited in the Wobulenzi taxi park for a few hours for the takisi to fill, even though riding my bike to the PTC would have been much faster. En route to Nakaseke, the customer service representative called me back and said that the transfer never processed because I crossed out my name. In utter bewilderment, I exclaimed to her that I had the letter “x” in my name (Marvin Roxas), which is how I spell my name. She said that that was no problem and all I had to do was drop everything and travel to the nearest Barclays branch about 3 hours away and sign the form again. Maybe this time I would need to omit the “x” in my last name, which might also invalidate the transfer.

I called me supervisor who asked if I could just go to Kampala tomorrow and sign the form since he had already had the wooden roof frame installed in the lab and the iron sheets wouldn’t arrive until the money was in his account. He worried that the wood might rot from all of the rain during this week. As I got off the takisi at Nakaseke, all I could think about was how karma definitely did not apply to me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was as if I wanted to just help out where I could, and Uganda just wanted to dishearten me until I decided to just give up. It hurt even more when someone said that I was just too nice and needed to learn when to say no to people. It was as if they think I’m just a kitenge sheet over a door frame that lets anyone pass through. I’ve said no to a lot of people. My problem lies in the unexpected surprises such as an unsuccessful transfer when I was told that it was successful, assuming that I will drop everything and work on a project days before an event, or immediately prioritize another project when two items on my agenda conflict.

These feelings caused me to push Ugandans in the takisi, ignore those who wanted to converse with me, yell at my supervisor on the phone, and show up in such a foul mood at the IT Camp that almost everyone asked: “Are you alright?” “Wow, you look exhausted!” “Are you mad at me?” “You seem very down.” What could I do? I felt like this swelling rage would burst at any moment. Fortunately, I busied myself with taking photos, a fellow PCV listened to my ranting, and an improv session by the Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development boosted my spirits.

I am exhausted and don’t even know how I’m still making it. I’m just gonna take this month day-by-day, because at times Peace Corps is a thankless job. All that I ask is that peeps just try to understand.

P.S. – At the time of posting, I already feel much better.

High Again

February 8, 2015

I feel very typically Peace Corps right now. More than a year later I’m back to business as usual on top of the nearby Kabaka’s Hill where I can get the only decent internet in my village. I had to write a few emails concerning the outcome of fundraisers back home, the possibility of another US Embassy Grant for the construction of a science lab (that does not rely on crowd-funding), sending a Peace Corps staff information regarding media equipment purchases, and confirming some details regarding my friend Alex’s visit this coming March.

As this was happening, I was squatting underneath a large mango tree, because it was providing shade from the afternoon sun. Large ants were biting me since I was so low to the ground, but I couldn’t stand up because it was difficult to see with the glare of the dry season’s afternoon sun. When I finished my internet errands, which cost me about 100Mb worth of data, I looked up a pad thai recipe and checked the Peace Corps Subreddit. Even though I don’t feel very hungry due to some sort of weird gastrointestinal problem (is it Giardia? Who knows anymore…), it’s nice to think about food that I can make in the future.

I got emotional while going through the subreddit. I found some of the postings ridiculous regarding the anxieties of people who were applying, especially since so many of them seemed to be very qualified for a Peace Corps position. However, two posts intrigued me the most: one regarding an article about why Peace Corps is a waste of time and another about Peace Corps hobbies. In regards to the first one, the writer, an RPCV, bemoans the lack of resources, support, and development potential that Peace Corps has. The writer criticizes how ineffective Peace Corps is at developing a nation, and that celebrating decades of volunteer-work in a given Peace Corps country is nothing to be proud of.

What interested me the most wasn’t the article, but the responses of other RPCV subredditors. They responded that Peace Corps is not a true development agency in that sense of the word, but a soft power. As always, the three goals concern maintaining world peace and relations rather than building literal bridges and buildings. It is more about giving those in hard-to-reach places a face of America rather than throwing money and resources at the problems.

These responses resonated more with me now than they did a year ago when I normally frequented the Peace Corps subreddit. I understood now a little bit more what I could only begin to comprehend back then. I definitely believe that a large part of my idealism has been toned down by Peace Corps, only to be replaced with high ideals tempered by realism. Of course, every now and then there’s a splash of idealism that I let in.

In the Peace Corps hobbies thread, subredditors shared what they did to pass the time. The hobbies ranged from basket weaving, to watching movies, to reading, and exercising. However, the one post that resonated the most with me was this guy who said that in his down time, he would walk to an isolated spot by a creek, light up a joint, and just relax as he listened to the birds chirping and the water babbling. He said that that place might be his most favorite spot in the whole world. Now I’m not high right now and definitely not smoking a joint, but I am in one of my favorite local spots in my country. It’s not as isolated nor as idyllic, but it reminds me of my beginnings at site last year. As I type this the sun is setting beyond the trash smoke-ridden hills of the Luweero sub-county with mighty gusts of wind that blow away the lazy heat of the dry season. I hear birds chirping, a carpenter pounding away at a piece of pine wood, and the booming local radio station playing the current Ugandan dancehall hits of the past few years. I have also failed repeatedly at killing one of the ants that made its way to my groin area, which doesn’t surprise me as much.

Right now there are several things that are physically bothering me: a possible jigger in my toe, ant bites, a wart on my index finger, a sunburned torso, dehydration, a headache, drowsiness, and some gastrointestinal giard, trophozoite, amoeba, or currently unknown parasite residing in my gut that causes diarrhea and gassiness. Funnily enough, the physical problems aren’t affecting me as much anymore. I’m on top of my hill, I’m enjoying life, things are happening, and I’m high again.

Who We Are

February 3, 2015

After MSC, a portion of us PCV’s chilled out by the beautifully swanky Nile Resort pool that overlooked the Nile. I feltNile Resort Hotel like I was in a movie, because everything looked so pretty and thought-out. Then we headed to NRE to stay the night. I was a bit turned off by NRE, because last time I was very excited to be among other PCV’s and in the mindset to celebrate the 4th of July. It smelled of old beer, the music was overbearing, and I felt off since I was hungover from the beer pong games of the night before. I didn’t even feel like joining in with the other muzungus and dancing with them.

The next day, we headed over to Kampala since we had a meetings the next day at the office. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but the Super Bowl was being shown at the Fat Boyz bar in Kisementi starting at 2:30am on Tuesday morning. I slept a bit beforehand, and then got up to watch the first American football game that I’ve seen in-country. So there weren’t any wings, commercials, or half-time show but it was so worth it to watch a well-edited game in solidarity with everyone else who was watching it around the world. The shock that us 8 PCV’s had in seeing the Patriots keep the Seahawks away from that last 1-yard line in the last minute of the game was audible throughout the Kisementi parking lot.

The next day saw some of the most action that the Peace Corps Office has seen in a while. Peer Support Network, Diversity Club, GEO Club, SHAC Committee, Conservation Think Tank, and VAC all met with staff in order to discuss the way forward this year for PCV’s and their respective groups. Now more than ever, it seems as if these support committees and clubs are needed by the PCV community in Uganda.

Pool HangoutOne of the biggest take-aways from this most recent training group was the lack of diversity awareness and training. Trainers and trainees alike would sometimes refer to the entire training cohort as “white people” where there were definitely other races represented. In another instance, some of the white trainees shared, “Oh, I mean I’m called muzungu all the time by Ugandans and it annoys me so I totally get how it feels to be discriminated against.” Of course, this was just a misguided form of empathy.

In the past, Diversity Club used to be focused predominantly on race, especially for African-American PCV’s. The founder of the club was very passionate about the issue, because of how she was treated by Ugandans. Having very dark skin due to her Nigerian heritage, her homestay family would complain about having her because they couldn’t have one of the white, American PCV’s. As a result, the Diversity Club was created to spread awareness among staff, PCV’s, and Ugandans that Americans come from all races, backgrounds, beliefs, orientations, sexes, and ages.

Furthermore, there have been instances where female PCV’s feel as if they aren’t given as much support as they need. Unfortunately, most of Uganda’s laws blame the victim. For example, if a female were to go into a house with three other men in it and then gets sexually assaulted, then it would be hard for her to win a court case against them because she should have known better than to go into a house with three men in it. In other words, she was asking for it and it’s partially her fault.

And yes, there have been stories concerning sexual assault to the point where almost every PCV in any given Peace Corps country could tell you about someone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted during service. The hardest part is keeping that motivation to help and do good in a country where some of its people want nothing more than to take advantage of you or your Peace Corps family. Back in Kulika, we were told to believe that goodness can prevail but it’s hard to believe that sometimes.

Even in the case of those who are LGBT, I have heard from some PCV’s about the difficulties in having to make friends, live with homestay families, and make lasting relationships with Ugandans and never be able to let them know about this very beautiful and significant part of their lives. A lot of these PCV’s sometimes live in fear because a simple slipup of leaving a journal entry out in public, having personal pictures stolen, or an old photo on a Facebook album could turn a whole community against them.

So this is why the committees and clubs met together at the office. A passionate percentage of us PCV’s wanted to help support each other in any way that we could. Even though there is a lot of bad going on around us, there is also a lot of possible good. I remember back when I was a trainee how it was even possible for a PCV to get anything done in the village let alone smile while being bombarded by apathy, dust, heat, lack of resources, and even hostility at times.

It’s those little victories of goodness that help turn the tide of apathy and hatred. It’s the reminder that for every negative situation there is another positive situation to balance it. It’s the mutual respect among PCV’s that we know how it really is to be a foreigner living in a country that will leave physical, mental, and emotional scars on your body, mind, and soul before you leave.  It’s the understanding that while we may not know what’s another person is going through, we can try to understand what he or she is experiencing.

P.S. – After MSC, I feel as if I’ve been better able to manage my temper whenever I’m called muchina or muzungu by Ugandans.

Gratitude

22/1/15 – 23/1/15

The new Education group of trainees finally swore-in at the ambassador’s house on Thursday. It really  didn’t hit me how much things have changed until I sat down and heard the speeches that I’ve heard time and time again by the Country Director, Ambassador, and new PCV’s. It struck me just how optimistic of a tone this new group had when its representatives gave speeches during the ceremony. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t eloquent or heartfelt, but they sounded very optimistic and intangible. There were a lot of metaphors and comparisons of empowering Ugandans in a sustainable way.

I believe that if I had heard these speeches a year ago, I would have been inspired. It’s funny just how much stock I now place in tangible goals instead of intangible aspirations and how all of the beautiful rhetoric in the world still won’t make the borehole pump itself. Some of my fellow PCV’s from my cohort who also attended the ceremony commented, “How long do you think it will take until they become jaded?”

New Group Swearing-In

Of course we all congratulated them and welcomed the newly sworn-in PCV’s with open arms, but I kept asking myself that question. Was there a turning point or was it a gradual shift in attitudes that made me the Peace Corps Volunteer who I am today as opposed to a whole year ago at the Ambassador’s house. I still welcome the fresh perspective to this country that only new PCV’s can offer.

The next day, I returned back to site. It’s almost as if my entry into my metaphorical junior year of my Peace Corps service was a reminder of what I had gone through. I had a mini-bout of giardia in the morning which caused me intense pain even as I wolfed down the chicken skewer appetizers after the swearing-in ceremony and drank glasses of wine at the Country Director’s house afterwards. I threw up later that night after much diarrhea.

The next day, I travelled back to site on an empty stomach. Even in my own town, a market vendor called me muchina and I chewed him out in local language. My bicycle’s back wheel had low air pressure, but as I made it back to my house a smile grew on my face. My neighborhood kids were yelling, “Marvin” as I made it to my front door. Even the berry plant that was eaten by a stray goat started to re-grow its leaves. So much has changed in this past year, and I think back to that last speech given at this new group’s swearing-in ceremony. PCV Emery gave a speech entirely devoted to gratitude towards all people and parts who made Peace Corps Ugandan possible: from the UPS man/woman who delivered our visa applications to the Peace Corps Uganda staff and trainers.

As I entered the front door of my house a for the first time after a whole year, I think back to the experiences and interactions that continuously led me back to that door when I could have just as easily ignored it for somewhere else. In this case, I’m grateful to call his place my home.

I See Fire (Christmas)

22/12/14 – 25/12/14

I was a bit sad after leaving the Duchess, because I was really looking forward to hanging out with some of the PCV’s there for a birthday celebration. I think that there was some stress and emotions involving a hike the next day and who would be sleeping where. So Ravi, Godfrey, and I set off to chill at the Mountains of the Moon hotel. It literally felt like a nice hotel in the United States. The scenery was beautiful and there was a hotel lobby with luggage service.

We hung out by the side of the pool, but it was overcast so we decided not to swim. Godfrey asked us about some physics principles, which Ravi and I were very happy to explain to him. PCV Emily arrived and we gathered together for yet another Indian meal at the Delhi Garden restaurant. After dinner, we headed over to YES (Youth Encouragement Services) Hostel. I was a very big fan of the place, since it had free wifi and a place for us to store our bicycles while we were away for the next few days.

Ravi iced me as I got out of the shower. I then uploaded a small update about completing my journey, and was very happy to see all of the birthday wishes from friends and family members back home. The next day, Godfrey departed to go back home as Ravi and I took a takisi headed down to Mbarara. We had to pay almost double the original cost of the ride since it was the holiday season.

PCV Rebecca at Bishop Stuart PTC right outside Mbarara was hosting Christmas for any PCV who wanted to come down there as well as for the trainees in the southwest. The celebrations involved reading the story of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke, singing Christmas carols, hearing the story of the Christmas Armistice 100 years ago, swapping gifts during White Elephant, playing a mandatory Ultimate Frisbee Game on Christmas Day, having a po sho snowball fight, playing Salad Bowl, and bonding with each other over missing our families and traditions back home. As per usual, Rebecca did an amazing job cooking sloppy joes for Christmas Eve dinner, and preparing stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cauliflower and broccoli salad, roast chicken, and roast duck for 20 people.

Christmas Ultimate Frisbee Team

Christmas Ultimate Frisbee Team

For some reason, I just felt bipolar during the entirety of my stay at Rebecca’s place. At some points I was beyond excited to be hanging out with friends and making new ones in such a happy atmosphere. Then at other times I would get extremely frustrated or upset with something, someone, or even myself. As I type this, I find it hard to explain my frustration, anger, and irritation.

Po Sho Snowball Fight

Po Sho Snowball Fight

I found myself getting angry with random Ugandans who annoyed me. I got irritated by PCV’s who kept telling me that they were okay when they obviously were going through some trouble. I was frustrated with myself for feeling this way. In the middle of some of the Christmas celebrations I found myself wanting to get away and spend some time by myself.

Journal Entry:

“I don’t necessarily like who I’ve become or what I do or how I act anymore.”

I think that I was going through another one of those funks. However, as the one year mark approaches I find myself becoming more and more blunt and expressive in my emotions. My patience runs thin at times and I show it to many PCV’s and Ugandans around me. It’s not a very healthy thing for me, but it’s something that I am working through. It’s weird, because I never thought that my service in Peace Corps would make me act or feel like this, and when I do it makes me feel rotten.

But not everything was bad. When it was good, it was great and I loved sharing Christmas with PCV’s and trainees alike. I loved singing Oh Holy Night together with everyone as well as calling my friends and family members back home. I even got to double ice Ravi back after he iced me on my birthday. What really helped though was an after Christmas lunch/dinner yoga and meditation session where I was able to clear my body and mind of all of the stresses and thoughts that irked me.

Also, there has been one song that kept getting stuck in my head during the course of the week. It was “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, which was also featured at the end of the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug movie when the credits start rolling. I just felt very inspirational and uplifting especially after the bike ride, reading Eiger Dreams, and the cold nights shared with good friends at Bishop Stuart PTC.

I definitely am going to have to work hard to keep my cool and succeed in this following year. In some ways, I am sad with how much things have changed since I’ve been in country, but in many ways I am very pleased with what I’ve learned and how much stronger I’ve become. And in countless other ways, I feel very blessed to realize all of the things, events, and people that I am thankful for.

”If this is to end in fire, then we should all burn together, watch the flames burn higher, into the night. Calling out father, oh, stand by and we will watch the flames burn all around the mountainside.”

~I See Fire, Ed Sheeran

The Struggles and the Furies

December 10, 2014

I’ve been through the whole gambit of emotions recently. On Monday I traveled to Masindi in order to choose some quilts from Piece by Peace so that Rachel could bring them back to friends and family members back in the United States. I’m not going back to the United States for the holidays, but I still want to give my loved ones gifts back home. The next day we traveled to Kampala by bus, which wasn’t too bad since the air was cool due to the recent rain. However, I instantly got stressed because I thought about all of the stuff that I still had to do before I returned to Shimoni PTC for my cultural sessions. I still had to pick up some PSN t-shirts at the Peace Corps Office, discuss my bike ride fundraising idea with Peace Corps administration, say final goodbyes to some COSing PCV’s, grab lunch, pick up some more PSN t-shirts near the Old Taxi Park, and then make my way to Shimoni by takisi.

I got frustrated the longer the day went, because there was so much on my mind and the people whom I was hanging out with had their own strong emotions that they were undergoing. I got so angry when I went to pick up the order of 24 PSN t-shirts at the t-shirt screen printing shop near the Old Taxi Park. I arrived at the desk only to see that no one had started the process of screen printing the agreed upon I design on any of the t-shirts. The woman behind the counter just told me, “Ah, the woman she is coming and she will finish them now.” When the managing woman arrived, I got so furious with her. I told her how upset I was with how she broke the agreement that the t-shirts would be done by the morning. I explained to her that now I didn’t have the opportunity to sell them since I couldn’t bring them with me and that I would no longer use her services if they weren’t ready by tomorrow.

I said this to her in much meaner terms and with angrier language. One of the PCV’s who was accompanying me said that he had never seen me act this way. I replied to him that he needed to hang out with me more because this was just another side of me. I guess that that infuriated me more because I extremely dislike it when people just assume that I’m happy all of the time.

I was just in a very foul and pissed off mood with everyone and I knew it. I rationally knew that I needed to change my outlook lest I bring others down with me. Instead I snapped at a PCV who was going through a breakup, kept shaking my head when any Ugandans wanted to talk to me, and straight up pushed some Ugandans out of my way instead of me walking around them.

The takisi ride from Kampala to the Shimoni PTC sign and the subsequent walk to the college helped cool down my temper a bit. It felt both satisfying and sucky to be in a mood like this one where I just had trouble seeing the good ahead of me. If you had asked me then what my goals were for the immediate future, I would have told you that I didn’t know. My mood significantly improved when I arrived at the college and saw the many trainees working on their lesson plans, work stations, and other activities. I guess that refreshing would be the right word to describe how I felt.

I put my bags back in the dorm room and did a solo session of T25 to exert some excess steam. I then had some dinner, worked on a few presentations, and slept in preparation for a new day.

Today was a good day. It wasn’t perfect, and maybe I won’t be sharing any epic stories or pictures from the day. But it was a good day. I met up with language trainers in preparation for cross-cultural and language sessions that we would be presenting to the trainees. I also planned out the details for a fundraising idea for the ICT Lab. The idea is for one of my Ugandan neighbors, PCV Ravi, and I to bike all the way to Fort Portal from the village of Luteete in order to raise pledged donations towards the construction and furnishing of the ICT/computer lab. I’m banking on the fact that people back home will be in the giving mood since the journey will overlap with my birthday and will end a few days before Christmas.

Then after lunchtime I helped out with a stress-management session with Dr. Jenny from the PCMO. When the session ended, a dozen of us gathered together on the big football patch at the end of campus to play a game of Ultimate Frisbee. I can’t even begin to describe how much fun it was. I haven’t played a competitive sports game for over 6 months. There’s just something about the workout and the fun combined together that I missed. Plus the sun was setting with this golden glow that cast the entire pitch in this nostalgic light that just reminded me of playing the same game with different people last year.

And I know that a lot of those people, including myself, have drastically changed in this past year. For a few minutes, I just sat down on the edge of the pitch and basked in the glow of the setting sun. I felt at peace; I felt comfortable again. We then made our way back up to the dining hall where I partook in a Zumba session led by one of the trainees who is a Native American from Wisconsin. I spent the rest of the night polishing up some sessions and typing up the bike ride proposal to the Country Director Loucine whom I hope will approve it.

I feel better knowing that I am here and that the ideas that I have are slowly by slowly coming together. I no longer feel the fury and anger that I felt yesterday, but I know that they can easily be awakened again. I don’t like it when I get moody and angry, but I have fully accepted that sometimes I need to act like that to let off some steam from the thoughts, emotions, and worries that I am processing. If I had the choice I would want to go back to some of my original ideals of talking to the Ugandans whom I meet and indulging him or her in conversations that I’ve heard time and time again. I would go back to a time when getting new furniture was the most exciting event of the week for me. I would go back to a time when I didn’t have to be angry because I could just accept things as the way they are. But this is just another change that happens during my Peace Corps service.

The struggle is real, but as for Peace Corps Volunteers: they endure.

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.

Walking to the Taxi Park

4/11/14

I like to think that I see the weirdest shit on my walk from Kampala’s city center to the taxi parks.

As I descend down Luwum Street, the shops change from wine stores to local restaurants and dukas.

As I pass north above the Old Taxi Park, I see cobblers fixing shower shoes and painting black on plastic shoes, cripples lying on mats with their outstretched hands pleading for money, dirty children motioning to their mouths, women with newly inserted weaves, and sketchy men eyeing me as I walk by them. At this point, my wallet is in my front pocket and I make sure to continuously check the zippers of my bags and my pockets.

As I pass the bus park, I see a man smoking weed out of a pipe in the center of the intersection, a throng of people betting over a football match, an older woman yelling Bible verses from her pulpit of a broken gutter stone, and bodamen beckoning me to ride them with their siren call of “Yes Boda!”

As I enter the New Taxi Park, I see conductors of all ages pulling men and women aside to get them to ride to a specific destination whether they were originally headed there or not. A man asks if I want a bus to Juba in South Sudan. I get to my taxi stage headed to Luweero and finally sit in the taxi where all of the window seats are already taken.

I put my wallet back in my back pocket, set my duffel bag on my lap, and relax knowing that the hard part of my journey home is over.

Becoming Used

29/10/14

Sometimes I wonder about how different life was like back in the United States. I had a dream (most likely Mefloquine induced) about staging in Philadelphia the day before we left for our flight to Uganda. I definitely know that I have changed since that day. One of my PCV friends here explained her concern that when our friends and family members see us back in the United States, they will see us as a changed person. They might say, “Marvin, you’ve changed since you left 27 months ago.” However, for them the change that they see is just one large change in outlook, appearance, and personality whereas the change that I and my fellow PCV’s know consists of many small minute changes that occurred throughout the entirety of our service. What I am at the one year mark is different from what I was when I first arrived and what I will be when I depart.

As I’ve acclimated to daily life here, the epiphany moments become less and less frequent as the mundane day-to-day moments become more and more frequent. I may not notice how I’ve changed because of how gradual the changes have been. As an example, when I first arrived in country I was extremely confused as how to navigate anywhere without a Peace Corps Driver driving me everywhere. The concept of finding another Peace Corps Volunteer in the middle of a Ugandan sub-county was daunting. I couldn’t understand how to get from one place to another without the guidance of sign posts or a pre-printed list of Google Maps directions.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I got more and more comfortable travelling to different areas of Uganda by myself. I began to see familiar roads and intersections. I could tell when I had left one region and started entering another one. As the Ugandans say, “I started to become used.”

I think that the hardest adjustment will be re-connecting with old friends as well as connecting with new ones. I’ve already started thinking about that concise one-sentence response that will answer the question: “How as Peace Corps/Africa/Uganda?”

My tentative responses thus far:

“It was hot. It was sultry. I learned where Uganda was on the map. I was a physics teacher in a Ugandan village armed with a blackboard and a piece of chalk. I pooped in a hole. Ebola wasn’t near me at all. I could never tell what was inside me.”

I guess that I’ll figure out my witty, informative, and awe-inspiring response sometime in the coming 15 months.

So the rest of the day involved me going to a dedication ceremony for the primary school pupils here. There was a Christian (Seventh Day Luteete Primary School Dedication CeremonyAdventist maybe?) church service and the P7 and P1 pupils were honored. From the few words I could gather from the pastor’s 20-minute long speech (he said that he was wrapping up the speech at the 5, 10, and 15 minute mark) he made a poignant comparison between the P1 and the P7 pupils. It was interesting placing myself in their shoes and imagining how it must feel to have once been that young and then be on the verge of entering secondary school.

I thought back to when I was a middle-school student in Sacred Heart of Glyndon in Maryland. I remembered my graduation night and how I felt that those three years in middle school represented an end of an era.

I look back on that now and think about how far I’ve come and how many personal eras I’ve lived through since that graduation night in a far different church. In that air-conditioned church, all students and family members were present for a graduation ceremony where the speeches were brief and the prospect of eating out at the nearby Bill Bateman’s was tantalizing. In this heat-filled church, all pupils and some family members who could make it for the day were present for a dedication ceremony where the overtly religious speeches were endless and the prospect of eat fresh cassava and beans was on everyone’s mind.

After the ceremony ended, I taught a brief lesson about light dispersion and the formation of rainbows. I then walked back home and saw the entire congregation gathered underneath the tamarind tree. They were having a harvest auction where each grade level of the primary school brought in something  such as beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cassava, etc. to auction. It was amusing seeing one of the primary school teachers playing the role of the auctioneer as pupils, teachers, and parents alike bid on the various harvest goods. I outbid one of the villagers for a pumpkin by 100/= (roughly 2 cents).

Right now I am roasting some pumpkin in my dutch oven in order to make some pumpkin bread and pumpkin based tikka masala as a small treat for me since its hump day at site. Tomorrow I’ll use the remainder to make some pumpkin soup. So yeah, I guess that I’m getting used.