Gracious

31/7/15

“Master Marvin, make sure that the next volunteer who stays here is a white person.”

That was the line that my student neighbors said to me as I made my way back to my house this evening. I shook my head in disbelief at the ignorant statement; even after 21 months they still thought that Americans meant white people. I told them that the next volunteer may even be a black American, which confuses them. They still think that a black American is a “cross-breed” between a white muzungu and an African. I explained to them that Americans come in all colors and that even I didn’t consider myself white because I am fully Filipino.

These past few days have taught me that things at my site can swing from having too much free time to not enough free time. I have been spending my entire day in the computer lab. I have installed Microsoft Office, AVG Antivirus, Mavis Beacon, Learning the Computer module, and Age of Empires II on the computers. Even though there are 10 working computers, it is still difficult managing the students and monitoring their performance. It got tiring the other day after I instructed the 50th student how to hold the mouse and how to move the mouse in order to move the cursor on the screen. I discovered that fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are lacking as well as the ability to just explore and make mistakes.

My students get worried when they click on a wrong button, and they have trouble “fixing the problem”. However, it is heartening to witness my students understanding the problem and how they can solve it. It is my dream that my college will take ownership of this computer lab and effectively use it for the benefit of the students. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest problems is that my students want to learn too fast. They change the wallpaper of the computer, open too many window tabs, or complain when they are still on a Using the Mouse module lesson when others are learning the basics of typing. Development and sustainability are fucking difficult.

There wasn’t any electricity today, so I spent my day performing internet work on my hill. At one point I closed my eyes and just felt the cool breeze and afternoon sunshine on my skin. I realized that I would for sure miss this place when I left in a few months. Then it started to rain so I quickly packed away my laptop and bicycled downhill accompanied by goats running to find shelter in town. I laughed out loud at how very normal of a situation this was for me.

After the rain subsided, I bought a quarter kilo of village beef, picked some fresh rosemary from the college garden, and marinated the meat in balsamic vinegar. As I waited for the meat to marinade, I reflected on how thankful I was. No, this is not the whole thankfulness associated with being born as an American with privilege, rather it was a thankfulness to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I forget at times that I am literally living the dream (which reminds me that I have to take my Mefloquine tonight) in a village that I can call my home. Others call the developed world normal life, but this is my normal life and I am content here.

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Fall Winds and Summer Heat

28/10/14

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I woke up to a cool, overcast morning and taught my class about the nature of light. I finished a succinct, coherent class, ate some lunch, and enjoyed the cold breeze as it down-poured for the majority of the afternoon. The electricity also stayed on for the entire day, which surprised me a lot. I loved feeling chilly as I drank my French-pressed coffee. When I closed my eyes, I imagined that I was back in Boston or Owings Mills as the cold breeze wafted away the humid heat of summer. I think that the Fall season is one of the things that I miss the most about the US. I miss being able to bundle up in layers of clothing and share hot food at a warm café or restaurant. But most of all I miss biking through the Fall foliage; there’s just something about a cold a wind where every inhale just makes you feel alive.

Then in the evening I took out a pack of crayons, some loose poster paper and played with the village kids who drew drawings of cups, houses, and cars. They seemed so happy just to draw and play. I felt good to be alive, because it was such a good day.

Today was a bit of a meteorological turn-around. The day started out muggy and stayed hot and humid throughout. I had trouble concentrating as I taught my class about plane, concave, and convex mirrors as well as reflection and refraction of light rays. My Year 1 students impressed me today with how they take more effective notes and actually understand what I am teaching them when it comes to the basics of mirrors and optics. I remember that I had some trouble understanding this when I was their age back in high school, and now in a classroom devoid of materials and armed only with a piece of chalk and a spoon they have been able to pick more than the average American.

I remained sluggish after lunch. The heat was everywhere, and fanning myself in the shade of my house only made me sweat more. After napping Luteete Primary School Rainbowfor either 30 minutes or a few hours (I can never really keep track of time here), I walked outside to draw with my village children. I also started thinking about how I would teach my lesson tomorrow concerning the dispersions of light that lead to the formation of a rainbow. Funnily enough, there was a vivid double rainbow spanned the length of the sky over my village. I literally laughed at this coincidence. I mean, I’m literally teaching about the reflections and refractions of different wavelengths of light that lead to how the cones in our eyes see different colors and in the backdrop of children drawing on my porch is this glorious rainbow with a golden sun setting in the foreground.

I’m not even gonna attempt to draw any meaning from this, but I will say that I sometimes forget where I am living. I forget just how beautiful this place is, and sometimes it takes a drastic change in the weather, a few crayons, and a physics class to make me realize it.

Integrating Displacement

26/9/14

“To be in Peace Corps is to be displaced.”

On Tuesday I headed to Kampala for a TAC (Training Advisory Committee) Meeting at the Peace Corp Headquarters. The goal of this meeting was to plan PCHQ TAC Meetingthe schedule and sessions for the incoming Education Group’s training in November. My role is Community Integration Leader/Champion along with two other PCV’s Paul and Ellen. Our goal is to facilitate sessions that will present the new Peace Corps Trainees with ideas on integrating into the Ugandan culture and finding a balance. From past reports the Entry into Community Integration and Cultural Integration presentations have been the lowest ranked sessions of past trainings so a special emphasis was placed on these topics.

I was very glad to be working with Paul and Ellen on this project. Paul has a very bright energy about him and is one of those PCVs who runs around and is consistently “on” both in and out of his community. Ellen is one of those PCVs who can be described as being very “village”; she eats with her hands, hunts large, local rats with a bow and arrow, is building a mud hut, and dedicates a significant amount of her energies towards integrating into her local community in Kitgum. It was interesting holding discussions amongst ourselves and with some Ugandan staff members about the content we would be presenting.

We wanted to stress the importance of the local language and how even though everyone around you may speak English, the use of local language really helps improve the relationship between you and your community members. It demonstrates a level of respect for the culture as well as the people in your surroundings. Another point was shared that the first step towards successful community integration is for the PCV to have the desire to integrate into the community of his or her own volition.

We wanted to stress that no matter how “village” we became, how much we dressed like them, or how much local language we spoke we would still be foreigners. However, community integration doesn’t mean forsaking your own culture and mannerisms, but instead adjusting them to fit the cultural and traditional boundaries of the local community.

If there’s one Peace Corps Handbook (out of the dozens given to us during training) that has helped me the most, it’s been The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook. Compiled from the experiences of PCVs throughout the years, the Workbook describes how deep down inside we are all so different. We’re not the same, even though we’re all human beings with similar needs. A culture has certain beliefs, traditions, and actions that stem from sociological, religious, environmental, economical, and practical reasons.

As a generalization, in the United States:

  • It’s very common for someone to want to take risks and know that we control our own fate and destiny. If something doesn’t work out, we’re usually more likely to get back up and try again.
  • Change is good and we are consistently bent towards progress
  • Everyone should have access to equal opportunities, especially in job employment
  • Problems and statements should be said directly in order to allow for no miscommunication
  • It is seen as a good thing for bosses to socialize and get to know subordinates
  • People follow time
  • Status is achieved
  • Life is interesting and what is uncertain in the future is what also holds excitement and opportunity

As a generalization, in Uganda:

  • It is not common for people to take risks and destiny is dependent on whether or not “if God is willing”
  • Change is not necessarily good and traditions are important to uphold
  • It is important to favor others such as friends and family members to have better opportunities rather than everyone (like strangers)
  • Problems and issues should be approached in an indirect way in order to save face and avoid confrontations
  • Time follows people
  • Status is given to you
  • Life is scary, uncertain, and largely out of your control

I remember reading the workbook during training and not really taking to heart what the different concepts represented. Now after more than 10 months in country I am finally starting to understand just how different I am from Ugandans and vice versa. At first I was oblivious to how different I was from everyone here and thought that my firm beliefs and mentality gained from living in the United States and Germany were the correct ways of thinking. Once I arrived in my village, I realized just how different things were approached here. I started to become conscious of the mistakes I made and didn’t know how to stop making them. I remember planting coffee in front of my yard during the dry season on top of dirt mounds that couldn’t even hold water. After some time I started to consciously realize what I needed to do; I needed to scrap the dying coffee plants and focus on other things such as planting grass in front of my compound as the rainy season started.

I believe that I have gotten to the point where I can appropriately function and work in my community without even realizing how different I act now compared with 10 months ago. It’s funny because some other PCVs make fun of me of I break out in one of my Uganglish phrases or Ugandan mannerisms while hanging out. The habit literally becomes so ingrained in me that I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to act like a “muzungu” again.

This brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this blog post: “To be in Peace Corps is to be displaced.” We’re stuck between two worlds. There are Luteete VIllage Sunsettimes when I don’t even know what I stand for anymore or who I am. I couldn’t even tell you what my preconceptions about Africa and Uganda were during staging at the Hampton Inn right before the plane flight to Uganda. In the past, stories about Africa were just that; stories. The tales of revolutions, dictators, starving children, genocides, epidemics, poverty, the 3rd World, missionaries, savannahs, and aid were all that I had ever heard or seen through various media platforms. It was literally worlds away.

Now my life is filled with stories of pumping water from a borehole, taking pictures and video of Peace Corps activities, teaching at a PTC, writing grant, working alongside my fellow Ugandan teachers, living with my Ugandan neighbors, and playing with their kids. Now tales of new pop songs, new jobs, dvancements in technology, high profile scandals, new foods, viral videos, and general trends are stories that are worlds away. It’s almost as if the interest that many Americans had when the Kony 2012 video came out is akin to the interest that most PCVs have about the events that happened in Ferguson. Both went viral on the internet but to the audience, each event happened in a different world that had no immediate impact on life.

Of course, I still consider myself to be a newbie who has only spent just over 10 months here. I look forward to seeing how much more I integrate into this community and how much more I will feel displaced in the 16+ months to come.

IST (In-Service Training)

27/4/14 – 2/5/14

And it ended as quickly as it began. On Friday I left my site in order to get to the Lweza Training Center, situaPrunes Cafe in Kampalated somewhere in the middle of the main road between Kampala and Entebbe. I stopped at Kampala on the way there and hung out with some other PCVs at Brood and then at Prunes, which reminded me of a hipster café with free/fast wifi, fruit smoothies, sandwiches with cream cheese, and silly names for all of these food items designed to appeal to the young adult demographic of this generation. Afterwards, I wanted to explore Nakivubo Market, which had previously burned down in November while my Education Group (Cohort 2) was still in PST (Pre-Service Training). The location of the market on Google Maps didn’t match the location of the physical location of the market.

We get to the market, and it’s literally on the small corner of a block located near the New Taxi Park. All of the vendors were groping us and asking us to buy their wares and clothes. We didn’t find anything interesting, so we made our way to the Kajjansi Stage Taxi headed towards Lweza.

Lweza Volleyball ISTWe arrived at Lweza, and even before checking in I joined many of the other volunteers at the volleyball court. It felt so much like a reunion. However, this time around it seemed that everyone had matured a little bit. Sure we still enjoyed going out and having adventures, but it seemed that as a whole we weren’t too concerned with having to hang out with certain people or needing to be loud or acting like we would never see each other again. We had gone through the many highs and lows of living as Peace Corps Volunteers at site for the past three months, and we had some stories to share with each other.

The training itself seemed like a rehash of what we had already learned about cultural acclimation, teaching with positive behavior systems, and using the VRF (volunteer reporting form). However, the most important part of IST seemed to be the presence of our chosen counterparts from our respective sites to join us and attend the same sessions that we did. In some ways, it felt as if the counterparts were more in-tune and realistic when it came to contributing to discussions and activities.

We reconnected with other volunteers, and shared stories and methods that worked and shitty situations that others IST Discussionshad to deal with. However, the most memorable events of the training was dancing and hanging out with the PCVs at Bubbles Express, having a South Sudanese man to buy me and “my girlfriend” drinks, playing volleyball with counterparts and other PCVs, seeing the return of our literacy coordinator Audrey and our Safety and Security Advisor Fred (who had just returned from a liver transplant), holding a Chopped-themed cooking competition using sagiris (charcoal stoves) and a grill and the three mystery ingredients of matooke, spicy Doritos chips, and mangoes, and participating in a trivia contest on the last night held by the PCV duo Rachel and Rachel. It didn’t really hit me until the last night.

Iron Chef Matooke ISTThe Rachels played the PST Music Video about our time at Kulika during the final tallying of the points during the trivia contest, and it made us emotional. I remember making that video the night before Thanksgiving 2013, and I included every volunteer in our group. Since that time, four members of our group had ET’d (early terminated) their service. I remember joking about the music video and saying I wanted to film and include all of us while we were still blissful and happy. I wanted the video to be a reminded of how we came in as a group and how we would be able to support each other and have fun at the onset of this adventure that is the Peace Corps.

Right now I am back in Gulu as the media specialist (ha!) for the Northern Camp BUILD. I left Lweza this morning and took a Postbus from Kampala all the way here in a 7+ hour journey. Even the bus ride was an adventure; I had the driver stop at Wobulenzi so that I could pick up my mosquito net, bedsheets, and contact solution that I had forgotten at my house. My counterpart had left the day before and preemptively left them at the police station in Wobulenzi. I picked them up, after having asked the Post Bus to wait for me, and then we continued our way up the Kampala-Gulu Highway.

About 6 hours later we arrived in Gulu and hung out at Coffee Hut and at the Indian Restaurant a street over from the Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant. We later reconvened at Coffee Hut and boarded a taxi to get to the Ocer Secondary School where both Camp BUILD and Camp GLOW would start.

Video of My Site

I feel that one can only get so much from reading someone’s summary or views of an experience. So I made a two-part video explaining what I’m doing at my site in Luteete PTC as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, Africa. I hope that you enjoy it and get a small taste of what it’s like to be living in my village and walking in my shoes.

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hC7lZ_BWnc

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLmeKiXAXe4

Mwebale kulaba videos zange.

Never the Same

9/4/14

So I’m in the midst of teaching my Year 1 students in the hopes that they can somehow retain the knowledge of basic pre-algebra. These are students who are in their upper teens and the spread in knowledge and experience is very vast. I have some students in class who are very bored because they know all of the answers, and then I have some students who don’t pay attention because the material is too difficult for them. I started off teaching last week with basic addition, then moved on to subtraction, multiplication, division, incorporating decimals and negatives, and then on to powers today. I’ve been teaching a bit more thoroughly than the Ugandan curriculum (which has some typos and mathematical errors) for mathematics in a PTC.

I never thought that one day I would be the teacher giving the quizzes and expecting the students to understand concepts to a certain level. However, I cannot blame the students who are performing poorly, because many of them come from educational backgrounds that are less than ideal. I have some students in the classroom who were struggling with basic addition, and then I have some students who are ready for higher level algebra. That much is apparent in the daily quizzes that I give my class with questions pertaining to the lesson of the previous day.

I believe that giving these students a thorough background in the basics of mathematics can help inspire them to be better students and eventually better student teachers. I want to give my students a fighting chance to grow and have the opportunity to achieve more than the average Ugandan’s life can achieve. As I was grading the quizzes concerning the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of negative numbers I was dismayed at first by the lower marks on the first dozen or so quizzes. However, as I continued I found that the majority of the students scored around the 70%-80% range and a few of them even managed to get 100%. I felt as if I was at least reaching some of the students and that hopefully there is a Gaussian distribution of grades.

I had also promised my class a prize for a game that we were playing. So today I brought my saucepans and ingredients to make a banana cake from scratch. I had asked the custodian to bring a sagiri and charcoal to the college at 5pm today in order to show them all how to bake without an oven. So I shared with them the recipe from the Peace Corps Uganda cookbook and demonstrated how to make a makeshift dutch oven using a smaller metal saucepan placed on top of rocks inside two larger saucepans placed on top of a sagiri. We played a quick game of Ultimate Frisbee while we waited for the cake to bake.

I was even able to incorporate some math and reading into the demonstration by having the students read and copy down the recipe and show how recipe proportions worked.

However, what stuck to me the most today was a comment left on my blog from a Ugandan who had moved to the United States. It was a very eloquently written comment concerning your typical culture shock but also how living in another country changes you. The perspective of the comment concerned moving to the United States from Uganda and how that person missed so many things from her homeland. It almost seemed as if she was describing the exact opposite of what I was feeling. She talked about eating marshmallows and hamburgers and missing Ugandan dishes. She would travel hours across many state-lines just to hang out with other Africans. However, she stressed that experiences such as living for many years in another country or volunteering in the Peace Corps makes you change forever. No matter how much I yearn for the things that I was once used to back home, once I eventually attain them in 22 months they will no longer mean what I thought they meant to me. Of course it is okay to miss things from back home, but right now I am living in my home of Uganda. I can either embrace the culture and truly attempt to understand how a Ugandan lives, or I can continuously try to only speak English, eat pizza, watch American movies, and never really know why Ugandans act the way or think the way that they do.

Even know after 5 months I feel that I have changed. I no longer have the urgent need to always be on the internet, I decided that po sho and beans are amazingly delicious, how everything in the world is linked, how difficult it is to accomplish almost anything in this country, and also how much I feel that I love the life that I am living right now. I love going to sleep underneath my mosquito net, taking cold bucket baths, fetching water from the nearby water tank after a heavy rainfall, talking with the cutest, young children in P1 who can’t speak any English yet, and surprising villagers by speaking to them in Luganda.

I worry a lot about many of my friends from back home moving on. But I know that the ones who matter the most in life will most likely still be there and ready to hang out when I return as if nothing happened. But something will have happened; I will have new friends from my time here. I didn’t replace the ones that I had back home, instead I changed and this stage in my life has the friends whom I have now. These are other Peace Corps Volunteers as well as host country nationals whose lives I actually understand far greater than if I had just visited Uganda for a couple weeks or months.

I’m never gonna be the same person after this. Life here is starting to normalize for me, and the feeling of the new has definitely given way to routine. Sometimes I look at my free, data-less, picture-less version of Facebook (0.facebook.com) on my Airtel modem (because that’s the only internet that even marginally works sometimes at my house) and see the going-ons and accomplishments of my friends and acquaintances. There is a new Mr. and Ms. Boston University, a colleague from my Berlin internship is starting his PhD in Biochemistry at MIT, friends are getting engaged, there are four seasons, and the world is getting smaller. But whenever I start to feel uneasy about my own accomplishments, I realize that I have made a living here in a Ugandan village as a Peace Corps Volunteer and that’s pretty fucking fantastic.

Good Enough

6/4/14

I wonder if this habit will stay with me for the majority of my life. I feel as if I am never satisfied with how I am behaving or what I am doing here. After every success, I feel that sense of accomplishment and meaning. Soon afterwards that feeling disappears and I become restless. I compare myself with other Peace Corps volunteers and feel as if I need to find a way to excel as a volunteer. I even designated today as my rest day after my 52km roundtrip bike ride to Kasana to eat at Beat Retina restaurant and to say hello to my host family. It was a bit sad because the two youngest children in the family didn’t recognize me and were terrified when I tried to approach them.

Today I slept in and watched a lot of The Walking Dead and Parks and Rec. I tend to alternate between the two shows. I rested a lot, drank some coffee, ate some hash browns, and I also made some extra furniture today: I built a shelf for my bathing area so that I could finally hang my towels and put up my toiletries.

*Aside: There are literally a thousand insects flying everywhere at night, which is why I turn off all of the lights inside the house when I don’t really need to use them. Even this computer screen has a few mosquitos, moths, and flying ants buzzing around it. Also every now and then I hear scurrying above my makeshift plywood ceiling. I believe it to be the resident mouse who plagues me at night by taking bites out of my potatoes and tomatoes that I leave in my kitchen baskets.

Yet I still feel restless. It was the same feeling in college; that feeling of wanting to do more. But now I’m living in a culture where more planning and efforts to initiate something may not always be the best course of action. I’ve heard it said that sometimes the Peace Corps Volunteers who waited and acted slowly accomplished more than those who wildly rushed in headfirst. I go on Facebook and I see so many posts about volunteer activities concerning DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) Day, Malaria Awareness Events, HIV/AIDS workshops, track and field days, and other events at Primary Schools and Primary Teacher Colleges.

I realize that that’s my problem. I keep comparing myself, my actions, and the consequences with those of the volunteers around me. I keep wondering what else I can do here at my site, rather than just being present in the moment. My best technological aid is also my biggest crutch; my 1TB external hard drive. It’s so easy just to plop down on my living room bench and watch any tv show or movie that I desire and forget about the world that I am living in. It’s like a very limited version of YouTube, since I don’t have any real internet access here in the house.

I then ask my supervisor, counterpart, fellow teachers, and neighbors and they all seem to think that I am doing a good job as a Peace Corps Volunteer and teacher. But I can’t shake the feeling that even though others think that I’m alright, I don’t feel that I am working to my full potential. I’m good at going at my own pace and setting my own goals, but I feel that I also have this need to fulfill the desires of someone else. I believe that that’s why I performed so well in college. I get my fulfillment by achieving other people’s goals. If I can exceed the standards of those who are observing me, then I meet my own standards.

I think that the first step is to view each day as a small victory. Every moment counts as me living in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer who is trying to do some good in this world. Now I just need to see that what I am doing right now is good enough.

A Weekend at Home

3/29/14

I apologize if I keep switching between the European mode of writing the date and the American way because I keep thinking in both ways.

This weekend is one of the weekends that I am staying at site; however, it is not a market day at Bamunanika. That’s fine because I already bought enough produce to last me until next weekend when I can either buy food at Wobulenzi during the weekly Friday market day or at Bamunanika on the fortnightly Saturday market day.

I will take a physical break today since I have accomplished most of my chores. I think that I will focus on finishing up the School Profile Tool and prepare some activities for the college. I have to lesson plan for this upcoming week in Unit 4 for mathematics. I am excited to finally be teaching the Year 1 students again. It’s been slow since I switched off from teaching with Mr. Nsereko after having finished Unit 2.

And the next step for the School Profile Tool is to come up with some tangible way to measure data to demonstrate a need for the school that I will continue to work on after In-Service Training (IST) at the end of April. My aim is to create a working media room that can be used for ICT classes and media education. There is a great desire by students, teachers, and community members to learn how to use a computer and the internet. However, the resources and knowledge set to teach them do not exist.

I will learn how to write grants during IST, and then I can really get to do the proverbial damage to the college. I want to start doing more at the school, and I just need to get up and start something. Personally I am waiting until Monday when I can start teaching again because then I will have the attention of the Year 1 students.

I plan to start a writing/newspaper club that will write articles every week about the college and surrounding communities. I also aim to continue adding subject matter to the blog/media website that will contain the media and writings of students and community members.

So today is a day that I will mainly spend at home doing some mental preparation and planning for the days of physical labor.

*Note: I keep getting upset with myself with not working on my vlog. I have a few videos to upload but not enough funds to supply an internet connection with which to upload them. I’ll try to make my videos more frequent.

A Teacher

February 27, 2014

Name: Marvin Roxas

Date: 2/27/14

Unit: Uganda Blog

Subject: Blog Post

Teacher: Too many to count

“I am a doctor, you know

I am a man of the brains

Oh you all know that you depend on me

Oh without me you wouldn’t live

A mechanic here I come

A great man I am

Oh you all bring your cars to me

Oh without me you wouldn’t drive

Build builder here I come

Yes you depend on me

Oh without me there would be no house

A teacher, a teacher, a teacher

I’m the greatest of all…”

These are the lyrics to a simple song shared with me by my counterpart, Mr. Kyazze Dan who is the music and art teacher here at Luteete PTC. I had a talk with him the other day about his personal motivation, likes and dislikes about the college, and his own personal goals. It’s exciting to have these one-on-ones because I get the chance to really find out what these teachers want to accomplish here. It turns out that Mr. Dan has a laptop and some basic recording equipment in order to record some of his music students singing so that they can see a small side of music production. Now I haven’t seen his getup, but it still astounds me to see these pieces of technology in a place like the sub-counties of Luweero District.

His goal is to have enough funding and support to create a music school for the Luweero District. Students of all ages from all around the sub-counties would then have the opportunity to study a wide variety of local musical instruments, while also learning classical music theory, playing on a keyboard, and using their voice. I told him that I would be more than glad to help him raise awareness by adding some videos of the college choir singing on a blog site dedicated to works by the students of Luteete and the surrounding areas.

I never would have believed it a couple of years ago if you would have told me that I would be a teacher in Africa. Even now it’s funny thinking that I’m doing the stereotyped stint of living in Africa and teaching in a less than ideal conditions but feeling that it’s all worthwhile in the end. Even my friend from BU and Dresden, Matt Musto, commented on my teaching profile picture from Shimoni that I looked like the main character from Freedom Writers (And yes I do think that I have an uncanny resemblance to Hillary Swank). I spend some hours every other day planning my lessons so that the students would actually be excited to learn and be challenged. And as I teach, I remember my own teachers as I grew up.

I remember my elementary school teachers from ChurchLaneTechnologySchool. Even now I can name my homeroom teachers as well those who taught me specific subjects and made me learn.

Kindergarten – Ms. Pearson

1st Grade – Ms. Gray

2nd Grade – Mrs. Lang

3rd Grade – Mrs. Ellison-Wood

4th Grade – Ms. Massey

And then I moved away from public school to catholic school. During this transition, the more specific subject-oriented teachers left a bigger impact on me than the homeroom teachers, especially since we would then have different teachers for different subjects rather than one teacher for all subjects. I learned about culture and discipline in Church Lane. I learned how it felt to be the minority as I was called “Chinese Boy” by most of my classmates. It’s funny how right now I am still mistaken for Chinese in Uganda. But I got a solid start with my basics in reading comprehension, writing, basic arithmetic, and use of computers at such an early age.

And then in 5th grade and middle at Sacred Heart of Glyndon had my teachers push me to be better than I already was. They weren’t content that I was doing well with the material, and when I failed they straight up told me that I could do better. I remember acting out a lot in 5th grade and not getting the best grades. My Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Tebbs, sat down with me for a one-on-one session when I was serving yet another recess detention. She told me that she couldn’t change my bad behavior and the way I was acting, but that only I could make that decision for myself. Along with this, I needed to focus on my grades and study better because she knew that I was smarter than I demonstrated in class. I specifically remember during that day in 5th grade that I told myself that I would make a personally concentrated effort to become a better student.

I shaped up and got better grades and started off middle school strong. I had a solid education in middle school with teachers who really wanted us to master content even though we had just become teenagers. It was around this time that math and science began to really pique my interest. And I owe a big part of this inspiration to Ms. Goode and Mrs. Riley. I remember that Ms. Goode was a science and math teacher and she just had this certain playful quality yet stern demeanor that held such a powerful classroom presence. She would also work alongside with us middle school students in order to solve difficult math problems. I remember that she didn’t always have the answer to a problem from the get-go, but she would somehow be able to give us the tools needed for us to find the answer on our own and feel accomplished. And her projects were always really engaging. Then there was the crazy Mrs. Riley who would sing songs and talk about hanging us from a ceiling tile of our choice in the science lab if we became too rowdy.

But I remember that she made biology and chemistry fun. I loved doing the science projects for the science fair and I can still remember the section about making a rocket that we launched at the end of the year. We also watched the movie October Sky, based on Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, who also had a Ms. Riley as a science teacher.

Then in high school, I had amazing math and science teachers again. Now don’t get me wrong, I also had solid teachers in other subjects but the purpose of this blog post is to talk about my own inspiration in wanting to pursue math and science because of those techers. Ms. Warfield taught me Calculus like no other, and it is because of her that I feel like my math skills are as solid as they are right now. And back then I definitely did not feel like admitting it, but Physics Honors and AP Physics during my junior and senior years in high school really made me choose to become an engineer in college. I remember staying up past 4am trying to work out physics problems for homework as well as take-home test corrections for force and momentum problems that I just couldn’t understand. But other than just content, Mr. Baier taught me a new way of thinking. He allowed all of us to use our notes, textbooks, printed papers, old tests, equation sheets, and anything else that we had at our disposal in order to help us during his tests and quizzes. Regardless of these things, I remember failing a good portion of his tests and quizzes. But I eventually caught on and learned about a new way of thinking about a problem that wasn’t as straightforward as plugging in numbers to a formula and chugging.

I’d say that because of these two teachers, I was as successful as I became in the College of Engineering at Boston University to the point that I didn’t really learn any new material during my freshman year. And I remember Mr. Jariwala, my Physics II teacher during sophomore year fall semester at BU. After the first lecture, he already had everyone’s name memorized, and knew what questions we were capable of answering. And he challenged us just as much as Mr. Baier had challenged me two years prior, but I was prepared. And thanks to these and countless other teachers, both academic and non-academic, I have learned subject content and various other life skills. I learned how to learn, and as a result I have also learned a small part about what it means to teach.

And before I end this post, I also want to give a shout-out to my parents who were my first teachers. It was because of them that I started reading chapter books and knew my times tables by 2nd grade. But more importantly, they taught me about the meaning of a family and what it means to always have a home.

Here’s to you my teachers who have taught me throughout my lifetime. I hope that you know that I’m using what you taught me over here in my own classroom in Uganda.

Savoring the Moment

February 24, 2014

I have to write this down quickly, because if I decide to wait then I’ll forget the feeling. So here I am writing again by candlelight because the power decided to go off again, and I just had a chain of thoughts. Jack’s Mannequin’s song Lullaby started playing on my iTunes shuffle and the line “and I still hear your ghost in these old punk rock clubs…” I know that it sounds corny and angsty, but there was a time late in high school and early in college when these songs resonated so deeply within me and my feelings. As I thought about those words, I remembered the first time I was able to return back to Dresden, Germany about 1 year after my spring study abroad semester back in 2010. I remember moving through the hallways of our old dorm, the Max Kade Haus, and feeling as if I could still see ghosts of my friends dancing around those halls feeling like life couldn’t get any better than that. There weren’t too many worries, and everyday was an adventure and those six months felt like it could last forever. But the thing is that it didn’t last forever, and before I knew it my time at Boston University living it up in Allston on the Fords of Ash too came to an end. Eras began, I lived through their experiences, and then they ended.

And so I realized that as long as the days seem to drag on and as long as these next looming two years appear to be, I understand that before I know it I will be reading these blog posts back in the comfort of my friends’ apartment in good old B-more and reminiscing back to how awesomely idyllic life appeared to be in my home in Luteete in the middle of the Luweero District in Uganda. I’ll be calling my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and ask them about meeting up in the United States, and it will feel so weird seeing them in a developed world with the use of cars, running water, electricity, Mexican food, unlimited Wifi, and other amenities. But for now, I am living in Uganda and loving it.

Yeah there are the highs and the lows, but today was definitely a high. I got to sleep in, and accomplished my morning checklist consisting of: buying two rolls of 500/= each toilet paper because I really needed to poop since last night, printing my compiled excel spreadsheets for the library stock, updating the PTC Curriculum library excel sheet after receiving 120 new curriculum books, and preparing for my ICT lesson for the Year 2 students. I explained to them how a computer mouse and laptop touchpad moved the cursor on a computer screen, as well as how left and right clicks accomplished different tasks on a computer. I actually seemed to capture the students’ attention, and they actually asked me, “Why?” when I explained to them that the touchpad would move the cursor if I used my finger but not when I rubbed an inanimate object across it. I even got a small round of applause afterwards.

Lunch afterwards was amazing, because it was the lunch before a faculty meeting. Instead of the normal pos ho and beans we got meat with sauce, stewed cabbage, pillau rice, matooke, and pili pili peppers. The meeting afterwards also exceeded my personal expectations. It was somewhat entertaining due to the wide variety of teacher personalities. During the meeting, it was discussed that teachers must retain their integrity in holding continuous assessment for the students and being fair. If students don’t show up to class, then they will fail. My supervisor also acknowledged my role in organizing the library and many of the teachers suggested ways to implement its use with the students. Without my prodding, they proposed a current events section with daily newspapers put on display, reading groups, mandatory library hours, and more use of the library’s book borrowing system. I was actually astounded that the simple act of cleaning up the library would actually lead the teachers to finding uses for it.

The 3 hour meeting eventually ended, and many of the teachers entered the library in order to borrow books from the library using the excel file system that I put in place. And then as I headed back to my home, my neighbors shared with me that one of my brown Year I students told them that I was a good math teacher. She said that I was very clear and that she really learned a lot from what I was teaching. I then played with my neighborhood kids, cooked some chappats, watched some Breaking Bad and The Wire, called a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, and then successfully cooked eggplants so that it tasted somewhat good.

Honestly, today was great. And I want to remember it as one of the highs and remembering how for this one day everything seemed to go my way.

*I was notified today that Museveni passed the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.