Permagardens and Flying

20/4/15 – 25/4/15

I feel like I dedicated the past two weeks of my life towards very sustainable trainings and sessions. From April 20th – 25th I brought a group of two Luteete PTC students and my village neighbor Mingling HandsGodfrey to the Central Youth Technical Training in Mukono. During the past 5 months Peace Corps staff and an extended Peace Corps Volunteer designed regional youth technical trainings that refined the Peace Corps camp model. The goal was to present and facilitate soft leadership skills and sustainable agricultural practices, IGA’s (income generating activities), and creative facilitation skills to a team consisting of a Peace Corps Volunteer, Ugandan counterpart, and two Ugandan youth. This would ensure a transfer of skills and further provision of resources by the Peace Corps Volunteer.

I was absolutely enthralled by this training, because the focus was on fostering youth-adult partnerships. There were sessions about creative facilitation, HIV/AIDS myths and condom (male and female) demonstrations, gender empowerment, compost and permagarden creation, and youth-led clubs. Every session presented the topics with an emphasis on gender and youth empowerment. The Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development, consisting of Ugandan artists, dancers, singers, and actors, facilitated the majority of the sessions. A special emphasis was placed on having females and other youth leading the sessions as opposed to traditional male Ugandan facilitators.

Permagarden NotesI think that I was in a stage of my service where I had this close relationship with my Ugandan team members and knew specific ways and methods that could be employed in my community. I met a Ugandan facilitators dedicated to motivating youth through hip-hop dancing, offering free HIV testing in rural communities, and demonstrating the successes of youth-led clubs. However, the session that excited me the most was the permagarden tutorial led by a Peace Corps Ethiopia agriculture specialist, Peter Jensen. A permagarden utilizes many of the concepts of permaculture design, by manipulating a pre-existing landscape with sustainable, easy-to-access, and readily available resources in agriculturally-based societies. Once created, a permagarden would allow a family to plant various fruits, vegetables, and perennials throughout the year regardless of dry season or rainy season.

Mukono Sunset

Mukono Sunset

Water is stored underground during rainy season underneath the subsoil and deeper layers of clay. After double-digging and loosening the soil down to a depth of 50cm, the water from the rainy season will rise through the dry upper layers of subsoil and topsoil through capillary action. By adding charcoal powder, dry cow manure, and wood ash the loosened layers of soil in the plant beds will hold more air, water, and minerals essential for plant growth and deep roots. My team members were ecstatic about this new concept and decided that they wanted to create a permagarden near the ICT lab near the PTC. I too got excited about introducing various vegetables and greens to my community in a easily-created way.

Furthermore, these trainings allowed the youth to voice their own ideas and feel as if anything they said carried the same magnitude as any other adult or Peace Corps Volunteer regardless of age or gender. I could summarize my time in Mukono as being very inspiring. I was surrounded by devoted Peace Corps Volunteers and even more devoted Ugandans. Similar to other Peace Corps camps, the Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development taught leadership and creativity sessions through art, skits, dancing, singing, and movement. The idea revolved around kinesthetic teaching methods as opposed to powerpoint presentations and blackboards.

Arua Sunset

Arua Sunset

Towards the end of the training, there were two sessions that really captured the essence of training. The first one was late-night art where all the participants of the training gathered around the edges of a long table draped with white cloth and all kinds of drawing and painting materials. The idea was to dance around the table and draw certain images at certain intervals. It started out at face-value by drawing our favorite foods on the cloth, and progressed to drawing images that reminded us of youth-adult partnerships. At one point, we were instructed to draw an image of our personal dream for someone in this room. After we were done, my Ugandan student pulled me arm and showed me her drawing of a school building. She told me that her dream was for me to teach students like her at my very own school. Another youth pulled me aside and showed me an image of a camera and said that her dream was for me to take the best photo in the entire world.

Sometimes I forget that as much as Peace Corps volunteers here dream about helping Uganda, To FlyUgandans also have dreams for us. Peter led the second session where we each held a piece of paper and slowly crumpled it every time something he said applied to us. For example, if he said, “I have been a victim of crime”, “I have a leaky roof”, “I have HIV”, or “I have been persecuted for my beliefs” then I would crumple my paper each time a statement was true in my life. Afterwards, we exchanged papers with someone else and straightened the paper out. Step-by-step he instructed us how to build a paper airplane, and explained that even though we could never truly get rid of the crumples in our life, we could still change. After everyone successfully created a paper airplane, he instructed us to lift it into the air and in the stillness of that moment he uttered, “No matter how damaged you were; now you can fly.” Immediately after he said that, over 60 paper airplanes, goals, and visions were soaring through the air of the main hall.

Privilege

13/2 – 22/2 Two weekends ago I spent some time hanging out with some of the new education PCV’s in Masaka. Initially, I didn’t plan to eat at Frikadellen, but I ended up partaking in the 30,000/= buffet and from what I can remember it was definitely worth it. We spent the rest of the Ndegeya Bonfire Circlenight drinking, hanging out, and eventually dancing at the local club Ambiance. For some reason, four of us decided to share a bed in an extremely small and hot hotel room filled with mosquitoes and the stench of alcohol. The next day we sluggishly made our way to the pool located in one of the neighborhoods near Plot 99. Honestly, this weekend was going according to plan: I wanted to go out dancing, eat some good food, and spend the hungover Saturday swimming in a pool. In the evening we headed back to Ndegeya PTC where PCV’s Eric and Elyse hosted us for dinner. The last time I was at their house was almost one whole year ago, and their house is still as beautiful and posh as I remember it. After dinner, a few of us sloped up the nearby roads to the Ndegeya Art Community (Weaverbird Arts Foundation). It was founded 7 years ago by a Ugandan/Rwandan man who wanted to create a place where artists from Uganda and abroad could collaborate, hold workshops, and be free to express themselves in art. Every 3-4 months they would hold some sort of art workshop week where dozens of artists would gather together and live on top of the hill. The hill had a large grass clearing dotted with a bonfire pit, art houses, latrines, bathing areas, campgrounds, and sculptures made out of stone, brick, and recycled jerrycans. Since it was Valentine’s Day, not many artists had gathered for the meeting that weekend. This allowed us to have some more personal time with the founder of the movement. He told us that the meaning behind the art was to empower Ugandans, especially those in impoverished settings, to view art as something to help them in their lives. I posed the concern that many Ugandans view art as a detriment to survival since it would be viewed as a hindrance to daily tasks such as farming, tending to the children, cooking, fetching water, and everyday life. I felt that he wasn’t able to provide an answer that satisfied me, but I felt that I would need to spend more time there to better understand what he has done and accomplished with this movement. Most of the PCV’s left on Loucine Walking with Dr. JosephSunday, but I decided to stay another day at the cottage house at Ndegeya PTC. Man, it felt so comfortable being in a clean house where I could really stretch out, sleep without a mosquito net, shower, and eat homemade coq au vin since they had an oven. More than 15 months in-country, and I have come to appreciate the value of being comfortable. I left for Kampala on Monday, and did the usual routine of eating out at the fancy food court in Acacia Mall. I mean where else could I get decently priced and decent Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Ugandan, and American cuisine all in one area? I spent the night at the New City Annex just like old times, since I was told that a Peace Corps vehicle would pick me up early on Tuesday morning. Honestly, I assumed that I would just be going up to Lira in order to film an interview with a retired Ugandan colonel, but it turns out that I was voluntold to film promo videos of each region of Uganda with the Country Director. Personally, I am extremely glad that our country director is making an effort to personally visit the PCV’s in the different regions, because this was a complaint over the past few years. There is always some sort of disconnect between PCV’s and PC Staff since one group has trouble really empathizing or seeing the reasoning behind the actions and decisions of the other group. I also Benjamin Ferraro Stone Quarryam excited to be able to participate in such a cool project, but felt that I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I stepped into that air-conditioned Peace Corps vehicle that Tuesday morning.  There is another issue at work here that Peace Corps uses volunteers to fill needed staff positions and tasks. In my case, I provide free videos for Peace Corps without any payment. I have heard the arguments of both sides: on one hand we are volunteers and can accomplish the 3 goals of the Peace Corps through various means, and on the other hand the true experience of a Peace Corps Volunteer involves the integration of being at one’s site. In my case, sometimes I don’t even know where I stand anymore. It felt weird travelling in a nice vehicle with air-condition. I felt separated from both PCV’s and Ugandans by glass and cool air. There is a prevailing attitude that many well-intentioned Peace Corps staff don’t understand what many PCV’s endure because they have the luxury of private vehicles, access to clean food, access to running water, and the resource availability of Kampala. Regardless, I really enjoyed taking pictures and videos at my fellow PCV’s sites in the West Nile region, namely the towns of Arua and Maracha. First of all, it was hot as balls from 9am – 5pm. I felt fortunate that I lived in Central where the temperature of a 24 hour span varied from chilly in the night to hot in the afternoon. We visited primary schools, demonstration schools, NTCs, PTCs, a hospital, a honey organization, sexual health center, and an organization for orphans. Journal Entry: “I’m still so impressed with my fellow PCV’s and the hard work that they do. I’m still so frustrated by the bureaucracy here. I can see that there’s a lot of opportunity here, and in so many places, but those in charge of these opportunities don’t utilize them for what they’re worth. It’s all about saving face, building ones self-image, and very vague promises of far-reaching pipe dreams. A lot of self-aggrandizement. In many ways and times the wonder and initiative of the pupils an students are quashed by the rote inactivity of the administrators in power. I need to take more initiative and advantage of the resources at my Bee Natural Assembly Lineschool. People want things, boreholes, fences, internet, and so any things but how willing are they to work to make them come about? I am still so intrigued how sometimes adults here almost ruin the imagination of children. Pure wonder is hard to come by here. I go back and forth between not wanting to be staff and feeling like staff, but being constantly reminded that I am a volunteer. I am pulled in so many different directions. I understand that in certain cultures there are differences. But are some differences better than others, such as time management, gender roles, and societal structures in hierarchy. I mean what do we mean as a long-term goal of development? What does development really entail? Does it mean that we want developing countries to be like developed countries and share their ideals? What does it mean to rally empower people to do things in a culturally-conscious way? It’s a big mess and its not our job to fix every problem, nor is it our job to just leave and ignore all problems. Of course money alone does not solve the problem, but it can definitely help. And who am I to even have this discussion? In this air-conditioned car, I feel comfortable and as if everything is nearby. But it makes me feel so removed from PCV’s because part of service involves the hardships of dealing with the transportation and accommodations of the host country nationals. Almost that guilty feeling of not being one of them.” Maracha Primary School“If I give you a cow, do I feed your cow for you?” ~Emily Lamwaka, Peace Corps Education Progam Director Site after site, I saw what PCV’s were doing. Some tasks were successful, and some seemed impossible to overcome and it all depended on the site administrators. More than one primary school didn’t have the resources to provide pupils with lunch. In one instance, one of these schools was resource rich due to a nearby stone quarry but didn’t bother to sell the stones as an income-generating activity to provide lunch and build fences to keep livestock away from the school. Fortunately, for every four inept administrators there was at least one person at each school who was dedicated to really empowering the students by whatever means were available. On Friday, we left the West Nile and made our way to Lira to interview a retired Ugandan colonel. We found him near Café Path on Wan Nyaci Road. One of the GHSP Peace Corps volunteers ran into him at one of the stationary stores in Lira, and he told her that several decades ago a Peace Corps volunteer saved his life. On Friday, he shared his story in full. This man was born September 20th, 1940 with an education background that brought him to Russia. In the late Lira Colonel Portrait60’s, he joined the army and the military academy where he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant and posted in Masaka. He and his squad mates heard about the news of Idi Amin’s coup against Milton Obote on January 21st, 1971. During the coup, Amin’s people were killing the ranking officers and officials of Obote’s military. He had to flee home, and a Peace Corps Volunteer who was teaching at the Aga Kan Secondary School sheltered him for two weeks. She would go to Tropicana Hotel to check on the situation of the coup. Eventually, she told him that it was too dangerous to keep him at her house. She disguised her as a student, and drove him in her car towards Kampala and then to Lira. When they got to Karuma bridge that crossed the Nile River, they saw Amin’s soldiers slaughtering captured members of Obote’s soldiers. They let the Peace Corps volunteer pass through since they were still on friendly terms with the “whites” and didn’t recognize the lieutenant. There were so many dead bodies on the bridge, that she had to drive over them. When they passed over the bridge, they stopped at a trading center to drink beer due to the shock at the Meeting the Colonelbridge. She asked him to drive the rest of the way up to Lira. They bid farewell to each other, and the Peace Corps volunteer boarded a bus headed back to Kampala. It was the last time that they saw each other, since the Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from the Uganda. At this moment in his story that he got a little teary-eyed. He explained to us that she was more than just his friend, but his girlfriend. Of course she was the side-dish in the relationship since he was already married to another woman, but still this Peace Corps volunteer risked her life to save his. The rest of the story revolves around his narrow escapes from Amin’s soldiers, his time spent as a refugee in Dar es Salaam, and his fight to retake Uganda. I will be working on editing together his story, and at the end of it he shared with us his dream for the youth of Uganda: to know their history and not care about the mindless politics and instead care for each other so that mindless slaughter can be avoided. The next day as we drove across the Karuma bridge in our air-conditioned car, we all fell silent as we reflected on what occurred there 44 years ago. Instead of flowing blood and dead bodies, all that we could see were the rushing Nile underneath us and the balmy breeze of your typical Ugandan afternoon. In some ways this country has improved, and in other ways it has remained just as impoverished as it used to be. Now more than ever, I believe that it’s experiences like that Peace Corps that make me feel privileged to work alongside my Ugandan brothers and sisters.

A Chill Easter Weekend

4/22/14

It feels so nice to return back to my home in Luteete after a weekend of traveling. I left site last Wednesday to go helpMasindi Malaria Day Fact my friend Rachel and Brittany put on a Malaria Awareness event at the Kamurasi Demonstration School. They had previously asked me to be the media specialist guy to take many pictures and videos of the event. They had applied for a small Peace Corps grant and acquired $75 to fund the day’s events. It included Pin the Net Over Opio (similar to pin the tail on the donkey), Mosquito Net Repair, Malaria Freeze Tag, Beware of Ms. Mosquito Read-Aloud, Risk Field Obstacle Course, 9 Facts of Malaria, and Malaria Hangman. The pupils at the Kamurasi school would rotate through the sessions, and during the events of the day the winning artists in a the malaria mural competition painted a Fight Malaria, Save Lives themed mural on one of the walls of the school and the older P6 and P7 pupils played soccer on the field while learning about malaria facts.

What astounded me was how supportive the primary school teachers were. The stereotype has usually been that it was difficult to motivate many of the primary school teachers into doing any sort of event where they wouldn’t explicitly be paid. However, the teachers seemed to be very excited to hosting some of the sessions and helping set up the events for the day.

After helping with the event, we headed over to Arua to celebrate Easter with the northern Peace Corps Volunteers. The bus ride from Masindi to Arua sucked because I had to share a two seats with 6 other people (three adults and two babies). It was hot and we intermittently stopped to offload and accept random passengers who wanted to hitch a ride which is the norm for Ugandan public transportation.

After departing Masindi around 10:30am, we arrived in Arua around 6pm and made our way to Café Cosmos where they served delicious Muzungu food. I had only had the opportunity to eat chappatis  that day, so the burger that I ate there was absolutely delicious, especially in tandem with the Heinz Ketchup and crispy fries.

We then walked back to our friend Jamie’s house near the Arua Core PTC. She has one of the largest houses in Peace Corps Uganda with two living rooms, a separate bathroom and toilet area, four bedrooms, a kitchen, a backyard and a separate cooking area all complete with electricity and running water. She was so gracious to host the two dozen volunteers who were celebrating the Easter Weekend together.

Easter Arua CrewWe spent Friday night drinking together and dancing to select tunes from one of the volunteer’s iPod and portable speakers. The next day was spent going to Arua town in order to procure groceries for the weekend’s meals and to buy some fabric and clothing in the fabled Arua Fabric Market. The fabric market is one of the coolest places that I have been to in Uganda. It seemed like I was lost in a maze of stalls all covered in kitenge fabric ranging in a multitude of designs. I thought that this place would be the perfect setting for a action movie chase scene through the stalls. I promised myself that I would definitely return to Arua and the fabric market in order to procure locally made clothes for myself and friends. We purchased tomatoes, peas, lettuce, minced meat, carrots, limes, lemons, potatoes, onions, beef bouillon, chicken bouillon, soy sauce, cumin, chilli powder, pasta, rice, flour, green peppers, milk, sugar, avocadoes, cilantro, and mangoes in order to cook for 20+ people for Saturday and Sunday. I volunteered to cook for everyone and so on Saturday I organized people to cook seasoned ground, flour tortillas, rice, fresh pico de gallo salsa, and mango salsa for a Mexican themed dinner. After dinner, we pregamed and got ready for Club Matonge, which is the big club in Arua. We paid 10,000/= for the VIP 2nd floor area and danced. It’s funny hearing the music played at these clubs, because many of the Muzungu-club songs are from the top 40 lists of 2009 – 2011 with very few of them coming from the past year.

Sunday, April 20th, was my favorite day by far, because we just chilled at Jamie’s house. We took it easy in the DSC_0121morning, and got a slow start on the Easter meal. I cooked beef stroganoff, beef with soy sauce and onions, shepherd’s pie, pasta, deviled eggs, potato salad, and fresh lettuce salad while the rest of the remaining volunteers dyed Easter eggs for the Easter egg hunt. We ate the meal in the afternoon and then played a few rounds of Easter egg hunting, which was a lot more fun than I remembered it many years ago.

Honestly, I enjoyed this weekend so much and prepping food and cooking for so many people. It just made me feel happy to make delicious food for others and let others not have to worry too much about the food aspect of the weekend. I even got compliments about my food from the Ugandans who attended the Easter celebration.

It’s funny, because sometimes I worry that I will leave this country in 22 months and not have anything to show for it. I worry that I will not be able to leave my mark on this place. I mean, I’ve already been in Uganda for about the same amount of time as the average study abroad program. And I can honestly say that I feel that I’ve only made the slightest of dents. There is a sort of guilt associated with my preconceived notions about what I expected life to be like in the Peace Corps and how I actually act while here.

Easter Egg PaintingI’m on vacation right now since Term 1 ended during Easter Weekend. I spent today watching the first two episodes of Game of Thrones season 4, picking up my refilled gas tank, battling a horde of ants near my doorway, and taking a nap with the weirdest mefloquine-inspired day-dream* that I’ve had in a while. I pretty much stayed in my house the entire day and vegged-out. Never before would I have imagined that Peace Corps volunteers easily fell prey to the NGO-syndrome of always yearning for home once you leave it. I mean, I want to integrate so much into my community and go harvest the cassava that I planted, but then again I also just want to eat a bowl of mac ‘n cheese in front of my computer or pour a ton of Heinz Ketchup on some fries while I drink a non-tropical milkshake.

It honestly makes me question why so many volunteers are still here when it seems that we all continuously strive to achieve or acquire the same things that we had back in the United States. However, I have also come to realize that many of these yearnings usually occur during the weekends and vacations when we can treat ourselves. When I take a step back, I feel as if I’ve been able to integrate well into my local village community, I am conversational in Luganda, love eating po sho and beans, planted cassava, fetch water everyday from the borehole, play with the children, bike to Wobulenzi when I want to accomplish anything, cook on a sagiri when my gas tank is empty, and am getting more and more used to Uganda as a home rather than a temporary part of my life.

And it feels as if these past 5 months have gone by so quickly. Staging in Philadelphia feels like a lifetime ago and by the end of this June my education group will no longer be the newest group in-country. Pretty soon we will be helping train the new group and acting guides for their questions.

So life continues and goes on as it always has been regardless of whether I’m present or not. I think my immediate goal now is to be more present than not and appreciate this world around me rather than missing what I don’t have.

*Note: I want to summarize my day-dream, because I feel that it represents a marriage of the dreams inspired by the malaria prophylaxis drug mefloquine and my experiences thus far in Uganda.

I remember being in what I called my Peace Corps house which was located by a pathway next to a large river, similar to the Charles River in Boston. My house was originally two stories tall and had many nice rooms with old Victorian furniture. I had several Peace Corps friends visiting. They were arriving shortly because they had just visited the kitenge market a few minutes walk down the pathway running parallel to the river. When I entered the house with them, I saw a huge parlor room with antique furniture. I explored the other parts of my house and saw weird patterns in the floor, but it wasn’t scary. I then left my friends in the parlor room of my house and chased a chipmunk that had made its way to the stairwell. I followed it up the stairwell and discovered that my house was actually in fact 5 stories tall. As I made it past the 2nd story, I came to realize that the hallways and rooms of my old Victorian Mansion had not been entered in a long time due to dust and the boarded up windows and doors.

I then opened up a barred, steel door that led up to a storage room where there was a missing maid and two other women who were feeding beans and chappatis to zombies in the room. I left the room and continued exploring the upper levels of the mansion until I reached another stairwell. However, this stairwell scared me because I looked up and saw a silhouette of a girl standing behind prison bars. I quickly ran downstairs and saw my Peace Corps friends. I told them about what I had just saw they agreed with me.

Then somehow I was transported to a scene at a shipyard where I learned about the fate of a lady who was leaving a train but then died when another train backed up into her. Then I was in either a streetcar or a trolley or train where this mysterious man/conductor told the passengers that no one should shoot the voltage box underneath the compartment we were traveling in because it would electrocute and kill us all. Apparently, it was some sort of reference to the Final Destination movie because not everyone died, such as the maid and the little girl, and the rest became the aforementioned zombies.

It was at this very confusing moment that I woke up around 4pm on my bench in my actual Peace Corps house in Uganda wondering if I would continue having these weird day-dreams.