Today

4/12/15

I was an emotional wreck today. I just kept panicking about things that were out of my control. As soon as I woke up, I bicycled to Bamunanika where I purchased 3 kg of beef for the celebration that my neighbors would be throwing in the late afternoon. Instead of making medium-well steaks, I decided to cook the beef the way that my neighbors would appreciate: by boiling it with an abundance of sauce until it softened like stew meat. Paulo Mulo, the black village cat, even returned for the day in order to say goodbye or eat the leftover meat. I had also set aside a lot of knick-knacks and small toys for the kids if they won some games like who could jump-rope the most or run the fastest.

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At some point after lunch, I took my usual short nap in the living room. But I started to panic because in my daydream I imagined driving alone through the empty streets of my suburban neighborhood in Maryland towards my childhood home. It freaked me out to imagine that such a real world existed back there unfathomable by my neighbors here in a world that was equally as unimaginable for people back in that small suburban neighborhood. I’m thinking of a specific 4-way intersection in Owings Mills with streetlights even though the traffic never gets bad enough to warrant it. I see the clean-cut grass of suburbia with the tidy sidewalks and people walking their dogs. I imagine how quiet it is and how much space people have with clean clothes, climate-controlled cars, and 4G internet everywhere.

In the meantime, I am leaving behind a house with semi-consistent electricity, a borehole with cloudy water or rain water collection tanks with leaky taps, ungodly heat or torrential downpours, all manner of insects and livestock and children invading personal space, and dusty roads. I guess that before Peace Corps, the thought of not having running water or a toilet bothered me so much. Now I have become worried about transitioning to a life filled with creature comforts and amenities that are often seen as a right and not a treat. And I am also leaving behind my neighbors who have lives in this small village that may never interact with the much larger world. The adults will go on herding the cows, teaching 100 pupil classes, sweeping the dust, pumping water, cooking the matooke, playing in the backyard, and life will continue here as much as it has continued back home.

In some ways Peace Corps Volunteers are peerless. Village neighbors will never understand the lives that we lived beforehand, and those back in the states can only guess what we underwent here.

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After having served the meat stew to my neighbors and received my own portion of matooke and rice, Master Godfrey played some Ugandan songs on his speakers. The children all started dancing and going crazy in the backyard. All I could do was smile as I drank some ginger caayi with a full stomach and the echoes of laughter and Ugandan dancehall music. The sunset through the backyard matooke trees and one of my neighbors, the mother of the twins, presented a hand-woven mat as a parting gift. After thanking them, one of the grandmother neighbors whispered to me, “You cannot forget this day.” It wasn’t a command; it wasn’t a reminder. It was simply a comment that today was remarkable in how normal and how special it felt at the same time. It was a particularly beautiful day living in Luteete village. She’s right though, I can’t forget this day.

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Defeated

23/10/15

I spent the majority of the day on my hill so that I could send out more job applications. This is harder for me than other PCV’s, because I have to squat beside a rock that is half covered with biting ants and hope that the signal for my internet USB modem is 3G+ because 3 and EDGE don’t allow me to access any internet. It’s hard concentrating on gathering details about the company for whom I’m writing a cover letter and supplying relevant information about my current life when insects are biting my legs, the sun is blazing on my back, and the service is temporarily down. The worst are the job applications that require me to go on an internet portal that shuts down when my service shuts down.

I wished that my potential employers could have seen me hurrying to finish an application as the clouds raced in and started to downpour on me. I didn’t want to close my laptop in the middle of a portal application, so I huddled underneath a large mango tree and shielded the laptop with my body as I continued to gather information about the company and add it to my cover letter. I am sure that if any of my employers saw the dedication that I put into applying for their open positions that my resolve and self-motivation would not be of any question.

It’s hard trying to find a job with access to village technology and such a large time difference. I get worried sometimes because I feel as if I need to have a job or internship set so that I can finally relax and no longer worry about it. It’s causing me to focus almost all of my efforts on my future when I get back and it’s exciting and disconcerting knowing that my future career and life will depend on what company accepts me.

I’m tired. It’s not the tiredness that comes from working too hard or partying too hard, but the weariness from sustained work without a solid break from looming projects and commitments. I feel ready for a vacation from my service and then off to start a new journey in engineering design. It’s a long way away, and right now it feels as if I’ll never get there. However, I know that I just have to keep on networking and applying for jobs and hopefully one of them will turn out in my favor.

Beyond Hills

6/8/15

“You’re not allowed to enter the palace grounds or take photos unless you first go to Mengo Palace in Kampala and obtain a letter of permission.”

I turned away in disappointment from the Kabaka’s Palace in Bamunanika. Last month, I had been promised that I could re-Hill Internet on Rockenter the palace for the last time and take photos in the ruins of the palace. However, this time a new army guard was hired who adhered to some sort of rule that prohibited me from entering the palace grounds. I started to get upset because this was a place that I loved to show my visitors and PCV Hannah was my guest for the week. I had also lived here for almost two years, and this one guard wasn’t allowing me to pass. Part of me believes that this has to do with the Ugandans who attempted to steal the fence surrounding the palace about a month ago. Another police officer attempted to arrest me back then.

We descended the small hill on which the Kabaka’s Palace lay, and made our way towards the much larger hill overlooking Bamunanika Town. Over the past two years, I had gazed at the hill with its rocky crags and wondered if it was possible to climb it. Since Hannah was visiting me, I decided that now was the best opportunity. As we approached the base of the hill, about a dozen Ugandan children started to follow us. Soon enough, they started to lead us up the hill. I laughed at how Hannah and I kept stumbling over hidden rocks, or stopped when faced with a very steep rock to boulder. But the barefoot children would just run up the mountain as if they were running down a paved road.

Climbing Hill Behind BamunanikaThe view from the top was beautiful, because it showed us the entirety of Bamunanika Town. Sure, I love the mountains and foothills of the Rwenzoris and Mt. Elgon but this was my home. It wasn’t just rolling hills; instead I could see the layout of this seemingly random town appear from the matooke trees and bush of the Luweero Sub-County. The children became our tour guides and showed us various sites on the hill. We stopped by a grassy clearing near the top called “Shaolin Temple” where the kids would mock fight in imitation of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. Another stop was a rocky outcropping that gave another view of Bamunanika Town and an abandoned factory by the outskirts.

After a few minutes at each site, one of the kids would say, “Tu gende?” which means “Should we go?”. The final site was a very steep rock that sloped down for about 25 feet. Hannah and I stood on the sloped embankment as the children picked up leafy branches and the plastic bases of jerrycans in order to sled down the hill. I couldn’t believe that this was a game that the children would play. Kids of all ages would slide down the smooth rock of the hill and then come to a halt when they crashed into the piles of grass and leaves near the base. I had fun categorizing the children and imagining what they would become when they grew up.

One of the kids led the group and helped form some sort of system of who would ride what and when; I assumed that he would become a takisi conductor. Another kid kept laughing, riding really fast, and making fun of the other kids who were crying and I felt that he would become a most wonderful bodaman. At one point this girl continued to ride on the leaf sleds even though only the boys were riding on them. I had a feeling that she would become a very empowered school teacher or sassy nnyabo.

Children, Laptop, and Rocks

Children, Laptop, and Rocks

The kids ushered us on to the final stop, which was an abandoned factory near the side of the hill. We avoided the woman who had made her home behind the factory, because she purportedly beat the children whenever they came near her. Near the local mosque, the children, who numbered around 25 by this point, said goodbye to us. After all this time I couldn’t believe that there was still something new to see in my hometown.

Hill Sledding

Hill Sledding

Honestly, it disappointed me not to enter the Kabaka’s Palace for the last time. But given the choice I would rather go rock sledding down a hill with barefoot, Ugandan children tour guides than walk through a gated palace with guards that don’t want me there.

It’s a Choice

8/7/15 – 10/7/15

“Ah you know, for us Ugandans we don’t believe that. It is different over here.”

I have come to realize that even when armed with logic and sound reasoning presented in a straightforward manner, my target audience still has the choice to either believe what I am saying or disagree. Most of the time, the arguments are backed by opinions rather than by reason. Belief can easily be misconstrued for fact.

HIV Testing

HIV Testing

On Wednesday, Health and Care Foundation Uganda and Uganda Cares in partnership with Kasana Luweero Diocese came to Luteete PTC to perform HIV testing for my students and teachers. Health and Care Foundation Uganda also led several sessions regarding the biology of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, sexual gender roles, living positively, and condom demonstrations. I have come to realize that my Ugandan students and audience listen better when other Ugandans are presenting the information rather than when I present it. If I were to say something that provoked disbelief, my students could attribute it to differences in culture. The funny thing was that while Uganda Cares tested for HIV and promoted abstinence only since it was in partnership with a Catholic Diocese, Health and Care Foundation was explaining the use of both male and female condoms with the addition of water based lubricants. I specifically chose the Health and Care Foundation because its members were younger Ugandans who could easily relate to my students.

Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube

Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube

On Thursday, PCV Lindsay came from Iganga to present female sexual health, the biology of the menstrual period, and

RUMPs Materials

RUMPs Materials

how to make Re-Usable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs). Disposable pads cost around 1,500/= and if two pads are used each month then in one year that amounts to 60,000/=. RUMPs would only cost around 1,000/= to create and would last as long as the fabric stays together. Lindsay explained the biological process of the menstrual period and debunked the myth that there are safe days. While we explained the way to sew the pads, the students submitted their personal questions:

“Why does it hurt when I play sex?”Madam Lindsay

“If I have pain during my period, will playing sex get rid of the pain?”

“Will taking Panadal (pain relieving pills) cause me to become barren?”

“Can I get HIV if I plax sex with my girlfriend during her period?”

“How many holes does a vagina have?”

“Why does my skin itch after bathing?”

These questions were addressed as the students stitched together their fabric pieces around a towel in that would then be placed at the bottom of their underwear during their period. Afterwards, the students could remove the pad, wash it with soap, and then hang it on a clothesline where the sunlight would dry and disinfect it.

At the end of the day, one of my students continually asked Lindsay question after question. He seemed to believe that the blood of the female period was a disgusting and unsanitary thing.

My student: “Ah madam, I don’t want my wife cooking for me when she is on here period.”

Lindsay: “First of all, female blood is not unsanitary. Also we need to reduce the stigma behind the beauty of the female menstrual period and if it bothers you so much, you should reverse the traditional gender roles and cook for yourself and your wife while she is on her period.”

Making a Pad

Making a Pad

With these two full-day sessions I hoped to impart some knowledge to my students. I want to give them as many opportunities as possible to make the most well-informed decisions when the time comes to make them.

As I walked back home, my neighbors asked to borrow my wrench. One of my neighbor’s boda boda’s broke. They called a mechanic, who turned out to be a younger male student in his teens. The local reverend of the parish was walking by as the mechanic repaired the boda boda. During the initial discussions, it became known that this young mechanic could not read and had not finished primary school. My teacher neighbors attempted to convince him to go back to school and the reverend even offered a scholarship to him, but the boy refused. I guess that he thought that being a mechanic for the rest of his life and making some fast money was much better than investing in the long-term.

Then today a random policeman in camo gear attempted to arrest me as I was writing this post on top of the hill where I can get internet. I had been working on sending updates on PCV site development and sending photos from the HIV and RUMPs day events. I looked up from my computer and greeted him, and he asked me what I was doing:

*Exchange translated from Luganda

Policeman: “What are you doing here?”

Me: “I’m doing work on my computer.”

Policeman: “I need to take you in to the police station.”

Me: “No you don’t need to. I am a volunteer teacher here and have been living here for 20 months and always come on this hill. I am friends with the community members and the caretakers of the Kabaka’s Palace.”

Policeman: “I am taking you to the police station.”

Me: “I don’t want to go with you. You shouldn’t bring me to the police station, there’s nothing wrong. Stop touching my bike.”

Policeman: “Release your bicycle!”

Me: “No! I don’t want you to steal it. If I let go will you leave it on the ground?”

Policeman: “Fine, but come to the police station or I will hit you with this stick.”

Me: “Okay I’ll come, but let me first finish sending this email.”

*I send an email and take my time shutting down my computer. I then pick up my phone and call the Peace Corps Office Duty Phone number:

Me on the Phone: “Hey Nikki, no worries but I think that this random policeman is trying to arrest me for some reason. I’m not worried but I guess I’ll just walk down to the police station with him. If there’s a problem they arrest me, I just want to know that the safety and security manager will help me. Cool thanks.”

Policeman: “Hurry up or I’ll hit you with this stick.”

Me: “Don’t worry. Hit me with the stick. I have to wait. Don’t worry.”

Policeman: “Hurry up!”

*We walk down the hill to town as I whistle “Four Five Seconds” by Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney. As we pass through town, the village members greet me and laugh because I am being accompanied to the Bamunanika police station

Villagers: “Marvin, who is that with you?”

Me: “Oh this one? He’s my friend.”

Policeman: “I’m not your friend.”

*Meeting the Bamunanika chief of police

Me: “Hello, how have you been?”

Chief: “I have been well. Ah it’s so nice to see you again.”

Policeman: “I have brought this one in because he is suspicious on the hill.”

Chief: “This one has been living here for 20 months. He works as a volunteer teacher at Luteete PTC and sometimes goes to the hill to access the internet. Why did you bring him in?”

Policeman: “I thought that he was associated with the suspects who stole the fence last week.”

Chief: “No, let him go! There’s no problem with him.”

The chief scolded the policeman who then told me to leave. Honestly, I know that he was just trying to do his job, but I think that some common sense would have told him that a conspicuous suspect with much lighter skin who decided to return back to the scene of the crime with a laptop would not make sense. In the end, he too had a choice and he screwed up. There’s always a choice over here, whether to wear a condom, to purchase or create your menstrual pad, to arrest a “suspicious” character, to breakup with a loved one, to teach classes, or to continue trying when apathy abounds.

The Works

19/6/15 – 30/6/15

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

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

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

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

"No Hookups During Homestay"

“No Hookups During Homestay”

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

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

Rainy Day Rolex

Rainy Day Rolex

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

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.

Highs and Lows

13/9/14

There are times when I am on top of my shit here, and then there are times when I am literally on top of shit here in the Peace Corps. As per usual, this weekAdama Restaurant has been filled with many high and low points. I got back from Entebbe on Sunday night after discovering where the two “hole-in-the-wall” Ethiopian restaurants were in Kampala. One of them was tucked away near the Shoprite on Entebbe Road in this Ethiopian woman’s living room, which isn’t open on Sundays. The other one was up the hill to the west of the New Taxi Park named Adama. The food was amazing and delicious, but I still felt exhausted from my heavy month of travelling.

I headed back to my site and was relieved to finally be back home. I felt exhausted and weary, but I understood that this was normal for me. I taught my first lesson of Term 3 at my PTC on Monday, and was very pleased with the results. I had learned from the students that the last thing they learned from my fellow math and science teacher, Mr. Nsereko, were functions in math and sound waves in science. I therefore crafted a lesson plan revolving around the definition and application of a function in mathematics. I was very happy with how my students received the knowledge. At the end of the day on Monday I still felt a bit tired and more out of it than usual (I had thrown up my dinner of plain rice), so I decided to go to bed early, but I was happy that life here was finally getting back to normal.

I don’t think that I can even describe to you how I felt during those next few days this past week. I had woken up on Tuesday and biked to a nearby duka in order to purchase biscuits, a coke, and some toilet paper because I started having some stomach upsets when I woke up. I then called Rebekah in order to tell her that I was going to make it to Nakaseke by the evening in order to restart going on the radio show. All of a sudden I found myself feverish, nauseous, delirious, and sick with a head-splitting headache. All I could do from morning until the late evening was lie down in my bed because any simple movement caused my entire body to ache.

Journal Entry:
“everything sucks, I keep throwing up everything I eat although throwing up bananas, water, and toast doesn’t taste so bad on the way up. I’ll never forget at staging that this experience would be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There’s literally no working electronic device in my house right now.

Yet even this day must be suffered. Soon this too shall pass and life will continue. I came in knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, and it sure as hell isn’t. But it’s in all moments when the struggle is real that meaning shows itself.

I never thought that throwing up could lead to so much relief. Literally after throwing up I felt so much better and had a lessening of the overall pain in my body. Hopefully, it’s all going to be better from here on out… that it was just a 24 hour bug. Let’s hope so, because it’s exhausting.”

I was hungry, but couldn’t eat anything. I had to go poop several times, but it hurt just to stand. I took Ibuprofen several times but threw them up each time. At first I assumed that my waves of chills and sudden sickness constituted Malaria, but my rapid Malaria test turned out to be negative. I took my temperature and called PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) who told me that my temperature of 100 degrees F should not be making me feel that miserable and that if I felt any worse by the next morning then I should probably call a private hire to bring me in to the medical office in Kampala.

I was so thankful for my neighbor Kato Godfrey who biked all the way to Bamunanika in order to pick up some water and groceries for me since I was unable to even walk any significant distance outside of my house. I even chuckled a bit because I had asked him to pick up some Glucose Biscuits for me which were these local, dry biscuits called “Glucose Biscuits”, but he instead picked up packets of pure Glucose for me. I forced myself to drink oral rehydration fluids and eat some toast since I had eaten nothing during the day. I don’t even know how I got through the rest of that day, because there was no electricity, I had no working laptop, there was nothing to do in my house, I was both burning hot and frigidly cold, and my cell phone died right after the Peace Corps Medical Officer called me to check up on me.

Wednesday was a blur as well, because I still had a headache, but was feeling slightly better. My phone was dead and there was no electricity in the surrounding villages so I didn’t know what time it was at all. I stayed inside the entire day to continue recovering. I don’t think that I had ever felt that way before; I literally would just stare blankly at my walls and feel as if I was inside of a dream. I was delirious and couldn’t tell if it was from my sickness, the mefloquine, my long sojourn from site, or a mixture of all three. Sometimes, all I could think about was how nice it would be to have my own toilet with an abundant supply of toilet paper and a refrigerator with cold water and enough bland food to eat so that I didn’t have to poop or throw everything out.

Then on Thursday morning came and I felt so much better. I t was almost as if all that was left was a few stomach rumbles. I was able to teach again which felt good because I started the Algebra I Unit in mathematics with my students, and they seemed to understand the concepts. Rachel came over later in the day and I was able to make a Mexican dinner for both of us. I was extremely happy to finally eat some substantial food with flavor since I had only eaten small bananas and toast for the duration of the week. It felt good to laugh and smile again with a friend.

On Friday we headed to Kampala and I was well enough to perform my usual bike ride from Luteete to Wobulenzi. Rachel had some business with Peace by Piece Kitenge merchandise at the Peace Corps office and I was called in to work on video editing a Peace Corps Uganda 50th Anniversary Rap. As soon as I stepped in the office I was engulfed in the turbulent storm that only a Ugandan Peace Corps Headquarters could provide. Everyone seemed to be rushing off to a meeting and those who were able to talk to me gave me differing answers. When I asked where the Safety and Security Officer Fred was I received the following replies:

“He’s in his office.”

“Fred is not here at the moment.”

“I think that he’s in a meeting.”

“Ask Phylicia.”

“Phylicia is in a meeting.”

“There’s an emergency and he left to handle it.”

“He’s on the first floor.”

I eventually found Fred and gave him the Bystander Intervention training video that I had edited for him at the All Volunteer Conference a few weeks prior. I gave one of the staff members who was in charge of video ideas interviews from Coffee Camp that needed to be translated from Lukonzo into English. I then was meeting with the head IT person in order to sign out a Peace Corps laptop for the weekend so that I could edit the 50th Anniversary Rap Music Video. Unfortunately, there was no video editing software on any of the laptops. At first we attempted to install Adobe Premiere Elements 10 since I had gotten the software off of PirateBay, but I had the 32-bit version and the laptop was 64-bit. In the end, I was told that I had to make do with Windows Movie Maker to edit the video.

Ever since then, I’ve been staying at this new hostel in Kisementi called Fat Cat Hostel and have finished the music video. The original footage and audio The Fat Cat Backpackerswasn’t the best quality, but I did the best job that I could with the resources that were available to me. It’s been another surreal week and I still can’t understand what’s been happening in my life. Really, these sicknesses, long travels, and lack of my own laptop have really taken a toll on me. Recently, it’s been a series of lows sprinkled with intermittent highs.

But it’s still worth it. I was still looking up at the countless stars in the clear African sky as I retched in my pit latrine, my neighbor cared enough to buy groceries for me, I enjoyed one of the most delicious burgers at Endiro Café on Friday with some good friends even though my stomach started acting up again, and I got to edit video on Windows Movie Maker (never again) in the Peace Corps lounge as the U.S. Embassy released a notification of a terror alert in Kampala concerning a terrorist cell. In the midst of the downs there were ups and that’s what life is, especially in the Peace Corps.

Touch and Go

31/7/14

“And so it goes, and so it goes…”

I still feel like I compare myself too much with other PCVs whose accomplishments posted on Facebook seem to dwarf my day-to-day victories. After a good phone call with my friend Ravi in the Wobulenzi market today I feel a bit better. I just have to be comfortable being where I am at this very moment and understanding that there will be days when I feel like I’m accomplishing a great deal, and days when it feels as if I’m going backwards.

Yesterday I travelled to Wobulenzi en route to Nakaseke for the radio show. For some reason my Orange internet access stayed at EDGE the entire time which was frustrating because I had to figure out what was wrong with my personal student loan account. I had applied to have a portion of the Peace Corps readjustment allowance to be paid in monthly installments towards my personal loan payments. However, I was notified that my paperwork that I filled out during the initial application and during PST was never processed and so I was late in paying my payments this past July.

I had to deal with my bank’s customer service by using the Orange international bundle of 45 minutes talking time with anyone in the United States for 6,000/=. Funnily enough the customer service felt like it sped by at lightning fast speed compared to the way things move here in Uganda. It turns out through the bureaucracy of Peace Corps, Washington D.C., and the banks my paperwork was never submitted that allotted my monthly installments.

Fortunately, the problem was squared away by the nice employees at the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, which was a pleasant surprise.

Before I left Wobulenzi, a Ugandan man approached me and said that he noticed that I spoke with an American accent. He asked me if I had some time to speak with him about his daughter. I was a bit annoyed since I assumed he wanted me to sponsor his daughter, marry her, or bring her back to the United States with me. Despite my apprehension, I agreed to speak with him. He informed me that his daughter was about to depart for the United States in mid-August to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. She had been enrolled in some sort of international studies program that sponsored her to study abroad in other schools around the world. She finished that last two years of her high school studies in Italy after completing her O Levels here in Uganda.

I was very impressed to hear this man talk in superb English about his daughter. He himself obtained his Bachelors in Makerere University in Kampala and then his Masters in Nairobi, Kenya. It felt good to hear that there were programs that sponsored bright Ugandan students to have the opportunity to see other cultures and study in other places that allowed them to have chances that many of their peers and family members would never have. He requested that I meet with his daughter in order to answer her questions regarding the United States since it would be the first time that she would ever travel let alone live there. I felt honored to be requested by this man, who also correctly guessed that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and scheduled to meet him and his daughter in one week’s time. I then bid him farewell and left Wobulenzi.

I arrived in Nakaseke in the late afternoon and made my way to the radio station. I had originally planned to discuss the differences between the education system here and in the United States as the theme for the evening’s radio show. I had also hoped to bring the Luteete PTC and Nakaseke PTC Kiswahili teacher to talk as a guest speaker on the show. Unfortunately, she forgot about the scheduled date and told me that she couldn’t make it to the show. Coincidentally, the head of the Nakaseke Telecenter, Peter, was sick in Kampala and couldn’t host the show that night so it was cancelled and I made my way to Rebekah’s house to hang out with her for the rest of the evening.

I woke up to the smell of French toast and Nakumatt Blue Label coffee prepared by Rebekah before heading back towards Wobulenzi. When I got there, I called my supervisor to meet me and sign the grant paperwork for the VEW cookstoves for my college. He arrived, signed the paper, and asked me if he could see the ICT Lab appeal video that I had created to spread awareness about the project. I showed it to him on my external hard drive. I stepped away from the laptop to work on some other paperwork when I noticed that he was clicking on some files after the video was done.

I walk over to the screen and laugh because I see that he clicked on the Community folder and started watching an episode. I explained to him that Community was a famous American comedy tv show. He then bought me a Guinness, as he always does at Wobulenzi, and left to go back to his house. As I drank the beer and continued working on my laptop I got a little bit worried because one of the episodes of Community was titled Advanced Gay. In the wrong hands, the title itself could be misconstrued by a Ugandan who wouldn’t understand the satirical comedy of the show due to the current atmosphere and attitudes towards that subject in Uganda.

I wasn’t worried about it at all, but at the very least it got me thinking about repercussions involving a misconception with the episode. Furthermore, it bothered me to think that in this is such a non-issue in the United States to the point that the episode could be broadcasted on a family tv network, but it would be absolutely taboo and forbidden to say the same for Uganda. The situation here in Uganda is so different, unknown, and untested that it’s even suggested that PCVs create euphemisms and code words when talking about the subject in order to not attract any unwanted attention. Ah well, this is the Uganda that we live in today.

So I finish up my work in Wobulenzi, buy some linoleum flooring for my dirt floor kitchen, then bike back to Bamunanika where I call my mother who celebrated her birthday in California with my grandparents and relatives. It felt good just hearing their voices again and knowing that they were having a good time together. I guess that I’m getting old, because I’m starting to just enjoy the small talk and exchanges with good friends and family members back in the United States.

“…and you’re the only one who knows.”

~Billy Joel, And So It Goes

Connection

27/7/14

I think that one of the biggest needs of a Peace Corps Volunteer is the need to connect. It’s the need to connect with the village and to feel integrated at site, as well as the need to connect with other Peace Corps Volunteers who know what you’re going through. Then there is the need to connect back with your old home back in the United States where most of our engrained memories and attributes stem from. I realize just how connected I am in my village with the village neighbors who lived around my house and the free picture-less Facebook that allows me to keep in contact with everyone when the internet access works.

However, as much as technology has progressed to allow us to stream videos of ourselves chatting with others it cannot replace the feeling that the physical presence of another human being can provide. I feel a marked difference between seeing a Facebook message written to me compared with a physically mailed letter. Then there is the familiarity of hearing a good friend’s voice on the phone telling you about his exploits of the past few weeks while you’ve been away. You hear the rise and fall in tones and the emotions behind the story that only the best writers could hope to capture in written text.

Yet I think that the physical presence of someone is something that we as social human beings crave. We crave to touch, smell, see, and listen to another living human being. We desire to be in the presence of another person who can empathize and share his or her problems, secrets, fears, successes, and joys with us.

I also believe that it is the human spirit that I am most attracted to. It is the enormous potential to do good and bad combined within one person who has a choice to do either.

This past weekend, I was able to experience that good side of human connections. On Friday I left to meet up with my Safety and Security Warden VisitPCV Safety and Security Warden, Rachel B, who was doing a checkup on the Northern Central Group’s evacuation point in Luweero should there ever be an emergency when we would need to congregate. We ate lunch in Kasana where I worked on filling out another grant for Virunga Engineering Works (VEW) Cookstoves that would be placed at my site and allow the PTC to save up to $360 every year from firewood transportation and purchases. We made our way back to Wobulenzi where we picked up a ton of groceries for the weekend.

Back at my site, we chilled and had good heart-to-heart talks while eating tikka masala and jalebi cooked with ghee, rice, and pumpkin bread. That was an awesome Friday night, just hanging out and not worrying about the problems that we would be facing with our projects or that lay ahead of us. The next day two to other PCVs, Rachel C and Lindsay, came over to visit for the day.

We explored the local Bamunanika market since it was market day, which occurs every Saturday fortnight. The girls where looking for prom dresses in preparation for the Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference that is themed as Peace Corps prom and happening at the end of August. We got some sodas at Bamunanika and then got a tour of the Kabaka’s Palace by the caretaker, Kimera, who also gave the tour when Hannah visited about 3 weeks ago. This time, he gave us gifts of cold bottled water, flowers, and a raw egg each from the palace chicken. We thanked him after seeing the grounds, and departed for home.

Rachel B, Rachel C, and Lindsay continued on back home and I plopped myself down on a rock by the dusty, main road leading to Luteete PTC from Bamunanika and called my two of my best friends back home. I talked with Sean and Audrey about their experiences in Baltimore and their most recent adventures. For some reason, just hearing their hungover voices and laughs made me feel like I was right there with them in a Baltimore apartment. I felt so comfortable talking with them on that rock as Ugandan children surrounded me and played this game where they tried to see how close they could get to me before freaking out and running away.

I just felt happiness and joy listening to my old friends tell me stories and how they were feeling after an eventful night. I Rachel and Lindsay in Bamunanika Marketwished that I were back home with them even for just 1 hour in order to just be with them. We said goodbye for the time being and I rejoined my PCV friends at my house. The dinner plan was to eat Philly Cheesesteaks, so they had brought cans of Campbell’s Cheese Soup. We baked bread from scratch, sautéed onions and green bell peppers, and broiled steak with garlic. Those sandwiches were amazing, and it’s funny because this whole weekend started because Rachel B said that we should eat cheesesteaks because she found can of Campbell’s Cheese Soup.

We chilled again at night, and then slept off the heavy meal. In all things, I find it hard to put into words how content I was with this weekend, with the friends who visited me, the meals that I cooked, the places I went, the people whom I talked with, and the connections that I made.

“Time is a linear dimension.”
~Lindsay Carrera, PCV Education

Butterflies

27/5/14

I would definitely say that today is a high. It’s almost as if everything is okay again. I feel that I am right where I need to be in life. I am sitting on the Kabaka’s Hill near his palace cool in both the shade of a gigantic mango tree and a cool breeze. I was able to teach again today. I tried to make it as hands-on as possible since it was a physics lesson about the different kinds of forces and how they made objects move. I was also able to successfully create these stick cages around these berry saplings that I got from the organic farm on Kulika during TOT (Training of the Trainers). I also mopped my floors and did my laundry in preparation for training tomorrow at Lweza.

The wind feels amazing; no matter where I go I always appreciate the breeze the rustles through the grass and trees around here. When I close my eyes, it reminds me of biking on the Esplanade of the Charles River in Boston or through the neighborhoods of Berlin or the forest pathways of Amstelveen in the Netherlands. I’m sure that the sun and the breeze and the falling mangoes will be one of the things that I will miss the most about this place when I go.

Also since rainy season ended, there are a plethora of butterflies wandering around through the air. It almost seems too idyllic to be true. I am sitting on this rocky outcropping of a hill and off in the distance are small huts and trees dotting the rolling hills of the Luweero sub-county and a seemingly endless stream of butterflies are emanating from the distance. It’s peaceful up here, and I thin that this spot may be one of my favorite spots in the entire sub-county. It’s gorgeous up here. and I wish that I could take a picture to show you, but I left my camera at home. But like all things in life, the moment is so much more beautiful than any picture.