Closing

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

End of Peace Corps Service (Post 1 of 3)

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

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

shoes

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

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

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

abantu

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

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

Peace Out!

gongout

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Distraught

18/11/15

I have been sick for the past few days. Through the help of ibuprofen, bananas from my neighbors, toast, and ginger tea I have started to feel much better. As I physically started to feel better, I became more emotionally weary. I began cleaning my house and preparing my bags for my eventual move to Kampala for Close-of-Service medical and then to Entebbe airport to fly to Amsterdam. It has been stressful saying goodbye to everyone in my village. I have had to deny so many people “snaps” or photos that they want to take with me, because my camera’s memory card wouldn’t be able to fit an individual photo of all of them. Also, I don’t have the funds or energy to print a few hundred photos to give to all of them. Everyone wants remembrances of me, and it’s interesting that even now as I am about to leave many of the older village kids ask me for things. They tell me that they want the kitenge stars hanging up in my room, the bicycle, or an old laptop that lies dormant in my room.

I worry about the transition to the developed countries where perspectives and experiences are different. Slowly-by-slowly my rooms are becoming more barren and packed into neat suitcases and bags that will make trip back to the developed world with me. I think about the children with whom I play in my little yard and how they don’t seem to understand the concept that I will be leaving forever.

Me: “Omanyi nti nja kugenda America omwezi gujja?” (Do you know that I’m going back to America next month?)

Child: “Ojja kudda ddi?” (When will you come back?)

Me: “Sigendanga kudda.” (I am never coming back.)

Child: “Tuzannye fishy fishy!” (Let’s play fishy fishy*)
*A game similar to Sharks and Minnows

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It’s weird thinking that soon I will be just a mere memory for my villagers and the children. Sure they will see my replacement Peace Corps Volunteer, but I wonder how many of the children will remember me. I think about the children telling stories about me to their own children when they’re older.

There is one recent even that I will remember for a long time: one of the secondary school boys, Waswa, came up to my window the other evening. I told him that I would be leaving for good and that I wanted to say goodbye to him before he left for another school. I then gave him an issue of The Atlantic magazine and a deck of playing cards that I got from Busch Gardens many years ago. He said thank you and walked away. An hour later he returned and was sniffling. He told me how he was crying and that he would miss me a lot. I usually don’t have much patience for the older secondary school students, but Waswa was different; he was always respectful and would invite me to play sports with him and the other students. He would offer me jackfruit, bananas, and avocadoes from time to time. But most importantly, he would listen and ask intelligent questions whenever we had discussions. What struck me about this specific interaction was that he cried.

In Uganda, it is not culturally appropriate for men to show signs of physical or emotional weakness, and crying is one of them. The only appropriate times to cry are when a close relative has died or if one is involved in a horrendous accident.

Before Peace Corps, I remember asking myself how to pack my entire life into two check-in bags. Now I am trying to comprehend how to take back this new life, this new perspective, and this new me back home. My home is changing and this house in Luteete will remain my home for 18 more days. In some ways, my worries are lessened because I have a carrier volunteer to follow up after me and I have planted some deep roots here.