The First Goodbyes

19/11/15

I said goodbye to my year 1 students and one of my neighbors today. I finally felt better today, so I washed my clothes after the torrential downpour of the morning subsided and then made my way to the PTC. I gave my supervisor a very nice fountain pen from Boston University and discussed the last few discussion points of my service:

  • Term timetable for the ICT tutors
  • Driving me to Kampala from Luteete
  • What to expect to do with my successor
  • Schedule for my last three weeks in-country

DSC_0308

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I then spent one of my last days teaching in the computer lab. A few year 2 students came in and I taught them the basics of holding the mouse, practicing drag-and-drop with solitaire, and the functions of major keyboard keys. We also had a heated discussion where I tried to convince them that being black doesn’t make you any less intelligent, developed, or able to succeed compared to “whites”. What really riled me was when they said that they would much rather prefer a “white” person like me as a Peace Corps Volunteer than a black African Peace Corps Volunteer. They just couldn’t comprehend that black people could be successful or called true Americans because of their skin color. So honestly, it wasn’t that different than many of the discussions that I have had with them.

It feels weird, because I was teaching as if it was any other day during the term, but I knew that everything would soon be different. In less than a month I would be hanging out with friends in Amsterdam and I would breathe in the frigid December air. I left the ICT lab in the late afternoon and said goodbye to the year 1 students whom I could see. Naturally, they all wanted my contact information and photo.

When I got back to my house, I shared some samosas with my villagers and then said goodbye to Master Okia. Master Okia is one of the fathers who lives in a house near mine in Luteete, and he would be leaving next week for a month-long trip. Since I would be leaving in the first week of December, I made sure to knock on his door and personally say farewell. He requested that when I return back to the United States, that I not forget the people of Luteete.

Right now I am wondering how it could be possible for me to forget my experiences here. I honestly believe that I have enough life experiences here to fill a few average lifetimes. I tend to stop and gaze at things here for a few moments and reflect on my time. I look at the growing apple trees, the organized library that has progressed from having a part-time student librarian to a full-time librarian, and a functional ICT lab with eager students. I know that I will leave here with no regrets.

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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.

Taking for Granted

13/7/15 – 20/7/15

I spent the last week traveling with the Country Director to the southwestern and western regions of Uganda. We stopped at PCV sites in Masaka, Kisoro, Kabale, Bushenyi, Fort Portal, Kyenjojo, Hoima, and Masindi. Even in an air-conditioned Peace Corps vehicle, it was exhausting to see so many sites in such a short span of time. I have since come to regret agreeing to this project of creating Peace Corps Uganda promotional videos because it takes me away from site for long periods of time during the week. On the other hand I have been able to see the amazing projects and empathize with the difficulties of my fellow PCV’s. It was funny hearing complaints inside the Peace Corps vehicle about how difficult it was to reach a PCV’s site, and then realize that a PCV had to travel to and from that site with the use of limited public transportation.

Peace Corps Yoganda

Peace Corps Yoganda

We saw projects concerning coffee farmers, energy-efficient cookstoves, Ugandan yoga, reading interventions, cow dung to natural gas conversion, public health clinics, and kitenge scrap quilts. The more I saw my fellow PCV’s sites and projects, the more I wanted to get back home to my own site. My favorite part of each day was staying with a PCV at a his or her site and getting to know that person’s unfiltered story. I realized that I felt the most comfortable among other PCV’s and in my own village.

Cow Dung to Natural Gas

Cow Dung to Natural Gas

After finishing the site visits, I chilled in Masaka over the weekend where I got my haircut by Ugandan students of another PC, Jamie who was teaching them how to cut muzungu hair at St. Agnes Vocational School. I felt as if I really relaxed over the weekend, because Jamie’s house felt very cozy in the middle of town with a living room filled with couches and carpet. I finally was able to just lounge in a carpet and walk barefoot on carpet. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine that I was in a small college apartment instead of inside a nice Peace Corps house.

Cutting Muzungu Hair

Cutting Muzungu Hair

Then on Monday I organized the pick-up of computers, projectors, extension cables, padlocks, and a projector sheet for the Luteete PTC computer lab from Kampala. It was a bit stressful withdrawing over 6 million shillings, carrying the computers across two streets of busy traffic, and then making it back home by public transportation because I still had errands to do in Kampala. After passing out that night, I awoke the next day to start of the college’s computer lab. With the help of some Year 2 students, we assembled the ten computers on the side walls of the lab and organized the furniture so that students could work on the wall computer terminals while others took notes on the middle island tables. It really did feel like a dream come true.

Wiring the Computer Lab

Wiring the Computer Lab

I remembered when I first arrived at the college and how I knew that my college would really benefit from computer lab. I also remembered how I thought to myself: “This is gonna take a long time and a lot of hard work.” Now, the computers are ready and all that is needed is to connect the electricity from the college to the computer lab. I take a lot of things for granted here in Peace Corps, like the freedom to leave my job whenever I want/need without any questions. I also know that I am also taken for granted at times. However, the one thing that I will never take for granted are my shared experiences with other PCV’s and my own time here in my home nestled in Luteete village.

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.