The Road Ahead

16/5/15

The other day a fellow PCV asked me how I felt and I responded with “weary”.  She wanted me to clarify what I mean by weary. I told her that I felt used. As I’ve stated before, to be used in Uganda means to become acclimated to the normalcy of things here that may seem odd to a foreigner.

Working in a village computer lab and having to shove goats out of said lab: Used

Enduring 4 hour-long speeches by local leaders who don’t know what they’re saying: Used

Creatively Facilitating sessions about HIV, Malaria, Reusable Menstrual Pads, and Gardening: Used

In the larger scheme of things, I feel as if I am living in the middle of things. I have long-since bid farewell to who I used to be before Peace Corps, and I am slowly forgetting who I was during the beginning of my Peace Corps service. Right now I am very comfortable with whom I am and what I am doing with my service, but I am starting to worry about life afterwards. I hung out with one of my PC friends and her visiting mom with whom I shared that I was stressed about going back to the developed world of the United States. In response, she told me that the bustle of a city like New York didn’t even compare to the chaos and craziness of a city like Kampala. More and more I am starting to notice the photos and posts from my friends in their lives back in the United States and wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy the things that I once used to enjoy.

Maybe it’s the mefloquine, but I have been having recurring dreams about being back in the United States. I have had these dreams earlier in my service, but this time around the mood is different. Whereas the past dreams would be about missing my US home, these dreams are about missing my Ugandan home. In these dreams, I would imagine myself at a bar or bicycling with friends through Baltimore or Boston and then feel sad because I missed my village and my life here in Uganda. I am torn between wanting to be back home and move on to the next stage in my life, but also know that my time here is extremely valuable.

I feel used.

It hurts to realize just how no one will understand me. My friends and family back home will try to pick what I am saying, and my villagers here still try to acclimate to my personality. The only people whom I will bond with are the other PCV’s around the world. I don’t know if I would be able to bond that well with other NGO’s, volunteers, or even other Ugandans. I guess that it doesn’t help that even I don’t understand what I’m going through at a given moment.

Currently, I am almost done with my month and a half long extravaganza of travelling to different trainings, camps, and facilitation sessions. I think that I am running on empty and need to replenish myself with some much-needed personal time in the village. Now I just need to make the usual trek back home where I can plant my rosemary and strawberry plants, watch the new Game of Thrones episodes, cook a village Tikka Masala with rice, take some photos of the ICT Lab construction, plan the date for the community HIV testing event, and maybe play with the village children. Because for me, that feels normal.

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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.

Dreams and Time

*Mefloquine is one of the three main prophylaxis drugs used to prevent the major effects of malaria in a person. It is taken once a week and side-effects can include vivid dreams, night terrors, hallucinations, and in some cases depression.

Already we’re starting to get into a routine and it’s still surreal to think that this is all happening. Even as I write this it feels as if I am in a dream world. It’s a world inhabited by strange flora and fauna, stories, foods, and people. It’s strange and different. Right now many of the PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and I are still in the euphoric, dream-world stage. We’ve been staying on this farm and attending service presentations and sessions given by program directors, administrators, and current PCVs. We have showers, electric lights, tea time, and three home-cooked Ugandan meals every day. And the only mention of the outside world comes from the stories shared during our presentations about safety and security, bank accounts, cell phones, malaria, and internet access. These are all sessions that are intending to prepare us for our eventual venture out into the “real-world” once we’ve had enough time in getting ready in this surreal state.Kulika Bonfire

Nothing feels real or even that challenging. The paperwork that we need is given to us, instructions are doled out, and even the people who come from Kampala to help us set up our bank account arrive in a white van from a dusty road that winds away into the jungle and hills. Since we arrived under the cover of night, I was unable to physically orient or place myself from Kampala or any other source of civilization.

Yet we interact with each other on this farm and with the other staff members here. We have had talks with the Uganda Country Director, health staff, and education coordinators. We are still living the dream, but I know that it will soon give way to bucket showers, pit latrines, inevitable malaria, disorganized schools, and safety threats during travel. I had a talk with several of the current Peace Corps Volunteers who are leading training sessions, and I felt such a unique vibe from them. It almost seemed as if they were unaffected and in some cases disillusioned to an extent with regards to the hardships and trials that we were expecting to face. Don’t get me wrong, they love their work and even now they say that they would volunteer again, but they are so real in their work and with the goals that they can accomplish tempered by the good that they know they are doing.

One of them stated that not every volunteer during training will make it to the end of service. One volunteer left during training after 10 days in, another had to go back home due to transportation accident injuries, and another volunteer died in an accident. These are real threats, and the way that he shared these situations with us seemed to resemble a tone accepting the reality of the situation and the real ability just keep moving and doing. The lives that the current volunteers live right now are very different than the ones that we have been experiencing here at the farm these past two days.

Kulika Wood SignHowever, I learned something other than some basic Lugandan phrases these past two days: Ugandans may not have much, but they have a lot of time. Time is not a master of the Ugandans, rather Ugandans are the masters of time. Schedules may be made, but at the end of the day the most important thing involves the patience and care that can lead to growth. If one is true to oneself and one’s own community, then growth can occur. There is a lot of wisdom hidden here on the faces of both Ugandans and their mountainsides. And right now all we can do is heed their wisdom and wait for the dream to pass.