Sounds and Furies

20/11/15 – 28/11/15

I’m reaching the end. This past week I said goodbye and celebrated the good times of my Peace Corps service with so many PCV’s. It’s just a lot to handle and either too many emotions to comprehend or a dull numbness in my soul. On Friday I visited my home-stay family in Kasana town. They hosted me in December 2013 when I was still a Peace Corps trainee. The house and compound had been turned into a burgeoning primary school since I had last been there. All of my little brothers and sisters had grown up, and they all knew how to speak English. It was very weird to think that two years ago the Semuddu family had welcomed me into their home and adopted me as one of their own. They presented me with a button-up village shirt, a plate of meat cooked my favorite way, and the biscuits that I used to eat all the time as a snack. It felt good “training” with Davis, Daniella, Moustafa, and Diana out in the backyard just like old times. Before I left, I asked my home-stay father, Peter Semuddu, to clarify the meaning behind my Luganda name.

Since I stayed with the Semuddu family, I became part of the Enkima (monkey) clan. The different kingdoms of Uganda have different clans, so the clans in the central Buganda kingdom would differ from those of the Busoga, Banyankore, Bakiga, Batooro, and Banyooro kingdoms. The kabiro specifies the sub-clan of a given clan, and the sub-clans of the Enkima clan are Kamukukuru (small dove), Byenda (offals or cow intestines), and Vuvumira (wasp). My specific kabiro is Kamukukuru, which is great because the rule is that one cannot eat his or her sub-clan. I had unintentionally offended some Ugandans in Kampala this one time when I told them that my sub-clan was Byenda and then proceeded to order the traditional Katogo dish of matooke and cow intestines.

houseparty

Later that night in Kampala, I attended a house party near Legends bar. Years ago, this specific house would host monthly house parties for both expats and Ugnandans who lived in Kampala. I felt weird going to a house party and forcing small-talk. I realized how much I didn’t care for uninteresting conversations that would lead nowhere, and instead played a game with the other PCV’s where we would attempt to see who could successfully engage random strangers in conversation. In-between drinking the free alcohol and eating the free cookies, I met some Ugandan street artists who recycled old shirts, hats, and shoes and made them into art pieces. I was especially interested in the crested crane design screen printed on one of the artist’s shirt.

So the next day I made my way to Destreet Art Foundation led by Destreet A Kabati on the Kampala-Kamwokya-Mawanda Road (After Mawanda Road police follow Potters House sign until Evolv www.destreetart.webs.com). I spent Saturday morning sharing coffee with some PCV’s, checking out the canvas prints and shirts at Destreet’s garage studio, and heading to KLA Ink tattoo parlor. My goal that day was to get my tattoo. The design is the silhouette of Africa with the word abantu overlapping it. I waited for a few hours in the studio with PCV’s who wanted tattoos and piercings until the tattoo artist arrived from his other parlor. I had forgotten how much tattoos hurt, but the entire time I kept trying to reflect on my service up to that point. It was exciting, I was getting a tattoo and a majority of the PCV’s in my group was coming into Kampala in order to meet the new trainees who would be replacing us at our respective sites.

carriers

The next day was one of the weirdest days of my service. I made my way to the Peace Corps office with about 30 other PCV’s from my group, and we boarded a coaster headed to the Muzardi training center near Mukono. There I met my carrier PCV, Justin. I felt like I had just met my doppelganger. Justin has many tattoos, is Filipino, has already started learning Luganda, enjoys cycling, has similar humor to mine, and other communal traits. The coaster ride back from the training center felt very odd; it was as if I could let go and know that my site would be in good hands. I felt so numb from all the emotions that I just wandered around Acacia Mall where I drank coffee, ate ice cream, and said goodbyes to even more PCV’s.

thanksgiving

I then left Kampala for Kaliro where I helped a PCV friend, Lindsay, sort 1000 of her Books for Africa shipment in her new library. The best part about having replacement volunteers is that the resources that we have established can be utilized and capacity can be built with the students and teachers. I had never been to Kaliro before, but some PCV’s have dubbed it the “fire swamp” due to the extreme heat and humidity owed in large part to the stagnant swamp water and marshland.

Thanksgiving was spent at another PCV’s house in Jinja. If Lindsay’s house in Kaliro could be described as being a very village house without electricity or running water, then the house in Jinja could be described as looking like a standard apartment in the United States. Electricity was always on, the water pressure was strong, and the tiled flooring made me feel like I was in the developed world. I thought that it was fitting to spend my last Thanksgiving cooking good food, eating sandwiches, dancing by the Nile, and reading spooky stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep.

Now that I am back in my village for the last time, I think about all the last experiences that I will have in this country. If things were moving too slow before, now they are moving too fast. Before long this will all seem like a dream and I will become used to a different life. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to put into pictures, videos or words the complex and multifaceted emotions and insights that I have and even this blog with its weekly posts can’t capture my day-to-day life here.

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Weeraba “Farewell”

January 19, 2014

Weeraba

My clothes are hanging outside on the clotheslines and I am resting in my room. This is the last day of homestay and Host FamilyI will be departing from LuweeroBoysSchool at 3pm to head towards Lweza for Supervisors’ Workshop Training before being sworn-in as fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers on Wednesday. I never really understood how much homestay would impact my life here. I had felt a kinship and a bond with many groups before and have acknowledged many people whom I have met in my lifetime as family, but I can honestly say that I have found another home here in Uganda. My host family told me that other day that they have become “used to me” and that I will always be able to call their house my home even when they are away. This wasn’t like your typical service or mission trip where you go to another country to volunteer for a while and then never return or see those host country nationals again. Instead, I have come to see my family members as my own. I call my host mother maama Diana and my host father Mr. Semuddu. It’s hard to put it into words, because there were so many small experiences that made me fall in love with my time here.

I will not soon forget walking down the Kampala Gulu Highway through Kasana from Luweero Boys and then making the turn after the Bukenya Foundation Pepsi Sign, which signified that the off-hooting dirt road would lead to my host family. I remember feeling like a stranger during the initial days of homestay. There were many eyes, intensely staring at me whenever and wherever I walked. Children and adults alike would yell “Muzungu! How are you?!” As the days progressed, the neighbors near the Bukenya Foundation Pepsi Sign would instead call me “Uncle Marvin” and greet me in their native Lugana. Even the boda boda drivers and pineapple vendors by the Kasana markets would greet me in Luganda after I had explained to them that I was not a “muchina” because bakadde bange bava Philippines naye nva Amerika (my parents come from the Philippines but I come from America).

Then as I neared my host family house, my host family siblings and the neighborhood children would drop whatever they were holding, unless it was a baby, and run towards me while yelling “UNCLE MARVIN! Well be back!” They would then crowd around me and grasp on to my legs and ask me to bake a cake, bring my laptop out to play Shakira’s Waka Waka, or do some Insanity Training with them. Even if I was covered in dust and sweat and exhausted from over 8 hours of language training, the sight of Ugandan children running up to greet their uncle would remind me of why I was here.

I guess that I am making good on my promise of upholding the 2nd and 3rd goals of the Peace Corps which are:

2. To help people outside the United States to understand American culture.

3. To help Americans to understand the cultures of other countries.

Almost every night while cooking or eating dinner I would share stories with my host parents. They would explain to me some of the idiosyncrasies of Ugandan culture and I would share the quirks of American culture. In America, many men cook and it is sometimes even seen that the best professional chefs are men. In Uganda, it is mainly the women who cook. In the United States there is a growing movement of having equality between the sexes, whereas traditionally in Uganda the women are seen as being the domestic housekeepers who cook, clean, and take care of the children while the men work and then relax when they get home. I was fortunate that my host family is more progressive. Both of my host parents share the labor and work around the house.

In Uganda, there is no set public infrastructure other than the matatus and coaster buses that transport Ugandans from one village or city to another. Thus, boda bodas (motorcycles) are a way of life for Ugandans. For a small fee, a boda boda driver can ride you to a nearby city, house, school, store, or plot of land. It is cheap, more convenient than walking, and is sometimes the only reliable method of transportation especially if the destination is more remote than a trading center or village.

I have not only learned Luganda, but also how to somewhat effectively bathe myself using a bucket filled with water from the nearby tap (which is like a borehole, except that it requires no pumping because it runs on electricity), how to walk through dusty roads during the hot-as-ballsack hour (any time after noon and before 6pm), how to plan ahead to handwash my clothes and dry them in time, how to deal with Giardia/Amoebic Dysentery in my intestines for a week, and how to actually start living more like a Ugandan even though I will never really become one.

In return, I have shared stories, videos, and pictures from my travels around the world and in America. I baked cakes and breads with my family, cooked my famous Peanut Butter Pasta, explained the uses of white vinegar to my maama, and helped cook almost half of every dinner since I arrived.

So in my travels I can now say that I have a home in the heart of Africa.

Webale nnyo taata Peter, maama Diana, mwanyinaze Diana, muganda Davis, mwanyinaze Daniella, ne muganda Daniel.

Remembering

January 12, 2014

I don’t know how I can even put it into words. There are times in life when the pain of missing something hurts so much, and there’s no remedy. It almost seems that the older I get, the more memories I have to look back on and reminisce. I have had the fortune of having a life with so many fond memories to look back upon. I think that that’s why Facebook has so much sway over us; it allows us to compartmentalize and look back on our past with others and remember the time that we spent with loved ones, friends, and nights that never ended. But we also are selective in our memory, and the bad ones tend to fade as the good ones become exaggerated to mythical proportions. Yet, if the good memories are all that we can remember, then we tend to want to return back to those “good old day”.

I was reminiscing hardcore a few hours ago when I was going through my friends’ Facebook profiles. I use a slightly modified version of Facebook that doesn’t use as many pictures so as to cut down on the data usage since I have to buy internet data per month since there is no free Wifi here.

Aside: For those of you who are interested, I am using one of the phone carriers’ modem, Orange, that plugs into my USB port on my laptop and allows me to access the internet anywhere in Uganda except for the Karamoja Region to the East. However, the internet signal varies greatly from site to site.

While I scrolled through my newsfeed, a picture popped up from my old Boston University A Cappella Group: Allegrettos. This sparked up a series of memories from hearkening back to my freshman year when I tried out and was accepted as a member of the Allegrettos. It’s hard to explain it to people who never joined an a cappella group, but a cappella represented a large part of my life in college. I became friends with my group members and bonded with them in ways that can only be made by relying on each other’s voices and talents to create a harmonious cacophony that recreates and reinvents a chosen song. I partied with these people, had adventures with them, busked on the streets of Boston with them, and had some of the craziest adventures in college with them. Memories of almost winning the BU Amazing Race hungover after our winter concert or spending two nights together on retreat in Cape Cod reminded me of how much I missed singing with this group.

And this memory led to other memories from college and the months spent between graduation and my departure to Uganda. I won’t try to explain what I did during those months, because they’ve been documented well enough in my Facebook photo albums and my other blog. And I suppose that those pictures that were taken and time spent writing down my experiences allowed me to have the gift of remembering those moments. If I close my eyes, I can sometimes re-imagine saying goodbye to one of my intern friends in Berlin during my internship, dancing my heart out at my friend’s birthday at a Dirty Phonics concert at Royale, or biking through the streets of Boston in search of an unexplored street.

These memories are important, because our history defines how we change and what we can become. Yesterday my language group’s Luganda teachers, Herbert and Dan, took the language class on a field trip to see a mass grave site of casualties of the Luwero War (Ugandan Bush War). This war was a guerilla was held from 1981-1986 in the Luwero District of Uganda between the NRA (National Resistance Army) led by the current president Yoweri Museveni and then president Milton Obote.

There was contested election fraud, and Museveni declared an armed rebellion against Obote and formed the NRA. Museveni was trained in bush/guerilla combat, and sought to bolster the opposition to Obote. He sought support from the Cental Region of Buganda, namely the Luwero District where I know reside. Obote’s government set up roadblocks, created prison camps, and decided to eradicate many of the civilians in the Luwero Triangle in order to oust the rebels and kill civilians and villagers who may have supported them.

Our guide at the mass grave explained how warnings were sent out before some of the attacks, and villagers had to quickly escape throughout the night and had to leave the sick and elderly behind. The next day, government forces swept through the villages of the Luwero District and shot anyone who lived there in order to eradicate support for the NRA rebels. Those who did not receive the warning in time to escape were also shot in their homes. In the years after the war, people’s skulls were collected in six mass graves throughout the Luwero District with the largest one being in Nakaseke. Our guide opened up a small door on top of a rectangular marble box, and through the metal bars we could easily make out hundreds of skulls. We were told that the skulls filled this mass grave in a volume of about 10 ft wide x 20 ft long x 15 ft deep.

These weren’t just statistics, but the skulls of people who used to live where we are living now and who had died as a result of the war. The graves did not discriminate between the rebels and the government soldiers who had died, because various acts of war were perpetrated by both sides, including the NRA who even armed children to fight as child soldiers against the Obote regime. The irony of this situation was that many of the people killing the communities of villagers who were allegedly supporting the NRA rebels were Acholi who were also victims of Idi Amin’s ethnic purges.

It almost seems impossible for us to actually believe in the phrase “never again”. I’ve heard it said and written many times after my friends visited the Holocaust museum in New York, watched Hotel Rwanda, saw a news special about Darfur, or saw the Kony 2012 video. Yet it seems as if history continues to repeat itself and not in a good way. The memories of the past concerning oppression continue to resurface again and again in cultures all over the world. And when I look at my life and memories in this way, I no longer feel the pangs of missing my old life as much anymore. At the very least, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to make good memories. I guess it could be said that one of my personal goals as a Peace Corps volunteer is to allow others whom I meet to have a chance to create good memories of their own.

This is my life right now: Homestay Edition

January 9, 2014

It’s dark right now, and the only light comes from my laptop that I am typing on while I lie on my bed underneath my mosquito net. It’s pitch black outside and sometimes I can hear a boda boda drive by one of the back roads or a drunk man meandering through the matooke fields. Let me just say that I have loved this family more and more with each passing day. I never thought that I would acclimate this way with my family. The other day I was talking with my host father and mother and they both told me that they would miss me when I left. They had become used to me and regarded me as a member of their own family.

So during the weekdays I take a 25 minute walk north up the main road of the Kampala-Gulu Highway and pass through the trading center of Kasana and then turn into the Luwero Boys compound where I have Luganda Language Classes with 11 other Peace Corps Trainees. We comprise the central region, and have been learning Luganda since we left our Future Site Visits. We liken class to a strugglebus; in other words, it’s a shitshow. Honestly, our language class is hilarious to watch because we’re very dysfunctional and usually don’t know what’s going on regardless of whether or not we’re told something in English or Luganda. Usually in a session we’ll have: someone grossly misunderstand what one of our teachers said, someone laugh very loudly and awkwardly, someone get upset, someone respond with the completely wrong answer, someone try to make a joke about either not having any cheese in Uganda or about the latest trend in North Korea, someone looking very confused, or someone drawing a picture of the current strugglebus (i.e. matatu).

Fortunately, we have a break and lunchtime during which we usually stop by one of the street vendors to get a chappati, samosas, or stop by one of the three restaurants that we usually frequent. So these restaurants in Kasana are extremely small, and have maybe three or four tables with plastic lawn chairs. The prices are cheap by muzungu standards, but they are still more expensive than what many working Ugandans earn if they were to eat at one everyday. But they are our only option for lunch unless one buys or brings fruit, bread, chappati, or something else that is filling. These restaurants also do not always have all the dishes on their menu, because it’s not economical for them to have all of the items if they wouldn’t be consumed everyday by the Ugandans that live in the area. These items for lunch are usually a type of main dish (beef, goat, fish, chicken) paired with starches and veggies (matooke, po sho, beans, rice, millet, chappati, cow peas, doodo, squash, or pumpkin). There really isn’t much variety in terms of the food here, even though there are a plethora of ingredients with which to cook.

We return for the afternoon sessions, which have consisted of us really needing a nap after the carbo-loading that is lunch. At this point we give presentations about our day in Luganda, and we usually implement something that we learned earlier that morning if we can remember it. We make our way back to our homestay families, and I make the 25 minute walk back to mine. As I turn to go into my small neighborhood village comprised of huts, tin-roofed shacks, and dusty roads familiar faces of the children wave at me and yell, “How are you Uncle Marvin?” I wave back and respond with, “I am fine. How are you?” They then smile and continue waving until I am out of sight. As I approach my homestay house, my four year old brother Davis and my six year old sister Diana come running up to me and ask me to bake a cake, do some training with them, or take out my laptop to play Shakira’s “Waka Waka”.

I take this time to pick them up and then carry them to the backyard where I greet maama and taata who are washing the dishes and doing the laundry. Aww man, and then I have some moments where I realize just how awesome life is. I remember the look on my maama’s face when I showed her how to bake with the DIY African triple saucepan Dutch Oven method (mentioned in my previous blog post) or when I did an Insanity workout routine from my laptop with about 20 of the village children as Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” played as the sun was setting in the background. I am also deeply humbled by how hard my Ugandan mother works here. She wakes up around 6am everyday and continues doing housework until she goes to sleep around 11pm. Regardless, she continues telling me that I must rest and not tire myself by helping with the chores. Then I have talks with the father who wanted to know if it would be possible for him to teach in the United States and open up a primary school similar to how he is opening one right now behind our house. Honestly, I feel like I’m sharing a lot of my culture with my Ugandan family, while also learning so much about Ugandan culture here.

Then just the other night I decided to go use the pit latrine around midnight, only to see my host father standing upright outside next to the back door of the house and wielding a huge stick while clad only in a towel around his waist. I asked him if there was something going wrong in the neighborhood, and he responded that one must protect his property from thieves. I quickly peed, and then hurried back inside because I could not stop laughing from the absurdity of the situation. I scurried back to my room, washed my hands using the buckets filled with water in my bathing area, and then jumped underneath my mosquito net as a cool breeze drifted into my room.

Life here is good.