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.

The Eventful Road to Masindi

1/6/15

The trek to visit PCV Rachel in Masindi always sucks because while it is physically near to my site, there is no direct route from my site or nearest taxi park to Masindi Town. Once I arrive in Wobulenzi Town by bicycle, I have to take a taxi about 17km north to the Luweero Bus/Takisi Stop junction where the street vendors peddle their roasted gonja, beef, chappati, and cold drinks. In the past I’ve attempted to take a takisi that the conductors promised would take me to Masindi, but in actuality spends 4 hours taking me to the Kafu junction that should have only taken me a little bit over an hour’s ride. This time around, I decided to take my chances by waiting for a bus that would either bring me directly to Masindi or drop me off at Kafu 115km north of Luweero. Fortunately, a Ugandan man working for IRF (International Rescue Committee) picked me up for a ride. He told me that he worked for an American organization dedicated to aiding Sudanese refugees in Kiryandongo District directly north of Masindi District.

I shared a lot about the values of Peace Corps, my work, and the basics of the Federal Government with him. He also explained to me that while he is from Kitgum, he doesn’t like to share that fact with Ugandans whom he meets as a safety precaution due to some lingering hostile tensions between the northerners and the western/central Ugandans.  At one point we were stopped by traffic officers, but I talked ourselves out of a ticket by speaking in Luganda. He dropped me off at the Kafu junction, where I squeezed into a 4 seat-sedan with 7 other Ugandans. I don’t even get surprised anymore when I see two people sitting in the driver’s seat. I still don’t know how drivers can do that.

We were stopped halfway between Kafu and Masindi by more traffic police who had the most recent passengers leave the Long Masindi Roadcar. The head police officer kept threatening to arrest the driver of the car whose excuse was that he was giving me and this old lady a free lift. After the police officer let him go, he attempted to collect money from me and the old lady. The police officer reprimanded him for lying and then gave me and the old lady a lift to Masindi Town. Along the way he asked me if I had my passport and I retorted that I didn’t have to show it to him. We went back and forth debating whether or not it was legal for him to demand my passport, and I threatened to call the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura. Instead I called a Peace Corps staff member and asked if I was supposed to show him my passport. I was informed that I had to show him a legal form of identification that could or could not be a passport.

I gave him my driver’s license and Peace Corps identification card which upset him because I could have forged them. His argument was that I could be part of Al-Shabaab and forge my forms of identification as opposed to a passport. I had him show me the Police Act of Uganda, Chapter 303 The Police Act that states with some examples:

Part V.

Power to inspect licenses.

No liability for action done under authority of a warrant.

24. Arrest without a warrant.

A police officer may, without a court order and without a warrant, arrest a person if he or she has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit an arrestable offence.

27. Search by police offiers.

Whenever a police officer, not being lower in rank than a sergeant, has reasonable grounds for believing that anything necessary for the purposes of an investigation into any offence which he or she is authorised to investigate may be found in any place and that that thing cannot in his or her opinion be otherwise obtained without undue delay, the officer may, after recording in writing the grounds of his or her belief and specifying in the writing, so far as possible, the thing for which search is to be made, search, or cause search to be made, for that thing.”

In the US, we have judicial review and the concept of precedence whereas in Uganda the vague wordings in the police act grant police officers unbelievable power over the populace.

Unfortunately, he was right in the sense that any cause or any possible cause to suspect something in the future is grounds for inspection of one’s property. Probable cause is met in Uganda if any police officer has reason to suspect that one may at some point in the future break the law. I surmised that this gave the police unlimited power since they could legally find anyone guilty if the mood suited them. This also meant that inept police have unlimited power, since the police man attempted to search for the police act on his cracked iPad, but he kept clicking on an advertisement and refused to let me help him.

I mean, in the end I made it to Masindi Town in record time. It irks me because the ride from Masindi to Wobulenzi Town only takes 2 hours. Whatever, at least I got some new knowledge and another good story out of this trek.

ICT Lab Project

It’s finally here. After sending a detailed budget and dozens of paragraphs worth of information the Creation of an ICT Lab in a Ugandan Village is finally posted on the Peace Corps website. I am so excited for this project because it will finally give my teachers, students, and fellow village members in the community the opportunity to gain access to the rest of the world through media, documentary showings, powerpoints, and the understanding of basic computer skills. It is an exciting time, but I’m also nervous because I am hoping that I can raise the necessary funds. The community has already raised 25% of the total project cost ($2820), and the rest comes through the crowd funding on the Peace Corps website where the rest of the $8462 can be raised through donors. I’ve reached out to all of my friend groups and organizations that I’ve been a part of in the hopes that with my reach I will be able to have people help me in this project that benefits not only my own community, but also the sharing of cultures between Uganda and America. And in that respect, the goals of the Peace Corps, my passion, and the willingness of my community members can all be met.

Click on the link to donate: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfmshell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-617-059

Or search Roxas in http://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate

I would really appreciate any help regarding this project. And everyone who donates will have his or her name or organization’s name inscribed on a plaque in the ICT Lab to remember those who helped us in this collaborative journey.

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Frustrations

3/6/14

You have to be frank sometimes, because it gets hard to fake it. Today Uganda celebrated Martyrs’ Day, which is a national holiday. There were parades all over the nation, family celebrations, and schools also closed for the day. However, it was still a work day for me. I would say that Peace Corps teaches patience, but that it also makes one frustrated. I still have that piece of America that values some sort of privacy and respect. I don’t mean that many Ugandans whom I meet here aren’t respectful, it’s just that social boundaries and respect come in different forms here.

It felt good to sleep in today, and I continued the routine of making breakfast chappats, French pressed Nile Coffee, and washing clothes. I decided to be more proactive today and attempted to make the promotional video about Northern Camp BUILD. However, as it turns out my Adobe Premiere Elements 10 continuously crashes after I add any video segment, which greatly increases the time needed to create a video. Even after uninstalling and reinstalling the program, it continued to crash, which did not bode well for future video making endeavors.

So I decided to then bike up to the hill where I can get internet access in order to work on the Survival ICT presentation that I would be giving this Saturday at Kulika for the new group. I would also be able to check on the progress of the project that I am currently working on concerning the creation of an ICT lab at the PTC. My supervisor and I had been working together over the course of the past three weeks. He consulted the college architect, and a plan was drafted that would lead to the setting of a foundation and creation of a building block ICT lab. The total cost of the project is 17.25 million shillings, and he said that the college and community would be able to fund 7.25 million of those shillings.

My plan is to have the other 10 million shillings funded by organizations, friends, and families back home through a crowd funding website. I had luck with GoFundMe before, but in order for donations to be tax-deductible a GoFundMe page must be associated with a certified charity with a 501(c)(3) tax id. Every day I have been in contact with members from my Maryland high school, Loyola Blakefield, and the Boston University Catholic Center in order to see if it would somehow be possible to use their charity’s id for the GoFundMe page so that donations would be tax deductible. It’s been slow work, since I sometimes have internet in my house and on the hill.

The other option would be to register my project on the actual Peace Corps Volunteer Projects, which would allow all donations to be tax deductible and sent to me 100% without any charges. So far, I am waiting on that to pass through the Peace Corps administration.

So that the possibilities are going through my mind while I sit on a rock on this hill, and every so often a group of Ugandans stop by and literally crowd around me as I type on my laptop. I know that they’re just curious to see me working on the laptop, but it really disrupts my concentration. Here I am attempting to work on training presentation and ICT lab funding as 10+ Ugandans squat within 2 inches of my being to see and poke at my laptop screen. It shouldn’t bother me; I shouldn’t even be bothered by it, but it took so much of my effort not to just tell them to go away. I continued to tell them that I was busy working (even as my power was draining and my internet intermittently would switch from 3G+ to EDGE), and they continued to ask me questions.

I think that they realized that I was upset, because they later came back to give me mangoes. But even ripe, juicy mangoes couldn’t help me update my ICT presentation with information from the non-customer friendly websites of MTN, Orange, and Airtel. Honestly I used up so much data and time in my attempts to find seemingly simple information about each company. Sometimes I would click on a link on one of the websites and the link would bring me to a blank page.

I then bike back home, and by then I’m already frustrated with how the day off turned out. I know that I have no reason to be frustrated, but I just am. The last frustrating event was when some of the neighborhood teens waited by my front door as I was bringing back my semi-dry clothes from the clothesline. They asked me for my bicycle and where I had just returned from even though they knew that it was too late to ride my bicycle and that I had just come from the clothesline. When I answered their questions in Luganda, they all burst out laughing. That just irked me.

*Right as I wrote the previous line in this entry, my neighbor knocked on the door and asked to be given a Microsoft Word lesson. I spent the last two hours showing him how to type, highlight words, make a table, and change the font.

To be honest, helping my neighbor this time was both annoying and satisfying. I was glad to help my neighbor and his great curiosity to learn about computers, but I was also not in the ideal mindset today to be as effective a teacher as I hoped to be. The feelings that I am going through now remind me of my college days when I was spending upwards of 8 hours in the computer lab in my attempts to solve a homework set or class project.

The problem now is not that the problems are too complicated, but that they are too simple. I love my neighbors and this community, but sometimes it bothers me that even the adults whom I work with have no idea how to type a simple sentence on Microsoft Word, let alone open up an internet browser. And then there are teenagers around the world who have created websites, revolutionized coding languages, and changed the landscape of global technology.

My hope is that through the creation of an ICT lab in this community can help educate and empower the Ugandans in this community to forge their own path in life and show them that there are possibilities greater than the life that they live in right now.

I also understand that my frustration, along with all things in life, too shall pass.

Time After Time

4/4/14

It’s funny to think about time here in the Peace Corps. I remember back to my Senior Year at Boston University and how I don’t think I could have survived all of my commitments if I had not had a bicycle. I remember rushing from one meeting to the next with a fully packed schedule from the moment I woke up at 7:45am (15 minutes before classes started) until midnight (when I finally finished cooking and preparing dinner). If I wasn’t doing anything, then simple waiting, thinking, and being present in the moment was alright. But if I had something planned to accomplish and nothing was happening, then I would get frustrated at the loss of time.

Right now I am in the Tervan Gardens Hotel in Bamunanika because a local Ugandan youth invited me to join his ICT information session. This guy approached me the other day and explained that he was starting a small ICT, internet café business in Bamunanika. He and his father pooled their resources together in order to allow him to allow the locals to use the computers for printing, surfing the web, getting music, and other things that computers can be used for. I was very excited to meet him, because I thought that he could be my way of reaching out to the local community outside of the school through ICT education. I felt that his knowledge of how the local system works could mesh well with my ideas about fostering an ICT environment in Luteete PTC and in the surrounding areas.

I was informed by my friend that the meeting was supposed to start at 9am, but that I should show up at 11am since it was Ugandan time. I showed up close to 11:15am after registering the new Kiswahili books in the library, and I have been waiting here in the meeting room for the past hour. Of course this isn’t anything new, because meetings like these always start late and then everyone wants to leave early. Also a man had just arrived who said that he was informed to arrive at 9am, but he had to do some office activities and so he delayed a bit and arrived at 12:20pm.

Delaying a bit = 3 hours and 20 minutes at least

I can’t even get internet access to respond to messages sent by the Peace Corps or other correspondences. He Orange 3G/3G+ networks were not working near the Kabaka’s Palace yesterday and so I was unable to accomplish any of my online work. But that’s how time works here. I keep thinking back to my earlier post back when I was on the organic farm at Kulika; when the Ugandan trainer (now full-time staff) Ven said that “Ugandans are the masters of time.” In a sense, I feel as if I can somewhat agree with her. In the same way that someone who accepts death as a natural way of life becomes the master of death, the person who accepts the natural flow of time and doesn’t attempt to constrain it by schedules, timetables, and punctuality becomes the master of time. I suppose that my time in Boston made me a slave to time with the clock and alarm acting as my whips.

Even though I have gradually acclimated to Ugandan time, it is still bothersome to never really know when something happens. I am still not used to it, and I never know whether or not I must add a few hours to the starting time of a meeting or just arrive on time.

In spite of never knowing the microscopic details concerning time, I am very much excited about the macroscopic attributes of time. In the following weeks I will be hosting a fellow Muzungu friend for a day, working as the media specialist for a World Malaria Day event in Masindi, celebrate Easter Weekend in Arua, go to In-Service Training (IST) with my education group in Lweza, and then work as the media specialist in Gulu for the northern BUILD camp for Ugandan youth.

 

My only hope is that in time I too can become its master.

A Wake of Dust

March 3, 2014

I like to think that some of the best writing can come out of either a really well-thought out and researched topic, or from an emotional response to an event or series of events. For me, I’d say that today was one of those lows and one of those days when I felt like I was stuck in a funk. I just returned from the central group’s welcome weekend in Entebbe, and was exhausted after traveling all day Sunday with a ton of groceries from the giant lime-green megamall complex near the Old Taxi Park and the Chinese grocery store on the road that goes northeast from the Old Taxi Park to Kampala-Jinja Road. Today was a bit rough, because I felt that I could have accomplished so much more than I actually did. I remember making a checklist and hoping that I would be very productive today. Instead, I ended up teaching an ICT lesson to the Year 2 students who seemed to be very bored. And it’s still very frustrating trying to get them to learn how to use a computer when the only one available to them is my small laptop that I used to demo File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Tools, Table, Window, and Help on Microsoft Word today.

Then I was told by some Year 2 students that they wanted to learn how to play Ultimate Frisbee later in the evening, so I told them that we would meet at 5pm. I decided to stop by the library around that time, since the Year 2 librarian told me last week that she would be at the library every weekday to open it and stay there from 4pm – 7pm. When I arrived at the library, the door was closed and the other students informed me that she went to Bamunanika. It was just frustrating trying to coordinate events to happen, especially when people tell you that they’re committed to making them happen. I then played some Ultimate Frisbee with some of the students, and then I went home to make dinner. But for some reason I just couldn’t make my dinner taste good and it was probably one of the worst dinners that I made in country. Then to add to the funk is the fact that I get no viable internet connection at my site through any of the available internet/telephone carriers of Orange, Airtel, or MTN. And when I use MTN I get about 10Kbps download speed if I’m lucky. It takes me about 2 minutes to open up the Google front page and checking email is a no-go at my site. So vlogs, YouTube, Facebook, pictures, and even blogs will have to wait until I bike to a place that has a better internet connection

But I expect these lows, because they’re part of the package deal. Similar to the thin layer of dust that seems to coverBrownie and Ice Cream every single surface in my house every morning, there will always be some small annoyances that just whittle away at my physical and emotional energy. I also think that maybe I’m experiencing the withdrawal from the weekend’s activities of hanging out with other volunteers at the Backpacker’s Guesthouse in Entebbe and eating so well for every meal that I was there: chicken schnitzel at Faze 3, Jaeger and Hookah at Red Rooster Bar, Spanish Omelettes at Ana’s Corner, chicken sandwiches and brownie/ice cream at Carpe Diem, and amazing Ethiopian food at Abyssinia. So I’m probably experiencing the effects of withdrawal here at my house where I only have Ugandans surrounding me and a new way of acting. Also, let me mention that on Fridays at the Red Rooster Bar, there are maybe a dozen or so prostitutes who were all propositioning any man whom they could find for sex. Every guy in our group, including myself, was propositioned about 6 times and they promised to use a condom. I remember telling them in Luganda that I already had a wife. There response was funny, because they would respond by saying that it was alright and that they understood.

I also kind of think that life here is like my 12km weekly bicycle journey to Wobulenzi on the hilly, dusty roads. Whenever a boda boda (motorcycle) or truck almost hits me as it overtakes me, I have to look away because a building-sized cloud of dust pummels me as I continue pedaling on my bike. And then I am inundated with dust on both the inside and outside, but I continue biking to my destination undeterred. There are challenges here that I expected to face, but actually facing them is very different from expecting to face them.

African Sunset by HouseI’m not going to lie and say that life is amazing here, because it’s not always great. It’s hard, and I do miss life back in the United States. There are times when I think about how easy it would be just to call the Peace Corps Uganda Office and let them know that I want to ET (early terminate) and just start a well-paid career back in the comforts of home. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about the small annoyances and hardships here.

But if I did that then I wouldn’t have experienced the good that happens here. Despite the funk that was today, I will not forget returning back to my house right before dinner, and having the two small twin girls running up to me and hugging me. Each one grabbed my hand and pulled me as we walked behind the staff houses and we stood together for a while on the grassy area next to my house as an orange African sun set behind the tall banana trees behind my house. I then realized that without the dust, the African sunset would not be as beautiful.

The Beginning of Teaching

February 18th, 2014

           I started teaching this Monday. I entered the Year 1 classroom, and there were only 5 students just like last week. I was a little bit under whelmed, because I was informed that more students had come. Apparently, there more Year 2 students arrived than Year 1 students because the O Level Examination results from the Secondary Schools were still being released. I decided that I would begin teaching the Integrated Science curriculum and that the other students who arrived later throughout the term would catch up and get the notes from the students who are already here. I agreed to teach only Unit 1 of the necessary classes for Term I here, which involves the process of working and maintaining a science lab. One of the difficulties includes not having a science lab on the campus or in any of the nearby areas, so teaching how the theory of having science experiments and keeping records while incorporating literacy is hard to make enjoyable or captivating.

I am also having a hard time deciding what to do about teaching ICT since there aren’t any usable computers for the students here. A big goal for me is to write grants after IST (In-Service Training) and get a computer lab started here for the PTC so that ICT can actually be taught here. I also cannot start teaching Math, because I am teaching Unit 2: Sets and the teacher who is supposed to be teaching Unit 1 has not taught the Year 1 students yet. Of course, I understand that these things will all happen in due time and I am more amused than annoyed at my circumstances. I mean I signed up for the Peace Corps to be an Education Volunteer and I cannot expect the facilities to be on par with those back in the United States. That would be an unfair comparison given the different resources, skill levels, and bureaucracies that exist in the United States and Uganda.

But teaching these students makes me happy. Whenever I make them smile or learn how to read and define a new word I know that maybe I might have left some sort of a small impact over here. I am anxious to get into the meat and routine of things, but there is a lot of time here and it moves slowly. And with every passing day being a Peace Corps Volunteer does feel like the hardest job that I’ll ever love.