Exhaust

5/5/15

I’m at it again, which surprises no one. I am at Nakeseke Core PTC where I am taking photos and videos of the campers and sessions at the IT Camp. Similar to other Peace Corps camps, this camp aims to empower youth (again with the word “empowerment”) to make healthy life choices through the medium of IT, Information Technology. The sessions revolve around basic typing skills, presenting with a powerpoint, the basic functions of a computer, and Microsoft Office. While I am glad to be here and help out, I am also exhausted and wish that I had chosen to stay at home instead for the remainder of this week.

So after the Central Mukono Youth Technical Training I chilled in Jinja for two days and then spentLate Night Art a night in Kampala. I had several errands to accomplish, including transferring 17.35 million shillings from my Barclays account to my supervisor’s account so that we could continue constructing the ICT lab. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the bank teller assured me that the transfer would occur within 2-3 business days. On the 28th, I traveled to the Arua Youth Technical Training to help facilitate the Permagarden session since the Peter Jensen, the Agricultural expert from Peace Corps Ethiopia, had to go to the Gambia. I personally accepted to go to the far West Nile because I wanted to develop my Permagarden skills to bring back to my community.

After spending the rest of that week up there, I went back to my site where I hosted a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer for two days. I mean, by this point I was tired and wanted my own space. Still it was nice to share my site with someone else. However, today literally felt like shit. All I wanted to do for the majority of the day was shout until my throat got sore or punch a bodaman in the face. I needed to expend some energy and I felt as if I just had it with this country. With the logic of an engineering undergrad, I knew that these feelings would pass, but for several hours today all I could think about was spending a few days in my home where I could watch movies, sleep in, read a few books, and maybe resolve the perpetual gassiness that has plagued me for the past 4 weeks.

The anger built up during my usual bike ride from my house to Wobulenzi. It’s always physically easier to bike away from site but mentally more challenging because the people start to recognize me less and less. I also answered my essential Facebook messages and email for a few hours with my internet access, which just depressed me. I got emotional reading the news about the Freddie Gray death and the ensuing riots and looting in Baltimore. I just wanted to be back there and getting to share my love for a city that I hope to live in. Naturally, everyone looked amazing and happy on Facebook and I just felt disgustingly bloated and fat from my gassiness and eating oily Ugandan food from all of the trainings and street food vendors.

My supervisor then called me to inform that he had not yet received the funds in his bank account. I called Barclays customer service and they told me that I had to wait until they resolved the issue. I waited in the Wobulenzi taxi park for a few hours for the takisi to fill, even though riding my bike to the PTC would have been much faster. En route to Nakaseke, the customer service representative called me back and said that the transfer never processed because I crossed out my name. In utter bewilderment, I exclaimed to her that I had the letter “x” in my name (Marvin Roxas), which is how I spell my name. She said that that was no problem and all I had to do was drop everything and travel to the nearest Barclays branch about 3 hours away and sign the form again. Maybe this time I would need to omit the “x” in my last name, which might also invalidate the transfer.

I called me supervisor who asked if I could just go to Kampala tomorrow and sign the form since he had already had the wooden roof frame installed in the lab and the iron sheets wouldn’t arrive until the money was in his account. He worried that the wood might rot from all of the rain during this week. As I got off the takisi at Nakaseke, all I could think about was how karma definitely did not apply to me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was as if I wanted to just help out where I could, and Uganda just wanted to dishearten me until I decided to just give up. It hurt even more when someone said that I was just too nice and needed to learn when to say no to people. It was as if they think I’m just a kitenge sheet over a door frame that lets anyone pass through. I’ve said no to a lot of people. My problem lies in the unexpected surprises such as an unsuccessful transfer when I was told that it was successful, assuming that I will drop everything and work on a project days before an event, or immediately prioritize another project when two items on my agenda conflict.

These feelings caused me to push Ugandans in the takisi, ignore those who wanted to converse with me, yell at my supervisor on the phone, and show up in such a foul mood at the IT Camp that almost everyone asked: “Are you alright?” “Wow, you look exhausted!” “Are you mad at me?” “You seem very down.” What could I do? I felt like this swelling rage would burst at any moment. Fortunately, I busied myself with taking photos, a fellow PCV listened to my ranting, and an improv session by the Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development boosted my spirits.

I am exhausted and don’t even know how I’m still making it. I’m just gonna take this month day-by-day, because at times Peace Corps is a thankless job. All that I ask is that peeps just try to understand.

P.S. – At the time of posting, I already feel much better.

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Who We Are

February 3, 2015

After MSC, a portion of us PCV’s chilled out by the beautifully swanky Nile Resort pool that overlooked the Nile. I feltNile Resort Hotel like I was in a movie, because everything looked so pretty and thought-out. Then we headed to NRE to stay the night. I was a bit turned off by NRE, because last time I was very excited to be among other PCV’s and in the mindset to celebrate the 4th of July. It smelled of old beer, the music was overbearing, and I felt off since I was hungover from the beer pong games of the night before. I didn’t even feel like joining in with the other muzungus and dancing with them.

The next day, we headed over to Kampala since we had a meetings the next day at the office. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but the Super Bowl was being shown at the Fat Boyz bar in Kisementi starting at 2:30am on Tuesday morning. I slept a bit beforehand, and then got up to watch the first American football game that I’ve seen in-country. So there weren’t any wings, commercials, or half-time show but it was so worth it to watch a well-edited game in solidarity with everyone else who was watching it around the world. The shock that us 8 PCV’s had in seeing the Patriots keep the Seahawks away from that last 1-yard line in the last minute of the game was audible throughout the Kisementi parking lot.

The next day saw some of the most action that the Peace Corps Office has seen in a while. Peer Support Network, Diversity Club, GEO Club, SHAC Committee, Conservation Think Tank, and VAC all met with staff in order to discuss the way forward this year for PCV’s and their respective groups. Now more than ever, it seems as if these support committees and clubs are needed by the PCV community in Uganda.

Pool HangoutOne of the biggest take-aways from this most recent training group was the lack of diversity awareness and training. Trainers and trainees alike would sometimes refer to the entire training cohort as “white people” where there were definitely other races represented. In another instance, some of the white trainees shared, “Oh, I mean I’m called muzungu all the time by Ugandans and it annoys me so I totally get how it feels to be discriminated against.” Of course, this was just a misguided form of empathy.

In the past, Diversity Club used to be focused predominantly on race, especially for African-American PCV’s. The founder of the club was very passionate about the issue, because of how she was treated by Ugandans. Having very dark skin due to her Nigerian heritage, her homestay family would complain about having her because they couldn’t have one of the white, American PCV’s. As a result, the Diversity Club was created to spread awareness among staff, PCV’s, and Ugandans that Americans come from all races, backgrounds, beliefs, orientations, sexes, and ages.

Furthermore, there have been instances where female PCV’s feel as if they aren’t given as much support as they need. Unfortunately, most of Uganda’s laws blame the victim. For example, if a female were to go into a house with three other men in it and then gets sexually assaulted, then it would be hard for her to win a court case against them because she should have known better than to go into a house with three men in it. In other words, she was asking for it and it’s partially her fault.

And yes, there have been stories concerning sexual assault to the point where almost every PCV in any given Peace Corps country could tell you about someone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted during service. The hardest part is keeping that motivation to help and do good in a country where some of its people want nothing more than to take advantage of you or your Peace Corps family. Back in Kulika, we were told to believe that goodness can prevail but it’s hard to believe that sometimes.

Even in the case of those who are LGBT, I have heard from some PCV’s about the difficulties in having to make friends, live with homestay families, and make lasting relationships with Ugandans and never be able to let them know about this very beautiful and significant part of their lives. A lot of these PCV’s sometimes live in fear because a simple slipup of leaving a journal entry out in public, having personal pictures stolen, or an old photo on a Facebook album could turn a whole community against them.

So this is why the committees and clubs met together at the office. A passionate percentage of us PCV’s wanted to help support each other in any way that we could. Even though there is a lot of bad going on around us, there is also a lot of possible good. I remember back when I was a trainee how it was even possible for a PCV to get anything done in the village let alone smile while being bombarded by apathy, dust, heat, lack of resources, and even hostility at times.

It’s those little victories of goodness that help turn the tide of apathy and hatred. It’s the reminder that for every negative situation there is another positive situation to balance it. It’s the mutual respect among PCV’s that we know how it really is to be a foreigner living in a country that will leave physical, mental, and emotional scars on your body, mind, and soul before you leave.  It’s the understanding that while we may not know what’s another person is going through, we can try to understand what he or she is experiencing.

P.S. – After MSC, I feel as if I’ve been better able to manage my temper whenever I’m called muchina or muzungu by Ugandans.