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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Nile Waves

16/10/15 – 18/10/15

Nyege Nyege – Luganda, (noun) The uncontrollable urge to move, shake, and dance.

I will be hard-pressed to achieve the highs that I did during this weekend. It was honestly one of the most fun weekends that I’ve had during my Peace Corps service. The Nyege Nyege music festival was held this weekend at the Nile Discovery Beach about 1km off from the Nile Brewery Stage near Jinja Town. The venue consisted of large swaths of open campgrounds, a large grass main music stage, a smaller side stage in ruins by the Nile, and tortuous pathways connecting the venues disparate parts together. After many weeks of being sad and down at site, I was looking forward to this weekend. I had saved up a lot of my money in order to purchase food, drinks, and camping materials for the music festival.

Festival Ruins

Festival Ruins

I arrived at the venue around 11am on Friday and setup camp in a secluded corner of the campgrounds where we used the surrounding trees to hang our hammocks and make a physical boundary for all the PCV’s who were staying. As the day progressed, the number of PCV’s in our camp grew to about 15. Despite being in Uganda, the music festival had good facilities: the showering section consisted of bamboo stalls with 20 liter jerrycans positioned on top with showerheads attached, there were two working toilet areas, food stalls from Kampala (sushi, brownies, sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs, and barbecue), and of course festival clothes booths.

Over a year ago I camped in Mabira Forest with other PCV’s for Burning Ssebo and now I was once again camping with Main StagePCV’s and about 600 other people. The music consisted of an eclectic ménage of traditional tribal music, reggae, rap, acoustic, and edm. Artists came from all over Africa and the UK. During the day we would wander around to other campsites and swap stories or share some food, beer, or coffee in exchange for other goods. On Saturday morning I partook in an offshoot of Afrikans Yoga called Smaitawe Yoga. Compared to the Yoga predominantly practiced in the United States, this version of yoga was much more free-flowing and primal. The focus was on the hips and groin area and revolved around the elements of air, water, fire, and ground.

Even more-so than Vinyasa, the movements were all about the flow and freedom of expression in its directive rather than strict postures and holds. For example, instead of warrior 1 we would be instructed to take a pose similar to warrior 1 and then undulate our hips in a circle as we imagined the vibrancy of fire. To an outsider, the moves of Smaitawe Yoga would seem very sensual and suggestive.

It was rainy season, so as soon as it would rain we would all rush back to our tents and cover them with tarps since our cheap tents from Nakumatt weren’t waterproof. Despite the mud, the humidity, and the dirtiness that comes with a hippy dippy-like music festival I absolutely loved it. My mood pre-festival could not be compared to my mood now after the experiences at the Nyege Nyege Festival. I had always wanted to attend a music festival during my Peace Corps service, and I was fortunate enough to go to one by the banks of the Nile with my best friends and some new ones as a PCV.

I will remember hanging out on the hill overlooking the main stage as hot Ethiopian or Eritrean hot dog vendors made Nutella crepes, I will remember sheltering 11 PCV’s in a small tent during a rain storm, I will remember going wild surrounded by PCV friends as an African dj played a remixed version of Avicii’s Levels, I will remember female rappers with mad flow on the main stage, and I will remember how much I will miss being able to have experiences like this one.

PCV Ssebo Nnyabo Photo

PCV Ssebo Nnyabo Photo

I have around 50 days of Peace Corps Service remaining, and it’s hard to believe it. Now I feel ready to make the most of my remaining time here and I owe a large part of that to the waves of joy and kinship that I felt during this weekend. During a heart to heart talk with one of the new PCV’s on Saturday night, he told me, “This may have been one of the best nights of my entire life.” I just smiled and leaned back in my chair as I stared at the stars in the sky and thought that many of the nights of my own Peace Corps service have been the best nights of my entire life.

MSC (Mid-Service Conference)

January 27-31, 2015

You know, it’s interesting to have finally made it this far. Last year I had visited the other PCV’s at their own MSC at Maria Flo Hotel in Masaka. I found it hard to believe that it had been one whole year since the older education volunteers were celebrating their own successes and planning the next year. Out of all of the conferences that I’ve attended, this was definitely the most fulfilling and productive. It’s hard to stress just how connected I feel with the fellow PCV’s in my cohort. I see them as my family and friends who have shared similar struggles and hardships together since the beginning at Kulika.

I left my site on Monday January 26 with the end goal of reaching Jinja in mind. After a traditionally lengthy day of travel by bike, takisi, and foot, I arrived in Jinja town where I met up with fellow PCV’s Hannah and Steve at Hans. I was told that they had one of the best chicken pillao in town. We then shared a milkshake with each other at the Keep which is a castle-themed restaurant that serves amazing smoothies and milkshakes. I was struck by how almost-developed the streets were around that area. There were sidewalks and some semblance of city-planning since the town streets were a grid system.

We spent the night at Hannah’s site near Wanyange. The next day we made for the Njeru Nile Hotel near the Nile Brewery where we would be having our four-day MSC. Even though I had been able to share quality time with everyone in our cohort since other conferences, it felt really good to physically be with everyone again in one space. It was perfect, the conference center had swanky rooms with leather chairs, a tv, sink, an oven that didn’t connect to anything, a private bathroom, and an oscillating fan.

Group MeetingIn keeping with my cohort’s overachieving attitude, we already had extra-curricular activities planned throughout the conference. On the first night, we all chilled by the bonfire and listened to some PCV’s play around on their guitars. Of course there was also the mandatory sharing of whiskey, chill sessions, and catching up those whom I haven’t had the chance to see in a long time. The first morning involved a gallery walk where everyone was encouraged to make a poster or presentation detailing what he or she has done during his or her service. At first, a lot of us didn’t like the idea of bragging about ourselves. However, that morning session was successful, and it was really refreshing to see the work that we were all doing at our respective sites with our time.

I was struck with the difference in mentality and attitude since IST. Back then it almost felt like a competition about who did the most work and who was being the most successful at site. Now it felt like we were here to really support each other with the realization that all of us had such unique talents, circumstances, and regions that allowed us to accomplish what we did. The other cool thing about this conference was that even though we knew each other on different personal levels, we were very comfortable presenting our own ideas to each other, sharing our struggles, and voicing concerns.

Amanda, who led a lot of yoga sessions during our service, led a reflection/meditation activity in the afternoon. The idea was that we were caught riding a boda or doing some other illegal activity that kicked us out of Peace Corps Uganda and that we then had 12 hours of time left before we had to leave and go back to the United States. We were savoring each breath and reflecting on our dreams, hopes, regrets, lies, goodbyes, and thank yous before we left for good. I thought about what I would say to my closest friends here, how I would never be able to see a completed ICT lab, how my village kids would always ask where I went, and the anger that I would have with myself at not finishing my Peace Corps service.

Mid Service Conference Group Photo

I actually got really emotional during the reflection, because it helped me realize just how much of an impact Uganda had made on me in this past year. My head was spinning as I attempted to understand what I would do to prepare for my sojourn back to my old home. Interestingly, I also felt a sense of relief in imagining that in such a sudden and forceful departure, I would also be forced to let go of all attachments here and focus on what was happening in those last moments of life in Uganda. Then just as we meditated on getting on that plane and leaving Ugandan ground for the last time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, we took a deep breath and came back to this reality. The meditation was an adaptation of a death meditation of one’s last 12 hours of life before death. In this case, I realized just how short one year really is and what I wanted to do in this last year of service.

We also scheduled some extra sessions as a cohort where we discussed issues concerning diversity, peer support, geo issues, and sexual harassment. I appreciated the level of maturity in the cohort where we could talk about serious issues with each other when the time was right, and still have the energy to go crazy and celebrate with each other when the work was completed.

We drafted our upcoming year 1 workplans, wrote success stories, met with our Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders, attended resume/CV sessions, received our W-2’s from our DMO, and voiced our honest concerns concerning safety and security, favoritism, the boda policy, and volunteer/staff relations. The last two nights were dedicated to a casino and a carnival night of games.

Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with how successful MSC was. I expected to roll my eyes at the presentations because I already understood the basics, but this was all about ways to move forward. I came out of this conference on the upswing and am extremely excited to start this new year. Once again, I was also able to create a new music video of all the members in our cohort as a sort of commemoration after the Kulika Music Video last year. I guess that above all things I am grateful to have a cohort, community, and family that cares as much about this job as I do.

At It Again

15/11/14

I’m back on the Kulika organic farm again for training a whole year since I first had arrived in-country. I feel more connection as a trainer with this group as opposed to the most recent HAG (Health/Agribusiness) cohort that arrived 5 months ago. I think that I am at the position that my own trainers were at back when I was a trainee and participated in all of the mandatory training sessions. Immediately I start to imagine how a lot of these trainees will turn out after having lived in-country.

But more on that later. Let me first explain how I got to Kulika again.

Last week I visited a few other PCV’s near the Jinja area to help out with taking pictures and videos at a Science Teaching Fair at the Wanyange Science Teaching Fair Lungs ActivityPTC. The goal of the event was to give several outstanding PTC students to teach biology lessons by demonstrating experiments to some P5 pupils at the nearby Mwiri primary school. It was so neat seeing their bright and shining faces as they marched in their yellow and khaki uniform. The fair started off with PCV Penelope having the pupils draw a vector for a disease. The catch was that the pupils had to be creative in the creation of this vector; for example it could have 100 legs, 32 eyes, be the color purple, and spread a disease that causes a swollen head and hands.

Most of the pupils created already known vectors such as fleas, mosquitoes, bed bugs, and other insects but few of them really showcased creativity outside of the norm. This sessions was designed to allow the pupils a chance to creatively express themselves as well as allow the PTC students a chance to find ways to foster creativity in the pupils. Then pupils were split into 7 groups. Each group went to a different station where a biological concept was explained and demonstrated through lecture, experiments, and activities.

The Activities:

  1. Hygiene- Singing a Bill-Nye the Science Guy song about washing hands
  2. White Blood Cells – Rock, Paper, Scissors turned into Antibody and Antigen game
  3. Lungs – Hula Hoop game
  4. Digestive System – Order of the organs and drinking upside down race
  5. Heart – Heart shaped sponge relay race
  6. Red Blood Cells – Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide race
  7. Muscular/Skeletal System – Arm pumps and raw chicken wing demonstration

Teaching MusclesThe fair came to a close as the students and pupils alike came together for a big group reflection. Pupils got to answer questions concerning what they learned during the fair as well as choose their favorite PTC student teacher. Similarly the PTC student teachers had the opportunity to choose their favorite pupil. The event felt very successful, and was a great way to combine content based instruction with teaching practice.

It felt good to stay over at Penelope’s site, since I had yet to really see any part of Eastern Uganda. Penelope’s site was located in Wanyange which was about 10 minutes east of Jinja. While at her site, she brought me to a quaint, Catholic convent called St. Benedict’s, which was located on the banks of Lake Victoria. It was one of the earliest times that I woke up in country so that I could make it to 7am mass. I also had the opportunity to see PCV’s Stephanie, Linda, and Josh who brought me around Jinja Town and the Jinja Market. During my second night in Jinja I stayed with Stephanie at her house, which had recently gained electricity.

My goal was to explore a bit more of the eastern region before I headed over to Kulika for training I felt that Penelope’s invitation to come and help at her Science Teaching Fair was the perfect excuse to travel to Jinja and beyond. My viewpoint is that many PCV’s travel a lot during their first year at site and explore specific areas and towns of Uganda in big groups during large gatherings and events. Then when the excitement settles down, they start to focus on seeing the same old people and staying more and more at site. Furthermore, there are a lot of cliques within Peace Corps. I’m not saying that cliques are bad, only that they are a natural occurrence after living through very high and highs and just as low lows with people who truly understand you in this country, this region, this village, and in this specific circumstance. I wanted to break a bit of the mold and spend my one-year anniversary doing something different and travelling to see other PCV’s in another cohort in order to see something new and get to know them a little bit better.

So on Wednesday I bid farewell to Jinja and boarded a takisi headed to Mbale. Technically, the takisi headed to Mbale was empty and I waited inside of it for an hour before taking another one that went most of the way there and then taking a connecting one to Mbale town. When I got to Mbale town I got some coffee at Cosmos Café, which was located on the second floor of storefront on Republic Street with Mt. Elgon looming in the eastern horizon. Mbale town reminded me a lot like one that you would see in an old western movie: there were the wide dusty road and saloon storefronts that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place during the days of sundance kids and cowboy vigilantes.

I met with PCV’s from the most recent HAG (Health Agribusiness) cohort group. Cindy met me at Cosmos and we made our way to Molly’s site, Cindy, Baby, and Kittenswhich was an orphanage that took in children from parents who died. I felt like a short-term volunteer when I got to the orphanage because I saw dozens of cute infants who were lying helplessly around the nursery area and just as many toddlers waddling and peeing around the orphanage/church compound. Molly explained to me that this site was the location of many short-term volunteer projects and mission trips where groups came in, took pictures, maybe even built a stove, and then left without having really accomplished anything substantial.

Cindy and Teresa had a very large house inside of a compound on the outskirts of Mbale town, and fortunately they loved having people over; they even had their house registered on CouchSurfing. So I spent my one-year anniversary in Uganda with PCV’s from the HAG cohort ahead of me while we enjoyed some red wine (courtesy of Uchumi) and some homemade Bolognese sauce (courtesy of OiLibya gas tanks and the giant indoor Mbale market). It was interesting hearing stories and inside jokes from an outsider’s perspective concerning their cohort.

The next day, Cindy took me on a hike to Wanale Falls. If you looked off in the horizon a little bit southeast of her house, you would see a sort of green mesa jutting up from the ground with a small forest surrounding it. The coolest and most confusing part of the mesa was that there was a waterfall smack dab in the middle of it that didn’t make sense because it was well above the normal height of the ground of the Mbale region.

The hike to the top of the falls took a bit more than 2 hours, but it was one of the more difficult hikes that I’ve done in Uganda because the slope wasn’t gradual. After walking through open green fields of grass, small trading dukas, and houses hidden in the forests, the path gave way to steep rock steps and muddy slopes carved into the structure of the mesa. When we were almost at the top, we encountered the wooden ladder made out of interlocked tree branches and logs that allowed you to scale a 30 foot rock wall. Then we made it to the top where a few Ugandan farmers lived and tended their farms using the water that flowed on the top of the mesa.

Open Field Path

Open Field Path

Climbing Rocks

Climbing Rocks

Climbing Stick Ladder

Climbing Stick Ladder

The view was spectacular. I could see as far as the clouds would let me and I had to just take it all in for a moment. My tendency is to take out my camera as soon as possible to capture to the visual side of a perfect moment, but sometimes I like to first close my eyes and enjoy the unadulterated moment in its entirety. I definitely got knots in my stomach as I sat near the edge of the cliff by the waterfall, because the drop was at least 400ft and I would definitely die if I fell. We enjoyed the moments, shared some stories, took some pics, and made our way down on the other side of the falls.

Top of the Falls

Top of the Falls

Ledges and Falls

Ledges and Falls

By the time we got back to the house, we were exhausted. Fortunately, the tap was back on so we had access to unlimited water to wash clothes, bathe, and refill the jerrycans for later when the tap turned off at sunset. Two of the PCV’s from the older group joined for a dinner of steak, mashed sweet potatoes, and creamed peas and carrots. It really felt like a good American meal after a long day of hiking.

This whole time I was dealing with what started as a tickle in my throat but then progressed to an annoying sore throat. Every time I swallowed it would hurt, and at some points I would just spit because it felt better than swallowing.

Then on Friday morning I took a bus from Mbale to Kampala. I had a few errands to do at the Peace Corps Office including: getting my flash drive back, receiving the translated scripts from Lukonzo into English for the Coffee Camp Video, getting my schistosomiasis test results back (negative), selling a PSN t-shirt, turning in my reimbursement form, and prepping for training at Kulika.

In the early afternoon, I finally decided to make my way down to the Busunju taxi stage to get to the Kulika training center. I got there before the training group returned from their field trip to Kamurasi PTC, so I set up my hammock between the two brick posts outside the main conference room. As I lay in the hammock in the same spot where I had lain in last year, I reminisced about my own training experience. I remember the sessions, the smell of the farm, the food, the staff, and how excited it was to be starting this experience. As the trainees trickled in, I started associating their individual personalities with people from my own training group.

It felt weird being asked so many questions all at once, and being seen as the expert in-country. Honestly, I still feel very naïve and clueless about many things. One of the trainees said that the trainers all looked rugged and seemed to walk differently. He said that it had something to do with how we looked as if we’ve been through a few struggles since we first arrived and that we walked with a certain confidence and surety. While answering the trainees’ questions, I definitely felt a sense of sureness and confidence with my answers and my actions. Most of the questions were very straightforward.

We had the Kampala tour on Sunday, which was pretty fun. We split up the trainees into groups of 4-5 with either a PCV or a Ugandan trainer to bring them around Kampala. It was fun rushing my group through Kampala in order to buy a Powermatic/Dr. Volt, exchange money, buy unlocked modems, purchase cell phones, get sim cards, and then meet up with some hungover PCV’s for lunch at Prunes. As we approached the table of my fellow PCV’s, I noticed a marked difference between my group of trainees and my friends. That was by far the funniest part of the day for me, because my trainees looked fresh, clean, and energized and the PCV’s looked haggard, bedraggled, and extremely hungover. Fortunately, I convinced the waitress to ice them with a Smirnoff Ice that I had bought earlier at Nakumatt. Overall, I thought that it was productive for the trainees to see PCV’s early on who weren’t trainers and get a more well-rounded perspective concerning PCV’s compared to the generally formal nature of trainers.

I also felt a bit more of a connection with this group than with the past cohort. I don’t know what the reasoning is. Maybe it’s because this group is an education group or that it is one year since I too arrived in Uganda as a trainee. I also felt as if I was able to bond with this group from the get-go. I answered their questions truthfully and with tact since I was also their trainer. I gave the survival ICT session, helped out with the basic survival skills, and assisted in the survival Luganda lesson. From this side of training, I could really see a lot of the disorganization and the reasoning behind the complaints that many of my trainers last year made. I no longer have the lens of newness and wonder with which I can view this world.

So on the last night of training Ellen, my fellow community integration PCV, and I hung out with the trainees as they hung out on the concrete dais of Kulika with wireless speakers, champagne, good wine, incense, Rwandan beers (Skol), and some good conversations. I’m a fan of this new group, especially since they’ve already started getting acclimated talking about the three eternal topics that all PCV’s talk about: poop, sex, and alcohol.

“Guys, I love this song; it’s the one that I had sex to the night before I left.”

~Education Cohort 3 Trainee

Squiggles, Monsters, and Moments

1/7/14 – 6/7/14

*Squiggles and Monsters is a game played by two or more people where one person starts off by drawing a small squiggle on a blank piece of paper and then the next person continues the drawing of the initial squiggle by connecting the beginning of the squiggle to its end, thereby forming a monster of sorts.

July 1st – Tuesday

After taking the Giardia medication and two acetaminophen on Tuesday morning, I passed out on my bed until around 1pm and missed teaching my Integrated Science class to my Year 1 PTC students. I initially felt bad because I had a lesson plan explaining the concept of moments in physics (M = r x F). Instead, I rested throughout the morning and then rallied in order to make it to Nakaske for the radio show. The show was about the history behind the 4th of July and American values such as freedom, the Protestant work ethic, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the need to control our own destinies and futures. Afterwards, I stayed with Rebekah at Nakaseke PTC where we made two special and delicious batches of brownies to share.

July 2nd – Wednesday

I woke up early in order to make it to Kampala en route to Mityana for a PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) presentation with the new Central Luganda group. They were having their homestay cultural sharing day on the 4th of July where it was decided that they would be having an American themed barbecue in order to share American food. They asked me to buy a wheel of Gouda cheese and 2kg of ground meat from the big green supermarket, Mega Shoppers, near the Old Taxi Park.

I made it back to Mityana and hung out with the group. It seemed as if they definitely become more comfortable with their homestay families and with life in Uganda. Their Luganda was also improving, but they seemed ready to get the LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) Test done and out of the way. I gave my presentation and then headed to two PCVs’ houses on Kololo Hill up the road from the Busuubizi Boda Stage. It was a long walk, but after about 1 hour I reached the Jenn and Robin’s site near the top of the hill; it was a gorgeous view. Their houses had multiple rooms, couches, kitchens with ovens and sinks, running water, and a view of the setting sun over the Mityana sub-county.

July 3rd – Thursday

Robin gave me a small tour of the Busuubizi Core PTC on the top of the hill including the fully-equipped science labs Busuubizi Churchand the dome-shaped chapel that resembled a small airplane hangar. Robin described it as being art-deco. I then made my way back to Mityana where I took at taxi back to Kampala where I met about a dozen other PCVs at Brood who were headed to NRE (Nile River Explorers) Camp near Jinja for the 4th of July celebration.

Since I had some time, I decided to get my first real haircut in-country since I left almost 8 months ago. Since then I’ve had other PCVs cut my hair using hair-cutting scissors that they brought from home. The Indian salon near the New City Annex was closed, so I made my way to Sparkles Salon in Garden City. It was pretty weird sitting in a nice salon that smelled and felt like an American barber shop, except that Ugandan men were cutting the hair and giving pedicures to customers. I got my hair cut, and it was pretty fly. I then also opted to have my hair washed, and as the shampoo mixed with my head the Ugandan man said, “Wow, you’re hair is very dirty and filthy.” I laughed and explained to him that I lived in a dusty village without running water and have to bike on dusty roads all of the time. He then washed my head a second time with shampoo.

Soon enough I was on a taxi with other PCVs to the NRE Camp near Jinja on the east side of the Nile River. This camp was literally by the banks of the river and it was one of the most spectacular places that I have ever been to. The Camp offered a variety of accommodations: two-person cabins, eight-person dorms, pre-set tents, and an open field on which one could pitch up his or her own tent. There was also a lounge area connected to a bar on a hill overlooking a sweeping panoramic view of the Nile River below.

NRE Trampoline LoungeI still remember the smile on my face as I hugged PCVs whom I haven’t seen for months and just chilled with them and a bottle of cold Nile Special beer. It’s funny to think how much PCVs miss the company of other muzungus, because then we’re able to just be ourselves. We don’t have to be the village PCV who talks in a certain way or has to be extra careful about what we say. I remember that we were all just laughing with one-another and smiling because of the exciting weekend ahead of us.

I shared that brownies that I had baked with Rebekah and some others shared some delicious, homemade chocolate chip cookies because PCVs love this kind of stuff. By this time I was already exhausted and passed out in one of the dorm beds.

July 4th – Friday

I woke up around 7:45am in-preparation for the Nile River Rafting. About 50 PCVs got on the NRE trucks headed Crossing the Niletowards another NRE site where they served us morning coffee, fresh fruit, and rolexes. One of the main guides then gave us some preliminary information about our day including some safety tips about white water rafting through class 4 and 5 rapids. We then hopped on buses headed for the takeoff point for the rafts. We divided ourselves into groups of 6 and huddled around the banks of the Nile River as the guides gave us tips about what to do in various situations. A bunch of us PCVs laughed out loud when he said, “Be careful because if you don’t listen to us then you will find yourself out in the middle of the Nile River in the middle of nowhere in Uganda.” I guess it’s because almost all of our sites are more remote than any section of the Nile that we would have rafted on.

Our group hopped in our raft, led by a Ugandan guide named Hassan, and paddled out into the initially still waters. We were given instructions on how to paddle, when to paddle, when to duck, and how to get back on the raft after we flipped over. Then we were off. It was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done in my life. I was on a raft on the Nile and going through class 5 rapids with some of my best friends here. It was funny seeing other rafts flip over in the rapids only to then have our own raft flip over as well.

Class 6 RapidsAnd then there were the stretches when we would have to paddle through the stiller parts of the river. Honestly, NRE did a great job of making this experience feel like an adventure. We passed around class 6 rapids, near islands with thousands of fruit bats flying around, ate biscuits and fresh pineapple, did backflips off the raft and swam to other rafts, and then finally got to swim through the last class 5 rapids after our raft flipped over.

At the end of our journey, we were greeted with a buffet of rice, hummus, beans, grilled meats, baked potatoes, fresh vegetables, and most importantly beer. It was just the perfect end to the adventure, especially since we were starving after paddling for several hours and our adrenaline was going down. We found our way to the camp after passing out on the buses.

That night was ridiculous. Everyone was in their most patriotic outfits. Everywhere I looked in that lounge bar I 4th of July Sparklerscould see American flags emblazoned on chests, red skirts, white tops, blue jeans, and hilarious and hot outfits all around. There was beer pong in the corner, specialty watermelon vodka drinks, grilled hotdogs, and American songs played all night long. I actually had three drinks bought for me that night: two from a New Zealander after a dance-off and one from a South African girl who wanted to borrow my shirt for a hot second.

It just felt fun to let loose after all of the work done in the village and the time spent travelling for training. I think that as PCVs we realize so much about ourselves with the amount of time that we have alone at our sites. Sometimes occasions such as 4th of July are needed in order to expend some of that pent-up energy that keeping it holed up inside because no one really understands you unless you’ve either let them in or you’ve lived that person’s life.

July 5th – Saturday

I woke up tired and got a rolex from the best rolex stand in Uganda near the entrance to the NRE Camp. Many rolex and chappati stands claim to have the best rolex; however, I would have to agree with this particular claim. The Ugandan guy who works there really understands what muzungus want. There are about 10 different options to choose from involving savory variations of cabbage, fried potatoes, tomatoes, onions, eggs, and curry powder to sweet options of bananas, nutella, peanut butter, and honey. Then I chilled in the lounge with a pot of coffee.

Some PCVs went to the Keep in Jinja town to get milkshakes and others went to the pool to chill for the day. I was just content hardcore chilling with some other PCVs who decided to lounge on the couches and not to think about anything other than the warm sunshine and the breeze emanating from the Nile.

Excerpt from Journal:Nile View NRE

“It’s the morning after 4th of July and it’s just so chill right now at the NRE Camp. It’s a bunch of us Peace Corps Volunteers just lounging around here on the open-air couches as a cool breeze blows up the hill from the Nile River and Ben Howard plays in the background. The hangover is slowly dissipating as the day progresses and it’s just a feeling of contentment being surrounded by good friends that are part of my Peace Corps family.

It still feels early because of the residual effects of the hangover, but I wouldn’t have spent the day after the 4th any other way. I rafted yesterday on the Nile River with some of my best friends here and it almost feels like a well-needed vacation. There’s running water, electricity, a beautiful view, and other people here who understand what I’m going through.

That’s the best thing about being among other Peace Corps Volunteers; we understand the hardships that we’re all going through more so than even our best friends and family members back in the United States. It’s just the shared experiences that help us to adjust and get through our struggles.”

In the afternoon we get up from the lounge and put on swim wear in order to swim to the nearby rope swing. In orderBackflip Into Nile to get there, we had to walk on a pathway down the hill to the water and then swim about 10 minutes to another path that had a rope swing. It felt surreal just flying through the air and knowing that you would be landing in the Nile. I felt so free jumping off of that ledge and doing backflips as I released the rope.

Everyone gets back to the Camp later in the evening and 40 of us register for the sunset cruise. We dress up in classier American-themed outfits and get on the “booze cruise”. For two+ hours they served us all-you-can-drink vodka, rum, and gin mixed drinks along with vegetable dips, barbecued ribs, grilled chicken drumsticks, sausages, and crostinis with hummus, tuna salad, and bruschetta.

The breeze was behind us, the view of the Nile was breathtaking, and the sun was setting as we danced, took pictures, and reflected about how awesome life was during those moments. We were in the Peace Corps living in the villages, but for this weekend we could let loose and once again take a break from the latrines, no running water, and Ugandan food.

The boat made it back as the sun set, and we chilled together for one more night as the Netherlands beat Costa Rica in one of the World Cup matches.

Education Cohort 2 Sunset Cruise

July 6th – Sunday

Departure days are always rough because it means going travelling when tired. This time around, I had a PCV friend, Hannah, coming to visit and stay with me for a few days. We shared a brownie sundae at Café Javas and then brought back some parmesan cheese and English bacon for a pasta carbonara dinner. By the time we made it back to site, pumped water, and ate dinner we were exhausted. We both collapsed on the bed and slept deeply.

July 7th – Monday

We both woke up refreshed and ready to start teaching. With Hannah’s help, we taught the Year 1 students a lesson concerning moments in physics. It was great teaching with Hannah, because she brought something new to the class since she was a primary school teacher all the way west in Ibanda. It gave me hope seeing my students solving physics problems involving moments and how they can be taught somewhat difficult concepts if they are given the tools and time to understand them.

We finished the lesson about moments, and then walked around Luteete. I brought her to the Kabaka’s Palace, but Hannah Hilltopthis time around the caretaker let us in. He gave us a short tour in Luganda after we signed the visitors’ book. He then told us not to take pictures and I motioned to Hannah to take pictures anyway as I distracted him with conversation in Luganda.

I then brought Hannah to the top of one of the hills in my area that overlooked a vast majority of the sub-county. We chilled on that hilltop as I played some music and just napped as the clouds loomed so near above us. Dinner that night consisted of the best steaks that I had ever cooked. I broiled slabs of beef in garlic-infused butter with some salt and pepper and it was amazing; I felt like I was eating a restaurant steak dinner back at home.

July 8th – Tuesday

Hannah and I spent the morning preparing for our journey to Nakaseke for the radio show. We stopped by in Nakaseke Community RadioWobulenzi for me to check on my ICT Lab Grant application, and I was ecstatic to find out that it had made it through Peace Corps Washington Headquarters and was on the main website. We continued to Nakaseke where we met up with Mary for the radio show where we discussed the difference between gender roles in Uganda and in America. The main focus on the show involved empowering women, but we also noted the need for men not to feel weak if they wanted to do things that weren’t traditionally seen as being manly, such as cooking.

That night we gorged ourselves on freshly cooked chocolate chip cookies and Rebekah’s famous no-bake cookies. Once again we were exhausted from our travels and passed out in the guest tent pitched in their yard.

July 9th – Wednesday

I bid farewell to Hannah after dropping her off in Wobulenzi. Once again I biked my way back to Luteete on the dustiest road ever. I made it back to my house and got dressed in order to lead a small tutoring session with my students. Instead, there was a ceremony at the Luteete PTC inducting the new student members of the Guild Council. There were synthesizer music playing, bottles of water, smartly dressed students, a reverend who made blatant references to walking with Jesus, and a “professional” photographer.

I laughed at the end of the ceremony because so many students came up to me asking for a “snap”. Now I understood how it felt to be a teacher or faculty member during a graduation ceremony and having the students ask you for a picture. I couldn’t help noticing how proud and happy the upcoming Guild Council members were to be honored as the next group of student leaders. As the sun beat down upon me, I took a moment and remembered my own graduation ceremonies in the US for high school and college. I looked back to how happy I was that I had finally made it and how things were changing.

Things too are changing now, and soon enough my Peace Corps adventures too will find their way to an end. But I find it fitting that the lesson plan that looped around this weekend concerned moments, because we all experienced a lot