Sensitivity

5/5/15 – 15/5/15

I got over my slump during the remainder of IT Camp. It amazed me what Peter Balaba could do with his expertise in hooking up UTL (Uganda Telecom Lines) to a village PTC and allow students and tutors access to reasonably fast internet speeds. I performed the typical action of taking photos and videos of campers and the directors, since the long-term goal of the camp was to follow up the skill of the youth with another advanced IT Camp in August. I documented sessions regarding Microsoft Office, YouTube, Typing, and even some basic Python Programming. A lot of these students never had the opportunity to be exposed to a computer program, let alone a computer.

I also got to spend more time with some of the facilitators from the Centre for Creative and Capacity Development (CCCD). They shared with me part of the story concerning how they came together as artists, dancers, and musicians a few years ago through YEP (Youth Empowerment Project). A lot of the members of In-Movement and CCCD shape the typical Peace Corps Uganda camp experience through kinesthetic learning. The message propagated by these facilitators empowers Ugandan youth to feel special and witness their ideas being brought to life. In the United States, it could be argued that not every youth should be told that he or she is special, but in Uganda more often than not most youth are told on a daily basis that their ideas do not matter.

With this perspective in mind, a lot of the creative facilitation sessions at camps such as IT Camp involve free and valued expression of self through skits, songs, dances, and group presentations. In many instances, these artful expressions evoke deeper emotions from the youth. During one River of Life session during a Peace Corps camp, the youth were asked to draw and write their life stories on a mural. One of the youth depicted herself being raped by her father, and shared this information with the group. The facilitator of the session shared that it was very probable that this was the first time in her life that she was asked to share her life experiences in a comfortable, safe, and non-judgmental manner.

It’s during moments like this that the problems concerning logistics, arguments, and petty difficulties among PCV’s take a backseat towards the larger issue that we are working to address. I feel like I’m making good use of my time exhausting myself through my participation in different camps in order to share the stories of these youth. By giving them a voice, they can be heard.

After a busy week at IT Camp, I spent the weekend in Kampala where I was able to simply chill and relax. On Saturday, I attended a TEDx Talk at the Serena Hotel where Ugandans shared their ideas concerning, healthy lifestyles, productivity, and smartphone apps. Not only was it cool to be at a TEDx talk, but it was amazing to hear Ugandans give short, succinct, and reasonably engaging presentations that delivered a message. One of the most interesting presentations came from a recently graduated Ugandan university student who developed a smartphone app that would easily relay the amount of produce that farmers could provide and transport to market day consumers.

Afterwards, I spent the rest of my time in Kampala watching YouTube videos and catching up on some news stories and pop culture over the past two years. I mean, I realized that within 7 months I will depart Uganda and head back to the developed world. In this sense, I am slowly easing myself back into what I used to be used to doing. I then went back to the village for two days where the money for the ICT Lab finally arrived in my supervisor’s bank account. Funnily enough, as I enter the home stretch of my Peace Corps service I can see my projects and worth as a PCV coming together. Right now I am back at the NARO agricultural center in Mukono where I am planning Community Integration sessions for the incoming Health and Agribusiness June 2015 group.

If the key point for the last training group was to be realistically positive about our experiences in Uganda, the modus operandi for this incoming group is to acknowledge sensitivity concerning pressing issues about gender, race, and poverty. Desensitization for older PCV’s vs. hypersensitivity for newer trainees is the overarching theme that we as community integration trainers have to address. There have been some complaints about older PCV’s that they don’t care enough the issues in Uganda.

I hazard that so many people back in the US can take the moral high ground and have the opportunity to discuss thoughtful articles and responses to those articles articulating the idiosyncrasies of gender identities, gentrification, and double standards. Here I believe that PCV’s have to choose their own battles to fight. Idealism only gets us so far and sometimes the haggard, pragmatic, and slightly jaded outlook of a PCV who just finished a male/female condom demonstration can bring about more positive change than someone gives a riveting speech in the village about the beauty of abstinence, family planning, and respecting your fellow person

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The Adventure

7/3/15 – 26/3/15

I have finally found some time to sit down and write a blog post about my experiences during the month of March. This month marks a turning point for me, because I truly feel that everything that I am headed towards the end of my Peace Corps service. In a little over 8 months I will be flying away from Uganda and gonging out at the Peace Corps office. This blog post, will be devoted to the adventure of Alex Bansleben and Marvin Roxas who journeyed to the far western and southwestern regions of Uganda in order to destroy the One Ring of Mt. Nyiragongo.

Saturday 7th – Sunday 8th

I arrived in Kampala in order to participate in a meeting of the Geography Club of Uganda. We Geo Club Dinnerstayed at the New City Annex and purchased the ingredients to make a huge three-course dinner at the house of the Director of Programming and Training. The meeting involved discussing the issues regarding LGBTI issues in Peace Corps Uganda both as a support system and how allies could lend their own support to other PCV’s. At some point, I raised a concern regarding what the response should be if another Peace Corps Volunteer stated that he or she did not support LGBTI PCV’s. This sparked a healthy discussion where PCV’s and allies bounced around ideas regarding how one should respond to the person in question. Some people said that everyone was entitled their own opinions, while others stated that they would debate that person. However, it was unanimously agreed upon that the person who did not support Geo PCV’s should not be attacked, especially since he or she is voicing an opinion and should also not feel victimized.

The three-course dinner consisted of:

  • Lettuce Salad and Pumpkin Soup
  • Tomato and Basil Pasta, Black and Tan Pasta, Alfredo Pasta, and Pasta Salad
  • Lemon Squares topped with Mint, Gooseberries, and Kiwi Slices

After dinner, I received a call from my friend Alex who had gotten on an overnight bus from Nairobi to Kampala. That night a lot of us went out to the clubs and we got back to the Annex around 5am.

Monday 9th – Thursday 12th

Four hours later, Alex arrived in Kampala. Fortunately, Alex took the Modern Coast bus which dropped him off right in front of the Annex. I ran out to meet him and he dropped his bags off at the Annex.

We headed to Prunes for brunch and catching up. Honestly, I hadn’t had a lengthy conversation with Alex for over 4 years and I didn’t know what our common interests were. I shared with him the basics about how Peace Corps Uganda worked and about my work here, and he shared with me his work as a consultant at Accenture. This would turn out to be a theme throughout the duration of our adventure in Uganda and Rwanda. Every now and then we would share something with the other that helped explain how our personalities and experiences since high school drastically changed us.

We napped a bit back at the Annex, and then headed down towards the taxi park area so that Alex could buy some kitenge from the vendors and get them made by my favorite tailor. Alex bought some kitenge, which is Congolese fabric, from some Congolese vendors with whom he spoke French. We then brought the fabric to my favorite tailor who agreed to make them into button down dress shirts and regular t-shirts. We continued towards the Gaddafi Mosque, which was closed since it was past 6pm, so we hurried to grab a small dinner at the Acacia Mall area with other PCV’s. It was at this point that Alex was introduced to the bluntness and openness of PCV’s that night. The conversation revolved around vibrators that female PCV’s brought or had surreptitiously sent to them. I explained to Alex that PCV’s chiefly talked about three topics: poop, sex, and other Peace Corps Volunteers.

Alex and Village ChildrenThe next morning I brought Alex with me to the Peace Corps office because I had a PCVL meeting concerning the site development process. The procedure was being personalized for the older education PCV’s in-country in order to make it more personalized and give PCV’s a voice in sharing why they would like a future PCV to continue the work that they had started at their sites. The meeting ends in the late afternoon, after which Alex and I take a private hire down to the taxi park and then take a taxi back to Wobulenzi where we purchase produce from the local market. We make it back to my village where all of the village children immediately run up to him to stroke his leg hair and hold his hands.

As we prepare for dinner, Alex takes out some of the gifts that he brought: a Kindle, incense, acne facial scrub, books for the students, and some money that would go towards a needed project. We chill that night with the incense and some fennel steak dinner.

Journal Entry:

“It’s interesting hearing the different perspectives that Alex has and brings here from the US. Like some offhand comments or responses about how he “gets it”. Or it’s the weirdness of being around someone whom I still have to explain everything to rather than the silent solidarity of knowing the life that we live here, like other PCV’s…”

The next day we get up and prepare for a day of teaching and local exploration. We start off withAlex Teaching teaching a division lesson to Year 1 students. Afterwards, we gather them outside to hold an HIV/AIDS session with them where we explained the biology behind HIV/AIDS, exposed the myths, and demonstrated the fast rate of HIV transmission through unprotected sex. Afterwards, I brought Alex to the nearby hill where I can get internet access, and then to the Kabaka’s Palace. We grabbed a rolex from a chappati guy in Bamunanika and then walked to another hill that overlooked the majority of the sub-county. As the sun set and I chilled up there with Alex, I found it hard to believe that I was embarking on this journey with an old friend whom I haven’t hung out with for almost half a decade.

On Thursday we sleep-in, pack up, and head back to Kampala and stay at the Fat Cat Backpackers. We check out Acacia mall and I show Alex the Definition store and Nakumatt. We meet up with PCV Wayne Wong who shares how some other PCV’s whom he met at a Malaria Conference in Senegal remember me from the weekend spent in Kigali, Rwanda last August during the Guma Guma event. Funnily enough, later that night we meet an NGO guy who went to University of Maryland College Park and now works in Gulu. I still find it crazy how regardless of where we go in the world, we will somehow meet someone with whom we have had shared experiences.

Friday 13th – Saturday 14th

We spent the day walking to the Gaddafi Mosque, which was very grand to say the least. I found it Gaddafi Mosquehard to believe that there was this gigantic, public mosque whose carpets came from Morocco, mahogany handrails from the Congo, and funding from the benevolent to many African countries but his own, Gaddafi. Apparently, so many African countries other than Libya are huge fans of Gaddafi because of the money that he so generously shared with them in order to build things such as this mosque, which is also the 2nd biggest mosque in Africa. After climbing the tower with a  spiral staircase and walking barefoot on the plush Moroccan carpets, we met up with PCV Ravi Sahai and walked towards the Kasubi Tombs of the Kabaka.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is the location of the past four Kabaka’s tombs as well as his tradition grass-thatched round house. Unfortunately, the main house was destroyed in a fire five years ago, and the perpetrator has still not been apprehended. The tour guide shared with us the history of the past four Kabaka’s. We heard stories about the many wives of the Kabaka, how one of them was assassinated by Idi Amin’s agents, the dissolution of the tribes of Uganda, and the eventual reinstatement of the tribes under the current Kabaka with the collaboration of Museveni.

Kisubi TombsWe passed by the other ceremonial straw houses that housed actual families. Each house had a modern-day fire extinguisher attached near the front entrance. However, one of the most intriguing parts of the tour was a mud hut that was over 100 years old. I mean the tin roof was repurposed from scraps that the British colonizers discarded, and the mud was packed and repacked through the years. After arguing with the receptionist in both Luganda and Runyoro we were able to receive the price of an East African Resident, while Alex had to pay the full fee.

We took several taxi rides back to Acacia Mall and bought some whiskey to pregame for the night. That night, we pre-gamed at Fat Cat and then danced at both Iguana and Cayenne until around 6am. I had planned to go out to the clubs in Kampala this Friday since it was the COS (Close of Service) conference of the PCV’s in the CHED (Community Health, Economic Development) cohort that would be leaving Uganda within the next three months. By the time I got back to the hostel, a random Pakistani man was sleeping in my bed so I just crashed on the bed/couch in the common room. There were a few funny stories from that night, but the most memorable was when we were entering Cayenne and the bouncers stopped one of the guys in our group from entering since the dress code stipulated that all men wear long trousers and he was wearing shorts.

Conversation:

Us: “Okay how much do you want us to bribe you to let him in?”

Bouncers: “We don’t accept bribes.”

Us: “Okay, can we talk to your manager please?”

Bouncers: “The manager will not want to talk with you or accept your bribe. This is why Uganda is not a great country; because of corruption and bribery.”

Us: *sarcasm* “Oh yes, we definitely agree that by not letting in a man with short trousers is making Uganda a worse country”

Us: *one of the girls and the guy in shorts switches pants so that the guy is wearing the girl’s capris and the girl is wearing his cargo shorts* “We’re ready!”

Bouncers: “Okay, you can enter now.”

A few hours later in the morning, I wake up in the common room couch and am probably still drunk. I eat the breakfast provided by Fat Cat and pack up my things in preparation for the journey to Fort Portal. Wayne Wong decides to tag along for a few days. We go to the Barclays in order to withdraw some money that we then converted into $US in preparation for our eventual sojourn into Rwanda. We take a taxi from the taxi park to Fort Portal. I kept pointing out to the equally as hungover Alex the places where Ravi, Godfrey, and I biked during our bike journey.

Jenna's Pit LatrineWe met up with PCV Jenna Marcotte at Sweet Aromas bakery, which had changed spots from the last time I was at Fort Portal during Camp Kuseka. Now it was located near the Kasese Road. It was here that we bought the One Ring at the local Indian Store. The goal was that Alex would eventually destroy it in the fiery pits of Mt. Nyiragongo in the DRC during his trek later that week. In the meantime, we shared a dinner together of the best pizza in country at the Duchess restaurant.

I can still remember feeling the cool, slightly damp air of the night breezing through the open windows of the private hire as we headed towards Jenna’s site at Kazingo. In the middle of the journey, Jenna pointed out the fire on one of the nearby foothills of the Rwenzori’s that signified the beginning of farmers clearing the brush for farming since rainy season was soon approaching. Jenna’s house was one of the most comfortable houses that I have ever stayed in as a PCV. Even though there wasn’t any running water or electricity, I felt like I was at home. The best part was that the house got very cold at night.

Sunday 15th – Tuesday 17th

We left the Rwenzori foothills of Kazingo and went back to Fort Portal. Wayne Wong and Alex wentNyakasharu Setting Up the Tent to reserve a taxi headed towards Mbarara while I rushed to the market to purchase some produce for our stay at Dave the Cave Nyakasharu Eco Lodge. The lodge was located about 3 hours south of Fort Portal a little bit after passing Kasese and Kyambura. We arrived at the eco lodge and were welcomed by handful of other PCV’s who agreed to come here to preemptively celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and hang out with me and Alex. We were located near a crater lakes, and the place was called Dave the Cave because the Ugandan owner is named Dave and the eco lodge overlooked a crater lake and a small cave.

Alex, Wayne Wong, and I set up our tent and hung out with the other PCV’s. What struck me the most from this place was how organic everything felt. I mean I’ve been to other eco lodges and other ecotourism sites in Uganda, but the energy and passion that Dave had was infectious. As I was cooking tomato sauce in his kitchen, he urged me to pick some fresh basil, oregano, parsley, and rosemary from the nearby demonstration garden. Later in the day, as the golden sun set behind traditional dancers and drummers, PCV Hannah Long and I walked down the dirt road that skirted the eco lodge and led to Dave’s garden.

I couldn’t believe how vast and expansive his garden was. We walked through the garden and Rosemary in Gardenpicked fresh: rosemary, coriander, parsley, oregano, arugula, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, thyme, sage, turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, husk tomatoes, leeks, celery, gooseberries, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, cucumbers, okra, and various other vegetables and leafy greens that I hadn’t seen in over 16 months. Dave stated that he wanted to inspire other Ugandans to utilize the rich soil and grow a variety of plants and produce to both consume and sell at the markets.

When we returned to the eco lodge, we chilled by the nearby bonfire and ate fried local fish from the crater lakes. That night, the temperature dropped to the low 50’s, and I was freezing in the tent even though I was bundled up in several layers worth of clothing. In the morning, we hitched a ride with a truck driving Ugandan who was headed past Kalinzu Forest where Alex, Wayne Wong, and I paid 50,000/= to go chimp trekking. We had woken up before the sunrise, and by the time we got to the forest, the air still felt damp and cool from the night’s chill.

Chimp TrekkingI took in a deep breath, because the air smelled so earthy and fresh. One of the chimp trekking guides led us deeper into the thick forest. About 45 minutes into the journey, we came across an adult chimpanzee at the end of the road. As we approached him, he scampered away and we continued to trek him. About 30 minutes later, the guides stopped in a small clearing and pointed out several chimpanzees swinging from the branches of the nearby trees. We saw a mother and her chimp swinging from branch to branch. We even heard the distinctive roar/cry of the chimpanzees as they swung from the boughs of the overhanging tree branches.

At some point, the guide suggested that we head back to the base. On the way back, we departed the forest clearing and entered into the rolling green fields of a Majani Tea Plantation. It’s sites and days like this that still astound me; seeing the countless tea plants that stretch far into the distance as Ugandan field workers snip the fresh tea leaves into their baskets. We then took a Tea Plantationvery crowded private hire sedan to Mbarara and then onto our next stop at the Bishop Stuart PTC where PCV Stephen Elliott hosted us. The stipulation was that we could stay if we tossed the Frisbee at the nearby field, climbed his water tower, and drank beers with him. Naturally, we agreed that this was well worth the price of lodging for the night. If the night at the eco lodge felt like winter and the morning in the forest felt like spring, then the afternoon at Bishop Stuart PTC felt like the end of a solid summer’s day. The sun was shedding its golden rays down the suburban-like streets of the tutors’ housing. And a warm breeze wafted by us as we sat on Stephen’s cement porch.

We bid farewell to Wayne Wong on the morning of the 17th. Alex and I took a taxi on the Mbarara-Kabale road headed towards Kabale and he took a taxi headed back towards Kampala. It was at this point that Alex started to notice the different landscapes of the southwest. He continuously Kabale Elephant Manstated that this was such a beautiful ride, and I told him that it would only get better. I helped Alex print his visa papers for his eventual hike in the DRC, and then we bought straw elephants from the elephant man in front of the Indian grocery store. Let me explain this a little bit more, within the space of less than 100 feet on the main road of Kabale there is an Indian store and usually this old man in a wheelchair with a hand crank that he uses to roll his wheels. Whenever he sees non-Ugandans pass into the Indian shop he would yell “ELEPHANTS!” and plunge his hand into a black cavera and display handmade, straw elephant figurines to sell. I had heard stories about this man, and Alex and I bought two elephants from him.

Conversation with Elephant Man:

Elephant Man: *sees us* “ELEPHANTS!”

Me: “How much?”

Elephant Man: “10,000!!!!”

Me: “No, 5,000!”

Elephant Man: “Yes!” *He then displays the straw elephants from his black cavera where he stores them*

Indian Man: *Talking to Ugandan store workers in very Indian accent* “You bring for me fifteen eggs!”

We took a pit stop at PCV Carl Mulhausen’s house at the Kabale NTC where we also met up with PCV Paul Benz. Carl shared his own experiences climbing Mt. Nyiragongo in the DRC several decades ago when he was a PCV during the reign of Idi Amin. He recalled that his experience climbing that volcano and hearing the perpetual roar of the lava inside the crater would be one of the most amazing and memorable experiences of his life. I got excited for Alex, and was definitely jealous that I wouldn’t be able to join him on his journey to destroy the One Ring.

By this point it was the late afternoon, so Alex and I quickly found a taxi headed towards Kisoro that took about 2 hours to fill. However, it was worth it because we saw the sun bursting forth from the clouds that surrounded the Virunga volcanoes of Kisoro. Even though I had seen this view before, it still felt very epic to witness the winding road with hairpin turns and steep drops that led to sloped farmlands, elevated lakes, and towering hills and mountains. If I thought that this was gorgeous, I couldn’t imagine what Alex must have felt witnessing these views for the first time in his life. By the time the sun had hit the horizon, our taxi arrived in Kisoro and we met up with PCV Bruce Haase at the Coffee Pot. We had burgers and turned in for an early night.

Kisoro SunsetIf there was one thing that I was beginning to learn from Alex’s visit, it was that he reminded how amazing my life was here in Uganda. At one point he told me that my life here was not normal. I guess that after 16 months I forget that what I do on a weekly basis here is not normal, at least by American standards. Hearing about the sites that I was used to seeing on a semi-regular basis reminded me of how much I loved my life here. It took having a part of home come to visit me in order to remind me of how life-changing my Peace Corps experience is. It’s very easy to get used to the ups and downs of day-to-day life here and to forget that living in such a unique environment with the opportunity to see both great and terrible things is not the norm. As Ugandans would about us, we are used.

Saturday 18th – Monday 20th

Alex and I woke up early in order to see the sunrise at the hill with the gorgeous view of Mt. Alex and Lake MutandaSebinnyo and Lake Mutanda. We filmed a few scenes of us with the One Ring. Once again, I felt weird about Alex visiting these sacred places of my Peace Corps service. Whenever the various stages of my worlds collide, I can’t help but notice just how different all of me and my friends have become. We took our photos and met Bruce at Traveller’s for their 10,000/= breakfast, which includes bacon and cheese. We quickly packed up back at Bruce’s house, and made our way to the border at Cyanika.

Alex had to pay a $30 visa fee ever since they mandated that persons with American passports must pay a fee to acquire a visa at the border with Rwanda. Fortunately, Bruce and I sweet-talked Virunga Mist Beerthe right people at the border office and explained to them that we were East African residents, so they gave us the Interstate Pass which allowed us to travel to and from Rwanda for free. From Kyanika, the taxi driver drove us on the other side of the road to the transit town of Musanze. We chilled here at the French/Italian bakery and restaurant called La Paillotte with their amazing Boulette (meat balls), baguettes, and Virunga Mist beer. Honestly, that beer was one of the best that I’ve had during my Peace Corps service. It’s a darker beer, but not as dark or as filling as a stout and still refreshing enough with the taste of oats and barley.

Lake Kivu PierWe took the afternoon taxi to Gisenyi where we stayed at the Discover Gisenyi Hostel near the shores of Lake Kivu. While the town seemed very local and small, the lakeside felt very serene. I could have thought that I was on vacation in a small, European beachside town or Riviera. From the manicured lawns of our European beach chalet, we could see Rwandans doing flips off of a stone pier into the clear waters of Lake Kivu and then walking back onto the sandy shore. That night, we have dinner at a local restaurant, with food that resembles Ugandan food but tastes a bit more flavorful. Also thanks to the Belgian colonizers, the Rwandans know how to bake bread in many of the towns as opposed to Ugandans who mainly adopted tea time from the Brits.

Journal Entry:

“It’s interesting at this point in the journey, because I feel like we’re past the awkward stage of meeting and hanging out since high school, but I feel that we have vastly different personalities and interests and ways of approaching situations. I think it also has to do with the trouble of understanding how life is here in the Peace Corps.

But now on our coaster ride to Gisenyi from Musanze, I feel giddy. I’m excited with the prospect of new adventure and experiences.”

As the sun set, we could see the far off Mt. Nyiragongo in the DRC shrouded in clouds like Mt. Doom itself.

Thursday 19th – Friday 20th

During these two days I chilled at the lakeside chalet hostel and chilled by the lake. I even took a dip into the clear waters because the staff assured me that there was no schistosomiasis in the water. In the meantime, Alex took a boda from the chalet 1.6km northwards to the DRC border. As I chilled safe in Rwanda, he prepared for his sojourn to the mountain of doom in the DRC, and here is his story:

Alex’s Story:

“My heart was pounding as I approached the border called La Grande Barriere.. I mean all the stories on any international news site would tell you about the problems regarding rebels and disorganized governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both Anthony Bourdain’s No Entering GomaReservations and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness painted a very bleak portrait of this center of Africa. I’m sure that not many people would ever do what I am doing right now. When got to the border, I had my bag searched and a nurse checked my WHO card to ensure that I had received all of the required vaccinations. I then had to hand over my passport to the border officials along with a visa confirmation explaining that I had registered for a visa a month earlier online through the Virunga Trekking website. In total I had paid $250 for the park permit and trekking, $105 for the visa into the DRC, and about $23 for transport to the Kibati Patrol Post from the border crossing.

As I waited for the officials to process my visa, I met some other travelers who would join me on my hike up Nyiragongo. Even though I had spent my summers in French Switzerland, I was glad that my other companions also spoke French. After the officials stamped a visa into my passport, I boarded the Virunga Treks jeep and they took me and my new companions through Goma town towards Kibati Patrol Post. It was such a new experience to see this forbidden part of the world. As an American with two passports, US and Italian, I always believed that travelling anywhere in the world was an easy task. However, it always gave me a rush to know that I was treading on land that few people would ever have the opportunity or will to traverse.

Blackened GomaThe developed part of Goma town looked nice compared to most other towns in Uganda. However, once we passed into the neighborhoods, the color scheme of the entire environment changed. Instead of the brown of dust and dirt, the villages surrounding Goma were all black. Fences of black and dark red volcanic rocks were built by enterprising villagers, and the houses and huts looked like log cabins that wouldn’t have looked out of place in northern United States. Some of the houses had the traditional tin roofs while others had brick shingles. Even the cloudy sky cast a shadow on an already gloomy-looking town. But what struck me the most from this journey was the reaction of the people.

In Uganda, people were always friendly and willing to wave at you if you waved at them. In Rwanda, it required a bit more effort to get them to wave back at you. However here, some of the villagers would just stare at us, throw stones at us, give us the finger, or ask for money. Only a select few of them greeted us when we said hello in French or Swahili. Every few minutes our jeep would pass by a United Nations vehicle with blue helmets riding with their rifles. Apparently, the nearest rebel group was only 11km away from Goma. We also kept passing by what looked like an elongated, wooden bicycle that the villagers used to transport jerrycans of water, livestock, and sacks of food.

We approached the Kibati Patrol Post and consolidated our supplies for the trek. Some of my Congolese Guardscompanions hired porters for $12, but I decided to carry my own backpack up and down the mountain. Our Congolese guides and armed guards explained to us that we would be reaching an elevation of about 3400m and that the trek would take about 4-6 hours including rest stops at designated intervals. There were also 12 hidden, armed guards stationed at various points along the path who would protect and alert us if any rebels got too close.

The trek up was definitely miserable at points, but the harder it got the more worth I placed into this experience. We first started on a path that led straight into the heart of the Virunga Park forest. It steadily climbed upwards at a slight, muddy gradient until it gave way to broken up Rain on Volcanic Rocksvolcanic rocks that sloped at a steeper gradient. About two hours in, we left the forest behind and were clambering up steep volcanic rocks the size of baseballs and stretches of slick volcanic outcroppings as the rain started to pour. I felt miserable going up, because I knew that both my body and my backpack with my sleeping bag was getting wet.

About 4 hours into the journey, our guides stopped us and told us to look at a small fissure in the ground overgrown with trees and plants. He explained that in 2002 the lava from the volcano welled up here and then overflowed down this face of the volcano where it pooled in a small crater and then reached Goma town and eventually Lake Kivu. That explained all the black volcanic rocks and black dirt in Goma Village. As I turned around to look at Goma, I couldn’t believe how high up I was. I could see a green, football pitch-sized crater below me and Goma Village in the far off distance as if it was a small lego town.

At this point, we were approaching the clouds. We passed through another stretch of steep forest View above the Cloudspaths, and then made our way to the last stretch of clearing, which consisted of small volcanic crags that acted as stepping stones. The path ceased at this point, and each one of us chose his or her own path up the last 100m of the climb. During this stretch of 30 minutes, the clouds parted from the blustery winds and the clear skies greeted our final ascent. Behind us lay what looked like the Savannah and the lonely towns of Goma and Gisenyi hugging the eastern side of Lake Kivu.

The guides told us that we were to choose a small cabin built near the crater of the volcano where Sulfur Cloud Sunsetwe could place our things and sleep when night came. The cabins were literally just planks of wood nailed together to keep rain and wind out, and inside each cabin was a heavy-duty tent designed as an extra layer of protection against the harsher elements of wind and mist. Outside, everything was bathed in a golden glow as the sun set behind clouds of both water and sulfur. Everywhere I turned was a gorgeous and breath-taking view. It feels hard explaining how amazing it felt to be up there at what felt like the end of the world. As I approached the crater, I could see a reddish glow beyond the emanating sulfur clouds. I will never forget that perpetual rumbling of the lava in the crater that reminded me of an ocean wave that was forever crashing down on the surf.

When the clouds cleared, we could look down into the crater where we saw these sheer cliff dropsMt. Nyiragongo Lava Lake that led to a lower level of the crater, which led to another lower level of the crater, which finally led to the lake of lava itself. Even though we were far away from the lava, we could still feel a remnant of radiating heat from the lava. As night came, the lava lake became much easier to see. All I could do for hours was gaze at the lava and listen to the never-ending rumble and roar of lava explosions. The pool of lava was forever changing with the solidified rocks on the surface of the lake forming and re-forming into different shapes. At some points the surface looked like a fractured mirror, spider-web, penises, or even the Eye of Sauron himself. At some point in the night, I took out a bottle of white wine which was chilling in the winter-like air. I shared the bottle with my new companions, and as the clouds whipped around us we listened to Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire, Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, and Howard Shore’s Breaking of the Fellowship.

Sulfur SunriseYou know, I felt alright with my life up there. I really believe that I was on a true adventure of a lifetime that I would never forget. That time spent on the volcano felt almost spiritual. Something had changed within me and I knew that when I descended from this mountain that I would never be the same again. The night got darker and deeper, and I retired to my cabin where my sleeping bag kept me warm throughout the night. Funnily enough, all I could think about was how delicious the burrito Marvin told me about at Meze Fresh in Kigali would taste.

I set my alarm for 5am since the guards told me that the sunrise would be at 5:40am. As I rose, I heard my other companions join me to witness the sunrise. Even though I felt miserable, slightly hungover, and cold I was happy to witness a new sunrise on Mt. Nyiragongo. Behind me, I could see Goma illuminated by the fires of a thousand villagers and the intermittent lightning of a far-off storm cloud. And in that moment, I made my decision to destroy evil for good and I threw the One Ring into the fire chasm from whence it came (even though I technically bought the ring in the Indian Store in Fort Portal with Marvin and Jenna’s help). The sun rose and as the clouds whipped around our feet they covered the lake of lava and I bid farewell to such a beautiful view.

The trek down was uneventful in that it rain the entire way down and we were all soaking wet, muddy, and ready for our next meal and warm shower. We made it to the Patrol Post within 3 hours since we didn’t stop for a rest, and the jeeps took us back through Goma. On the way back, I bought a Simba beer from a local shop, because I wanted to know what it would taste like. I re-entered Rwanda without much trouble, and met up with Marvin and Bruce back at the hostel.”

When Alex told me his story, I was beyond jealous and knew that before I left for the United States that I would do this trek. In the meantime, it felt nice to relax by the lake and chill with Bruce. We ate a local lunch at the bus park, and then took a bus to Kigali. One of Alex’s companions joined us on the coaster back to Kigali. Her name is Josie and she shared her story with us: She wanted to visit Rwanda ever since she was 14 and had volunteered with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Quebec where she had worked in Haiti, Madagascar, and then in Rwanda as a peanut butter factory worker rabbit farmer, and then as a teacher. She shared her knowledge of Ikinyarwanda with us and explained why most of the towns had two names. For example, Gisenyi was also called Rubavu because after the genocide the government wanted to rename all of the towns so that they could put the past behind them. As a result, many of the towns in Rwanda other than Kigali have two names.

We picked up a wheel of local Emmentaler-like cheese at Muhoko trading center, and continued on our coaster ride to the semi-developed city of Kigali. We had booked dorm beds at the Mamba Clubhouse in Kimihurura neighborhood near Papyrus Club. We ate a well-deserved burrito with nachos at Meze Fresh, chilled with some Rwandan PCV’s, and passed out in warm dorm beds after an even warmer shower.

Saturday 21st – Wednesday 26th

Honestly, after Alex’s adventure on Mt. Nyiragongo I felt that nothing could top that experience forRz Manna Bakery the duration of our trip. As Alex went to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum, Bruce and I hung out at different cafes in Kigali. We started at Rz Manna where we could eat authentic baked goods ranging from cinnamon buns to croissants and jelly doughnuts and waffles. Bruce and I then continued to the MTN House where we swapped stories over a French press of Lake Kivu coffee at Bourbon Café on the third floor. I felt so relaxed hanging out here with a good friend over some good coffee after an already-packed adventure.

We met up with Alex at Hotel des Milles Collines, and got dinner at a French restaurant called L’Epicurean near our hostel. The fact that I had the pleasure of eating Chicken Cordon Bleu is something that I will not forget for as long as I live in the village.

Early in the morning, Alex, Bruce, and I arose and got our shit together to reach Uganda by the early morning. We arrived back in Kisoro by 10am where we bid farewell to Bruce. Arriving this early gave Alex and I more than enough time to reach Kabale by noon and then arrive at the Byoona Amagara docks. Instead of paying for a motorboat, we decided to just paddle a canoe to the island for free. Chilling at Lake Bunyonyi was perfect, because it was just so quiet and relaxing after almost two weeks of constant traveling. I pretty much just napped on the docks, napped in the café area, and in my cozy bed.

We spent Monday night in Kabale town at PCV Amanda Throckmorton’s house. Alex and I broughtLeaving Bunyonyi over a kilo of live crayfish along with the remnant of Muhoko, Rwanda cheese in order to make a black and tan crayfish mac ‘n cheese. That was a good night to talk about experiences, because Amanda asked Alex about his adventure up Mt. Nyiragongo, which started a conversation about the adventures that we have in our 20’s that define a large part of who we become. She shared her own experiences and adventures in India and Myanmar that helped define a part of who she is today. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were discussing this over a full box of wine each.

Tuesday was literally one of the worst travel days in-country. It took 12 hours to get from Kabale to Masaka after waiting for over 4 hours in total and then squeezing in 24 passengers in a 16 person taxi and then forcing everyone to get off into another one in the middle of the road leading to Masaka. By the time we reached  Wandegeya PTC where PCV Eric Chu hosted us, it was already 9pm and we were exhausted from sitting in a crowded taxi all-day. This was the last homely house of the adventure before I had to say goodbye to Alex. Out of all the PCV houses in Uganda, Eric’s house felt the most comfortable with the cool air, fully-stocked kitchen, and clean sheets on a guest mattress.

Wednesday was our last day together. We celebrated it by picking up Alex’s shirts from the tailor and purchasing more rolls of kitenge for him to bring home. We then stopped by the 1000 Cups café where Alex bought coffee to take home with him, and then we registered for his last night in Uganda at Fat Cat Backpackers. We had hoped that it would be the Wine and Cheese night at the Bistro, but instead we just got three gin and tonics during happy hour and then bought a 1.5L bottle of wine, hummus platter, and various cheeses, meats, and bread from the Nakumatt deli to have our own wine and cheese night on the rooftop of Fat Cat.

Under the influence of our last night together, Alex and I swapped pictures and reminisced about our journey that took us through different climates, time zones, and seasons. At some point, the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer called and informed us that a terrorist attack might occur at a muzungu-heavy area in Kampala according to the US Embassy. As a fitting end to any adventure, it was raining at 6am Thursday morning when the private hire picked Alex at Fat Cat and drove him to the airport. And this adventure came to a close.

Journal Entry:

“How can I go back to “regular” life after these experiences? It’s just so many thoughts and memories that have shaped who I’ve become today. I don’t know whether to cry or not concerning all of the feelings and adventures that I’ve gone through in these pat two weeks and how they remind me of the stages of my life that brought me this far. Even though I wasn’t there, I feel that the roar of Nyiragongo will resonate within me for the rest of my life.”

The Struggles and the Furies

December 10, 2014

I’ve been through the whole gambit of emotions recently. On Monday I traveled to Masindi in order to choose some quilts from Piece by Peace so that Rachel could bring them back to friends and family members back in the United States. I’m not going back to the United States for the holidays, but I still want to give my loved ones gifts back home. The next day we traveled to Kampala by bus, which wasn’t too bad since the air was cool due to the recent rain. However, I instantly got stressed because I thought about all of the stuff that I still had to do before I returned to Shimoni PTC for my cultural sessions. I still had to pick up some PSN t-shirts at the Peace Corps Office, discuss my bike ride fundraising idea with Peace Corps administration, say final goodbyes to some COSing PCV’s, grab lunch, pick up some more PSN t-shirts near the Old Taxi Park, and then make my way to Shimoni by takisi.

I got frustrated the longer the day went, because there was so much on my mind and the people whom I was hanging out with had their own strong emotions that they were undergoing. I got so angry when I went to pick up the order of 24 PSN t-shirts at the t-shirt screen printing shop near the Old Taxi Park. I arrived at the desk only to see that no one had started the process of screen printing the agreed upon I design on any of the t-shirts. The woman behind the counter just told me, “Ah, the woman she is coming and she will finish them now.” When the managing woman arrived, I got so furious with her. I told her how upset I was with how she broke the agreement that the t-shirts would be done by the morning. I explained to her that now I didn’t have the opportunity to sell them since I couldn’t bring them with me and that I would no longer use her services if they weren’t ready by tomorrow.

I said this to her in much meaner terms and with angrier language. One of the PCV’s who was accompanying me said that he had never seen me act this way. I replied to him that he needed to hang out with me more because this was just another side of me. I guess that that infuriated me more because I extremely dislike it when people just assume that I’m happy all of the time.

I was just in a very foul and pissed off mood with everyone and I knew it. I rationally knew that I needed to change my outlook lest I bring others down with me. Instead I snapped at a PCV who was going through a breakup, kept shaking my head when any Ugandans wanted to talk to me, and straight up pushed some Ugandans out of my way instead of me walking around them.

The takisi ride from Kampala to the Shimoni PTC sign and the subsequent walk to the college helped cool down my temper a bit. It felt both satisfying and sucky to be in a mood like this one where I just had trouble seeing the good ahead of me. If you had asked me then what my goals were for the immediate future, I would have told you that I didn’t know. My mood significantly improved when I arrived at the college and saw the many trainees working on their lesson plans, work stations, and other activities. I guess that refreshing would be the right word to describe how I felt.

I put my bags back in the dorm room and did a solo session of T25 to exert some excess steam. I then had some dinner, worked on a few presentations, and slept in preparation for a new day.

Today was a good day. It wasn’t perfect, and maybe I won’t be sharing any epic stories or pictures from the day. But it was a good day. I met up with language trainers in preparation for cross-cultural and language sessions that we would be presenting to the trainees. I also planned out the details for a fundraising idea for the ICT Lab. The idea is for one of my Ugandan neighbors, PCV Ravi, and I to bike all the way to Fort Portal from the village of Luteete in order to raise pledged donations towards the construction and furnishing of the ICT/computer lab. I’m banking on the fact that people back home will be in the giving mood since the journey will overlap with my birthday and will end a few days before Christmas.

Then after lunchtime I helped out with a stress-management session with Dr. Jenny from the PCMO. When the session ended, a dozen of us gathered together on the big football patch at the end of campus to play a game of Ultimate Frisbee. I can’t even begin to describe how much fun it was. I haven’t played a competitive sports game for over 6 months. There’s just something about the workout and the fun combined together that I missed. Plus the sun was setting with this golden glow that cast the entire pitch in this nostalgic light that just reminded me of playing the same game with different people last year.

And I know that a lot of those people, including myself, have drastically changed in this past year. For a few minutes, I just sat down on the edge of the pitch and basked in the glow of the setting sun. I felt at peace; I felt comfortable again. We then made our way back up to the dining hall where I partook in a Zumba session led by one of the trainees who is a Native American from Wisconsin. I spent the rest of the night polishing up some sessions and typing up the bike ride proposal to the Country Director Loucine whom I hope will approve it.

I feel better knowing that I am here and that the ideas that I have are slowly by slowly coming together. I no longer feel the fury and anger that I felt yesterday, but I know that they can easily be awakened again. I don’t like it when I get moody and angry, but I have fully accepted that sometimes I need to act like that to let off some steam from the thoughts, emotions, and worries that I am processing. If I had the choice I would want to go back to some of my original ideals of talking to the Ugandans whom I meet and indulging him or her in conversations that I’ve heard time and time again. I would go back to a time when getting new furniture was the most exciting event of the week for me. I would go back to a time when I didn’t have to be angry because I could just accept things as the way they are. But this is just another change that happens during my Peace Corps service.

The struggle is real, but as for Peace Corps Volunteers: they endure.

Walking to the Taxi Park

4/11/14

I like to think that I see the weirdest shit on my walk from Kampala’s city center to the taxi parks.

As I descend down Luwum Street, the shops change from wine stores to local restaurants and dukas.

As I pass north above the Old Taxi Park, I see cobblers fixing shower shoes and painting black on plastic shoes, cripples lying on mats with their outstretched hands pleading for money, dirty children motioning to their mouths, women with newly inserted weaves, and sketchy men eyeing me as I walk by them. At this point, my wallet is in my front pocket and I make sure to continuously check the zippers of my bags and my pockets.

As I pass the bus park, I see a man smoking weed out of a pipe in the center of the intersection, a throng of people betting over a football match, an older woman yelling Bible verses from her pulpit of a broken gutter stone, and bodamen beckoning me to ride them with their siren call of “Yes Boda!”

As I enter the New Taxi Park, I see conductors of all ages pulling men and women aside to get them to ride to a specific destination whether they were originally headed there or not. A man asks if I want a bus to Juba in South Sudan. I get to my taxi stage headed to Luweero and finally sit in the taxi where all of the window seats are already taken.

I put my wallet back in my back pocket, set my duffel bag on my lap, and relax knowing that the hard part of my journey home is over.

Caves and Waterfalls

31/10/14 – 2/11/14

I think that this past weekend signifies a paradigm shift for me. There were a lot of things that happened that elicited a change in how I live in Uganda. A lot of things that I am used to doing are becoming more than normal. The unknown is becoming less and less and the surprises are much less frequent. I believe that it is very fitting that I write this blog post the week before my one year anniversary in country.

I left site on Friday in order to attend the Halloween celebration hosted by fellow PCV Loren. The celebration was slated to take place in Mise CaveCrow's Nest Dorms of the ancestral Sabine king on the side of Mt. Elgon near Sipi Falls about a 45 minute drive away from Mbale. I arrived in Kampala and met up with some other PCV’s who were also headed to Mbale. We ate lunch at the Ethiopian woman’s living room restaurant, and then hopped on the YY Bus in the Bus Park. Compared to other bus rides, this one was ridiculous. It started raining once we passed Jinja and the bus driver decided to pick up speed.  We were zooming along the highway as the bus lights flickered on and off, which gave the on-flight (on-ride?) movies an ominous tone. The first movie involved two village kids who got into shenanigans, then there was a music video that showed scenes of fat Ugandans dancing, priests, cripples, genocide victims, livestock, and smiling villagers all to the tune of Ugandan dancehall with horrible signal-to-noise ratio (speakers are on full volume for the entire ride), and finally a movie called Bridge of Dragons involving a white action star who fights a Vietnamese general in order to save this other Asian girl.

We arrived in Mbale in the evening and checked into this hostel called Casa Del Tourista, and the rooms were carpeted! After dinner, our group met up with other PCV’s on the rooftop of this Indian restaurant called Nuralis. There were dancing, attempts at beer pong, attempts at jumping over tables, and updates from the PCV’s who decided to attend the celebration. I got back to Del Casa a little drunker for the wear, and finished my overdue VRF (Volunteer Report Form).

We grabbed a quick breakfast in the morning and took a private hire to the Crow’s Nest lodge near Sipi Falls. Now usually I’m pretty good at directions, but for this weekend I really had no idea where I was. I just enjoyed the ride from the wide and dusty roads of Mbale to the nearby foothills. Since I had never really been further east than Jinja before this weekend, every 10 seconds my friend Rachel would say to me, “Hey, this is the furthest east you’ve ever been!”

Crow’s Nest reminded me of Byoona Amagara on Lake Bunyonyi. You had the dusty/mildew-infested dorm rooms, the compost pit latrines, the café lounge area, and beautiful panoramic views of the ever-expanding horizon. In this case instead of a placid lake there was a majestic waterfall. A group of us got together for a hike to the three nearby waterfalls in the area. It was another beautiful hike through open farms filled with wild onions that drastically gave way to misty jungles damp from the spray of the waterfalls. As we got nearer to the waterfalls it felt as if there was a light drizzle all around us. I felt so cool and epic standing so close to those falls.

The First Waterfall

The First Waterfall

The Second Waterfall

The Second Waterfall

We got to see three waterfalls in total. I could tell that our guides had been doing this for decades, because they knew exactly when we needed to stop to take a picture, eat some white passionfruit, or let us pause and take in the scenery that was their everyday life. It’s a bit funny to imagine living as a Ugandan in these areas and wondering why muzungus would want to pay 20,000/= (more than you would make in a week) to traipse around your backyard. I think that a famous naturalist said that something no longer appears special or beautiful to you if you see it every day.

 

Looking Up

Looking Up

At the third waterfall, we were given the opportunity to walk down a sloped pathway that led from a cave behind the waterfall, to the pool underneath the waterfall. It felt epic slowly making my way through the sprays and mists. I had never been underneath a real waterfall before, and so it was a new experience for me to just close my eyes and let the water rush down over me.

Underneath a Waterfall

Underneath a Waterfall

As we finished our hike, we passed by a small restaurant that sold rolexes. When the woman told us how much she would charge us 3,000/= ($1.20) for the rolexes, we all simultaneously threw our hands in the air and exclaimed that she was severely overcharging us. After bargaining the price down to 2,000/= ($0.80), we all laughed because of how used we had become to the village prices of certain goods.

We got back to the Crow’s Nest and prepared for the night’s festivities by showering, pre-gaming, and putting on our costumes.

Costumes in a CaveCostumes Included: Peace Corps Care Package, a tree, a chicken, Space Mice, Mefloquine Dream, the princesses from Frozen, Abby and Alana from Broad City, Yoshi, the Nyabo who sells drinks and sodas at the taxi parks, a very bad Michael Jackson, a bumblebee, an Expatriate, Jesus, a barefoot and pregnant woman, and various other costumes.

I was put in charge of preparing the music playlist on a flash drive. I spent the next hour and a half compiling crowd-pleasing songs for the cave as I drank some gin. There were vans hired to shuttle us to in the cave from the Crow’s Nest. We were dropped off literally in the middle of a road and followed a muddy path that led to the large Mise Cave. There were about 30 PCV’s there in costume. To the right of the cave was the man in charge of cooking the whole roasted pig and to the left was the generator that powered the lights and speakers.

The food was amazing, and the glazed/roasted pork tasted just as good as any Lechon that I ate at a Filipino party back home. The food was good, the location was unique, the atmosphere was there, but the only problem was the music. The first set of speakers didn’t play the music from the flash drive because the button on the speakers that would allow the flash drive to play didn’t connect to anything. The second set of speakers only played DVD’s, and so the rest of the party was filled with the overly loud songs of Ugandan dancehall.

That was the unfortunate bit of it. Everything was there and everything was right except for a small button that would have allowed the music to Mise Caveplay. As a result, the Halloween celebration wasn’t as it could have been had the music worked out. Slowly-by-slowly we trickled out of the king’s ancestral cave and continued the celebration back at the Crow’s Nest. We hooked up some portable speakers to our laptops and iPhones and proceeded to dance to music that we knew.

I actually loved that last part of the night where we were all still in costume and chilling by the portable speakers with a waterfall quietly roaring in the distance. I enjoyed getting to hang out with more members of the newer group and connect with them in a way that I had never been able to do before.

On Sunday we hired a coaster to drive most of us back to Kampala. It was a fun, smooth ride since we weren’t taking public transportation. I made the decision to stay overnight in Kampala instead of rushing back home, since I needed to get some work done on the internet.

Chill Lantern NightThe other thing was that I felt stuck in a weird funk after the Halloween celebration. Usually after weekend celebrations with other PCV’s I feel some sort of closure as I travel back home. This time I felt as if there wasn’t any sort of closure. I realized that I had said hello and goodbye to some PCV’s for the last time before they COS’d. I think that it also had to do with the overall vibe of the PCV’s, especially those who were disappointed with the music. This trip also marked me crossing off the east as the last region that I had yet to visit. had traveled to Gulu and Arua in the north, Kabale and Kisoro in the southwest, Kasese and Fort Portal in the west, Kalangala Islands in the central/south, and finally Mbale in the east.

The unknown parts of this country were making themselves known to me. I have also realized that I am almost at the halfway point of my stay in this country. In literally one week I will be welcoming the new trainees into the country. I like to think that one of my resolutions for this coming year in country will be to make an effort to see other PCV’s in all of the regions of Uganda. When this school term ends and I finish helping out with PST, I aim to spend my vacation travelling to the different regions of Uganda and visiting more remote sites along the way. It would be a way to connect with those whom I don’t normally see, and reinvigorate me from seeing the same people and personalities all of the time.

The Passing of Days

1/10/14

It’s been a while since I had an uninterrupted full-week at site. The days themselves are also starting to pass by just as quickly as the weeks do. I definitely Balongo and Elvisbelieve that it’s the routine that makes this happen: I wake up sometime after 9am, put my contacts in and dress for teaching, go to the staffroom for break time porridge, teach a class for an hour or two, eat po sho and beans for lunch, head back to my house to do laundry, make chappats for an afternoon snack, nap for about an hour, grade student papers, pump water, bike to a nearby duka to buy either food or toilet paper, play with the village kids, wait for the electricity to come on around 8pm, do a Focus T25 workout, cook dinner, bucket bathe, eat dinner, and then finally get to do work on the computer like editing a video, creating a powerpoint presentation for entry into community integration, or writing blog posts.

It gets to the point that the sun starts setting just as I start to feel the most active. Then there are those days when it rains until noon and so I cannot leave my house until noon. I’ve forgotten that back in developed countries rain doesn’t really hamper the schedules of people’s days. However, before I know it the rain, cold, and clouds give way to sunny skies, which then allow me to go ahead and do what I need to do for the day.

Slowly by slowly, I have learned from the Ugandans to become a master of time. Time is adjusted to suit my needs and the needs of people. I can spend a few minutes talking about small topics with a neighbor or store owner, and I don’t really need to worry about looking at the clock. Sometimes there is no clock to look at, especially when my cell phone is dead. There is such an abundance of time here that I learn to take the time to savor something. I make eating my po sho and beans look like I’m eating a filet mignon and lobster tail at a 5 star restaurant.

There’s nothing really glamorous or anything seemingly noteworthy about these days at all. I’ve started having trouble answering Facebook queries asking Luteete Village Houseme: “How is Uganda? How’s life over there? What are you doing? What’s up?” In a sense it’s a loaded question and one that sounds exciting to someone who hasn’t lived here, but not particularly exciting to someone who has lived here. The highlights of the past few days have included seeing my neighborhood kids laughing around in the dirt, giving my Year 1 students an Algebra I test, and having normal bowel movements for more than a week straight. I can’t complain; life is good right now.

However, I would say that what I’m living right now in the village is what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about. It’s nice every now and then to eat some good food in Kampala or in another town, but it’s just not the same. I feel comfortable here. I feel at home here.

Highs and Lows

13/9/14

There are times when I am on top of my shit here, and then there are times when I am literally on top of shit here in the Peace Corps. As per usual, this weekAdama Restaurant has been filled with many high and low points. I got back from Entebbe on Sunday night after discovering where the two “hole-in-the-wall” Ethiopian restaurants were in Kampala. One of them was tucked away near the Shoprite on Entebbe Road in this Ethiopian woman’s living room, which isn’t open on Sundays. The other one was up the hill to the west of the New Taxi Park named Adama. The food was amazing and delicious, but I still felt exhausted from my heavy month of travelling.

I headed back to my site and was relieved to finally be back home. I felt exhausted and weary, but I understood that this was normal for me. I taught my first lesson of Term 3 at my PTC on Monday, and was very pleased with the results. I had learned from the students that the last thing they learned from my fellow math and science teacher, Mr. Nsereko, were functions in math and sound waves in science. I therefore crafted a lesson plan revolving around the definition and application of a function in mathematics. I was very happy with how my students received the knowledge. At the end of the day on Monday I still felt a bit tired and more out of it than usual (I had thrown up my dinner of plain rice), so I decided to go to bed early, but I was happy that life here was finally getting back to normal.

I don’t think that I can even describe to you how I felt during those next few days this past week. I had woken up on Tuesday and biked to a nearby duka in order to purchase biscuits, a coke, and some toilet paper because I started having some stomach upsets when I woke up. I then called Rebekah in order to tell her that I was going to make it to Nakaseke by the evening in order to restart going on the radio show. All of a sudden I found myself feverish, nauseous, delirious, and sick with a head-splitting headache. All I could do from morning until the late evening was lie down in my bed because any simple movement caused my entire body to ache.

Journal Entry:
“everything sucks, I keep throwing up everything I eat although throwing up bananas, water, and toast doesn’t taste so bad on the way up. I’ll never forget at staging that this experience would be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There’s literally no working electronic device in my house right now.

Yet even this day must be suffered. Soon this too shall pass and life will continue. I came in knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, and it sure as hell isn’t. But it’s in all moments when the struggle is real that meaning shows itself.

I never thought that throwing up could lead to so much relief. Literally after throwing up I felt so much better and had a lessening of the overall pain in my body. Hopefully, it’s all going to be better from here on out… that it was just a 24 hour bug. Let’s hope so, because it’s exhausting.”

I was hungry, but couldn’t eat anything. I had to go poop several times, but it hurt just to stand. I took Ibuprofen several times but threw them up each time. At first I assumed that my waves of chills and sudden sickness constituted Malaria, but my rapid Malaria test turned out to be negative. I took my temperature and called PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) who told me that my temperature of 100 degrees F should not be making me feel that miserable and that if I felt any worse by the next morning then I should probably call a private hire to bring me in to the medical office in Kampala.

I was so thankful for my neighbor Kato Godfrey who biked all the way to Bamunanika in order to pick up some water and groceries for me since I was unable to even walk any significant distance outside of my house. I even chuckled a bit because I had asked him to pick up some Glucose Biscuits for me which were these local, dry biscuits called “Glucose Biscuits”, but he instead picked up packets of pure Glucose for me. I forced myself to drink oral rehydration fluids and eat some toast since I had eaten nothing during the day. I don’t even know how I got through the rest of that day, because there was no electricity, I had no working laptop, there was nothing to do in my house, I was both burning hot and frigidly cold, and my cell phone died right after the Peace Corps Medical Officer called me to check up on me.

Wednesday was a blur as well, because I still had a headache, but was feeling slightly better. My phone was dead and there was no electricity in the surrounding villages so I didn’t know what time it was at all. I stayed inside the entire day to continue recovering. I don’t think that I had ever felt that way before; I literally would just stare blankly at my walls and feel as if I was inside of a dream. I was delirious and couldn’t tell if it was from my sickness, the mefloquine, my long sojourn from site, or a mixture of all three. Sometimes, all I could think about was how nice it would be to have my own toilet with an abundant supply of toilet paper and a refrigerator with cold water and enough bland food to eat so that I didn’t have to poop or throw everything out.

Then on Thursday morning came and I felt so much better. I t was almost as if all that was left was a few stomach rumbles. I was able to teach again which felt good because I started the Algebra I Unit in mathematics with my students, and they seemed to understand the concepts. Rachel came over later in the day and I was able to make a Mexican dinner for both of us. I was extremely happy to finally eat some substantial food with flavor since I had only eaten small bananas and toast for the duration of the week. It felt good to laugh and smile again with a friend.

On Friday we headed to Kampala and I was well enough to perform my usual bike ride from Luteete to Wobulenzi. Rachel had some business with Peace by Piece Kitenge merchandise at the Peace Corps office and I was called in to work on video editing a Peace Corps Uganda 50th Anniversary Rap. As soon as I stepped in the office I was engulfed in the turbulent storm that only a Ugandan Peace Corps Headquarters could provide. Everyone seemed to be rushing off to a meeting and those who were able to talk to me gave me differing answers. When I asked where the Safety and Security Officer Fred was I received the following replies:

“He’s in his office.”

“Fred is not here at the moment.”

“I think that he’s in a meeting.”

“Ask Phylicia.”

“Phylicia is in a meeting.”

“There’s an emergency and he left to handle it.”

“He’s on the first floor.”

I eventually found Fred and gave him the Bystander Intervention training video that I had edited for him at the All Volunteer Conference a few weeks prior. I gave one of the staff members who was in charge of video ideas interviews from Coffee Camp that needed to be translated from Lukonzo into English. I then was meeting with the head IT person in order to sign out a Peace Corps laptop for the weekend so that I could edit the 50th Anniversary Rap Music Video. Unfortunately, there was no video editing software on any of the laptops. At first we attempted to install Adobe Premiere Elements 10 since I had gotten the software off of PirateBay, but I had the 32-bit version and the laptop was 64-bit. In the end, I was told that I had to make do with Windows Movie Maker to edit the video.

Ever since then, I’ve been staying at this new hostel in Kisementi called Fat Cat Hostel and have finished the music video. The original footage and audio The Fat Cat Backpackerswasn’t the best quality, but I did the best job that I could with the resources that were available to me. It’s been another surreal week and I still can’t understand what’s been happening in my life. Really, these sicknesses, long travels, and lack of my own laptop have really taken a toll on me. Recently, it’s been a series of lows sprinkled with intermittent highs.

But it’s still worth it. I was still looking up at the countless stars in the clear African sky as I retched in my pit latrine, my neighbor cared enough to buy groceries for me, I enjoyed one of the most delicious burgers at Endiro Café on Friday with some good friends even though my stomach started acting up again, and I got to edit video on Windows Movie Maker (never again) in the Peace Corps lounge as the U.S. Embassy released a notification of a terror alert in Kampala concerning a terrorist cell. In the midst of the downs there were ups and that’s what life is, especially in the Peace Corps.

Another Chance

Another Chance

9/7/14

 

I honestly think that this month of August has been a blur. I almost feel as if my friends and family members wouldn’t believe it if I shared it. A lot of things happened all at the same time to the point where I just want to sleep for a few weeks and just rest without doing anything just so that I could process what has happened in the past three weeks. I think it’s that leaving site for long periods of time takes a toll on you that you can’t even begin to fathom until you’ve been away from it for so long. Right now I’m in Entebbe slightly hungover and out of it. I think that it’s been a mixture of travelling for so long in the throngs of madding crowds, public transportation in general, night buses, the arctic tundra that is the southwest region, not being able to cook for myself, getting a sinus infection, spending a night with a PCV’s cat (which I’m allergic to), not having a usable laptop since mine broke during a coffee camp, drinking and celebrating with PCV’s in different regions especially with a recently engaged PCV couple, attending an all PCV Uganda conference, geeking out on mefloquine, and just not understanding life or what I stand for at the moment. So this blog post will a sort of catharsis for me in order to get my chaotic thoughts down in word form in order to process my turbulent emotions.

 

Coffee Camp, Kasese August 18 – 23

I was originally asked by some Peace Corps staff members to help out with filming a promotional video for a Coffee Camp that would be held in Kasese to the far west of Uganda. The main goal of Coffee Camp was to empower the local youth in the Kasese region to utilize coffee as a financial means to develop themselves and attain their goals. I was driven in a Peace Corps vehicle from Kampala to Kasese. I travelled along with the Peace Corps Uganda Country Director, Loucine, and one of the other PCV’s, Jim from Kisoro, who had recently gotten engaged during one of the Peace Corps camps last week. We passed through Fort Portal and stopped to drink some coffee and eat some of the best pizza that I’ve eaten in country at the Duchess restaurant.

We continued on our way to the Kasese district which was absolutely gorgeous. As we transitioned from the central regions to the west the landscape changed from farms of matooke to open fields and the rolling foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. Our final destination was Sarah Castagnola’s site in the Kyarumba village deeper in the depths of the Rwenzori foothills. We turned off of the main Kampala-Fort Portal road and instantaneously the tarmac gave way to a potholed dirt road. Before we knew it we were winding our way down a single-lane dirt road that wound its way through the verdant hillsides of Kasese. Everywhere I looked there were looming hills infinitely undulating into the horizon. There were hairpin turns at almost every single point, and our driver had to honk the horn before turning so that incoming boda bodas and cars would know to slow down in order to avoid a collision.

DSC_0003

Kasese Paved Road

Stone Riverbad Road

Stone Riverbad Road

As we drove deeper into the inroads of the foothills the dirt road disappeared completely and became a dry riverbed of stones. A lot of the pathways in this region resulted from the always-evolving pathways of the streams in this area. The pathways always change due to farming, erosion, rainy season, and various other development factors in the region. So the ride into Kyarumba was bumpy, and after about 45 minutes of driving through winding roads and riverbed stones we met up with Sarah Castagnola at the Mutanywana Secondary School where the Coffee Camp was taking place.

I couldn’t believe my luck in being able to attend this gorgeous and unique camp dedicated to empowering youth in this region through the medium of coffee. As it turns out, it’s not uncommon to see 12 year olds blackout drunk on the village streets at night or 13 year old girls carrying their babies to school. It is because of this reason that Sarah along with the the Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative decided to put on this camp. Unlike most Peace Corps camps such as BUILD and GLOW, the Kasese Coffee Camp was primarily Ugandan-run by the employees of the Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative. The desire to empower the local youth in this region was so great that Bukonzo Joint provided 50% of the camp funding as opposed to the minimal amount of 25% needed for a Peace Corps grant to be approved.

Kyarumba

Kyarumba

This camp also taught the local youth entrepreneurial skills critical to running a business (not necessarily agricultural in nature), smartly dealing with finances, developing leadership skills, and seeing coffee as a gift. It felt good to see the Ugandans in this area really invested in their youth. This camp was all for them, and my job was to film videos documenting what the camp was about and the experiences of the students, staff members, and camp facilitators.

There wasn’t a single angle where the view wasn’t amazing and awe-inspiring. Even wild Arabica coffee plants were growing on the pathways to the pit latrines. In the background of the school I could see mountains towering in the distance with clouds peeking behind their shadows, and even the school campus has gigantic boulders shaping the natural shape of the school campus. As per usual, there was a tea break between every major meal; however, locally roasted and brewed coffee was served in lieu of tea. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of drinking the rich flavor of the coffee that was served during each coffee break along with seeing the gorgeous view of the surrounding environment.

Wild Coffee Plant

Wild Coffee Plant

I was also able to see the entirety of the coffee value chain from “crop to cup”. We saw how the coffee saplings were planted in nurseries, transferred to coffee farms, had their red coffee berries picked, sorted by grade at one of the many washing stations, fermented, hulled, dried, and then either locally roasted and sold or shipped to high-end coffee shops and distributors. As an economic development PCV, Sarah explained to us some of the challenges of working with the small Bukonzo Joint Cooperative. For example, some of the larger coffee companies do bait-and-switch tactics in order to get coffee farmers to quickly produce low grade coffee for seemingly larger amounts of money than Bukonzo Joint can pay; however, in the end the farmers end up losing out on a sustainable opportunity to make money for themselves in the long run as well as being duped into producing sub-standard coffee for less money than they were promised.

Coffee Nursery

Coffee Nursery

Sorting Coffee Cherries

Sorting Coffee Cherries

Of course, no Peace Corps camp is complete without sessions concerning HIV/AIDS, financial management, and in this instance, creative ways to use coffee other than for drinking (soaps, candles, exfoliating face masks). Another reason why local Ugandans ran this camp was that most of the youth only spoke the local language of Kasese, Lukonzo, and the English that they did know was very limited. This led to very funny misunderstandings such as most of the campers assuming that I actually had HIV/AIDS during a skit where I pretended to be someone who had it.

We also brought the campers to Queen Elizabeth National Park which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even though many of the youth lived within one hour of this tourist park, most of them never even knew that this existed or that eco-tourism is another form of employment. We woke up before the crack of dawn and drove from Kyarumba to the park where a small herd of elephants blocked our path on the dirt road and baboons stole packed bananas from our hands. We took a ferry ride on Lake Albert and it felt like some sort of surreal safari as Wilder beasts chilled in the water by the banks and hippopotamuses swam next to the ferry. The main purpose of the ride was to demonstrate that many people saw Kasese as this beautiful region filled with a multitude of wildlife, flora, and fauna that visitors would pay to see and explore if given the chance and opportunity.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park

When the youth were asked what coffee meant to them, they responded with varying answers ranging from money, wealth, opportunity, and normalcy. This community was able to transform coffee into electricity and bridges, stemming from the proceeds that the community made selling coffee in the past few years. Coffee literally becomes a lifeblood of the Bakonza people. It is the smell of the good earth upon which they live on and on which they hope to thrive on. When one of the campers was talking with our PC Country Director and asked what coffee smelled like to him, he answered, “It smells like life.”

So Coffee Camp was amazing and gorgeous, but of course like life I had some ups and downs. I ended up having my laptop break during the middle of the camp and got another surprise bout of Giardia on the last day. I don’t know how either of those mishaps occurred, but I know that they both sucked. My laptop refuses to turn on once I turn on the power button even though I have it plugged in and the lights shows that it’s charging. That was a lost cause that devastated me especially since I am utilized as a media guy in Peace Corps. Fortunately, I always keep spare Tinidazole in my camera bag which I took after consulting with PCMO who told me that I may possibly have a somehow drug-resistant form of Giardia since it keeps popping up every 2 months or so.

We were driven back to Kampala in a Peace Corps vehicle which was so nice compared to any other form of public transportation that I could have taken. I check into the Annex in Kampala and reconvene with some other PCV’s who had just finished the Girl Tech Camp in Shimoni Core PTC. A lot of PCV’s were preemptively congregating in Kampala since the next few days were the Peace Corps Uganda All Volunteer Conference. Since I had taken Giardia medicine earlier that morning, I couldn’t eat dairy or drink alcohol for the next 24 hours. A bunch of the PCV’s wanted to go out, and I obliged although I went without drinking. At some point in the night, we ended up at this club called Iguana near Acacia Mall that was playing EDM and dubstep which was super dope. We get back to our beds at 6am and sleep.

 

All Volunteer Conference, Lweza, August 24 – 28

I wake up from my very restful nap and get ready for All Volunteer Conference. As the merchandise guy for Peer Support Network, I was in charge of bringing over 200 t-shirts to the Lweza Training and Conference Center from Kampala. It was a shit show of a day, since the guy who makes and screen prints the t-shirts gave me the wrong orders and missed out on providing me with the correct t-shirt sizes. We remedied the problem, and I carried the t-shirts in a taped plastic bag on my head like a village woman through the main streets of Kampala until I found a car that would drive me to the training center. There was air conditioning in the car, which was a big deal.

I was just so ecstatic and exhausted to hang out with all the volunteers. Technically the conference would have started on the 25th, but PCV’s working on different committees and projects were given special permission to arrive a day earlier.

On the morning of the 25th PCV’s started to trickle in. There was a 50th Anniversary meeting concerning the logistics behind the Peace Corps Uganda 50th Anniversary Celebrations that would be occurring throughout the country in order to commemorate how long Peace Corps has been in Uganda. There will be regional events showcasing the great work that PCV’s do as well as the “50 Years of Friendship” between PCV’s and Ugandans. The day was also hectic with film crews running around filming local language tongue twisters, setting up planning areas for PSN, and just general coordinating.

That night was a great night, because over 150+ of us PCV’s were gathered in the large conference hall as the Peace Corps Uganda All Volunteer Conference Bonfirelaunch ceremony began. It was SNL themed with skits making fun of not knowing if it was, is, or will be rainy season, sharing shoutouts to the successes of the different cohorts and groups, singing the legendary and taboo song “Three Guys on a Boda”, and explaining the format of the All Volunteer Conference. The interesting thing about this conference is that unlike other PC workshops, this conference is primarily PCV-run. The concept that had successfully worked last year was open space, and it was being brought to this conference too. The idea of open space is that PCV’s can lead whatever session they want at a certain, designated time during the week so that there are several sessions all going on at the same time in different areas throughout the training center that other PCV’s could attend if they so desired. The sessions ranged from discussing revisions to the boda boda policy, hair braiding, new camp ideas, creative facilitation, incorporating sing-alongs in primary school, swing dancing, video project ideas, Ugandan travel guides, and so much more.

What I loved about this conference was the potential to do as much or as little as you wanted depending on your current demeanor and mood. After the launch ceremony, a giant bonfire was lit and the PCV’s started to mingle. My extroverted self loved seeing the mingling of the different groups and cohorts. I remember sharing some heart-to-heart conversations with some other PCV’s about being happy knowing that we’re living the life that we wanted to live and making our service count. There’s something just so Peace Corps about bonfires and hearing someone play a Sublime song on a guitar as another PCV smokes out of his homemade corn-cob pipe as shots of whiskey are passed around.

All Vol VolleyballThe next day was stressful. I attended a PSN group meeting, did some yoga, sold shirts for PSN during lunchtime, participated in the fiasco that was the 50th Anniversary Group Picture and rap song (yes, rap song), leading a session on the local language “Oh the Places You’ll Go” video project, filming scenes and interviews for a safety and security bystander intervention video, playing volleyball, and stressing out that night in frustration over not being able to use a Macbook that keeps crashing with the FinalCut Pro X video editing software. I was just so stressed by the end of the day because I knew that I had so many things on my plate and so many other things that I wanted to do and no laptop to accomplish any of them. All I just wanted to do was finish editing the video and play some Age of Empires II with my friends while I still had the chance to play with them. However, as one of my best PCV friends reminded me “This too shall pass, and tomorrow you’ll feel better.”

The next morning was just one of those mornings when I just didn’t want to wake up. If I could have slept for a few more days I would have done so. However, I rallied myself together to face the day and things did get better. I finished editing the video and discovered that another PCV had an extra laptop that I could buy off of him at a decent price. The day was busy as usual, and before I knew it night had come and it was time for Peace Corps Prom. Most of the PCV’s bought or had a “prom outfit” made for this night. We all danced the night away and ended up continuing the party at Bubbles Express down the road. Honestly, this night was such a reversal from the previous night. It was almost as if everything that had gone wrong or felt wrong from the day before had reversed to become such an amazing day and night. Peace Corps Prom ended on a very high note and I got back to bed around 5am, which incidentally was also around the same time my Lweza dorm mate got back.

 

Rwanda Trip, Kampala to Kigali, August 28 –  31

It almost seemed that it was one adventure after another. Everyone is trying to leave Lweza as soon as possible, especially me since I was planning to go to Rwanda for a two-day vacation that night. I was slated to go with three other PCV’s, Rachel B, Rachel C, and Steve. The funny thing was that we were so busy with All Volunteer Conference activities that we didn’t really plan for Rwanda. So we started by asking people in the conference center parking lot how to get to Rwanda. After about an hour of asking questions and with the input of 6 different PCV’s we pieced together that we needed to take one of the bigger night bus companies such as GaaGaa Bus Company, buy a 40,000/= each ticket for a bus that leaves Kampala at 6pm, and then arrive at the GaaGaa bus park near City Center in Kampala by 5:30pm.

Somehow all four of us get on the bus despite the torrential downpour and exhaustion post All Volunteer Conference, and make our way to Kigali, Rwanda. The GaaGaa night bus was so nice because there was actually room to move my legs and there weren’t any livestock on the bus. We reach the Uganda-Rwanda border around 2am and it’s frigid outside. We try to check in through the border control, and are told that we’ve been living illegally in the country. So from the get-go we’re almost arrested/deported until we explain to the border control manager that we actually have legitimate visas in our Peace Corps passports that allow us to live in Uganda.

Once we pass through, we are surrounded by random men who try to get us to exchange our dollars into Rwandan francs. From what we were told from our GaaGaa Busfellow PCV’s earlier that day, it’s much better to exchange the dollars into francs at the border because you get a better exchange rate rather than finding a place in Kigali. One of the guys attempts to give us a bad exchange rate, but is then beaten away by this chubby Ugandan man in camouflage gear who was wielding a stick. I called him stick guy. So I then told all of the exchange rate guys to line up and one-by-one tell me their exchange rates. I then asked stick guy to verify who was the most trustworthy exchanger, and we exchanged our dollars into francs right then and there (we did $1 = 690 Rwandan Francs).

We continue on the buses to Kigali where we continue to sleep inside the bus until 7am. We then make our way to the Discover Hostel which actually feels like a legitimate European hostel. What struck me the most about Kigali was how clean and put-together it was. It almost seemed like it was this small, European town with roads devoid of any potholes and boda boda drivers who wore helmets and actually stopped for streetlights and traffic.

Meze FreshBy this point it’s already the 29th so we check into the hostel, get our bearings, shower, and eat a delicious breakfast of Rwandan coffee and French croissants at La Brioche Café. We finish eating and then instantly make our way to Meze Fresh, which is exactly like a Chipotle. Oh my God it was amazing and worth the entire trip over to Rwanda. I had pulled pork with cheese, salsas, lettuce, and more sauces than my taste buds could handle along with a corona and lime. I literally could not believe what I was eating.

After lunch, we made our way to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Museum showcasing the history of the Tutsi genocide by the Hutus. The museum was extremely well-done, and really set the historical and emotional stage behind how and why the genocide occurred. It also didn’t shy away from the horrible details behind the genocide. The most emotionally charged part of the exhibit was called L’Avenir Perdu (The Lost Future) which was showed large pictures of smiling children with plaques detailing their names, ages, favorite food, favorite pastime, last words, and the exact way they were killed.

Journal Entry:

“I didn’t expect the emotional response that I would get from this exhibit. So many of them remind me of the children whom I teach in my villages and schools. I literally started to tear up as I entered this exhibit.”

Quote from the Museum:Kigali Memorial Gardens

“Genocide is likely to occur again

Learning about it is the first step to understanding it.

Understanding I is imperative to respond to it.

Responding to it is essential to save lives.

Otherwise ‘Never Again’ will remain ‘Again and Again…’”

I was a wreck within seconds of entering this part of the museum.

I would see these beautiful smiling faces of toddlers who reminded me of beautiful children in my village in Luteete.

Example:

Name: Sarah

Age: 7

Favorite Food: Passionfruit and Chips

Favorite Past-time: Playing with grandmother

Last Words: “Will we be okay?”

Method of Death: Hacked apart by machete

I’ve never been hit so hard by an exhibit or museum like this before. And it was interesting noting the difference in atmosphere in Rwanda now as opposed to two decades ago. From what I heard and read about it almost seems as if there is a lot of things hidden under the surface in Rwanda. I honestly don’t know any specifics, but it just felt weird knowing that there are still many people living in Rwanda who are living in the midst of others who committed a genocide against their people.

After we finished going through the museum, we needed some time to decompress so we headed to Hotel des Milles Collines which was the famous hotel that inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. We chilled by the pool area and drank some good Rwandan beer, Primus and Mutzig. We also realized that we had been incorrectly saying thank you in Kinyarwanda. Instead of saying morikoze (thank you), we had been saying irakonje, which means cold. This explained some of the weird looks that we were getting from the men and women whom we encountered in Kigali.

The rest of our stay in Kigali involved dancing at the Sundowner Bar/Club, eating three more times at Meze Fresh, drinking more amazing coffee at BourbonHotel des Milles Collines Café, checking out Kimironco Craft Market, talking with the locals about the disappearance of the French language in Rwanda, realizing that it’s alright to say the word gay in Rwanda but not so much Tutsi or Hutu, seeing the Peace Corps Rwanda HQ, meeting up with other Peace Corps Rwanda Volunteers at Guma Guma (think Rwanda’s American Idol) in Amahoro National Stadium, having someone drunkenly sleepwalk into the hostel room filled with UN workers and sleep in one of their beds, being told by one of the Peace Corps Rwanda Volunteers that you are not welcome there, and experiencing a hookup experience straight from a sitcom where said person couldn’t get back to the hostel until later because it was the last Sunday of the month which meant that everything (including the streets) were closed and shut down until 12pm for cleaning day, Umuganda.

Henceforth this is why the poloroid picture of our Rwandan group at Guma Guma is titled “The Night of Broken Friendships”. Other than some of the misunderstandings, it was very interesting getting to meet our Peace Corps Rwanda brethren. A lot of them told us that Kigali was very boring and that they saw Kampala as being much more lively and full of culture. On the other hand, we expressed to them how excited we were to eat burritos and walk in a city where we didn’t have to continuously look at our feet the whole time to avoid potholes. To be fair, there is a lot more to do in Uganda simply because it’s a bigger country and due to the rich diversity in landscape, activities, and never knowing what’s going to happen.

Guma Guma: The Night of Broken Friendships

Guma Guma: The Night of Broken Friendships

Kisoro and Virunga, Kisoro, August 31 – September 2

The Rwanda group parted ways the morning of the 31st, with Rachel B and I heading back to Uganda to Kisoro. We took a coaster from the Kigali bus park to Musanze/Ruhengeri. The ride there was absolutely glorious as we passed through forested mountain passes and fields of traditional farm vegetables whose leaves were undulating in the wind. Musanze reminded me of this small, grid town with infrastructure a little bit better than Uganda’s. We ate at this French Café called La Pallotte which had amazing meatballs and croissants. We then took a takisi to Cyanika where we crossed back over the border into Uganda without much effort at all. Then we took a private hire to Rafiki Guest House in Kisoro where we met with the PCV Jim whom I hung out with in Kasese for Coffee Camp. He was also the PCV who had recently gotten engaged at the last Peace Corps Camp in Mbale.

Honestly, it just felt so good to be back in Uganda with PCV’s who unconditionally loved us and would take care of us. I was so happy to cook in his guest house room and eat some cauliflower and rice with a curried, peanut soy sauce. I also got to use the internet which was absolutely fantastic for me since I had been internet free for quite some time due to my broken laptop.

We stopped by Kisoro because I was helping Jim out with the basics of filming a promotional video for his organization, Virunga Engineering Works, which Kisoro Hillprimarily creates and supplies fuel efficient cookstoves for schools throughout Uganda. Virunga is named after one of the volcanoes that is a defining feature of Kisoro’s skyline. The PCV’s who are in Kisoro now are Jim who is about to COS and Bruce who just started his Peace Corps service. The coolest part about their region is that they are said to have the most beautiful site in all of Peace Corps Uganda. After having breakfast at one of the tourist lodges in the area, we worked on some footage of the Virunga workshop and cookstoves and some interviews with Bruce and his Ugandan counterpart. I thought that Kisoro was a beautiful town, but I was blown away by the majesty of the natural land formations when I climbed the small Nyamirima Hill which gave me the million shilling view of Lake Mutanda to one side of the horizon and the Virunga volcano shrouded in clouds to the other side of the horizon. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes as the wind whipped around me.

It was weird knowing that this was just another day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer and that some people would never be able to appreciate the beauty of this area or see it. It was fitting that Jim worked as a professional photographer before he did Peace Corps and that he was placed in the most beautiful site in Uganda. We then had cheeseburgers for lunch at the artsy Mucha restaurant run by a Hungarian lady, and then filmed a few market day scenes of the women carrying their home-woven baskets atop their heads before heading back to make a Tikka Masala dinner complete with whiskey.

In the midst of all this, one of my old middle school teachers, Miss Goode, friend requested me on Facebook. Miss Goode taught me 6th and 7th grade science and mathematics at Sacred Heart School of Glyndon. Out of all the teachers in my life, I can honestly say that she was one of those teachers who had made the biggest impact. She made me fall in love with math and science and know that I could not only excel in those subjects but also apply them in a way that kept me wanting to learn more. I had been emailing her on her Yahoo email account for quite some time because almost everyone had lost contact with her, but still remembered her.

In her message she told me how my email last year emotionally resounded in her and helped reinforce the notion that her college degree and teaching was not a waste of time. She shared that while she had inspired us all the way back then, it was now we who are inspiring her now as she reads and sees our accomplishments and adventures in fields far away from Glyndon, Maryland.

Journal Entry:

“What an adventure it’s been, I don’t even understand it. So many faces and emotions that it’s ridiculous to even understand what’s going on. But today wasBunyonyi Boat a particularly glorious day.”

On the morning of the 2nd Jim and Bruce’s organization drove us through the mountain pass roads connecting Kisoro and Kabale. Once again we experienced hairpin turns in the pouring rain, and made our way to Kabale where we picked up two other PCV’s, Amanda and Matt. We were dropped off by the pier of Lake Bunyonyi because we wanted to get some footage of the Lake Bunyonyi Secondary School where a Virunga Engineering Works cookstoves was installed a few months ago. The school was located on the largest island on Lake Bunyonyi and used to be the site of a PCV who had recently ET’d (early terminated).

It felt weird being back in Kabale so soon after I had just chilled there right before Coffee Camp. But it was nice to be there in the presence of good company and friends. Instead of taking the night bus back to Kampala that night, Rachel B and I stayed with Amanda and Matt at Amanda’s apartment in Kabale with their cat. We made burgers and drank red wine, which coupled with my ongoing sinus infection and cat allergies made me swell and clog up worse than most plumbing problems in Uganda.

Back Home, Luteete, September 3-5

I finally had the chance to breathe again in the cool Kabale air on the morning of September 3rd. It was a rough bus ride back to Kampala simply because I was still swollen from hanging out with red wine and a non-hypo-allergenic cat. I just had a headache, was tired, and just ready to get back to my site. I get to Kampala, eat a quick lunch at Brood, leave my laptop with an Indian man who is good with repairing electronics near a Shoprite on Entebbe Road, and then finally made it back to my site.

It felt so good to get back to site; I felt like I’d been away for so long. I just didn’t feel normal not being back at my house and cooking for myself. I spent all day of the 4th lesson planning, weeding my courtyard, buying market produce, doing laundry, and just playing with the village children. I was just so content and felt as if I was truly back at home and normal.

Before I knew it, I was already leaving site in order to get to Entebbe for the Central Welcome Weekend. To be honest, I never realized how busy I could actually be in the Peace Corps. I never imagined that I would ever be utilized for media work, especially since I consider myself just an amateur. It’s been a crazy adventure thus far, and even as I typed this entire blog post in one of the dorm rooms here at Backpacker’s Entebbe I still feel a bit off. It’s a mixture of stress, exhaustion, a hangover, and general anxiety from being separated from my site for an extended period of time. I felt so out of it earlier today, the 6th, and felt almost as if there was this immense weight of life, tasks, and stresses to accomplish. There was actually a point today when I felt that I couldn’t feel happy, but I still knew deep down inside of me that this too would pass.

And in the large scheme of things I mainly came to this event in order to support the new PCV’s who came to this event. I wanted them to feel welcomed and know that there are the older PCV’s who care and to know that in all things the cycle continues from one PCV to another.

From these experiences in this blog post, I think that what I took from my experiences was that everyone deserves another chance.

Taking Something Back

5/8/14 – 15/8/14

It’s been another whirlwind of emotions and exertions. It’s been a while since a week like this has taken its toll on my physical, mental, and emotional well-being but I’m still here and ready to embark on the next week’s adventures in this life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The craziness began on Tuesday August 5th when I left my site to go to Nakaseke for the weekly radio segment. I had a meeting with a Ugandan man and his daughter at the NB Hotel in Wobulenzi at 3pm. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, his daughter had won a scholarship to study Computer Engineering in Oklahoma University. She was slated to leave by Sunday but both she and her father wanted to speak to me in order to field some questions about America and college life. I explained to her the basic curriculum of an engineering major, how different the seasons were like, the crazy culture of college students who are exploring their identities and pushing their limits, the rigors of classes, the freedom, how expensive things were, what an internship was, the concept of a green card, and the importance of surrounding oneself with good friends. It felt really good to know that there was a Ugandan student who had worked her way through the education system to eventually have the opportunity to study in a good university and obtain an in-demand degree today.

I then explained to her that if she completes her studies, then she would be able to get many job offers simply because she would be a woman, minority with a Bachelors Degree in Computer Engineering. I then bid farewell to both her and her father and made my way to Nakaseke for the radio show.

He show in Nakaseke was about transportation differences between Uganda and the United States. I explained that the takisi and boda boda system worked in Uganda because people lived so spread out in hard-to-reach places in the middle-of-nowhere sub-counties. Halfway through the show, the power went out so we recorded the second half on Peter’s recorder so that he could play it back when the power returned. I traveled to Nakaseke PTC, made dinner with Rebekah, and then slept.

I had to wake up early on Wednesday because I needed to be at the Peace Corps Headquarters (PCHQ) by 10am in order to make the shuttle to the US Ambassador’s house for the new groups’ swearing-in. I got into Kampala early and got to the PCHQ in time to talk to some staff members and pick up the kitenge drawstring bags that were the gift from Peer Support Network (PSN) to the new group of volunteers.

A bunch of us PCV Trainers attended the swearing-in ceremony which was crazy for me because I thought back to my Swearing-Inown group’s swearing-in when we were the newbies. I smiled when I saw the trainees arrive, clad in their locally made outfits from their different regions. They also seemed a bit dirtier than when I first saw them in Kulika a few months ago. It was a funny swearing-in ceremony with a lot of speakers who just killed it like an open mic session in Kampala. The funniest speech by far was by the Ugandan representative from the Ministry of Education and Sports who just kept talking and talking despite the threat of storm clouds, and at one point in his speech said, “Yes! Please develop us. Please give us the help and development.” My guess is that he didn’t read the book Dead Aid.

On the other hand, one of the most poignant speeches came from the US Embassy Representative charge d’affaires who was an RPCV two decades ago in an East Asian country. She talked about her time in the Peace Corps and how she didn’t have any eye-opening epiphanies or find herself or become this wise and enlightened person. She stated that the biggest thing that she learned was just to try and understand the person in front of her. She literally meant that her biggest victory of the day was getting the person in front of her to understand what she wanted to convey. She ended her speech by saying, “Each and every one of you gave up something to be here in the Peace Corps; take something back with you.”

Before I knew it the new Health, Agribusiness, and GHSP trainees were sworn-in as Peace Corps volunteers and we added 53 new members to our family. While the newly sworn-in volunteers congratulated each other and posed for pictures, I went straight for the free finger foods of teriyaki chicken on a stick, fish puffs, bruschetta, fish sticks, spring rolls, all-you-can drink juice/soda, and Godiva chocolate. I gorged myself on food that tasted like they were filled with preservatives which meant that they were probably from America and not from the local villages. I then doled out the kitenge drawstring bags to the new PCVs and headed back to PCHQ.

There was a small celebration with a few of the PCV trainers, Ugandan trainers, and PC staff at PCHQ. This time there was alcohol, so I was able to eat more good food like cold pasta salad, drink beers and wine, and dance with the Country Director and the Ugandan language training staff. At some point as I was being driven back to the Annex, I was drunkenly cracking jokes in Luganda with my language trainers and most likely gave one of them an extra kitenge bag.

Thursday was an errands day in Kampala. I took the morning shuttle from the Annex to PCHQ where I had a discussion with the Safety and Security Officer and Director of Programming and Training about doing a video for a Coffee Camp in Kasese from August 17 – 23.

Camp Description Excerpt:

“The camp’s objective is to encourage Bukonzo youth to grow their leadership abilities and to equip them with the tools to more fully contribute to the economic development of their family and support their community’s development through agriculture. Two youth, one male and one female will be elected by each of Bukonzo Joint’s 33 washing stations scattered around the remote foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. The 66 youth will attend a week-long camp to encourage a better understanding of how they can contribute to their family’s coffee farms and the opportunities that exist in employment in the coffee value chain.”

I agreed to do the video, but was worried because my skills were extremely amateur. I only did video in order to help bolster my blog and projects here in the Peace Corps and on occasion help other volunteers with their own projects. I felt that I did not have the skill nor the means to create an amazing video that Peace Corps desired because that wasn’t my job, but I felt that it would be an adventure and learning experience.

A Peace Corps vehicle then drove me and two other PCVs to the Lweza Training Center where the recently sworn-in PCVs were still having an extra full day of training sessions. As representatives of PSN, we sold t-shirts in order to make more money for PSN so that more merchandise and goods could be sold to Peace Corps Volunteers. The vehicle then drove us back to the Annex. It was around this time that I noticed that my body was dragging and that I had a weird tickle in my throat. I dismissed it and decided just to take a nap. Later that night when a bunch of us PCV’s in Kampala ate out at Ari Rang, the Korean restaurant, I started to feel very sick and exhausted.

When I went to bed that night, I had the worst headache imaginable and would experience waves of extreme heat followed by intense chills. It didn’t help that the last thing that I read before going to bed were the symptoms of Ebola and how they correlated with everything that I was feeling at that moment. Funnily enough those symptoms are also usually experienced by almost all PCV’s on a daily basis. After a sleepless night, I decided to take advantage of being in Kampala and returned to PCHQ to visit the Peace Corps Medical Office (PCMO). I got checked up by one of the Ugandan medical officers who told me that there was nothing wrong with me and that I should just rest, drink fluids, and take ibuprofen. Even my stool and blood samples tested normally.

Lake BunyonyiI chilled for the rest of the day, and took it easy. I also started feeling significantly better to the point that I agreed with another PCV friend to go all the way down to Lake Bunyonyi in Kabale in southwest Uganda for the weekend. So on Saturday I traveled to Kabale on a bus. Honestly, Uganda never ceases to amaze me. For such a small country it has such a diverse array of landscapes. As I passed through Masaka and Mbarara the landscape started to flatten out and I could see the wide expanse of the southwest countryside. As the bus neared Kabale the air suddenly became colder and the bus started to wind its way up the winding roads the led its way up to higher elevation in that region.

When I got off in Kabale I felt that I was in a mountain town, because everything was shrouded in mist, the air was much cooler and crisp, and I could see large hills in the background. I rendezvoused with the other PCV’s who were going to Lake Bunyonyi and we all took a private hire car to the docks leading to Byoona Amagara island. It was late by the time we got to the island, and it was extremely cold. Since it was dark, it was hard to see and there was no electricity on the island other than the common seating area at the top of the hill. Surprisingly, there was good cell phone service, a fully working kitchen and menu, and hot drinks.

We stayed at Lake Bunyonyi until Monday morning and honestly it was a relaxing, yet stressful mini-vacation. I was stillCrayfish getting over my 24 hour bug that I had the day before, and the weather was downright chilly. We ate some locally caught crayfish, explored the breadth of the Byoona Amagara island, swam in the waters by the swimming dock, drank the free tea as the mists gave way to the sunlight over the placid waters, canoed in circles towards the rope swing on another island, and danced in the moonlight by the docks. During this time, we also hung out with this Dutch guy, Mark, from Amsterdam who was finishing up his year of working with an organization in Kampala.

It was cool sharing some stories with him about the places that I’ve visited in Holland, as well as comparing our experiences living thus far in Uganda. We talked about the effects of aid in developing countries, different hostels in Holland (like Bostel Amsterdamse Bos in Amstelveen), the pronunciation of Dutch words like Brood, traveling and backpacking in groups and alone, the concept of legalizing weed, sharing deep stories with strangers, and what we hoped to do with our lives after our time in Uganda. It was very interesting hanging out with Mark because it almost felt like I was meeting a friendly stranger in a European hostel who was willing to just hang out for the weekend simply because you’re forced to make that temporary friendship. It was refreshing after having only hung out with other PCV’s in a group numbering less than 200.

Chilling at Byoona AmagaraOn Monday we decide to head back to Kabale where we ate dinner at this backpacker’s hostel called Edirisa (http://www.edirisa.org/index.php?language=1&cat=130). A handful of us decided to continue to just go back home, so we took the night bus from Kabale to Kampala. Although the ride did seem much shorter due to falling asleep, it was also a bit rough. I felt like I was trapped inside this simultaneously hot and cold enclosure for centuries until I was able to embrace the cool morning air that only a 3am jaunt out in Kampala can give you. Fortunately, one of my PCV friends had a room at the Annex, so I slept on her floor for the morning until it was a more reasonable time to be out.

I left the Annex, made a shirt order for PSN, and then took a takisi from the New Taxi Park to Nakaseke because it was time for me to be on the radio show again. Even I couldn’t believe that I had been gone from site for a whole week and was now ready to do another radio show segment. This time, the segment was about the Education system in Uganda. We specifically discussed the structure of Primary and Grade School in the United States and the equivalent Nursery and Primary School in Uganda. This time the power didn’t go out.

But oh man was dinner a blast that night at the Rebekah household. I had picked up 1kg of Gouda from Mega Standard inCheese Galore Kampala earlier that day for only 15,000/=. We made macaroni and cheese, pasta lasagna, and grilled cheese stuffed with caramelized onions, rosemary, and cinnamon. It was too much cheese for my bowels to handle, but I loved it anyway. Since the water was running at site, I was able to poop in the toilet rather than having to walk a hundred feet to the nearby pit latrines.

The next morning on Wednesday I departed Nakaseke to make my way northwards back up to Rachel’s site in Masindi in order to help her take pictures of Peace by Piece. Peace by Piece is a local organization of Ugandan tailors who make kitenge products and school uniforms and sell them in order to provide for their families. What sets them apart from the average tailor is that they also create specialty items such as bomb-diggity kitenge quilts, kitenge yoga bags, kitenge oven mitts, kitenge aprons, kitenge camera straps, and so many more kitenge merchandise. I made a personal order of a kitenge hoodie and another one of kitenge coozies so that PCV’s can keep their Nile Special Beers cold.

Peace by PieceI ended up doing some much-needed, hardcore chilling with Rachel at her site since I was just exhausted and beat from all of the travelling that I had done. That Wednesday night I just passed out after making Mexican dinner with ground beef and didn’t wake up until noon. Thursday was spent slowly getting ready for the day and walking up to Court View Hotel to meet up with some British volunteers associated with Soft Power and two of the new PCV’s who were stationed in Masindi. We swapped some stories among ourselves, especially some choice quotes from the Facebook group “I Fucking Love Village Science” which shares stories from local Ugandans in our villages who share their own ideas regarding how and why things work. Two of my favorite village facts ones are that a woman who is menstruating must not climb a mango tree because if she does all the mangoes will die, or don’t go out at night because the cannibalistic night dancers will eat you and the only way to avoid them is to dress up like one. My query concerning the latter fact is how you would ever be able to tell apart the normal night dancer from one who is simply attempting to avoid them?

On the way back from Court View there was a small, Ugandan carnival that only cost 1,000/=. We paid through a rippedCircus Ride hole in a white sheet with a mysterious, black hand that took our money and gave us a ticket that was immediately torn up by the gatekeeper who through the ticket halves on the ground. We walked in and were not disappointed; there were street foods, gambling games, market day wares, a muddy dancing area, music videos, and even one of those revolving carousel swing rides. I actually laughed when I saw it because it looked like it would fall apart at a moment’s notice, but Ugandans still chose to ride on it. I entertained the thought of riding it for a hot second, but decided that I valued my life too much to tempt fate depending on rusty metal and loose chains.

On Friday August 15th I rode an express takisi back to Wobulenzi where I did some internet errands at NB Hotel as the rain poured all around. Even though the rain hadn’t stopped, I knew that I just had to make it home. I bought my groceries, picked up my bicycle from the police station, and then biked through the rain and mud until I made it back home. Despite my exhaustion, thirst, hunger, and restlessness I was just desperate to make it back home to a place that I was fully comfortable and familiar with. I missed my linoleum floors, my system of washing dishes, my on-off electricity, my fully-stocked kitchen, my pit latrine, the nearby borehole, my neighbors, and the tiny balongo twins. However, what I missed most was just being home. I just wanted to be in my home here and just be. Despite knowing that I will soon embark on another adventure from my site, I am glad that I was able to spend some time in a place that I call home.

P.S. – During this time, Eastern Camp BUILD and GLOW happened in Mbale. In the middle of the week, the media specialist Jim Tanton proposed to his girlfriend, one of the camp directors Julia Lingham. First of all, the pictures from Jim’s camera are spectacular. I honestly felt sincere joy and happiness seeing the photos and video of Jim proposing to Julia, because for the short time that I have known them I felt that they were a power couple and just good, talented people in the Peace Corps and in this world. It’s times like these that I feel that life is good.

The Cost of a Soda

7/18/14 – 7/20/14

*A typical glass bottle of soda costs 1000/=

I left my site Friday and headed towards Kampala because I was asked by Peace Corps staff to help out with training for the Global Health Service Provider (GHSP) Peace Corps Volunteers over the weekend. I also had to work on the Peer Support Network (PSN) merchandise activities, such as putting in an order for more shirts and kitenge drawstring bags from the local tailors who live near the Taxi Parks. I made my way to Brood near Center City and realized that I had very little money left in my account and that neither my stipend for the month nor the most recent reimbursements had come in. So I literally had 100,000/= for the weekend with which I would have to pay for lodging, food, drinks, and transportation.

I bought a loaf of multigrain bread at Brood because in times when money is tight I figured out that having a large loaf of good bread will sustain me for at least a few meals. I then checked into the New City Annex, chilled for a bit, and then decided to explore a new area of Kampala since I had the extra time in the afternoon. Thanks to Jenn Ross, whose house I stayed at during my most recent Mityana Site Liaison visits, I knew about another new mall called Village Mall in Bugolobi in Nakawa Kampala. I took a takisi near Center City headed towards Luzira-Bugolobi and then got off at the Shell gas station near Village Mall.

The mall reminded me a lot like Acacia Mall in Kisementi (which also has a swanky KFC), but it was open air and had a Village Mallfew different restaurants and a totally legit café called Java Coffee and Tea. I took a picture as I was nearing the entrance, and the security guards told me to stop because it was illegal to take pictures of the mall. I played the dumb tourist, and they said that they would have to arrest me but that they would let me off the hook if I bought them a soda. I just smiled at them and walked through and wandered through the mall with the nicest bathrooms that I have seen in country (aside from Acacia Mall). There was a legitimate book shop, interior design stores, real leather shoe stores, and other shops that would only appeal to muzungus.

I walked into Java Coffee and Tea and ordered a normal house coffee. Ah that was some good coffee. I remember sipping on my cup of coffee, realizing how little money I had left for the weekend, and how alone I was.

Journal Entry:

“Right now I’m at Java Coffee and Tea at the Village Mall about to drink a nice, hot house coffee in the Kampala afternoon. It’s quiet and interesting doing all of this exploring by myself like I’m used to.

Peace Corps is truly filled with the experience of disparity that I have never seen before. I mean, I’m in a gorgeous open air mall with specialty coffees, but I woke up in a village without running water and nothing that comes even close to how nice this place is.

Yet, it’s more comforting in my village where I feel at home. There are times when I forget that I’m living the dream, and times when I wonder if I’m making the most of it. The newness of the experiences has been wearing off, but that is to be expected. I’m at the stager where real work can be accomplished.

I sometimes can’t tell if I’m happy or not. I feel the most alive when in motion: physical, mental, and emotional.

I feel like with each new life experience, I understand less and less about this world. I’m less sure about absolutes that I used to hold inviolable and eternal. I still believe that the purpose in life is to help others, but now I’m not so sure what that means or entails.

I’m just unsure of it all and what it all means.

At the same time the world seems both immensely large and small. I could be back home in 2 days if I needed to be back, but at the same time I still will not learn about all of the secrets that my village and sub-country have to offer.”

I bought 50g of sliced bacon and a jar of peanut butter at the Nakumatt in the mall, and then walked back to Center City. I finally met up with some other Peace Corps volunteers in the Annex who were spending their last weekend in Uganda before they left for good on Sunday. As a result, I decided to celebrate with them that night. I’ll spare the details other than that one volunteer ended up with 675,000/= more than he started with, there was a ton of dancing, a tooth was slightly chipped, and bedtime was around 4:30am. Despite the fun, it was very sad bidding farewell to the first somewhat large group of volunteers whom I considered friends.

The next morning was a bit rough, but I rallied sometime around noon and took a takisi headed towards Wandegeya-Bwaise where I would get off at the Kolping Hotel where the group of 13 GHSP volunteers was beginning its training. In the back of the takisi, I conversed with an older Ugandan man who is the director of the Lugoba Secondary School. He was very impressed that I could speak with him in Luganda, and was very friendly. The most interesting part about this specific conversation was that he said that I was speaking to his heart.

It reminded me of the phrase that was shared with us during training: “If you speak in someone’s second language, you’re speaking to the brain. If you speak to that person’s first language, you’re speaking to the heart.”

Kolping Hotel GHSPI arrived at the hotel and was briefed by the training staff about what the program was for the day and Sunday. I was slated to give the survival ICT presentation within the hour and then to show the volunteers around Kampala the day after in order for them to buy the necessary electronics that they needed. In the meantime I ate lunch at the hotel and was almost in tears by how good it was. It was your typical Ugandan buffet at a workshop, but it was beautifully prepared and there were grapes in the fruit spread!

It was at this time that I also figured out what the GHSP volunteers actually are: they are licensed medical doctors who are Peace Corps Response Volunteers who have either finished a whole Peace Corps before or have 10 years of licensed experience. So I presented the information to them concerning what phones to buy, how to load airtime, how to get on the internet, what a Powermatic is, and also allayed their fears since a bunch of them admitted that they were not very tech savvy.

I told them that I would meet them Sunday morning near Center City in order to give them a brief Kampala tour where they could pick up their needed electronics. A Peace Corps vehicle gave me a ride back to the New City Annex, and on my way back I thought about how weird it was that I was saying goodbye to PCVs who were leaving in less than 24 hours and giving presentations to PCV Trainees who had been in-country for less than 24 hours.

I ate dinner at this Turkish restaurant called Istanbul where I ordered hummus, babaganoush, and fresh vegetables with yogurt on freshly baked foccacia-like bread. I chilled in the Annex for a bit and hung out with some PCVs who had attended a Ugandan Football Game that evening. The Cranes beat Mauritania in an underwhelming (especially right after the World Cup) but nevertheless exciting match filled with Ugandan sports pride.

I woke up tired, and made my way to Garden City where I met the GHSP volunteers. Since it was Sunday, most of the stores were closed but we made our way south towards the Taxi Parks where they could get their Powermatics and burner cell phones. On the way there I got to know some of them. Five of them had already finished a full 27 months in the Peace Corps. So it was weird because in a sense they were already seniors who knew more about Peace Corps than most of the volunteers in-country, but they were also newbies who didn’t yet understand what it means to live in Uganda.

Yet I still felt more open and candid in my discussions with them, simply because they understood what being a Peace Corps volunteer entails. I shepherded them to the Shoprite on Entebbe Road where they bought Powermatics, and the nearby MTN store across from the Total Gas Station where they bought unlocked burner phones. We made our way back to Brood where I bid farewell to them.

As I picked up my backpack that I had left at the Annex, a Ugandan man started following me. He told me that he was born-again Christian and Catholic who had just come from mass and that he wanted me to give him 1000/= to buy food or pay for his ride back to his home. He kept telling me that he wasn’t lying to me and that he wouldn’t spend the money on alcohol or drugs. I told him that I would buy him bread at Brood, and he responded that he doesn’t like bread and that he would rather have rice and sauce instead.

I then offered him the rest of the water from the complimentary water bottles that I collected from Kolping Hotel, but he insisted that I give him 1000/=. I told him that I would pay for his meal or the fare for his ride, and he would tell me that I didn’t trust him. He was right. Even though I believe that people are really good at heart, my time spent here has made me a bit wary of strangers upon my initial meeting with them. Of course he would single me out because I was the muzungu and would help him.

I got really upset and pulled him aside on the sidewalk and told him that I was giving him money but not because he believed in God or was Christian. I angrily gave him 1000/= and then told him to pray for me without even looking him in the face. For some reason I was just very upset that he kept following me and saying that I didn’t trust him.

I started to slope down the roads leading to the Taxi Parks where the street children started to swarm around me and ask me for cash. By now they laugh because they continuously ask me, “How are you? Give me money. How are you? Give me money…” I try to talk to them in Luganda, but it seems as if their parents or leader instructs them not to divulge any information to passersby. Usually I just wave them off and make sure that they don’t steal anything from my pockets or bag, but this time I held out the remainder of my water bottle to them. I instructed them to share it amongst themselves and then to throw it away in the nearby trash can instead of on the road like everything is usually disposed of in this country.

Doing that brought a smile to my face as well as theirs. A nearby boda man who witnessed the whole exchange was also chuckling in the background. Honestly, I don’t know what to make out of this weekend and the experiences that I had during it. The only thing I do know is that there are times in life when you are utterly alone even in the midst of other people’s company, times when you feel so alive and energized when you are physically alone, and that 1000/= buys you a soda.

Journal Entry:

“I came in on Friday alone and I left today alone. But in-between there were a lot of people and experiences here. Lots of hellos and goodbyes and interactions. It’s honestly crazy. And now there’s a wild wind blowing.

Sometimes I feel as if I have to write down and reflect on an experience before I feel like I’ve had some closure concerning the event. I suppose it could even be said that the reflection itself becomes part of the event.”