Sounds and Furies

20/11/15 – 28/11/15

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

This is my life right now: Homestay Edition

January 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life here is good.

Life in a Day (Obulamu mu Olunaku)

Life in a Day

There has been one film that has stuck with me for these past few years, and it was called “Life in a Day”. You can watch it right now for free on YouTube if you wanted to do so. The premise of the movie was to show the universality of life in all of its forms and manifestations throughout the world over the course of a day. The movie is comprised of video clips taken from people all over the world, and edited together to form a day detailing people’s normal routines, birth, death, religion, chores, love, life, and scenes that both complement and juxtapose each other.

Yesterday, my Luganda language group held our cookout at one of the trainees’ host family house. It was located near where we hold our Luganda language classes: LuweroBoysPrimary School. The goal of the cookout was to share some of our favorite American dishes with the Ugandan family, while we also learned how to make some of the favorite Ugandan dishes. We decided to create a local fruit salad, homemade fruit juice, OldBay seasoned beef, baked beans, and pasta with both a Bolognese sauce and a Gouda cheese sauce. We were especially excited for the cheese sauce, which was created by my fellow trainee, Alaina. After we had our fill of food and just chilled in the living room, the topic that we started discussing centered around blogs. Alaina talked about creating a blog post about a normal day in the life of a Ugandan family, and that inspired me to create my own mini version of Life in a Day.

So today I decided that I would take photographs, videos, and write about a typical, whole day living with the Semuddu family:

“Obulamu mu Olunaku” – January 5th, 2014

I wake up around 7:40 am, and take my time because it’s Sunday and I have the day off from language classes. I take a look around my room and decide that it’s about time to clean it. I have clothes draped over the mosquito net around my bed and hanging from nails sticking out from a wooden plank that runs around half of my room. I also see that that plants that I had received from Nurse Betsy, aglaonema commutatum, are not faring so well in the soil that I had planted them in. I decided that I would instead resort to the root-cutting method and place them in old Rwenzori plastic bottles so that they would have the chance to first grow roots before I planted them in soil.

I then walk out of my room and through the main part of the house, which houses the only working electricity socket, and get to the sitting/dining room where I take a breakfast of bananas, biscuits, and tea or hot chocolate. I love the biscuits here, so I eat the biscuits, and then decide that I want to sleep some more, so I got back to bed. I sleep through the mass service, and then wake up again around 9am. I still can’t see because I don’t have my contacts in yet. Directly across from my bed is a small bathing room with two holes. One hole is a pipe that will eventually be used for a toilet, and the other hole is the drain where the water flows after I bucket bathe. I drench my bed head hair so that it stays down, I insert my contacts, and then attempt to shave even though there isn’t a mirror within a 1km radius.

I decide to be productive and do laundry. This involves me bringing buckets and jerrycans with me to the nearby tap. My family gets water from this tap, whereas other families obtain their water from boreholes. The only difference between the two is that boreholes require one to physically pump the water out of the ground, but taps operate on electricity so no physical effort is needed except to turn the handle and the spigot. Also jerrycans are these rectangular, yellow containers that seem to be very common in Uganda. They are mainly used to hold and transport water from taps and boreholes to one’s house, since it is rare for a family to have running water inside the house.

I then use my favorite blue perfumed laundry soap, Chapa Nyota, to wash my clothes. After almost two months in this country, I have finally learned how to rub my clothes against one of my wrists in a back and forth motion that allows for the soap and water to remove any dirt. I fill up my family’s jerrycans as I wash and rinse my clothes.

I finish my laundry, and maama tells me to go have some porridge for break tea time. I eat up the porridge, and attempt to convince maama that I can mop my room for myself. She continues telling me that I am tired and have already done so much today. I mop my room, and then wait until lunch comes.

A few days ago, I told maama and taata that we could create a favorite American/Mexican dish called a burrito on Sunday. Therefore, we had rice and beans for lunch today, and saved the leftovers for the burrito at dinner. I ate a late lunch around 2pm, and then left to go buy groceries for banana bread. I wanted to show maama and taata how to bake using three cooking pots and a sagiri, charcoal stove. I walk to the Kasana trading center, and into my favorite store called Quicky Picky. The people there are always very helpful in letting me know where to find items. They even try to help me learn and practice my Luganda.

I pick up the needed ingredients to make the banana bread, and head back to the house. I didn’t purchase eggs because my family has a chicken coop. On my way back home, one of my fellow trainees, Rebecca, calls and invites me to join the language group in an impromptu Settlers of Catan game. I wanted to play, but decided against it because I had already made plans with my host family. I get back to my host family, and demonstrate to maama how to create the banana bread batter.

Taken from the Peace Corps Uganda Cookbook issued to us during training:

Banana Cake


½ Cup Blueband (it’s like margarine)

2 Cups Flour

1 Cup Buttermilk

1 Tsp Vanilla (optional)

1 ½ Cups Sugar

1 Tsp Baking Powder

1 Tsp Baking Soda

2 Bananas Mashed

2 Eggs


1)      In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

2)      In another large mixing bowl, mix together the Blueband and sugar.

3)      Beat in eggs, vanilla, and mashed bananas one at a time into the Blueband and sugar mixture.

4)      Alternate adding flour and buttermilk to the mixture until everything is mixed together to form a smooth batter.

5)      Pour into a greased saucepan and bake until cooked thoroughly.

*To make Buttermilk, add 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar to regular milk.

I followed these directions and explained each step to maama who was eager to learn how to bake. She remarked that it was much easier than she had originally thought. I poured the resulting batter into a smaller saucepan, and then found two large saucepans that the smaller one could easily fit into. I placed enough rocks to line the bottom of one of the large saucepans an inch high, and then placed the smaller saucepan on top of these rocks. I then placed the second large saucepan upside down on top of the first large saucepan, and then placed heavy kettle filled with water on top of it to make the homemade Dutch oven airtight. This “oven” of sorts was then placed on top of a very hot sagiri, and then we waited for about 1 ½ hours until the batter had baked and risen to the consistency of banana bread.

While the bread was baking, I decided to do “training” with my little host brothers and sisters. Ever since we started exercising, they continuously ask me for training. We usually do jumping jacks, mummy walks, burpees, jogging, push-ups, planks, and some yoga poses and stretches followed by a game of Fishy Fishy Swim By Me. As we do this training, more and more neighborhood children join. I think that they are just curious as to why this muzungu does these weird physical actions that seem to serve no purpose other than making himself tired.

We train for about half an hour, and then I decide to get a head start on the flour tortillas. The Ugandans call it chapatti, and use it to make the Rolex Street Food. I mixed together 2 cups flour, ¾ cups water, 1 tbsp Blueband, and 1 tbsp baking powder in order to make the tortilla/chapatti dough. I used an empty Krest Bitter Lemon glass soda bottle as a makeshift rolling pin. I fried the chapattis on the second, smaller sagiri and then diced tomatoes, avocadoes, and onions in preparation for dinner. Then I thinly sliced 1kg of beef, and then seasoned it with chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and sugar. I pan fried this dry-rubbed beef and then cut it into small bite-sized pieces just like the steak at Chipotle.

And so dinner and dessert was prepared and I demonstrated how to make a burrito. I have been trying to hard everyday, but the children are very picky and refuse to eat anything other than sweeties (candies), cakes, chapatti, chips, fish, tomatoes, macaron (pasta), and juice. However, maama and taata loved the flavor of the beef and the mixture of various textures and tastes all in one bite. Most of the Ugandans whom I have encountered do not normally like spice, so I opted not to add much chili or pepper to the dishes. It made me glad to see my host parents enjoying the food and the banana bread, because now I know that they can save some money instead of purchasing expensive cakes from neighbors or stores.

They told me that they were glad, because now they could experiment and make sweet breads, cakes, and tasty beef whenever they wanted to without having to spend too much money. One-by-one the children fell asleep, and then I retired to my room where I had a cool bucket bath, took my post-infection medication, and then prepared for sleep.