Today

4/12/15

I was an emotional wreck today. I just kept panicking about things that were out of my control. As soon as I woke up, I bicycled to Bamunanika where I purchased 3 kg of beef for the celebration that my neighbors would be throwing in the late afternoon. Instead of making medium-well steaks, I decided to cook the beef the way that my neighbors would appreciate: by boiling it with an abundance of sauce until it softened like stew meat. Paulo Mulo, the black village cat, even returned for the day in order to say goodbye or eat the leftover meat. I had also set aside a lot of knick-knacks and small toys for the kids if they won some games like who could jump-rope the most or run the fastest.

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At some point after lunch, I took my usual short nap in the living room. But I started to panic because in my daydream I imagined driving alone through the empty streets of my suburban neighborhood in Maryland towards my childhood home. It freaked me out to imagine that such a real world existed back there unfathomable by my neighbors here in a world that was equally as unimaginable for people back in that small suburban neighborhood. I’m thinking of a specific 4-way intersection in Owings Mills with streetlights even though the traffic never gets bad enough to warrant it. I see the clean-cut grass of suburbia with the tidy sidewalks and people walking their dogs. I imagine how quiet it is and how much space people have with clean clothes, climate-controlled cars, and 4G internet everywhere.

In the meantime, I am leaving behind a house with semi-consistent electricity, a borehole with cloudy water or rain water collection tanks with leaky taps, ungodly heat or torrential downpours, all manner of insects and livestock and children invading personal space, and dusty roads. I guess that before Peace Corps, the thought of not having running water or a toilet bothered me so much. Now I have become worried about transitioning to a life filled with creature comforts and amenities that are often seen as a right and not a treat. And I am also leaving behind my neighbors who have lives in this small village that may never interact with the much larger world. The adults will go on herding the cows, teaching 100 pupil classes, sweeping the dust, pumping water, cooking the matooke, playing in the backyard, and life will continue here as much as it has continued back home.

In some ways Peace Corps Volunteers are peerless. Village neighbors will never understand the lives that we lived beforehand, and those back in the states can only guess what we underwent here.

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After having served the meat stew to my neighbors and received my own portion of matooke and rice, Master Godfrey played some Ugandan songs on his speakers. The children all started dancing and going crazy in the backyard. All I could do was smile as I drank some ginger caayi with a full stomach and the echoes of laughter and Ugandan dancehall music. The sunset through the backyard matooke trees and one of my neighbors, the mother of the twins, presented a hand-woven mat as a parting gift. After thanking them, one of the grandmother neighbors whispered to me, “You cannot forget this day.” It wasn’t a command; it wasn’t a reminder. It was simply a comment that today was remarkable in how normal and how special it felt at the same time. It was a particularly beautiful day living in Luteete village. She’s right though, I can’t forget this day.

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The Aimless Wanderers

29/11/15

Muzungu (Luganda n). – white man, European

I made a small breakthrough with my neighbors today. I informed them that my replacement PCV is a Filipino American whose parents come from the Philippines, but is an American citizen. They seemed surprised that his name is Justin, since Justin (pronounced Justine by Ugandans) is a girl’s name here. At one point, my neighbor asked me why we Americans disliked being called muzungu.

Neighbor: “Why do you dislike being called muzungu?”

Me: “Well, first of all what do you think muzungu means?”

Neighbor: “Eh, for us it means a white person.”

Me: “The word muzungu is related to the Luganda word kuzunga which means to wander aimlessly.”

Neighbor: “EH! I have never made that connection.”

Me: “And is kuzunga a good thing?”

Neighbor: “No, to wander aimlessly is not a good thing.”

Me: “Yes, for us we don’t enjoy being told that we are lost and that we don’t belong here. Also not all Americans are white, so it is also a difficulty with identity.”

Neighbor: “Eh, we have picked. Thank you.”

oku-zunga (Luganda n.) – to stagger, reel about, whirl around, or wander aimlessly

Literally two years later my neighbors finally started to understand the reasoning behind the word muzungu and how it has a negative connotation. I also explained that muzungu relates to people who look white and is associated with wealth, short-term tourism, dependence, and not knowing where to go. For PCV’s who have white or semi-white skin the term lumps us all together as a homogenous grouping that disregards our personal identities or heritage. For PCV’s who are black or have brown skin, the term strips away the identity of that person’s heritage by assuming that since that person is from America, then he or she is like the other rich white people.

In the past, I have explained to Ugandans to first ask me to tell them my name or ask me about my heritage before calling me muzungu. I liken it to calling people from the Buganda Kingdom muganda instead of mudugavu. Muganda means brother, or person from the Buganda Kingdom, whereas, mudugavu means a black/dirty person. Mudugavu is related to the verb oku-ddugala, which means to become black or dirty. Even though using the word muganda denotes that the person is black, it also is respectable because that person hails from the Buganda Kingdom and central region of Uganda. However, mudugavu is an epithet because it calls a person dirty and associates the color of black skin with dirt.

When I was a trainee, our trainers told us that many of us would be called muzungu. They explained that it was related to the Kiswahili word kizungu which means of the aimless wanderer. Back then aimless wanderer sounded poetic. Now that I am here, I understand the silliness of that misconception. To be an aimless wanderer isn’t poetic or good, it’s seen as a sign of ignorance, dualism, and the disparity between the developed countries and many developing countries in East Africa. I still believe that it’s good to wander, but instead I feel that it’s better to wander with a purpose rather than without aim.

Distraught

18/11/15

I have been sick for the past few days. Through the help of ibuprofen, bananas from my neighbors, toast, and ginger tea I have started to feel much better. As I physically started to feel better, I became more emotionally weary. I began cleaning my house and preparing my bags for my eventual move to Kampala for Close-of-Service medical and then to Entebbe airport to fly to Amsterdam. It has been stressful saying goodbye to everyone in my village. I have had to deny so many people “snaps” or photos that they want to take with me, because my camera’s memory card wouldn’t be able to fit an individual photo of all of them. Also, I don’t have the funds or energy to print a few hundred photos to give to all of them. Everyone wants remembrances of me, and it’s interesting that even now as I am about to leave many of the older village kids ask me for things. They tell me that they want the kitenge stars hanging up in my room, the bicycle, or an old laptop that lies dormant in my room.

I worry about the transition to the developed countries where perspectives and experiences are different. Slowly-by-slowly my rooms are becoming more barren and packed into neat suitcases and bags that will make trip back to the developed world with me. I think about the children with whom I play in my little yard and how they don’t seem to understand the concept that I will be leaving forever.

Me: “Omanyi nti nja kugenda America omwezi gujja?” (Do you know that I’m going back to America next month?)

Child: “Ojja kudda ddi?” (When will you come back?)

Me: “Sigendanga kudda.” (I am never coming back.)

Child: “Tuzannye fishy fishy!” (Let’s play fishy fishy*)
*A game similar to Sharks and Minnows

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It’s weird thinking that soon I will be just a mere memory for my villagers and the children. Sure they will see my replacement Peace Corps Volunteer, but I wonder how many of the children will remember me. I think about the children telling stories about me to their own children when they’re older.

There is one recent even that I will remember for a long time: one of the secondary school boys, Waswa, came up to my window the other evening. I told him that I would be leaving for good and that I wanted to say goodbye to him before he left for another school. I then gave him an issue of The Atlantic magazine and a deck of playing cards that I got from Busch Gardens many years ago. He said thank you and walked away. An hour later he returned and was sniffling. He told me how he was crying and that he would miss me a lot. I usually don’t have much patience for the older secondary school students, but Waswa was different; he was always respectful and would invite me to play sports with him and the other students. He would offer me jackfruit, bananas, and avocadoes from time to time. But most importantly, he would listen and ask intelligent questions whenever we had discussions. What struck me about this specific interaction was that he cried.

In Uganda, it is not culturally appropriate for men to show signs of physical or emotional weakness, and crying is one of them. The only appropriate times to cry are when a close relative has died or if one is involved in a horrendous accident.

Before Peace Corps, I remember asking myself how to pack my entire life into two check-in bags. Now I am trying to comprehend how to take back this new life, this new perspective, and this new me back home. My home is changing and this house in Luteete will remain my home for 18 more days. In some ways, my worries are lessened because I have a carrier volunteer to follow up after me and I have planted some deep roots here.

Gracious

31/7/15

“Master Marvin, make sure that the next volunteer who stays here is a white person.”

That was the line that my student neighbors said to me as I made my way back to my house this evening. I shook my head in disbelief at the ignorant statement; even after 21 months they still thought that Americans meant white people. I told them that the next volunteer may even be a black American, which confuses them. They still think that a black American is a “cross-breed” between a white muzungu and an African. I explained to them that Americans come in all colors and that even I didn’t consider myself white because I am fully Filipino.

These past few days have taught me that things at my site can swing from having too much free time to not enough free time. I have been spending my entire day in the computer lab. I have installed Microsoft Office, AVG Antivirus, Mavis Beacon, Learning the Computer module, and Age of Empires II on the computers. Even though there are 10 working computers, it is still difficult managing the students and monitoring their performance. It got tiring the other day after I instructed the 50th student how to hold the mouse and how to move the mouse in order to move the cursor on the screen. I discovered that fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are lacking as well as the ability to just explore and make mistakes.

My students get worried when they click on a wrong button, and they have trouble “fixing the problem”. However, it is heartening to witness my students understanding the problem and how they can solve it. It is my dream that my college will take ownership of this computer lab and effectively use it for the benefit of the students. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest problems is that my students want to learn too fast. They change the wallpaper of the computer, open too many window tabs, or complain when they are still on a Using the Mouse module lesson when others are learning the basics of typing. Development and sustainability are fucking difficult.

There wasn’t any electricity today, so I spent my day performing internet work on my hill. At one point I closed my eyes and just felt the cool breeze and afternoon sunshine on my skin. I realized that I would for sure miss this place when I left in a few months. Then it started to rain so I quickly packed away my laptop and bicycled downhill accompanied by goats running to find shelter in town. I laughed out loud at how very normal of a situation this was for me.

After the rain subsided, I bought a quarter kilo of village beef, picked some fresh rosemary from the college garden, and marinated the meat in balsamic vinegar. As I waited for the meat to marinade, I reflected on how thankful I was. No, this is not the whole thankfulness associated with being born as an American with privilege, rather it was a thankfulness to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I forget at times that I am literally living the dream (which reminds me that I have to take my Mefloquine tonight) in a village that I can call my home. Others call the developed world normal life, but this is my normal life and I am content here.

Life in this Moment

23/7/15

There are days here where I can’t believe my life. After almost two years of work and vision the ICT Computer Lab has fully come into fruition. I spent the majority of the day hooking up the various computers to the electrical outlets and hoping that the village electricity was strong enough to support them. I added administrative passwords, installed Microsoft Office, and Computer Terminalsthis program called Learning the Computer which gives Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of learning how to use a computer. I spent the entirety of the day teaching my Year 1 and Year 2 students how to move the mouse, the difference between left click and right click, the double click, and how to left click on something and drag it somewhere else. It’s funny how intuitive these skills seem and how difficult it is for my students. I seem them spend literal minutes attempting to move the cursor on the screen over one of the arrows on the scroll bar. As exasperated and exhausted as I am, it is a noteworthy start.

At night, I presented the movie Life in a Day, which is a film of various YouTube videos concerning the variety of human life all over the world over the course of one day on July 24th, 2010. I would stop to gaze outside the windows at the village darkness and remember where I was a few years ago when I first saw this movie. I was in an apartment in a suburb right outside of Baltimore, and turned on Netflix. As I watched this movie, I remembered how inspired I felt and how I wanted to see different parts of this world and life. Back then I viewed the movie through an American lens and mindset. Now as I watched the movie with my students and villagers, I saw the scenes of the movie through a Ugandan lens and mindset. One scene from the movie that struck me was greeting exchanged between a Ugandan woman and a Ugandan man. The woman kneels to the man as she greets him as the man says that she should be kneeling down to him because he is a man. The woman agrees with him and says that it’s because of the culture.

Speakers and Projectors

Speakers and Projectors

Computer Lab Resources

Computer Lab Resources

Back in the US, I used to think that this is a mindset that comes from ignorance and that these viewpoints could easily be changed with a straightforward conversation. Now in Uganda, I understand part of the cultural background and mentality that supports notions such as gender inequality. After more than 20 months, I have just started dialogue with my villagers regarding archaic notions and beliefs that stem from a culture far different than that of the US.

Life in a Day

Life in a Day

At some point in the movie, the music background comes from three Angolan woman who are mashing dried corn into corn meal and singing along to the beat. I got emotional, because I felt that so much has changed in my own life. Now I was living a life worthy of a few stories and viewing the beauty of life from this side of the world. I was projecting a movie in my village and sharing a small piece of the cultures of the world with my faculty, students, and friends.

It’s a Choice

8/7/15 – 10/7/15

“Ah you know, for us Ugandans we don’t believe that. It is different over here.”

I have come to realize that even when armed with logic and sound reasoning presented in a straightforward manner, my target audience still has the choice to either believe what I am saying or disagree. Most of the time, the arguments are backed by opinions rather than by reason. Belief can easily be misconstrued for fact.

HIV Testing

HIV Testing

On Wednesday, Health and Care Foundation Uganda and Uganda Cares in partnership with Kasana Luweero Diocese came to Luteete PTC to perform HIV testing for my students and teachers. Health and Care Foundation Uganda also led several sessions regarding the biology of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, sexual gender roles, living positively, and condom demonstrations. I have come to realize that my Ugandan students and audience listen better when other Ugandans are presenting the information rather than when I present it. If I were to say something that provoked disbelief, my students could attribute it to differences in culture. The funny thing was that while Uganda Cares tested for HIV and promoted abstinence only since it was in partnership with a Catholic Diocese, Health and Care Foundation was explaining the use of both male and female condoms with the addition of water based lubricants. I specifically chose the Health and Care Foundation because its members were younger Ugandans who could easily relate to my students.

Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube

Male and Female Condoms, Wooden Penises, Lube

On Thursday, PCV Lindsay came from Iganga to present female sexual health, the biology of the menstrual period, and

RUMPs Materials

RUMPs Materials

how to make Re-Usable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs). Disposable pads cost around 1,500/= and if two pads are used each month then in one year that amounts to 60,000/=. RUMPs would only cost around 1,000/= to create and would last as long as the fabric stays together. Lindsay explained the biological process of the menstrual period and debunked the myth that there are safe days. While we explained the way to sew the pads, the students submitted their personal questions:

“Why does it hurt when I play sex?”Madam Lindsay

“If I have pain during my period, will playing sex get rid of the pain?”

“Will taking Panadal (pain relieving pills) cause me to become barren?”

“Can I get HIV if I plax sex with my girlfriend during her period?”

“How many holes does a vagina have?”

“Why does my skin itch after bathing?”

These questions were addressed as the students stitched together their fabric pieces around a towel in that would then be placed at the bottom of their underwear during their period. Afterwards, the students could remove the pad, wash it with soap, and then hang it on a clothesline where the sunlight would dry and disinfect it.

At the end of the day, one of my students continually asked Lindsay question after question. He seemed to believe that the blood of the female period was a disgusting and unsanitary thing.

My student: “Ah madam, I don’t want my wife cooking for me when she is on here period.”

Lindsay: “First of all, female blood is not unsanitary. Also we need to reduce the stigma behind the beauty of the female menstrual period and if it bothers you so much, you should reverse the traditional gender roles and cook for yourself and your wife while she is on her period.”

Making a Pad

Making a Pad

With these two full-day sessions I hoped to impart some knowledge to my students. I want to give them as many opportunities as possible to make the most well-informed decisions when the time comes to make them.

As I walked back home, my neighbors asked to borrow my wrench. One of my neighbor’s boda boda’s broke. They called a mechanic, who turned out to be a younger male student in his teens. The local reverend of the parish was walking by as the mechanic repaired the boda boda. During the initial discussions, it became known that this young mechanic could not read and had not finished primary school. My teacher neighbors attempted to convince him to go back to school and the reverend even offered a scholarship to him, but the boy refused. I guess that he thought that being a mechanic for the rest of his life and making some fast money was much better than investing in the long-term.

Then today a random policeman in camo gear attempted to arrest me as I was writing this post on top of the hill where I can get internet. I had been working on sending updates on PCV site development and sending photos from the HIV and RUMPs day events. I looked up from my computer and greeted him, and he asked me what I was doing:

*Exchange translated from Luganda

Policeman: “What are you doing here?”

Me: “I’m doing work on my computer.”

Policeman: “I need to take you in to the police station.”

Me: “No you don’t need to. I am a volunteer teacher here and have been living here for 20 months and always come on this hill. I am friends with the community members and the caretakers of the Kabaka’s Palace.”

Policeman: “I am taking you to the police station.”

Me: “I don’t want to go with you. You shouldn’t bring me to the police station, there’s nothing wrong. Stop touching my bike.”

Policeman: “Release your bicycle!”

Me: “No! I don’t want you to steal it. If I let go will you leave it on the ground?”

Policeman: “Fine, but come to the police station or I will hit you with this stick.”

Me: “Okay I’ll come, but let me first finish sending this email.”

*I send an email and take my time shutting down my computer. I then pick up my phone and call the Peace Corps Office Duty Phone number:

Me on the Phone: “Hey Nikki, no worries but I think that this random policeman is trying to arrest me for some reason. I’m not worried but I guess I’ll just walk down to the police station with him. If there’s a problem they arrest me, I just want to know that the safety and security manager will help me. Cool thanks.”

Policeman: “Hurry up or I’ll hit you with this stick.”

Me: “Don’t worry. Hit me with the stick. I have to wait. Don’t worry.”

Policeman: “Hurry up!”

*We walk down the hill to town as I whistle “Four Five Seconds” by Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney. As we pass through town, the village members greet me and laugh because I am being accompanied to the Bamunanika police station

Villagers: “Marvin, who is that with you?”

Me: “Oh this one? He’s my friend.”

Policeman: “I’m not your friend.”

*Meeting the Bamunanika chief of police

Me: “Hello, how have you been?”

Chief: “I have been well. Ah it’s so nice to see you again.”

Policeman: “I have brought this one in because he is suspicious on the hill.”

Chief: “This one has been living here for 20 months. He works as a volunteer teacher at Luteete PTC and sometimes goes to the hill to access the internet. Why did you bring him in?”

Policeman: “I thought that he was associated with the suspects who stole the fence last week.”

Chief: “No, let him go! There’s no problem with him.”

The chief scolded the policeman who then told me to leave. Honestly, I know that he was just trying to do his job, but I think that some common sense would have told him that a conspicuous suspect with much lighter skin who decided to return back to the scene of the crime with a laptop would not make sense. In the end, he too had a choice and he screwed up. There’s always a choice over here, whether to wear a condom, to purchase or create your menstrual pad, to arrest a “suspicious” character, to breakup with a loved one, to teach classes, or to continue trying when apathy abounds.

The Works

19/6/15 – 30/6/15

One thing that I’ve come to learn about myself is how much I value rest. I need physical, mental, and emotional rest from time to time. At the beginning of last week, I felt alone. I had a taste of United States culture when I attended a US Embassy event at Big Mike’s bar/club. I felt very alone even though I was surrounded by dozens of US Citizens. I just felt that I couldn’t connect with their lives, their experiences, and their tight-knit community that isn’t very welcoming to outsiders. I get it, and I feel that I would be that way too if I was a part of the US Mission, but I’m not. Had I been in a Ugandan club or bar, almost everyone would have welcomed me and danced. However here, there was a lot of awkward standing and not a lot of socializing outside of the immediate group of US Mission folk. Even when I returned back to my embassy sponsor’s house, I felt lonely. There weren’t any neighbors to welcome me back, no children to incessantly knock on my front door, or villagers to welcome me into their homes when a downpour started in the middle of a bike ride.

At some point I met some GEO activists. It was fascinating talking with them and hearing about their experiences championing GEO rights in Uganda and sharing their stories in countries all over the world. I had asked them if they received a lot of animosity in Uganda, and they explained that when the Anti-GEO Bill came out they were attacked and almost beaten to death had it not been for some very brave and supportive friends who came to the rescue. They tell me that they are a part of a passive organization that performs community and village health outreaches. They offer medical counseling and services, but they are also very open to receiving GEO Ugandans and supporting them with the pre-existing and also tight-knit community that exists.

I helped Peace Corps Uganda staff with a Let Girls Learn video of Ugandan celebrities that was filmed at the Serena Hotel. ILet Girls Learn Prep was given a high quality Canon camera to record a close-up of Ugandan celebrities, singers, politicians, and women’s rights activists championing the need for Ugandan girls to learn. I wasn’t star-struck by the celebrities, but it just felt so weird being in one of the nicest hotels in Uganda (complete with waterfall water fountains, lounges, fine dining, and plush carpets) but also because I was filming famous Ugandans whom most villagers would go crazy to see.

I continued on with community integration training with the new cohort’s PST. I followed the same powerpoint model from the last time we presented this session 6 months ago. It was actually very refreshing to hear about the aspirations of these trainees. This time around, they kept saying, “Wow, you’ve been here for 18 months! That’s crazy how long you’ve been here!’ I’ve learned to just share a few of the truisms and generalizations that I’ve learned along the way, coupled with disclaimers that my stories are based solely on my experiences. I fully admitted to them that their experiences could vastly differ from my own.

"No Hookups During Homestay"

“No Hookups During Homestay”

After training, I hung out with Rachel and some other PCV’s at Masindi. Other than another surprise Giardia attack, I felt so content. I had been “on” and travelling for an entire week and just wanted to collapse on a couch and sleep for days. I also wanted to chill with PCV friends with whom I have shared common experiences. I didn’t have to explain myself, where I was coming from, or what I wanted to do. I could just be myself and relax.

I returned back to my house after more than a week of work. I didn’t know what my body wanted. Part of me wanted to sleep, another part of me wanted to go and landscape the area in front of the now-completed ICT Lab, and another part of me wanted to hide in my house until my feelings of apathy and exhaustion subsided. Funnily enough, what it took to get me out of my funk was a visit from a fellow PCV who co-taught a science experiment lesson to my Year 1 students and then got stuck in the middle of a torrential downpour in the middle of Bamunanika trading center.

Rainy Day Rolex

Rainy Day Rolex

We had just ordered rolexes from a chapatti stand dude, and then it began to rain. At first we stayed under the chapatti stand, but the rain intensified and one of the nearby women motioned for us to seek shelter inside her house. She brought out two stools for us to sit, and busied herself cooking porridge for her 3 year old daughter and cassava and beans katogo. Meanwhile the chapatti man welcomed himself into this woman’s house and started cooking our rolexes on her charcoal sigir. So as the rain pounded around us, this drenched young man cooked our rolexes in this stranger’s house as we sat on her chairs and played with her daughter. I realized just how special experiences like these can be and how I would rather get stuck in torrential village downpour in a stranger’s house, than engage in forced conversation in a Kampala bar/club. It is here in the village and in my home where I feel normal, happy, and content.

The Sustainable Dream

14/6/15 – 18-6/15

The Bishop of the Luweero District came for a visit on Sunday. I don’t think that I’ve seen this place so crowded before; over Bishop's Visit to Luteetea few hundred people arrived to attend a very long mass at the nearby church. It amused me to see many of the children wearing their Sunday best when I normally see them wearing tattered and dirty clothes. I usually don’t go to church here, but I decided to dress up and attend this very special community mass.

On Monday I started school supervision of my Year 2 students. During term 2, the Year 2 students of the PTC travel to various primary schools scattered throughout the sub-county and spend a few weeks teaching primary school pupils. The students get hands-on practice and the PTC tutors travel to these schools in order to supervise them. I was assigned four schools to supervise: Luteete Demo, Mity-ebiri, Nalweweta, and Mullajje Primary Schools. Throughout the week I biked to these schools and supervised my students teaching lessons.

Local language, Luganda, is the primary language taught to primary school pupils from P1 up until the transition year to English in P4. Then the classes transition into English, and therein lies the biggest problem for student teachers and pupils alike. Some of my year 2 students come from regions in Uganda where they don’t speak Luganda, so they lack the ability to further explain a concept in Luganda when their English isn’t good enough.

Student Teaching at Primary School

Student Teaching at Primary School

The biggest problem that I witnessed was the frequent lack of hands-on materials to demonstrate a concept (such as adding fractions with different denominators) and having the pupils regurgitate information without checking to see if they understand and can apply the taught material.

As an example, in one instance the student teacher taught the primary school pupils four difficulties facing the builders of the Uganda railway system. After having the class read the list of difficulties many times, the evaluation exercise was for the pupils to write down in their notebooks the four difficulties that the builders faced. Very rarely is the exercise designed to make the pupils think beyond simple memorization and regurgitation of material.

Unfortunately, this is endemic in the education system. When I explained this problem to my fellow tutors, some of them asked me what the difference was between understanding something and memorizing it. Coupled with the Ugandan concept that it is unprofessional to admit not knowing something with this lack of understanding, I can start to see how much the education system has to develop.

Real Example:

Me: When we jump up what happens to us?

Student: We fall back down.

Me: Why do we fall back down?

Student: We fall back down due to the force of gravity.

Me: Correct! And where does this force of gravity point towards?

Student: The center of the earth.

Me: Yes, and if we look at this globe of the earth *holds up a ball representing earth* where is the United States if Uganda is on the top?

Student: It is on the bottom of the globe.

Me: So are the people in America upside down?

Student: Yes.

Me: Okay, but if they jump will they fly away or fall back towards the center of the earth?

Student: They will fly away because gravity always points down.

Me: *slaps forehead with hand*

In some cases it’s laughable what beliefs my students have due to what they were taught in life. I still get shocked reactions when I explain that the sun is bigger than the earth, that poor people exist in the United States, and that pinching one’s nipples will cause the breasts to stop growing larger. In other ways, it hurts knowing how hard it will be to impart the concepts of creative thinking, brainstorming, the scientific method, critical thinking, and logic towards many of the problems that my students face on a daily basis.

My dream at this point is that what I have laid down on this part of earth can continue to grow long after I leave. Funnily enough, I no longer worry about whether or not my students and neighbors will remember me, but instead whether they can benefit from what I started here. I don’t want to leave and for things to return back to “normal” here in the village before I arrived. I hope that villagers, students, and pupils find a way to empower themselves through the ICT lab. I want them to think for themselves, challenge engrained ideas, and make well-informed choices for themselves and their families.

Even though right now they are not teaching perfectly, it’s a start to sustainability. It’s teachers teaching teachers and students learning from students.

Planting Apple Trees

25/5/15

Today Godfrey, my neighbors, students, and I planted over 14 apple trees. It was actually one of the coolest points of my time here in Luteete, because the man who brought them from Bweyogerere also showed us the correct way to plant them. He brought apple tree roots and composted soil from a forest. Using my previous experience with landscaping, I chose the spots where we would plant the apple trees near the PTC’s ICT Lab. We dug a shallow hole at each spot, and then poured composted soil on the root with the edge of the root sticking out of the ground at a slant. As we planted the apple trees, it started to rain. Godfrey and me neighbors informed me that if it started to rain while you planted then it meant that God was giving his blessing towards your plants.

Planting Apple Trees

Planting Apple Trees

It just felt so good to add another living layer of knowledge and partnership with my community. I can think of no other fruit-bearing tree that combines the flavor of New England apples with the equatorial African climate. Even though I will be unable to eat any of these apples, I know that in the years to come my PTC students will be able to lie down on mats on the grass in the shade of these apple trees wonder about them. Where did they come from? How do I plant my own apple tree? What can I make with apples? Then they can search for these answers in the adjacent ICT lab with the help of a future PCV.

Apple Tree Sprouting

Apple Tree Sprouting

In two months, the apple man from Bweyogerere will return and help with the next that will ensure that the sprouting branches will produce abundant fruit. I can only hope my students will do the same.

The Monster

18/4/15

It is the time of the term break doldrums when the students have finished Term 1 and the tutors are done teaching until the beginning of Term 2 next month. I have followed the formula:

9:00am – 10:00am waking up, putting in my contacts, opening the windows to prove to my neighbors that I woke up

10:00am – 11:00am – do some laundry, make chappatis for breakfast

11:00am – 1:00pm – eat breakfast, read books and articles on my kindle, use the pit latrine

1:00pm – 3:00pm – go to the PTC to eat lunch, sit down and wait until students approach me with questions*

*Note: These questions have ranged from algebra to women’s sexual health to possible income-generating activities

3:00pm – 5:30pm – dress down from PTC attire, play with the village children, take a nap, read books on kindle, study Swahili, call PCV’s concerning future projects

5:30pm – 7:15pm – bicycle to nearby Bamunanika trading center, buy necessities (tp, flour, rice, tomatoes), purchase 5 samosas, set up laptop at the hill to get internet, check email and Facebook

7:15pm – 8:15pm – chill in the house and share some conversations with the neighbors, fetch water

8:15pm – 9:00pm – electricity comes back, I watch tv shows on laptop, charge cell phone, and cook rice

9:00pm – 9:30pm – I do Focus T25 workout

9:30pm – 10:30pm – cook dinner, bucket bathe, eat dinner, wash dishes

10:30pm – 1:30am – write blog posts, lesson plan, watch tv shows, poop, brush teeth, go to bed

Normally, I would have gone elsewhere to preoccupy myself, but I felt that I needed to stay put for once and just spend some quality time at my site with my students, neighbors, and children even though I wasn’t teaching at the PTC. I also knew that the next few weeks would involve a lot of hectic travel for me involving the Central Youth Technical Trainings, Training of Trainers for the incoming group of PCV’s, and traveling to the Acholi-speaking regions of PCV’s with the Country Director. Either I have too much free time or not enough of it.

However, today presented itself with some new circumstances. A few months ago, my neighbor Godfrey acquired a baby kitten that he keeps as a pet. The problem is that Ugandans dislike pets that serve no use such as a dog or cat. It is not uncommon for Ugandans to kick cats and dogs in the village or to even kill them if they continued to eat ones chickens. As a result, the empathy and kindness towards cats and dogs that are normally taken for granted in the United States do not apply here. Time and time again I have to explain to the children to pet the cat gently and not hit it with a rock or a stick. It doesn’t help that many of the adults kick the kitten if it’s in their way. Today, one of the children picked up the kitten by the tail and started swinging it around as the kitten cried. I was fed up with the situation and ill-will with which the children treated each other and the kitten so I picked up the child and held him upside down.

Normally, I would do this with the children and they would laugh because I was one of the few adults who would throw them in the air, flip them, and then catch them before they landed. He started crying and I proceeded to playfully throw him in the air but the suddenness with which I threw him startled him into crying even more. Honestly, I didn’t feel bad about making him cry, because he cries every day. Their cries rarely move me anymore, because they instigate it by hitting each other, slapping each other, falling over each other, smashing the other’s face with a stick, or biting each other. It is rare that children that young here resolve their problems through words or by saying, “Sorry.” Instead, it’s much easier to get the message through corporal punishment.

As I walked away from the kids who now all wanted to be held upside down, one of the older village neighbors in his late-teens walked up to me. He normally would ask me questions about my life, America, or my bicycle. This time we shared a lively discussion about cats and pets. He told me that he believed that cats were demons. When I asked him why, he told me that cats had no bones. I explained to him that while he is entitled to his own opinions, he still had to respect that the cat was Master Godfrey’s pet and so he shouldn’t hit or kick it. He disagreed with me and told me a story: “Marvin, you know when you have some come visit your house or room and even though you don’t know her you just hate her? That’s how I feel about cats.”

I was just fed up with the ignorance as I argued with him. Normally in a town or trading center I would have ignored these false musings and spent my time doing something more productive. The difference in this situation was that he was my neighbor and I had been living here for over a year now. This was someone in my direct sphere of influence in my home village. I explained to him that cats were animals and even though they didn’t serve a direct purpose such as chickens, goats, or cows they shouldn’t be treated with cruelty. I guess that it just worries me that if both children and adults get pleasure from physically torturing another creature that didn’t harm them then physical violence could be engrained in them at an early age. Sometimes I shuddered as I saw the smile and laugh as they hit each other or the cat with rocks, sticks, or their hands.

I told my neighbor that I would physically show him direct proof in the PTC library that cats had a skeletal system and therefore bones. He said that he still had to perform some chores, but insisted that cats were demons. A few minutes later, he was back at my door with more topics of intellectual discussion. At first he asked if I could find him a sponsor for his school fees to which I replied, “No.” I told him that it was unsustainable and that he himself and his family were well-off enough to provide him with the money needed to pay tuition and board.

He continued by telling me a story about how some of his friends got sponsors from visiting Bazungu (white people), but he himself did not receive one even though he spoke the best English. He started to say, “You people, the Bazungu…” I cut him off mid-sentence and explained to him that it was rude to categorize all of us as white people. I reminded him that even though my skin was light, I was not white but Filipino. This started us on an interesting discussion about how one could be both an American as well as Filipino, that using a lot of idiomatic expressions is good, and that Obama is a part of the Illuminati and not American because his father is Kenyan.

I sighed almost every time that my neighbor opened his mouth and started spouting nonsense. My favorite statement of his was that Lil Wayne, Bebe Cool, P Square, and other rappers worshipped the devil because he read about it on the internet. Furthermore, Akon was a sodomizer because a pastor came to his school and showed the students a video that proved it to them. My neighbor then told me that I had to agree with him because if I disagreed with him then I would be lying to myself. The circular logic stunned me, because I started to get a better understanding of why some beliefs and values took root so deeply in the Ugandan culture, whereas others did not.

With the use of effective rhetoric and passion, I could see that a single web page, visit from a pastor, or village superstition could have such a strong influence over my neighbor. My other worry was that this kid wasn’t an uneducated guy from the deep village, but a student at the respectable Luteete Secondary School. This was a kid who could rattle off the chemicals on the periodic table, talk in full English sentences, ask about apartheid, draw the parts of a computer, and recite all sorts of memorized information from his classes. However, the critical thinking aspect was very lacking.

At one point in the conversation when our discussion heated up he asked me what the word “hit” meant. In my anger, I punched my wooden front door as a demonstration and in the process I bruised my knuckles. It made me realize just how much harder I would need to work to even change a small part of a person’s mind over here. Even backed by legitimate textbooks, internet sources, and sound reason/logic in both Luganda and English he would still disagree with me concerning something he saw on the internet or heard through the matook leaves (my own metaphor of “through the grapevine”). As a generalization, there is a lack of personal judgment concerning what constitutes a good, objective source of information as opposed to passionate prose and strong opinions from “big people”.

Note: Ugandans refer to leaders and people in high positions of power as big people.

How do I get someone to agree with me that disagreeing with me on a certain opinion is alright when that person sees me as a big person who cannot be contradicted? How do I get someone to understand the difference between facts and opinions when almost anything written through a permanent or semi-permanent form is seen as the truth? It’s in times like this that I understand and appreciate the value of Peace Corps. I have started to gain the trust of my community and what I say can be trusted or explained through their lens rather than through that of a short-term visitor who cannot possibly begin to understand the idiosyncrasies and subtleties that make up general Ugandan culture.

The biggest enemy that I have to face as a teacher in Uganda isn’t some bureaucratic behemoth, but ignorance. I try my best to empower my students with creativity and critical-thinking, but some days I just want to hit people until they agree that what I am saying is correct. It would be a much easier method, but I would have then replaced their ignorance with my own. I would be colonizing their minds, with me as their king. Instead of becoming a monster, I have to become a paragon instead. Instead of colonizing their minds, I have to free them. Instead of showing them right from wrong, I have to give them the skills and tools to discover their own, educated truth.