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.

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.

The Eventful Road to Masindi

1/6/15

The trek to visit PCV Rachel in Masindi always sucks because while it is physically near to my site, there is no direct route from my site or nearest taxi park to Masindi Town. Once I arrive in Wobulenzi Town by bicycle, I have to take a taxi about 17km north to the Luweero Bus/Takisi Stop junction where the street vendors peddle their roasted gonja, beef, chappati, and cold drinks. In the past I’ve attempted to take a takisi that the conductors promised would take me to Masindi, but in actuality spends 4 hours taking me to the Kafu junction that should have only taken me a little bit over an hour’s ride. This time around, I decided to take my chances by waiting for a bus that would either bring me directly to Masindi or drop me off at Kafu 115km north of Luweero. Fortunately, a Ugandan man working for IRF (International Rescue Committee) picked me up for a ride. He told me that he worked for an American organization dedicated to aiding Sudanese refugees in Kiryandongo District directly north of Masindi District.

I shared a lot about the values of Peace Corps, my work, and the basics of the Federal Government with him. He also explained to me that while he is from Kitgum, he doesn’t like to share that fact with Ugandans whom he meets as a safety precaution due to some lingering hostile tensions between the northerners and the western/central Ugandans.  At one point we were stopped by traffic officers, but I talked ourselves out of a ticket by speaking in Luganda. He dropped me off at the Kafu junction, where I squeezed into a 4 seat-sedan with 7 other Ugandans. I don’t even get surprised anymore when I see two people sitting in the driver’s seat. I still don’t know how drivers can do that.

We were stopped halfway between Kafu and Masindi by more traffic police who had the most recent passengers leave the Long Masindi Roadcar. The head police officer kept threatening to arrest the driver of the car whose excuse was that he was giving me and this old lady a free lift. After the police officer let him go, he attempted to collect money from me and the old lady. The police officer reprimanded him for lying and then gave me and the old lady a lift to Masindi Town. Along the way he asked me if I had my passport and I retorted that I didn’t have to show it to him. We went back and forth debating whether or not it was legal for him to demand my passport, and I threatened to call the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura. Instead I called a Peace Corps staff member and asked if I was supposed to show him my passport. I was informed that I had to show him a legal form of identification that could or could not be a passport.

I gave him my driver’s license and Peace Corps identification card which upset him because I could have forged them. His argument was that I could be part of Al-Shabaab and forge my forms of identification as opposed to a passport. I had him show me the Police Act of Uganda, Chapter 303 The Police Act that states with some examples:

Part V.

Power to inspect licenses.

No liability for action done under authority of a warrant.

24. Arrest without a warrant.

A police officer may, without a court order and without a warrant, arrest a person if he or she has reasonable cause to suspect that the person has committed or is about to commit an arrestable offence.

27. Search by police offiers.

Whenever a police officer, not being lower in rank than a sergeant, has reasonable grounds for believing that anything necessary for the purposes of an investigation into any offence which he or she is authorised to investigate may be found in any place and that that thing cannot in his or her opinion be otherwise obtained without undue delay, the officer may, after recording in writing the grounds of his or her belief and specifying in the writing, so far as possible, the thing for which search is to be made, search, or cause search to be made, for that thing.”

In the US, we have judicial review and the concept of precedence whereas in Uganda the vague wordings in the police act grant police officers unbelievable power over the populace.

Unfortunately, he was right in the sense that any cause or any possible cause to suspect something in the future is grounds for inspection of one’s property. Probable cause is met in Uganda if any police officer has reason to suspect that one may at some point in the future break the law. I surmised that this gave the police unlimited power since they could legally find anyone guilty if the mood suited them. This also meant that inept police have unlimited power, since the police man attempted to search for the police act on his cracked iPad, but he kept clicking on an advertisement and refused to let me help him.

I mean, in the end I made it to Masindi Town in record time. It irks me because the ride from Masindi to Wobulenzi Town only takes 2 hours. Whatever, at least I got some new knowledge and another good story out of this trek.

Nsanafu

28/5/15

The nsanafu are reddish-brown ants that you normally see on National Geographic or Discovery Channel with David Attenborough narrating their aboveground ant highways from one underground residence to another one. Here in Uganda, usually after a quick rainstorm during the day the nsanafu transport their grubs and their entire colony from one home to another. Many Ugandans stay out of the way whenever they see these ant highways and mass migrations of a seemingly endless number of ants. One of my neighbors even told me that whenever the nsanafu decided that their highway passed through a house, they put all of their bedbug-ridden fabrics and mattresses directly in the middle of the nsanafu pathways so that the nsanafu also killed the bedbugs in their wake. It truly felt unreal to see one of these nsanafu migrations right in the middle of the pathway that led to my PTC in the middle of the day.

Nsanafu Migration

Nsanafu Migration

Nsanafu Chain

Nsanafu Chain

Sentries

Sentries

Throughout the course of the week, the apple roots have started to sprout these tiny green buds. I can only hope that they literally come to fruition given the time and care that they need. In addition, Godfrey and I gathered a sack-full of brown leaves, freshly-cut grass, and manure in order to create a compost pile that would help to not only nourish his garden but also the apple trees and other plants that we would be planting near the ICT lab.

Creating a Compost Pile

Creating a Compost Pile

A lot of the stress from my Peace Corps service has gone ever since the money from the grant made it to my supervisor. Before and after teaching, I literally spend my free time gazing at the ongoing construction of the ICT lab and what it means for my students and the future of this college. It almost feels as if the hard work and perseverance over more than a year have finally shown their worth.

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 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.”

Dusty Coasters

23/11/14 – 6/12/14

“Ah it seems that you have been eating well, because you have put on weight.”

~Several of my neighbors after seeing me return from my travels these past two weeks

I would say that this has been one of the more hectic two weeks of my time here in Uganda. I’ve been busy travelling on behalf of projects, holidays, celebrations, trainings, and my own benefit. As per usual, I feel the need to blog about my experiences in order to make sense of what has occurred and move on to new experiences.

On Sunday November 23rd I left my house in order to go to my old host family’s house in Kasana/Luweero as the guest of Texas Primary School Luweerohonor for the opening of their Texas Primary School. While I lived with them last year the brick structures of what would eventually become school classrooms dotted the family’s compound. As I walked up the familiar roads that led to their house, I could see metal sheets that fenced in a compound of classrooms, staff rooms, a small media room, and the house that was converted into dorm rooms.

It felt very odd to be back in my host family’s house, because the last time I had spent any significant amount of time with them was 9 months ago right before I was sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There were so many children around the compound and my host brothers and sisters were all grown-up. I could tell that they weren’t as wild as they used to be during the day, because there were a lot of important guests around. Ministry members, teachers, the LC3, staff, students, and other invited guests. The ceremony had all the regular fixings of a typical Ugandan event: tarpaulin, speakers, joking MC’s, traditional dances, and musical performances lip-synced to Ugandan dancehall songs. I even got to join in with the entirety of my Enkima (Monkey) Clan. I still think that it is so cool that I am part of a clan here. Even my host parents’ parents told me that I was true Muganda.

Graduating to Primary SchoolI saw my tiny host brothers and sisters singing, “My name is ___insert name here___. Welcome our visitors!” Then there was a performance of some kid pleading either to God or to a king of sorts to help give him food. Interestingly enough, the speeches given by the officials were more succinct than usual and only averaged around 10-15 minutes per speech. The food was some of the best traditional Ugandan food that I’ve ever had in country.

Throughout the course of the event I noticed that my host brothers and sisters were avoiding me or not really interacting with me whenever I went up to them. I was worried that maybe they forgot about me since I had been gone for so long. However, towards the evening when the majority of the guests left, the eldest host brother and sister (around 6 and 7 years old) warmed up to me and started playing with me. I was laughing very hard as they ran races, attempted to carry jerrycans that were twice their weight, and asked me to do some training with them.

As the night approached, I filled jerrycans from the outside tap for my bathing and prepped my old bedroom for sleep. One of the recently graduated students danced into the room with some headphones on. She told me that she really loved Akon. Another student approached her with some glasses, and she said, “Ah! I don’t want to wear that because then I’ll look like a nigger.” I was completely taken aback by the casual way this statement was said. I realized that a lot of hip-hop music makes its way from the United States to Uganda without any cultural context or background. I explained to her that it was inappropriate to say comments like that, especially in front of children due to the meaning of the words she chose to use. To her, “nigger” just meant a cool, well-dressed person with a lot of money. As I thought about it, I could see how someone growing up in the village here could associate it with that concept after hearing the frequent use of that word in hip-hop songs.

After clearing up the misunderstanding, my host mother asked me to show a movie to the pupils who stayed in the house. I hooked up my portable speakers to my laptop and premiered the movie Frozen to them. They absolutely loved it, and I guess that the concept was foreign to them because of the liberal use of ice and snow that comprised the majority of the movie. Their favorite character was the snowman, and the concept of making a person out of snow and wasting a perfectly good carrot in order to give him a nose was another foreign idea.

*Note: Attempt to explain holiday ideas such as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny to any group of village Ugandans for comedic effect.

I woke up early on Monday and my host family members walked me to the main Kampala-Gulu Road. I hopped on a takisi headed to Kampala. I had to first withdraw some money from Barclays and then pick up some newly screen-printed PSN t-shirts. I made my way to the Kisenyi Bus Park, which is further west from the New Taxi Park where I took the Global Bus to Mbarara. That was a very difficult bus ride not only because I traveled alone, but because of how freaking hot it was. There were two seats on either side of the aisle, and the lady in the aisle seat kept closing my window once it got too windy. She would literally lean over me, my plastic bags, and my travel bag in order to close the window.

I kept sleeping a lot, but after almost six hours I made it into Mbarara where I met up with PCV Mike. I got to see the Peace Corps Resource Room where PCV’s can leave books and other accoutrements there for other PCV’s to use. There is also the added benefit of couches, free wifi, and we are also right across the hall from one of the Red Pepper newspaper offices who are notorious for publishing lists “outing” gay members of the Ugandan communities.

We bought some ingredients from the Nakumatt in town in order to make a Mediterranean shrimp scampi infused with some Vegeta seasoning that PCV Sam bought for me during his trip through Croatia. We cooked a tomato and white wine shrimp scampi over a bed of fusilli, which was deliciously amazing since I hadn’t tasted shrimp in over a year. I was glad that I made it over to Bishop Willis PTC before Mike left. We also danced to some dubstep and shared some music with one another before I went to bed.

Tuesday was a very memorable day for me. I walked from Bishop Willis PTC to the main road leading out from Mbarara. I caught a takisi headed to Kabale. About 3 hours and 3 takisi switches later I arrived in Kabale town. It always seems that a woman throws up on this journey as we twist our way through the winding hill roads of the far southwest. I arrived in Kabale town and walked to Amanda’s house.

Amanda's House Thanksgiving MealAmanda’s house reminds me so much of a real house or apartment back in the United States. The way things were laid out felt very homely and welcoming. Also the air inside the house made me feel as if the air-condition was on the entire time. I felt very relaxed as I shared a cup of coffee and a glass of red wine with Amanda and Matt. Matt started quizzing me about the world map mural that he had drawn on one of the living room walls. I did a decently good job of locating the countries in Europe and Africa, but had a difficult time with those in South America. In the evening, more PCV’s came in order to celebrate a pre-Thanksgiving of sorts. We made mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, creamed peas and carrots, broiled chicken breasts, and boxed stuffing complemented with a jar of cranberries.

It was such a delicious meal that I shared with good friends in a good atmosphere. The night ended as the box of wine depleted and we all spent a night of snoring and labored breathing due to a lot of ingested food, cat allergies, and boxed wine.

The next day we headed over to Lake Bunyonyi after painting a world map mural at Amanda’s primary school. There were about 30 of us celebrating together on the islands of Byoona Amagara and Bushara. It was so great just to be in a place where I felt cold and surrounded by friends. The first night was mainly spent catching up with one another and enjoying the literal and figurative atmosphere. It had rained a little bit in the evening and the sunset cast a gorgeous rainbow in the background of the lake, which made the area look even more beautiful than it usual looks.

Painting a World Map Mural

Painting a World Map Mural

Rainbow at the Docks

Rainbow at the Docks

Lake Bunyonyi's Reflection

Lake Bunyonyi’s Reflection

On Thanksgiving Day, everyone from both islands and those from Kabale Town met up at the Birdnest, which was a hotel/bar/restaurant on the shore of the mainland. We all ordered some Muzungu food, drank, connected 3 portable speakers together to an iPod, and gathered around in a circle in order to tell each other what we were thankful for. Personally, I’m thankful for:

Good PCV Friends

Good PCV Friends

Having the opportunity to live out my dream of joining the Peace Corps.

Sunlight.

Good food.

A cold gin and tonic.

Good coffee.

A job well done.

Good friends that I never lost.

My family (Filipino, American, Ugandan, Peace Corps)

As lunch ended, we all gathered together at Byoona Amagara for a follow-up dinner before the PCV’s from Bushara headed back. As the night progressed, the number of us who stayed up dwindled. It was cold and rainy, but a few of us rallied and went skinny dipping off the docks around midnight. It was actually quite hilarious, because of how cold the water was and that it was still raining.

*Note: At this point in my home I had to take a break writing in my blog in order to eradicate an ant colony that was under my desk as well as a black baby snake that I hope isn’t a Black Mamba.

I spent one more day at Lake Bunyonyi. At this point more than half of the PCV’s left for various reasons: to go gorilla trekking, explore Rwanda, or head back to site to attend a Ugandan wedding. After breakfast, I decided to canoe over to Bushara to see what the remaining PCV’s were up to over there. The last time I was at Lake Bunyonyi, there were three of us in a canoe and we had the hardest time getting the canoe to go straight. This time, I finally got the hang of it and made it to the other island after about 45 minutes of paddling.

As I approached the other island, I was greeted by the remaining PCV’s who were sunbathing on the dock. We chilled, listenedBushara Docks to some music, and enjoyed the rope swing. Honestly, that rope swing spot might be one of favorite locations in all of Uganda. I just felt so free as I fly through the air, release into a backflip, and know that I will land in really cold lake water. I played a card game called Ligretto after having a lunch of crayfish quesadillas. PCV Julia, who was my trainer a year ago and who is about to COS, invited me to hang out at her house the next day. I excitedly agreed since I needed to do something for a day before I made my way to Shimoni for Teacher Bootcamp Training with the new group. It had been raining on and off throughout the course of the day, so after a light shower gave way to a patch of clear skies I hurried back to the canoe to return to Byoona Amagara.

Rainy CanoeAbout 10 minutes later, the wind started whipping around me and waves started to rock my canoe. All of a sudden, it started to downpour. I placed my camera bag underneath my legs and paddled against the rain, wind, and waves towards the island. I had to be sure that I paddled perpendicular to the waves, because whenever I started to paddle parallel to them the canoe would rock violently. I felt epic, I felt like a hardcore explorer, but mostly I felt stupid for not leaving earlier when there was a much larger patch of clear skies.

That last night at Byoona Amagara was chill. The remaining PCV’s played Salad Bowl. I turned in for an early night because I knew that tomorrow would be another busy day. On Saturday a boat picked us up from Byoona Amagara and swung by Bushara in order to pick up the PCV’s over there. As the boat made its way to shore, Julia asked what we should do for dinner. I posited that we should purchase some crayfish and steam them for dinner. Julian added that we could do a Bouillabaisse. When we got to the docks, I asked some Ugandans if we could buy some crayfish, and they pulled up some large crayfish catching baskets from underneath the dock.

The baskets functioned as a trap for the crayfish with either corn, a piece of chicken, or some po sho used as bait. One end of the basket was inverted inwards so that the crayfish could easily enter but couldn’t exit and the other end was like the end of a wine bottle except that it was stuffed with reeds so that the crayfish couldn’t leave on their own volition unless poured out by someone. We bought 2kg of live crayfish, and I finally was able to purchase two small crayfish catching baskets in order to add to my growing basket collection from different parts of Uganda.

Crayfish Basin

Crayfish Basin

We stopped by the Kabale market so that we could pick up leeks, onions, tomatoes, and garlic for the Bouillabaisse. Then we took a private hire to Julia’s site, which is known as the sprawling village trading center metropolis of Bukindo. Julia had already removed most of her items from her house, but it still felt pretty homely. There was a dining room with a couch bed, a guest bedroom, and a kitchen and bathroom with running water. We first steamed the crayfish using the Luwombo method. The method involves steaming food without a fancy steamer or wire rack. One simply lines the bottom or a ssefuliya (metal pot) with the thick stems of a matooke leaf and then pours water or beer on the bottom. Then whatever is being steamed is wrapped with the leafy part of the matooke leaf and placed on top of the stems. Another ssefuliya or cover could be added to the first one in order to allow the steaming process to be more efficient.

Crayfish Racing

Crayfish Racing

Traditionally this method is used to prepare matooke, sweet potatoes, and chicken Luwombo. However in this case it was used to steam crayfish, which had a slight taste of the matooke leaves and the Nile Beer that we poured in it. While we prepared the vegetables for the Bouillabaisse, we had a small crayfish race with our chosen champions. Julia’s crayfish, Rambo, won whereas mine, Old Man Jenkins, died at the starting line.

Crayfish Luwombo "Crayfish Steamed in Matooke Leaves"

Crayfish Luwombo “Crayfish Steamed in Matooke Leaves”

Crayfish Bouillabaisse

Crayfish Bouillabaisse

The dinner tasted amazing as well. The steamed crayfish was just so sweet and really reminded me like I was eating mini lobsters. It was bittersweet to finally be hanging out with a bunch of my trainers right as they are about to leave, but I was thankful that I had the opportunity to at least hang out with them before they left.

On Sunday I left Julia’s house early in order to get to Kampala. Emily, who also stayed at Julia’s house, and I hopped on a Bismarkan Bus Waiting BukindoBismarkan Bus passing through Bukindo that was headed to Kampala. The ride wasn’t as bad as the ride to Kabale or Mbarara, but it wasn’t great either. It was very hot at one point, then it got chilly because of the rain, then the window started leaking, then it was humid again. Eventually we found our way to Kampala. I said goodbye to Emily and met up with Ravi at the Old Taxi Park at the Kira-Bulindo stage headed to Shimoni PTC where the new trainees were having their School based Training/Teacher Bootcamp.

I felt very weird being back at Shimoni after more than a year. I couldn’t tell if they had fixed it up and made it look nicer or if I had just gotten used to things here because I thought that the venue was much nicer than I remembered it. I had noticed that the trainees had changed a bit since I last saw them. They seemed to be a bit more stressed, anxious, and worried about their training and the future afterwards. I think that some of them were worried that the 27 month would take much longer than they had originally expected since training was dragging on forever.

As I entered the main hall, I was greeted by trainees and trainers alike who all asked me what I was doing there. I explained that I was asked to be here by the Literacy Coordinator Audrey who wanted me to create a video detailing the Primary Literacy Project training model. Therefore, I wanted to get some footage of what training looked like from the perspective of both the trainees and the trainers. For some reason I also felt anxious about being back at Shimoni. I just felt weird, as if something was off. Then again I feel like that whenever I spend a significant amount of time away from site.

I started the majority of the filming on December 1st. I filmed the trainers doing demonstration lessons at the PTC and some trainees performing literacy workstations at the demonstration school. Honestly, just being here at training for a full day took a lot out of me. I felt exhausted being on the entire time and filming lesson after lesson. However, it felt very refreshing to see the trainees eager to teach and implement the skills that they were taught when they were at Kulika.

In the evening, Ravi and I chatted a bit about some problems and concerns that we were going through. He talked about the stresses of training and shared a few anecdotes with me. I talked about what I had been doing in the meantime and how I was so worried that my ICT Lab wouldn’t be funded by February. We exchanged some advice and chilled on my hammock for a bit before doing some T25. We then had dinner and I finished my first full day of being back at School Based Training.

I spent the entirety of Tuesday filming at the PTC. I made the parts that I filmed look good; however, there were a few problems involved with trainees’ lesson plans. Of course this was expected, because it was their first actual day of teaching. For some of them it was their first day of real teaching in their entire lives. During lunchtime one of the trainees approached me because she was having some trouble. She felt like she had bombed her lesson and had trouble reconciling why she didn’t feel any emotional attachment to her students afterwards. She expressed to me how difficult she felt it already was living in country and how she felt that she hasn’t been the real her since she left the United States.

I explained to her that as PCV’s we all have different facets of our personality that we exhibit at different times. I told her that while many short-term volunteers look for meaning in the things that they do, Peace Corps Volunteers tend to do things and inadvertently stumble across meaning in the process. As for the concerns involving being invested in ones students, I shared that I didn’t feel that much emotional connection with my students until I started teaching at my PTC.

To me, it was interesting being approached for advice, because I still feel like I have more questions than answers. But I think that sharing my personal perspective was helpful to her in understanding how to approach the rest of training.

Finally it was Wednesday and I packed up my stuff to leave Shimoni for a week before I returned for Cultural Integration and Homestay Preparation Sessions. I was dropped off at Kira and took a takisi headed back to Kampala. I switched to another takisi where I was dropped off at Kisementi and I walked to the Peace Corps Office. I needed to work on a few projects where I could use the internet. As chance would have it, Jason and Loren were both there preparing for the My Language Spelling Bee celebration that would take place on Friday November 5th. They approached me and asked if I would be willing to take pictures during the event. I agreed given that I would be reimbursed for my stay in Kampala in the meantime.

It was perfect timing, because I still needed to do some work at the office and in Kampala where the internet is fast. I edited a first draft of the Primary Literacy Project video and called my middle school and high school in order to see if they would still be willing to have fundraising events for the computer lab at my PTC. I was pleased with the first draft of the video, and I passed out on one of the beds in Fat Cat.

I spent the next day meeting up with other PCV’s who were COSing. It was weird seeing them hit the gong, which signified that Tara Gonging Outthey were no longer a PCV but an RPCV. I imagined being in between the two worlds of life in the midst of being a Peace Corps Volunteer and the life of one who has to think about adjusting to life in a developed country.

I napped hardcore during the day and when I woke up I hung out with some PCV’s at the Bistro for Happy Hour gin and tonics. We had a delicious dinner at Ari Rang, which was a treat since I missed tasty Korean food in an ambient setting such as this one. I didn’t get much work done during the day, but I did discover that one of the stores in the Kisementi area had Leffe Blond beers stocked in the refrigerator section. Ah the taste of a good Trappist beer took me back to Europe and traveling through Brussels airport on our way here from staging.

I took a ton of pictures during the My Language Spelling Bee celebration where the winners, teachers, and family members of the My Language Spelling Bee championships had a ceremony dedicated for them. The cool thing about this one in particular was that the prime focus went to the pupils who were the champions in their respective language region. In many Ugandan events the chairpersons, administrators, and other adults are the center of attention. However, a special effort was made so that the pupils knew that today was their day. I loved it.

Champions and Organizers

I showed Audrey the first draft of the Primary Literacy Video, and she liked it. There are a few things that we would like to include in it, but the meat of the project is there. After the event, I got drunk with some other PCV’s over Desperados and Leffe Blond at Fat Cat. I also ate this delicious sandwich that was reminiscent of Subway. I went to bed exhausted.

When I woke up I was tempted to join some other PCV’s at the pool in Entebbe, but decided against it in favor of going home for some much needed rest. On my bike ride back from Wobulenzi to Luteete I lost a travel towel that I bought while I stayed at Fat Cat. I also lost my toothbrush and toothpaste which was just as unfortunate. When I made it to my front door, I was bombarded with hugs and smiles from my neighborhood children, but I couldn’t reciprocate their energy. I just wanted to collapse from my two weeks of travelling, training, and working. It didn’t help that I was drinking more than I usually do during several of those days.

I discovered that I don’t really eat that healthily during travel days. All that I can eat are fried foods that are high in fat along with sugary sodas. Then whenever I stay in Kampala I can’t find any cheap and healthy options other than burgers, highly processed foods, cheese, ketchup, sauces, and snacks. I think that I have to rethink the whole concept of “Treat Yo Self” whenever I pass through a town or Kampala. It’s not sustainable or healthy, especially when I leave site for an extended period of time. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised when my neighbors told me that I had eaten well and gained some weight. My lifestyle in the past two weeks made me gain a bit of weight. Ever since I returned back at home I feel that I’ve been eating healthier, drinking more water, and getting back on a regular exercising schedule.

Kampala DuskI also learned that goodbyes get more ritualized the more that they occur. I don’t even get that emotional knowing that I may never see some of these people ever again after they COS. Also while it Uganda is a small country, I have realized that there are so many aspects of it that I have not yet even come to grasp. I think that some PCV’s can fall into the trap of getting into a routine here where they eat at the same restaurants, stay at the same guesthouse, hang out with the same people, and complain about the same things. I don’t want that to be the case for me. I think that there are so many different things to do, people to interact with, and experiences to share that go beyond the places that I have been to time and time again. These past two weeks reiterate the need for me to go beyond my current rituals and comfort zones in favor of something new.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to leave my site just as often. My goal for the holidays and birthday is to go on a long distance bike ride in order to raise money for the computer lab funding. Currently the goal is to bike to Fort Portal from my village, which is around 350km, and have people back home pledge money per km. I have to get it approved by Peace Corps, and I’m banking on the people who wish me happy birthday on my Facebook to also see my project and pledge money. One of the new things that I look forward to this year is using the ICT/Computer Lab as a teaching resource for my students, teachers, and community members here.

Honestly, every single day has been some sort of dusty coaster ride. I start off excited and somehow refreshed at the beginning and somehow end up covered in dust, sweat, and back in a home without a towel.

 

At It Again

15/11/14

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

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

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

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

The Activities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Field Path

Open Field Path

Climbing Rocks

Climbing Rocks

Climbing Stick Ladder

Climbing Stick Ladder

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

Top of the Falls

Top of the Falls

Ledges and Falls

Ledges and Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Education Cohort 3 Trainee