The Road Ahead

16/5/15

The other day a fellow PCV asked me how I felt and I responded with “weary”.  She wanted me to clarify what I mean by weary. I told her that I felt used. As I’ve stated before, to be used in Uganda means to become acclimated to the normalcy of things here that may seem odd to a foreigner.

Working in a village computer lab and having to shove goats out of said lab: Used

Enduring 4 hour-long speeches by local leaders who don’t know what they’re saying: Used

Creatively Facilitating sessions about HIV, Malaria, Reusable Menstrual Pads, and Gardening: Used

In the larger scheme of things, I feel as if I am living in the middle of things. I have long-since bid farewell to who I used to be before Peace Corps, and I am slowly forgetting who I was during the beginning of my Peace Corps service. Right now I am very comfortable with whom I am and what I am doing with my service, but I am starting to worry about life afterwards. I hung out with one of my PC friends and her visiting mom with whom I shared that I was stressed about going back to the developed world of the United States. In response, she told me that the bustle of a city like New York didn’t even compare to the chaos and craziness of a city like Kampala. More and more I am starting to notice the photos and posts from my friends in their lives back in the United States and wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy the things that I once used to enjoy.

Maybe it’s the mefloquine, but I have been having recurring dreams about being back in the United States. I have had these dreams earlier in my service, but this time around the mood is different. Whereas the past dreams would be about missing my US home, these dreams are about missing my Ugandan home. In these dreams, I would imagine myself at a bar or bicycling with friends through Baltimore or Boston and then feel sad because I missed my village and my life here in Uganda. I am torn between wanting to be back home and move on to the next stage in my life, but also know that my time here is extremely valuable.

I feel used.

It hurts to realize just how no one will understand me. My friends and family back home will try to pick what I am saying, and my villagers here still try to acclimate to my personality. The only people whom I will bond with are the other PCV’s around the world. I don’t know if I would be able to bond that well with other NGO’s, volunteers, or even other Ugandans. I guess that it doesn’t help that even I don’t understand what I’m going through at a given moment.

Currently, I am almost done with my month and a half long extravaganza of travelling to different trainings, camps, and facilitation sessions. I think that I am running on empty and need to replenish myself with some much-needed personal time in the village. Now I just need to make the usual trek back home where I can plant my rosemary and strawberry plants, watch the new Game of Thrones episodes, cook a village Tikka Masala with rice, take some photos of the ICT Lab construction, plan the date for the community HIV testing event, and maybe play with the village children. Because for me, that feels normal.

Dreams and Time

*Mefloquine is one of the three main prophylaxis drugs used to prevent the major effects of malaria in a person. It is taken once a week and side-effects can include vivid dreams, night terrors, hallucinations, and in some cases depression.

Already we’re starting to get into a routine and it’s still surreal to think that this is all happening. Even as I write this it feels as if I am in a dream world. It’s a world inhabited by strange flora and fauna, stories, foods, and people. It’s strange and different. Right now many of the PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and I are still in the euphoric, dream-world stage. We’ve been staying on this farm and attending service presentations and sessions given by program directors, administrators, and current PCVs. We have showers, electric lights, tea time, and three home-cooked Ugandan meals every day. And the only mention of the outside world comes from the stories shared during our presentations about safety and security, bank accounts, cell phones, malaria, and internet access. These are all sessions that are intending to prepare us for our eventual venture out into the “real-world” once we’ve had enough time in getting ready in this surreal state.Kulika Bonfire

Nothing feels real or even that challenging. The paperwork that we need is given to us, instructions are doled out, and even the people who come from Kampala to help us set up our bank account arrive in a white van from a dusty road that winds away into the jungle and hills. Since we arrived under the cover of night, I was unable to physically orient or place myself from Kampala or any other source of civilization.

Yet we interact with each other on this farm and with the other staff members here. We have had talks with the Uganda Country Director, health staff, and education coordinators. We are still living the dream, but I know that it will soon give way to bucket showers, pit latrines, inevitable malaria, disorganized schools, and safety threats during travel. I had a talk with several of the current Peace Corps Volunteers who are leading training sessions, and I felt such a unique vibe from them. It almost seemed as if they were unaffected and in some cases disillusioned to an extent with regards to the hardships and trials that we were expecting to face. Don’t get me wrong, they love their work and even now they say that they would volunteer again, but they are so real in their work and with the goals that they can accomplish tempered by the good that they know they are doing.

One of them stated that not every volunteer during training will make it to the end of service. One volunteer left during training after 10 days in, another had to go back home due to transportation accident injuries, and another volunteer died in an accident. These are real threats, and the way that he shared these situations with us seemed to resemble a tone accepting the reality of the situation and the real ability just keep moving and doing. The lives that the current volunteers live right now are very different than the ones that we have been experiencing here at the farm these past two days.

Kulika Wood SignHowever, I learned something other than some basic Lugandan phrases these past two days: Ugandans may not have much, but they have a lot of time. Time is not a master of the Ugandans, rather Ugandans are the masters of time. Schedules may be made, but at the end of the day the most important thing involves the patience and care that can lead to growth. If one is true to oneself and one’s own community, then growth can occur. There is a lot of wisdom hidden here on the faces of both Ugandans and their mountainsides. And right now all we can do is heed their wisdom and wait for the dream to pass.