I travelled back to Kampala on Wednesday because I was invited to sell some PSN (Peer Support Network) t-shirts at the US Embassy Christmas Bazaar. The bazaar started on Thursday morning so I wanted to be sure that I was in Kampala the day before in order to ensure that all the t-shirts were ready to be sold. This involved picking up 33 shirts from the screen printer near the taxi parks as well as coordinating for the sack of the other shirts to be picked up from the most recent group’s IST (In-Service Training). PSN has gotten better at bringing t-shirts to trainings so that PCV’s can purchase them.
Dinner that night was very eventful. I hung out on the rooftop of the Annex with Steve and Rachel as we ate sandwiches that we made from separate ingredients purchased at Nakumatt. The bread was a baguette from the bakery packed with lettuce, tomatoes, gouda cheese, bbq ham, pili pili peppers, and thousand island dressing mixed with Old Bay. On the side we had some chili and lemon chips paired with a plain yogurt dipping sauce. We hung out in the cool Kampala wind with a few stars peeking at us beyond the city smog and light pollution as the Of Monsters and Men album played on my portable speakers.
The next day, Rachel and I arrived at the US Embassy and set up our respective tables underneath a large U-shaped tarpaulin among two dozen other tables. The rest of the vendors showed up around 11am with wares of Brood bread, local produce, citronella oil, meatballs, milk, screen printed art, eggless cookies, candles made by ex-prisoners, Congolese masks, passionfruit juice concentrate, hummus, cream cheese, coffee, and of course anything that you could think of that is made out of kitenge. I swear that if I combined all of the kitenge vendors together at this bazaar then I would be able to get anything out of kitenge: shoes, blankets, baby bibs, hats, quilts, pillows, dresses, pants, shirts, head bands, wine bottle coozies, and even more.
I made a killing at this bazaar and sold a few of the older shirts and a lot of the newer design of Africa with an acacia tree growing inside of it. Throughout the day a lot of embassy workers, who were also RPCV’s from other countries, stopped by the table to chat for a while. The bazaar eventually wrapped up and I was dropped off at Kisementi to share a few farewell drinks with Jim from Kisoro. We got some of the double shot gin and tonics at the Bistro happy hour (Monday – Thursday, 4pm – 7pm). It felt really weird knowing that this would be the last time that I would see him in Uganda. I guess that all the PCV’s who are about to leave will have that effect on me because I have only ever known Uganda with them in it.
Of course we got to share some good jokes over some good drinks (with ice in them!) and then we bid Jim farewell. I walked back to the Annex with some other PCV’s and checked into a room for the night. Somehow, the idea of travelling back to site after drinking didn’t sound that appealing. We got dinner at SawaSawa near the Annex and ordered the nicest looking Ugandan food. It was very well-presented. As we were eating our dinner, this older Ugandan woman approaches us and asks us where we’re from.
Instinctively, we all attempt to avoid a conversation with her and reply that we were all from Minnesota. She explained that she was living off her pension in Uganda and that she had lived in England for the past few decades. Her late husband was the brother of the King in Hoima, which made her a princess by marriage. Furthermore, she was the Executive Assistant for the Peace Corps in Kenya a while back, but left when her husband was killed. She explained that she was so happy to meet us Peace Corps Volunteers and that we should call her Auntie Jane. Then before we knew it, she left us to our meal.
I quickly travelled back to site on Friday because I had to make it to the Luteete PTC dedication ceremony for the Year 2 students. It was a sort of graduation ceremony for them at the church. The funny thing about ceremonies is that the collective speeches after the mass are about 3x longer than the mass itself. At around 3pm we departed the church for a lunch with sodas, chicken, beef, and g-nut sauce. It struck me that I had been living at site for 9 months, which doesn’t seem that long at all to me right now. I had known this community for almost a whole year, and this would be the last time that I would see many of these students. It was another goodbye mixed in with other feelings.
One of my regrets this past year is that I focused a lot of my efforts and energies into teaching the Year 1 students instead of the Year 2 students. As a result, I didn’t really feel that much of an emotional connection with the Year 2 students as I bid farewell to the. Instead I felt sad that I would be saying goodbye to the Year 1 students until I met them again after the new year.
I also noticed another muzungu here, which was very weird for me to see. After approaching him I discovered that his name is Cameron and that he was part of New Hope Ministries located in Kasana since 1987. It’s one of the oldest Christian organizations still in existence in Uganda after the Luweero Triangle War.
He attended the ceremony because a few of the PTC students were sponsored by some of the families in the New Hope community. At first I was taken aback by his overtly Christian nature since I had not interacted with other muzungus like that since I left the United States. I told him that the next time I was in Luweero I would stop by the community to say hi and learn a bit more about them before I make any judgments.
It’s actually very interesting to notice how my views concerning missionaries have changed since my time in the Peace Corps. I definitely believe that there are some that do good, especially in the developing world. But I also think that they can be detrimental in some cases. In Uganda the overtly Christian atmosphere (especially concerning the Christian Fundamentalists) has led to local religions being seen as taboo and old-fashioned. Ugandans who go to some of the older local religious shrines still in existence have to do it secretly so that their churches will not find out that they still pay homage to this part of their culture. There is no separation of church and state; even official meetings with government officials usually start with a prayer.
It sways the masses into fervors concerning issues such as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I can’t even walk through the Taxi Park area without hearing a Ugandan giving a sermon and thumping his or her Bible. Then there is the whole issue of communities depending on the contributions of missionaries in order to survive. This in turn creates a culture of dependency on temporary aid that fosters even more blind belief in whatever faith is trumpeted by the donors.
I’m not against the idea of missionaries, Christian Service trips, or relief volunteer agencies. All I’m saying is that there are just so many factors involved in mission trips and volunteer programs that I can’t judge someone or a group on first impressions. Similar to the Peace Corps’ model of living and learning through immersion, I too will attempt to get to know people like Cameron and his group before just labeling them as “just another missionary group.”