Setting Dust and Settling In

2/1/15-8/1/15

It’s been a whole new week with both the same old dust setting on every surface of my house, as I get used to a routine. I mean, it felt very good just spending quality time with my site for days on end. I forgot how easy it was to lose track of the date when I was at site, especially since my calendar is now out-of-date. Also, the electricity was on for the majority of the days spent at site, which made it easy to stay up late and even easier to sleep in.

I got into such a good routine where I would wake up sometime after 9am, wash a few clothes, make some chappatis, watch episodes of Breaking Bad and 30 Rock, play with the kids, cook either quinoa (I found some left behind by a COSing PCV at the office) or rice, take a nap, watch more tv, make French-pressed coffee, talk with the neighbors, fetch water, bring in my dry clothes, do a Focus T25 workout, make dinner, shower, watch more tv, check free 0.facebook, and then go to bed.

I was relaxed. I felt comfortable getting into the habit of living at site and doing everything that I was used to doing. If too much time spent away from site made me feel guilty in the past, too much time spent at site with nothing to do since it was school break made me feel at ease. I was at vacation in my own house and didn’t feel guilty about spending a ton of money flying to another country.

Of course, I decided to get busy again. My productivity started up again on Sunday the 4th when I chose to take another jab at editing the Coffee Camp video from the Kasese Coffee Camp back during August 17-23, 2014. Since all of the translations were completed, the video clips were compressed to file sizes that my tome of a laptop could handle, and electricity was somehow on at site I decided that now was the perfect opportunity to finally finish this project that loomed over my head like a dust cloud or a non-existent raincloud (since we are in the middle of rainy season).

I have spent the past four days working on this whenever electricity has been available to me. I left site on the 6th since I had to fill in the role of Central Luganda Satellite Liaison for the new trainees who were undergoing language training and homestay in Mityana. It was rough waking up in early on Tuesday, biking to Wobulenzi, riding a takisi to Kampala and completing all of my errands for the day. I got a medical checkup where a jigger in my toe was removed, my knee might have slight tendonitis, and my left index finger has a splinter blister. I also discussed the possibility of attaining more grant funding for the construction of the computer/ICT lab in my village and delivered screen-printed PSN t-shirts to the office.

By the time I made it to St. Noa Primary School in Mityana to meet the 10 trainees, I was exhausted. I got to share some stories with them about the bike ride two weeks ago. I didn’t even know where I would be spending the night here, but fortunately Joshua graciously allowed me to stay in his future house, the same one that used to belong to RPCV Robin Munroe on top of Kololo Hill near Busuubizi PTC.

The next day was the trainees’ mock LPI, Language Placement Interview. It was a slow day, which was good because it allowed me to spend quality time with the trainees. I felt that I was getting to know them on a more personal level compared to how I interacted with them during the earlier stages of PST at both Kulika and Shimoni. I bluntly answered their questions, joked with them, and shared my own stories and perspectives concerning different issues and concerns that they had.

I have very high hopes for this group. I feel as if they have a very strong energy and determination to get out there and start working on projects that they are passionate about. Even today it was refreshing to see them invested in the Uganda gender roles discussion with the language trainers. During the daily hangout session at Enro Hotel, I had a heart-to-heart talk with one of the trainees. She voiced her concerns to me about how she was worried about her future site because she didn’t feel inspired or emotionally attached to it even though it had all of the amenities that she would ever want.

It was very interesting being in this position, because after I talked her through her worries she thanked me for my wisdom and hard work. To be honest, I don’t feel very wise. I agree that I am a hard worker, but many times I feel that I don’t have wisdom. Sure, I’ve lived in-country for over a year, but that doesn’t automatically make me wise. I still feel like a fool, even when I talk to people about what I have learned. Either way, it felt good to have been of some use to this group as their Deputy Satellite Liaison.

When I returned back to Joshua’s house, I finally finished the last few edits of the Coffee Camp video. I was ecstatic to have finally pressed the render button that would turn the timeline of video clips, titles, and music files into a sharable MPEG file. After all of the roadblocks and issues that kept me from working on this video, including a broken laptop for over a month after Coffee Camp, I finally finished this project and couldn’t be happier.

Tomorrow, I return to Fort Portal to begin training for yet another camp called Camp Kuseka for Ugandan children with special needs. I am exhausted, definitely have something like a sty in my right eye, and need to rally for this coming week and couldn’t be happier how this new year is starting.

Ride to the Fort

17/12/14 – 22/12/14

Back at Shimoni I was discussing with one of my best PCV friends, Ravi, that I still needed to raise about $7500 more in order to cover the cost of building and furnishing the ICT/Computer Lab at Luteete PTC. One of the things we discussed was how difficult it would be to raise the rest of the money through social media alone without offering some sort of incentive. I thought about what I should do in order to motivate people to donate money to this cause. As a result, I came up with the idea to bike ride and have people back home pledge money for kilometer or mile biked. After training, I stopped by the Peace Corps Office and talked to the Country Director and the Director of Programming and Staff in order to ask for their advice.

I was told to put together an itinerary detailing the route that I would take over the course of specific dates. They also suggested that I would receive their support and blessing if I found two others to bicycle with me in case of emergency and chose a route that wasn’t too dangerous to bike that close to the holidays. In Uganda, public transportation goes gumbles* during the holidays.

*Note: Gumbles is a fake, adjectival word that means crazy or nuts.

I quickly asked me Ravi and my Ugandan neighbor, Kato Godfrey, to accompany on my 300km (200mile) bike ride from Luteete Village to Fort Portal. I still had to type up the itinerary and proposal to the Country Director, borrow an extra bicycle for Godfrey, plan out the route, figure out where we would be staying, and when exactly we would be undertaking the venture.

I returned to Shimoni for some language and cultural sessions. During this time I was able to get both Ravi and Godfrey to agree to this venture, mapped out a route from my village to Mityana and then to Fort Portal on the Fort Portal Road, received the go-ahead from the Country Director, secured an extra bicycle for Godfrey, and asked some PCV’s along the route if we could stay with them. There were so many things that could have halted the start of this fundraiser, but everything somehow came together.

The original plan was to leave December 16 and make it to Fort Portal by December 20; however, the plans changed at the last minute in order to allow Ravi and I to have an extra day of preparation. Therefore, we changed the departure date to December 17.

Ravi arrived at my house on the 16th with his bicycle. The funny thing is that he lives in Butiiti which is one the Fort Portal Road about 40km east of Fort Portal. So the majority of the ride would bring him closer to his own home, whereas I would be biking away from my home.

We did a final packing checklist of: clothes, toiletries, water bottles, bike tools, patch kit, extra tubes, electronics, granola, maps, and money. Our dinner that night consisted of rice and tikka masala cooked with ghee to give us that extra fat.

December 17, 2014 (Luteete to Mityana, 60km)

Ravi, Godfrey, and I left Luteete at 7:25am. The weather was misty and cool. Instead of taking the Wobulenzi dirt road to the main Kampala-Gulu Road, we went by the southwesterly route towards Kalule. At one point, another Ugandan on a bicycle yelled, “This is not America” to us, which made me laugh because that was a new phrase that I haven’t heard here. We pause for some water at Kalule, and figure out that it takes us an average of 1 hour to bike 15km on the dirt roads. After crossing the Kampala-Gulu Road, we make our way through the Nakaseke and Wakiso sub-county dirt paths to Busunjju. It started to get really hot and dry since it was the middle of dry season. We had a few problems with Godfrey’s bike, because the PCV whom I had borrowed it from had a relatively small frame and Godfrey was much larger than her.

Dirt Roads

Dirt Roads

At some point past Mwera trading center, a random man ran towards my bicycle and pushed me. I almost fell off of the bicycle, but steadied myself at the last moment. I was furious and told the man to come back to me. He warily kept walking away until he disappeared into the bush and matooke trees surrounding the dusty trading center. I yelled at him to return and apologize to me, but all that I did was attract the attention of the trading center residents.

Conversation (Translated):

Me: “I’m not leaving until he comes back.”

Residents: “But he has already gone away.”

Me: “Where has he gone?”

Residents: “There!” *Points to the bush and matooke trees

Me: “I am very upset that he pushed me.”

Residents: “Ah, but he is sorry. Forgive him.”

Me: “I want him to come here and say sorry himself.”

Residents: “But he has already gone.”

Ravi: “Marv, let’s go.”

Me: “Okay, you let him know that I am going to call President Obama and tell him to send the police here to find him and arrest him.”

Residents: “Oh, he is sorry. Forgive him.”

Me: “No, I would have forgiven him if he himself came here.”

To be honest, it was pretty funny remembering this conversation. My goal was that by shaming him, he would think twice about pushing someone on his or her bicycle trip. I have started to realize that a year in-country I have started to lose patience with people much faster than when I first arrived. I want people to be accountable for their own actions and take responsibility for what they do. I think that I’m starting to understand what Loucine told me a year ago in Kulika: “To hold people to high standards not high expectations.”

At some point the dirt road turns into a paved road, and we purchase some bottled water in this trading center called Semuto. Once again, we continue on dirt roads until we hit Busunju, which lies on the paved Hoima Road. We get lunch at the Trust in God restaurant, which was okay by village standards. The rice, greens, beef, and g-nut sauce were solid and they allowed Ravi and I to take naps on the benches in the eating area. We also ordered plastic bags of passionfruit juice, which would also be a staple of our journey.

Arrival in Busunju

Arrival in Busunju

After a groggy awakening, we continued the last 28km leg of our first day’s journey to Mityana. We ran into some trouble during this part, because my back bicycle wheel lost air pressure. I assumed that the valve was leaking, so I pumped some air into it. When it started leaking again I changed the entire tube, and assumed that the problem was fixed. When that tire started losing pressure, I started to get worried. What if we didn’t make it to Mityana before sundown?

Ravi and Godfrey suggested that we once again take the new tube out and check to see if there were any punctures. Sure enough, we found a small thorn in between the wheel and the tube. Fortunately, Ravi brought a patch kit with him and we patched up the small hole. During the course of this incident we lost an hour of sunlight, which gave us less leeway in terms of making it to Mityana before it got too dark.

The patch held, and we biked up and down the dusty trails. At this point, the dust had penetrated every single pore on our bodies. The sweat didn’t help either, as it caused the billowing dust left in the wake of passing cars and bodas to cling to our skin. Whenever I wiped my brow with my forearm I could see this brown ooze coalesce that consisted of sweat and dirt. I am pretty sure that I breathed over a full cup of dust during the course of this day.

Continuing on with the eventfulness of the day, my front wheel rubbed against the Ravi’s back wheel and I crashed Falling into Dustinto the dustiest ditch known to man. I am also pretty sure that there were some nettles there, because I felt all scratched up from the mini crash. About 10-20km away from Mityana, depending on which bodaman we asked, we passed through this odd trading center called Kyaterakera.

As we entered into the center there was this bible-thumping Ugandan who was yelling at anyone who passed by him. At one point I think that he was talking about Chinese people and how they usually owned chickens. Another crazy man approached me after I had bought some bottled water for Godfrey, and told me, “Oh thank you for the water.” I explained to him that the water wasn’t for him, and he continued to follow me around and call me JaJa (grandmother in Luganda). Then a younger man with a cool accent comes up to me and starts conversing with me about where we are from. He introduces himself as a Nigerian named Christopher who works as both a hustler and a chapatti stand ownder. As he’s talking to me, the bible-thumper gets nearer to us and the JaJa man gets closer on the other side. At one point the JaJa man looks at me and then his shutter shades that were resting on his forehead slide down in front of his eyes which surprise him as he stumbles back.

So here I am laughing at the situation as JaJa man is clearly drunk, high, or just affected by decades of dust inhalation, the bible-thumper is attempting to convert us to his own Chinese/chicken version of Christianity, and our Nigerian friend is telling us about his hustling business and his successful chapatti stand. Behind me, I see a group of weird children approaching us so I just decided to take off and continue the last leg of our journey to Mityana.

Tea PlantationThis last stretch of dirt road hills was gorgeous. Our roads bounded fields of tea plantations that stretched off into the distance. We kept asking bodamen, Nnyabos, and stall vendors how far Mityana was and we were given estimates ranging from 10km to 2km. At one point a woman told us that we were 6km away and after half an hour of hard biking we were told that we were only 8km away.

As it got dark, we finally made it to the tarmac roads of Mityana. We saw giant lights illuminating the night sky, and saw these tiny insects flying around. I had forgotten that we were in grasshopper season. Giant floodlights were pointed towards the sky, and grasshoppers (enseneni) were attracted to them. Slanted tin sheets were placed by the light source, and then the grasshoppers flew into the sheets they would slide down into a catchment basin where workers would peel off their legs and fry them for consumption and sale.

Grasshopper "Enseneni" Collecting

Grasshopper “Enseneni” Collecting

We made our way to PCV Robin’s site on the top of Kololo hill near Busuubizi PTC. Man, we were exhausted after our first day of biking. We showered off the thick film of dust, and partook in a delicious dinner prepared by Robin. Even though our bodies were aching, it felt good to have succeeded in our first day of biking.

December 18, 2014 (Mityana to Mubende, 80km)

We shared breakfast in the morning with both Robin and the soon-to-be PCV, Joshua, who would be taking over her site after she COS’d. Robin suggested that we visit the Nakayima Tree in Mubende when we got there. All of us seemed taken to that idea, and we agreed that we would discuss it with our PCV host in Mubende when we got there.

We departed from Robin’s hill, and after 15 minutes of biking we met the tarmac of the Fort Portal Highway. Godfrey’s On and On You Will Bikebackpack started ripping, so we stopped at a trading center to get it re-sewn. While it felt nice to be biking on a real road, the challenge now was that the stretches of hills seemed endless. It literally felt like hills on hills on hills. At some points, the grade of the hill was too steep and we would rest by walking our bikes up the hills.

We had lunch at the hottest, smallest restaurant in the world called Shifa Hotel in Kalamba Town. Imagine the volume of two phonebooths placed side-by-side, and you would still have more space than this restaurant. It didn’t help that there wasn’t any cloud cover and that the food was cooked by the doorway so that any breeze that blew through consisted of hot oven air. We ate our fill of meat and beans and I was able to ferret out some bagged passionfruit juice. I had asked one of the Ugandan duka owners if she sold any passionfruit juice. She responded that there wasn’t any left, so I walked up to her fridge and told her that I wanted three of them. I guess that she forgot to take inventory of her stock.

I was talking with Ravi that our bicycles represent our personalities. Mine was short and squat, Ravi’s was sleek with a big butt, and Godfrey’s was black and slightly disgruntled (mainly based on the PCV who lent it to us). The rest of the 40km to Mubende NTC was characterized by choice napping patches of grass, hills on hills, and me telling off Ugandan men who called me muchina (Chinese Man). Right before the sun set, we arrived at the Mubende NTC sign which heralded our destination for the day.

Roads and HillsPCV Brent welcomed us to the NTC campus and his home. I was extremely sore after two straight days of hard biking. Brent was a very gracious host and had bottled water, sodas, and beer ready for us. The dinner that night was a feast consisting of teriyaki beef, a fresh salad tossed with Ranch Dressing, stir-fried broccoli, and rice. It was very interesting staying with Brent, because we were his first guests. Most of the PCV’s in our cohort hadn’t heard anything from him in months, and it was very refreshing to hear him tell us how much he loved his site. He shared his exploits concerning his initial foray into mushroom farming and how the local community could use it as an IGA (Income Generating Activity).

December 19, 2014 (Nakayima Tree, 0km)

We woke up to a breakfast of toast, potatoes, and fried eggs. We washed our clothes and set them out to dry. We pitched our idea to Brent that we should take the day off and see this Nakayima Tree in Mubende Town. We didn’t know anything about the tree except that it was connected to the local religion of the Buganda Kingdom. We were dropped off by one of Brent’s fellow teachers near the New Town Hotel up the hill overlooking Mubende Town. We followed the road that wound itself around the hill, after a 20 minute walk we entered into a clearing with a gigantic tree in the middle of it. The tree’s leaves resembled oak tree leaves, and the trunk had grown to more than 20 feet in diameter exhibit buttress roots that extended from the ground. A local community of Ugandans set up small dukas, pit latrines, and cooking stations around the clearing that supported its caretakers. This community is called Boma Village.

Overlooking Mubende

Overlooking Mubende

Nakayima Tree

Nakayima Tree

After paying 5000/= and then 4000/= more for a guided tour, we found ourselves walking around the 1500 year old Nakayima Tree. Each side of the tree represented a different aspect of the pantheon of local Buganda spirits. The story goes that Nakayima, who was married to King Ndawula, was protecting the tree against some tyrant. She walked and disappeared into the tree, and became one with it. Someone tried to cut the tree down once, but that person died in an accident so the tree is protected by the spirit of Nakayima.

Immensity

Immensity

Tree Rooms:

Maama Nabuzana: prepares the cooking, takes care of the children, and represents fertility as witnessed by the offerings of pots and jugs filled with water placed by the base of the tree.

Nakayima Room

Child Tree: Food for children, they are allowed to eat it if it hasn’t spoiled yet, otherwise the insects eat it

King Ndungu: guides the hunters, his symbol is smoke

King Kalisa: brother to King Ndungu, he feeds everyone on earth

Maama Kiwanuka: like lightning and thunder she brings good things down and brings the bad things up and away with her

King Mukasa: lakes and rivers

Similar to the Tanda Burial Grounds near Mityana, the belief goes that Ugandans must first dream about the Nakayima Tree in a vision and then will come here on his or her own accord. Even though a woman in a far-off village dreams about fertility but has never heard of the Nakayima Tree, she can still dream a vision about it and be guided to Boma Village on the top of the hill near Mubende. Also similar to the Tanda Burial Grounds, everyone must remove his or her shoes before walking on the sacred ground near the base of the tree.

Ravi, Brent, Godfrey, and I participated in a blessing ceremony at the base of the tree with a Jaja dressed in very colorful and ceremonial garb. We all sat by the base of the tree and presented offerings of boiled coffee beans wrapped in dried banana fibers shaped like samosas. She started chanting in Luganda, wishing us good health, many children, a car, safe travels, and money. We then handed over our pods of dried banana fibers to her and she opened them for us. Without breaking cadence from her prayer, she asked for 2000/= and we placed it in the basket along with the boiled coffee beans that she gave back to us after opening the banana fibers pods. We then ingest some of the coffee beans, and I instantly start choking and coughing on one of them.

Jaja

While I was thinking whether a Nalgene bottle would be appropriate to bring out during this ceremony, I heard her choking on one as well. So she halted her blessing in order to spit the remnants of her coffee bean out, and continue the prayer. The ending of the prayer involved each of us standing up, touching the trunk of the tree, then touching our face, and walking back down. It sounded simple enough, but we kept screwing up the directions. Apparently we weren’t supposed to turn around after touching the tree, but instead back up without turning. This caused some confusion as Godfrey was translating to us: “Come as you are!” An exasperated Ravi retorts with, “I am as I am!?” Meanwhile Brent and I are laughing and the Jaja is still praying, oblivious to what’s going on around her.

The ceremony ends, we all shake hands with the Jaja and wander around the tree. We collect some seeds to plant our own versions of the tree, and I pick up a leaf that I press into my journal. At this point in the day, it’s the late afternoon and we are very hungry since boiled coffee beans do not make a good enough snack. We eat a late lunch at Agnes’ Restaurant on the Mubende Main Street, and purchase the produce for the night’s dinner.

We also eat well that night. We share sodas, beer, and stories over a dinner reminiscent of the night before except that in lieu of beef we have grilled chicken sold by the Mubende street food vendors.

December 20, 2014 (Mubende to Kakabara, 65km)

We had an early breakfast at Brent’s house, and I prepared some last minute homemade granola using some oats, oil, and honey over the stove. The majority of the day was overcast and the hills were less daunting than the second day of biking. The air was much cooler and we transitioned from the Buganda Kingdom to the Butooro Kingdom. At this point, Ravi took charge in the translating since his learned language was Runyooro/Rutooro and mine was Luganda.

Butooro Dancing

Butooro Dancing

Since the road was much more level than previous days, we made good time and arrived in Kyegegwa by lunch time. There was a traditional Butooro dance at one end of Kyegegwa Town, and as I stopped to take some photos two men came up to me and told me to pay them money. I laughed at them and told them that I would not pay them money. The crowd sided with me, especially as I greeted them in my basic Rutooro and told them my Rutooro pet name, Ateenyi (Guardian Snake). I continued to watch the dance, which I later found out was being performed in the honor of a local religious leader called Bissaka who would “bring all religions together”. Still, Bissaka couldn’t assuage the annoyance of the two men who repeatedly asked me to pay them to watch the traditional dancing. I still refused and they told me to leave and never come back. I smiled and extended my hand to shake their hands. One of them dumbly extended his hand to shake mine most likely out of instinct, but pulled it back at the last moment and turned his back on me.

Since we were making good time, we continued biking past Kyegegwa to find a trading center/town that was closer to Ravi’s site in Butiiti so that the next day’s journey wouldn’t be too difficult.

Journal Entry:Eucalyptus Grove

“I’m enjoying this grove/glade of eucalyptus trees in the afternoon for a short break. We’re 2/3 of the way through our journey, which is incredible to me. I love that ideas like this one can become a reality. Looking at the map, it’s hard to believe that we’ve traveled as far as we did in the past 3+ days on bicycles with everything loaded in our backpacks.

After resting in that small grove, we got stuck in the rain for a few minutes and found shelter by some nearby dukas. By the evening we found ourselves in the sprawling, urban village trading center of Kakabra. After talking to some locals, we set down our things at the Nu World Leisure Center, which felt safe enough by village guesthouse standards. I mean sure the pit latrine door wasn’t connected to the hinges, my mattress was awkwardly slanted upwards (I firmly believe that there was a dead prostitute underneath my mattress), the blanket made me itch, and there were condoms and candles covered in cobwebs on our windowsill but it felt very comfortable after a long day of biking.

Nu World Leisure Center

Nu World Leisure Center

We explore the trading center for a few minutes, because it literally took a few minutes to explore the town. Dinner at one of the local restaurants held a surprise for us. There was a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup served with hot milk that tasted like home. I smiled thinking about the journey that this syrup bottled made all the way from the fields of Pennsylvania to a wooden shack restaurant in Kakabara.

Journal Entry:

“In undertakings as long as this one, it’s a bit hard to remember that there is a life not involving a bike ride. That is abnormal, even for life in the Peace Corps.”

I believe that I have to explain this last entry. I guess that by this point, I was getting used to the routine of having to bike these long stretches only to reach a hill by the time exhaustion set in and then enjoy gliding downhill until the next challenge presented itself. I became used to biking, and my immediate goal was first to make it to the top of the nearest hill, make it to the next trading center, and make it to Fort Portal by the 22nd.

December 21, 2014 (Kakabara to Butiiti, 56km)

We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and bananas courtesy of Nu World Leisure Center’s hot water flask. The journey was relatively uneventful, except that we passed by the cool looking Matiri forest reserve. At some point before Kyenjojo, my right knee starts hurting to the point where every single pedal causes me intense bursts of pain. We take a lunch break in Kyenjojo just in time for me to rest my overworked knee. Ravi purchases food at the market as I take a small nap in the shade of a mosque-like building.

Hills Before ButiitiI press onwards for about 10km more until I make it to the turnoff to Butiiti PTC. After a 1.6km ride through dirt roads, we arrive at Ravi’s house where I feel right at home. The afternoon is spent baking some coffee spice cake, drinking Java Coffee, and doing some extra laundry. Aw man, I wish that I could just bottle that feeling of feeling the cool afternoon breeze as the warm sun sets and I wash our dirty clothes. It was also nice knowing that the last stage of our journey would only be 40km.

Godfrey, Ravi, and I all prepped dinner together. We made Ravi’s famous Eggplant Curry, Sautéed Potatoes, and Cilantro Chutney (since his Cilantro plant grew a ton during the wet season).

Eggplant Curry Recipe Outline:Cilantro

Sauté eggplant and green peppers with cumin, coriander, and paprika. In a separate saucepan sauté garlic, ginger, and onions with cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, chili powder, and black pepper. When the onions become translucent, add the tomatoes and a bit of garam masala in order to make a tomato sauce. When the sauce thickens, add it to the eggplant mixture and cook down for a bit.

Cilantro Chutney Recipe Outline:

Blend together two cups of fresh cilantro, a few tomatoes, 5 cloves of garlic, half an inch of ginger, salt, chili powder and lemon juice.

That was another amazing dinner, courtesy of Ravi’s signature recipes.

December 22, 2014 (Butiiti to Fort Portal, 40km)

It was my birthday! I turned 24 years old on the last day of the bike ride. Ravi prepared his famous German Pancakes and Java Coffee for our breakfast. We decided to take it easy today since the ride wasn’t too difficult nor long. As I chilled in the morning, I read Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer (yes the same guy who also wrote Into Thin Air and Into the Wild). Ravi had his book on his bookshelf, and I took some time reading it. While I had never done any bouldering, mountain climbing, ice waterfall scaling, donned any crampons, or rappelled down any canyons I came across a passage at the end of one of the chapters:

“Lying on a delicious slab of granite toward the evening, letting the warmth o the pink rock suck the chill from my dripping back, it dawned on me that it was my birthday. I couldn’t have picked a better place to spend it, I decided, if I’d tried.”
~Eiger Dreams, pg 115

Eiger Dreams - Canyoneering

Eiger Dreams – Canyoneering

24th Birthday Marker

24th Birthday Marker

On this last victory lap of 40k, I too would have to agree that “I couldn’t have picked a better place to spend it”. We passed by the Mwengo Forest Reserve, Kibale National Park, Kihininga Swamp (that curiously also has guided tours 8-12pm and 3-5pm), and the Tamteco Kamara Tea Estates. Honestly, the ride didn’t feel like it took that long, and a little bit after noon we arrived in Fort Portal. Ravi suggested that we walk up the hill that led to the main street, but I posited that we should bike this one last hill before we met up with our welcoming party at the Duchess. Man, it was such a relief to bike to the restaurant, hug some other PCV friends, and eat a well-deserved pizza and drink a few Nile beers.

I even got a dope Christmas present of a journal from PCV Jamie and a letter from PCV Jenna:

“Life is like a camera,Godfrey's First Pizza

just focus on what’s important

and capture the good times,

develop from the negatives

and if things don’t

work out, just take

another shot.

Wishing you the perfect shot this birthday!”

As I sat there and ate my pizza and watched Godfrey eat his first pizza ever, my mind drifted off. The thought that we had finished the bike ride was unfathomable to me. Every single pedal contributed to the overall goal, and with my buzz from the combination of dehydration and two Nile Special’s I couldn’t think. I just enjoyed the moment and the relaxation.

I think that after 300km of dirt and roads I was undergoing some sort of immediate withdrawal. I guess it’s just that I poured in my passion for biking and fundraising this computer lab and went through with this idea with my best PCV friend and my closest Ugandan friend. Now I was surrounded by loving and caring people on my birthday, but the focus was on the future and not so much on what had happened. That week of biking felt as if it lasted much longer than a week, but for everyone else life continued on pretty much as it always has.

My respect for Ravi grew tremendously during this journey. The Director of Programming and Training was right, I needed my two partners. I definitely would not have been able to make it alone, especially on the first day when I got a tube puncture. I mean, after one simple question my best Peace Corps friend agreed to bike ride with me in order to support me and my project. The same thing goes for my neighbor, Godfrey. He is very village and very Ugandan, and is my most trusted Ugandan friend. His open-mindedness and willingness to accompany and continue biking with me on this ride meant so much to me.

I would definitely say that this undertaking was a success in every way. We raised over $1500 for the computer lab, I bonded much more with both Ravi and Godfrey, and I understood just how much my friends and family cared about me and what I was passionate about.

“On and on you will [bike], and I know you’ll [bike] far, and face up to your problems whatever they are.”

~Oh the Places You’ll Go

The Traditions of Gods and Cookstoves

12/7/14

Friday was definitely a busy day. I woke up a bit later than I wanted to and started editing my video detailing the ICT Lab Construction and how to donate the money to the Peace Corps Website (search Roxas in www.peacecorps.gov/donate). I was scheduled to meet with an Economic Development PCV, Jim Tanton, who visited my site because he was working with Virunga Engineering Works (VEW, http://www.metamorfose.com/#!the-need-uganda/c16mg) to implement cookstoves at different PCVs’ sites. The idea behind them is that most schools and colleges throughout Uganda have to provide meals to the students, and most of them cook using the three-stone method. This isn’t the most efficient method of cooking since a lot of the heat is not directed upwards towards the ssefuliya (metal cooking pot) and is instead emanated outwards. Virgunga Engineering Cookstoves would are 70% more energy efficient than the three-stone method and also reduces cooking time by a little bit. This energy efficiency allows the school or college to use less firewood per term, which adds up to savings of sometimes more than 600,000/= per term.

So far Jim has visited a few other schools and colleges besides mine in order to take preliminary measurements regarding each individual site. The project would cost around $9600 which is covered by a PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) Grant through the Peace Corps Small Grants forum. The only catch with the project is that some of the initial money saved from the energy efficiency at the beginning has to go towards an HIV/AIDS related project such as a workshop, an HIV/AIDS testing day, an awareness day, or something other than just putting up posters on the walls. Other than that the project really helps out the schools and colleges and allows for the savings to be used for other expenditures every year, including volunteer projects.

So Jim met with the Luteete PTC bursar, cooks, and other staff members in order to take initial measurements of the college kitchen, which is a smoky room with two 70cm ssefuliyas that utilize the three-stone fire method. The estimate was that the college could save up to 300,000/= every term, which adds up to 900,000/= every year. I plan to draft a contract with the college that would allot a significant portion of this money to up-keeping the ICT lab as well as allowing for further development of the site in terms of paying tutors on time, purchasing new books, and future plans for later PCVs that will come to my site.

However, the only problem involved finding someone to write a grant for me since I am already in the midst of a PCPP Grant at my PTC. Fortunately, Rebekah Roland at the Nakaseke PTC agreed to help me in this regard. The goal is that I would write the contents of the grant and she would then put her name on it instead of me.

Jim then left, and I hurriedly went back to editing my video for the ICT Lab fund-raising. I was rushing because the power was out and I had limited time to use my laptop and then render the video, especially since Adobe Premiere Elements 10 still crashed on me, and I also had to make it to Mityana before it got dark since I was expected at the Central Luganda Group’s Homestay Farewell Celebration on Saturday morning. I finished the video by noon, packed up my things, and then biked to Wobulenzi. I took a takisi to Kampala and then had to walk all the way to the main Barclays Bank because I literally had 3000/= left in my wallet. I had spent a lot of money during 4th of July, and I also spent money every week travelling to Nakaseke for the radio show and then to Mityana for my homestay visits. Fortunately, Peace Corps has this thing where PCVs are reimbursed and given a stipend when travelling and training for Peace Corps events.

PCVs are given 22,500/= per diem for every day that he or she is travelling and 30,000/= per diem for every full day that that PCV is doing training: such as workshops, trainings, medical reasons, and any other reason that Peace Corps would need you to travel anywhere. In addition to the per diem, PCVs are also reimbursed for the travel costs incurred for these events.

Example: Volunteer Travel Reimbursement Form NOV 2013

Fortunately, the Peace Corps staff processed my previous reimbursement forms and the money was in my bank account. I withdrew my money and then made my way back to the New Taxi Park to get to Mityana. I walked up the road from Busuubizi to Kololo hill to stay at Jenn’s site again and passed out after very busy day.

I woke up on Saturday and shared a cup of coffee with Jenn. I went out on the porch to read some Peace Corps blogs, and I read a post about a PCV in another East African country who was distraught about what happened at his site. It turns out that he was teaching a primary school class and one of the male teachers took some of the students to the farm where he raped some of them. I was stunned to read his testimonial and hear about something so vile that could be done. The worst part about it was that there was nothing that he could do about it. The system was so corrupt that even if the girls were to testify against him, the male teacher’s word would still hold more weight than the girls.

It hurt me so much to read this, especially since I was also a teacher. I then thought back to my site and thought of the innocent children whom I played with everyday and how much I would give to ensure that something like that never happened to them. The testimonial that I read moved me so much, that I was brought to tears for a bit and just needed a few moments alone to process what I had just read. It’s one thing to know that these things happen, but it’s another thing to read or hear about it from a someone who’s grown so attached to his or her students.

I collected my thoughts and journeyed to the New Highway Hotel in Mityana where the 5 PCV Trainees were havingNew Central Group Dance their homestay farewell celebration. There was the usual sharing of traditional dances, proverbs, sayings, speeches, music, and a trivia contest. We finished up the celebration and the trainees, Herbert the Luganda language trainer, and I went to visit the Ttanda Archaeological Archives. The legend goes that the founders of the Buganda Kingdom were Kintu and Nambi whose descendents comprise the Royal Family of the Kabaka (King of the Central Buganda Kingdom). Nambi’s father was Ggulu, which means heaven or the above. Nambi had two legendary brothers known as Walumbe, meaning death or disease, and Kayikuuzi, meaning excavator.

At some point Walumbe began killing Kintu and Nambi’s children, and Ggulu told Kayikuuzi to bring Walumbe back. This resulted in a chase leading to Ttanda where Walumbe dove straight into the ground. Kayikuuzi would then dig deep holes right where Walumbe dove in order to excavate him. Mystically, Walumbe would appear elsewhere on the Ttanda grounds and mock Kayikuuzi. Walumbe kept diving into the ground and Kayikuuzi kept trying to dig him out until over 200 conical pits were dug.

*Note: Muganda means someone who is from the Central Uganda Kingdom. Baganda is just the plural form.

Ttanda Archaological GroundsWe walked onto the grounds which are still regarded as sacred to some of the Baganda people. The mysticism of the pits involve Baganda who have visions about certain things, such as twins, peace, colors, electricity, sweetness and other things that pertain to various senses that cause them to make a pilgrimage of sorts to the Ttanda grounds to pay respect to the ancestors of the Kabaka. Each pit represents something specific that a Muganda pilgrim would go to after seeing a vision. For example, if a Muganda in a far-off Central village was crippled and then had a vision about one of the pits, he or she would travel to the Ttanda grounds and go to the pit having to do with cripples and walking. That person would then spend anywhere from a night to several months there in the hopes that the ancestors would help her in some way. In the very least, the vision would have brought her there to allow her to pay respects to her forefathers and foremothers.

Local Brew PotsThere were many congregations of Baganda there. Some were drinking the local alcoholic brew out of clay pots, some were smoking joints around a smoky fire, others were praying on woven mats, some were offering sacrifices of pineapple and various fruits, while others were wandering around the Ttanda grounds. We were told that some of the Baganda who came there smoked in order to commune with the ancestors. Honestly, it reminded me a bit of some Native American tribes who smoke peyote in order to go on spirit quests.

To show our respects, we removed our shoes and continued wandering around the community filled with pits. One of the PCVs, who was a geologist, was completely befuddled by the pits because it didn’t make any sense how they came to exist. From a geological standpoint there was no obvious reason how they came to be near the Mityana area. Some of the pits went down for hundreds of feet and we were told of a story about a man who fell down one of them and died. He was eventually retrieved by a brave Muganda.

Kayikuuzi SpearsSo we continued through the grounds and made our way out of that place of pits and ancient beliefs. What intrigued me the most about the visit was the coexistence of these local beliefs with the overarching strength of religions of Christianity and Islam. I tried to relate it to the beliefs of Voodoo and Christianity in Haiti, the belief in the Holy Death and Christianity in South America, as well as the concept of basic superstitions in American culture coupled with our own religious beliefs.

So it was another jam-packed weekend filled with a lot of different things happening one right after the other. Fortunately, I have a full schedule ahead of me and I look forward to the weeks and projects ahead.

Ugandan Proverb Mashup:

“Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. If God is willing, teach that man to cook and he will eat for the rest of his life. If what he cooks doesn’t come out right, he still has to cut the grass.”

Meaning:

Giving a handout to someone only fills an immediate need and is sustainable. Our future is not in our hands, but if God decides it then we can give someone the skills to empower him and live his own life. But if it doesn’t work out he still has to deal with the life that he is living.

Student Friendly Schools Training and Homestay Orientation

Student Friendly Schools Training and Homestay Orientation

1/6/14

“It’s hard living a double life; one at site and the other one when you leave it.”

Last Wednesday I once again left site to attend a SFS (Student Friendly Schools) regional workshop at Lweza. On my way there, I stopped in Kampala to eat at Prunes again. It’s funny, because I get excited for an excuse to stop by Kampala in order to get something that reminds me of home, such as a sandwich or a burger. I guess that now I believe it when they say that a Peace Corps Volunteer will literally travel several hours and walk for more just to get a solid burger.

I finished eating and then made my way to the Entebbe Road intersection where I was able to hail a takisi, instead of having to wait at the New Taxi Park Kajjansi/Entebbe stage. There were only 14 volunteers there who were participating in the workshop, and 12 of them are the same group of volunteers whom I shared the homestay experience with in Luweero back in December-January. The other two were Brittany and Rachel from Masindi. Honestly, it felt very weird going back to Lweza so soon after IST with only a handful of us volunteers rather than the entire education group of volunteers.

I personally felt that the workshop could have been condensed into a session or two during IST, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I liked hanging out with the other PCV’s and eating free, Ugandan food. I guess that these 6+ months really got me used to Ugandan food and showed me how much I love it.

The rest of the workshop was dedicated to find ways of discussing gender based violence and corporal punishment in schools and surrounding communities. I think back to PST when I first arrived in country and how I was very attentive during sessions and training. But now I pay attention for the first 30 minutes of a large group session and begin to lose focus. I also learned that my love for ice-breaker activities and energizers is inversely proportional to the amount of time that I spend in country.

Then on Friday I was whisked away to stay at the New City Annex in Kampala since I was slated to leave early to go help for homestay orientation in Mityana for the incoming group. Saturday morning was a bit rough for several reasons: I was overheated from sleeping in one of the single rooms which literally is smaller than a jail cell without a window, I was tired from having to consistently wake up early every morning and move from one training site to another, and I had also had a few (many) drinks the night before. Fortunately, I rallied just in time to be picked up by my old Luganda language trainer, Herbert, and the training coordinator, Mary-Anne, to be driven to Mityana.

I loved the drive because I was sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle with leg room, space, and the knowledge that the driver wasn’t inebriated while driving (like some takisi drivers). We get to Mityana and the families arrive late. We go over reasons why they were chosen to host Peace Corps volunteers, what they expected from Americans, their pre-conceived notions about America, the financial situation, important dates, and how my experience with my homestay family was. The coolest part about this session was that it was done primarily in Luganda. For the parts that I couldn’t understand or couldn’t express, Herbert would directly translate for the audience. However, I was still capable of giving small speeches and explanations concerning some of the medical and cultural points.

Of course, we finish the orientation session 2.5 hours later than planned. By the time I was driven back to Kampala, it was too late for me to go back to Luweero, so I once again stayed in the Annex. This time around I hung out with some of the older volunteers from the group before mine. However, the dynamic had changed since I last saw them. I had met most of them during training, and the way that we talked to each other then varies so much with how we talk to each other now. It’s that dichotomy that I had mentioned at the beginning of this article.

At site, so many volunteers are very conscious of their actions. They sit through meetings, share small talk with neighbors, follow a sense of decorum, and act as these ideal representations of America. However, this is only one half of our true personality. Literally as soon as another Peace Corps Volunteer is involved the speech changes from politically correct and slow to somewhat crass and fast. And usually when two or more PCV’s are gathered, there too will you most likely find alcohol or some other means of celebration or treating oneself.

Sometimes it’s difficult having to keep this “other” side of you hidden from the local community. Now I’m not saying that I want to drink at site, but I can’t show my crazier and adventurous side that is just a part of me as my quieter and subdued village side. As PCV’s we want to share the best that American culture has to offer, but that gives a skewed version of the US. Sure we tell them that not everyone in America is rich or has nice things or is smart, but how can they believe us when we can drop over 20,000/= for one meal on the weekends and some people in the village won’t make that much in 2 months.

The beauty of each person and country comes from both the successes and faults. I want my community to know that I am not a perfect volunteer, American, or person. Perhaps if they can see that then they can better see that America too is struggling in its own way. Yet, I still want them to respect me, and in this culture if one doesn’t save face or portray oneself as being good then respect is lost. I guess that sharing goals 2 and 3 of the Peace Corps is a bit harder than just telling good stories about the United States.