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.