The Aimless Wanderers

29/11/15

Muzungu (Luganda n). – white man, European

I made a small breakthrough with my neighbors today. I informed them that my replacement PCV is a Filipino American whose parents come from the Philippines, but is an American citizen. They seemed surprised that his name is Justin, since Justin (pronounced Justine by Ugandans) is a girl’s name here. At one point, my neighbor asked me why we Americans disliked being called muzungu.

Neighbor: “Why do you dislike being called muzungu?”

Me: “Well, first of all what do you think muzungu means?”

Neighbor: “Eh, for us it means a white person.”

Me: “The word muzungu is related to the Luganda word kuzunga which means to wander aimlessly.”

Neighbor: “EH! I have never made that connection.”

Me: “And is kuzunga a good thing?”

Neighbor: “No, to wander aimlessly is not a good thing.”

Me: “Yes, for us we don’t enjoy being told that we are lost and that we don’t belong here. Also not all Americans are white, so it is also a difficulty with identity.”

Neighbor: “Eh, we have picked. Thank you.”

oku-zunga (Luganda n.) – to stagger, reel about, whirl around, or wander aimlessly

Literally two years later my neighbors finally started to understand the reasoning behind the word muzungu and how it has a negative connotation. I also explained that muzungu relates to people who look white and is associated with wealth, short-term tourism, dependence, and not knowing where to go. For PCV’s who have white or semi-white skin the term lumps us all together as a homogenous grouping that disregards our personal identities or heritage. For PCV’s who are black or have brown skin, the term strips away the identity of that person’s heritage by assuming that since that person is from America, then he or she is like the other rich white people.

In the past, I have explained to Ugandans to first ask me to tell them my name or ask me about my heritage before calling me muzungu. I liken it to calling people from the Buganda Kingdom muganda instead of mudugavu. Muganda means brother, or person from the Buganda Kingdom, whereas, mudugavu means a black/dirty person. Mudugavu is related to the verb oku-ddugala, which means to become black or dirty. Even though using the word muganda denotes that the person is black, it also is respectable because that person hails from the Buganda Kingdom and central region of Uganda. However, mudugavu is an epithet because it calls a person dirty and associates the color of black skin with dirt.

When I was a trainee, our trainers told us that many of us would be called muzungu. They explained that it was related to the Kiswahili word kizungu which means of the aimless wanderer. Back then aimless wanderer sounded poetic. Now that I am here, I understand the silliness of that misconception. To be an aimless wanderer isn’t poetic or good, it’s seen as a sign of ignorance, dualism, and the disparity between the developed countries and many developing countries in East Africa. I still believe that it’s good to wander, but instead I feel that it’s better to wander with a purpose rather than without aim.

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Who We Are

February 3, 2015

After MSC, a portion of us PCV’s chilled out by the beautifully swanky Nile Resort pool that overlooked the Nile. I feltNile Resort Hotel like I was in a movie, because everything looked so pretty and thought-out. Then we headed to NRE to stay the night. I was a bit turned off by NRE, because last time I was very excited to be among other PCV’s and in the mindset to celebrate the 4th of July. It smelled of old beer, the music was overbearing, and I felt off since I was hungover from the beer pong games of the night before. I didn’t even feel like joining in with the other muzungus and dancing with them.

The next day, we headed over to Kampala since we had a meetings the next day at the office. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep, but the Super Bowl was being shown at the Fat Boyz bar in Kisementi starting at 2:30am on Tuesday morning. I slept a bit beforehand, and then got up to watch the first American football game that I’ve seen in-country. So there weren’t any wings, commercials, or half-time show but it was so worth it to watch a well-edited game in solidarity with everyone else who was watching it around the world. The shock that us 8 PCV’s had in seeing the Patriots keep the Seahawks away from that last 1-yard line in the last minute of the game was audible throughout the Kisementi parking lot.

The next day saw some of the most action that the Peace Corps Office has seen in a while. Peer Support Network, Diversity Club, GEO Club, SHAC Committee, Conservation Think Tank, and VAC all met with staff in order to discuss the way forward this year for PCV’s and their respective groups. Now more than ever, it seems as if these support committees and clubs are needed by the PCV community in Uganda.

Pool HangoutOne of the biggest take-aways from this most recent training group was the lack of diversity awareness and training. Trainers and trainees alike would sometimes refer to the entire training cohort as “white people” where there were definitely other races represented. In another instance, some of the white trainees shared, “Oh, I mean I’m called muzungu all the time by Ugandans and it annoys me so I totally get how it feels to be discriminated against.” Of course, this was just a misguided form of empathy.

In the past, Diversity Club used to be focused predominantly on race, especially for African-American PCV’s. The founder of the club was very passionate about the issue, because of how she was treated by Ugandans. Having very dark skin due to her Nigerian heritage, her homestay family would complain about having her because they couldn’t have one of the white, American PCV’s. As a result, the Diversity Club was created to spread awareness among staff, PCV’s, and Ugandans that Americans come from all races, backgrounds, beliefs, orientations, sexes, and ages.

Furthermore, there have been instances where female PCV’s feel as if they aren’t given as much support as they need. Unfortunately, most of Uganda’s laws blame the victim. For example, if a female were to go into a house with three other men in it and then gets sexually assaulted, then it would be hard for her to win a court case against them because she should have known better than to go into a house with three men in it. In other words, she was asking for it and it’s partially her fault.

And yes, there have been stories concerning sexual assault to the point where almost every PCV in any given Peace Corps country could tell you about someone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted during service. The hardest part is keeping that motivation to help and do good in a country where some of its people want nothing more than to take advantage of you or your Peace Corps family. Back in Kulika, we were told to believe that goodness can prevail but it’s hard to believe that sometimes.

Even in the case of those who are LGBT, I have heard from some PCV’s about the difficulties in having to make friends, live with homestay families, and make lasting relationships with Ugandans and never be able to let them know about this very beautiful and significant part of their lives. A lot of these PCV’s sometimes live in fear because a simple slipup of leaving a journal entry out in public, having personal pictures stolen, or an old photo on a Facebook album could turn a whole community against them.

So this is why the committees and clubs met together at the office. A passionate percentage of us PCV’s wanted to help support each other in any way that we could. Even though there is a lot of bad going on around us, there is also a lot of possible good. I remember back when I was a trainee how it was even possible for a PCV to get anything done in the village let alone smile while being bombarded by apathy, dust, heat, lack of resources, and even hostility at times.

It’s those little victories of goodness that help turn the tide of apathy and hatred. It’s the reminder that for every negative situation there is another positive situation to balance it. It’s the mutual respect among PCV’s that we know how it really is to be a foreigner living in a country that will leave physical, mental, and emotional scars on your body, mind, and soul before you leave.  It’s the understanding that while we may not know what’s another person is going through, we can try to understand what he or she is experiencing.

P.S. – After MSC, I feel as if I’ve been better able to manage my temper whenever I’m called muchina or muzungu by Ugandans.

oku-kola ekissayizzi (Doing Exercise)

28/9/14

*The following blog post is written how I would perceive one of the neighboring Ugandan children to view me.

I woke up at 5am or maybe 6am about an hour or two after the cock started crowing. I started to get dressed for church with my parents. Afterwards, I began washing the clothes and hanging them up to dry. The muzungu was still asleep in his bed and didn’t wake up until well after 10am. Why does he sleep so much and did he already go to church while I was at the service or while I was washing clothes? Also what religion is he: Catholic, Born-Again, Seventh Day Adventist, Protestant, or Muslim? I’m sure that he has to be one of those.

Ah he’s finally out of bed, and he tries so hard not to make it seem that he woke up this late even though everyone can see him through the open bedroom Linda Neighborwindow. It’s interesting that he washes his clothes inside the house instead of outside. Now I can smell him cooking something, and now he’s eat what looks like chappati. I have to get back to my chores and prepare the fire for cooking lunch.

Now I’m digging and I seem the muzungu come out and wave at me. I wave back and he disappears behind my house. I hear him attempt to speak in his awkward Luganda with the younger kids. He plays with them for a while, and then returns back to his house. I hear some snoring and realize that he’s asleep again on his living room bench. How can someone sleep this much all the time? He already slept in for four hours!

I’m busy sweeping the compound when the muzungu comes out of his house and starts sharing pieces of this sweet, gingerbread with us. He tells us that his friend from a country called Germany brought it back for him and that he wanted to share it with us. He discusses something with my father and some o the other villagers before returning back to his house. He opens the door to let my sister borrow his bicycle and allow the boarding pupils to play with this weird, plastic plate that they throw to each other. I even get a chance to ride on the bicycle, which is fun but I have to ask him to lower the seat because he raises it up too much.

As it gets dark, he goes and fills up his two 20 litre jerrycans from the rain-collection tank. He fills those two jerrycans everyday, and I wonder why he needs that much water all the time. I had one of my fellow neighbor friends ask him what he used all that water for. She comes back to me and tells me that he uses it to bathe, cook, water the newly planted grass, and wash clothes. I’m still not convinced that he uses 40 litres of water just for himself every day. Even my entire family doesn’t use that much water in a day.

The darkness comes and fortunately the electricity goes on in time for me to finish cooking the rest of the matook for dinner in our cooking shed. The muzungu is busy in his room watching something on his computer and moving his arms in a weird way. I think that he’s trying to dance, but I can’t hear the music. Several of the other neighborhood kids knock on his door and ask him to come out do show them the exercise video. They were telling me that a few days ago they opened his living room window and saw him doing some interesting exercise moves in his living room by following a video that he watched on his computer. It was cool to see the nice video quality and it was funny because the muzungu was only wearing his pants.

The muzungu brought out his laptop and told us that we would all have to do the exercises with him if we wanted to watch the video. I was tired and didn’t want to do the exercises. I also couldn’t see the laptop screen because there were 20 other pupils crowding around. I kept laughing because the muzungu and my friends looked so silly moving their bodies in weird motions that made them tired.

Over half of us were just watching and the other half would do the exercises if the muzungu was watching them. I just wanted to see the video and listen to the music that was interesting. At the end of the video we all clapped, but the muzungu looked at all of us in his slow Luganda. I have trouble understanding his accent or what he means sometimes. I think that he told us that he wouldn’t let us borrow his bicycle, plastic plate, or watch anymore exercise videos until next week because we were not taking the video seriously. He then closed his doors and windows without saying goodnight.

Why is he upset? He gets to sleep as much as he wants and eat the food that he wants to make. He is also leaving the village to go to his Peace Corps workshops and he has this laptop that shows videos. I always want to learn ICT and how to use a laptop, but he tells me that he cannot yet because he is so busy. I think that he is lying, because he doesn’t even dig that much other than the grass he plants in his compound. He is also ever sleeping and complaining or giving excuses the us about why he doesn’t do something or does something differently.

I have already discussed with the other pupils and secondary school students that this muzungu probably has a lot of money. Why doesn’t he just give it to us to help us with school fees or to buy us sweeties. Sometimes I think that he is just greedy and on vacation here to take the easy way out. He has so many nice things and he doesn’t even let us go inside his house to see any of them. I know that I will share my nice things if I had a bicycle, plastic plate, and laptop with the exercise videos.

It’s time to go to bed now, and I have to wake up early again tomorrow for school. I wonder what time the muzungu will wake up?

Integrating Displacement

26/9/14

“To be in Peace Corps is to be displaced.”

On Tuesday I headed to Kampala for a TAC (Training Advisory Committee) Meeting at the Peace Corp Headquarters. The goal of this meeting was to plan PCHQ TAC Meetingthe schedule and sessions for the incoming Education Group’s training in November. My role is Community Integration Leader/Champion along with two other PCV’s Paul and Ellen. Our goal is to facilitate sessions that will present the new Peace Corps Trainees with ideas on integrating into the Ugandan culture and finding a balance. From past reports the Entry into Community Integration and Cultural Integration presentations have been the lowest ranked sessions of past trainings so a special emphasis was placed on these topics.

I was very glad to be working with Paul and Ellen on this project. Paul has a very bright energy about him and is one of those PCVs who runs around and is consistently “on” both in and out of his community. Ellen is one of those PCVs who can be described as being very “village”; she eats with her hands, hunts large, local rats with a bow and arrow, is building a mud hut, and dedicates a significant amount of her energies towards integrating into her local community in Kitgum. It was interesting holding discussions amongst ourselves and with some Ugandan staff members about the content we would be presenting.

We wanted to stress the importance of the local language and how even though everyone around you may speak English, the use of local language really helps improve the relationship between you and your community members. It demonstrates a level of respect for the culture as well as the people in your surroundings. Another point was shared that the first step towards successful community integration is for the PCV to have the desire to integrate into the community of his or her own volition.

We wanted to stress that no matter how “village” we became, how much we dressed like them, or how much local language we spoke we would still be foreigners. However, community integration doesn’t mean forsaking your own culture and mannerisms, but instead adjusting them to fit the cultural and traditional boundaries of the local community.

If there’s one Peace Corps Handbook (out of the dozens given to us during training) that has helped me the most, it’s been The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook. Compiled from the experiences of PCVs throughout the years, the Workbook describes how deep down inside we are all so different. We’re not the same, even though we’re all human beings with similar needs. A culture has certain beliefs, traditions, and actions that stem from sociological, religious, environmental, economical, and practical reasons.

As a generalization, in the United States:

  • It’s very common for someone to want to take risks and know that we control our own fate and destiny. If something doesn’t work out, we’re usually more likely to get back up and try again.
  • Change is good and we are consistently bent towards progress
  • Everyone should have access to equal opportunities, especially in job employment
  • Problems and statements should be said directly in order to allow for no miscommunication
  • It is seen as a good thing for bosses to socialize and get to know subordinates
  • People follow time
  • Status is achieved
  • Life is interesting and what is uncertain in the future is what also holds excitement and opportunity

As a generalization, in Uganda:

  • It is not common for people to take risks and destiny is dependent on whether or not “if God is willing”
  • Change is not necessarily good and traditions are important to uphold
  • It is important to favor others such as friends and family members to have better opportunities rather than everyone (like strangers)
  • Problems and issues should be approached in an indirect way in order to save face and avoid confrontations
  • Time follows people
  • Status is given to you
  • Life is scary, uncertain, and largely out of your control

I remember reading the workbook during training and not really taking to heart what the different concepts represented. Now after more than 10 months in country I am finally starting to understand just how different I am from Ugandans and vice versa. At first I was oblivious to how different I was from everyone here and thought that my firm beliefs and mentality gained from living in the United States and Germany were the correct ways of thinking. Once I arrived in my village, I realized just how different things were approached here. I started to become conscious of the mistakes I made and didn’t know how to stop making them. I remember planting coffee in front of my yard during the dry season on top of dirt mounds that couldn’t even hold water. After some time I started to consciously realize what I needed to do; I needed to scrap the dying coffee plants and focus on other things such as planting grass in front of my compound as the rainy season started.

I believe that I have gotten to the point where I can appropriately function and work in my community without even realizing how different I act now compared with 10 months ago. It’s funny because some other PCVs make fun of me of I break out in one of my Uganglish phrases or Ugandan mannerisms while hanging out. The habit literally becomes so ingrained in me that I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to act like a “muzungu” again.

This brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this blog post: “To be in Peace Corps is to be displaced.” We’re stuck between two worlds. There are Luteete VIllage Sunsettimes when I don’t even know what I stand for anymore or who I am. I couldn’t even tell you what my preconceptions about Africa and Uganda were during staging at the Hampton Inn right before the plane flight to Uganda. In the past, stories about Africa were just that; stories. The tales of revolutions, dictators, starving children, genocides, epidemics, poverty, the 3rd World, missionaries, savannahs, and aid were all that I had ever heard or seen through various media platforms. It was literally worlds away.

Now my life is filled with stories of pumping water from a borehole, taking pictures and video of Peace Corps activities, teaching at a PTC, writing grant, working alongside my fellow Ugandan teachers, living with my Ugandan neighbors, and playing with their kids. Now tales of new pop songs, new jobs, dvancements in technology, high profile scandals, new foods, viral videos, and general trends are stories that are worlds away. It’s almost as if the interest that many Americans had when the Kony 2012 video came out is akin to the interest that most PCVs have about the events that happened in Ferguson. Both went viral on the internet but to the audience, each event happened in a different world that had no immediate impact on life.

Of course, I still consider myself to be a newbie who has only spent just over 10 months here. I look forward to seeing how much more I integrate into this community and how much more I will feel displaced in the 16+ months to come.

Who I Am

7/6/14 – 16/6/14

June 7 – Saturday

It’s been a doozy of a week and so much has happened. I left site after a week of teaching on Saturday June 7th. I biked to Wobulenzi and picked up my Burning Ssebo rave outfit from the local tailor who left it with one of the MTN telecom workers. I then took a takisi to Kampala where I met a guy named Vincent at Brood on Entebbe Road. He was recommended to me by one of my fellow PCVs, Taylor, who informed me that he was a trustworthy computer salesperson who had sold computers, projectors, and other ICT equipment to PCVs in the past. I discussed the preliminary plans to purchase computers from him in order to furnish the ICT lab that is currently being constructed on the Luteete PTC campus. I then walked west on Entebbe Road past the Total gas station and turned northward where I met James near the Shumuk House who was the go-to guy for unlocking phones and modems in Kampala.

I made my way to the New Taxi Park where I new that I wanted to take the Busunjju Taxi Stage in order to get to Kulika for my Survival ICT session. However, I made a fool out of myself by arguing with the Busunjju stage taxi conductor that the correct fare was 3000/= instead of the normal 5000/=. I had just assumed that he was overcharging me because I was white. Instead of swallowing my pride, I took the Kakiri takisi for 3500/=, which took me Kakiri where I had to get off and then pay an extra 2000/= for the takisi to the Kulika training center. When I got there, the new Peace Corps Volunteer Trainees (PCVTs) were learning how to light a charcoal stove, wash clothes, and how to dress appropriately.

Honestly, it felt weird to be back there once again since Training of Trainers; this time as someone who has experience. I prepared for my Survival ICT session, and presented it to the PCVTs at 5pm. I was very pleased with my presentation and with how I was able to explain the necessary information in an easy-to-understand manner. It was interesting no longer being part of the new group anymore. I realized that some of the volunteers whom I have become friends with have started to COS (Close of Service) and go back to the United States and that some of my new friends will come from this group. What struck me the most about them was how clean they were and how all of them were healthy. No one was sick yet.

It felt nice sharing stories with them and having them ask the trainers questions regarding life in Uganda, the crazy stories that we have, and the hardships/successes that we’ve faced. As the night came to a close, I chilled with Loren and Nicole who used to be my trainers 7 months ago. It felt weird hanging out with them instead of looking up to them as people who knew more than I ever could know. They too expressed how weird it was that the volunteers in my group were no longer newbies, but volunteers who have gone through some trials and understand a little bit about what it means to be a PCV in Uganda.

I almost get this feeling that there exist friends of a PCV from back home who know you, and friends from your service who know you as your PCV self. They understand the hardships faced in this country and the difficulties and joys that can only be experienced here. I believe that experiencing the same hardships and trials earn respect among PCVs here that can be easily overlooked when sharing stories back with friends in the United States.

As I was getting ready for bed, I opened up the package sent to me from my two best friends back home, Sean BMO Hard Driveand Tyler. Inside I found an external hard drive with my old music from my laptop back home, movies, pictures, and the Eurotrip documentary from last summer. I was also given portable speakers, and a nice pair of headphones. I was so unbelievably ecstatic and overjoyed to look at the footage from the Eurotrip and remember that I once adventured there with my best friends. I then reminisced hardcore by listening to the music that I enjoyed during my high school days and remembering the associated memories with each song. I specifically remember listening to the songs sung by my high school chorus back in 2006 at Loyola Blakefield and knowing now that there are some members of that group who are no longer living.

June 8 – Sunday

Kampala Old Taxi Park        I woke up early and got in the Peace Corps van headed to Kampala to give the PCVTs the Kampala tour. We were all split into groups of 4 with a PCV or Ugandan guide to lead us through the day. We were dropped off near the New Taxi Park, and I led Cindi, Dave, and Mebrat with the help of one of the Rachels. We exchanged money at a Forex Bureau, bough Powermatics, registered sim cards, passed by the Green Shops, chilled for a bit at Brood, passed through the Craft Market, checked what was inside the New City Annex, passed through Nakumatt Oasis, reconvened with the other groups at Garden City, ate lunch at Prunes, and then made it back to the New Taxi Park where we took the Busunjju Taxi back to Kulika.

I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the cooked Kulika food and a game of volleyball with the PCVTs.

June 9 – Monday

I returned back to Kampala today after helping give a Welcome to Uganda skit put on by the Peace Corps Uganda staff and other PCVs. I checked into the Annex and then met up with Rachel at Garden City. We ate at a nice Indian Restaurant on the roof and then chilled at the hipster Sound Cup coffeeshop until we met up with some other PCV friends at Brood. We were all convening in Kampala for a Femke Psychology training session at Peace Corps Headquarters.

That night at the Annex was intense because we had found out that one of our volunteer friends was sexually assaulted. We heard about the possibility of things like this happening, but it’s hard finally hearing that it can happen to one of your fellow volunteers. However, this is the Uganda that we live in and unfortunately it includes people who want to harm others.

I think that events such as this really showcase how each Peace Corps country’s PCVs act as a family. When something bad happens, we react in such a way to help that person or let that person know that you care. We even joke and say that even though we may severely dislike another volunteer, we wouldn’t deny him or her the opportunity to stay at our house for the night. We are a family in every sense of the word. We don’t always like each other, we may even hate each other at times, but we still support one another.

Then again events such as these showcase how difficult Peace Corps is from country to country. It has been said that Peace Corps Uganda has one of the highest ET (Early Termination) and lowest volunteer satisfaction rates among Peace Corps Countries in the world. It’s not like the United States where everything is fairer, laws are followed, and the bureaucracy eventually gets things done. In the Peace Corps, we have to deal with problems that may never go answered and issues that may never be resolved due to one reason or another.

June 10 – Tuesday

The majority of the day was spent at the Peace Corps Headquarters on Kololo for the Femke psychology meeting and a PSN (Peer Support Network) meeting. The Femke training involved ways PCVs coped with stress and the problems that we all faced in-country and ways to deal with them. One of the biggest issues discussed during this meeting was how we could make psychological treatment and therapeutic sessions available for PCVs who needed it and just wanted to talk to a trained professional.

The next session involved PSN and what the group could do to become more active. PSN is a group comprised of PCVs in Uganda who want to support the other volunteers in-country. In the past this involved getting Peace Corps Uganda shirts created, preparing regional Welcome Weekends for recently sworn-in groups, and calling random volunteers in order to check up on them. However, during his meeting it was discussed that PSN should play a much larger role by offering up weekly meditations, helping out those who are getting site changes, and having more of a Facebook page presence for our fellow volunteers.

June 11 – Wednesday

I spent today eating delicious, soft-serve ice cream on Entebbe Road hidden inside of a small shopping center. IHidden Soft Serve Ice Cream Kampala then took a Jinja-bound takisi with the Rachels and Ravi to Lugazi where I then took a PH (Private Hire) with one of the Rachels and Ravi to a PCV’s site in Mabira Forest. The PCV’s name was Aaron and he lived at the start of the forest trails in Mabira Forest. His project involved ecotourism and the creation of the Skyview ziplines that crossed over the river that ran through the forest. We were going early to Aaron’s site in preparation for the Burning Ssebo PCV camping event.

The ride from Lugazi to his Griffin Falls site was absolutely breathtaking. We passed through rolling fields of sugar cane and winding pathways that made it feel as if we were driving through a large corn maze. In the distance we could see rounded hills with forests on the top.

We spent that night resting from our journey from Kampala and playing Settlers of Catan.

June 12 – Thursday

Sugar Cane Fields to Griffin Falls    Rachel, Aaron, Ravi, and I trekked through the trails of Mabira forest and I loved every minute of it. It was such a new experience for me, because I had never walked through a tropical, rainforest before. The foliage and smells were so different compared to the ones back in the States. We made our way through winding pathways of decomposing leaves and good earth, crossed a log to get over the river, and then passed through muddy trails until we made it to a clearing near Namusa Hill. This was the clearing where Burning Ssebo would take place. We started collecting firewood and prepping our future campsites by shoveling away cow pies and slashing shoots coming out of the ground.

We ate a delicious lunch of lentils and rice prepared by Aaron’s cook back at his campsite. We then trekked all the way back to his house at Griffin Falls where Loren was waiting for us. Once again we played Settlers of Catan and prepared food for the next few days. I specifically remember cooking pasta and what was left over for the rice after Aaron’s pet goat, Django, ate through the cavera (plastic bag).

Journal Entry this Night:

     “It’s so nice right now, clean and comfortable in our own tent. It feels so good andCrossing Mabira Forest River

cool out here. I absolutely loved today, it’s adventures like these that I will remember for a long time.”

June 13 – Friday

Today was the start of Burning Ssebo. I left with Rachel, Ravi, and Loren to get to the clearing and setup camp earlier in the day before everyone else arrived. We take a different route to get to the clearing and cross the river on an old, wooden bridge instead of a log. We get to the clearing and it starts drizzling as we set up camp. Ravi, Rachel, and I set up our camp in the middle of three trees that we connected with neon rope, clothelines, and a hammock .Other groups started arriving throughout the afternoon and evening and it was just such a cool experience. Everyone set up their tents in different areas and every congregation of tents had its own decorations and setup.

It felt like a dream or adventure at this time. In this clearing were 30+ PCVs camping together just for the hell of it. I don’t remember too much about this evening except that there was a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni salads being shared, and singing in harmony with Aaron by the campfire.

June 14 – Saturday

 Journal Entry:

“I want to just stay here and chill I want to just enjoy the day and for a time forget all of the stress and projects associated with my site. To recharge and not stress about it here for the time being.

I love knowing that I can look back on this experience and remember it as being such a cool time out on the 2nd clearing in Mabira Forest.”

Burning Ssebo Hair Wraps    I remember waking up freezing because I was sleeping in a tent with minimal clothing on. The sun rose and the day got warmer and lazier. One of my PCV friends traded a piece of a homemade chocolate chip cookie for the pasta salad that I had shared with her the night before. Aww man it was such a tasty cookie and I couldn’t remember the last time that I had eaten a cookie like that.

I helped collect firewood, make mint tea, eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, took a nap, took pictures of the girls making hair wraps in our camp. I remember as I chilled in my hammock looking up at the sky and how crazy it was that we were all still in Africa, but in a very remote location in a forest clearing. I knew then that I would look back on this weekend and feel as if it was just a dream.

I also remember meeting Andrew Boston, a PCV who coaches the Ugandan National Lacrosse team and who Andrew Boston - Blakefield Don Class of 1999had also graduated from my Loyola Blakefield, my high school in Towson, Maryland. I thought that it was the coolest thing to meet another Loyola Don in this specific clearing during this specific event. He had also gone on the Kairos retreat, and he shared with me his love for our high school. Andrew told me that whenever he’s asked where he went to school, he tells them not only about his alma mater but also about Loyola Blakefield and how his experiences there shaped him to become the man that he is today. That was an awesome experience to meet him here.

Evening came and 15kg of pork were brought in to cook dinner. Several of the volunteers created a pork preparation assembly line that led to pork being placed on skewers for the grill. Man that was some damn good pork that we ate that night. I even made a peanut butter and soy sauce glaze for the pork skewers. After dinner, we pregamed a little bit and then gathered around a wooden man that we burned after hearing the history about this site and the volunteers who first stumbled upon it.

It seemed that people were too tired to dance, so the music wound down from the portable speakers (the batteries were dying anyway) and we started making our way back to our tents. Before I went to bed, I asked the Rachels and Ravi what lesson they took away from Burning Ssebo.

Burning Ssebo June 2014Rachel B: It was nice to see all of the different Peace Corps groups together in one place.

Rachel C: I don’t like camping nor too much time relaxing and not doing anything.

Ravi: I need alone time after too much time spent with others.

Marvin: There are so many cool PCV experiences and sites that wildly vary.

 

June 15 – Sunday

This was a very rough day. We woke up, struck camp, packed up, and made our way down another pathway that turned into a road running parallel to power lines. We made our way to Aaron’s site, took a PH to Lugazi, took a takisi to Kampala, and then I bid farewell to my friends and took my takisi to Wobulenzi where I took a brief respite at the NB Hotel restaurant. I charged my dead laptop and phone there and prepared myself for the wave of work that I had to do this week. I called my dad and wished him Happy Fathers’ Day and talked to my little brother about his life now that he just finished his Freshman Year at UMBC.

 Journal Entry:

“You know what? I’m just so beat from this week. So much was done and so much was experienced. I honestly feel as if that 2nd clearing was a beautiful place. We made our temporary home over there for a time. Also, I’m right. What I experienced this weekend was a beautiful blue of trails, good friends, and warm camps.

I’m so tired right now, but there are things that I still need to get done, such as wish dad Happy Fathers’ Day and work on the many projects that I’ve started.”

June 16 – Monday

I decided not to teach today and instead focus on writing the PCPP Grant for the ICT lab construction. My supervisor called me and told me to see the progress that has taken place concerning the building of the ICT lab. When I had left the week before, a 60ft x 20ft plot of dirt was dug up. Now I could see a foundation and brick walls that were almost as tall as me. I was excited to see tangible results for my project thus far and how enthusiastic my supervisor and fellow community members were to have an ICT lab.

I performed my daily chores, ate po sho and beans lunch, and then biked to the top of the hill in order to do grant work, which requires internet in order to write the proposal. However, I got mad at the children who surrounded me at the top of the hill. There’s literally no way for me to avoid them, because they see the white guy on a bicycle and start yelling, “MUZUNGU!” and then start running towards me. It’s one of the most annoying and frustrating things for me to deal with when I’m sitting on a rocky outcropping at the top of the hill and these Ugandan children form a circle around me and poke me, poke my laptop screen, and rub the hair on my legs when I tell them that I’m busy working.

I got frustrated and decided to bike away from them. I biked to the far end of the hill and when I looked back they had laughed and run after me. I then lost my cool and yelled at them in Luganda: “I don’t want to play with you!” Their smiles vanished, they stopped laughing, and they slowly backed away and walked home. I felt like shit after doing that because I knew that they were just curious to see what I was doing on my laptop, but I just couldn’t deal with them today. I just needed some privacy to work on my computer without interference, especially with on/off internet access and needing to concentrate. If only I could impart to them that what I am doing can only help them in the long-term if they just gave me some time to do my work without distraction. I have attempted to tell this to them, but every time I bike to the top of the hill they seem to come to me.

A large part of this frustration also comes from knowing that all the attention that I’m getting comes from my Burning Ssebo Outfitskin color. They do not seem very interested in what I have accomplished; rather they want to know where I am from and what I am. However, I place great stock in judging a person based on that person’s personality and experiences instead of what that person looks like or what that person’s status is. I don’t want someone to like me just because of how white my skin color is. What hurts me even more is when I ask the children what they want to be and they respond, “I want to be white!”

I would say that this week describes who I am as a PCV. I train, help in different groups, teach, and chill out with other PCVs. I go through a wide array of emotions within the course of an entire week and get to travel through many different methods and see very different horizons and landscapes as well as hear dozens of stories and tales. I do believe that experiences are what make you who you are as a person, and the experiences that I go through in even just one week change my outlook on the world and viewpoints slowly by slowly. In other words, this is a brief summary of a week in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Muzungu Term

November 17th, 2013

Today was Sunday and our day off, but I feel like I used today to catch up on my errands and chores. I went to St. AlphonsiusCatholic Mass with a bunch of the other volunteers and it felt refreshing to go back to mass again since I had not been going religiously every weekend since I had graduated from Boston University. I really felt the universality of the mass at this Ugandan village’s Catholic Church. As soon as our bus entered the village, everyone started staring at the bus. We entered the church, and heads immediately turned towards our general direction. It was not everyday that a muzungu wandered into one of the core centers of a Ugandan community. The mass, which took about 2 hours or 1 hour and another consisting of community messages, eventually ended after we were called up to the head of the church and asked to individually introduce ourselves to the congregation.

You know, the term muzungu has a very interesting connotation. Ugandans refer to anyone who appears white to be muzungu and it comes from a Kiswahili word which means “aimless wanderer”. It is not a derogatory term, rather it is how Ugandans refer to foreigners such as many Europeans and Americans. From the stories of current PCVs, the term gets tiring sometimes since it is rude in American culture to call someone by that person’s race because every person is more than just a race. However, when it comes down to it I will attempt to think of the term muzungu in the terms of its original meaning. We have all become displaced in our own way. We have all become wanderers in our own way who are leaving our American home in order to wander and hopefully make some sort of difference here in the heart of Africa.