Gratitude

22/1/15 – 23/1/15

The new Education group of trainees finally swore-in at the ambassador’s house on Thursday. It really  didn’t hit me how much things have changed until I sat down and heard the speeches that I’ve heard time and time again by the Country Director, Ambassador, and new PCV’s. It struck me just how optimistic of a tone this new group had when its representatives gave speeches during the ceremony. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t eloquent or heartfelt, but they sounded very optimistic and intangible. There were a lot of metaphors and comparisons of empowering Ugandans in a sustainable way.

I believe that if I had heard these speeches a year ago, I would have been inspired. It’s funny just how much stock I now place in tangible goals instead of intangible aspirations and how all of the beautiful rhetoric in the world still won’t make the borehole pump itself. Some of my fellow PCV’s from my cohort who also attended the ceremony commented, “How long do you think it will take until they become jaded?”

New Group Swearing-In

Of course we all congratulated them and welcomed the newly sworn-in PCV’s with open arms, but I kept asking myself that question. Was there a turning point or was it a gradual shift in attitudes that made me the Peace Corps Volunteer who I am today as opposed to a whole year ago at the Ambassador’s house. I still welcome the fresh perspective to this country that only new PCV’s can offer.

The next day, I returned back to site. It’s almost as if my entry into my metaphorical junior year of my Peace Corps service was a reminder of what I had gone through. I had a mini-bout of giardia in the morning which caused me intense pain even as I wolfed down the chicken skewer appetizers after the swearing-in ceremony and drank glasses of wine at the Country Director’s house afterwards. I threw up later that night after much diarrhea.

The next day, I travelled back to site on an empty stomach. Even in my own town, a market vendor called me muchina and I chewed him out in local language. My bicycle’s back wheel had low air pressure, but as I made it back to my house a smile grew on my face. My neighborhood kids were yelling, “Marvin” as I made it to my front door. Even the berry plant that was eaten by a stray goat started to re-grow its leaves. So much has changed in this past year, and I think back to that last speech given at this new group’s swearing-in ceremony. PCV Emery gave a speech entirely devoted to gratitude towards all people and parts who made Peace Corps Ugandan possible: from the UPS man/woman who delivered our visa applications to the Peace Corps Uganda staff and trainers.

As I entered the front door of my house a for the first time after a whole year, I think back to the experiences and interactions that continuously led me back to that door when I could have just as easily ignored it for somewhere else. In this case, I’m grateful to call his place my home.

New Frustrations

January 1, 2015

It’s as if the program is mocking me. I spent over 8 hours last night editing together a video about the bike ride that Ravi, Godfrey, and I did last week and it’s making me just as stressed as I used to be back in my senior year of college. I mean the program keeps freezing as soon as I load the file so that the three clips that I need to edit into the ending never make it there. I was hoping to be done before lunchtime, and now it’s 3pm and I’m nowhere near done rendering this video file. I guess that this is what happens when I use a 5 year old laptop and unreliable electricity to edit a video.

It’s just another one of those annoyances that I still have trouble accepting. I can never truly troubleshoot, because the problem could be any number of things: power usage, laptop’s age, or even sketchy program code. I’m definitely starting off this new year very stressed and exasperated from my attempts to produce a working video file. Whenever I work hard, I expect some sort of result to come from it whether it is good or bad. Unfortunately, the outcome that my laptop provides for me is neither of those. It produces nothing, and that’s the most frustrating part of it all.

Symbolically, I suppose that this represents my Peace Corps service too. After more than a year of living in-country, I expect there to be some sort of impact. I understand that leaving an impact and legacy is ultimately selfish and not necessarily in the best interest of the community. However, I guess that I want to know that my service meant something to someone other than myself. I think that maybe after many decades I will begin to see the true worth of my time spent here, but I right now I have trouble differentiating between seeing this service as time being and living here and time spent.

Is it even my own time to spend? Once again I get stuck between the two different worlds of Ugandan and American cultural differences. The on-off click of the power regulator and the whirring of this laptop’s clunky adaptor remind me of how much I miss reliable electric currents, working electronics, and intellectual challenges that can be troubleshot.

On the bright side this year, electricity has been on for over a day here which I believe signifies a good year. Happy New Year! Nkwagaliza omwaka mupya mulungi.

2013 – A Year in Retrospect

January 1, 2014

It seems that ever since I started these essays that the years have gone by even faster. Every year has honestly brought in so many surprises, lessons, challenges, regrets, and successes. But I think that it many ways 2013 has been a bringer of growth. I think that that was the theme of 2013 more so than past years for me: growth and change.

I started the New Year with a return back to Boston with my two best friends: Tyler and Sean. I’d say that that was a very fun and hazy week involving bike rides all throughout the Boston area. I loved sharing my city with my two friends from back home who have heard so many of my stories from my late nights talking on the phone. We experimented and ate so many delicious meals ranging from spaghetti squash and roasted eggplant with tomatoes to pan-fried pork chops with pomegranate glaze. The feelings felt while biking with these two awesome friends on the bridges and pathways of the winding streets of Boston as the cold air whipped around us made me feel alive. And whenever the frigid air got too cold we would stop by at one of my favorite, local coffeeshops and have some coffee or a cinnamon bun. I know that New England and many of its former and current inhabitants will be a part of what I miss the most.

And after the past 3.5 years at BU, something finally clicked and I understood how to act. I was in the midst of Senior Design, managing my a cappella group (Allegrettos) as Vice-President, tutoring literacy at the Winship Elementary School through BUILD, tutoring BU student athletes through the Student Athletic Support Services, thriving in my off-campus apartment, and performing very well in my academic classes. Then in January I was invited to have an interview for the Peace Corps since I had submitted my application last November. One of my biggest concerns during this time was holding true to my original goal of the Peace Corps even though some teachers advised me not to pursue it and to go into industry instead. I even had a few moments of doubt after seeing my fellow classmates get jobs with Saint Gobain, Raytheon, General Electric, Phillips, etc. However, I kept myself in check and knew that I would regret putting my dream on hold for money.

 

The next big even involved the Mr. and Miss BU pageant. One of my good biomedical engineering friends, Ana Sofia Camacho, had asked me if I would be her partner in the competition. I said yes. I had met Ana Sofia on my dorm floor in WarrenTowers during our freshman year at BU. We’ve been close friends since freshman year, and she was the first friend that I had made on campus. Funnily enough, we’ve also had our falling outs, but we were also able to put the pieces back together each time. After going through months of dance rehearsals, brainstorming sessions, and video creations we finally made it to the Mr. and Miss BU competition day. I will never forget that moment when the auditorium of the GSU was filled with so many engineers who were cheering for us even though we had lost the trivia round. And then we won. It was hard to believe it, but we had won the competition and I was Mr. BU. I still laugh about the whole situation. If there’s something that most people do not know about me, it’s that I have had problems with low self-esteem.

The next event to occur was Marathon Monday in Boston. I remember biking the entirety of the marathon route all the way to Hopkinton and back on Marathon Monday’s eve. The prior year I had taken a train there and then biked back to Boston. It felt absolutely wonderful to bike through as fast I could to the start of the marathon line and see it all the way through just like the runners would the day afterwards. The next day started out like all Marathon Mondays, with me wheeling around a large pot of homemade sangria as I made my way to my various friends’ houses in Allston and Brookline. There are many traditions associated with this day, such as Kegs and Eggs during which people host a drunken breakfast of sorts with friends before heading down to cheer on the marathon runners. Almost like a ripple, we heard the news about the bombing at the finish line and everyone was in disarray. It shocked so many of us, because Boston was our city.

That day and the following week involving the city being on high alert and the manhunt for the two Chechen bombers left so many of us in disarray. But I knew that this city was my home too. It was my town and never before had I felt more like a native Bostonian than during these days. My heart swelled with pride with statements concerning how hardy Bostonians were and how we stood together as one Boston Strong. Then I remember the celebration of things returning back to normal once the manhunt was over. After a day of being told to remain indoors as the police searched for the bombers, we were finally free to move on with our lives. I had some friends over to celebrate and there was a celebration with the Boston Police at the Boston Commons where students and police alike celebrated an end to the disarray and panic.

In addition to growth, my last year at BU allowed me to accept loss as well. I remember hanging out at one of my friend’s houses on Linden street and telling him how his apartment felt so much like a homely hostel with so many visitors. The next morning I later found out that there was a fire sometime after I had left and that one of his roommates passed away in the blaze. I had known the friend who died, her name was Binland and I had taken Shotokan Karate with her during our freshman year at BU. I took a picture of the newly blossomed cherry flowers for her the following day.

It was also a time to say goodbye to old friends and friendships. As the classes wound down and senior design came to an end, I remember fervently documenting my final adventures as a BostonUniversity student. Everyday came with an adventure with friends both new and old. I participated in many of the school-sanctioned events as well as created my own adventures with my friends. I attended my first EDM performance with Sean and Matt at Royale with Dirty Phonics, witnessed a BU Pub knighting with the Dean, biked the Riverway on the Emerald Necklace, explored the hidden store Bodega, hosted a day kegger, saw the sunset on the roof of the College of Arts and Sciences, rode the high roller coasters of 6 Flags, toured breweries, had lunch at the Dean’s house, hosted my dad, brother, and mom during their stay for graduation, finally graduated from Boston University.

I can still remember those events with clarity and can still feel the emotions present during that time and the faces of the people whom I shared those special moments with. I left Boston for Maryland two weeks later, and found out that I was nominated to go to Uganda for the Peace Corps. I was deeply humbled, but also very excited because I was finally making some headway into my new life post-college. I got a head start on the seemingly endless medical forms, and then prepared for a month-long July Eurotrip with Tyler and Sean. It wasn’t until I stepped foot again on German soil that I realized how much I had missed Europe. It was a different experience being the one who led the adventures this time around. I felt at home back on the cobblestone streets of Europe’s old cities biking through Berlin, exploring the bikepaths of Amsterdam, witnessing the Tribute to the Sun in Zadar, discovering local designer clothes in Budapest, having a historical bar-hopping adventure with a couchsurfer host until 9am in Vienna, walking through old Prague, and finally saying hello to old friends in Dresden. Just as soon as it began, the adventure ended and I had to go back to Maryland for two weeks to recover from my wisdom teeth extraction

During this time I felt at such a loss. I knew that my Eurotrip was the last time that I would be able to be in Europe for many years. I also returned back to Boston in order to put my things in order and pack up my belongings from my Allston apartment and bring it back to Maryland. Those two weeks in Boston represented my farewell to that other city that I loved. But so much had already changed, and all of my old friends who still lived there had already moved on to their jobs, relationships, and new homes. It just didn’t feel the same anymore, but I held my last few adventures and last few hangout sessions with my good Boston friends. I biked through the abandoned aqueducts of Cambridge, partied one last time on Pratt Street, found a local glass-blowing shop in Allston, and finally explored the fabled Blue Hills Reservation where I discovered an organic farm. I bid farewell to my many friends over there in Boston knowing full well that I would not be able to see them for many years. I then headed back to Maryland for the last two months.

The last two months of September and October were a bit odd for me. I knew that I needed to save up money for the Peace Corps and could not rely on my parents for help, so I worked during the weekdays as a landscaper for Greenfields Nursery and on the weekends as a caterer in Chef’s Expressions. Haha, it seems like such a long time ago, but I remember waking up early every weekday in order to work with four others in making rich people’s yards look beautiful. We dug, planted, seeded, weeded, drove, and laid sod. Those two months felt like a dream. I had rekindled an old friendship with Audrey during a bike adventure on Labor Day, and that friendship brought me to new experiences and vistas that I had never before fathomed. During the days I would work and save up some money, and during the evenings I would organize bar-hopping adventures through Fells Point, chill sessions in Baltimore City with Drew, late-night visits to Tyler in College Park, and spend a lot of time in what I considered my second home at Sean’s house.

I felt a different kind of pull and tug towards Baltimore during those days. I felt displaced and disillusioned because I knew that this too would also become an old home as I prepared for my Ugandan one. I learned a lot about my family during these days, especially my younger brother Drawde. Before long, I packed my bags for Philadelphia during the 2nd week of November. The rest has already been covered in my past blog posts since I arrived in-country.

It’s weird to me, because I am finally living the dream of the Peace Corps. I am in my dream right now, and achieving one of my long-term goals that I have talked about for many years. Now it’s the New Year and the start of my first total year spent in Africa. Honestly, I am surrounded by amazing people over here from other PCVs to fellow trainees to the administration and so many others. I feel as if my two months in this country have taught me so much more about life and what I can handle as a person. I’ve already faced some challenges, and I know that there are many more to come. For example, I have been out of my language classes for almost a week in recovery at Nurse Betsy’s house. However, I’m in this for the long run and no disease or mishap can keep me down for long. I have been studying Luganda for the past few days that I’ve been here and am looking forward to rejoining my host family and fellow language trainees. It’s January 1st, 2014 and I’m ready to start.