Closing

After a week of office paperwork and goodbyes, I am finally sitting in the waiting area of Entebbe airport. I have waited over two years for this moment when I can say that I finished my Peace Corps service and can continue on my life with the next adventures. I like to think that I will look back on my experiences here from time to time and think about how they changed me in unimaginable ways. To attempt to sum up my entire service in a few measly sentences would be futile, so instead I present the three Close-of-Service reflections during the three days that I remained in the Peace Corps Uganda office in Kampala.

End of Peace Corps Service (Post 1 of 3)

Engatto zange, my shoes. Since November 2013 I have worn this pair of shoes and experienced the entirety of my service in Uganda while supported by them. I hiked up volcanoes, squatted in pit latrines, canoed/swam across lakes, danced in dancehalls, biked across the country, taught lessons, walked over 1000km, waded through muddy impasses during rainy/landslide seasons, braved the dusty dervishes of the villages during dry seasons, and literally experienced all the highs and lows of the past two years while walking in these shoes.

Paraphrased F. Scott Fitzgerald: “So we beat on, wanderers against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the dust.”

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End of Peace Corps Service (Post 2 of 3):

Abantu = People in Luganda, which is a branch of Bantu languages spoken in over 500 dialects throughout subsaharan Africa. It’s meaning is related to the South African Zulu word “ubuntu” which means humanity and the belief in the universal bond of acknowledging one another’s worth as a human being. I am because of you. In my experiences, I have understood the importance of great ideas, philosophies and words. But I have also come to know about the importance of people; the people who make up cultures, enact beliefs, and whose very existence make up who we are.

I won’t be able to tell the “African story”, and I won’t be able to even tell the “Ugandan story”, but I will be able to share the story of my time in a small village called Luteete that was my home.

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End of Peace Corps Service (Post 3 of 3):

At 5pm today, I hit the Close of Service gong with a branch of matooke and officially ended my Peace Corps service. I have no more words to share about these past few days other than the ones that have inspired me and stayed in my heart and mind: “Do it for the story.” It’s the stories that stay with us and allow others to travel in our shoes for a short time and share our humanity.

Peace Out!

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Today

4/12/15

I was an emotional wreck today. I just kept panicking about things that were out of my control. As soon as I woke up, I bicycled to Bamunanika where I purchased 3 kg of beef for the celebration that my neighbors would be throwing in the late afternoon. Instead of making medium-well steaks, I decided to cook the beef the way that my neighbors would appreciate: by boiling it with an abundance of sauce until it softened like stew meat. Paulo Mulo, the black village cat, even returned for the day in order to say goodbye or eat the leftover meat. I had also set aside a lot of knick-knacks and small toys for the kids if they won some games like who could jump-rope the most or run the fastest.

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At some point after lunch, I took my usual short nap in the living room. But I started to panic because in my daydream I imagined driving alone through the empty streets of my suburban neighborhood in Maryland towards my childhood home. It freaked me out to imagine that such a real world existed back there unfathomable by my neighbors here in a world that was equally as unimaginable for people back in that small suburban neighborhood. I’m thinking of a specific 4-way intersection in Owings Mills with streetlights even though the traffic never gets bad enough to warrant it. I see the clean-cut grass of suburbia with the tidy sidewalks and people walking their dogs. I imagine how quiet it is and how much space people have with clean clothes, climate-controlled cars, and 4G internet everywhere.

In the meantime, I am leaving behind a house with semi-consistent electricity, a borehole with cloudy water or rain water collection tanks with leaky taps, ungodly heat or torrential downpours, all manner of insects and livestock and children invading personal space, and dusty roads. I guess that before Peace Corps, the thought of not having running water or a toilet bothered me so much. Now I have become worried about transitioning to a life filled with creature comforts and amenities that are often seen as a right and not a treat. And I am also leaving behind my neighbors who have lives in this small village that may never interact with the much larger world. The adults will go on herding the cows, teaching 100 pupil classes, sweeping the dust, pumping water, cooking the matooke, playing in the backyard, and life will continue here as much as it has continued back home.

In some ways Peace Corps Volunteers are peerless. Village neighbors will never understand the lives that we lived beforehand, and those back in the states can only guess what we underwent here.

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After having served the meat stew to my neighbors and received my own portion of matooke and rice, Master Godfrey played some Ugandan songs on his speakers. The children all started dancing and going crazy in the backyard. All I could do was smile as I drank some ginger caayi with a full stomach and the echoes of laughter and Ugandan dancehall music. The sunset through the backyard matooke trees and one of my neighbors, the mother of the twins, presented a hand-woven mat as a parting gift. After thanking them, one of the grandmother neighbors whispered to me, “You cannot forget this day.” It wasn’t a command; it wasn’t a reminder. It was simply a comment that today was remarkable in how normal and how special it felt at the same time. It was a particularly beautiful day living in Luteete village. She’s right though, I can’t forget this day.

Taking the Red Pill

2/12/15

Peace Corps fucks up your life in the best way possible.

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I think that sentiment expresses how I feel in this moment. I am lost in a vortex of emotions: anger, denial, sadness, regret, excitement, joy, longing, and frustration. This last week at site has been one of my toughest weeks in-country. I feel as if all I want to do is finally say goodbye to my neighbors; however, I’ve been stuck in my house and with my reflective thoughts. Saying goodbye to my Year 2 students was anti-climactic. They were in a session with the academic registrar concerning behavior during exam period, and as they were dismissed I said goodbye to them. Less than half of them turned towards me to say goodbye. I felt a bit disheartened, but would it have made any sense for them to have made a bigger deal out of the goodbye?

There’s a side of the world and a multitude of perspectives that I will never be able to forget even if I wanted to forget them. The concept of a homogenous Africa no longer makes sense to me, I will give different cultural attitudes the benefit of the doubt, and I will be much slower to judge an action as being either right or wrong. I have ceased to see things as being black or white. It’s all a mixture of variant grays that all have a background and a story.

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For example, what will I do if someone asks me to donate $5 to a charity dedicated to feeding starving children in Africa. I think that I will first have to look into the organization to see if the feeding is humanitarian and if it is relief based. Then I will also look into the organization itself to see if the majority of the funding goes towards the relief effort. But then I will have to see if the food is being disbursed in an ethical way that eventually leads to self-sustenance on the part of the recipients. However, this is rarely the case as conflicts and civil wars lead to refugees who rely on the food deliveries. In this case, would it be right for me to donate to a cause that may help satiate the hunger of a few children if the larger issue at hand isn’t being addressed? Is it still alright to blindly throw money at an issue if even just one child benefits from the money?

I don’t think that there are any easy answers to these questions. Yet, I believe that I am better off for seeing a different side to issues that I used to see as being one-sided. Despite the grander complexities of social issues, one tenet still remains true to me: that compassion and the acknowledgement of the humanity of another human being is paramount to the discussion of said issues.

After all this, how can I possibly go back?

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.

Sounds and Furies

20/11/15 – 28/11/15

I’m reaching the end. This past week I said goodbye and celebrated the good times of my Peace Corps service with so many PCV’s. It’s just a lot to handle and either too many emotions to comprehend or a dull numbness in my soul. On Friday I visited my home-stay family in Kasana town. They hosted me in December 2013 when I was still a Peace Corps trainee. The house and compound had been turned into a burgeoning primary school since I had last been there. All of my little brothers and sisters had grown up, and they all knew how to speak English. It was very weird to think that two years ago the Semuddu family had welcomed me into their home and adopted me as one of their own. They presented me with a button-up village shirt, a plate of meat cooked my favorite way, and the biscuits that I used to eat all the time as a snack. It felt good “training” with Davis, Daniella, Moustafa, and Diana out in the backyard just like old times. Before I left, I asked my home-stay father, Peter Semuddu, to clarify the meaning behind my Luganda name.

Since I stayed with the Semuddu family, I became part of the Enkima (monkey) clan. The different kingdoms of Uganda have different clans, so the clans in the central Buganda kingdom would differ from those of the Busoga, Banyankore, Bakiga, Batooro, and Banyooro kingdoms. The kabiro specifies the sub-clan of a given clan, and the sub-clans of the Enkima clan are Kamukukuru (small dove), Byenda (offals or cow intestines), and Vuvumira (wasp). My specific kabiro is Kamukukuru, which is great because the rule is that one cannot eat his or her sub-clan. I had unintentionally offended some Ugandans in Kampala this one time when I told them that my sub-clan was Byenda and then proceeded to order the traditional Katogo dish of matooke and cow intestines.

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Later that night in Kampala, I attended a house party near Legends bar. Years ago, this specific house would host monthly house parties for both expats and Ugnandans who lived in Kampala. I felt weird going to a house party and forcing small-talk. I realized how much I didn’t care for uninteresting conversations that would lead nowhere, and instead played a game with the other PCV’s where we would attempt to see who could successfully engage random strangers in conversation. In-between drinking the free alcohol and eating the free cookies, I met some Ugandan street artists who recycled old shirts, hats, and shoes and made them into art pieces. I was especially interested in the crested crane design screen printed on one of the artist’s shirt.

So the next day I made my way to Destreet Art Foundation led by Destreet A Kabati on the Kampala-Kamwokya-Mawanda Road (After Mawanda Road police follow Potters House sign until Evolv www.destreetart.webs.com). I spent Saturday morning sharing coffee with some PCV’s, checking out the canvas prints and shirts at Destreet’s garage studio, and heading to KLA Ink tattoo parlor. My goal that day was to get my tattoo. The design is the silhouette of Africa with the word abantu overlapping it. I waited for a few hours in the studio with PCV’s who wanted tattoos and piercings until the tattoo artist arrived from his other parlor. I had forgotten how much tattoos hurt, but the entire time I kept trying to reflect on my service up to that point. It was exciting, I was getting a tattoo and a majority of the PCV’s in my group was coming into Kampala in order to meet the new trainees who would be replacing us at our respective sites.

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The next day was one of the weirdest days of my service. I made my way to the Peace Corps office with about 30 other PCV’s from my group, and we boarded a coaster headed to the Muzardi training center near Mukono. There I met my carrier PCV, Justin. I felt like I had just met my doppelganger. Justin has many tattoos, is Filipino, has already started learning Luganda, enjoys cycling, has similar humor to mine, and other communal traits. The coaster ride back from the training center felt very odd; it was as if I could let go and know that my site would be in good hands. I felt so numb from all the emotions that I just wandered around Acacia Mall where I drank coffee, ate ice cream, and said goodbyes to even more PCV’s.

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I then left Kampala for Kaliro where I helped a PCV friend, Lindsay, sort 1000 of her Books for Africa shipment in her new library. The best part about having replacement volunteers is that the resources that we have established can be utilized and capacity can be built with the students and teachers. I had never been to Kaliro before, but some PCV’s have dubbed it the “fire swamp” due to the extreme heat and humidity owed in large part to the stagnant swamp water and marshland.

Thanksgiving was spent at another PCV’s house in Jinja. If Lindsay’s house in Kaliro could be described as being a very village house without electricity or running water, then the house in Jinja could be described as looking like a standard apartment in the United States. Electricity was always on, the water pressure was strong, and the tiled flooring made me feel like I was in the developed world. I thought that it was fitting to spend my last Thanksgiving cooking good food, eating sandwiches, dancing by the Nile, and reading spooky stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep.

Now that I am back in my village for the last time, I think about all the last experiences that I will have in this country. If things were moving too slow before, now they are moving too fast. Before long this will all seem like a dream and I will become used to a different life. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to put into pictures, videos or words the complex and multifaceted emotions and insights that I have and even this blog with its weekly posts can’t capture my day-to-day life here.

The First Goodbyes

19/11/15

I said goodbye to my year 1 students and one of my neighbors today. I finally felt better today, so I washed my clothes after the torrential downpour of the morning subsided and then made my way to the PTC. I gave my supervisor a very nice fountain pen from Boston University and discussed the last few discussion points of my service:

  • Term timetable for the ICT tutors
  • Driving me to Kampala from Luteete
  • What to expect to do with my successor
  • Schedule for my last three weeks in-country

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I then spent one of my last days teaching in the computer lab. A few year 2 students came in and I taught them the basics of holding the mouse, practicing drag-and-drop with solitaire, and the functions of major keyboard keys. We also had a heated discussion where I tried to convince them that being black doesn’t make you any less intelligent, developed, or able to succeed compared to “whites”. What really riled me was when they said that they would much rather prefer a “white” person like me as a Peace Corps Volunteer than a black African Peace Corps Volunteer. They just couldn’t comprehend that black people could be successful or called true Americans because of their skin color. So honestly, it wasn’t that different than many of the discussions that I have had with them.

It feels weird, because I was teaching as if it was any other day during the term, but I knew that everything would soon be different. In less than a month I would be hanging out with friends in Amsterdam and I would breathe in the frigid December air. I left the ICT lab in the late afternoon and said goodbye to the year 1 students whom I could see. Naturally, they all wanted my contact information and photo.

When I got back to my house, I shared some samosas with my villagers and then said goodbye to Master Okia. Master Okia is one of the fathers who lives in a house near mine in Luteete, and he would be leaving next week for a month-long trip. Since I would be leaving in the first week of December, I made sure to knock on his door and personally say farewell. He requested that when I return back to the United States, that I not forget the people of Luteete.

Right now I am wondering how it could be possible for me to forget my experiences here. I honestly believe that I have enough life experiences here to fill a few average lifetimes. I tend to stop and gaze at things here for a few moments and reflect on my time. I look at the growing apple trees, the organized library that has progressed from having a part-time student librarian to a full-time librarian, and a functional ICT lab with eager students. I know that I will leave here with no regrets.

Distraught

18/11/15

I have been sick for the past few days. Through the help of ibuprofen, bananas from my neighbors, toast, and ginger tea I have started to feel much better. As I physically started to feel better, I became more emotionally weary. I began cleaning my house and preparing my bags for my eventual move to Kampala for Close-of-Service medical and then to Entebbe airport to fly to Amsterdam. It has been stressful saying goodbye to everyone in my village. I have had to deny so many people “snaps” or photos that they want to take with me, because my camera’s memory card wouldn’t be able to fit an individual photo of all of them. Also, I don’t have the funds or energy to print a few hundred photos to give to all of them. Everyone wants remembrances of me, and it’s interesting that even now as I am about to leave many of the older village kids ask me for things. They tell me that they want the kitenge stars hanging up in my room, the bicycle, or an old laptop that lies dormant in my room.

I worry about the transition to the developed countries where perspectives and experiences are different. Slowly-by-slowly my rooms are becoming more barren and packed into neat suitcases and bags that will make trip back to the developed world with me. I think about the children with whom I play in my little yard and how they don’t seem to understand the concept that I will be leaving forever.

Me: “Omanyi nti nja kugenda America omwezi gujja?” (Do you know that I’m going back to America next month?)

Child: “Ojja kudda ddi?” (When will you come back?)

Me: “Sigendanga kudda.” (I am never coming back.)

Child: “Tuzannye fishy fishy!” (Let’s play fishy fishy*)
*A game similar to Sharks and Minnows

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It’s weird thinking that soon I will be just a mere memory for my villagers and the children. Sure they will see my replacement Peace Corps Volunteer, but I wonder how many of the children will remember me. I think about the children telling stories about me to their own children when they’re older.

There is one recent even that I will remember for a long time: one of the secondary school boys, Waswa, came up to my window the other evening. I told him that I would be leaving for good and that I wanted to say goodbye to him before he left for another school. I then gave him an issue of The Atlantic magazine and a deck of playing cards that I got from Busch Gardens many years ago. He said thank you and walked away. An hour later he returned and was sniffling. He told me how he was crying and that he would miss me a lot. I usually don’t have much patience for the older secondary school students, but Waswa was different; he was always respectful and would invite me to play sports with him and the other students. He would offer me jackfruit, bananas, and avocadoes from time to time. But most importantly, he would listen and ask intelligent questions whenever we had discussions. What struck me about this specific interaction was that he cried.

In Uganda, it is not culturally appropriate for men to show signs of physical or emotional weakness, and crying is one of them. The only appropriate times to cry are when a close relative has died or if one is involved in a horrendous accident.

Before Peace Corps, I remember asking myself how to pack my entire life into two check-in bags. Now I am trying to comprehend how to take back this new life, this new perspective, and this new me back home. My home is changing and this house in Luteete will remain my home for 18 more days. In some ways, my worries are lessened because I have a carrier volunteer to follow up after me and I have planted some deep roots here.

Knowing

15/11/15

Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Bujumbura

I spent this weekend helping out at the final round of the Luganda and Sign Language My Language Spelling Bee, and celebrating one of my closest PCV friend’s birthday as well as our 2-year anniversary in-country. Two years is both a short and a long time. Coincidentally, I also got very sick during this weekend with extreme diarrhea and intense heat fluctuations where my body felt like it was an oven one moment and then felt like a freezer the next. Other than my sickness and fatigue, it was a very enjoyable weekend. I spent a lot of money on good food; the hung-over morning following the birthday celebration consisted of 10 PCV’s splurging on an all-you-can eat buffet at the Kampala Protea hotel complete with champagne, pastries, bacon, smoked salmon, kiwis, strawberries, cappuccinos, waffles, and eggs cooked to order. It was a sloppy breakfast; we ended up feeling very full and queasy because we all ate too much and were also still a bit drunk. At one point someone tried to stand up and knocked over a champagne glass, which shattered on the floor. But it was nice saying goodbye to PCV’s after such an enjoyable weekend.

On the other hand, there were other less-joyous events happening around the world. There were the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead, as well as attacks in Afghanistan and Lebanon, and the beginnings of genocide in Burundi. I started to see my Facebook newsfeed filled with notifications about the Paris attacks and solidarity with France. This was a very tragic event, and so many people seem to come together praying, sending positive messages, and standing together. However, I wonder how many people also feel just as passionate about the attacks and reckless violence happening in other countries. With Facebook as a platform for raising awareness and activism, is it our duty to make sure that people know it’s not just the developed world that we should care about?

I think back to my time before Peace Corps, and the discussion of rebels in the north of Uganda were such a foreign concept to me. The statistics of child soldiers, rebel attacks, and rampant diseases were so far removed that they just remained as numbers to me. Now they have faces and stories that have impacted my own life. I can’t ask every Ugandan about his or her tribe due to old tensions, I am friends with former child soldiers, and I am hard-pressed to find a Ugandan who hasn’t been threatened by malaria, HIV, or some form of dysentery. Now whenever I hear a news story that mentions Uganda, those numbers won’t remain mere numbers, but people with lives and stories.

It is kind of crazy the disproportionate amount of social media attention that stories in the United States, the Middle East, and Western European countries receive when tragic events occur. I’m not saying that it’s bad to grieve or spread awareness about events such as the Paris attacks, but it’s just interesting that genocide is beginning in Burundi and there seems to be little to know media attention or solidarity with the Burundians.

After the Holocaust, people proclaimed, “Never again.”

After the Darfur and Rwandan genocides, people proclaimed, “Never again.”

Now it’s happening in Burundi and the world can’t do anything about it.

Is it fair to place more care and emphasis on people’s lives that directly impact our own lives? Was it fair for me to feel solidarity with Boston during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing where a handful of people died as opposed to solidarity with Syrians when nerve gas used against them in Syria a few months later? In the United States social media erupts when there is any hint of racial discrimination and in some countries there are blatant attacks against groups of people due to their religious beliefs ethnic background, or social status.

It makes me wonder about the power of social media and if there are some things that just seem more glamorous to support or discuss. Honestly, I think that a temporary profile photo change to support France would be more likely to be seen as patriotic, sensitive, and appropriate compared to a photo depicting victims of terrorist and sectarian violence in African and Middle Eastern countries. Maybe it’s because the developed countries are seen as bastions of safety and freedom where attacks aren’t expected and Africa and the Middle East are seen as places where attacks happen all the time. There’s no longer any surprise if people were killed there but God forbid that people were attacked in developed countries, because that hits too close to home.

I still don’t know how I feel about these issues. Maybe part of the American Dream is that once you get to the US, you no longer have to worry about the troubles that plague other less stable countries. You can ignore the whisperings of a rebellion, the warnings to evacuate the village, or the last chance to board a refugee ship because those things no longer affect you. Perhaps that’s a bit why it’s called the Dream, because once you live it you no longer have to acknowledge all realities around the world; just the one that you care to worry about.

Is it a privilege or a right not to worry about what doesn’t directly affect our well-being? Should we worry about the plight of other people or only concern ourselves with our immediate spheres of influence?

Now as I am entering the last three weeks of my Peace Corps service I have fewer answers than I thought I had. I am looking forward to being worry-free and living with creature comforts. I don’t feel guilty anymore, but I am certain that there are things that could be done to make this world a better place. I guess that my version of the Dream is to find out what little I can do to achieve that.

Old and New

8/11/15

I finally finished all of the Peace Corps video projects that the office wanted me to film and edit together. As a result, I have four regional videos showcasing various PCV projects, a video about how a PCV saved a Ugandan Lieutenant’s life during the 1971 Idi Amin coup against Obote, and how PCV’s work with their counterparts. As I finished these videos, I took some time to reflect on these past few days in the village. The days are zooming by faster than ever, and in a few days we’ll be welcoming a new Peace Corps Uganda cohort. Looking back there my entire viewpoint and belief system has radically changed since that time I left Maryland back in November 2013. I have recently been connecting with old friends and acquaintances in Facebook in order to prep them for my eventual re-entry into the United States, and already I can feel see how much I have changed when I look at the last messages that I sent to my friends. I talked about going to Africa, helping people, and answering the call of adventure for a lifetime.

Now I look back on those messages and feel as if the person who wrote them was much more immature and callow than the one reading them. I will be unable to tell the “African story”, as the BBC news report puts it. I will still be unsure if I really helped anyone in the sustainable, long-term. But I will definitely understand that if I want it, then even back in the United States I can keep my edge. I don’t believe that there should be this fine line between the workday and the weekend, or between the work year and a vacation. I want to be able to live in the United States and still adventure every day or motivate myself to try something instead of just liking it on Facebook.

I’m still young, but at times I feel much older than I once was. Yesterday was the commissioning of the Year 2 students at Luteete PTC. I attended the ceremony, which started 2 hours late at 10am and continued until 4pm when lunch was finally served. By now I was already used to having a few hundred eyes staring at me, the long-winded speeches, a mass service where the preacher proclaimed that Jesus was a better leader than Hitler or Napoleon,  and a captive audience where I was asked to give a speech in Luganda. To be honest, I enjoyed the day with my fellow teachers, students, and their family members. As I daydreamed throughout the event, I reminisced about my own high school graduation in 2009 and my college graduation in 2013. I dreamed about baccalaureate mass, senior week in ocean city, fulfilling my college bucket list during my college senior week, the soundtrack of college graduation parties compared to Ugandan dancehall tunes, and how everything was about to change.

I have been living the dream for two years now. I am interested in seeing how it will be to look back on these experiences in a country where the African dream is still a thing. I’ll definitely have a tale or two when I get back and I’m sure that I’m ready for another adventure.

“The old taxis will stage at home again… the young bodas will ride away.”

Worlds and Murals

24/10/15 – 27/10/15

I hosted a PCV who was traveling around the country in order to paint large world map murals on walls. He had already painted 17 world maps on library walls, water tanks, and the outside walls of school buildings. Over the course of two days he made a grid pattern on the wall about 4 meters long by 1.5 meters wide and then drew an outline of all the countries of the world. The next day we painted in each country as well as the entire ocean and added the words “the world” around the map in 24 different languages. It was nice to have a good chat with another PCV and I guess that we talked about the usual topics: food, sex, and life after Peace Corps. The weird part was acknowledging that he was probably the last PCV to visit my site before I depart. Already there are a lot of things that will be the last time I do anything.

Computer Lab World Map

Computer Lab World Map

On Tuesday I traveled to Masindi to hang out with Rachel for the last time at her site. As usual, the route from my village to Masindi was fraught with perils. I did the usual 45 minute bike ride to Wobulenzi town, and then struggled to find a taxi headed to the Luwero bus junction. Using what I thought was my better judgment; I boarded a GaaGaa Bus headed towards Gulu. I had good experiences with GaaGaa in the past and knew that it would be better than any taxi or sketchy hitchhiking that I could obtain. I was wrong. Within an hour of boarding the bus, a sound like a gunshot burst from the seat to the left of me and the whole bus filled with smoke and the cries of Ugandans yelling and praying. As the smoke dissipated, I could see that everyone was alright but one of the bus tires had exploded. We got off the bus and waited for the mechanic to attach the spare tire.

Normally this would have been fine, except that GaaGaa bus has 8 wheels: two wheels per corner. The mechanic made it soGaaGaa Breakdown that the tires that exploded were replaced with just one tire. About another hour later the same thing happened except that there was more crying and more smoke. During both of these tire explosions I thought that I was going to die or that the bus was going to crash. I literally thought to myself that this was going to be the end as even the normally stoic Ugandans clutched my arms in abject terror after the sound of gunshots and smoke exacerbated the shrieks of the women and men on board. When the bus stopped I just picked up my bag and walked out of the bus. I didn’t even look back, and I walked to Cafu junction where I then boarded a 4-person sedan with 8 other people headed to Masindi Town. I don’t think that I could have asked for better luck than to once again have the tradition of typical shitty public transportation to Masindi; a ride that would normally take only 3 hours from Kampala but takes me 6+ hours even though my village is nearer.

I am just torn. It definitely feels like life as usual, but I know that in a little over a month my life will once again be turned upside down. As I end Peace Corps, it’s hard for me to see how much of an adventure this has been. I am focusing on future jobs after Peace Corps, the new friends I will make, and the new experiences that I will undergo coupled with the new skills that I learned during my 2+ years here. Many times these days I will daydream about how other-worldly this experience is. I don’t even know how to explain just how odd this life has become and how the unusual and weird have become the norm. As I gazed at the world mural behind my students in the computer lab, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I did something during my service. Maybe it wasn’t all in vain and selfish for me to have chosen a life of adventure before committing to something less transient.

Gulu Skyline

Gulu Skyline

It’s a big world in which we live, and it’s taken me until now to realize that.