Privilege

13/2 – 22/2 Two weekends ago I spent some time hanging out with some of the new education PCV’s in Masaka. Initially, I didn’t plan to eat at Frikadellen, but I ended up partaking in the 30,000/= buffet and from what I can remember it was definitely worth it. We spent the rest of the Ndegeya Bonfire Circlenight drinking, hanging out, and eventually dancing at the local club Ambiance. For some reason, four of us decided to share a bed in an extremely small and hot hotel room filled with mosquitoes and the stench of alcohol. The next day we sluggishly made our way to the pool located in one of the neighborhoods near Plot 99. Honestly, this weekend was going according to plan: I wanted to go out dancing, eat some good food, and spend the hungover Saturday swimming in a pool. In the evening we headed back to Ndegeya PTC where PCV’s Eric and Elyse hosted us for dinner. The last time I was at their house was almost one whole year ago, and their house is still as beautiful and posh as I remember it. After dinner, a few of us sloped up the nearby roads to the Ndegeya Art Community (Weaverbird Arts Foundation). It was founded 7 years ago by a Ugandan/Rwandan man who wanted to create a place where artists from Uganda and abroad could collaborate, hold workshops, and be free to express themselves in art. Every 3-4 months they would hold some sort of art workshop week where dozens of artists would gather together and live on top of the hill. The hill had a large grass clearing dotted with a bonfire pit, art houses, latrines, bathing areas, campgrounds, and sculptures made out of stone, brick, and recycled jerrycans. Since it was Valentine’s Day, not many artists had gathered for the meeting that weekend. This allowed us to have some more personal time with the founder of the movement. He told us that the meaning behind the art was to empower Ugandans, especially those in impoverished settings, to view art as something to help them in their lives. I posed the concern that many Ugandans view art as a detriment to survival since it would be viewed as a hindrance to daily tasks such as farming, tending to the children, cooking, fetching water, and everyday life. I felt that he wasn’t able to provide an answer that satisfied me, but I felt that I would need to spend more time there to better understand what he has done and accomplished with this movement. Most of the PCV’s left on Loucine Walking with Dr. JosephSunday, but I decided to stay another day at the cottage house at Ndegeya PTC. Man, it felt so comfortable being in a clean house where I could really stretch out, sleep without a mosquito net, shower, and eat homemade coq au vin since they had an oven. More than 15 months in-country, and I have come to appreciate the value of being comfortable. I left for Kampala on Monday, and did the usual routine of eating out at the fancy food court in Acacia Mall. I mean where else could I get decently priced and decent Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Ugandan, and American cuisine all in one area? I spent the night at the New City Annex just like old times, since I was told that a Peace Corps vehicle would pick me up early on Tuesday morning. Honestly, I assumed that I would just be going up to Lira in order to film an interview with a retired Ugandan colonel, but it turns out that I was voluntold to film promo videos of each region of Uganda with the Country Director. Personally, I am extremely glad that our country director is making an effort to personally visit the PCV’s in the different regions, because this was a complaint over the past few years. There is always some sort of disconnect between PCV’s and PC Staff since one group has trouble really empathizing or seeing the reasoning behind the actions and decisions of the other group. I also Benjamin Ferraro Stone Quarryam excited to be able to participate in such a cool project, but felt that I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I stepped into that air-conditioned Peace Corps vehicle that Tuesday morning.  There is another issue at work here that Peace Corps uses volunteers to fill needed staff positions and tasks. In my case, I provide free videos for Peace Corps without any payment. I have heard the arguments of both sides: on one hand we are volunteers and can accomplish the 3 goals of the Peace Corps through various means, and on the other hand the true experience of a Peace Corps Volunteer involves the integration of being at one’s site. In my case, sometimes I don’t even know where I stand anymore. It felt weird travelling in a nice vehicle with air-condition. I felt separated from both PCV’s and Ugandans by glass and cool air. There is a prevailing attitude that many well-intentioned Peace Corps staff don’t understand what many PCV’s endure because they have the luxury of private vehicles, access to clean food, access to running water, and the resource availability of Kampala. Regardless, I really enjoyed taking pictures and videos at my fellow PCV’s sites in the West Nile region, namely the towns of Arua and Maracha. First of all, it was hot as balls from 9am – 5pm. I felt fortunate that I lived in Central where the temperature of a 24 hour span varied from chilly in the night to hot in the afternoon. We visited primary schools, demonstration schools, NTCs, PTCs, a hospital, a honey organization, sexual health center, and an organization for orphans. Journal Entry: “I’m still so impressed with my fellow PCV’s and the hard work that they do. I’m still so frustrated by the bureaucracy here. I can see that there’s a lot of opportunity here, and in so many places, but those in charge of these opportunities don’t utilize them for what they’re worth. It’s all about saving face, building ones self-image, and very vague promises of far-reaching pipe dreams. A lot of self-aggrandizement. In many ways and times the wonder and initiative of the pupils an students are quashed by the rote inactivity of the administrators in power. I need to take more initiative and advantage of the resources at my Bee Natural Assembly Lineschool. People want things, boreholes, fences, internet, and so any things but how willing are they to work to make them come about? I am still so intrigued how sometimes adults here almost ruin the imagination of children. Pure wonder is hard to come by here. I go back and forth between not wanting to be staff and feeling like staff, but being constantly reminded that I am a volunteer. I am pulled in so many different directions. I understand that in certain cultures there are differences. But are some differences better than others, such as time management, gender roles, and societal structures in hierarchy. I mean what do we mean as a long-term goal of development? What does development really entail? Does it mean that we want developing countries to be like developed countries and share their ideals? What does it mean to rally empower people to do things in a culturally-conscious way? It’s a big mess and its not our job to fix every problem, nor is it our job to just leave and ignore all problems. Of course money alone does not solve the problem, but it can definitely help. And who am I to even have this discussion? In this air-conditioned car, I feel comfortable and as if everything is nearby. But it makes me feel so removed from PCV’s because part of service involves the hardships of dealing with the transportation and accommodations of the host country nationals. Almost that guilty feeling of not being one of them.” Maracha Primary School“If I give you a cow, do I feed your cow for you?” ~Emily Lamwaka, Peace Corps Education Progam Director Site after site, I saw what PCV’s were doing. Some tasks were successful, and some seemed impossible to overcome and it all depended on the site administrators. More than one primary school didn’t have the resources to provide pupils with lunch. In one instance, one of these schools was resource rich due to a nearby stone quarry but didn’t bother to sell the stones as an income-generating activity to provide lunch and build fences to keep livestock away from the school. Fortunately, for every four inept administrators there was at least one person at each school who was dedicated to really empowering the students by whatever means were available. On Friday, we left the West Nile and made our way to Lira to interview a retired Ugandan colonel. We found him near Café Path on Wan Nyaci Road. One of the GHSP Peace Corps volunteers ran into him at one of the stationary stores in Lira, and he told her that several decades ago a Peace Corps volunteer saved his life. On Friday, he shared his story in full. This man was born September 20th, 1940 with an education background that brought him to Russia. In the late Lira Colonel Portrait60’s, he joined the army and the military academy where he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant and posted in Masaka. He and his squad mates heard about the news of Idi Amin’s coup against Milton Obote on January 21st, 1971. During the coup, Amin’s people were killing the ranking officers and officials of Obote’s military. He had to flee home, and a Peace Corps Volunteer who was teaching at the Aga Kan Secondary School sheltered him for two weeks. She would go to Tropicana Hotel to check on the situation of the coup. Eventually, she told him that it was too dangerous to keep him at her house. She disguised her as a student, and drove him in her car towards Kampala and then to Lira. When they got to Karuma bridge that crossed the Nile River, they saw Amin’s soldiers slaughtering captured members of Obote’s soldiers. They let the Peace Corps volunteer pass through since they were still on friendly terms with the “whites” and didn’t recognize the lieutenant. There were so many dead bodies on the bridge, that she had to drive over them. When they passed over the bridge, they stopped at a trading center to drink beer due to the shock at the Meeting the Colonelbridge. She asked him to drive the rest of the way up to Lira. They bid farewell to each other, and the Peace Corps volunteer boarded a bus headed back to Kampala. It was the last time that they saw each other, since the Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from the Uganda. At this moment in his story that he got a little teary-eyed. He explained to us that she was more than just his friend, but his girlfriend. Of course she was the side-dish in the relationship since he was already married to another woman, but still this Peace Corps volunteer risked her life to save his. The rest of the story revolves around his narrow escapes from Amin’s soldiers, his time spent as a refugee in Dar es Salaam, and his fight to retake Uganda. I will be working on editing together his story, and at the end of it he shared with us his dream for the youth of Uganda: to know their history and not care about the mindless politics and instead care for each other so that mindless slaughter can be avoided. The next day as we drove across the Karuma bridge in our air-conditioned car, we all fell silent as we reflected on what occurred there 44 years ago. Instead of flowing blood and dead bodies, all that we could see were the rushing Nile underneath us and the balmy breeze of your typical Ugandan afternoon. In some ways this country has improved, and in other ways it has remained just as impoverished as it used to be. Now more than ever, I believe that it’s experiences like that Peace Corps that make me feel privileged to work alongside my Ugandan brothers and sisters.

Just Being

March 18, 2014

This past weekend I visited Masaka for a Saint Patrick’s Day Weekend Celebration with some friends. As usual I packed up on Friday morning and biked the 11km stretch to Wobulenzi where I dropped my bike off at the police station and then boarded a taxi headed to Kampala. I met my friend Rachel there and we had lunch at Broods Bakery. I don’t know if I ever mentioned this place, but it’s near Nando’s Pizza smack dam in the middle of Kampala near the large Barclay’s Bank. It’s actually very interesting navigating in a place where there are no road signs and everything is navigated by remembering where to turn based on landmarks and what the locals say. This bakery is frequented by urban Ugandans, PCV’s, and NGO’s alike. Broods Bakery is a Dutch Bakery that bakes some of the best bread that I’ve eaten in-country. It actually reminds me of the bread that I would eat when I lived in Germany and the Netherlands. On the packaging for Broods it even states that they have outlets in Amsterdam and Hague. As usual, I treat myself with a Ham and Cheese sandwich on a multigrain loaf. It just tastes so fresh and clean and filling and not fried or filled with a meat sauce like everything else that I’ve eaten here. It also seems to be the place where many PCV’s happen to meet up and bump into each other when passing through Kampala.

As we were walking back to the NewTaxiPark, we stumbled into the Green Shop. I remember Rachel saying, “Marvin, look it’s the Green Shop!” At first I was a bit incredulous because I had been to a place called the Green Shop before and it was located on one of the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam. However, this Green Shop in Kampala was a secondhand clothing store with shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, and all different types of clothes that were all 50% off the original prices of 3,000/= to 10,000/=. The quality was also better than the clothes usually sold at the open air stalls during market day. We both ended up buying some green clothes for the Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. It’s actually funny now when I think back on clothing drives back in the United States that will be sent to Africa. Even in the poor villages in Uganda, many Ugandans have clothes that are worn out that have obviously been donated from other developed countries around the world. But most of the clothes go to market stalls where they are resold at a fraction of the price, and that is where most of the Ugandans get their clothes. If they’re lucky, then even a nice dress shirt or pair of slacks that would have cost upwards of $50 can be sold for 10,000/= here.

Plot 99 GazeboWe make our way to Masaka where we meet up with our friends by the Good Samaritan grocery store. Friday night was a chance to let loose and celebrate with Guinness Beef Stew, Shepherd’s Pie, mashed potatoes, beer games, and dancing at Club Ambiance. Then on Saturday we met up at Plot 99, which is the other big restaurant apart from Frikadellen that serves Muzungu buffets. We had reserved the place, which like Frikadellen, is located on a hill with gazebos, tables, and tire swings that overlook Masaka. At Plot 99 if you reserve beforehand with 8 or more people you can order a buffet of your choice. They offered Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and Ugandan. Of course we ordered the Mexican buffet, which turned out to be more like a family style meal where plates and bowls of food were brought to us and we served ourselves. There was more than enough food to make us full.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling, and we eventually found our way to a pool. From what I have learned from the PCV’s living near Masaka there are two pools that are worth going to. One of them is larger and bland while the other is peanut shaped and is more hidden. The first pool was filled with insects so we opted to go to the peanut shaped pool which was located off of a path from Plot 99.

The rest of the evening was spent getting dinner from street vendors off a side alley where we purchased a crate of Street Food Masakabeers (Nile, Bell, Club, Tusker, and someone also got a Smirnoff Ice for some reason) for the evening. We drank and chilled that night and before we knew it the weekend was over and we headed back to our respective homes.

It’s actually interesting about how much we look forward to the weekend and meeting up with other Muzungus here as PCV’s. I would surmise that most of us would have initially thought that we would be super local and integrate so well into our community that we would not really need to hang out and be social with the other Muzungus. As it turns out, so many of us yearn for a reminder that our home exists across the ocean. I think about how some days the best conversation that I had was with a fellow PCV on my cell phone. I also think about how some people have said that some of their favorite days spent in-country were weekends when they visited other PCV’s. It’s funny because I think that the ideal image of the Peace Corps Volunteer is one who is wearing the local garb, fluent in the local language, effortlessly moving throughout the community, and content with life. I believe that there are those volunteers who exist, but for the most part many volunteers seem to yearn for the comforts of their old home.

Peanut Shaped Pool MasakaWe never seem to be content wherever we are. When I was back in the United States, all that I could think of was about how I would be living the dream in Uganda. Now that I am here, I think about how I want to use a real bathroom, watch a YouTube video, see my old friends, eat cheese, and explore an urban city. At site I look forward to the weekend, and then when it’s the weekend I can never seem to shake off the feeling that I will eventually have to return back to site and do work.

The biggest challenge for myself here in Uganda is learning how to just be. I have to learn how to be content just being present here in this very moment without reminiscing too hard about the past or looking too far forward into the future. What matters is the moment to moment interactions, because that’s what I’m living right now. When I go back to the United States I hope that my memories will revolve more around the moments spent with my local community: biking through the hilly pathways of the Luweero sub-county, teaching the neighborhood kids how to ride my bicycle, watching my Year 1 students teach their own lesson plans, having to pump water from the borehole everyday, and the normal routine of living in the Ugandan sub-county. Sure the weekends are fun, but the time spent in my community is when I truly feel like I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer.