Exhaust

5/5/15

I’m at it again, which surprises no one. I am at Nakeseke Core PTC where I am taking photos and videos of the campers and sessions at the IT Camp. Similar to other Peace Corps camps, this camp aims to empower youth (again with the word “empowerment”) to make healthy life choices through the medium of IT, Information Technology. The sessions revolve around basic typing skills, presenting with a powerpoint, the basic functions of a computer, and Microsoft Office. While I am glad to be here and help out, I am also exhausted and wish that I had chosen to stay at home instead for the remainder of this week.

So after the Central Mukono Youth Technical Training I chilled in Jinja for two days and then spentLate Night Art a night in Kampala. I had several errands to accomplish, including transferring 17.35 million shillings from my Barclays account to my supervisor’s account so that we could continue constructing the ICT lab. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the bank teller assured me that the transfer would occur within 2-3 business days. On the 28th, I traveled to the Arua Youth Technical Training to help facilitate the Permagarden session since the Peter Jensen, the Agricultural expert from Peace Corps Ethiopia, had to go to the Gambia. I personally accepted to go to the far West Nile because I wanted to develop my Permagarden skills to bring back to my community.

After spending the rest of that week up there, I went back to my site where I hosted a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer for two days. I mean, by this point I was tired and wanted my own space. Still it was nice to share my site with someone else. However, today literally felt like shit. All I wanted to do for the majority of the day was shout until my throat got sore or punch a bodaman in the face. I needed to expend some energy and I felt as if I just had it with this country. With the logic of an engineering undergrad, I knew that these feelings would pass, but for several hours today all I could think about was spending a few days in my home where I could watch movies, sleep in, read a few books, and maybe resolve the perpetual gassiness that has plagued me for the past 4 weeks.

The anger built up during my usual bike ride from my house to Wobulenzi. It’s always physically easier to bike away from site but mentally more challenging because the people start to recognize me less and less. I also answered my essential Facebook messages and email for a few hours with my internet access, which just depressed me. I got emotional reading the news about the Freddie Gray death and the ensuing riots and looting in Baltimore. I just wanted to be back there and getting to share my love for a city that I hope to live in. Naturally, everyone looked amazing and happy on Facebook and I just felt disgustingly bloated and fat from my gassiness and eating oily Ugandan food from all of the trainings and street food vendors.

My supervisor then called me to inform that he had not yet received the funds in his bank account. I called Barclays customer service and they told me that I had to wait until they resolved the issue. I waited in the Wobulenzi taxi park for a few hours for the takisi to fill, even though riding my bike to the PTC would have been much faster. En route to Nakaseke, the customer service representative called me back and said that the transfer never processed because I crossed out my name. In utter bewilderment, I exclaimed to her that I had the letter “x” in my name (Marvin Roxas), which is how I spell my name. She said that that was no problem and all I had to do was drop everything and travel to the nearest Barclays branch about 3 hours away and sign the form again. Maybe this time I would need to omit the “x” in my last name, which might also invalidate the transfer.

I called me supervisor who asked if I could just go to Kampala tomorrow and sign the form since he had already had the wooden roof frame installed in the lab and the iron sheets wouldn’t arrive until the money was in his account. He worried that the wood might rot from all of the rain during this week. As I got off the takisi at Nakaseke, all I could think about was how karma definitely did not apply to me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was as if I wanted to just help out where I could, and Uganda just wanted to dishearten me until I decided to just give up. It hurt even more when someone said that I was just too nice and needed to learn when to say no to people. It was as if they think I’m just a kitenge sheet over a door frame that lets anyone pass through. I’ve said no to a lot of people. My problem lies in the unexpected surprises such as an unsuccessful transfer when I was told that it was successful, assuming that I will drop everything and work on a project days before an event, or immediately prioritize another project when two items on my agenda conflict.

These feelings caused me to push Ugandans in the takisi, ignore those who wanted to converse with me, yell at my supervisor on the phone, and show up in such a foul mood at the IT Camp that almost everyone asked: “Are you alright?” “Wow, you look exhausted!” “Are you mad at me?” “You seem very down.” What could I do? I felt like this swelling rage would burst at any moment. Fortunately, I busied myself with taking photos, a fellow PCV listened to my ranting, and an improv session by the Centre for Creativity and Capacity Development boosted my spirits.

I am exhausted and don’t even know how I’m still making it. I’m just gonna take this month day-by-day, because at times Peace Corps is a thankless job. All that I ask is that peeps just try to understand.

P.S. – At the time of posting, I already feel much better.

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.

Highs and Lows

13/9/14

There are times when I am on top of my shit here, and then there are times when I am literally on top of shit here in the Peace Corps. As per usual, this weekAdama Restaurant has been filled with many high and low points. I got back from Entebbe on Sunday night after discovering where the two “hole-in-the-wall” Ethiopian restaurants were in Kampala. One of them was tucked away near the Shoprite on Entebbe Road in this Ethiopian woman’s living room, which isn’t open on Sundays. The other one was up the hill to the west of the New Taxi Park named Adama. The food was amazing and delicious, but I still felt exhausted from my heavy month of travelling.

I headed back to my site and was relieved to finally be back home. I felt exhausted and weary, but I understood that this was normal for me. I taught my first lesson of Term 3 at my PTC on Monday, and was very pleased with the results. I had learned from the students that the last thing they learned from my fellow math and science teacher, Mr. Nsereko, were functions in math and sound waves in science. I therefore crafted a lesson plan revolving around the definition and application of a function in mathematics. I was very happy with how my students received the knowledge. At the end of the day on Monday I still felt a bit tired and more out of it than usual (I had thrown up my dinner of plain rice), so I decided to go to bed early, but I was happy that life here was finally getting back to normal.

I don’t think that I can even describe to you how I felt during those next few days this past week. I had woken up on Tuesday and biked to a nearby duka in order to purchase biscuits, a coke, and some toilet paper because I started having some stomach upsets when I woke up. I then called Rebekah in order to tell her that I was going to make it to Nakaseke by the evening in order to restart going on the radio show. All of a sudden I found myself feverish, nauseous, delirious, and sick with a head-splitting headache. All I could do from morning until the late evening was lie down in my bed because any simple movement caused my entire body to ache.

Journal Entry:
“everything sucks, I keep throwing up everything I eat although throwing up bananas, water, and toast doesn’t taste so bad on the way up. I’ll never forget at staging that this experience would be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There’s literally no working electronic device in my house right now.

Yet even this day must be suffered. Soon this too shall pass and life will continue. I came in knowing that it wouldn’t be easy, and it sure as hell isn’t. But it’s in all moments when the struggle is real that meaning shows itself.

I never thought that throwing up could lead to so much relief. Literally after throwing up I felt so much better and had a lessening of the overall pain in my body. Hopefully, it’s all going to be better from here on out… that it was just a 24 hour bug. Let’s hope so, because it’s exhausting.”

I was hungry, but couldn’t eat anything. I had to go poop several times, but it hurt just to stand. I took Ibuprofen several times but threw them up each time. At first I assumed that my waves of chills and sudden sickness constituted Malaria, but my rapid Malaria test turned out to be negative. I took my temperature and called PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) who told me that my temperature of 100 degrees F should not be making me feel that miserable and that if I felt any worse by the next morning then I should probably call a private hire to bring me in to the medical office in Kampala.

I was so thankful for my neighbor Kato Godfrey who biked all the way to Bamunanika in order to pick up some water and groceries for me since I was unable to even walk any significant distance outside of my house. I even chuckled a bit because I had asked him to pick up some Glucose Biscuits for me which were these local, dry biscuits called “Glucose Biscuits”, but he instead picked up packets of pure Glucose for me. I forced myself to drink oral rehydration fluids and eat some toast since I had eaten nothing during the day. I don’t even know how I got through the rest of that day, because there was no electricity, I had no working laptop, there was nothing to do in my house, I was both burning hot and frigidly cold, and my cell phone died right after the Peace Corps Medical Officer called me to check up on me.

Wednesday was a blur as well, because I still had a headache, but was feeling slightly better. My phone was dead and there was no electricity in the surrounding villages so I didn’t know what time it was at all. I stayed inside the entire day to continue recovering. I don’t think that I had ever felt that way before; I literally would just stare blankly at my walls and feel as if I was inside of a dream. I was delirious and couldn’t tell if it was from my sickness, the mefloquine, my long sojourn from site, or a mixture of all three. Sometimes, all I could think about was how nice it would be to have my own toilet with an abundant supply of toilet paper and a refrigerator with cold water and enough bland food to eat so that I didn’t have to poop or throw everything out.

Then on Thursday morning came and I felt so much better. I t was almost as if all that was left was a few stomach rumbles. I was able to teach again which felt good because I started the Algebra I Unit in mathematics with my students, and they seemed to understand the concepts. Rachel came over later in the day and I was able to make a Mexican dinner for both of us. I was extremely happy to finally eat some substantial food with flavor since I had only eaten small bananas and toast for the duration of the week. It felt good to laugh and smile again with a friend.

On Friday we headed to Kampala and I was well enough to perform my usual bike ride from Luteete to Wobulenzi. Rachel had some business with Peace by Piece Kitenge merchandise at the Peace Corps office and I was called in to work on video editing a Peace Corps Uganda 50th Anniversary Rap. As soon as I stepped in the office I was engulfed in the turbulent storm that only a Ugandan Peace Corps Headquarters could provide. Everyone seemed to be rushing off to a meeting and those who were able to talk to me gave me differing answers. When I asked where the Safety and Security Officer Fred was I received the following replies:

“He’s in his office.”

“Fred is not here at the moment.”

“I think that he’s in a meeting.”

“Ask Phylicia.”

“Phylicia is in a meeting.”

“There’s an emergency and he left to handle it.”

“He’s on the first floor.”

I eventually found Fred and gave him the Bystander Intervention training video that I had edited for him at the All Volunteer Conference a few weeks prior. I gave one of the staff members who was in charge of video ideas interviews from Coffee Camp that needed to be translated from Lukonzo into English. I then was meeting with the head IT person in order to sign out a Peace Corps laptop for the weekend so that I could edit the 50th Anniversary Rap Music Video. Unfortunately, there was no video editing software on any of the laptops. At first we attempted to install Adobe Premiere Elements 10 since I had gotten the software off of PirateBay, but I had the 32-bit version and the laptop was 64-bit. In the end, I was told that I had to make do with Windows Movie Maker to edit the video.

Ever since then, I’ve been staying at this new hostel in Kisementi called Fat Cat Hostel and have finished the music video. The original footage and audio The Fat Cat Backpackerswasn’t the best quality, but I did the best job that I could with the resources that were available to me. It’s been another surreal week and I still can’t understand what’s been happening in my life. Really, these sicknesses, long travels, and lack of my own laptop have really taken a toll on me. Recently, it’s been a series of lows sprinkled with intermittent highs.

But it’s still worth it. I was still looking up at the countless stars in the clear African sky as I retched in my pit latrine, my neighbor cared enough to buy groceries for me, I enjoyed one of the most delicious burgers at Endiro Café on Friday with some good friends even though my stomach started acting up again, and I got to edit video on Windows Movie Maker (never again) in the Peace Corps lounge as the U.S. Embassy released a notification of a terror alert in Kampala concerning a terrorist cell. In the midst of the downs there were ups and that’s what life is, especially in the Peace Corps.