The Works

19/6/15 – 30/6/15

One thing that I’ve come to learn about myself is how much I value rest. I need physical, mental, and emotional rest from time to time. At the beginning of last week, I felt alone. I had a taste of United States culture when I attended a US Embassy event at Big Mike’s bar/club. I felt very alone even though I was surrounded by dozens of US Citizens. I just felt that I couldn’t connect with their lives, their experiences, and their tight-knit community that isn’t very welcoming to outsiders. I get it, and I feel that I would be that way too if I was a part of the US Mission, but I’m not. Had I been in a Ugandan club or bar, almost everyone would have welcomed me and danced. However here, there was a lot of awkward standing and not a lot of socializing outside of the immediate group of US Mission folk. Even when I returned back to my embassy sponsor’s house, I felt lonely. There weren’t any neighbors to welcome me back, no children to incessantly knock on my front door, or villagers to welcome me into their homes when a downpour started in the middle of a bike ride.

At some point I met some GEO activists. It was fascinating talking with them and hearing about their experiences championing GEO rights in Uganda and sharing their stories in countries all over the world. I had asked them if they received a lot of animosity in Uganda, and they explained that when the Anti-GEO Bill came out they were attacked and almost beaten to death had it not been for some very brave and supportive friends who came to the rescue. They tell me that they are a part of a passive organization that performs community and village health outreaches. They offer medical counseling and services, but they are also very open to receiving GEO Ugandans and supporting them with the pre-existing and also tight-knit community that exists.

I helped Peace Corps Uganda staff with a Let Girls Learn video of Ugandan celebrities that was filmed at the Serena Hotel. ILet Girls Learn Prep was given a high quality Canon camera to record a close-up of Ugandan celebrities, singers, politicians, and women’s rights activists championing the need for Ugandan girls to learn. I wasn’t star-struck by the celebrities, but it just felt so weird being in one of the nicest hotels in Uganda (complete with waterfall water fountains, lounges, fine dining, and plush carpets) but also because I was filming famous Ugandans whom most villagers would go crazy to see.

I continued on with community integration training with the new cohort’s PST. I followed the same powerpoint model from the last time we presented this session 6 months ago. It was actually very refreshing to hear about the aspirations of these trainees. This time around, they kept saying, “Wow, you’ve been here for 18 months! That’s crazy how long you’ve been here!’ I’ve learned to just share a few of the truisms and generalizations that I’ve learned along the way, coupled with disclaimers that my stories are based solely on my experiences. I fully admitted to them that their experiences could vastly differ from my own.

"No Hookups During Homestay"

“No Hookups During Homestay”

After training, I hung out with Rachel and some other PCV’s at Masindi. Other than another surprise Giardia attack, I felt so content. I had been “on” and travelling for an entire week and just wanted to collapse on a couch and sleep for days. I also wanted to chill with PCV friends with whom I have shared common experiences. I didn’t have to explain myself, where I was coming from, or what I wanted to do. I could just be myself and relax.

I returned back to my house after more than a week of work. I didn’t know what my body wanted. Part of me wanted to sleep, another part of me wanted to go and landscape the area in front of the now-completed ICT Lab, and another part of me wanted to hide in my house until my feelings of apathy and exhaustion subsided. Funnily enough, what it took to get me out of my funk was a visit from a fellow PCV who co-taught a science experiment lesson to my Year 1 students and then got stuck in the middle of a torrential downpour in the middle of Bamunanika trading center.

Rainy Day Rolex

Rainy Day Rolex

We had just ordered rolexes from a chapatti stand dude, and then it began to rain. At first we stayed under the chapatti stand, but the rain intensified and one of the nearby women motioned for us to seek shelter inside her house. She brought out two stools for us to sit, and busied herself cooking porridge for her 3 year old daughter and cassava and beans katogo. Meanwhile the chapatti man welcomed himself into this woman’s house and started cooking our rolexes on her charcoal sigir. So as the rain pounded around us, this drenched young man cooked our rolexes in this stranger’s house as we sat on her chairs and played with her daughter. I realized just how special experiences like these can be and how I would rather get stuck in torrential village downpour in a stranger’s house, than engage in forced conversation in a Kampala bar/club. It is here in the village and in my home where I feel normal, happy, and content.

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Caves and Waterfalls

31/10/14 – 2/11/14

I think that this past weekend signifies a paradigm shift for me. There were a lot of things that happened that elicited a change in how I live in Uganda. A lot of things that I am used to doing are becoming more than normal. The unknown is becoming less and less and the surprises are much less frequent. I believe that it is very fitting that I write this blog post the week before my one year anniversary in country.

I left site on Friday in order to attend the Halloween celebration hosted by fellow PCV Loren. The celebration was slated to take place in Mise CaveCrow's Nest Dorms of the ancestral Sabine king on the side of Mt. Elgon near Sipi Falls about a 45 minute drive away from Mbale. I arrived in Kampala and met up with some other PCV’s who were also headed to Mbale. We ate lunch at the Ethiopian woman’s living room restaurant, and then hopped on the YY Bus in the Bus Park. Compared to other bus rides, this one was ridiculous. It started raining once we passed Jinja and the bus driver decided to pick up speed.  We were zooming along the highway as the bus lights flickered on and off, which gave the on-flight (on-ride?) movies an ominous tone. The first movie involved two village kids who got into shenanigans, then there was a music video that showed scenes of fat Ugandans dancing, priests, cripples, genocide victims, livestock, and smiling villagers all to the tune of Ugandan dancehall with horrible signal-to-noise ratio (speakers are on full volume for the entire ride), and finally a movie called Bridge of Dragons involving a white action star who fights a Vietnamese general in order to save this other Asian girl.

We arrived in Mbale in the evening and checked into this hostel called Casa Del Tourista, and the rooms were carpeted! After dinner, our group met up with other PCV’s on the rooftop of this Indian restaurant called Nuralis. There were dancing, attempts at beer pong, attempts at jumping over tables, and updates from the PCV’s who decided to attend the celebration. I got back to Del Casa a little drunker for the wear, and finished my overdue VRF (Volunteer Report Form).

We grabbed a quick breakfast in the morning and took a private hire to the Crow’s Nest lodge near Sipi Falls. Now usually I’m pretty good at directions, but for this weekend I really had no idea where I was. I just enjoyed the ride from the wide and dusty roads of Mbale to the nearby foothills. Since I had never really been further east than Jinja before this weekend, every 10 seconds my friend Rachel would say to me, “Hey, this is the furthest east you’ve ever been!”

Crow’s Nest reminded me of Byoona Amagara on Lake Bunyonyi. You had the dusty/mildew-infested dorm rooms, the compost pit latrines, the café lounge area, and beautiful panoramic views of the ever-expanding horizon. In this case instead of a placid lake there was a majestic waterfall. A group of us got together for a hike to the three nearby waterfalls in the area. It was another beautiful hike through open farms filled with wild onions that drastically gave way to misty jungles damp from the spray of the waterfalls. As we got nearer to the waterfalls it felt as if there was a light drizzle all around us. I felt so cool and epic standing so close to those falls.

The First Waterfall

The First Waterfall

The Second Waterfall

The Second Waterfall

We got to see three waterfalls in total. I could tell that our guides had been doing this for decades, because they knew exactly when we needed to stop to take a picture, eat some white passionfruit, or let us pause and take in the scenery that was their everyday life. It’s a bit funny to imagine living as a Ugandan in these areas and wondering why muzungus would want to pay 20,000/= (more than you would make in a week) to traipse around your backyard. I think that a famous naturalist said that something no longer appears special or beautiful to you if you see it every day.

 

Looking Up

Looking Up

At the third waterfall, we were given the opportunity to walk down a sloped pathway that led from a cave behind the waterfall, to the pool underneath the waterfall. It felt epic slowly making my way through the sprays and mists. I had never been underneath a real waterfall before, and so it was a new experience for me to just close my eyes and let the water rush down over me.

Underneath a Waterfall

Underneath a Waterfall

As we finished our hike, we passed by a small restaurant that sold rolexes. When the woman told us how much she would charge us 3,000/= ($1.20) for the rolexes, we all simultaneously threw our hands in the air and exclaimed that she was severely overcharging us. After bargaining the price down to 2,000/= ($0.80), we all laughed because of how used we had become to the village prices of certain goods.

We got back to the Crow’s Nest and prepared for the night’s festivities by showering, pre-gaming, and putting on our costumes.

Costumes in a CaveCostumes Included: Peace Corps Care Package, a tree, a chicken, Space Mice, Mefloquine Dream, the princesses from Frozen, Abby and Alana from Broad City, Yoshi, the Nyabo who sells drinks and sodas at the taxi parks, a very bad Michael Jackson, a bumblebee, an Expatriate, Jesus, a barefoot and pregnant woman, and various other costumes.

I was put in charge of preparing the music playlist on a flash drive. I spent the next hour and a half compiling crowd-pleasing songs for the cave as I drank some gin. There were vans hired to shuttle us to in the cave from the Crow’s Nest. We were dropped off literally in the middle of a road and followed a muddy path that led to the large Mise Cave. There were about 30 PCV’s there in costume. To the right of the cave was the man in charge of cooking the whole roasted pig and to the left was the generator that powered the lights and speakers.

The food was amazing, and the glazed/roasted pork tasted just as good as any Lechon that I ate at a Filipino party back home. The food was good, the location was unique, the atmosphere was there, but the only problem was the music. The first set of speakers didn’t play the music from the flash drive because the button on the speakers that would allow the flash drive to play didn’t connect to anything. The second set of speakers only played DVD’s, and so the rest of the party was filled with the overly loud songs of Ugandan dancehall.

That was the unfortunate bit of it. Everything was there and everything was right except for a small button that would have allowed the music to Mise Caveplay. As a result, the Halloween celebration wasn’t as it could have been had the music worked out. Slowly-by-slowly we trickled out of the king’s ancestral cave and continued the celebration back at the Crow’s Nest. We hooked up some portable speakers to our laptops and iPhones and proceeded to dance to music that we knew.

I actually loved that last part of the night where we were all still in costume and chilling by the portable speakers with a waterfall quietly roaring in the distance. I enjoyed getting to hang out with more members of the newer group and connect with them in a way that I had never been able to do before.

On Sunday we hired a coaster to drive most of us back to Kampala. It was a fun, smooth ride since we weren’t taking public transportation. I made the decision to stay overnight in Kampala instead of rushing back home, since I needed to get some work done on the internet.

Chill Lantern NightThe other thing was that I felt stuck in a weird funk after the Halloween celebration. Usually after weekend celebrations with other PCV’s I feel some sort of closure as I travel back home. This time I felt as if there wasn’t any sort of closure. I realized that I had said hello and goodbye to some PCV’s for the last time before they COS’d. I think that it also had to do with the overall vibe of the PCV’s, especially those who were disappointed with the music. This trip also marked me crossing off the east as the last region that I had yet to visit. had traveled to Gulu and Arua in the north, Kabale and Kisoro in the southwest, Kasese and Fort Portal in the west, Kalangala Islands in the central/south, and finally Mbale in the east.

The unknown parts of this country were making themselves known to me. I have also realized that I am almost at the halfway point of my stay in this country. In literally one week I will be welcoming the new trainees into the country. I like to think that one of my resolutions for this coming year in country will be to make an effort to see other PCV’s in all of the regions of Uganda. When this school term ends and I finish helping out with PST, I aim to spend my vacation travelling to the different regions of Uganda and visiting more remote sites along the way. It would be a way to connect with those whom I don’t normally see, and reinvigorate me from seeing the same people and personalities all of the time.