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.

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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.

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.