Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Advice to Current and Future PCV's

I recently came across this post - taken from an article - on another volunteer's blog. I can't speak personally for other volunteers in-country, but I know that I can personally relate to and reflect upon a number of these points, which serve as a good reminder as to how PCV's can be most effective in their respective communities.

When you’re thinking of ETing on a hot Tuesday morning when the borehole is broken and your supervisor is drunk, keep in mind the following…

(taken from 25 Tips for Peace Corps Volunteers by Kathy Gau and Lyle Jaffe)

* If you want to change the world, change yourself. You cannot effectively contribute toward growth unless you are growing yourself. If you want to grow, drop your ego. Learn to identify when your ego is in play and develop strategies to quell it.

* Use this experience to learn about yourself. This is the most important lesson. Try to remember it.

* Development is disruptive. It implies changes in power relationships that result in uncertainty and loss. Few people willingly give up power unless they can see there will be gain. Most poor people cannot afford to change radically. It takes a huge amount of energy (physical and emotional) for average rural folk to maintain daily life, let alone try to break out of the poverty cycle.

* Do not expect a smooth ride. Do not expect people to go out of their way to listen to you. People had a life before you came. They will continue to have a life after you leave.

* You will not see tangible, measurable results in 2 years anywhere close to what you hope or expect. The saying that "what takes a day in USA takes a week in Africa, what takes a week in USA takes a month in Africa, what takes a month in USA takes 1 year in Africa" is close to true for reasons that you have no control over. So after your first month on the job, when you are still in USA mode, write down what you would like to achieve in 2 months time. This now becomes your 2-year work goal.

* Don't want it more then they want it (or, don't show them how bad you want it to work). Find other ways to deal with your personal and professional frustrations regarding the work ethic, the what could/should/can be in the face of serious problems. You are but one step in a very long journey to address these problems. Concentrate on doing your step well and having fun.

* There is no "us and them". Human beings are the same everywhere. Could you do it if it were you in their shoes? Don’t think for a moment that because you live in a hut and don’t make much money that you are in their shoes.

* It doesn’t matter how right you think you are. If you haven’t developed a working relationship with someone, or if you don’t approach your suggestion with the most sincere humility, you will not convey your message effectively. Think: do you want to be right or be effective?

* Learn how to yield effectively to win. Their life is not about your principles. Neither is mine or anybody else’s. Try to understand why people do what they do and then don’t judge. Work the problem with them, and your emotions with you.

* What you experience is a sliver of time and space. Be careful not to generalize beyond this.

* Pay attention to the way you feel when you spend time judging. If it feels bad, if you feel worse, then don’t do it. It isn’t pretty to watch people sit around doing the “these people syndrome”. If you find yourself doing it, it’s a sure sign that you have something to work out within yourself. Find it and work it out.

* Do not think for a minute that your attitude towards people is unfelt. Everyone feels when they are being put down. Make people feel that they have grown in your presence.

* Over a 2 year period, your task is really to teach. It might take 3 steps or it might take 21 steps. There is nothing right or wrong about the number of steps so do not judge as this is the same as saying "I have no hope that you can learn.”

* Understand that your frustration is about you. It is about a diminishing sense of self-importance. Where else do your expectations regarding tangible achievements within your own timeframe come from? No one gets it right the first time or the second time. You need to constantly go back to the drawing board and revisit your starting point and your methods.

* Do not give up and do not give in. Unfortunately, the process of development cannot be shortened. Respect that those you work with drew the short straw, appreciate that you did not. For now, your anguish, guilt, and questions about this will just distract from the task at hand and are really rather self-indulging, if you think about it.

* Be a positive role model in your personal life, someone that young folk can aspire to become like. “Walk your talk.”

* Peace Corps is first and foremost a cultural exchange program. You will learn more than you will give. Be prepared to change your understandings. You can only balance the formula if you change both sides of the equation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Slow Days...Rapid Weeks and Months

A New Pet at the Mission

His name is Fugoso, named after the dog on the Phillipenese soap, Marimar, on Ugandan TV. He currently is 7-weeks old, just received his rabies vaccine and tick/flea repellant shampoo (there was a flea outbreak at my site), likes to bite (we're trying to train him not to), and inadvertantly scares away all of the curious children passing by at the end of each schoolday. As long as I see that he will be well-cared for and looked after at the Mission - in Uganda, pets are often ill-treated, neglected, and malnourished - I do not plan to bring him back to the States. Pictures of Fugoso are on facebook.

Nearly August?

PCV's often remark on how slow the days go by, but on how fast the weeks and months fly by. Nearing almost a year in-country, I have found this to incredibly indicative of my time in Uganda. I've found that the days seem to prolong because I've been constantly thinking in the short-term and employing a one-day-at-a-time mentality. What health topic will I teach at the dispensary today? What food do I need to buy in Mbale today? What day should I wash my clothes? Furthermore, days seem to lag because there is little work and because people generally remain within the confines of their home/area around their compound. Reoccurring boredom sets in. Communication with other PCV's and the outside world remain difficult. Before you know it, 3 weeks...5 weeks...4 months pass, and you wonder incredulously where/how the elapsed time went/could have gone. For me, I still can't believe that it's nearly August, nearing the end of summer (in U.S. seasons), and nearly 9 served months at site.

A Reoccurring Frustration

Since returning to site from my awesome vacation with Julie and Fiery in late June, I've had a great couple of weeks. One reoccurring frustration I've been having, however, is the amount of time (days, weeks, months even) it often takes for a simple task to get done in Uganda, notably when I'm being lied to about it. For example, it took the veterinarian in my district 8 days, and probably 12 phone calls, to come to Kachumbala to administer the rabies shot to Fugoso. The veterinarian told me he would come to Kachumbala the day after I initially called him, not a week later. Rightfully, this pissed me off. I confronted him about his lateness. His reply? "Well, I'm here now." Don't get me wrong, I don't mind waiting a week for my dog to receive his rabies vaccine. I understand that the veterinarian had plenty of patients and work elsewhere. I understand that I'm living in a culture that has more of a it-can-wait attitude than a let's-get-it-done-now attitude. What I don't understand, however, is being straight-up lied to (no remorse), multiple times (this is the third instance of being deceived this month), either just to appease me or to avoid confrontation. I will never understand this.

Health Group Update

My Health Group at the dispensary has been going well the past couple of weeks. With the assistance of Emma and Betsy, both new staff, sessions on Typhoid Fever, Cholera, STD's, and Cancer were taught to varying numbers of patients. To the staff, the group has become something they've taken ownership in. Still, I'm not sure whether the group is empowering attendees to utilize and implement the skills/knowledge they learn, or if they're even understanding the information at all. Before every session concludes, for instance, we briefly review the information that was taught. Only a few of the attendees (those whom, typically, were the ones participating) raise their hand, while everybody else just keep quiet. When Emma, Betsy, or I ask if there are any questions, or if they understood the material, the attendees often just dismiss the question by saying, "No, I understand," but we can tell otherwise. I never previously understood why my high school teachers and college professors became so frustrated when students didn't ask questions/raise their hands/participate in their classes. Did my students understand what I was teaching them? Do I need to reteach or review the material? Were they even paying attention? Now, I understand their frustration firsthand.


Every time I travel to Kampala, I feel like I am in two seperate worlds, simultaneously. Upon arrival to Uganda's capital city, I am reminded by some of its wealth (estates, big houses) and western luxuries (three-story malls, a movie theater, expensive restaurants, luxurious hotels), until I quickly see firsthand its extreme levels of poverty and homelessness. Indeed, the economic disparity between the wealthy elite and the working class/the poor is staggering. To me, the widespread frequency of begging, children as young as 5-years old, often barefoot in ripped clothing, is particularly bothersome. On a personal level, even more bothersome is just how desensitized I've become to begging in Kampala. Begging is very common, but I rarely, if ever, stop to give money, nor do I ever think twice to stop; giving money is not why I came to Uganda. It's ironic that I was sensitized about many issues by Peace Corps staff my first two months in-country as a PC trainee, but now that I'm a PC volunteer almost at the 1-year mark, I've become somewhat desensitized to many commonplace things such as begging.

That's all for now. Only 12 days until I leave for Zambia-Kenya with Mom and Dad!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A University Graduation...Ugandan-Style!

On Friday, July 1st, I attended Rose's (my old supervisor) graduation from Ugandan Christian University (UCU) - she recieved her Bachelor's degree in Social Work and Social Administration - with her sister, Allen. Not only was I excited to attend her graduation to celebrate her academic accomplishment, but also to compare, in general terms, how university graduations in Uganda (UCU) compare to those in the United States (Clark University). In many respects, other than being only one of three muzungus at a graduation in which thousands of people were present, UCU's ceremony compared similarily to a graduation ceremony at Clark. Both graduations were conducted entirely in English; the traditional, graduation attire of the cap and gown were worn by graduates at both; and both consisted of hundreds of proud family members, relatives, and friends in attendance. Nevertheless, there were many distinguishable differences:

Graduation at Ugandan Christian University in Uganda:
(a) Grading scale out of 5.0.
(b) Graduating honors: First-class (4.6-5.0), Second-class (4.0-4.59)
(c) The majority of pictures - graduates in their caps and gowns posing with family and friends - were taken BEFORE the graduation so that photographers/picture vendors had enough time to process, print, and return the pictures to the graduates upon the conclusion of the ceremony.
(d) Photography and cameras were not allowed at the ceremony due to the potential terrorist/bomb threat.
(e) The ceremony commenced two hours late past its anticipated start time, yet it still managed to end on time (four hour ceremony).
(f) The ceremony started with a procession/march of only university faculty. Graduates were already seated.
(g) No student speaker
(h) The guest speaker focused his speech largely around religion, and encouraged graduates to follow and adhere to the teachings of Christ.
(i) Graduates sat on the opposite side and directly facing their family/friends during the ceremony.
(j) Master's/Graduate students were divided by department, and recieved their diplomas (as their names were called out) as a collective group. Bachelor's students also were divided by department, and recieved their diplomas (as their names were called out) as a collective group.

Graduation at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A.:
(a) Grading scale out of 4.0.
(b) Latin honors of graduates: Summa Cum Laude (3.7-4.0), Magna Cum Laude (3.5-3.69), Cum Laude (3.25-3.49).
(c) Pictures were taken both BEFORE and AFTER the graduation ceremony. As far as I can remember, there were no individual photographers/picture vendors at the ceremony offering to take, process, and print graduation pictures. Family and friends merely took the pictures themselves.
(d) Photography and cameras were allowed, and pictures of graduates recieving their diplomas were taken throughout the ceremony.
(e) The ceremony commenced right on time, yet it still managed to conclude far longer than its anticipated end time (four hour ceremony).
(f) The ceremony started with a procession/march of all professors and graduating students. Graduates were not initially seated.
(g) One student speaker
(h) The guest speaker focused his speech around civic engagement, volunteerism, and global awareness, and encouraged graduates to be role model citizens in their communities.
(i) Graduates sat in front of and facing in the same direction as their family/friends during the ceremony.
(j) Master's/Graduate students were divided by department, but they recieved their diplomas (as their names were called out) one-by-one. Bachelor's students were NOT divided by department, but rather grouped as one class, and they recieved their diplomas (as their names were called out) one-by-one.

I particularly enjoyed watching just how proud parents were of their children as they recieved their diplomas. Some parents clapped, others cried out joyfully, some even yelled remarks such as, "My child, be grateful to your dear parents on this day," translated by Allen for me in English (from Luganda).

Congratulations again to Rose on her academic accomplishment!

In other news...

* To wish Father Paul well on his three-week trip to Germany, we had a five-hour dance party at the Mission on Thursday night, dancing to local Ateso music, popular Ugandan music, and American dance beats. Everybody had a good laugh, either because I was surprisingly good or pathetically dreadful, when I started dancing Ateso-style. Note: as a group, Ugandans are far better dancers than Americans. It was, hands-down, one of the the best and most enjoyable nights I've had in Uganda.

* Last Sunday after morning mass, using Father Okurut's projector and my computer, I attempted to show Hotel Rwanda and War Dance to a congregation of 300 people. All went as planned...until the power went off one hour into Hotel Rwanda. We waited five minutes for the power to come back. It did not. Everybody proceeded to leave. Five minutes later, as I predictably expected, the power came back. This Sunday, with power n'all, I hope to finish Hotel Rwanda, hold a discussion about it, and show War Dance. Yet with the power constantly fluctuating on-and-off everyday this month, this may be asking too much.

* I could not be more pleased with the progress of my Health Group at the Dispensary. After Rose's departure, I was admittedly concerned that the group would fall apart, either that patients wouldn't show up or that other staff wouldn't take ownership in the group. I am happy to admit that I could not have been more wrong. While I was away on my trip with Julie and Fiery, sessions on Terbuculosis (TB) and Rabies, that I had prepared beforehand, were taught to groups of 35 and 40 people, respectively. This past Thursday, Emma and I led a session on Typhoid to a group of 20 patients. This coming week, I've prepared sessions on Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) and Cholera. I'm still deciding whether to reteach sessions already covered (malaria prevention, water sanitation, personal hygiene, family planning, mental health/wellness) or continue to introduce new topics. My vision is that by the time I leave site in October 2012, I will have prepared, typed, and compiled 40 health topics/sessions into a manual for the staff at the Dispensary to use long after I leave.

* I was psyched when I found out last Wednesday that the secondary school at which I teach recently recieved 11 brand-new computers from the government. Indeed, teachers at the school have been waiting for and expecting these computers for months, but I half-believed that the computers would never come. Come the beginning of Term 3 (September), after the room is cleaned and restored, I hope to begin teaching computer classes - during break, lunch, or after school - on Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), serfing the Internet (if available), and keyboard typing. Keep you posted.

* Yesterday, my organization acquired a new pet, a mut pup whose new Ateso name I still can't pronounce. Right now, the pup seems to be in overall good health; I am currently in the process of getting it a rabies shot.

That's all for now. Hope everybody had a good 4th!