Monday, March 19, 2012

A Growing Fan Base

It goes without saying that Ugandans are ardent fans of European football, particularly of teams - Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool - that play in the Premiere League. In attempt to diversify the sports/teams that people in my village support, as well as to promote Peace Corps Goal #2 (to promote a better understanding of Americans - my Red Sox fanaticism - on the part of the peoples served), I have begun to Bostonize, Patriotize, Red Soxize, Celticize, and Bruinize them to become as passionate fans of the said teams. The following pictures are visual proof of my endeavor to grow the Boston sports fan base, slowly but surely, in Kachumbala.

Flo proudly sporting her Patriots t-shirt.

The Red Sox and Patriots are well represented in Kachumbala.

Why am I the only one not wearing any Boston memorabilia?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Highs and Lows

Because of my blog's 1 1/2 month hiatus, I think it's time for a much-needed update.

Before I delve into my January-February Highs and Lows, I'd first like to recommend "The Real Peace Corps" from Waid's World: My Journey to Ethiopia and Back. The post, written by a current PCV in Ethiopia, perfectly captures the Peace Corps experience, far better than I could ever articulate or explain it.

Just like the author, my Peace Corps experience is often defined by a freedom-containment dichotomy. I have learned to celebrate the small victories, laugh at the small things and at myself, and give up on projects that, despite the potential for success, my community refuses to take ownership in. I can directly relate to the loss of all personal space when traveling to/from my site into town. I can directly relate to the 24/7 "look-into-your-soul-type" stares, the strange, local food (though I've never had the unfortunate priveledge of ever trying gunfo), the sometimes exhilirating, sometimes rewarding, sometimes boring, sometimes incomphrehensible experience that is Peace Corps. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Peace Corps is a wave of emotions, and full of extreme highs and extreme lows. Following my extreme-high trip to Egypt, I returned to site refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to get back to work. Unfortunately, the latter was not possible. I returned during the middle of my school's Christmas break; nobody was around, the Dispensary was closed, and work was few and far between. As such, my next three weeks consisted primarily of reading Dave Eggers novels, watching bootlegs, staring up at my blank ceiling, playing with my dog, and venturing into Mbale every few days. This prolonged period of boredom/no work at site put me in a bad funk, and significantly challenged my need to keep busy/yearning for adventure. A definitive low.

Truthfully, although I have not once seriously considered early terminating (ETing), there have been days where I have questioned my decision to continue serving, having given up so much - two years away from family and friends - to be here. But then, I will have an extreme high, for instance I will have taught a great class lesson or a new project materializes for which I'm really excited about, and my committment to finishing out my Peace Corps service in its entirety is reaffirmed.

I was hoping things would take a turn for the better once the school year got underway. Unfortunately, due to national holidays, inexplicable, school-wide testing days, and community burials, there hasn't yet been a whole lot of opportunity for teaching this term. To put this in greater perspective, 1 term = roughly 12 weeks. Out of the 7 school weeks thus far, we've had only 3 full weeks of teaching. At this rate, with three terms in one school year, students will only receive about 15 full weeks of education this year.

Along with my teaching counterpart, Atima Christine, I have two new streams of Senior 3 students this term; the majority of my students last term moved on to Senior 4. This means that we are starting over, essentially reteaching everything that we taught last year to new students, focusing our topics around composition writing, grammar, punctuation, and the parts of speech (topics that should have been taught/learned in primary school). This year's group of Senior 3's seem to have more of a genuine interest in learning, and are more actively engaged, than last years' Senior 3's, so I'm excited to see how they progress over the course of the next few months. Still, they have a long way to go if they want to move on to Senior 4 and beyond.

I am happy to update that the Books for Africa shipment - comprising 24,000+ Primary Junior, Primary Senior, and Secondary school books; 4 new desktop computers; 40 solar lights; and several sets of encyclopedias/atlases - that so many of you kindly donated to is scheduled to leave for Kampala this week! I am uncertain as to how long it will take for the shipment to officially arrive, but I anticipate sometime between May-July. In the meantime, I am in the process of getting the library room renovated, training the appointed librarian in library management, and working with the school headmaster to purchase furniture (bookshelves, chairs) for the library. I endeavor to have the library completely finished, open to the student body, by September (the start of Term 3). A definitive high.

I am unhappy to update that my women's group that I started back in September 2011 is officially no more. Back in January, I tasked each of the 20 women to come up with a personal goal that they could work on in the coming months, and which would significantly improve their livehlihoods. Goals were to be developed from their notes of all the lessons I had taught them (Malaria Prevention, Water Sanitation, Personal Hygiene, Health & Nutrition, Family Planning, STD's, Typhoid, Rabies, TB, Cancer). The women misconstrued the assignment to mean that I would simply hand them a cow, a goat, iron sheets to build a new house, money to pay for school fees, or solar power on a silver platter. After I quickly dismissed that assumption, the women stopped coming to the weekly meetings. As a result, there is now no group. Do I have any regrets? None whatsoever. A low nonetheless? Absolutely.

The village borehole, that was initially restored and then broke down again right before I left for Egypt in December, is re-restored with a twist: It now has a padlock on it. The borehole broke down because it was constantly being overworked, as it was everybody's primary water source. To resolve this problem, the headmasters at Kongunga Primary School and Kongunga Secondary School, as well as Fr. Okurut, agreed to only open the borehole for public use at specified times. This way, people can still use the borehole without overusing it throughout the day.

Despite my estimated odds (25%) from a recent post, I am happy to report that I was wrong. After a four-month absence, we finally got our power reconnected. A DEFINITE high, even if the power does go haywire every 20 minutes.

Uganda is now officially entering its wet season. There is no happy medium between the dry season and the wet season in eastern Uganda. The dry seasons are scorching hot and lack any forseeable rainfall for weeks; the wet seasons drop buckets and buckets of rain, and particularly in Kachumbala, mosquitoes seem to multiply and bite the muzungu like its their job. Cooler weather and much-needed rain? Highs. Flooding and hungry mosquitoes? Lows. My Peace Corps experience? I wouldn't have it any other way.