Friday, April 8, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday, Peace Corps!

Time here seems frozen. Yes, there is some seasonality between rainy and dry seasons, but for the most part the weather is constant. It feels like spring or summer all year. Being on the Equator, the day length doesn’t change – the sun comes up and sets at almost the same time every day. I can’t decide if life in the U.S. seems like just yesterday or a million years ago, a distant memory that could have been a dream, one which stills seems real when you first wake up.

Speaking of the passage of time, this past weekend, many volunteers attended a service day to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps. We did lots of projects at a primary school near Kampala, including creating a ‘peace garden’ (which was my group’s project), rehabilitating the rainwater collecting system, painting classrooms, collecting trash, painting a mural, teaching life skills, etc. It was a lot of fun, and I got to see lots of great friends and meet many new people, both PCVs already in the field and trainees in the newest group that arrived in February. Although some of the work was outside the ideology of Peace Corps (which emphasizes building capacity and empowering people, not doing things for them like painting schools and building water systems), it felt good to actually do something with a visible, tangible, almost instant result. That evening, we had a super fancy reception – we arrived to big band Frank Sinatra-style music while everyone was having drinks on the lawn, then had dinner and watched films/listened to speeches about Peace Corps under some fancy tents while seated on chairs with chair covers. Super swanky. Kudos to the planning team! Then we danced and danced and danced…. I don’t think I sat down for 4 hours. You can see the video we watched at the reception featuring PCVs and staff in Uganda and what Peace Corps means to us (include a short quip by yours truly) here on Facebook.

Liza, a PCV from my training group who lives in the next village over, is applying for a grant to start a goat project, so she and I would be working together if we get the money. I would teach the recipients about goat care, and she would teach them about financial management and help them to open an account at the Farmers SACCO (microfinance bank) where she works. Keep your fingers crossed that the money pulls through!

I will soon be teaching at an agricultural training college (Kyera Farm) near Mbarara with Jesse, another PCV from my training group. He’s teaching a permaculture class, while I get to teach various animal husbandry topics. This term, I’m in charge of teaching a class on pig, small ruminant, and rabbit production (which is good since I’m also helping other PCVs with goat and rabbit projects – it will help me brush up on what I know). Next term, I could be teaching dairy and beef production. I’m so excited since this is more what I envisioned for myself in Peace Corps than what I have been doing so far, and I also think this might make me a professor. The staff members at Kyera are also really nice, fun people. When I was there last time, one of the veterinarians, who is also a lecturer, was showing the students how to treat pigs for mange – man was it loud! If you’ve never heard a pig scream, your eardrums are thanking you. My first class is on Monday (currently preparing my swine lessons, hahaha) – wish me luck!

I recently received FOUR packages from home, including such wonders as JIF peanut butter, granola bars, Velveeta Mac & Cheese, a ton of issues of The Horse magazine, scented candles, a solar shower, a can of baked beans, Valentine’s Day candy, white-chocolate covered Oreos (unbelievable!), and Eat, Pray, Love on DVD. I also got a big bundle of holiday cards made by Betsy (my niece)’s classroom, with whom I am corresponding through the Peace Corps World Wise Schools Correspondence Program. I should have video-taped myself opening the packages, I was so excited. A big thanks to Mom, Dad, Joy, Sean, and Betsy’s classroom!

Also, the bats in my ceiling/attic are GONE! All it took was to wait for the bats to leave at dusk one evening, and then my neighbor climbed up in the ceiling and stuffed thorny branches into the holes where the bats enter and exit. Now nights are nice and quiet – no more squeaks, creaks, feet scratching on the ceiling tiles, and very-loud thuds when the bats re-enter and jump onto the ceiling from above. If I had known it was this easy, I would have done this months ago – they were so loud they would wake me up at night, and my first few nights at site (and a few select times since then) I literally thought someone was breaking into my kitchen. However, there is now a rat/mouse that sneaks into my kitchen every night and wreaks havoc on my food stores and any level of cleanliness I had managed to create. Might be time to set some traps.

Lately, whenever I’ve been away from site, I get easily frustrated by the actions of people around me (mostly due to impersonal shouts of “Muzungu!”, creepy men, people just trying to rip me off, and another level of annoyedness that I can’t explain) and it’s a huge relief to get home. This manifestation is probably not healthy overall, but I think it speaks volumes to how integrated I feel at site and how kind the people in my village are towards me. When I’m having a bad day, I’m reminded of a quote from a PCV in Peru in one of our reference books:
“There comes a day when all this suddenly becomes apparent, all at once. Things are no longer picturesque; they are dirty. No longer quaint but furiously frustrating. And you want like crazy to just get out of there, to go home.”
When I was traveling in Africa in 2008, things were picturesque, villages were quaint, people were fascinating, and life was an adventure. Life is still an adventure, but in different ways than I could have anticipated (but isn’t it always that way?) but of course I’m still enjoying the ride. I’m learning how to deal with frustrations, and I’m trying to perfect the art of turning the other cheek and of not sweating the small stuff (which is difficult when being cat-called on the street or when a bus company openly admits they have ripped you off and are refusing to give your money back). I also want to show some Ugandan men what a determined, independent woman looks like and what happens when you try to mess with her (it’s not pretty. Ask some of my friends who have been around when someone tries to rip me off or does something really rude). I do wonder how things will be when I get back to the U.S., because reverse culture shock can sometimes be the hardest adjustment of all. Will I actually find things about this culture and way of life that I miss? I’m sure there will be a few, like how people value greeting each other here and take time for their families, and even the fact that I stand out so much will probably be partly missed (I’ll be wondering where my celebrity status went once I get home). Other things, like the treatment of women or open corruption in society, will not.

As a fun addendum to lighten the mood, I just bought a zebra print soft set and will post pictures when I get it delivered to my house. I’ve kinda wanted one ever since I saw one from a bus window a few months ago. When else in my life can I have a zebra print couch without looking completely insane except when I live in Africa? All the couches in Uganda are ugly, anyways (no seriously, they’re REALLY ugly) – might as well get one with some flair!

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