Sunday, June 5, 2011

Banywani na Nshonga

PCVs currently serving have all heard stories of how rattling reverse culture shock can really be. Reverse culture shock refers to returning to your home country/culture after spending time abroad and finding that you don’t quite fit in as well as you used to, at least at first, and that the way Americans do things is actually now shocking to you. I’ve heard stories of RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) breaking down in the cereal aisle, amazed by the ridiculously huge variety before them. Others have become “that weird guy who greets everyone” because in many of the cultures where PCVs serve, greeting neighbors or even people you don’t know on the street is just what you do. I was watching God Grew Tired of Us, a documentary about refugees from Sudan who are relocated to the U.S., and I felt so bad for them when they went up to people’s houses just to greet them and ask about the neighborhood, and the homeowners were so nervous they called the police. Whenever a group of PCVs gets together at someone’s house, we spend hours raving if that person has a toilet and running water (I’ve even heard rumors that a few lucky PCVs even have things like ovens and one person has a fireplace?!), so I wonder how long I will marvel at modern conveniences when I get home – at our house we have three toilets, three hot showers, a refrigerator, a microwave, an oven, several TVs, heat, air conditioning, a fireplace, fast internet… even the thought of all those luxuries is overwhelming right now. It’s hard to say what will cause me to break down, but a cry fest at the grocery store or Target (another PCV and I have a specific fantasy – driving to Target in our own car while drinking a Starbucks latte) doesn’t scare me as much as the idea that I will be some kind of weird maladjusted citizen who doesn’t fit in.

Kibo is doing great – she’s now 8 months old and pretty big! I was worried about whether I’d be able to take her back to the U.S. because of how nervous she gets around new places and strangers, but I’ve discovered a few important things. First of all, she’s racist (lol). She is super afraid of Ugandan men she doesn’t know (barks her head off then runs away when they get too close), is curious about Ugandan women she doesn’t know, but she almost instantly loves any white PCV that comes to visit, man or woman, and is all over them right away! She’s already very affectionate with people she is familiar with, Ugandan or American, man or woman. And I think her anxiety with new places or walking through the trading center is the number of strange Ugandan men that she doesn’t know. I’ve been taking her on walks up little paths, between farms and where there aren’t too many people, and as soon as we’re away from the main road she visibly relaxes, becomes her happy-go-lucky self, and has a great time running around. The other evening we took a long walk and somehow picked up a caboose of 5 or 6 small children walking with us for over an hour. They didn’t say much but mostly just giggled at Kibo and ran away screaming if she tried to play with them. Definitely an “I live in Africa” moment when you walk through the village with a bunch of kids. Plus, I just don’t think I have the heart to leave Kibo here when I go back to the U.S. – she’s sometimes a piece of work but I love her and she’s coming home with me.

In my village, my best friend is probably my next-door neighbor, Gertrude, who is one of the nurses at the health center. She speaks the best English, understands most of my jokes and just seems to get me more than most Ugandans. She has a 10-month-old daughter named Amanya Ruth, and she is soooo cute! I’ve never watched a baby grow up like this, as I’ve seen her almost every day since she was 3 months old, and it’s so cool to watch her learn to stand, start to say words, learn how to smile, etc.

I was recently traveling by taxi (aka crowded minibus) to my friend’s site in the central region near Kampala. The woman sitting very close beside me kept nodding off to sleep, and every time her head thunked into my shoulder (not just brushed by actually head-butted me), she wouldn’t exactly pull away and would sometimes linger there. I know she was aware of what was happening, and was astonished because I know that I would be mortified if my sleepy head kept landing on a stranger’s shoulder. So I decided to start shoving my shoulder back into her head every time she lingered for more than a few seconds. Well, the ladies in the row behind me noticed it and burst into laughter every time I bonked the lady’s head away from me, and pretty soon my friend and I were also laughing hysterically. It was a very happy moment after a rough week – despite the fact that I didn’t want the lady to actually be sleeping on me, the fact that I had a moment with some Ugandan women without saying a word – a completely cross-cultural, all-humans-are-the-same moment – just made me so happy that I can’t describe it in words. It’s little moments like that, usually a shared laugh, that help put things in perspective and see the goodness in people, despite all the frustrations that naturally arise when two cultures collide.

I needed something to help me feel good about Ugandans and my life here, and remind me of the positive side of things. This last week was very rough because of so many different thing adding up to frustrate me. First of all, my counterpart and supervisor haven't informed me of very important things (such as not being able to translate for a women's health workshop or that the new country director was coming to visit). I bought a new lock for our rainwater tank (which is finally full! no more going to the stream for me for a while) and gave keys to my neighbor and the maintenance man, who sometimes does his laundry here, and who I thought I could trust, and found out that he had given more than 5 people full jerrycans of water without asking us about it (and most of the people who received water were young pretty girls...). The word on the street was that Kahinda was now giving everyone free water from the tank. I felt like my trust had been so betrayed and I was irate. Finally, I had already had greediness, etc. on my mind (see my previous post), so when an NGO came to build two 20,000 liter rainwater tanks for the community's use and asked people to help haul lumber and water for construction, and people were refusing to help without payment, I had just about had it. The community is getting a free source of safe water and they won't give up 10 minutes of their time to help?? And I gave up 2 years of my life (and delayed vet school by 3) to volunteer to help these same people? Ugh! I've rarely been so frustrated and fed up. This week was when I most seriously considered ETing (early termination - quitting) because of how frustrated I was by how irresponsible/selfish/whatever people were being. However, I'm happy to report that spending a few days with PCV friends has drastically improved my mood, so I won't be quitting anytime soon. It was just one of those weeks - they happen to everyone here.

And another mood booster - my mom is flying in today and I am soooo excited!! I’ll pick her up in Entebbe this afternoon and then head to my village with her tomorrow. Updates on our adventures together in a few weeks!

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