Monday, April 26, 2010

Magic Wand

So the more I talk to people on the phone, the more I become aware that I haven't been too clear on what I am actually doing here. Part of that is because I am trying not to treat this like a day to day list of menial tasks, and the other part is because if I don't type about it, it's probably because I find it either too boring for people to want to read or too sensitive for what Peace Corps considers appropriate. Anyway, I'll try to be more clear about what's going on. I also want to note that if there is something you want to hear about or see here, just let me know and I'll try to get to it.

I'll start by saying that training is officially over. I have left my homestay, and am now trying to get settled in Mbarara. I am living in Mbarara (see picture of my mud hut above) for only a few weeks until my house at site, right outside of Lake Mburo National Park, is finished. I have been to the park this past weekend and it's beautiful! You can see some of the pictures that I took there on the link in the last post. I feel like I've said this, but I'll quickly say again that the work that I will be doing will mostly be to develop this tourism site (camping and cabins) and work with the communities surrounding the park to help them generate some income from all of the tourism they live right next to. That could mean a number of different things, but so you have an idea of what that might look like, other similarly placed volunteers have done things like crafts groups for women to sell things to tourists, youth wilderness and conservation clubs, teaching marketing and basic accounting to business owners, while always trying to mix in some HIV/AIDS education. Those tasks seem pretty realistic, and I listed them because they are the things I know how to do, and they are the ones Peace Corps supports, and volunteers have been successful with in the past.

The problem is the people at my site are looking for so much more. They had this expectation that someone from the West could come into their community, wave a magic wand, and leave the streets paved in gold. The problem persisted when they didn't take one look at me and decide that this 24 year old kid with no tourism experience (outside of being one) would not, in fact, be the person that would turn their empty plot of land into a booming tourism mecca. Instead, they took me around to some of the most important people in the Ankole region and told these VIPs that I had arrived to show them how to do it all. Some of these people have included the heir to the Ankole throne, the Warden of Tourism for National Parks, and while I haven't yet met the national Minister of Tourism, I understand that he was upset I was unable to meet him during my first visit here.

To put it lightly, my site is well connected to the people at the top, and well supported at the grassroots level. These people have put in a lot of their already scarce resources into Rwenjeru Campsite. They seem to have so much banking on the success of this project, and they are counting on me for that success. The gravity if my commitment is dawning on me for what feels like the first time. It's definitely scary, but it's also really exhilarating. I still probably need to curb some of the more grandiose expectations, but I know I can help these people. It's definitely going to be more challenging than I care to imagine at this point in time, but right now I am just excited to get started.

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