Tuesday, June 29, 2010

birthday to remember

I celebrated my birthday this past Saturday, and I want to first and foremost thank everyone for all of the love they showed me that day. Before I came here, I worried that out of sight would mean out of mind. That I would live my life here and people would go on living their lives at home with the time and distance creating a rift between us. Luckily, I have never felt that way since I actually arrived, and in fact have come to feel and appreciate those bonds now more than ever. I have already talked a lot about this, and I am sure I will do so even more in the future, but I had to say it again here.

This past weekend I went to the neighboring town of Ibanda to visit two of my losest PCV friends Charlene and Brian and to celebrate my birthday.

Before I go on with my day, I need you to know something about me. One of my favorite ways to mark special occasions is by severe overeating. Whether it be exclusively eating Chicago deep-dish pizza during a 3 day trip with Danimal, a gluttonous Super Bowl eating competition with Ian, Mix, and Fro, ungodly amounts of protein after the completion of a particularly brutal day of lifting legs with Pat, ludicrous amounts of Grandma’s Pizza + Katzinger’s Deli for the OSU football game with Luke, Rees, Ally and Katie, ice cream for just about any movie night with Mike, and especially the incomparable feasts during holidays with the Lebanese Mafia. Although I generally do my best to always eat healthy, these special occasions are one of my favorite ways to celebrate.

Anyway, this past birthday was no different. After a relatively nutritious breakfast of banana, cocoa, and peanut butter oatmeal, we made our way from Brian’s to Charlene’s. There, we dined on a lunch of GIANT chocolate chunk and banana pancakes. Lacking syrup, we topped them off with a selection of powdered sugar, honey, and/or peanut butter.

After lunch, Charlene dragged Brian and my bloated asses out of the house to meet up with a Brother from a nearby church. The Brother had asked if we would attend some school celebration with him, and against our urges to immediately take an afternoon nap, we went. We appeared to be right on-time because as we walked in the MC announced that the celebration had officially begun as the guests of honor had arrived. I looked around to see who the guests of honor were, both curious and a bit embarrassed that we were entering a room of tuxedo and dress clad teens and probably even more elaborately dressed guests of honor while we had on only our t-shirts and jeans. To both my horror and amusement, I saw every head in the house turn toward us as cameras’ flash bulbs began to pop. For a few seconds I felt bad for the real guest of honor as clearly these misinformed kids had thought that the only white people in the room must surely be the guests of honor. Unfortunately, I was the misinformed one. Apparently the Brother, along with his three American friends were, in fact, said guests of honor to these students’ prom. After taking our seats on stage, we introduced ourselves over the microphone to the student body, where much to the chagrin of mine and Brian’s bellies, we were served lunch and cake, which, knowing our manners better then to refuse a Ugandan’s offer of food, we accepted and ate. Feeling even more stuffed than before and still largely uncomfortable, we began hatch out our exit strategy. Before we could put our plan into motion, however, the MC announced that the ceremony part of the celebration was over and that the dance would officially begin with the guests of honor taking the stage first to “show everyone how they dance in America”. Dancing on stage in front of hundreds of people I don’t know could probably best be described under the heading: My Worst Nightmare, but I did it anyway, and at the very least lived to laugh about it.

After the dance, we got the hell out there and headed back to Charlene’s. We had only a couple hours before we had to head into town to watch the then highly anticipated US Soccer match vs. Ghana. Before we went, however, we were obligated to eat the peanut butter cake with chocolate icing that Charlene had made for my birthday. Apparently they had caught on to my affinity for chocolate and peanut butter. We had all thought that we were completely stuffed, but our three-man destruction of that cake implied otherwise.

We then headed into town for dinner (I was contractually obligated to continue the gluttony) and the match. We ate rolex’s (basically like egg burritos), drank a few beers, and when Landon Donovan equalized we absolutely lost our minds with euphoria. I was having one of the best birthdays I can remember. Our ultimate loss to Ghana, on the other hand, was a bit hard to swallow. I tried to joke that at least my first son’s name was still up in the air as Landon Danger Szaronos would not be made obligatory by a US World Cup title (Danger, however, is definitely still on the table). By the time the final seconds ticked off from the match in extra time my euphoric mood had completely disipated. An almost perfect birthday. I looked down at my watch to discover that it was 12:03, June 27th. Maybe my birthday had ended on a high note.

site. finally.


I know the entries are coming fewer and further between as of late, but since I have finally moved to my site out in the village power and internet have been much harder to come by. Like I said though, I am here now, and after nearly two months of idle doldrums I am ready to get to work.

My house is pretty small and very simple. It’s essentially two rooms that measure about 6’X15’ with two 4’x4’ outcroppings for a bathing area and a kitchen. There’s no power and no running water and my furnishings are minimalist at best, but to be honest, out of all the adjustments I’ve had to make since coming to country, acclimating to the lack of amenities has been the easiest.

I said I was ready to work, and I meant it, yet my move to site has not meant a move from the continent, and things here still move slower than I’d thought possible. After a little more than a week my only real contribution has been to write a letter to the Ugandan Ministry of Tourism announcing the launch of our campsite (the organization officially started 4 years ago, but my arrival marks the “real launch” according to the other members) and asking them for technical advice and resources. The letter took me about 30 minutes to write, however it took me about three days to go around with my supervisor Enoch and listen to him read it to people. I am not sure if there was a point to it other than for them to tell me it was the greatest letter any of them had ever heard.

So what have I done with my days since arriving at site? Well each morning I wake up, exercise, make breakfast, and read for about an hour. By 10-11 everyone else is just about ready, and we have our daily meeting. The meetings revolve around what we are going to do for that day, although to date, 60% of these meetings have been to tell me why the other members are too busy to do work for the day. From there, I either find ways to keep myself busy (reading, cleaning, cooking) or do whatever work I can for the day. 2:00 marks lunch time, and what seems to mean the definite end of all work to be done by every man in the village for the day. I’m hoping that this is only because of the ongoing World Cup, however I can’t say at all for sure. And so after lunch each day I have gone into the nearby trading center (small town) with the two closest people to friends I have so far (Allen and Eddison) to watch a match or two. Despite having run out of money to finish my house on time, the chairman of my organization has just opened a new bar with a 15 foot HD projection screen with a satellite dish. I won’t jump to any conclusions, but you are free to speculate on that… Regardless, at least I have a good place to watch soccer from. Anyway, I try to get home by dark, eat my dinner, watch a show on my laptop if I have power, and call it a day.

So that’s it. That’s my life for the time being. The situation is by no means perfect, but I have been really happy so far. If things were perfect there would be no need for me to be here. I have to look at each problem as an opportunity, whether it be an opportunity to help someone else or an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

my new patriotism

It's been over four months now, and at some point not long ago I crossed the 'longest-I've-ever-been-outside-of-the-country" barrier. In crossing this invisible threshold, my mind has also shifted a bit in it's way of thinking. Being away from my home, America, has always made me stop and appreciate how many great opportunities there outside. There are different sights to see, people to meet, and cultures to experience. The world is filled with all kinds of amazing things, and I think it would be unfortunate to live inside of a bubble and never get to see them.

I have never been one to be terribly patriotic, and if truth be told, I found the entire concept a bit tacky. That is not to say that I despised America or anything even close to that, but I just considered it the place where I happened to be born as opposed to any other. Patriotism was something for older generations maybe, or perhaps something for the politicians to make a show of. A pin on a lapel. With that being said however, my time away has now led me to rethink my conceptions.

America, I've come to realize after all, is a pretty amazing place. I will leave aside the obvious things that people would want to associate with America's greatness like "freedom", "equality" and whatever other catchphrase you want to throw in. Those things all may be true, but it's not really what I want to focus on here. What I have come to value the most is our people. It is a country filled with good people who are hard-working and never give up. They care about what's right, and are willing to sacrifice for it.

These are all pretty lofty sounding ideals that I think probably sound cliche, and if you would have presented them to me just a few months ago I would have agreed with you, but not anymore. When I say these things, I am not thinking about some generic concepts that the founding fathers wrote on some document and that get regurgitated at a national convention. I am thinking of very specific examples where I see people putting these ideas into practice every day (and for the record, I am not speaking of myself here, because to be honest I haven't done shit yet). I see friends and family who have sacrificed so much of their lives to teach our children, to revive our communities, to care for and heal the underprivileged, trying to make our political system better, or are dedicating themselves in so many other ways. These are more the rules than the exceptions.

I want to sign off with two quotes that have been in my mind quite a bit lately. The first was said by a Ugandan to a group of us Peace Corps Volunteers that I think is relevant to what I have been trying to say. He said, "America is a country that is more than willing to sacrifice it's greatest resource. It's people." The second is a bit more simple, and I am going to have to apologize to some, but I just have to say it anyway...

"America. Fuck yeah."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

new phone number

After fighting a losing battle with my previous mobile provider, I have switched, and now have a new number. You can find me at (256) 701-325-324

I also have Skype on my computer, and, for the time being, I have fast enough internet for video. You can find me there at david.szaronos

Friday, June 4, 2010

much needed holiday

I've been away from my apartment in Mbarara for a week and haven't been to my campsite at Rwenjeru for over two now, hence my absence. The first few days of my holiday I met up with my friend Renee to stay with another Volunteer in a town called Kasese near Queen Elizabeth National Park. From there, Renee and I went on to Kampala to meet up with some of our other friends from our training class, and to deal with a few issues we were both having with our sites at the Peace Corps Office.

Whether it was seeing all of my friends, eating a few good meals, finally feeling some support from the PC administration, or the complete lack of Enock in my life, I feel so refreshed right now. The problems I am facing at my site are all still here, and may have even grown in number since I have been away as my landlord is threatening to evict me for late rent. I just feel more ready to deal with all of those things now.

Kampala gave me a much needed break from the monotony of my daily routine. I got a chance to do do some things that I thought I wouldn't even get a whiff of for the next two years. I had the three best meals I have eaten since I left America in early February including one of roasted crocodile (surprisingly delicious!), I went to the local clothing market and indulged a bit in my two favorite articles of clothing (jeans and a pair of high tops - second hand, but still...This is Uganda), and I even threw down and won a few bets at a nearby casino. More importantly, I got a chance to spend some time with some good friends (namely Renee and Joe). I think we reminded each other of why we came here in the first place and the fact that, even thuogh it sometimes feels like it, we aren't in this alone.

All in all, the last week or so has in no way resembled what a Peace Corps experience normally is or even should be. None of us came here to continue the lives we left back in America. High-end meals, new (used) clothes, and gambling are not things that you ever want to rely on to keep your sanity, especially when you are spending two years in East Africa. We also have to learn how to find contentment within ourselves, and not rely on other people for our happiness as we move on. We all know this, and we are still learning, but that doesn't mean that it is wise to deny ourselves these much needed respites when we need them, and as far as I am concerned, the timing of this last trip couldn't have been better.