Saturday, August 28, 2010

side by side

I’ve talked before about how Peace Corps is a dichotomy. At times I think it may just be the unfamiliarity that makes everything seem this way, but sometimes I feel like this is a place where the extreme seems to thrive and both sides of the coin coexist side by side.

Since I have been in country, I have seen great savannahs, impenetrable rain forests, and vast swamps that look as if man has never even been near them, and I have seen factories pumping what looked like used motor oil directly into a roadside ditch right outside their property, forests leveled and plains burned to make way for new farmland, and entire towns coated in dust from all of the construction in the red earth.

I have had unknown children sprint up to me wanting to do nothing other than hold my hand, and I have been woken up at all hours of the morning by other children fiercely demanding that I give them money, a computer, or any number of my other possessions, which they inexplicably know I have.

I have seen life on the highway. Literally. I actually saw a woman give birth on the side of the road. But I also saw death on the highway when a man fell from his perch on top of a moving truck and had been gorily ripped open, lying with his insides spread over the road.

I am always easily recognized as someone “not from around here”. This, at times, has resulted in total strangers inviting me to take lunch or tea with them, or just thanking me for coming to help their country. At other times it has resulted in people yelling at me to “go back to (insert foreign country here)”.

I know people that work from sunrise to sunset, cooking, cleaning, farming, and getting their children off to school every single day, but I have also walked past groups of men who, despite being drunk off their asses before noon, can’t afford their own children’s school fees. When they incredulously demand “YOU GIVE ME MONEY!” they often don’t even hide the fact that they are planning to use it to buy more booze.

My complexion, darker than most Western workers but much lighter than their own, has caused total strangers to want to take a photo with their favorite international football stars Carlos Tevez or Cesc Fabregas (me), but it has also gotten me furiously accused of being a terrorist or a Muhindi (person from India), probably both of which implying equal disdain in the accusers’ eyes.

I have seen months, packed with new and exciting things every day, fly by in an instant. I have also felt the hours stretch so long they seemed like weeks where I would hardly leave my apartment or speak to anyone for days on end.

I have met people who have selflessly devoted their entire lives (not just the two years I am giving up) to the service of other people, receiving hardly anything in return outside of their own contentment, but I have also seen hordes of people who have taken jobs in aid or religious service only because they are the best paying (and most easily extorted) positions available locally.

I have met local people with hardly anything to call their own share meals, lend money, and even take in lost children to raise as their own, expecting nothing in return, but I have also seen people in power with their hands in the pockets of needy schools, orphanages, and any other number of other organizations.

Having said all of these things, I guess it’s not altogether surprising some of the mood swings that I, along with many of the other volunteers in country, experience, but I think it would be a mistake to attribute them entirely to outside forces. Sometimes I feel up when everything is going wrong, and sometimes I am down for no reason at all. I guess I haven’t quite figured that one out yet, but I’m looking into it.

Special thanks to my friend, Devon, for the photo. He took the shot and photoshopped it. I liked it so much that I couldn't help but steal it. I feel like the photo does a great job in getting the point I wanted across. In his own words:

THIS is Peace Corps. Same pic. Flip it. Desaturate it. Sew them together. Bright, warm. Black/white Drab. It's the "ups" and it's the "downs." And when you put it all together, it's a beautiful view... sunrise on the horizon. The beginning of a truly unique day.

You can check out Devon's blog here -

I also have my new address finally. Check it out on the right side of this page under "Contact Info".

Saturday, August 7, 2010

two great american holidays

More old photos. These should have gone with the stories about my birthday and the boat ride/4th of July, but I had trouble uploading them all. Hope you enjoy them anyway.

These albums have been about halfway uploaded to the site for a while so it's possible you have looked at the album before today but not seen most of the photos now there.


Photos of my old site. I have been trying for weeks to get them up, and titled the album "Site!" when I had just moved in and was still very excited about Rwenjeru. If I were to title it now, it would probably be "site..." and would have been accompanied by an effect that sounds like "wanh wanhh waaaaaaannnnnnnhhh". You know what I mean.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

a fresh start

Monday, I finally made my move away from Rwenjeru Campsite. The people whom I had lived with were all quite surprised to see the Peace Corps truck pulling up. They quickly set to work trying to make tea and set up a nice little outdoor meeting area to show the PC staff some hospitality, having no clue the real reason for their arrival.

I was given the option to attend the meeting where the truth would out, and PC would tell about their discovery of the corruption and their decision to remove me from the site. Looking back, I feel like I should have definitely been there, but at the time I declined to attend. I felt more nauseous than I can ever remember feeling. I just couldn't face them. Also not in attendance was Enock, who, in typical fashion, had left town for a one night trip to Kampala about a week or so ago. I elected, instead, to put all of my belongings into the truck. 90 seconds later I was all packed up and ready to go, but the meeting continued to drag on.

I knew they would try to contest the decision, and they did. I was told after that every one of them claimed to have been ignorant to what Enock had done, and each one of them severely condemned the actions despite the fact that everyone in attendance was related to the man (including his father and grandfather). Peace Corps, however, was not there to have an open dialog. They were fed up with the way things had gone from day one, and their decision was final. They told the members of the campsite that even if they had been ignorant, Enock was a representative of the campsite, and his actions were recognized as such. If I had continued to work there, it would be a serious compromise of both Peace Corps' and my own integrity. When the meeting eventually let out, they all came over to shake my hand, apologize for what had happened, and to wish me luck. I could see that some of them were crying.

By all rights, my time at Rwenjeru was absolutely awful. I spent my first two months living in a bare apartment with nothing to do and no one to talk to. The next three weeks I was happy to move into my new place, but I was hardly doing anything constructive. That was then followed by about three more weeks of dealing with the corruption issue and being forced to essentially live a lie. In my time there I saw alcoholism, laziness, corruption, and sexism taken to degrees I had never dreamed I would see. And yet, despite all of that, leaving that day was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I knew what a crushing blow it was to the dreams of the campsite, and to each one of the members personally.

After a one night stop in Kampala, the truck brought me to my new site here in the village of Kisoga in Mukono District. Despite the effect leaving Rwenjeru had on me, I feel like a weight has been lifted from my chest, and I am ready to start anew. I will be working in conjunction with the local Catholic Church doing whatever projects they and I feel will help the people. That sounds very vague, but they already have some ideas in place, and I can tell I will be more than busy during my service here. I'll have more details about what I am doing and how everything is going later. Even now, completely removed from Rwenjeru, I still feel badly about the way things turned out, but I am trying to concentrate on moving forward, and I know things will be better for me here.

*** Note ***
My new village doesn't have cell phone reception from my old provider so I had to switch back to my old number for now. You can find it to the right side of the screen under Contact Info.