I have been away for the last two weeks attending a scheduled Peace Corps In-Service Training (IST). Considering I had only been at my new site for six days, the timing could have been better, but like a lot of things over here, I pretty much just had to go with it.
The first week was filled with a language training course. Unfortunately for me, these courses were designed for people who had been practicing their language for the last six months, and they were really my first exposure to Luganda, the language they speak in my new area. Again, not really ideal, but both the language I learned in training and my new language are based in Bantu and have some similarities so I was able to get by as best I could.
After language, each of the separate language groups plus all of our local counterparts came together in one hotel for technical training. For those unaware of what a counterpart is as it applies to PC, they are our local partners in everything we do. The idea is that each and every project we undertake, we are not just completing the work, but teaching our counterparts. That way, when we return to America, instead of only leaving behind isolated projects we are leaving a legacy of resources for the community to keep our projects sustainable and hopefully create new ones on their own. Anyway, the purpose of the technical training was to discuss the projects and ideas that people had been working on for the last 15 weeks at site with our fellow volunteers and Ugandan counterparts. Again, having only been at my site for six days instead of 15 weeks, my counterpart, Margaret, and I did not have a lot to contribute, however we did benefit from the work everyone else had been doing, and I think we took away some good ideas.
Despite most of the sessions being more than a little boring (I actually only wrote about them because some people have been telling me that I write too much about what I observe and interpret as opposed to what I am actually doing), I really enjoyed being able to spend two weeks straight around friends. Don’t get me wrong, the people of Uganda are usually very nice, but the differences that exist between Americans and the locals are significant. We volunteers stand out so much as it is, that most of us can’t help but try to fit in in any other way we can. My speech patterns change, my sense of humor adjusts, and huge parts of my personality disappear entirely and are replaced by characteristics that feel more like they are those of a stranger instead of my own. You can start to feel like you are losing a sense of your true self. When I finally get a chance to be around my PCV friends, none of those things are a concern anymore, and I think each one of us revels in it a bit. We are fast friends, not just because of our common ties, but also because we have to be.
After the training sessions were over, a group of 20 of us went to Jinga, the source of the Nile River, to go whitewater rafting. The power of that river was amazing at times and terrifying at others, but was always awe-inspiring. I got tossed out of the raft on three separate occasions - a trip record matched only by my good friends Renee and Brennan. After an exhausting day of getting our proverbial shops wrecked together on the rapids, many of us sat out at our campsite that night looking out over the Nile and sipping beers, sometimes talking, but often not saying anything at all.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend involves my friends Arwen and Elizabeth. Everyone except Arwen was sitting around, enjoying the rare treat of chapatti (kind of like a crepe), banana, and nutella. The problem was Arwen had chipped a tooth on a flying oar when our raft had been flipped and was in too much pain to properly bite and chew this delicacy. Elizabeth, seeing this, began to chew off manageable pieces of her own dessert, take them out of her mouth and hand them over to Arwen which she glady accepted and ate. We all, of course, laughed our asses off at this, but I still thought it was an amazing little moment all the same. I think it really illustrates just how close we've become in such a short time. After all, it takes a true friend to chew your food for you.
After rafting, I spent one more great day exploring the city of Jinga with my friends Elizabeth and Brennan before finally returning to my site. We enoyed some great food, walked about the city, and met some interesting people from both Uganda and other parts of the world. We held onto every moment we could together knowing we would have to leave eventually. I’ll admit that I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about returning to my tiny new village after spending two weeks amongst my friends, but once I arrived I realized that I was completely reenergized and ready to start working and integrating into my new home. Kisoga marks the fourth community I’ve lived in since moving to Uganda less than seven months ago, and you know what they say. The fourth time’s the charm.