All right, finally, the first post from
! I’ve been in this country for almost two weeks now, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that. Our group got in late on a Thursday, and Peace Corps people drove us to this secluded little conference center thing, called Banana Village, which was about a half an hour away from the airport in Entebbe. After being greeted by a bunch of Americans and Ugandans, we hit the sack, only to wake up at 7 AM to have breakfast and start our first full day of training. The first week, we stayed at Uganda , sleeping in rooms with a bunch of bunk beds. Quarters were tight…I was with five other guys, but the ladies had it much worse. The first few nights, 20 of them were together in a big room, with one bathroom, and it didn’t take long for someone to get sick, which ended up meaning that about half of the people in that room got sick. The first Sunday, we went into Banana Village Kampala ( ’s capital city) and walked around. For lunch, our Peace Corps volunteer guides took us to a place they refer to as the lady’s living room (which is exactly what it is), where the female owner of the apartment cooks and sells Ethiopian food out of her kitchen. The food was amazing! In the afternoon, we walked through a taxi park (the taxis here are actually what we would call mini-buses), which was, simply put, utter chaos. It’s basically a huge parking lot, with hundreds of taxis going every which way, playing a very crowded game of bumper cars, without any collisions actually happening. It was kind of fun navigating through that craziness. Uganda
After that first week at
, we moved north to a town called Wakiso, where we will spend most of the remainder of our ten weeks of training. We now all have our own host families in and around town, and we walk to our training center, a nice place called Raco, every morning. We spend about 9 hours (8 am to 5 pm) at Raco every weekday (and some Saturdays), learning about Ugandan culture, traditions, and current events, and we also spend a lot of time on language. We’ve now been split into 5 groups, with each group learning a different language. All of the people in a group will be going to the same region of the country after training. My language is Luganda, which is spoken in the central region of Banana Village Uganda, which includes Kampala and . Entebbe
My homestay family is very nice, and we’re getting along well. I’m actually the 5th PC trainee they’ve hosted, so, really, I’m nothing incredibly new or special to them. We have electricity sporadically (it generally goes out for at least a few hours at least once a day) but no running water, so I’ve been learning how to take bucket baths (which might be something to try back in the states. It saves a tremendous amount of water – I probably use between 1.5 and 2.5 gallons – and you can still heat up the water beforehand so that you’re not freezing.), how to wash clothes completely by hand (which takes quite a significant amount of time), and how to use pit latrines. Now, I’ve used pit latrines with seats before, but the ones over here consist of four walls, a roof, and a hole in the ground. In other words, a completely different technique (squatting instead of sitting) is required, and one’s aim is quite important. I’ve successfully made it through my first case of diarrhea in
, so I think, by now, I should be getting the hang of using this thing. (As a side note, apparently, bathroom activities become a relatively frequent topic of conversation among PC volunteers…just a warning for the future.) Uganda
I’m also getting fed quite well (my homestay family has a farm, with pigs, chickens, cows, and vegetable crops). Last weekend, I got the full treatment, since I was at the house all day. This includes breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and supper (and the tea times include food). Normal meals, especially lunch and supper, consist of as many different forms of starch as possible. (The way I normally eat, I kind of feel like I’ve been training for this my whole life…) The main staple is called matooke, which is basically made up of green bananas are mashed up and cooked. I think that pretty much anything in the banana that is not already starch is converted to starch during this process, and matooke doesn’t have all of the nutrients that a ripe banana would have. But, they also make this peanut sauce that goes really well with it, so I still like it! We also eat something called posho, which is basically a white clump made from maize flour. Again, pretty tasteless, but good with some kind of vegetable or meat sauce. And then we have rice, potatoes (called “Irish” here), cassava (another root), and occasionally pumpkin. Along with that, we’ll also have beans, vegetables (eggplant, carrots, cabbage, and greens seem to be popular), and maybe a little meat stew a couple times a week. I’ve had cow intestines a couple of times as well…they’re incredibly chewy and have kind of a weird taste to them, but it wasn’t all that bad. There are also lots of peanuts (called “G-nuts” here), and I’ll get a healthy pile of those at tea times. At breakfast, I’ll usually get porridge made from maize flour, some bread, and a hard-boiled egg. And, with almost every meal, I’ll get a banana. This seems to be the most common fruit right now. We’ll also have pineapples, avocados, and melons sometimes…the mangos aren’t in season yet (can’t wait!). This diet might seem pretty heavy and starchy for the average American, I know, but, as my host mom said, most Ugandans work hard out in the fields for many hours each day. All of these foods with lots of complex carbs give the long-term energy needed to get through a hard day’s work.
In general, things have been going very well so far. I think I’ll wait until at least the next post to write more about
itself, once I’ve had a bit more time to experience this place and to learn about it. As for me, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this group of 46 Peace Corps trainees, even though I might not be offering my thoughts and opinions as much as I could be within the group. Part of that, obviously, is due to the fact that I continue to be a staunch introvert, but I also think that some of it might be related to my surprising ability to actually take this experience one day at a time and to simply “be”, so far. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is something I’m not sure about. Although the thought has crossed my mind some nights as I write in my journal, I have not been dwelling on the fact that I’m here for 27 months, away from many of the people I care about. Even as I write that sentence, I’m not starting to tear up, even though I think it would be perfectly acceptable to do that. You know, maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet…probably because I’m still seeing 45 cool people from Uganda every day. We’ll have to see what happens once training is over and we’re all sent off to our own, individual sites. That might be a major reality check. America
With that said, there has been one day that was kind of difficult. It was actually the day we moved from
to Wakiso, so quite a lot was happening, and I didn’t really have a chance to dwell on my emotions. Anyway, the night before, I had a dream about spending time with a very close friend. It was nothing overly exciting, but it’s someone I love very much, and this is made even more significant by the fact that I actually remember some of this dream more than a week after it happened. I generally don’t remember dreams at all. Anyway, it was hard to get out of bed that morning, because I wanted to go back into the dream, and I was thinking about and missing this friend all day. But, thinking back on it now, I’m also reminded of something else that happened on the flight over… Banana Village
Support from the Stars, Support from Afar
The first leg of our flight out of
New York City was an overnight flight to . For some reason, I wasn’t able to sleep very much. As the sun set on one continent, and as I waited for it to rise again on another, I looked out of the window and saw the Big Dipper. During the entire flight, that constellation barely moved, and I remembered that, even though this world seems so big sometimes, it’s really a pretty small speck in the universe. In other words, if we think about how huge the entire cosmos might be, we’re really all very, very close together. Even if the night sky in Brussels Uganda looks a bit different, at least some of the stars in it are also visible from the . The sun that rises in USA will also rise back home a few hours later. Maybe one afternoon, I’ll look up to the sky and glance at the sun as someone I love back in the Uganda wakes up to see that same star. In that moment, our eyes are connected across thousands of miles, even if we don’t realize it. We are not as far apart as we may seem, and I know that I am loved and supported across that distance. US
This experience reminds me of a poem I wrote for a few friends a little while back, which I think is pretty applicable right now. Here are some lines from the end of that poem:
Somewhere in the world out there,
She sees the same starry sky,
She sees the same sun start to rise.
The song of the birds is ringing,
And the same rule still applies.
Whether here or there or anywhere,
Our hearts are closer than geography implies.
All I have to do is think of you,
And the light returns to my eyes.
(Just a side note…my internet access is going to be outrageously sporadic, at least through these 10 weeks of training. I'm mooching off a friend's modem right now. So, I have no idea when the next post will be coming! This lack of daily internet is kind of nice, actually. Also, I am taking some pictures, but I probably won’t be posting many of them online at this point…they take up a lot of space, and they take a long time to load. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a couple up every now and then…)