Considering the holiday that happened back in the US last Thursday, I thought that now might be a good time to talk about some of the reasons I am thankful this year…
Last week, right around Thanksgiving day, Max and I ventured a little ways into the southwest region of Uganda to prepare for the construction of two water tanks at Kutamba Primary School, near a town called Kisiizi. In addition to Max and me, we also brought along two of our masons, Joseph and Gonzaga, and the press that the masons would use to make the curved bricks for the tanks. Now, the brick press weighs at least a few hundred pounds, and it takes at least 3 to 4 people to move the thing anywhere, so transport was a bit of a tough issue. We left Kalisizo in one of the Toyota Corollas that function as taxis, with the press and our masons’ mattresses, pillows, and other belongings all stuffed into the trunk (here it’s called the “boot”…obviously a little British influence). Needless to say, the trunk was a bit smaller than the stuff that was in it, meaning that it was pretty much completely open, with the stuff tied down somehow. Due to our massively imbalanced weight distribution, our driver was stopped several times at police checkpoints. As is customary here, a small bribe was all it took to allow us to keep moving, but these small bribes piled up, and, by the time we got out of this car, the driver had decided to up the price by about 10%...
After leaving the car, we loaded the press and all the other stuff into the back of a matatu (the small mini-buses that are another form of public transportation), and, even though the back didn’t completely shut, it wasn’t quite so bad, and we weren’t flagged down by police every few kilometers. When we had gone as far as we could in the matatu, we switched again, this time to a pick-up truck, which was probably the most appropriate vehicle for the press in the first place. Of course, our masons had to ride in the back as we careened down a fairly bumpy road, picking up hundreds of pounds of matooke along the way, but we eventually made it to the town, safe and sound.
|Overlooking Kutamba Primary School|
By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with nature. Well, during the whole journey, I was almost oblivious to our current mode of transportation, due to the changing scenery that I saw moving past me as I looked out of the window. The progression actually reminded me a lot of starting at my home in south-central Pennsylvania and heading up into the northern part of the state, a journey I’ve made several times. After beginning with the rolling foothills near Lewisberry, the hills grow as we travel north along the Susquehanna, and we eventually reach the round, wooded peaks of the Appalachians, with a variety of colors bursting forth if you’re there as the leaves are changing color. The Ugandan trek was all green, but the landscapes were similar. After leaving the rolling, relatively small hills near Kalisizo, we saw the hills get bigger and bigger, until we reached the majestic, green mountains out west. These peaks were not as heavily forested (deforestation is actually a growing problem in Uganda), they were occasionally dotted with small, jagged rock outcroppings, and I think they might have been a bit bigger than the Appalachians, but the trip reminded me of past vacations, with the days being spent hiking through Pennsylvania’s state parks and the nights being spent in a cabin with a great view of the surrounding area. I’m thankful for nature because it never ceases to remind me of the grandeur, the wonder, and the harmony of beauty and functionality that characterizes the natural universe around us. I hope the pictures do a half-decent job of showing you some views from the school that were breathtaking, in person.
|Another view from the school, looking down the hill|
I wasn’t planning on having a true Thanksgiving meal, this year. I didn’t have the capacity, with my little gas stove, or the actual cooking skills necessary to pull off turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, baked pineapple, corn, cranberry sauce (homemade), rolls, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and other assorted goodies. (Okay, maybe I could have managed the rolls…) But, as fate would have it, I was lucky enough to randomly run into another Peace Corps volunteer last Wednesday, and was invited to the dinner she was having with a bunch of volunteers from Great Britain and Ireland. Granted, there were a few of my Thanksgiving favorites missing (green bean/broccoli casseroles, baked pineapple, and apple pie, for starters), but it was absolutely amazing anyway. I, of course, did my standard “take some of everything” Thanksgiving tradition (this includes desserts, by the way), and was not disappointed, with the food or with the company.
|Yet another view from the school|
I also spent last Saturday with some friends in a nearby town. They had just bought some fresh pork (in other words, the pig was slaughtered that morning) from the butcher down the street, and we made a really, really good stir-fry with pork, pineapple, assorted veggies, and rice. Then, we spent the afternoon playing games, talking about what we’ve been doing, and eating some of their leftover pumpkin cake. Yet another great day with great people.
And, of course, I’m thinking about all of my friends in other parts of the world, wondering how they spent their Thanksgiving this year. I continue to be so very thankful of all of the support coming from so many different places.
…for Being Alive
|Joseph and Gonzaga, two of our masons, mixing soil and cement|
Don’t worry, I have no near-death experiences to report, although our trip back to Kalisizo from the southwest was a little interesting. Max and I set off back home in a matatu, and we were barreling along at a good pace until we hit a very muddy stretch of dirt road. It had rained a lot while we were out there at the school, and some workers were adding more dirt to the road to make it a bit more passable. But, we couldn’t get through. So, our driver turned us around, and took this crazy, circuitous route in an attempt to make it back to the main road. I’m pretty sure there were times when he was just making it up, having no idea where exactly he was going, as passengers in the back shouted what I think were suggested directions up to the front. At one point, we were on what had to be a very rarely traveled “road” (it was more a set of tire tracks that went up and over a big hill) that was not at all appropriate for a vehicle of our size. After we had reached the summit and were bouncing down the other side, the driver leaned over to me (I was sitting in the front between him and Max) and said, “This is a road.” I laughed a bit as I responded, “This is a road? Almost…” Well, we eventually rejoined something that was a bit more road-like, at which point our driver nearly floored in, trying to make up for lost time, which lasted about 10 seconds, as we flew over a large bump that he didn’t see. I’m pretty sure the minibus, with all of its luggage and its numerous passengers, caught some air at that point. We went a little slower after that, appeasing the unimpressed grunts from the passengers in back. Finally, we spotted the main road (it’s actually paved), and rocketed home, this time with our driver successfully avoiding the obstacle course of potholes.
|Adding the mixture to the press|
Anyway, my life was never really in danger there, I just wanted an excuse to tell that story. Trying to get back on point, I’m thankful to be alive at this exciting time in history, when the connections between people around the world are so obvious. Just the fact that I can be writing something in Uganda, which could potentially reach you instantly on the other side of the world, is something kind of crazy. I think that, in general, people are slowly starting to realize how much we depend on one another, and how much we can learn from one another. And I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to live in a completely different place, with people from a different culture. I think that’s certainly something to be thankful for, and I think it’s really important to have the chance to see the different perspectives and ways of doing things that exist in the world.
|Starting the compression stroke...|
All that I’ve said so far has been very good. These are things that are easy to be thankful for. But I’ve also had my share of frustrations, disappointments, and other assorted trials and tribulations. I’m not going to go into these in detail, but I want to say that, I think, trials are also something to be thankful for. Certainly, some things are just too terrible and might not have any sort of good value to them, but many of the things that go wrong and that frustrate us can be very important in our development. I have to try to remember that each of these frustrations, each of these disappointments is a veiled opportunity to grow and to become a better person, to confront some of the aspects of myself that might not be so good or effective, and to try to improve them. Just as a quick example, you might remember my frustrating encounters with the little kids who live in my compound. Admittedly, sometimes, they are still pretty good at ticking me off. (Yesterday, for example, one of the little ones bit my shirt, and now the shirt has a nice little hole in it.), but things have definitely gotten better. I’m not sure how much of this is me improving or if it’s just random ebb and flow, but we’ve spent some fun time playing together. They like it a lot when I pick them up and swing them around a bit, and the youngest boy and I have started doing this thing where I hold his hands as he walks up my legs. When his feet make it up to my waist, he gets a little reward, as I swing him around, turn him upside down, and help him to perform other acrobatic feats. Of course, I need to be wearing clothes that are already really dirty, because, if he has not had a bath five seconds ago, the little guy is invariably covered in dirt (and he hasn’t yet learned the benefits of blowing his nose…he gets some nice snot buildup around his nostrils…anyway, I’m sure you wanted to know that). So, we’ve been having some fun, and I hope things will keep getting better. I’m thankful for this opportunity to improve.
…and finally…for Family
Thanksgiving is one of the days of the year that I look forward to the most. And that’s not only because of the food (although that certainly plays a significant role). Every year, I would get to see a whole bunch of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and cousins’ kids (whatever that relationship is called). On Thanksgiving Day, Grandma (and Pop-Pop, before he passed away) would come to our house for an amazing meal, after which we would probably hang out down by the fire, talk, watch some (American) football, take naps, and then start chowing down on the leftovers in the evening. The next day, we would get together with the Trimmer side of the family, traditionally at the Trimmer farm, but now the gathering rotates between various members of the family. And we’d have another big feast, with the ladies usually providing the majority of the talking while the quiet Trimmer guys stuffed large amounts of food and gallons of milk into their mouths, possibly stopping occasionally to interject a few carefully selected words into the conversation (possibly). Then, we (again, mainly the ladies) would talk some more, catch up on anything we haven’t yet covered, and reminisce a bit about Grandma Trimmer. Finally, we’d all take our large assortments of leftovers back home, and I’d probably chow down a bit more that night.
|The first two finished products|
The past several years, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family would go and pick out a Christmas tree over at Haring’s tree farm, since it was likely to be one of the only weekends Luke and I would both be around before Christmas. I always enjoyed this, even though Luke, Dad, and I might have played it off as if we didn’t really care what the tree looked like, as Mom would carefully examine every branch, occasionally pulling out a chart of proper Christmas tree dimension ratios (okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration). But really, it was always a good feeling when we finally formed a consensus and picked one out, after which I would kneel down on the usually frosty, occasionally muddy ground and cut it down.
Even though I’m never the most talkative or the most exciting to be around during these family events, they have always been something I’ve looked forward to. The anticipation of coming home from school for Thanksgiving was always huge, even when I was (relatively) far away in Florida last year. Nothing was going to keep me from coming home. And, this year, I’m realizing how much I love this time with family, how important it is to me. Don’t get me wrong, hanging out with some Peace Corps friends over the past few days has been great, but it cannot possibly replace that feeling of being completely at home. As much as I want to feel at home wherever my life takes me, there’s something special, something irreplaceable, about being with a family, both an immediate and an extended family, where there is so much love, warmth, and care. To all the Trimmers, Houseals, and Shericks out there who might be reading this, I miss you and love you very much. I’m so thankful for you, and for your infinite love and support that is always there.