Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lets have a little chat, you and I...

I suppose now would be an opportune time to “blog” as the children call it, about my last two months of service.

As quickly as we went for the Kampala tour, we were just as quickly whisked away to our new family in wakiso town, Wakiso District (NW of Kampala). There we sat at our training center, all waiting for the singularly arriving families to come and pick us out like the orphans the Peace Corps had made us look like. Eventually, and with great anxiety about who my new mommy would be, a young women came over and told me that I was to be her host-child, but since she is so young, we will be siblings (yes, another one to add to the Marsh Bunch). Oh, and she had a baby 2 days ago…

This was the start of my tenure with the Lutaaya’s, and if implausibility has a surname, it is surely Lutaaya. They’re a liberal Muslim family that enjoy beating me as much as my own mother as well as meat with every meal. They taught me to wash laundry by hand, what a rolex is (Ugandan breakfast burrito minus potatoes), Ugandan humor, culture, and just being a part of a family.

In return… I taught them that Americans are perfectly capable of slaughtering, skinning, and butchering a goat (or 6 to be precise), which I did all on my first weekend with them. I guess I taught them other things too; like what a friend with benefits is, what a quickie is, what the bases are, how to make yourself fat, and that we love the Governator’s movies.

It was around this time that my family’s conspicuous lake of comfort furniture (ie a couch) exceeded the utility of their wide screen tv and I began to hang around with the neighbor, Rebecca Workman.

It is at this point I get to cross off the proverbial “to-do” list of befriending an Aryan Jew. She even comes complete with german efficiency and a kiddy pool of self loathing. (and Becca, if you read this, then I must simply ask… “if the yamaka fits…”)

Now came the child-like exploration of our community, all the while children threw their child-like cries of “see you Muzung!!” Our reaction to the ever present Gregorian chant of “give me money, see you muzung, what is your name, and bye muzungu” ranged the gambit from knowing laughter, mimicry, to my favorite: biding your time till they’re quite close then turning to scare the bejesus out of them.

In our explorations, we discovered that all bars serve food, all bars have lodging, and all bars have the name ____ Gardens. Oh, and that a beer is $1. And a bottle of local gin (waragi) is $7. Good times.

If I have been leaving out the training we received and you should think me in error, fear not, for I will now summarize all of the training provided:

Calling the medical officer=good
Keeping in contact=good
Greeting at the beginning of every conversation=good
Disobeying PC policies=bad
Swimming in lakes=bad (shistosomiasis)
Eating undercooked food=bad
Gender roles=ugly
Cross-cultural differences=ugly

And that is about it.

Sometime around the 5-6 week mark we all went of for tech immersion. The entire training class was divided into two groups based on specialties and experience: Economic development and community health. It speaks volumes about NMT that I was put in the community health field. Detour aside, I went to visit Collin Casey, a PCV in Rakai district working with the Ugandan Red Cross. He is a civil engineer, yet despite that we actually became friends. Their branch was having their president and board elections (a once in 4 years event) so I was privileged to watch 1st rate Ugandan politics… for 9 hours. Even when candidates were busing in ineligible voters to vote for them, I stayed the course, all the way down the road to get lunch while they yelled at each other, for 4 hours.

I digress about politics, but all the same it was beyond describable joy to witness a fully functional PCV working in the field and leading a successful life.

One caveat about this trip was that it took me across the equator for the first time (by ground), and I could not help but think of a hippie I know who shaved her head when she did the same only by boat. Not to be outdone by a mere boulderite, I posthaste sent my hair to the great barber in the sky (also because most all “barbers” in Uganda know only buzz cut, or closer buzz cut).

Now came the petulant times. Just coming back from seeing work, and progress, and impact, training was the least palatable thing we could imagine, besides matooke (for which there is a special place in the gluttonous level of hell). But as I have ever known, ask and ye shall out of necessity create. The interminable chasm between coming back to training and future site visit was bridged by a game, a game of chance. We had conspired to place wagers on all manner of things like the time interval between drinks, or the number of adjectives used to describe a certain latrine, but eventually settled on an activity that was as perennial as the grass and as certain as the sunrise: When would Tien fall asleep in class.

The point of all lectures quickly devolved into who got the best time slot by luck of the draw. Then it was only a matter of surreptitiously staring at Tien to see when the head bobbed, the eyelids drooped, and yelling yatzee when you won (I never won).

The game sustained us when we needed succor the most, and as sure as the game was predictable, we got through to future site visit. (side note here: we actually thought there might be room for concern when he feel asleep with the country director standing 3 feet away, but instead of concern, we felt the game had become that much more reliable)

My site, as I have posted on face book, is the Uganda Martyrs Vocational Institute, 2k outside Soroti town on Mbale road. I have a house to myself with 2 bedrooms, a bath with flushing floor toilet, living room,. Kitchen, shower, running water, and plans for electricity. The carpentry unit constructs my every whim of furniture, even my custom designed bed. The bricklaying and construction unit can build any other structure I deem appropriate; the tailoring unit will make my hammock, as well as suits; the motor vehicle mechanics department ferries me to town for errands and work; the plumbing and welding section laid all my pipes and will teach me welding next semester; and the catering department will concoct all the American recipes I can provide, and then SERVE them to me. Oh, and I made plans with the welding instructor yesterday to make some local fruit based homebrew.

Life is great here, wait… that comes at the end.

After seeing my future Shangri La, reality, as it so often does, forced its way back in to my life. I had to go back to training. But shortly thereafter we were whisked away from our families and lived in luxury at the Rydar hotel in Kampala for 4 days. One of which was the swearing in ceremony conducted at the US ambassadors house (Tien fell asleep here too… maybe it IS a problem…). It was also this day that I decided to adopt my Hemingway persona and can now never be found too far away from my new favorite hat. I can say this for the ambassador, his soirées are top notch. I may have consumed more appetizers and hibiscus juice than an ordinary man, or extraordinary man ought to have. And then came the after party at the hotel (Govt isn‘t allowed to serve us booze). Up until now, we could be sent home for any reason at the discretion of the country director, but as freshly sworn in volunteers, we have more rights and the process is longer. I thus deemed it an appropriate time to don my much hallowed drinking robe, and re-climb the pantheon of classy consumption to sit at the right hand of The Dude (abides).

I now sit comfortably in my office of inscrutable power next to the welding workshop and across from the catering department, sipping my milk tea, thinking of what to include in my next class, sending most barbarous puns to Ryan, and generally reflecting on how great life is…


  1. Michael, this is the best blog post I have ever read.

  2. So glad that you shaved your head to out-do me. We're even. (I'm hunting down Alan Alda as I type this, in order to be the eternal winner) Awesome blog post by the way!