31 October 2010


I'm listening to Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" and there's a line in the song that goes "Home -- is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there ... If anyone asks, this is where I'll be, where I'll be."

So, that's fitting.

Because this is my new home, as of week one. My kitchen/living room/entry way and my bedroom and the whole compound too.

Both rooms are maybe 10x10, so it's pretty cozy, but it'd be a great find in New York City, or even in Seattle really. You can kind of tell from the picture of the bedroom that there's no ceiling (as of yet, or maybe never, who knows?). I mean, the exposed bricks and rafters are kind of a cool look to offset the kind of intense baby blue walls, but it gets a little warm with just a tin roof.

In the picture of the kitchen, we've got my basins for washing dishes and clothes, my little gas cooker (which I've used three times now without it blowing up in flames, so I'm feeling good about that), and my chairs. So, you're all welcome for a dinner party if you don't mind sitting on the concrete.

I'm also having some shelving units made by a carpenter in town, so everything won't be on the floor, but those are still a couple weeks away right now. Looking forward to that though. Then I can actually unpack completely.

But there's only one other couple living in the compound, so it's nice and quiet, and they seem cool, so that's a definite plus.

I've spared you pictures of my pit latrine, but that and the bathing area are just outside, still in the compound, along with a tap for water, so there's really nothing to complain about. I'm right in town, so like a two minute walk to the market or the shops for food or airtime for my phone or whatever (not really whatever, supplies are a bit limited, but I bought a pineapple in the market the other day, so, score).

Oh, and now that it's raining, I have to admit that I love the sound of the rain on the tin roof. It gets pretty loud.

And yeah, if anyone asks, this is where I'll be (after dark).

(And, by the way, you can click on the picture to make it bigger, I think.)

28 October 2010

New Address!

I have a new address. Send me things. But I have no idea how long they'll take to get here, so don't send any puppies. Check the sidebar to your right! >>>

Block Quote!

One great and not-so-great thing about being in the Peace Corps is the downtime. To be honest, there wasn’t much during training, but there was some, and now that I’m at site, there is going to be a lot more (because that's what happens when you're in your house by dark, also known as 7pm, and there's no TV or anything else going on). And one thing a lot of downtime means is a lot of reading. Naturally, I’m looking forward to that. I’m a little concerned about the fact that I sat down and read Let the Great World Spin, which was excellent, in just over one day. If I do that too often, I’ll be really sad when I run out of books and am six or seven hours from the bookstore in Kampala.
I also just recently finished reading A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, which was also really good and since, instead of writing my own blog post, I can quote other people who say better things than I ever will, here:
The sky a vast foreign country. The setting sun in my eyes but too happy to blink.
This was the life I wanted, blowing around like a leaf with appetites.
I was experiencing one of those horriblebeautifulterrifyingdisgustingwondrousinsaneunprecedentedeuphoricsensationaldisturbingthrillinghideoussublimenauseatingexceptional feelings that’s quite hard to describe unless you happen to chance upon the right word.
There’s always a fire, always houses lost, lives misplaced. But nobody packs up and moves to safer pastures. They just wipe their tears and bury their dead and make more children and dig in their heels.
And, ok, last one:
He somehow became dreamy and positive and took sunsets dead seriously, as though the outcome of the event might not always be that the sun sets but that it might freeze just above the horizon and start going up again.
Those are some of the ways that I’ve felt in Uganda. Better said than I could have.

23 October 2010

I have the what? The internet.

There is an awesome quirk to Ugandan English where someone will be telling you something and they will say "...the what?" and then answer that question themselves. It still makes me laugh.

I now have a mobile internet stick modem thing, and am at site, in my very own home, so blogging should be more frequent (though not necessarily any more entertaining; consider yourselves warned) from here on.

Starting here, with the long post I wrote almost two months ago. I didn't re-read it, or proof-read it, so I don't know if I've told some of the stories already, or if it makes any sense at all, but what are you going to do about it?

More updated stories to come, but here you go:

I left Seattle two weeks ago Sunday night and I've been in Africa for almost two weeks now and it seems unbelieveable that it's only been that long. It feels like months already but that's not a bad thing because Africa is fantastic and Uganda is fantastic and everyone else here is fantastic and, as if you couldn't tell from that, I am happy here. Don't get me wrong, I love home and I love Seattle and I love everyone there and I've felt homesick and disconnected for moments here and there, but this is different and exciting and fun and energizing and tiring and it was busy and hectic and long and going by so, so quickly that it's already becoming comfortable so that I feel like I can thrive here and I think there's been something new everyday to remind me where I am and how lucky I am to be here at this time and with all of these people who are all going through the same things as I am, except the other volunteers we've met who've been here for a while and are happy, most of the time, and encouraging, all of the time, and still energized and glad to be here too, although they've not been afraid to share the fact that sometimes it's been hard and challenging and there have been down times, they're still here, and some are staying longer than the 27 months, and that is good.

So here are a few quick updates and a few quick stories.

I've started into my language training. I'm learning to speak Ateso, which is spoken in the Teso region of Uganda (if I've understood everything correctly so far...). The Teso region is out in Eastern Uganda, over towards Kenya, so that's where I'll be headed after we swear in on October 21st. I'm excited to know that much, and we'll find out our actual sites in like six weeks or so, but for now that's all I know.

Training can be long (8am - 5pm, five and a half days a week) and sometimes boring, but it's going well and I think I'm catching on to the language pretty well, or at least as well as I could hope.

I'm a little over a week into my homestay and things are going well. I live with a family in the village of Kisimbiri in the Wakiso district, about 20km northeast of Kampala. I have a host mom, grandmother (who doesn't speak English, only Luganda, which I only speak several words of, obviously), a 15 year-old brother named Sula, and a 13 year-old sister named Labiba (although she went back to boarding school in Kampala on Sunday, so I won't see here again, until/unless I come back to visit later), and I'm their first homestay. They are a really great family. Sula wants to be a doctor or psychologist and Labiba wants to be a lawyer/astronaut and I like this. And I have a really nice living situation, complete with a sit-down flush toilet, which all of my fellow PCTs are totally jealous of. We don't have electricity, but some nights we sit around the kerosene lantern and play board games (it gets dark here around seven and gets dark quickly, but it starts getting light again around seven; twelve hours of light, twelve months of the year, thanks to the equator), and the food is pretty good, although if I never saw matooke (the Ugandan staple food of mashed and steamed raw plantains) again I'd be pretty thrilled. I learned how to handwash my clothes this last weekend, or, at least, I learned that when I get to site I'm paying someone to do it for me. Call me a muzungu if you must. You'd only be about the one millionth tiny, adorable child to do so. I do an ice-cold bucket bath every morning, and sometimes at night, and it's an abrupt way to greet 6:15am, but no more abrupt than being woken several times at night by dog fights right outside the window (although those don't compare to the dog-vs-monkey fights we heard the first week when we were staying at a church compound south of Kampala). All in all, it's a pretty good sitch, though the whole be-home-before-dark deal can get tedious at times. I walked another PCT home the other night so she wasn't wandering in the dark alone and got home around eight and was promptly reprimanded in Luganda by my host grandmother, translated thanks to my brother, Sula. It's nice to know they care about their muzungu though.

Actually, here's a story about that.

It was pouring rain on the walk home the other day without a rain jacket and the rain turned Uganda's red dirt in darker rust puddles and ruts and rivulets in the road with the sun breaking through clouds in the distance while banana trees steamed and wonderfully scented the air and we walked through the village with smiling, waving, muzungu-yelling, beautiful kids and shop-fronts and boda bodas and the red clay leading onto pot-holed pavement and back to clay and we stopped for bottles of cold-ish (or warm-ish -- it's all in your perspective) Nile beer to the tune of Celine Dion and Michael Bolton videos that they turned up the volume on just for us and then the two of us cut across the main road dodging bodas and taxis and bicycles as the sun was going down in broad, vibrant strokes of orange and pink against rain-cloud gray and it quickly got darker and I turned up the path that I was sure was my path home and waved to more muzungu-yellers and quickly realized it wasn't my path and it was getting dark-dark and I felt a bit of nerves as lantern flames began to flicker and then Sula rode up on his bike looking for me and I lied and said I wasn't lost, only a half-lie really, and we went home and he said "Now you are home" and I had people, a family, who were glad to see me and worried about me and it seemed like a bonding moment and we talked and joked and played board games and ate posho-matooke-gnut sauce-cassava and cabbage and carrots and I choked down, somehow, a plateful of avocado because, good Lord, I can't do anymore starch, and it was ok and I felt wanted and was happy to be here and doing this and not anything else even though I missed home earlier and wanted to talk to you but I am glad to be here and it did feel like home, and, good Lord, yes, again, it is beautiful and fascinating and vibrant and humming with life here and I'm here and that is good.


My host mom corrected people in the market the other day: "His name is not 'Muzungu!'"

Bananas, pineapple, passionfruit, jackfruit, papaya all grow here and readily and I'm happy about all of that. And milk tea with sugar is my friend too (although it started out with three tea-times a day and they've weaned us to two, and if they take another one away, I think nerves will start to go).

And even though I'm eating pretty well, if it weren't for the Nile, I'd definitely have lost weight. Beer is good. The 45-minute-each-way walk to the training center burns it all off.

Everyone loves Obama here and I've been asked several times, as if we were friends, how he's doing. I say he's probably stressed. In Kampala the other day I saw a poster with pictures of all of the current African leaders and in the center was a giant picture of Barack, so, who knows?, maybe his birth certificate is right next door after all.

The other day --  Sula, to me: "One of your friends walked by here earlier, a girl." Me: "Oh really, who was it? I mean, what did she look like?" Sula: "I don't know... The fat one?" Good times.

It's pretty funny to me how many of the conversations between us PCTs revolve around poop, pooping, not pooping, pooping in a bucket, pooping in a pit latrine, pooping in your pants, explosive pooping, who's going to start dating who, and matooke.

The soaps. I've had two brief experiences with these horribly-dubbed-into-English-so-everyone's-voices-are-grating-and-they-sound-like-they're-shouting-all-the-time Mexican or Brazilian or, apparently, Japanese and/or Filipino soap operas that are really unbelieveably popular here (or so I hear from people who are staying with families with electricity and tvs). But consider my mind blown. The one I saw was called Untamed Beauties, and I believe it's Mexican, and it was awful. And awesome.

Oh, man. Pretty much my favorite thing that's happened so far (or ever): At dinner last night, my host mom and brother told me that I was already changing color (as in getting tan). And they decided that, in a year or two, I'm going to look just like them. I'm going to be an African. And they're African, so I'm pretty sure they're experts on the subject.

Actually, Greatest Moment is a tie between that and this: During the first week here, I spent one awesome afternoon and I played football with about 50 beautiful orphans between the ages of probably three and eleven and I scored twice, heading in a corner kick and chipping a shot over the keeper, and then I ran, arms out like an airplane, windmilling across the field as the kids chased me down screaming and laughing and it was sunny and warm and the sky was a perfect blue as the sun leaned towards the west, towards home, and it was loud and happy and heartbreaking and Africa and beautiful and amazing and something I'll remember forever with a full heart and knowing that, if nothing else, I have that moment, here, in the pearl of Africa and here, where I really feel like, right now, I'm supposed to be.

And you deserve some sort of medal if you've read all this nonsense this far, so pat yourselves (-self, if only one of you makes it) on the back.