The journey was long. With 3 flights, 2 bus trips, 1 private car (thanks Anna-Banana for the lift) and very many hours of patience I was able to manage the long journey from The Sunshine State to The Pearl of Africa. Myself with 39 more Peace Corps “volunteers-to-be” were greeted at Entebbe International airport with more enthusiasm then our jet lagged minds could comprehend. We had no idea where we were going for training or how we would get there; but we continued to hear the same greeting from the Peace Corps staff of Uganda, “You are most Welcome.” With their big smiles and warm embrace we could rest assured that the long journey was well worth the trip.
I’m about 6 weeks into my PST and have some catching up to do…. In short, here is the history of things:
There was no time to putz around or sleep through the jet lag. Peace Corps had us up and moving for Pre-Service Training (PST) at the crack of dawn. Our first two months in Uganda were outlined in detail; a 13 page daily schedule was handed to us…..
> 2 weeks of medical, safety policies, more medical, team building, more safety, and survival language at the Kulika Center in Nayamuba.
> 3 weeks of language classes and community integration while living with our Home-Stay family. Myself and four other volunteers traveled to iMalukhu Village in Mbale to study Lumasaaba.
> 3 days for our Future Site Visit; this was time to meet our future work site colleagues at Chemonics International. Myself and co-volunteer Teresa left Mbale for field work with our supervisor in Bugiri, Iganga and Jinja.
> 2 weeks of Tech Immersion training; first week to be held in a small city near Entebbe, second week location TBD.
> 3 days for a Supervisor Workshop.
> 1 day to take an oath and officially be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) on August 6th 2014.
Our first weeks in training were exhausting! We managed to learn the ways of a squatting latrine, the long process of hand-washing laundry and mastered the splashing techniques involved for an effective warm bucket bath. We tasted the local foods and experienced what Molly Burgess calls, “The new food blues.” Lets just say that our stomachs needed some time to accept our new diets. And then there was medical… Lots of medical training. If you are not on a flight home after the first two weeks of medical scare tactics, you are golden. Peace Corps doctors are sure to explain every horrible medical occurrence that may possibly happen to you while in Africa…. Thankfully they found that graphic photos were not necessary for the presentations. Then the medical staff decided to make themselves even more unpopular by sticking us with a new batch of immunizations every other day (maybe not that often, but you get the point.) Luckily we were given some down time before dinner to get to know our new ‘government issued friends.’ The day usually closed with extreme Uganda Frisbee (over-exaggeration for effect) or a Volleyball Game.
Our first two weeks at the Kulika Center went by fast, and now it seems that this may be the case for our service time as a whole. It was time for the group of 40 volunteers to split into our separate language groups and travel to our individual home stay sites.
The 3 weeks spent in Mbale studying Lumasaaba were AMAZING! Every year I am surprised by some beautiful turn of events in my life, this year it is moving to Mbale. The town center is dirty from the the orange African clay and the streets are crowded with taxi vans packed with 2 maybe 3 persons per seat (plus a chicken), Boda Bodas spewing white clouds of smoke from their exhaust, street vendors shouting for attention and local people pushing through the crowds as they manage their everyday lives. For some, this may be a challenging place to live…
You must be alert to avoid getting side swapped by a speeding bicyclist and cautious of the many walking obstacles on every path (whether it be a pot hole or cow dung). But the hustle of the town combined with the beautiful green tropical landscape is nothing less then AMAZING!
Everyday walking to Lumasaaba class was like being in a video game. It was a combination of Frogger, Zelda and Oregon Trail: Avoid the traffic, get caught in long conversations with strangers and lose a volunteer to illness for a day or two. We were a group of 5 in Mbale: Holly, Molly, Teresa, Josh and myself. At the end of each day we went home to spend time with our homestay family and share our lives and stories with one another. The care and attention we received from our Ugandan moms, aka Myaai wange, will never be forgotten. (More about homestay life to come on a later post).
Most memorable moment of iMalukhu was seeing the reaction of the small school children when they see a Muzungu (white person) for the first time. Either they will run away in absolutely terror if you come remotely close to them, or they shout, “Muzungu how are you?” from a safe 50-foot distance. With time the village became accustom to seeing us Muzungus roaming the local paths. The children eventually came close to poke our white skin or hold our hands as we walked.
Each day we learned a little more Lumasaaba and began greeting our community in their local language. We were even invited to be special guest at the wedding of a couple that we had never met (side note: ‘Muzungu Celebrity Status’ leads to many unexpected perks). At the wedding we posed for group photos and and danced like the locals, it was a big hit!
Every day, without question, something happened that made us crack up laughing. In class we laughed at our lack of understanding Uganglish or the never ending bananas that seem to be packed away in everyone’s bags.
In the village we laughed at Josh trying to take pictures with animals he feared (such as the harmless family goat); Our instructors reaction to Molly’s pronunciation of slowly-by-slowly in Lumasaaba; Holly’s first and last catch on the 4th of July (as well as the flying orange ball in class); and Teresa getting stuck with arms above her head and face completely covered by the fabric of her tailored African dress. Somehow or another we managed to learn enough Lumasaaba to pass our final exams and prepared to split again for our next training adventure.
Future Site Visit is a time for us volunteers to meet our project supervisor and counterpart. Teresa and I were both assigned to the same partner organization in Mbale, Chemonics International Inc. We packed our bags and said last farewells to our Ugandan host families before moving to the Chemonics office in the senior quarters district. Our tour was short because our supervisor had a field visit planned for our training. Typically the 3 days would be spent doing a formal training in office during the day and exploring our new permanent housing area in the evenings. Luckily our supervisor made arrangements for us to hit the ground running.
We traveled to Bugiri for a community farming meeting organized by the local village agent.
We met some farmers and learned about some of the challenges of the Agribusiness firsthand. We then moved to Iganga to meet trade partners and input suppliers about some developing cooperatives for maize. Lastly we traveled to Jinja for another field event that explored a demo crop of hybrid seeds and farming equipment demonstration. The event left me feeling sooo excited about my work to come as an Agribusiness volunteer. Our Chemonics/Feed the Future colleagues energy and passion for the work that they are doing in the communities was contagious.
And now for the icing on the cake…. We were setup in a hotel with….. Drum-Roll…… Hot Showers!!!! Yay! After having my first hot shower (not bucket splash bath) and a fully functioning flush toilet in over 6 weeks I have a new love and respect for modern day plumbing. To all the plumbers out there, you will forever be categorized as my heroes from this day forward. Seriously, thank you for keeping the water flowing… The world is a better place because of it. Okay, maybe you think this plumbing rant went on too long, but one day if you visit you will understand.
Now I’m packing up my bags again, time to find a taxi from Jinja to Kampala, then another to our next training site outside of Entebbe. Meanwhile, the other 30+ volunteers are making their way back to Entebbe for our final training. Im looking forward to hearing their stories from homestay life and the new languages they’ve learned. Our experiences have been challenging, fun, humbling and inspirational in just a few weeks. Something tells me that the future will only get better. Uganda will be my new home for 2 years, and at this point I couldn’t imagine my life in any other place.
Wish me luck with my final weeks of training!