24 March 2007

Week 2.5

AGH! I have 25 mins left to write about everything that's happened in the last two and half weeks, which has seemed more like 6 months. Let's go with bullet points:
* All of the other Peace Corps Volunteers are awesome
--really awesome
---as in, a spontaneous talent show with acts featuring guitars, a violin, jokes, dramatic monologues, round-singing, handstands (my contribution), and many other talents from a very talented group. And all of this under the stars with bats flying above us, and the audience seated appreciatively on the curb around the performers
--yes, I said awesome
---as in, all 50 of us get along really well and are constantly supporting each other when people are having trouble at their homestays or are starting to feel down.

* I'm living at the home of Mwami ne Muchyala (Mr & Mrs.) Mukiibi (Moo-chee-bee) in the town of Luwero, and the local language I'm learning is Luganda (this means that I'll be placed somewhere in the Baganda region, which is large, central to Uganda, and surrounding Kampala).
--my family is very cool
---Wilson, the father, is a secondary school teacher and speaks fairly good english. He's been asking me a lot of interesting questions about the American school system, especially about the merits of having a mixed (both boys & girls) school, and about how kids are disciplined in the US
---Margaret, the mother, is quieter and doesn't know much English, but will sometimes help me with new words in Luganda and always says, "Gyebale!" (Good work!), when I make passion fruit juice from scratch. I also find it amazing that she can cook a feast every night on charcoal stoves (imagine a small metal box with charcoal, in an open-air, outdoor kitchen, which doubles as a chicken coop)
---4 of their 6 children (and that's a relatively small family - Ameria, my language teacher is 1 of 21 children!), live in a small room that is connected to the kitchen.
----I think I know Dan the best. He's a fairly skinny kid in the equivalent of sophomore year of high school and he's shown me a lot of the ropes around the house: making juice, washing clothes by hand in a basin, ironing in order to look "smart," and some of their music (which has a big American influence - Shakira, etc.)
---surprisingly they have a lot of amenities, electricity (with battery backup for when it goes out almost every night), a TV (which is, to my slight annoyance, constantly on, although I'm beginning to have a bigger appreciation for soccer, which is huge here), and even a computer (which, unfortunately, doesn't have the most important thing that a computer is for, i.e. the Internet). So, all in all, I really haven't had to hoof it too much. Pit latrines, bucket baths, and the occasional cockroach have been pretty easy to deal with.

* Training is going well, but at times can be boring
--boring, because there can be long lectures about ill-defined things in "Ugandan English" (which is very, very slow and accented)
--recently it has been more exciting because I've been able to visit and observe teachers teaching at primary schools
---The school I visited is called Kasana St. Jude, and by it's name you might be able to tell that it is quite Catholic.
----To my surprise, the first day Amanda (another girl in the education group who went to the same primary school) and I ended up sitting in the back of church for mass which was carried out in Luganda. That wasn't so surprising, but being made to walk up to the front by the pastor and introduce myself to a mostly full church of primary children and teachers over a microphone was. But, I think I did well, because I said, "Muli mutya." ("How are all of you?") and, "Tusanyuse okukulaba." ("We are happy to see you."), which went over quite well.
----Although the P6 class (which is similar to 6th grade) that I observed had about 60 kids in it, I was quite impressed with the teaching and also the behavior of the kids. Contrary to horror stories I've heard about rote memorization teaching, it wasn't as much "chalk and talk" as question and answer, and when a student gave a correct answer everyone simultaneously gave them a special clap.
----On my 3rd visit to the school this last Wednesday I was also able to put myself in the shoes of the teacher and I taught a class on Scientific Notation. Overall, it went as well as I could've hoped: I introduced the subject and gave some examples on the board, asked students to come up and participate, and at the end played a little game with >,<, and = cards, which I had made up to look like two crocodiles and a boat (crocodiles to eat the bigger number and a boat to balance between them). I was simply trying to get the students to figure out which number in scientific notation was bigger, and I think many of them understood. The biggest challenge seemed to be talking slow enough and stating my questions clearly, but it was quite a bit of fun.

*Currently I'm in Mbarara and for the last two days have been staying with a married couple who have been volunteers in the field for about a year now.
--Lonnie and Kathie are really great people (but that seems to be the theme with all the volunteers/trainees) and I was able to follow Lonnie around yesterday as we toured the primary schools in the region to checkup on student-teachers who have been training at the local Teachers' College.
---Not gonna lie - that was pretty boring, and Lonnie really agrees. Beyond the 20 mins where we were stopped on the side of the road (which are quite dangerous here) while the driver went to get fuel, it was an entire day of riding around on bumpy roads and reading through the not-so-exceptional English of the teachers training in the field.
--But, last night, I went with Marcus (another 1st year volunteer) to help tutor a group of about 10 student-teachers in math in a classroom lit by lantern light. I asked a lot of questions up at the chalkboard, and practiced talking in an exaggeratedly slow English, and it was a lot of fun. At 10 when we had to go, they asked, "What is the name of this one?" and I wrote it on the board (it's strange because another group of the student-teachers which are all about my age had done something similar earlier in the day). Then they seemed excited when they asked if I would be back next week, but I had to say that I was sorry that this was only going to be this one time.

*Time is out, this must be all for now - so much more to say

*There are two letters that are on their way out (one to the Slanters and one to Nicole & Jason), which should get there in about a week.
--If you write me I'll write you back, I don't have many addresses here.

*I love you all, wish you all the best, and want you to know that I'm doing very well.


03 March 2007


72 degrees Fahrenheit. 5:57 PM. 32 degrees longitude. 0 degrees latitude. An 18 hour flight away on the other side of the world physically, culturally, economically. Entebbe, Uganda is where I'm headed tomorrow and this is my last night in the United States until the summer of 2009. After a few days stay to rest and recover from jet lag, we're off to Luweero (could be Luwero) where training will take up the next 10 weeks.

Over the last two days I've met 50 awesome people that are going to Uganda and all mulling over the same challenges looming on our horizon. There's been a lot of workshop stuff--thinking about policy, managing risks, anxieties and aspirations. And there's been quite a bit of just hanging out--playing games, talking over beers, and enjoying more interesting questions than how long the Peace Corps service is. My moods have been excited, a little shy, cooly relaxed, idealistic, bored, and pleasantly buzzed. But, especially when another question posed to the Peace Corps Staging is answered with, "Well, just save that one for the staff in Uganda, in a week you all will know more than me," you can really sense a big undercurrent in the group, an itching to be there already and really dig in. It doesn't seem like you can really prepare much in a windowless conference room, but the staff here has been positive and put together some really good exercises to get us thinking about what it will like even though there are so many question marks surrounding our thoughts of Uganda.

At the end of training I helped make a little artistic project, a picture of which should show up here when I can use a computer without so many locks--it's a nice hotel though, with free internet in the rooms. This is probably many times better than the single computer in Luweero with internet access, which is often out of service - so I may not be in as good of contact as I originally expected. Beyond that, know that I'm doing well and I look forward to hearing from home in the coming adventure.