07 February 2008

(A Day in the Life)*2

WARNING!: This is a long post. Read at a leisurely pace. Preferrably in little sections interrupted by catnaps or mindless perusing of the internet.

Today, I just heard from two other volunteers that someone1,2 in my group will be ETing (Early Termination - a.k.a going home without completing service) at the end of the month. And that's cool. Her reasons make sense and it seems like the right decision. One of the volunteers I was talking with, however, said something to the effect of,"She's lucky, I'm jealous. I want to go home" and I replied, "I would have said the same thing yesterday. But, today, strangely enough, I really wanna stay." So, I thought the last couple days might be a good way to illustrate the ups and downs of my life here and also update my blog which has been much too neglected. So, here we go:

The "Bad"19 Day

Yesterday started out pretty okay. The night before I'd prepared a couple graphs on flipchart paper to present at the first staff meeting of Kayonza Primary (see example below).


The meeting went well, I presented my graphs and also talked about other things like the bars that I've put in the windows of the resource room to make it secure and stuff. So, here's where I'm going to talk about how my day easily turns shitty. Afer the meeting I got some lunch, washed some clothes which I would need for today and headed off to Kitimbwato get:

  • 11, 38.5 inch bars to finish securing Resource Room
  • Airtime (read: cell phone minutes)
  • G-nuts4, raw, for roasting as a snack
  • Miscellaneous vegetables

Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Airtime was got with only 10 mins waiting - no problem. Then I went to get bars from a hardware shop from which I've already bought quite a bit, including metal bars for the windows and paint. Now 20 feet costs 12,000 shillings[]. I wanted to buy 38 feet. Let's do the math:

12,000 [UgSh] / 20 [feet] = 600 [UgSh/foot]
600 [UgSh/foot] * 38 [feet] = 22,800 [UgSh]
Yet, this guy was charging me 25,000 shillings, even after we did the calculation above together, and I explained that if I buy more of something it should be cheaper than if I buy less. I was asking for him to come down to 23,0005, really, a piddling reduction considering the above and all I've bought from him. So, with a simmering rage I gave into frustration and just walked away.

Okay, next item is g-nuts. Went to the dukka6, and greeted the man, asked for the nuts, he begins measuring out a kilo for me (internal dialogue: "good, okay, at least something is going right"). Then up walks this guy, clearly drunk (at 3 pm), who flops his hand out in front of me and says, "you give me 100"8. Already, pissed off, I say in Luganda9, "no, I'm not going to give you anything," then I change my mind and say, "okay, if you can answer this question I will give you 100." "What is the square root of 2?" (accepted answer 1.41). Clearly he couldn't answer it and asked me a few more times why I wasn't going to give him money and said, "so you are very sober" and I replied, "yes, and you are very not sober." So, not exactly putting me in a great mood, at least this was entertaining to the people around, who were chuckling at the mzungu and the drunkard.

On to miscellaneous vegetables. I move on to find that the lady I usually buy green peppers and cabbage and stuff from has almost nothing on her table. Bouncing around a few times, "where can I find green peppers?" (they point, I go there). Greet the man with vegebles on a small table, and notice the green peppers are small and shriveled due to age, so I figure that the normal price of 100 is a bit too high and ask for a reduction. He says, "No" giving some excuse about sunshine and whatever, then I say, "okay, how 'bout 3 for 200?" again he says "No" with more excuses about travel costs whatever. Okay, fine. Now I point to the heads of cabbage which are respectively 300 and 200, and small enough to be 200 and 100. I ask for a reduction. "No." "Okay, how 'bout you give me this larger (orig. 300) lettuce, with these three peppers (orig. 300), for 50010?" "No." Flaring nostrils and having thoughts of grabbing a machete and going Hotel Rwanda on this guy, I buy two peppers and walk away swearing under my breath before an internally roiling bike ride home. A few things to notice here:

  1. Look how ridiculously hard it is for me to buy a few simple things for the correct price,

  2. Notice how small small obstacles continue to accumulate, wearing down my overall
    demeanor until,

  3. I very quickly explode into a murderous rage, that, as we're about to see ruins my whole day.

So, I go home and want to do some repetitive work in a quiet place to cool myself down. I go to sweep the Resource Room. The well-meaning, but thoroughly loud and obnoxious kids that live near me notice my return and come to play in the room. I yell at them. A lot. "Stop sweeping, I don't want help." "Get out of the way." "I'm mad, if you're going to be in here I want you to be quiet." "Get out of the way." "Shut up!" "Get out of the way." "Okay, get out of the room." And eventually I close the door to keep them out and send the message with finality that I don't want to be bothered. After that, the sweeping does calm me down some.

I go back to my house where many kids are playing noisily on the swing I put up in the backyard11. Now, I've been trying to be outside my house more,12 and the hammock brought by Dad and Jason has been a godsend (THANK YOU!) not only in relaxing, but in being more comfortable among the kids of my immediate community. Anyway, I'm still mad, but want to do a bit of reading and relaxing in the hammock and I think I can ignore all the noise the swinging kids are making. I notice that one girl who is sitting near the hammock is staring at me. I get stared at a lot. A lot a lot. And it's unnerving, especially when all of your nerves are already gone. So, I ask the girl, "please stop looking at me so much" and all of the 15 or so kids that are back there have frozen and are all staring at me. And it is too much. I go inside and study stuff on the computer13. A little while later, the power goes out while I'm cooking and I think I should enjoy the dark night so I get my hammock time in with the stars14.

The "Good"19 Day

(I'm a bit tired from writing out my whole "Bad"19 day, so for now I'm going to be lazy and just write what my good day was like in outline format.)
    Abstract: Went to Kayunga mainly to observe the "Science Caravan" that's put on by the JICA15 volunteers at Katherine's Youth Center16. Wanted to do some other errands too.
  • Woke up to a cute text from a cute girl17.
  • Rode through a nice fog to Kayunga. Good for keeping cool. Bad for keeping clean.
  • After bathing18, managed to go get metal bars for
    cheaper (19,000) as well as cut into pieces for less than half the previous price.
  • Found out Internet wasn't working (two times).
  • Nina (bottom left in pic) was upset with me for not preparing a math presentation.
    I had brought SET to teach to the JICA volunteers. So, I told her about that, that I'd had a shitty day yesterday and hadn't felt like preparing anything, and that I would go get stamps made of the SET shapes, so that pirate versions could be more easily made (I'd been meaning to do this for a while). That way, if the JICA volunteers, who are all math & science teachers,liked the game they could make it themselves.
  • Getting stamps made was a success and under my planned budget of 5,000.
  • Watched and participated in JICA science presentation, which included:

    • A cardboard box, air vortexer (ARYA!!!!! like you're gun, but lower tech, still
      worked well though.)
    • A number of neat magic tricks by Kimuli (next to Nina, with the crazy shirt)
    • A hot air balloon made from old plastic shopping bags
    • An experiment with cup telephones for the participants to do
    • Some cool exploding things
    • A bottle rocket using air pressure, some water, and a pump. One of the JICA volunteers was struggling a bit with the explanation, so I came up to help and showed off some skillz by explaining the physics of it mostly in Luganda. Yes. I am that cool.(Ego up.) Yes. That is maybe the nerdliest thing to be cool about. (And back down.)

  • Taught SET to a number of the youths that stayed after the science presentation.
  • Rode home toting iron bars. Was tired. But was happy.
  • Final product of the day: the shining blog entry before you.

Also, if you followed my advice, now is a good time to come back to 19. For the rest of you that already read it, I bet you're those same breed of masochists that like to read the last page of a book first aren't you? But, I'm sure that's no one I know ;).
Loving and missing you all,

1 Note that I'm trying to keep these people relatively anonymous. No judging allowed!
2 Also, I'm learning a bit of html and these footnotes are now linked. Please appreciate accordingly. If I get ambitious, I'll go back and link the footnotes in my last big post.
3 These are PLE (Primary Leaving Exam) Results for P7 (~7th grade students). You can think of (Division 1)=(A), (Div 2)=(B), 3=C, 4=D, U=F, and X=absent. Notice difference in achievement by genders (sorry for stereotypical pink=girls, blue=boys coloring).
4 This is short for Ground Nuts, and they're pretty much exactly like peanuts, except that the little red paper thing on the inside tends to stay on a lot better.
5 Note that the difference of our prices is about the same as the difference between $14.71 and $13.53 (exchange rate of 1700 [UgSh/$]).
6 This is the Luganda word for "run," but also happens to mean a small store. Many words in Luganda mean many different things, example: omukka n. 1. breath, 2. smoke, 3. fog. Luckily the meanings tend to be related. 10 points for the person that can think of some words like this in English. All that comes to my mind is "too," "to," "two," but those aren't very fun.
7 I deleted this footnote later one, but I don't know regular expressions well enough yet to reorder the ones below without spending forever, so I'm leavingit.
8 Okay, test time, how many $ is 100 UgSh worth?
9 After this point, things said in English will be normal type face and things said in Luganda will be italicized.
10 Mathematical minds will notice the difference is 100 [UgSh], which, if you passed the test from above is about $0.06. So, I'm asking for old and small vegetables to be reduced from $0.35 to $0.29 - which I think is reasonable.
11 Note that this swing has already broken. After I fix it, it will be part of the next post I'm planning about shit that breaks. I built the swing after they had broken my hammock (which I repaired).
12 It's really amazing how easy it is to become a hermit here. When you are so different and constantly bombarded by kids calling you "Mzungu" it's an easy escape to just hide in your house. There are nice books there which bring you back to America where you are, if not normal, then at least accepted. At the very least more than a circus freak.
13 Which was surprisingly calming in a kind of zombifying way. I've been trying to decide whether it was good for my service that my computer came, because I've been spending a decent amount of time with it, but I think net effect is positive.
14 This was actually a superb idea (sorry 'bout the self-congratulation). My hammock is placed below a tree somewhat skimpily clad in leaves and most of the amazing number of stars were very brightly lit behind it's pitch dark boughs. I had the thought that it was really cool that the actual sky I could see was so much brighter than the dark branches and leaves of the tree and as I swung back and forth the stars moved (due to parallax) in and out, as if the whole world was swinging in the cradle of the sky. It was very beautiful, very relaxing, very deep. I recommend.
15 read: Japanese Peace Corps.
16 The Youth Center is where Katherine, one of my closest volunteers, works as the boss. She's had me come to teach mathematics and tries to hold events for kids as well as always being open with pool (billiards that is), ping pong, a little library, a TV + DVD player, a nice field, etc. Clearly, her organization has money. This is weird in Peace Corps. But, it's also really nice.
17 Although only occuring once, I can definitely say that this is the best way to start my day in the village. I even came up with a funny story as a reply. BTW: lest you all think that I'm some lecherous Romeo over here, please note that girls, in general, for me, have been more problems than they're worth here in Uganda.
18 22 [km road] + speeding trucks/cars + sweat + dust = a very dirty Ryan. Katherine and Amy let me use their facilities to bucket bathe. I appreciate.
19 you should probably read this last, even though it is referenced near the top. Okay, so I wanted to explain why I put "good" and "bad" days in quotes. It's not because I don't want to be judgemental and say all days are created equal. They're not. Some days are shit. Some days rock. What I want to point out here is how even the bad day had some rays of goodness: having a successful meeting where I was well appreciated and presented valuable information, a beautiful hammock-time under the stars. And even the best day had some smears of crappiness: making Nina upset for not having prepared, finding the internet down many times, probably being overcharged for the stamps, being called"mzungu" for about two hours straight on the ride to and from Kayunga. In the end, the difference between a good day and a bad is not just the things that happen, but how you react to them, how you let them affect the course of your actions from bad things to bed time. You can get pissed and take it out on others or you can turn around and say, "I can make this right, it'll just take a bit of work on my part." I'm sure some writer for SCRUBS has already put this idea much more eloquently at the end of episode #whatever, but hey, I'm a physics major right? : )