Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Here's to you, Ms. Wilkinson...

...Jesus loves you more than you may know."

Well, Hell, at the very least I know that I sure appreciate you. For all of those who are not aware, Amy was the nearest Peace Corps neighbor to me in Ngora. When I had first arrived, bright eyed and bushy tailed, she had already been here for 2 years time. She had already learned the language, the location, and the people to a level that I can only help will achieve in two years; so needless to say that after a week at site, I considered her a Golden Goddess.

Giving me small tips and advice on the best shop, worst roads, best shortcuts would have made her one of the more vital contacts that I could have. But because of her (albeit bittersweet) closure approaching in Uganda, as she’d already served in Peace Corps for its 2 year duration, and also because of how close in proximity she was to me…well…I got most all of her stuff.

Big deal, right? We are given money for moving-in, and as Peace Corps Volunteers we make well over the national average salary, so who cares? It’s not the money aspect though. It’s traveling 45 uncomfortable minutes to actually get to a place where most of these things that she gave me can be bought, and then another 30 going around store to store to figure out what the Actual price is, not the price because you’ve come in with white skin and what’s sure to be, as a result, a fat wallet. It’s then finding a way to get it home, without it being mishandled while being thrown on the roof or stolen from the trunk at a stop. It’s then getting back home to figure out the damned thing doesn’t work at all, and that you didn’t get a receipt (which wouldn’t matter anyway, because they sure as hell won’t give you a refund. It’s the ONE instance in which a Ugandan will absolutely Not remember you from your last visit). It’s stress, and it’s time, and it’s usually the first step in a day that usually ends in locking yourself in your home for 3 hours to punch walls and…well…write blogs about how happy you are!

Bottom line, it’s invaluable. Whether it’s scented candles, hand saws, A FAN, steel nails that don’t downward dog on the first hit, custom made, previously unknown to Ugandans Futon, gas stove with tank and tube, two much needed jerrycans to hold water when the water stops being running water…you get the idea. It’s awesome. It’s one hell of a Christmas gift, I’ll tell you that.

So, Amy, I appreciate it. You will be missed.

Side note, completely unrelated in anyway:

Hey, Fam--Have any ideas on sending my 138 mb video to you? Cause I have been shut down by every sending device I know. I have turned it into a 43 mb version, but this has also failed to be allowed to send through anything I could think of. Ideas?


Obviously, this Christmas was a lot different for me than any other Christmas I’ve had. In fact, it was a lot different for my whole family; my brother was with his fiancĂ©e and her parents’ house, I was in Uganda, and my parents were in Mississippi. All new locations with all different kinds of people attending. Craziness.

I think at first the idea of Christmas got me a little sad. Obviously it’s the quintessential time to be with the family, and it would be the first time I wouldn’t get that “Christmas morning” that we Americans all know so well. The fact that I wasn’t going to be waking up my parents by banging on their wall with my brother at the crack of dawn, well it kind of got to me. It also didn’t help that everybody I knew was saying how much it must suck that I wasn’t “home for the holidays”. I also wasn’t going to be giving presents, and had no expectations to receive any, besides maybe a beer or two from the parish priest. Not getting to wrap presents, a good Boddie tradition, was probably the biggest hit that I took out of all of it.

But I started thinking; there is a whole hell of a lot that I’ve been given this Christmas. Considering that in August I was Bartending/Managing in Chapel Hill while living in the basement floor of a (lovely) 70 year-old ladies house, and now I’m on the Board of Trustees for a Health Center in Ngora, Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer…I think there are a lot of things that I have to be thankful for. Looking at my life on paper, PC obviously took a risk on spending all the time, energy, and money on me that they have. Moreso, the Catholic Parish where I’m living has given me a house, running water (even though it runs all over my house), and electricity (on a good day) in a land where all three are designated only for the extremely wealthy. They have done this on THEIR OWN dime, without the help of PC, strictly to allow me to kind of run free in hopes that I will be making changes that will account and exceed these costs. I’ve been given 170 peers from America that would, at the drop of a hat, come to my home if I ever had something where they could help me with. Also, from one of those 170 people, I’ve been given pretty much every single thing a guy could need for moving into a house (more on her later.)

Anyway, bottom line: Don’t feel bad for me. I’m making out like a bandit. Ok, attending 4 masses from 7:30-2 isn’t exactly my normal Christmas, but hey. I drank beer, I taught my people how to shag (dance) and the waltz (thank you, Ballroom Dancing class), and I had fun. It was a great Christmas, despite my doubts beforehand.

To come: New Years! I think I’ll be staying close to home, despite earlier plans to head down to the South West part of the country with a bunch of other PCVs. Bushonyi sounds awesome, but having to go through Kampala when Al Shabaab has been doing all their antics isn’t really worth it to me. Besides, if what we are doing at midnight is what we’ll be doing for the rest of the year, I’d rather be in Ngora with my arranged family. And that’s an awesome feeling.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Line of Control (Sequel to “Fog of War”)

A team of specialists have eradicated the water problem…for now. I will defer the scoring of a point to myself…because I kind of just sat around and watched. It’s nice to have friends that (kind of) know what they are doing, or at least are willing to try things out and see, cause hey, it’s not their house they are possibly about to screw up!
The cow killer escaped unharmed. Don’t you hate it when the strikingly big animals or their class are also just as if not faster than their smaller cousins? I refuse to accept that as logical, and will continue to underestimate animals for this exact reason. I will also refuse to give said cow killer a point, because after all it WAS he who retreated, not me. He knows where to find me.
The other Battle that has emerged (just minutes after the blog post) was that against the cow killer’s smaller versioned, but much more plentiful, infantrymen. Perhaps the cow killer is acting as general in command of his infantrymen, the sugar ants. These little bastards are everywhere, and they are super fast. I found most of their major barracks, however, and caused the sky to rain in their plummet (they are mostly in the cracks of the wall and wood that is in the rafters. It literally sounded like a light rain storm inside the house with all of them falling, after I’d completed my genocide with chemical warfare). The battle has reduced now to smaller skirmishes, whenever they build up the courage to attack a stray egg piece or if I leave the bread too close to the shelves, which I’m content to allow, for now. They, at least, have seemed to learn who the master is.

Side note: I am trying to save Internet Data (I get charged for every MB that I use, both in uploaded and downloaded material), so I am writing these off the internet and then posting them quickly. Thus there might be a cluster effect on my blogs from now on. Sorry.

Also, guess what book I've just finished? Haha, yep, Tom Clancy's Line of Control. Hope this counts as my citation to the title.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fog of War

Water is a big deal in Africa. Water isn't taken for granted, because for the large majority of people, they have to travel more than a kilometer to get any. When they do, it's clear at best, murky puddle water at worst. Clear doesn't mean that it is clean, yet some people consider that good enough.

Needless to say, I felt/feel pretty lucky from having a running water source inside my house. The water tank is suspended precariously over my walls, held up by 2 2x8 boards that I question the strength of everyday. Last night I decided to take a shower. I stripped off my linen pants and button down (standard wear), put on my sandals and turned on the knob controlling the shower. 1 part water, 2 parts ants, and 2.5 parts mosquitoes come pouring out of said showerhead, directly into my hair and on my face. Sweet life.

The water must have sensed my displeasure and ungrateful attitude towards it, because now it has refused to come out at all. Such a pretty sink, toilet, shower, and water spout have been rendered useless by the maniacal acts of the apparatus that threatens to squish me every time I walk underneath it. This feels like a war that I can't win; it certainly has the higher ground, and for now the score remains 0(me)-2(water tank).

---Holy hell. Just spotted a cow killer ant on my desk. The water war has been tabled; It seems that more pressing enemies have surfaced. I will keep you informed.

Kampala Rant, and Awesome News From Home

After dealing with the Kampala style life for a couple of days, there was no better feeling than getting back to site. Correction; getting back home.

Kampala is awesome for the services it provides, and the mass amounts of material which you can get from there. There is enough muzungu traffic in Uganda's capital to ensure that, if you have the money, you can get pretty much anything you'd like. I ate pizza, had a soft-serve strawberry ice cream, enjoyed a hot shower, and even bought some over-priced mueslix for when I got home, to mix with my yogurt. I certain lady back home introduced me to mueslix, and I guess when I saw it I couldn't resist.

The problem with all of these material items and services that are found in Kampala, you realize, can be found in the reason why they are there in the first place: the people. The crowds that amass in seemingly every nook and corner of the city take its toll on the sanity of anyone not accustomed to it. Every amazingly serene, welcoming, and genuine people that can be found almost everywhere in the village have been replaced with 50 people hardened by the quick and dirty city lifestyle. Smiling seems to be a weakness as opposed to comfort; peoples arms are grabbed, not held.

So whatever. I love the fact that Kampala is and will always be there; I'm just glad I get to deal with it on my own terms. I really hope people don't come to Uganda, hang out in Kampala for a few days, and say they saw the country. Sorry. That's not Uganda.

For now, I'm loving the small luxuries I have afforded to give myself. I recognize them as dangerous; a computer playing Ben Harper into a reverberating (no ceilings + tin roof=automatic surround sound, from bathroom to bedroom to office to kitchen) house that is all my own, reading the summaries of the daily news received through a contact of the U.S. Embassy, printed off on my own personal laser printer (thanks Mama and Papa!) doesn't exactly seem like I'm roughing it. In honesty, these things make it more difficult at times. Sometimes being reminded of luxuries only brings back memories of everything else that you could be having. Where's the refrigerator, the electric drill, the air conditioning, the cheese or endless supply of ground meat? And then you are hit with reality, and realize that you didn't put any water out on the roof last night; you'll have to boil your water today if you want to drink it without getting a ring-worm or amoebic dysentery. Why'd you forget? Oh, you were watching a DVD while drinking a beer? Great job; way to use those luxuries. I guess there is a Kampala in me as well.

Biggest news of the year: My big brother is getting married!!! I have no idea how the man actually managed to convince a person to even CONSIDER spending the rest of their life with him, much less a female, much less somebody so intelligent and driven as the lady which he's asked...but hey, whatever. ---Just kidding, Will. You have always served as a great inspiration to me, both with regards to your achievements, your drive, and most of all your steadfast nature in being nobody besides yourself. The amount of pleasure that you gave me when you called me and told me the amazing news is something I will always remember. Moulin Rouge taught me about what the "greatest gift you could ever receive" is, and I'm really happy and proud that it's been given to you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Package! Package!

Got into Kampala, via sweeeeet ride from the PEPFAR coordinator of Uganda from the US Embassy, and made into the office today. There was a package waiting for me!

Thank you Grandmother, for the article regarding N. Uganda; THANK YOU Melanie for the hammock information; I am super excited about spreading this wealth of information once I get back to site! And thank you Mama for sending it. The map is perfect, and I'm going to use the post it notes and pens more than you could imagine.

Lessons learned: Crystal light doesn't travel well. I opened the (already torn open) padded envelope to find what I first thought was presents wrapped in sand. But sticky. haha.

SO weird that only 8 days separate today and Xmas. It is getting hotter and dryer with each morning here.

Have to get going; need to find some items in KLA before I head back home! much love.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Days in Slow motion, month in fast forward

Been awhile since my last blog. For that I apologize; I didn’t realize how many people were keeping up with me through this media until I stop writing…and start receiving the questioning emails. Yes, I’m alive, and kicking quite well.
In honesty I’ve been really busy. There are many different branches which I am trying to balance on top of, with an intense stubbornness unwilling to admit that I’m stretching myself too thin on all sides. When you give a guy free reign on a country, and pay him enough salary to actually roam it at will, well, he’s bound to be pretty occupied.

A lot of my time currently is going into my house. I was able to commandeer a big slab of wood (freshly cut from a mammoth tree), and I’ve cut it into several pieces in order to make a desk. The cutting, with the crappy hand saw that I bought for the equivalent of 3 dollars, took some time. The hammering, with a head that falls off every third swing and nails that bend more than yoga instructors, wasn’t exactly efficient either. Luckily enough, Ugandans don’t understand what I’m saying when I curse. I have kept the scraggly edges and strips of bark, because I think it’s beautiful and an awesome contrast to the marble-eyed pattern it gives on its face; the Ugandan’s have decided that I’m either too lazy to cut it, or genuinely mixed up in style. “Why, if you have the ability to make something look factory made and uniform, would you not do so?” is what they seem to be asking…and the language barrier doesn’t allow me to answer in convincing enough of a fashion. In time, perhaps.

Another chunk of time is continuing with the orphans living in the women-headed household. I had the first meeting, and we set up another meeting for what was yesterday. My goal in these meetings is to continually remove myself from importance of my attendance, in hopes that the ownership will more and more be their own and less just coming because of the white guy in the front of the room. (I say room…we have our meetings under the mango tree, just like everyone else who has a meeting in Teso Region) In order to help with this, I brought along a government official who is the point-man of NUSAF-2, which is a government run grant application for the northern parts of Uganda. He and I show up to this meeting, to which I’m expecting to see the same group of 20 kids…and I find myself looking upon 205 children, all of whom are orphans, or living with HIV/AIDS from birth, or street children…it was unbelievable. The government official was absolutely ecstatic from the turn-out, and admitted that he has been trying to find a group like this for some time. Score one for Opolot Matthew? We’ll see. The spark has certainly been lit, and it’s bright enough to make you squint….just hope it gets enough air and attention in order to continue on.

The rest of my time is meetings. Meeting people is a full time job…or 3. One time every week or so my suspicion is confirmed in some odd, roundabout way that the people that I meet and become connected to are going to dictate my success in this country. I am realizing more and more that my successes will never be things that I will do, or I am going to be building, but rather the ones in which I helped bring together, facilitate, and let run.

Got to go to Soroti yesterday for a World Aids event, which was awesome. Lynne Mcdermott (spelling? Sorry Lynne) was the lady in charge of this event, as well as every other World Aids event sponsored by the US Embassy in the country. She was a PCV of Uganda in 03-05, and so it was really cool to have a person high up in the food chain of American’s in Uganda who also understands the things that we are going through on a personal level. She is also highly involved with PEPFAR, which pays for about 9 dimes out of a dollar on HIV/AIDS relief in Uganda….so she’s somebody I would very much like to get to know.

Right now a Youth Conference for the catholic diocese is being held in Ngora parish, aka my backyard. It was really excited in prospect, to get so many youths and people in one place to try and tell them about water and sanitation…but now that they are all here, and using part of my house for storage and the building directly adjacent my house for cooking…it is getting a bit old. Last night I was able to fall asleep only after the chants had died down at around 2am…but then I was woken again by a rousing version of “Jesus is coming” at about 4:30am. I am going to have to find a place to go, outside of Ngora, so that I don’t immediately lose my mind. I’ve gotten used to the magnified glass being put on me by my villagers, but when it’s multiplied by an additional 2500 kids below the age of 20…well, you get the idea.

Last night was amazing because I got to talk to Shay and Will, on the same night! I hadn’t talked to them in over 2 months, and since I’ve been in Uganda, respectively, so it was a great surprise to get to have some interaction with both of them. I also got in contact with Andrew Johnson, a fellow fraternity brother from home, who is in Kenya now for a documentary he is helping shoot. Trying to work out having him come down to UG for New Years.

Apparently my dth article got leaked to Peace Corps, and was put on the front page of the National Newsletter. I kind of hope that isn’t the truth, but if it is, cool? Haha I don’t know. Feel silly writing an article about Peace Corps to other PCV’s after being in country for less than 4 months, but I suppose I should be appreciative of the gesture.

ALSO, just saw that UNC beat Kentucky. Really hope that my uncle, Stephen, (A huge UK fan, who regularly attends the games) was calling my dad (UNC Alumni) beforehand with snide comments, because I know that my Dad called him after the game was over. Go heels.