Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What have I gotten myself into?

The date for the biking trip has been pushed back until Early May. Thinking about (if this is even allowed, which I'm not sure it will be) pushing my Peace Corps Close of Service date back 4 months so that I can bike with the boys from Uganda (Kenya, Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia then take a ship to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium France, Germany, Denmark) to Sweden. I am literally jumping around my room thinking about how awesome it would be...I'll do my best to keep you updated on how it all shakes out.

Guess I need to get in shape.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Quick Update

Elections have gone extremely smooth with regard to its safety. Isolated incidences occurred, but as of yet, not at all big things. I will refuse to comment on the rest of the election status (fairness, bribery, personal choice for the next president, etc.), even with the cute little disclaimer on this blog, because of a myriad of reasons.

Leaving that Hornet’s nest, I have been having a blast at site the past couple of weeks. Things have opened up (literally, figuratively) quite nicely to me, and it’s making me look very good in the community without too much actual work. Firstly, thank God for my white skin; when I get dirty, it is SO much more obvious than when a Ugandan does. Thus, when a Ugandan is working beside of me in either the latrine or the tree nursery, it looks as though I’m working 20x as hard. This is hardly ever the case, and despite my attempting to tell the onlookers this…well, yeah. And, ok, I guess I don’t try too hard to set the record straight.

Heard about a well the other day, which had been closed for some silly reason like, oh, a kid fell in it and died. I heard they at least took her out of the well before they closed it, and after I heard it had been closed 12 years, I thought maybe I’d take a look. 47 blows of a chisel later (I counted. The moment this news came to me, I got so excited about this “right in front of their eyes, but needed Opolot to see it for them” story that I wanted to document everything. Not sure why I’m admitting my vanity to the www) I was looking down into a giant-ass hole. There is no standing water…but after meeting with the wat/san minister on Tuesday, I’m gonna see what that bad boy has got lurking underneath its loose soil at the bottom. I’m selfishly excited; this would mean walking 200 feet instead of 2 kilometers to get my water.

Kicking myself, terribly. There is a Scout group going to Sweden and back, via bike, and planting trees throughout their path. The leader is a straight baller, and he’s awesome. I had heard about this trip, but in honesty I kind of thought it was a joke, and dismissed it. After I met this man (his company has donated all the seeds from which we are using to plant our tree nursery), he brought it up. He’s leaving next week. Getting my visas in order would be ok, but I simply can’t bike across the country without giving my Country Director time to approve or disapprove. A trip of a lifetime has thus slipped through my fingertips. I have promised myself to be more proactive on the next one that presents itself.

Which reminds me. Dubai. Tennis Championships. February 2012. Who wants in?

Monday, February 14, 2011

“Sucks to your Kindle”

It seems that everybody in the freeking world is doing their reading on kindle, or the facsimile thereof created by other, less creative and more piggy-back intended companies. Perhaps this is the result of my lack of knowledge of world statistics, and that my fallacy of composition deals with only volunteers in Uganda, who read a book a week. Be this as it may, I would like to stand up and be recognized as one of the last proponents of a real live, non-animated, cut-giving paperback book.

Yes, I do have to turn the pages MYSELF. When I’m laying down on one side of the bed, with one elbow holding up my head, the other holding the pages open, it is really annoying to switch each page. Sure, When one side of my body gets tired, and I have to switch, I have NO doubts that the lack of light I am receiving to read (because the lamp is on the opposite side, which I am now obstructing with my own body now that I have turned over) will totally ruin my eyesight for later years. I am really sure that it is true; you probably DO read books faster on a kindle, as a result. Yes, how NICE it is to get all of the really old, classic books for free. What an amazing opportunity this Kindle thing really is! How could one live without it?

I like turning the pages. I like feeling the rough texture against my fingers, and I like having to balance the book on its spine, careful not to pull the pages too far apart and leave a permanent bowlegged nature in the first quarter of the book, which you’ll be forced to inadvertently turn to EVERY time you accidentally let the book slip into closing without properly fitting in the bookmark. I like choosing if I respect the book enough to actually keep up with a bookmark for it, or if I decide to give it the equivalent of the scarlet letter of a book; the doggy ear, placed every 10 pages of length that I can manage before it makes me choose sleep over its words. (Because this, of course, is much different than the bowlegged disability, which no self respecting reader can leave; the ear mark is a declaration of respect, a conscious act of superiority over a less than worthy book. The bowlegged is only noticed after the fact, and is never a conscious act; the vast number of ways it can occur can be proof of either interest or boredom in the book, thereby disqualifying it as a kind of act of ranking or approval.)

I like the character of the book that is formed during my involvement with it. When I’m drinking something from my large-mouth nalgene, and it drips, it stains. The pages get swollen. When I throw it in my pack and take it with me, it gets bent, becomes more malleable. Even though I have never figured out how, the cover gets scratched, marred, individualized. These stays, folds and creases are the exact imperfections that make it my own. Like your favorite recipe, it suddenly makes it stronger. It is these miniscule imperfections that makes it perfect for another. For you. And it is those same imperfections that give you a chance to judge the beholder of the book before you. Whether it is snickering at the words in the margins (they CLEARLY did not get what the author was saying), or pure anger at an earmarking (how could they do this to a GOOD book?!), it is absolutely part of the experience.

I even like losing my place, and having to find it back again by reading before pages (“right, this is where that guy did that IDIOT thing”) and ones after (“Crap! I totally just ruined it! I wonder if that means she already left him?). I like finding the spot, the page where I look and instantly I can tell it is where I left off; it’s like I have just reached home after a long days work, and the dog has started his obligatory bark with wagged tail following close behind.

More than anything, I like putting in the bookmark (for this is a book that I am truly enjoying, that I am currently describing), closing the book, and reveling at the forward progress made for the day. Sure, you may have just completely wasted what would have been a beautiful day outside saving the world, but, geez, you covered some ground in Monte Cristo!! You sleep well as a result of it, confident that tomorrow’s adventure will be an even greater step towards completion, and the subsequent beginning of another, even thicker and ever more daunting novel.

Never will I be reading a book and have it tell me “low battery.” Never will I push a button to turn a page, unless it is some kind of Jeffersonian invention, copied from the actresses of the movie “Real Genius,” that has been given to me as a present from one of my creative and superbly proud sons. Never will I put my book into my bookbag, and think, “wait, did I do that gently enough?”. “Should I have put the cover on it first?”. “Did I turn my book off?”.

The book I’m reading has it’s own weight, own font size and type, and its own characteristics. It’s that book which I will finish. If it sucked...then I'll discard it like an odd-shaped child in Ancient Greece. If it was worth anything,I'll pass it on to the next (ever dwindling) person willing to accept it, hopeful that he will notice its character, inadvertently add some of his/her own, and let the book continue on its path towards universal entertainment, enlightenment, horror, or whatever it intends to bring its reader. If you want it next, let me know.

But I won’t be able to send it to you over email.




As per request, and as it pertains to the subject, here is the list of books that I’ve read, in order of my enjoyment:
1) Poisonwood Bible (fiction, set in Congo during revolution)
2) Shantaram(guy escapes from prison…sets up a free medical clinic while a drug runner and on the run from another country)
3) Unbearable Lightness of Being (If you enjoy thinking, too much, about relationships, pick it up)
3) Papillon (facsimile of Shantaram, minus romanticism, plus more ridiculous badass stories)
5) Brave New World (Stepford Wives + The giver…kind of)
6) Les Miserables
6) The Illiad
8) Invictus
9) Naked (funny short stories, good bathroom book)
10) Catcher in the Rye
Excited about reading these, on deck for the next month (in no order):
1) Dark Star Safari
2) Lolita
3) Curious Case of Benjamin Button
4) Extremely loud and incredibly close

Friday, February 11, 2011

Next week

I've (as have the rest of the PCV's in Uganda) been officially put on house arrest, until the craziness of elections have subsided. I've made next week extremely busy as a result; it's not that I dislike being at site, or that I haven't made good friends here. But sometimes when your parents lock you in your room, the first thing you want to do is figure out a way to get out.

Thus, I've created a big list of things to keep me occupied.
1)Complete hole for the latrine (we are over 7 feet done! 3 more to go!)
2)Move the dirt over to the foundation for the new Maternity Ward we are constructing
3)Set up hammock poles next to the house (I plan on sleeping out under the stars every night that it is clear, starting tomorrow)
4)Dig hole for my plastic waste; putting it in boxes in my office doesn't make it disappear, apparently.
5)Buy glass sections for a big fancy solar dehydrator from which to use as example at the health center
6)Start the process of connecting these Ugandan children to American classrooms; this is already underway for a couple of my classes!!
7)Start 4-school wide competition for the best artistic expression of proper nutrition, to be rewarded by given paint materials and supplies to paint poster for the health center to post
8)Put up a big ass pole in the middle of the Primary School, and attach signs with mileage postings and directions to Johannesburg, Tokyo, Sydney, Rio De Janeiro, and of course Chapel Hill.

Oh, and if all else fails...I just started The Count of Monte Cristo.

Thanks for all the emails and messages through facebook; keep them coming through my lockdown at site!

happy v-day weekend,
Matt

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Don't Steal in Uganda. Check.

In order to keep my mental health strong, I thought it was pertinent to get out of site before we get put on Standfast for the remainder of the month of February.

(Standfast is an Emergency precaution; in times of trouble in the country, for whatever reason, we can be put on Standfast by Peace Corps. Basically this means that wherever we are in the country, we have to stay exactly there and sit tight until we get more instructions. It is designed to make it easier for the next progression of the emergency program—consolidation of a volunteers into central locations. )

Because of the elections, happening on the 18th, we’ve been given notice to expect to be on standfast from the 11th to the 25th, at least. Therefore, for now, I’m stocking up on my book to-read list and using my last chances of the month to speak American English to fellow PCV’s in the area.

Got super super lucky yesterday, and was able to watch the superbowl (without commercials. Whomp whomp) in its entirety. The game was actually good enough to make up for the monstrosity that was the halftime show, which is saying a lot. (No, it wasn’t good. Nope, not arty either. I was pretty embarrassed that people, like those in Uganda watching the game with us, believe that’s the best music we can come up with.) Anyway, it was extremely odd to be watching the superbowl, then to walk outside and realize that you were in Uganda. Like that feeling of being in a movie theatre, and realizing it’s still light out.

As if the country wasn’t sure I was appreciating exactly where I was, and more specifically the differences between here and the USA, it decided to remind me at halftime. While walking with a friend, we saw a man get dragged across the street (away from the police station) into a small alley. The man had apparently stolen something, but that’s all the information we got. The crowd was convinced with whatever kind of intel they had, however; convinced enough to start beating him with everything in sight. Fists rained down, on him, as the perpetrator/victim raised his hands in a general acceptance, knowing that if he were to resist, it would only get worse. Even a leg-less man was in on the action, beating the man repeatedly with a sugar can with all his strength.

Eventually, the man was unable to stand, and the mob continued to beat him as he fell to his hands and knees. It became, very quickly (this entire story takes place in about 3 minutes time) too much for me to watch, as I was losing confidence that the mob was actually going to let him go alive. I heard later that he was able to escape, and ran to the police station where he was finally arrested. Ridiculous.
Going to be in Jinja tomorrow quickly to meet with a fellow PCV in hopes of getting her PEPFAR funded organization to come and teach my district about HIV counseling services, and what exactly proper counseling entails. In a country where every town talks like a small town, and nothing is private…it is much needed.

PUMPED about Wednesday. Take those dookies down, Tarheels!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

“yeh you know nuff’ people say they can’t believe…

Jamaica we have a bobsled team. “

Obviously being the first white person that many of these people have seen, people are going to look at me in disbelief for all two years of my service. I’ve gotten used to this idea. Even though they may have never seen an Imusugun before, though, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a preconceived notion about us. I realized this as I was walking past them one day, with my backwards cap, sunglasses, shorts and a t-shirt on. They didn’t mind this so much as they did what I was holding: a Ugandan hoe, and a pickaxe. I quietly walked past everyone at the health center, to the back of the compound where we had decided to build a new pit latrine (the old one is filling up). The white man, with work tools in his hand? Their skin is so weak! They don’t use tools, where is his machine to do the work for him?

Instead of paying an exorbitant 325 thousand shillings to have someone else dig a hole, I decided I would see what happens if I started digging it myself. I knew that people of Uganda consider it in their culture to dig, especially women. I knew this related to gardening and subsistence farming, but I wondered if people would join in the help with the hole as well. Within 30 minutes, and having my pick axe taken out of my hands in the nicest way possible, I had my answer. 2 hours later, when a sister of the convent, and the In-charge of the health center, came in her rain boots and brown dress to start her work, I knew I had found a backbone of pride for Ugandans.

It’s been two days, and already we’ve completed about 20% of the hole. The entire staff has helped, walkers-by have pitched in a few blows, and even some school children have aided. Nice to see the community say thank you, in the only way they can, for the health center that is working so hard for them. Also nice to see that I won’t be digging the pit by myself; I’d have to rent a bulldozer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

PDA

Uganda is quite interesting with respect to it's views of sexuality and male friendship.

It is fairly well known that Uganda is quite strict on their lack of understanding for LGBT rights. When I came there was even a section in the newspaper that outed homosexuals in the community, in a way condemning them to possibly fatal mob violence from their neighbors. When I speak to people about it here, they brush off the issue without too much trouble. "We don't have gays here," they say. In fact, its one of the few faults that they find with America. "It's a great country," they'll say, "but at least here we don't have that gay problem."

Not getting into my responses to these comments, there is an ironic presence of affection shown by males to other males in this country. The guys that know each other and greet, and want to show respect, will touch their foreheads together, and hold in an embrace for a good 10 seconds. There are probably only a handful of days out of my some 160 here that I have NOT seen two men holding hands, with inter clasped fingers, walking around town. I have come to think that it is a good judge of how well I'm integrating into my community; the more adults that shake my hand and then hold on to it as we talk and walk around, the better I'm getting at becoming accepted. Today was a good day. I snagged 3 prolonged handshakes, and a hug-turned hand hold for about 35 meters. I even started sweating, and he didn't let go. That's true friendship.

I guess it is just a little odd to me that the country where they consider homosexuality to be an abomination is the same country where I've had to expand my comfort zone with male contact. Like it or not, Uganda, you've made me more comfortable about touching guys than in America. And we've got a gay problem, for god's sake.