Sunday, July 10, 2011

Through the looking glass

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks or so in a blur of travel. Planned trips, holidays, and good friend coming to visit converged into a blitz of moving around that I hadn’t expected would be so…tiring. I also learned a lot from it, though.

1. Life here is crazy. I commonly give up reassurances of safety without thinking, mostly because there is no feasible alternative. Also because I’m more confident about my own ability to control my own safety. Drivers don’t speed when I’m in the car anymore, because I won’t let them. When a boda is coming upon me at a speed unwise, I jack out my arm in their direction, then at the last moment swerve my bike to the opposite side, thereby creating more space and also giving him all that I can. They all hate this, of course, and that’s fine. “Opolot, erai ijo stubborn” No problem. I’m not getting clipped by you anymore while I’m riding to Kumi, so it’s all good.

2. Moving with a man who isn’t used to Uganda, I’ve realized how dirty my life is. Dust is everywhere. I have no idea what my skin color actually is anymore. My house has over 15 geckos and lizards in it at any given time, and 3 times as many spiders. I invite the openly; THEY don’t have the disease that is the biggest killer in Uganda inside of them, and more, they kill the things that do; mosquitos with malaria.

3. Seeing other Peace Corps Volunteers sites, I’m struck by how different everyone’s experience is in country. Some people have house girls/boys that come every day to mop, wash clothes, cook food, and clean the house. As a result, they spend more time doing the things they came here to do, and I’m left thinking that they are actually less selfish that I am; I am washing my own clothes and cooking (a little bit) because it’s something I was hoping to learn how to do, as a way of growing. For other people, their focus is solely on Uganda, and they don’t want to be bogged down by menial tasks that will take them away from that. I hadn’t thought about it like that until then.

4. I was also struck by a realization when a PCV was reading to a group of us a small biography he had written for a Ugandan friend of his. He is attempting to have his friend accepted into a 3 week seminar that takes the Ugandan to America and has him visit congressman and entrepreneurs in the country. Amidst reading the nomination, you could tell that he was fighting back the tears of emotion. He was unbelievably proud of this man, and filled with such a respect for him. It’s the kind of feeling that at some level seems strange; when you have such a level of respect for a man, it is odd to think that your word could help him. It would seem more appropriate to be the other way around. Anyway, I found all of the Peace Corps Volunteers looking at the man reading with knowing eyes, with expressions that said “yeah, I know how you feel. There’s a friend that I’ve got at my site (home), too, that I feel the same way about.” It’s a cool feeling, and it’s good to know this country has those leaders in more places.

5. I’ve become extremely condescending and critical in my nature towards “shorties”, or short term volunteers, and it isn’t always fair. These people for the most part mean well, and the only way they are going to learn the effects of what 95% of the foreign aid that comes into this country actually DOES for this country is if they come and see it for themselves. Even still, they annoy me like crazy with their disrespecting clothing, pretentious diction when speaking to Ugandans, and general beliefs about coming here for 3 weeks in their summer to “fix” Uganda. Give me a break, kid. Oh, and just because you didn't actually SAY that, if you are thinking it in even a subconscious way that Uganda needs to be fixed, you are worse than I'm describing. Come with an open mind, prepare to take notes, and expect to have your mind blown. Or don't come.

6. I love my home. Being away from it for more than a couple of days really starts to bother me. It isn’t altogether a good thing; getting breaks away from site are important, to be able to look at what needs to be done in a more rounded, less tunnel-visioned light. Coming back home to Orelia (the parish chef’s 2.5 year old daughter) running up to me saying “welcome back” in the local language and hugging my knees…it doesn’t get much better than that.

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