Sunday, August 26, 2012

Battle Lines Drawn.

For the past couple of months I have been psychologically broken down by man most worthy adversary: The African Rat.  I classify it beyond normal vermin strictly to save what little pride I have left.  The two families that are currently a feature of Opolot’s humble abode cannot possibly be ordinary rats; little guys are too clever, too relentless, too rat-like.  Other rats probably video tape my inhabitants and stare in awe at their gall, performing such brazen acts as using my mosquito net as a trampoline, stealing food directly from my plate after leaving for no more than 35 minutes, leaving gaudy footprints on my keyboard when I return.

The animals so infiltrated my mind that, by last week, I had given up control of the house after nightfall.  I would lock myself under my net, tuck in on the sides, and put two pillows on my head.  Every morning I would wake up to see the wake of destruction; bread loaves with baseball size holes out of the side, cheese missing completely (how the HELL did they eat ¾ of a wheel of cheese in one night?), poop ostentatiously lying on my table and couch. 

Had I been alone, I don’t know how long these monstrous acts would have continued.  As it was, Buzi has had a snapping point and declared total war.  Inspired by his scare tactics (he’ll randomly bark at nights, hoping the noise will frighten the rats to give away their position---it works!) and complete focus (after 3-4km sprints to town with him following me on my bike, he’ll pick up his speed at the end of the run, sprinting into the house and kamikaze-ing directly into the cupboard which we hear him), I begin to slowly try and give assistance.  I will admit, though, that I was leaving the killing of the rats, and indeed nearly all of the scouting out, up to Buzi. 

My best move I decided was to streamline Buzi’s paths into well-known terrorist---sorry, rat---hide outs.  I moved paint cans around so that he has full access to behind the couch, moved my bed so he has more room to scout through my room.  Then, one day as I was moving things above my clothes cabinet, I hit my snapping point. 

In my broken mind, I felt me and the rat families had established an understanding.  They stay out of my way in the day, and if I leave anything out at night they would like, then my loss.  I realized their willingness to wake me with rat-like screams (of victory, or rage, or perhaps ecstasy…I can’t be sure) might be a sign that the agreement was beginning to be in need of a renegotiation.  When I reached about my clothes cabinet, however, and I brought down my MSR Single Hubba 3.5 season backpacking tent (I.E. my single most loved piece of outdoor equipment, behind only my Arc Teryx Bora 80) and found a (albeit tiny) rat nibbled hole…all agreements were off.  I tore down everything from the cabinet, immediately finding 4 newborn rats, still too young even to have opened their eyes.  Buzi immediately neutralized 3 with his trademark head grab and shake, breaking each of their spinal cords and tossing them off to the side.  I joined the effort with my rat bludgeon.  Let the games begin.

Buzi and I have taken back the night in the following weeks.  Two nights ago was a crippling blow, when buzi’s banshee-call sent one rat falling, into the open.  We chased him (his bark now gets me out of bed, on my feet with a stick in hand in less than 3 seconds from full sleep) behind the clothes cabinet.  Drawing up images of my tainted Single Hubba, I picked up the whole side and twisted it away from the wall, leaving Papa AND Mama rat exposed.  They split, each heading opposite directions away; Buzi and I silently picked off each of our prey.  I managed to stick Papa rat and hold him by his tail, all the while cheering on Buzi to “Get’m, GET’M” in my most sinister voice.  Mama got away.  Buzi, once he realized he’d been eluded, raced back to my position to finish the job on Papa.  Thinking he was already fazed, I let go of my stick---like a bullet, off the little guy goes, out of the room and into the hallway.  Buzi closes the space between them in one pounce and, with a growl, he clenches.  No more Papa rat.

Buzi and I still have a lot of work to do, but we feel the momentum is on our side. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

2 years and 2 days

The week of the 2 year anniversary of my class & mine’ s time in Uganda was especially memorable for me.  The journey started with news of meeting Hillary Clinton and ended with the successful staffing of 1st annual GirlTech Uganda Camp.

News that I had been selected amongst PC-UG to meet and talk with Hillary Clinton during her visit to Kampala, Uganda was made quickly, and required commitments even faster.  In preparation for Madame Secretary’s meeting, I had the kids of the NPHC make a special hammock combining the American and Ugandan flags.  The fabric for the American flags came from nowhere else but my Grandmama’s basement, where I had so generously been allowed to snoop around and take fabrics.  Thanks Grandmama!  Hope you enjoy, Ms. Clinton! 

Before I knew what was going on I had signed up and was in a private car with Peace Corps Staff towards KLA.  As we traveled up, we learned that Madame Secretary aimed to have a 30-45 minute sit-down with selected Volunteers about service within Uganda.  When I got there, we didn’t have time to find an iron, and I realized I forgot my socks---PTO (Program and Training Officer--#2 of PC UG) Paul Sully was generous enough to solve both of these issues personally.   When the official time came for the Secretary to arrive, we were given word that she was going to be “detained” for some time.  I late got some inside information that it would be 2+ hours before she arrived.

Before the eventual arrival of the Secretary of State, I was received quickly by the acting ambassador and the small grants coordinator.  I was given news that in my email inbox was a congratulatory email for the NPHC; we have made it to the final round of our Grant!!!  It is now all about receiving Pro-forma invoices and getting organized for the money to be sent; in Mid-October we will then receive the first phase of our 60,000,000 Uganda Shillings.  I couldn’t help but excuse myself out of earshot, once I had been told, to call Obote (the project manager) and Fr. Ecogu (the parish priest) and give them the great news.  That phone call will forever remain in my mind as one of the best moments in Uganda. 

 Finally, at 8:25, she made her appearance to those at the U.S. Embassy who had not given up hope.  Our sit-down had been cancelled due to the extreme delay of schedule, but we were still able to shake hands and take a quick picture.  It was certainly an honor, if not exactly what we’d been hoping for. 

After the meeting, I was privileged enough to get to go out and enjoy dinner with workers from the U.S. Embassy.  I taught them about village life while they taught me about living in the capital city under the government.  This Venn diagram didn’t need much space in the middle, but was great to get some perspective.  Hopefully it will not be the last of these interactions.

The next day, it was off to Wanyange Girls Secondary School for GirlTech.  A quick internet search will land you with a youtube video summary of the camp---unfortunately my internet speed is too slow to reach it without me pulling my hair out in the process.  If someone finds it, perhaps they could attach it as a comment below this post.  Anyway, the camp was a great success, especially considering the experimental nature of its design.  The camp was designed specifically for those who have excelled in the sciences at their respective secondary schools within (but without regard to location otherwise) Uganda.  My role in the camp was general camp logistics/runner/hype-man.  Basically the guy no one has to feel bad about making do “THAT” job, because it’s what I signed up for in the first place.  I was honored to do two different “Tower of Strength” challenges piggy-backed off of Odyssey of the Mind Spontaneous problems and one night of teaching astronomy.  On the next to last day, I stayed up all night working (while dancing around to music) on a Rube Goldberg machine to help me crack my hard-boiled egg.  The contraption took 7 hours to create, lasted about 25 seconds from start to finish while incorporating 12 different mechanical contraptions.    I was pretty proud of it, even if it did require some subtle (or not so subtle) nudging when it was show-time. In the end, a swinging hammer suspended 12 feet up knocked a tower of bottles holding my breakfast, conveniently breaking my egg in a platter with some buttered bread.

On Saturday we were able to celebrate a camp well done.    Only the subsequent day (yesterday) did I realize my anniversary had already passed.  Time continues to travel at speeds so unbelievably slow on the day to day level and yet mystifyingly quick on a grander scale; it is no surprise that my two years anniversary was spent as such.

And so, on to the future.  I am securing my place in Uganda for up to another year, with renewed fervor for the project that got me through most of my service.  My understanding of Uganda has only continued to increase my potential within it, and currently it seems foolhardy to leave such opportunities that exist all around me. 

Timing is a tricky little fellow.  I will continue to search for my place, and more so for what makes a place THE place (despite the search’s seemingly impossible nature).