Thursday, March 14, 2013

A sudden shift

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, one expects to be working on the ground level.  Bloody hands, dirty knees and sunburnt necks was what I had in mind when I applied to Peace Corps 3 years prior.  For the first 2 years of my service, that wasn't such a bad description.  I dug a well, built a latrine, ate white ants and washed my own clothes.  I built the house I lived in, killed the chickens I ate, pumped the water that I drank.  If you were to ask me what a successful day would be, I would have had no way to answer; every day was so unique and inevitably filled with such (sometimes pleasant, sometimes awful) discord that I eventually became as slippery as the day itself.  I'd jump on trucks heading South simply because I wanted to talk to a kid sitting in the back; I'd stop for "break" with any family that asked and thereby make myself an hour or two late for my scheduled meeting; I was, on my best days, an organic extension of the community.  By the end of my time, I was conversant in Ateso to the point where I would commonly speak less than 20 words in English, and only then so that I could ask the Ateso equivalent.

Now, here in Gulu, things are quite different.  I have a 4 room house with tiled floor, big ceilings, and a veranda in front with a hedge.  I work on the computer 10 hours a day, in an office with wireless internet, a fan, and window, powered continuously by either town electricity or a 24/7 generator.  I don't know the names of my neighbors, and still am unsure about the name for the road I live on.  I can say only good morning, good night, thank you, I'm satisfied, thank you for cooking, and "why is there never any lukotokoto!?"(lukotokoto is a food I have come to love here.  Peanut Butter with small fish, chicken scraps all mixed and ground into a paste).  A good day here still varies, but only in the types of malaria-related goals that I am trying to tackle on that day.

My friend recently told me that Peace Corps has "put blinders" on me, making me focus on exactly one kind of thing in the country.  While this is true, its also a bit incomplete; Along with the blinders, they've given me an intense pair of glasses, augmenting my capabilities in this specific field to a level that surprises me every day.  I will have a seat at a table of 15 people who are controlling the country of Uganda's entire malaria control program.  I am meeting with national artists, recording podcasts with the U.S. Ambassador, talking about malaria control to members of the CDC, USAID, and Vanessa Kerry.  I'm now in charge of coordinating efforts for malaria in Peace Corps Uganda, technical advisor on grants and pointman for questions in-country. I feel extremely lucky to have been given so much responsibility, and pretty excited that these responsible are things that I not only sought, but am able to handle and excel at having.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Matt - good to see you back on your blog. You sound really happy. I found a Luganda tutor in my town, believe it or not. A friend of a friend. Lovely man with a lovely family. He's from Masaka. I have 35 days to go on US soil. I'm ready, but I'm feeling some anxiety which I suppose is natural. Someday I'll be an "old hand" like you letting it all roll off my back. Hope to see you soon!