Sunday, December 5, 2010

Meet Suzy!

Whats up Everybody,

This is Suzy from Ugada. My full names are Susan Katusiime Adyeeri. Am a female aged 17 (seventeen) and the most important thing about me is that I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord ad savior. I love serving him with the whole of my life. A little information about me;

I was born in 1992 in Hoima district to the late Mr. Mugasa Silverest and Mrs. Beatrice Kabanyoro (Both RIP). My parents died when I was only 7 years old, and that made my childhood miserable. I am in form five physics, maths ad biology ad I want to become a doctor. I care/mind about the wellfare of people ad that’s why I want to become a doctor and treat my people around the world. I want all people to be biologically, spiritually, psycologically, financially, ad economically healed ad stable. And that’s why by crook ad hook I must study nomatter what the obstacles. I know being an orphan is not easy ad I sometimes find it difficult to concetrate on my studies but with God everything is possible.

My hobbies are; I love serving the lord, making new friends, travelling in different countries ad meeting new people. I also like listening to music ad watching inspirational movies so that I can learn more. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance of travelling out side Africa but I hope one day I will travel ever where I like. When am at school I read my books seriously ad when am home, I try to have a nap or siesta or read a novel. I stay with my maternal Aunt ad I do have siblings.

Am looking forward to having penpals from all over the world. My addresses are below.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Intro: Meet My Students!!

I’ve been teaching for two terms now, and while I have done my fair share of singing the praises of (and bitching-and-moaning about) my students, I’ve not yet shown you all the faces of these 17-21 year old balls of love/frustration (save to those of you who saw my Africa slide show during my brief visit to the states, and then for only 5 or 10 seconds). In fact, I’ve been such a slack-ass about the blog and uploading photos, that I’ve failed to include pictures of my school and all that it comprises. Well: Shame… on… me. As they say here: slowly, slowly.

A few weeks ago, I began to consider the problem of the third goal of Peace Corps: Educating American’s about Ugandan’s. Now, Michelle remedied a bit of the challenge by connecting many of our friends and family with my kids and their shiny new GMAIL addresses - and I dare say that the grades in my classes have fallen steadily off a cliff ever since! - (I kid, I kid!). Actually, the whole email connection gig has been fantastic. Not only are my students increasing their typing speeds and knowledge of the computer and internet, but by connecting the them directly to American’s it has removed the middle-man (me) and allowed you and my students to develop a unique and otherwise impossible connection, a friendship.

Let me extend my sincerest thanks. You, by taking the time to write these boys and girls, have literally made them happier than I can say. To see them jump a bit when they see new messages in their inboxes, the exclamations of “Eh!” after reading something, learning something new, etc…

Congratulations! You are changing lives.

Moving on… a few weeks back, I proposed this to my students: “How would you like me to post a picture of you on the internet, on my website, so that the entire world can see you, learn about you, and contact you if they so desire.” The response was an overwhelming “YES!” So I asked them to begin thinking about a few things...

“Ask yourselves, ‘who am I? What makes *me* *ME*? Why am I special? What am I doing in this world? Where did I come from, and where am I going?’.”

Several days later, I snapped photos of Leonard, Ivan, Mugisa, Suzan and Ivan, and they gave me their short biographies. (Note: I am doing this project with my Physics class alone, as, well, liken me to a bad parent: I have my favorites.)

And what before my wondering eyes should appear?

Personal Ads. I felt like I was reading the lonely-people section on page 17 of some obscure free paper distributed in the dark downtown alleys of American cities.

You know exactly what I’m talking about: “SUM/F, DDF, HWP ISO VGL, ND, NK, NS PFF”
Read: “Single Ugandan Male/Female, drug and disease free, height and weight proportionate in search of very good looking, non-drinking, non-smoking, no kids person for friendship.”

“I’m sorry guys, but I cannot have you hitting on my family, friends and random internet house guests. I’ll make some suggestions. COME ON! I want you to get DEEP! Show these people who you really are! They want to meet you!”

With promises to revise, we parted ways until today, the last day of the third term.


Together, likely for the last time until January 31st when school reopens, I was presented with fresh copies of their biographies. As they are leaving to various parts of the country – deep village, Kampala, Fort Portal – these are the final drafts. Personal ads or not, my kids are getting published.

So here is the plan… the next series of blog posts will be titled “Meet (insert student name here)”. They should help you to get to know my kids a bit better. Honestly, its helped me to learn some personal facts that I was previously unaware of. Some of the writing is really touching. I hope you enjoy it.

My one rule: I am not editing ANY of the writing. It comes as is, straight from the page. I warned the kids about this in hopes that they would correct misspellings and use proper punctuation. Still, they are worried about what you may think of them. I’ve assured them that they are far more proficient at English than any of us are at Rutooro, Swahili or Luganda (which they are all fluent in), so they have no problems. Still, if you decide to contact them, please let them know that they are doing very well in their writing and to keep up the hard work… you know: Positive Reinforcement.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy meeting my students.

I love you all (but especially you Michelle!)


Monday, November 22, 2010

Do you have a wife?

As obvious foreigners to any area save the US embassy here in Uganda, PCVs are often the annoyed recipients of an endless barrage of shouts and stairs… from a distance. As we approach, the shouts give way to silence. And while the stares often remain, they quickly give way to something special as we engage our cheeks and shoot back with the only weapon our government has armed us with: a smile. As soon as we show that big toothy cheese, our bodies are seemingly illuminated with a bigger, brighter, more sincere smile than most are used to seeing. We are in-light-ened with joy.

With varying degrees of frequency, when we are not bustling off to our respective jobs, we are also given the opportunity to sit down, grab a soda, chomp on a banana and, well, kick back and shoot the shit.

The conversations, short or long, all seem to begin the same with the perfect stranger. How is the day? How is your family? You are from where? Do you enjoy Uganda? How long will you stay? What is your religion? Do you have a wife?

Similar questions mean similar answers:

“Kurungi.” (Good)
“Baliyo kurungi.” (They are there well, i.e. they are doing well back home)
“Ngonza Uganda muno. Uganda eina abaantu barungi!” (I love Uganda very much. Uganda has good people!)
“Ndi Catholic.” (Clearly, for all those who know me, a simplified answer to keep me out of a hotter seat)

Do you have a wife?

Simple enough answer, right? I have no wife, so the answer is clearly “no.” But this is usually where the Rutooro stops and the English begins, as this answer opens the flood gates… and I believe that I’ve discovered a chink in the chauvinist armor of this male dominated society; an opportunity to educate (maybe).

Facts: In Uganda…

…a man is allowed to cheat on his wife with other women. If a woman does this, it is grounds for divorce.

…a man is allowed to take multiple wives. A woman cannot.

…the population most responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS is the middle-aged married communities on account of the social acceptance and therefore propensity of the couples to obtain side-dish(es), sexual partners on the side. This has become known as “the sexual network.”

“No, I do not have a wife, but I have a girlfriend.”

To this, the most common response is shock. “Eh! But she is so far away. You try a Ugandan woman.”

“Try” is often substituted with “taste” which invariably turns my stomach while my mind conjures the American twisted view of the Ugandan mindset: a Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors with a line of hungry men trailing out the front door, each with a tiny pink spoon in their hands eager for a sample, for a “taste.”

“No! No! I can never do that! I love her too much!” … to which the reply is a skeptical look followed by, “no, it is ok! She is so far away. You can find a woman here. How do you know that she will not find another there?”

And here, I hope, is my chance to give a glimpse of what the love and mutual respect of a relationship means where I come from. Without turning this into Nicholas Sparks essay, I’ll say that caring, friendship, respect and trust are all topics woven into my argument for maintaining a committed relationship with only one person.

Two weeks ago, I was waiting for the Kampala-to-Kyenjojo taxi to depart when a man sitting behind me brought up the subject of wives. Initially expressing the same surprise at my response to remaining faithful to one woman, this man took things to the next level… he began carefully explaining each of my points to the other men in the taxi in Luganda. Instead of shocked “Eh!”-s I watched as the men pursed their lips, raised an eyebrow and nodded their heads. It looked as if in this instance, I was rubber, they were glue and a few of my words may have stuck.

Exhausted from my time in KLA and on the verge of passing out, I lacked desire to push the conversation any further, so I concluded:

“It took me twenty-five years to find Michelle. I don’t want or need anyone else.”

A quick translation, smiles, and more head nodding.

Where am I going with all this? Hard to say… AH! Got it!

Jim Carrey as Bruce Almighty once said, “behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.” Now I refuse to suggest that I am anything but “pretty cool, somehow”, but I am saying that I’ve got a truly fantastic woman behind me. You all know her as Michelle. So do I, actually. (And she rolls her eyes… A LOT.)

So here’s to you, baby! *Tssssst* (I just popped the top on a warm Eagle beer). I could not do what I do, be what “I yam” and all that “I yam”, without you. Thank you for putting up with my wandering ways and general shenanigans. You are a pillar in my life, and by keeping me around, you allow me to lead by example here in Uganda.

Bleh! YUCK! SappppyGrossMUSH!! (Torri just Yacked)

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle)


Friday, November 12, 2010

On stage fright (and getting over it)...

My school has no bathroom for teachers. The bathrooms for the students are completely off limits, as their walls are so covered in poo they warrant a cleansing by the guy that does "Worlds Dirtiest Jobs."

"WHY!?!" you might ask "are the bathrooms covered in POO?!?!"


There is no toilet paper, THILLY! This leads children to either (a.) take expensive sheets of new paper out of their notebooks to crinkle up and use (b.) take sheets out of used books that are no longer needed or (c.) DING DING DING!! Wipe with their hands and clean those hands on the wall!

I shit you not.

HA! I kill myself...

Anywho, those few teachers who have indeed ventured into the students latrines have never been heard from again, so the rest of us stay away. Now, I don't know where the women of this school go (perhaps the McDonald's down the road), but the men have set up an ingenious 3-and-a-half-walled corrugated steel structure in which to urinate in. It is located just outside the windows of my Director of Studies and my Head Master and next to the ginormous soccer field (here, they call it a PITCH).

Oh, and the walls are about 4 feet high, so anyone taller than an oompa-loompa can... watch. So, when I had to go for the first weeks of my teaching, whenever I needed to *go*, I would walk a half mile to my home, *go*, and then return to school... cause, you know, talk about stage fright.


So like a good PCV, I adjusted. Now, it no longer bothers me that while standing there I may make eye contact with a school administrator breaking from work to enjoy a slight breeze through his window. We just give each other a knowing nod. I no longer shrink when the primary school children 20 feet away and playing soccer with a ball made of plastic grocery bags stop, stare and shout "YESU!" ("Jesus!"). And when a heard of cattle approaches to gnarf down the succulent bunches of grass only feet from where I stand? I don't even bat an eyelash.

In fact, with all the attention I've been getting while urinating at my job... my bathroom at home is feeling pretty damn lonely as of late.

On stage while peeing... this is Uganda, baby.

Thanks for reading.

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


P.S. There are no McDonald's establishments in Uganda. Though, I hear Wal-Mart is coming... go figure.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two weeks. Too long.

Yo yo! What is the good word, fools?

I'm hanging out in the Peace Corps lounge here in Kampala, and this thought rocketed through my brain. So here I am.

Amakuru (the news):

I've been in Kampala going on two weeks now. I left two fridays back to, as I posted briefly about on my facebook status, to race down the Nile with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. The race was put on by a rafting company with the goal of raising money to save Rhino's somewhere in Uganda. The boats were a million shillings (500 US) a piece to race in, but ours was covered by a generous donor, so all in all we paid about 25k shillings (+more for the beers) for two sick-ridiculous races. Long story short: There were 8 heats of 3 boats a piece that raced eachother. The best of each went to the finals. We conquered our competition and advanced. The course was a flat-water section of the nile starting somehwere around the Jinja dam and ending near Bujigali Falls. At the start, you paddle as hard as you can with your 5 team members until you feel like crying. Then you paddle some more. And then you switch seats with the person next to you to use the other arm. You paddle until you want to vomit. And then you cry. And then you switch again. 24 minutes after the start you pull in to the bank to the cheers of masses.

One might ask, "Why submit yourself to such pains?" The answer is clear... Things are cooler when you are doing them on the nile... even painful things.

Anywho, we won the first race. We sat around for about 5 hours, eating, sleeping, reading, playing cards, and then the second race came. Back to the dam.

There were supposed to be 9 boats racing, but a team had dropped out... and then picked up at the last minute. The result: Only 8 boats showed up to the start. The logical thing to do, to keep things fair, was so say "Welp, you should not have quit in the first place, you drunk bastards", but alas, logic is spread thinly over these here parts. So the guide and 6 boaters were spread out beautifully-unequally among other boats giving some 9 rowers, others 8, leaving only a few the fair-square 7 (six on the team plus guide). We lined up on the edge with the boats. Listened for the "GO!" and began rowing.

Trouble struck immediately. In the furious paddling, we began a desperate game of bumper-boats as people gunned for the fast water at the center of the river. As 5 boats headed out into the front, one boat stayed behind and our boat got slammed 4 or so times until we were facing the dam (i.e. South, up river). Screaming-pissed, we backpaddle and turn and begin a desperate race to catch up.

Why is it that my short stories are always long?

Over the course of the next 24 minutes, we corrected our direction, we passed two boats and we gained on the 3rd place boat such that it was nearly a photo-finish. We were the only boat to pass boats, and we closed a gap of at least 50 meters between us and the top three boats.

Coming into the finish, we were screaming, our muscles were failing and we were on the edge of projectile vomiting all the emptiness in our stomachs. We pulled in fourth. But here is the kicker! Only the 3rd place boat and our boat in the top 4 had the required number of boaters (first place had 9, second place had 8). So technically, we came in 2nd. And I know for a fact that the third placers had some fresh rowers on board... punks.

We allowed ourselves 1 hour of pure rage to course through our lines, and then we shrugged it and drank ourselves into hilarity. Nothing like an Eagle and a chapatt+nutella+banana rolex on the edge of the nile.

What else is there...

Oh yes. Life skills, the point of traveling into Kampala. At 6 months, PCVs are required to take a Life Skills training in which we learn to conduct skills sessions to teach students about everything we learned in our early high school health classes. The sessions were "somehow" (Ugandan for, "slightly") alright. It was more a training for counterparts than us I think. Still, it was mainly PCV administered, so that made it bearable.

Speaking of counterparts, I invited my young friend Moses to come to the event. He did a great job of staying engaged, and he really impressed the other volunteers, especially when they heard that he was only S3. We couldn't believe how well he handled himself while public speaking in front of such a large crowd.

As always, it was great to see friends, and our evenings consisted of hanging out by the bar with cold-ones.

Last Saturday, we played the US embassy soccer team and tied 3-3. We will play again, and we WILL win. I've missed soccer terribly. Following the game, we were invited to the house of one of the players for a BBQ where, get this, I ate a T-BONE STEAK! Too tasty.

After the embassy party, we had our own volunteer Halloween Party on the roof top of our hotel. I hope beyond hope that this becomes a tradition. It turned into a surreal dance party with some stellar costumes, and the pong table really got people fired up.

I meant to leave home on Monday, but I was asked to stay in KLA for the week to help with the planning of Pre-Service Training for new recruits to Peace Corps Uganda's Education program next February. Me and 3 other volunteers will spend 4 days (we're done with two) planning every minute of service for the new kids coming in referencing ours and previous trainings. So far we are ditching most of the sitting around in a classroom listening type of instruction, and in its place we are giving the new volunteers practical instruction (they will learn by doing, i.e. they will be TEACHING actual classes at near by schools) no less than 3 days a week. I'm stoked... the staff has been completely receptive to our ideas, and we are literally re-writing the book on training.

In other news, I had a small, self induced pain in the tooth that required attention. Turns out, my dad was right when he said you could brush your teeth too much. Combining a harder tooth brush and a few too many strokes, I wore a slight groove on the front of a tooth and had to have it patched up. She found two other cavities in the mean time and patched those too. To do this, she numbed my mouth with a needle and drungs, and I looked very much like a stroke victim for about 3 hours. Horrible. And, go figure, now that my problems have been patched, my mouth is more sensitive to food (read: it hurts all the time when I eat), than it EVER was before I went to get the problem fixed. DAMN! DAMN DAMN! More on this as pain arrises.

Oh, I started grinding my teeth. Stress and strange dreams are mixing in bad ways it seems. I will now be THAT guy who sleeps with a mouth guard.

I saw the movie The Social Network last night... all I can say is "BOO." Why is it that creativity, hard work and intelligence are not enough to engage people? Why does great success have to be supported by BS scenes of drugs, sex and backstabbing? The Social Network did nothing but make an intelligent, hardworking geek look like a genius, back-stabbing, thieving asshole.

Where has all the creativity gone?

Furthermore, I'm convinced that young kids watch shows like this and think, "I'm not genius... I'll never get 1600 (or is it 2400 now?) on my SATs, and I don't know how to HACK... I can't compare to this guy!"

KIDS!!! YOU CAN!!! OPEN A C++ book and GET GOING! THINK THINK THINK! Synthesize syhthesize synthesize! You can do anything you want!

Why can't we glorify the power of steady hard work by an intelligent person that leads to mild or even great successes? Because in todays world, real life is boring. Sad really.

Alright, enough of me. It seems we are all hungry for Ugandan Chinese food. YEAH!

Thanks for reading.

I love you all (But especially you, Michelle!)


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cannibals? Cannibals.


I'm working in the computer lab when, for the thirtieth time that day (no exaggeration), kids begin jangling the lock on the door.

(a few seconds)
(a few more seconds)

I storm from my seat. I'm trying to lesson plan and put together notes for my kids.

I'm going to beat someone.

"Sir, we want to come in."
"YES! I know that! Because you were breaking down my door announcing your intent!"
"What sir?"

And then I notice it. In one of the boys' left ears, a huge flowered earing, pink, yellow and zirconium rhinestones shimmering in the sun.

"Why are you wearing an earing?" (normally, I don't give a damn about dress-code infractions as long as kids are learning... but I'm annoyed.)

"Sir, there are cannibals in my village. When I wear this, it keeps them from eating me."

I've got NOTHING. NOTHING to reply to this.

My American reaction? BS.

My PCV-Uganda reaction? Superstitious, yes. But potentially not far off mark.

I think back to a recent email exchange from a few members of my group.

And I quote...

"When you went to the sandwich analogy my thoughts immediately turned to some sort of cannibalism. But cannibalism is ridiculous! This is a modern society. There hasn't been any cases of cannibalism that I know of in my village since earlier this week when they found a man filleted next to the ashes of a cooking fire." Credit: Smiles

Cannibals? CANNIBALS?!


Gnarly with a capital G.

Snapping out of it, I return to the student.

"I must ask: are there cannibals at this school?"
"No sir."
"Then get the flower out of your ear."
"Yes sir... can we come in sir?"
"Come in."

I return to my work and think of the excuse I'll need to explain the fact that I've had a 12 gauge hole through my tongue for the last 10-going-on-11 years. First thought: "Serial Killer Clowns".

Suggestions are welcome.

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (But especially you, Michelle!),


Friday, September 24, 2010

Scampering Protein Pills

A recent email to my group:

“Today, I awoke as on any other morning. I went into my living
room/kitchen/hammock-clothesline/tool-shed/pantry/library and grabbed the remaining two pieces of bread from the bag that I had slung from my clothes line to avoid the intrusion of those bastard, nearly microscopic brown ants that invade all bread (and everything else) no matter how well hung (he, he, he... well hung)...

Much to my dismay, and as I have just suggested, no level of protection save encasing said bread in epoxy resin between meals can save the food from these little guys. My bread was swarming. What to do...

Now, I admit it. I have been in this situation two times before.

On the first, the half loaf of bread was so well saturated with ants that I threw it out.

On the second, it was late at night and I did not notice the ants until I was sitting down to eat my sandwich, when... hey, what the hell is that?... why is my skin crawling...

oh dear god, I am covered in ants...




So, as much out of spite ("you to NOT swarm MY sandwich covered in REAL peanut butter from the US, bitches!") as frantic hunger (the pantry portion of my living room/etc... was bare), I grabbed my nalgene, said "aw, fuggit" and ate the damn sandwich; ants'n'all.

[Once finished, I felt satisfied and slightly like the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.]

Where was I?... oh yes, this morning.

Ants. Two pieces of bread. Hungry. Irritable. Uh, ohhh.

I pop a frying pan on the stove (my toaster), crank the heat, and throw two pieces of bread on. I feel, only slightly bad about the ants who begin their frantic movements... which soon stop.

The bread browns. I remove it. I cover it in Heather's sim-sim, sugar it, and enjoy a long chapter of "The Naked and the Dead" toast and tea before going to school.

Long story short: I've come to view bugs in my food as nothing more than a protein supplement; cheaper and more prevalent than Whey.”

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (But especially you, Michelle!)


Monday, September 13, 2010

Magezi Matooro

My how time flies. While I have done a decent job keeping up with my journal, I realize that I have been terrible about posting on the blog keeping you all up to day with my life here in Uganda. I’ve promised to remedy that in the past and failed… “something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give something’s gotta give!”

I’m feeling musical.

What is the root cause of my long absences from blogspot? In a previous post I chalked it up to complacency. The things about Uganda that first blew my mind are becoming daily occurrences, and I’m just not as inclined to write about them. Aware of this, however, I began to view my world with more scrutiny, and sure enough, amazing stories began to show themselves again… so why, why, WHY am I not posting? I think David “The MaChine” Chi (a legendary fellow PCV) put it best recently in an email to me…

“Don’t be too much of a perfectionist!” he wrote.

There it is. perfectionism. Like syphilis, it fries the brain, makes us feverish and carries a stigma that keeps the infected walking around with zipped lips, discussing their infliction only with other like-minded OCD’ers.

My brother Dan’s mother once told me something along the lines of, “you need to get over yourself” regarding my stage fright. My writing in this blog is a similar hurdle that I need to get over… the writing doesn’t have to be publishable! It needs only to be readable and informative. Hmm… perhaps this post is better suited for a journal?

Have we been here before?

So where am I? What am I doing? Well, I am back in Kyenjojo (at the moment, I am actually in Fort Portal about to meet up with TheOtherDevon and her father who is visiting from the states, taking advantage of the QUICK QUICK internet). School started two weeks ago, and I missed the first week due to the Uganda All Volunteer Conference held just outside Kampala. The conference was a blast, but also exhausting. The heavy drinking, lack of sleep, over-eating and lack of exercise took a club to my immune system and I came down with a nasty sickness on the day the conferences ended. Still, I learned a SHIT-TON… nearly every session conducted in the conference was put on by a volunteer, so the information we received was APPLICABLE, WELL VERSED and CONCISE! If only every training were as good! The few days we had together also served as a meet-and-greet for the 100+ volunteers of Uganda to meet the Newbies (that’s US) and on one occasion even meet the newest group of Peace Corps Trainees for lunch. Good times.

On the Saturday of conference closing, a large group of us went to a soccer game at the National Football Stadium outside Kampala. After passing through the main gates with our 10,000 shilling tickets (less than $5 US), we were carried in a flood of people, eventually choosing a section at random to sit. We showed our tickets and were allowed into a nearly empty section… turns out, with our courteous greeting of the guards in the local language, we were allowed into the VIP section located nearly at the 50 yard line. Shortly through the game, we friend from one section over spotted us, jumped the fence and pointed out that President Museveni was sitting in their section. We sat ON the wall next to the track and watched for 90 minutes as Uganda trounced Angola 3-0, nibbling on munchies and sipping on beer… real class acts, all of us.

I stuck around in Kampala until Tuesday of last week, as the sickness that ravaged me on Sunday warranted generous donations of, ahem, samples to the PC medical offices. The results for all tests came back negative which made me sad (I was still feeling pretty ill in the middle and wanted to treat it with something), but it also meant that I didn’t have to drop a nuclear bomb on my bodies bacteria population (does anyone else think treating EVERY bacteria, amoeba, etc… ailment with CIPRO (sp) is a bad idea, or is just me?...) and I was given the green light to go home.

As usual, I was greeted with my communities open arms once arriving in Kyenjojo. However, upon seeing my teachers at school the next day I got the strange feeling that I had made a doody on the floor of the staff room. Now, if I had to guess, I’d say that the reason for the barely concealed glares and rustling discussion at my entering the school premises lies heavily on the fact that I have, with the exception of 5 or so days, been missing from the school since right around the middle of July. I could hear the thoughts: “Now just where in the hell as THIS guy been?” “So, he thinks he can just come and go as he pleases?” “This volunteer is a joke… he isn’t taking his job seriously.” “BURN HIM AT THE STAKE!”

Ok, so it probably wasn’t that bad. Let’s face it, exaggeration is fun(ny). Nonetheless, I am of the current mindset that some damage control is in order. Yeah, I traveled to the US. And then, by a stroke of terrible luck, Language training, Technical training and then All Volunteer Conference fell nearly back to back through a period of three weeks. I have not been around nearly as much as I should have been, and I need to start spending more time at school… so: I have decided to ask for a key to the computer lab so that I may set up an office there. I see it like this: if I am always there, students can be in there at all times during the day, it gives me an opportunity to teach, work on the computers, be at school and get work done away from the blaring TV in the staff lounge. It’s win-win. I’ll let you know how this goes.

In other news, it turns out my school is something of a demonstration school. Along with the MANY computers it currently has, we just got… wait for it… INTERNET! Two days ago, a man from MTN came and set up an antenna. Coupling it with our big switch, I’ll be able to hook multiple computers up to share in the bandwidth. Kids are FINALLY going to get a chance to see what GOOGLE and WIKIPEDIA are all about. I think I will begin teaching the teachers first, as I want them to begin using the computer lab as not only a place to do their research for lesson plans, but as a resource for their students to look up information for reports. I figure, introduce Google Chrome and Google Search, set them up with a Gmail account, show them Wikipedia and one of the better news agencies, and they are well on their way to being internet pros. Now, I need to figure out how to limit time spent on the net AND what websites are visited. Ideas? Let me know: Also, if you have topics that you think should be taught in my computer class, feel free to submit them too.

At my actual house, things are carrying on as usual. Despite my DISGUSTING stove top (I do very little in the way of cleaning it… none actually), the bugs have been pretty minimal. I awoke the other night to a moth the size of a bat flying around the room, and I had to use some spray on it so I could get back to sleep. Walking around in a daze I happened to pause a bit and be looking at the middle of a floor when what I can only assume is a mouse made a b-line for the door. I haven’t seen any rodents since.

The kids are still noisy… terribly-depressingly-madness inducing noisy. I tell myself constantly that I want to move, but a piece of me wants to ride it out. “They’ll get older and the crying will lessen.” This is a fallacy; I just hate the idea of moving. Who does?

So site is good. I will focus on getting back on the good graces of my fellow teachers over the next weeks. I am also very hopeful for my classes. I spent a full term on what I consider the fundamentals of mechanics and mathematics, and I believe they are ready for the next subjects. My students are finally discovering my notes… that if they READ them FIRST, they can learn on their own. A slow introduction to book learning, self learning, the BEST way to learn.

I’ll leave you with a short story from this week:

On Wednesday, I broke out my netbook for class so that the kids could see Riemann Sums (the fundamental concept behind integral calculus) using a Wolfram demonstration, a program useful in making the teaching/learning of math and sciences visual.

In seconds, 10 students are piled around the 6’’x9’’ computer, manipulating the functions on the screen observing the results. They are shifting positions, taking turns.

And up comes Moses… a smart, quiet but inquisitive boy who takes both my math and physics classes.

“Eh!” He says looking down at his finger after touching the mouse pad. Whenever he touches the mouse pad, the pointer doesn’t seem to want to move. Frustrated, he relinquishes his spot to another student.

I turn away from the group to write another example problem on the board. Minutes later, I turn back around and sit down. I am spaced out until one of the other students begins to chastise Moses who has regained position of the keyboard.

“You are dirtying it!” says Leonard as Suzie grabs a handkerchief and tries to wipe away the chalk smear on the pad. My computer, typically a shiny black, now has an almost completely white mouse pad, and the smears are creeping outwards.

Snapping out of it, I look over and I see that while four of Moses’ fingers are clean, one is pure white on the tip as if he dragged it through the chalk pile gathered beneath the chalk board.

“Moses, of all the fingers you have, why would you choose to use the dirty one on my computer?”

“Sir. It seems that my fingers are too rough to use the computer. I am trying to smooth them.”

Those gathered around the computer burst into hoots and shouts. I too have lost myself in a fit of laughter.

I have just witnessed “Magezi Matooro”… A Mutooro’s* Common sense.

*Mutooro (sing.) – a person from the kingdom of Tooro in the western region of Uganda.

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Game: "Situational Definitions"

1. Frustration – Re-grading 300 piss-poorly graded papers only to be told six hours later that the class results would not be counted in the term report-cards anyway.

2. Restraint - Sparing the messenger.

3. Hope - realizing that, report card or not, your students' final grades are on average 20 to 40 points higher than the other teachers of the same subject.

4. Peace Corps - See terms 1-3 above.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Phase III

“Hello Jesus! How is heaven?” says one of my fellow PCV’s counterparts. The jesus references increase monthly, proportional to my ever lengthening expanse of manly locks. People like to touch me, you know, just in case. I just roll with it. After scolding a drunk the other night for harassing a friend of mine, I could see the confusion in his eyes along with the thought, welp, looks like I’m going to hell.

I stand before an expansive view of the outer reaches of Kampala. One floor beneath me, grass, gathering areas, a pool and even a gym. Uganda? Yes. Heaven? Eh.

Peace Corps volunteers have a three phase training program. Phase I, II and, yep, III. Phase I is Pre-Service Training. This was during the first 10 weeks of my stay here in Uganda. It consisted of language, cross cultural studies, technical training, hanging out with generally amazing host families and drinking beer. Phase II, TECHNICALLY, was a packet, nearly a 13 billion pages long, that had us doing weekly assignments consisting of picking the brain of every man, woman, and child in our town areas. As most of us were busy being teachers, community developers or health professionals… you know, PCVs… well…

We didn’t do it.

Which leads me to Tech In-Service Training. Phase III. The entire group of volunteers who arrived here in February has met up at a very nice hotel on the outskirts of Uganda’s Capitol city for a week of “pook”-inducing lectures by a rote-educated few dedicated to helping us achieve our goals (First lesson: “Goals are not measurable.” Anyone know if I graduated from Tech?? Guess we’ll never know…).

Did you catch that? The ENTIRE GROUP of volunteers who arrived here in February!!! After 6 months in country, we're all still together, breaking even more Peace Corps records. Many groups have early terminations the moment the plane touches foreign soil, more during pre-service training, and again more during the first three months at site where the shit hits the proverbial fan. We're beating the odds, and I'm convinced it is because of the family we've become.

Fast forward to the next day.

Training is over. We finished 5 minutes ago. The duct-tape bandage took 5 days to rip off. Elation fills us.

It certainly wasn’t all bad. We volunteers have been raising hell about the quality of the presentations we have had to sit through since the beginning of training. “MORE PCV PRESENTERS!!” we shout. Time. And time. And time again. And as usual, the PCV presenters took the show. We had an incredible lesson on easy local material-based practicals (read: Science Labs in the US), another on successful practices in Primary/Secondary education, Village Savings and Load Associations (VSLAs. LOOK THESE UP! This is to the developing world what Micro-Credit was before it became profit driven and no longer MICRO) and finally a session on Water/Sanitation here in Uganda. All was not lost.

What else is new? Oh! I GOT MY FIRST PACKAGE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Kel packed up Cliff Bars, Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Jacks (that game with the bouncy ball) a birthday card and some other great goodies (Bean soup? Ha, ha.) back in February hoping it would arrive sometime around my birthday, and it MADE IT THROUGH! Not only did it make it through, but rounding to the nearest half year, it made it to me ON MY BIRTHDAY! Needless to say, I am stoked. Thank you Kel! (And to all you crazy kids wanting to send some love, PO box 262, Fort Portal, Uganda is the newest place where I might receive it.)

My trip to the States went off without a hitch. In fact, by some strange alignment of the stars I was actually able to shock/surprise Michelle into screams, tears and laughter. A combination of tight lips on the part of my closest friends and family in the states (Dad, Rick, Eileen, Catherine, mom, D, Kel, Ficke, Steve, Tiff, Kahlil... thank you for the radio silence. You love me more than I originally thought! Rolls and all), luck (my dad nearly blew the finale on a boffed 3-way call to Becky and Michelle via skype), and a few white lies (“No Baby, it just can’t happen… the Peace Corps bans all travel to the US within the first 6 months of service fearing too many early terminations on account of culture shock.”). What a phenomenal trip.

To Dad and Rick, a special thank you to you both… Dad, for getting the ball rolling and to Rick for not letting it stop. Without you (you’s? USE-GUYS?) it never would have happened. I love you both.

No big events on the way traveling home. I fell asleep in Dulles and awoke somewhere over Iraq. "What up thugs," I said from 30k feet. Without a 22 layover in Dubai granting me explorer status around the city, I sat and hallucinated on exhaustion for 8 hours before loading my plane to Ethiopia which later continued on to Entebbe.

Upon arriving in Kyenjojo, I was informed that classes had been canceled by the “Misery of Education,” for the final week of term and tacked on to the beginning of the following term. Instead of grading their papers and having reports ready for students next term, my school shut down. The additional week next term will be spent frantically trying to complete the work that should have been done in the last. Job well done, fella’s.

Oh. I did travel to Lake Albert with my language group. After a brutal 3 hour drive during which the hills decreased in size, open space began to dominate and short mud huts with thatched roofs became the standard housing unit, we left the Uganda we had known for the last 6 months and arrived in the stereotypical Africa. Flat planes with Flat Dr. Seuss trees, a savannah feel to it all, Baboons running frantically from the advance of our taxi. I fully expected to see elephants and giraffes, but didn’t (but WILL see them in Murchison National Park when I visit soon). Once in the town of Butiaba, we walked around surprising locals with our language skills, snapping pictures here and there of swimming happy children, long lines of fishing canoes, nets, fish and even an ancient wrecked ship on the shore of the lake, just enjoying the few short hours we had before jumping back into the taxi home. All the while, the mountains of Democratic Republic of Congo loomed in a blanket of haze a few miles in the distance.

I apologize for the lack of smells and laughter in this email. Nothing out of the ordinary, even for Uganda, going on recently. I am off to play some water-polo (i.e. drown-the-PCV). Big things going on this weekend though.

Class 5 White Water Rafting at the origin of the Nile baby!! YEAH!

Pictures to come. SOON, SOON. Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hot off the press! Riots at Kyenjojo, S.S.

Gun shots ring out as I write this.

It appears that a student was expelled, and he did not take it well. He began fighting the teacher, other students joined in and within a few minutes police were called.

A riot ensued.

While things escalated, I tried to keep my students focused. Often, you can hear cheers and laughter from various classrooms around school. This was the first time I witnessed violence.

I am in class with the kids with the door locked. The rocks that begin raining down on the sheet-metal roofs mimic the AK-47 reports that have only just subsided. The sound of glass shattering fills the campus.

My students are livid.

"Why were the police called?!"

"Guns cannot solve these problems!"

I try to explain the situation... how the police felt they needed to exert their power by pulling the trigger; that in their mind, the fear caused by the discharge of the gun equated to control. After just a taste, they were hungry for more… RAT!...RATA-TAT!...RATA-TATA-TAT!!

"Did you see?!" one exclaims, "At first, they were shooting high into the air, but later they were aiming closer to the ground! They could have hit a student!"

Ironic that I have been teaching my students about projectiles. Rocks and bullets, baby! I take the opportunity to discuss the real world example we were witnessing. We briefly cover what a bullet fired into the sky does to the unlucky person it hits while descending. What goes up must come down… in this case deadly fast.

I decide to make a dash between buildings to be closer to the teachers. I would be lying if the image of me being torn apart by an angry throng of students didn't cross my mind.

I'm sitting in the teachers’ lounge. My ears are ringing; more rocks on the roof. I had alerted Mary, my boss, about the riot, and she made contact with the Peace Corps Security Director. She calls me back to say that he has contacted the police... the same individuals that blew things out of proportion to begin with.

Shots ring out again; this time in the distance but still not far enough for comfort. For the teachers, this is the juiciest event to hit Kyenjojo, possibly ever. Exasperated, they keep telling the story.

"There was a boy, and the teacher said, 'YOU GET OUT!', but the boy refused! He said to the teacher, 'I won't leave until you give me my money!' "

“These students! They come from families where no morals are taught!”

No. I think. These students are pissed off! They are sick of the beatings, the horrendous food and shitty teachers and administrators. Prison riots start for the same reason.

An hour has now passed since everything began. Crowds, gathered outside the school’s gates, can be heard. My security director calls to let me know that things have calmed down. Thank you Fred, I think, standing at ground zero. He assures me that there are plain clothes police officers being deployed in the town, and they will arrest anyone who harasses me. Plain clothes, eh? What about the huge guns they are toting?

And school for the remainder of the week? “CANCELED until further notice.”

I’m just fine. I'm headed home. I've felt surprisingly calm through the event; just mildly sick. Hunger mixed with the beginnings of PTSD, I'm guessing.

I kid, I kid!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mi Casa es Su Casa

Dearest Family, Friends and Michelle,

Don't let the date of the post fool you. I uploaded these photos two weeks ago while in Fort Portal visiting friends (the internet is USA-fast).

I think a few of you have received general descriptions of the area in which I live, Kyenjojo. I may have even told you a bit about my house itself. Certainly, I have mentioned the screaming, spoiled rotten beasts that my neighbor calls "children." HA! Children. More like. Poo/Pee covered Minions sent by the dark lord himself to wreck havoc upon myself. Apparently, I really screwed someone important over in a previous life.

Before the pictures, let me say, things are going quite well. Since my last post about my slacker kids, I've changed a few things in the classroom. (1.) Late arrivals are required to spend 3 minutes for every minute they arrive late to class. (2.) Ready? Set! DAILY QUIZZES! Since putting these two policies into action, smirking late arrivals to my class have dropped to, get this, ZERO!! And as for the quizzes, they are keeping the kids on their toes. The girl I spoke of in my last class is making marked improvements, and I feel like I have really cemented some key concepts that are fundamental to the progression of the class into more advanced material. So I am feeling good. Still, I feel a bit lost as to how fast I should proceed. I guess I'll let the quizzes dictate... when the average on the new stuff is, what do you think, 40? 50? 60? I can more forward.

Let me say, I'm seeing quizzes from a COMPLETELY new angle. As a student, I despised them! They were nothing but life-drains that threw me into crazed, forget-the-world study sessions with my trusted group member "type-A OCD" looking over my shoulder. Now, however, I see them as incredible tools to see the inner-workings of my students minds, and they allow me to address flaws that I literally, even with great effort could not make up.

What else has been going on around me and in my head? A few bullet points:

*More and more people know my Empaako (Amooti), and greet me in Rutooro instead of the high-pitched and nazely "Mujungu Voice" (Think: BOSTON with a speech impediment) as I walk through town. I take this as a great personal success, one that I take great pride in. It feels like my community has more than recognized my desire to find my place in their ranks; they have accepted me.

*A man that I work with has really revealed himself as a slime-ball. Last weekend, he approached me and says, "I am very strapped for cash. I was wondering if you would let me tell the administration that we are going on a trip for school? We don't actually have to go. I just need them to give money." I looked at him with a borderline incredulous look: REALLY?!?!?! and said, "Well, and please, I don't want to offend you or make you angry, but... to me that sounds a lot like stealing... and I'd rather avoid that if you don't mind." He didn't mind in the least, and we shook hands and parted. And now, I have to go to the administration and assure them that I will always ask for permission for teachers to accompany me on any trip just to be sure no one is trying that exploit.

*A few of my PCV friends were kicking an email back and fourth about who was eating more banana's/pineapples's, etc... per day. I didn't contribute. But I when mentioned my main protein staple last weekend, jaws dropped. Is 6 eggs a day really that ridiculous?

*OH! I played in a staff versus students soccer game last weekend! What a blast! The staff have some purple and gold uniforms, and I was tossed one a few minutes before the game... I was late, and I had to sprint home to get shoes and change. When I returned, suited up, 1200 kids were packed around the soccer pitch, and at my arrival cheers broke out among everyone I ran by. I stuck out my tongue, Jordan style, and threw a goofy face their way that amplified things. As I made my way around the field, I was greeted with louder cheers and high fives from my fellow teachers. I do believe I was beaming. The game, well, it was a shit-show that ended in a tie. I stubbed a toe and now lack a toenail, but for those few minutes before and after the game: a nail was a small price to pay.

*When I was in a market in Kampala a few weeks back, a man kept badgering me to give him money. He kept poking at my pocket where the outline of my wallet was apparently enticing him into being a jackass. He finally stopped, and a few minutes later I was explaining how rude it was to the woman sitting near by when I said, how would you feel if I walked up to you and said, "Mpa siringi bitaano (give to me 500 shillings)!!" To this she did not reply. She just reached into her pocket, pulled out a 500 piece and put it into my outstretched hand.

I can't really think of any more right now. I'm a bit tired and hazy. So, with this, I leave you with some pictures!

My town from a nearby hill top. I realized that aside from my trips to the market on Mondays, the occasional viewing of a world cup match at the hotel or randomly passing through on the way back from a village walk, I avoid the main town area. I had originally been pretty upset about the UN-rural'ness of my placement. Then I found out that, well, if you cock your head and look at it just right, it does sorta resemble the middle of nowhere! So, with effort, I'm recognizing the best of both worlds.

I edited this picture and threw a nice red circle around my compound (dead center in the picture). This is probably so against security policy... then again, if if you walked up to just about anyone in town and asked where I lived, they could probably give you directions to my doorstep.

The front of the apartments that I live in. I am the farthest doorway to the left. The girl standing in the middle is, dare I say it, yes, an imbecile. One of her favorite activities is to take a jerry can, put it under the rain-water tank, turn on the tap and walk away for half an hour. When she returns, she giggles as she realizes her error. And 60 or so liters of wasted water is sucked up thirstily by earth and sky.

The rain tank. The women on the property can burn through 3000 liters in about 2 weeks even when there is no rain and they should be cutting down on the usage. Complete disregard for conservation. I probably use between 60 and 80 liters a week total for drink, food prep and bathing.


My storage closet. I put dirty dishes in here, and I store boxes and lumber for my various projects around the house. Ngonza kubaija! (I like to do carpentry)

My kitchen. I brought a backpacking stove to Uganda. I didn't have a CLUE that I would be cooking on a fully controllable gas range. Very nice.

My tool corner. I've been picking up pieces here and there. I bought a drill bit this Saturday, the final piece needed to finish my counter project. I've grown tired of cutting veggies on the floor, so I rigged up a counter space that serves as a dish/vegetable washing area. The tools paid for themselves in the money I saved by not hiring a carpenter.

Drying lines for then it rains. I'm too cheap to buy a couch, so - HAMMOCK!

The right side of my room. That's right. I have a killer laser printer in Uganda. It saved me several hours a week and lets me print out notes, example problems and lesson plans. It is probably the best investment I have made here yet. Judge away!

My disgusting bathroom. There is no excuse for this. I cleaned last weekend, so it is looking a lot better.

My pop-up closet and book-covered desk.

The bed protected from flying malaria darts.

Looking out of my room towards the kitchen/living room.

A bit-o-love from the states. I've received two cards since being here: A post card from kelly and a birthday card from my grandpa, but I hear I have a package and a few letters waiting for me at the PC headquarters! You can send me letters/packages to Devon Murphy, PO Box 262, Fort Portal, Uganda. Wrap everything in pictures of Jesus, and it might get through.

The screaming hallway. Kids, maids, parents. They scream here whenever they can... just to let me know that I am not alone in this world.

The backside of my apartment... and hey! There he is... the Devil himself, just seconds before bursting out into outrageous, ear drum shattering shrieks.

The daily wash. A small church was recently put up behind the tree in the background. In a recent fund-raising attempt, I was kept awake for 4 nights by blaring music that was played from dusk until dawn, 3 songs on repeat... Uganda is a noisy place.

You can see the rectangle of my garden. I dug it all out, but the rainy season was over, so I let it mulch a bit and grow over. I'll turn it and plant in time for the next season that comes through.

The hill from which I took the pictures of my house and town shown earlier.


A "Devon" figurine a fellow PCV carved and gave me on my 27th birthday.

A goat. I have a strange fascination with goats. I really enjoy their faces.

A boy tending to his flock.


Fly - free bird.


Before I close, I'll let you with short dialogue I had with a lady on the street. Full grown lady. Not girl. Most of you have probably already seen this on Facebook, but I wanted to include it for anyone that may have missed it. Another priceless moment.

Lady on the street: "Are you Jesus' brother?"

Me: "No."

Lady: "Are you sure? Because you look like him."

Me: "Yes. I am sure."

Lady: "Because Jesus was a teacher. And I hear you are a teacher."

Me: "Yes. I am a teacher. But I am not related to Jesus."

Lady: " Well, I don't know how you can be so sure."

Me: "Just ask my friends. They'll tell you the truth."

I hope you enjoyed the stories, thoughts and pictures. Take care, and I will post again soon.

I love you all. (But especially you Michelle!)


Thursday, June 17, 2010

My constant battle

Well, the results are in: Half the students in my S5 math class do not know how to graph the equation y(x) = “constant” (i.e. y(x) = 4, y(x) = 8, y(x) = 12). Thirteen took the test on Monday, and six got a big-fat-zero on that particular problem. Damn.

But, in their defense, it is a strange equation. I mean, y(x) = 4? “y” is apparently a function of “x”, but where the hell is the “x”. I can hear their thought process: “Well, when y(x) = x+1, and Mr. Murphy asks for y(1), I just replace the x’s in the equation with 1… so y(1) = (1) + 1… but he gave me y(x) = 4… THERE ARE NO x’s TO REPLACE!! I HATE MR. MURPHY!!”

Here’s the rub (for you geeks that care but don’t already know)… the graph of y(x) = “constant” is nothing but a flat straight line that crosses the y-axis at a height of whatever constant value has been defined (if y = 4, it crosses the y-axis at 4). The slope of this flat line, m, is equal to zero. Therefore, given the equation of a line, y(x) = mx + q (where q is the y-intercept), the equation of my line, using the aforementioned y-intercept of 4, becomes: y(x) = 0*x + 4… which reduces to y(x) = 4, or generally as y(x) = “constant”.

The test… I was damn proud of it… to avoid the mastermind cheating that these kids are capable of, I assembled three different tests, sat them three to a table, and watched in amazement as a few still took long rest breaks by staring at their neighbors paper (or in one case one boy whispered the answer to a brutally hard multiplication problem, 8*7, to his buddy… “56” I hear as I approach, and “56” is quickly written…). I broke every problem down into pieces (a), (b), (c), etc… so instead of overwhelming them with one big question, they worked through each piece in a logical order. Furthermore, I had given a test review covering examples of every single problem in detail that I would cover (this was in addition to a set of notes with three more examples of every type of problem I would offer). Geez. Listen to me bitch and moan.

Test average: 42%


So I did what any teacher does when the average isn’t what was expected: I played with the numbers to see what was dragging it down.

Just as I thought… it was all those failing students.

While grading the tests, I realized that I was dealing with two groups of students; the kids who try, and the kids who don’t. Those who try, about half the class, attempt the homework, they come to recitation two times a week, and they ask questions. The kids who don’t try, well, they do the opposite.

The proof is in the numbers: The kids that failed (which by Ugandan Ministry of Education standards means they scored lower than a 35%, did so gloriously. Their scores are as follows: (0%, 2.1%, 4.2%, 12.5%, 21%, 24%). These kids don’t know a math function from a school function, and they had never “Excused My Dear Aunt Sally” even when asked “Please” (is this reference lost on anyone?... it represents the “Order of Operations”). In short, they lack even the fundamental concepts necessary to enter a math class where Calculus is being taught, and worse, they haven’t tried to correct these shortcomings in ANY way even though I have been extending them a hand for weeks now.

Back to it… When I removed those ghastly numbers from the pool, my average sky-rocketed to a, sad-by-American-standards but 1.2 points shy of a D2 distinction (that is, the second highest grade achievable in Uganda!), 68.8%.

So there it is: When I do my job and the students do theirs, the class average approaches an American “C”. That, I can deal with.

I had my second math class of the week today, and I had one of those “teacher moments”, one that makes you feel proud for what you are doing. You see some light at the end of the tunnel and that you are making a difference… I called the student that had scored a 2.1% to the board and asked her to find g(f(x)) when f(x) = 4 and g(x) = 2x + 2.

Before touching the chalk to the board, she turns around and says to me, “Master, I have failed you.”

“No. That’s not going to work this time. Write g(x).”


“Ok, now write g(1).”


“Remember, when I say g(1), it means you replace all the x’s in g(x) with a 1.”

g(1) = 2(1) + 2 = 4

“Now, write g(2).”

g(2) = 2(2) + 2 = 4

“Now write g(f(x)).”

To this she replies, “Master, I have failed.”

“No, you’re doing fine. Give me g(4).” I am trying to convey that regardless of what I put in to the parentheses next to g() I put THAT wherever there was an x. I’ve tried with problems, notes, speaking, everything I can think of, and I’m not getting anywhere. She needs to keep doing the problem until she sees the pattern.

We go through this with more numbers until finally, I say, “now write g(f)."

Reluctantly, she writes: g(f) = 2(f) + 2. And then quickly erases her work. With some goading, I get her to put it back on the board.

“Good! Now, write for me g(f(x)).”

The class and I sit there in silence. She traces over the 10 or so problems she has worked so far. Finally, she slowly writes:

g(f(x)) = 2(f(x)) + 2 = 2(4) + 2 = 10

I begin to clap for her. The class joins in. She goes to sit, her face an open book: I CAN LEARN THIS!

The period passes, and towards the end we find ourselves working through another problem missed with high frequency. h(x) = -x^2 + 10x. It is a simple enough parabolic curve, but if you don’t know your order of operations (you have to square whatever you put into x FIRST and THEN multiply by -1), you get extremely high numbers when you try to plot. I ask the class for a volunteer to plot the equation of the range [0, 5]. No one volunteers.

Just as I am about to call a random person, she raises her hand. 2.1% is, for the first time, asking to go to that board and try something that has stumped the entire class. I am thrilled.

“Of course! Come on up!”

She comes up, draws the table, and without hesitation cranks out every single answer in flawless form.

I begin to clap for her… the class joins in. I’m wearing a shit-eating grin as I return to the board. I say all that comes to mind, “that was brilliant work. This is my proudest moment as a teacher here in Uganda.”

There is work to be done, a lot of it. For the few that did poorly on the first test and decide they need help, seek it, and start trying, I think there is hope. For the few that think that the knowledge will come just by watching me write problems on the board, there will be trouble. And for those that have been working hard both in class and out, I see them blowing away the Ugandan standard. My goal for them is to pass the national tests next year with score that even an American student’s parents would be proud to display on the fridge.

Thanks for reading.

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


P.S. If you want to give my test a go, download it here:,%20Secants,%20Derivitives%2014-6-2010.pdf

Saturday, June 12, 2010

500 Words or Less

Dear Family, Friends and Michelle,

Webaleyo! ("Welcome back!"... to this you answer "Ndugireyo!" ["I am back from there!"])

At the beginning of May, I was asked to write a column for the Peace Corps Uganda Newsletter. "Me Time" is a section where volunteers share stories and photographs from the field, so the content was up to me. The only stipulation was that the piece had to come in at 500 words or less. Well, I wrote it up, obsessed over the grammar for a week and finally submitted what I felt was that elusive perfect essay (Kel knows what I am talking about). A couple weeks later, I received the PDF newsletter in the email and excitedly I scrolled to my page... and there it was.

"Me Time" By: Devon Patrick Murphy, CHED

My O.C.D. sirens started to blare. CHED?? (Community Health and Economic Development) I'm education, bitches!

Hwhatever! I got over it.

I figured you all ("y'all!" Oh, it feels so good to say that!) would like to read it.

So, without further ado...

"Me Time"

By: Devon Patrick Murphy, **EDUCATION**

"I’m a big guy: six-foot-three and 200 lbs on the average day. I’ve got big bones and a big head (though I’m told it’s proportional). In Uganda, kids under age five will observe me from a distance and sprint away at my approach. I’ve been harassed by only the drunkest of adults, and I’ve been called both intense and intimidating amongst other things. All of this has given rise to a certain confidence, a confidence which accounts for my confusion at this moment… because I’m being jumped.

I’d just made my way back into Kyenjojo, after one of my long meandering walks through the villages, my mouth dry and stomach screaming for dinner. The sun was quickly setting, and I was in one of those I will give anything to avoid cooking tonight-moods. So I stopped at my favorite chapatti stand…

“They are over,” says the man as I approach.

Dejected but not down for the count, I ask, “you are making more?”

“Yes. You sit.” He indicates the opposite side of the stand. Success!

My eyes catch the sky; it is a forest fire. Horizontal slashes of blazing red and orange are descending upon the Rwenzoris. The alien cloud in the center of it all, thick with rain and muddy yellow, provides a dimming lantern glow around us. Awed, I move to sit. My guard is down for the attack.

She is three - four tops - and no taller than my waste. Pretty all in pink, her sweater is stretched and worn backwards, and her dress stops just above her tiny bare feet. She has fully wrapped herself in my arms before I am seated.

Shocked I say, “Hi!You’renotshyatALL!” which comes out sounding like one word.

I try a bit of Rutooro. Giggling, she buries her face in the soft crook of my arm. The laughter that breaks out among the three of us is spontaneous and fills me. I have forgotten my thirst. My hunger is gone. I want nothing more in this moment.

The sky cools as the sun drops further into the Congo. Blues, silvers and grays appear. My new friend and I play a game of, What have you got in this hand?… ok, what have you got in THIS hand?... I could swear you had SOMETHING in at least ONE of your hands!! She returns her face into my arm and hums happily. My dinner sizzles a few feet away…

As dictated by relativity, it is the quintessential moments that pass the fastest, and this was no exception. By the time I was handed my bag of delicious oily goodness, Akiiki had been called back to her grandmother’s shop and the sky had succumbed to the steady advance of night.

Walking home, I contrasted my infinite morning of missing my life of three months ago with what I had just experienced. It’s harder to let loneliness get the best of you when moments like these are just around the corner. True story."

Thanks for reading!

I love you all! (But especially you Michelle!)


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pictures. Really!

Well Hello!

Back so soon? Yes. Yes you are. Why? For starters, I told you to come here on my Facebook page... And second, you love me. But why the second post so soon (after all, it took me a month to get around to posting this last update)? Well, (a.) I am in Kampala, and the internet is BLAZING fast here, so it is the perfect time to get the pictures up. And (b.) I was reading another PCVs blog, and I was inspired. I feel like I've let a few people down by not including more pics and more updates about my weekly activities. Granted, interesting things don't happen every day. But what I am realizing is that *WHAT* I consider interesting is changing. As I stated in the last post, the *newness* is wearing off, and that is disturbing. I don't want to become complacent. I want to remain the excited puppy, ripping around, checking things out, peeing on new trees. So, less journal, more blog. Cool? Cool.

PICTURES!!! Hope you like 'em.

Bikes aren't just for riding in Uganda. You see guys pushing around thousands of pounds of metal sheeting, hundreds of chickens, 10 jerry cans of water... or in this case a bunch of furniture.

Yes, there are bugs more terrifying than spiders...These are called Scrickets (spider + cricket... credit: Lizzie).

At a school in Gayaza. That's a whole lot of eyes on the muzungu. The girl in the middle of it all is haunting...

This is Nakasero Market in Kampala. The market actually extends back under some roofing to the left of this parking lot, and it is probably the best most beautiful farmers market I have ever been to. I just fully explored it all yesterday, and you can buy EVERYTHING there. Everyone kept offering to sell me Vanilla, which left me stumped until my friend Renee pointed out that vanilla was the priciest item sold at there. Wiley farmers.

Our language group developed a good method of dealing with the One-Too-Many Devon's. This was a sign up for MOCK LPI's (Language Proficiency Interviews) which we all failed even though we all walked out with shit-eating grins feeling confident. Turns out not a single PCT passed a mock. Their failing us was their way of MOTIVATING. Fantastic. At the actual LPIs our group DESTROYED the test with two of us (including yours truly) passing a level higher than the necessary Intermediate-Low. We were the only language group with a 100% passing rate.

During the construction of a Rocket Stove at Joe's house we had to mix saw-dust into clay to make it a better insulator. A dance party ensued. I love this picture.

PCTs after a mud wrestling match.

The finished rocket stove. I hear they are about 60+% more efficient than normal stoves, and, when made properly you can boil two pots of water with the same raging flame.

Fun with leaves.

Ugandan Lightening. Colorful.

Sunrise. Breathtaking.

A few of us walked by these kids on our way to dinner. I hear "tssssssssssss... tssssssss... tsss!" Stopping, I looked over and sure enough, they were spray-painting "God is Gud" on the wall. They began to dance and celebrate as we looked on in wonder.

Seeing this, I was taken back to a moment when Fey kept trying to buy two Carlos Rossi bottles of wine instead of one Concha y Torro bottle (because it was a better deal: 2 for $8 or 1 for $8). Well, Fey, in Uganda, you're better off drinking plastic-bag gin than pay 27 dollars for the wine.

Our trainers after white elephant. Shirley (in charge of the entire PCT program) laughed for 2 hours after the event. She couldn't get over the whole "stealing" from others part of the gifting process.

My language group and I singing "The 10 Weeks of Homestay" (to the tune of 12 days of Christmas) at the homestay thank you. The final lines, translated from the Rutooro we had to sing it in are as follows:

By the very end of homestay, I had received
Two thumbs up for style,
A fair price for pineapple,
Mud-covered legs,
Eighty power outages,
Flu and rabies shots,
Frightening mefloquine dreams,
Tons of dirty laundry,
Broken mountain bike,
"How are you, muzungu?!"
And matooke, matooke, MATOOOOOKKEEEEE.

Discussing cross-culture at the thank-you. This is us pretending to ride in a taxi. (In reality, there would have been a few more people stacked on).

Me with my little brother. This is one of my favorite pictures of PC yet.

MK the harpest. Girl has skills. But I think Sniper could take her.

Traditional dancing straight out of the north. In this picture, Cowboy Dave and his sister.

More dancing.

Me with my family (sans sisters) and Shirley and Jolie.

Me with my friend Rebecca. She sells construction supplies at the bottom of Kisimbiri, and became one of my favorite people in the Wakiso area.

My sister, Esther, decided that she was going with me to Kyenjojo on my last day home.

The enemy. From what I hear, PCVs have more trouble with these little bastards than any other pest.

The girls at the ambassadors house before swearing in.

The fella's.

The ambassador.

Me and Charlene representing VA!! She lives about 8 miles from my dad's house in Roanoke. When I left Roanoke for staging, she was in line just in front of me. Nervous and a bit sad, buzzing with nerves, it was her face and the word, "Devon?!" that made PC real... here in Uganda, she is basically my sister. Oddly, we have about 8 or 10 mutual friends back in Roanoke. This world is eerily small.


YEAH PEACE CORPS!! I am perfectly blocked (all but my right hand) by Grace (tall girl, second from left). This was during the final swear in when we took "the oath":

"I, Devon Murphy, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Just dropped off by this taxi as it heads on to Fort Portal with Devon and Chris. Bye bye training. Hello real world Uganda. The 4 hour trip from Kampala took about 8 hours because the people driving forgot their bosses daughter in Kampala (the point of driving down there in the first place), so to keep from losing the money they had charged us (the gas was actually free, paid for by the school), we had to wait in a town an hour out of Kampala until the girls bus arrived. And then we almost left two more people behind. Cluster.

The fact that I posted this just goes to show you that at the age of 27, I have acquired the maturity level of a 7 year old. Or a terrible 2.

(Peanut Butter. Duh.)

Beautiful rolling tea fields around Kyenjojo. You haven't seen green until you've seen tea and mango leaves.

Learning to weave baskets!

Sunset over the Rwenzoris. Gorgeous.

Passion Fruit Flower? Or Tree Jelly Fish?


Afternoon sun from my quiet spot.

Went to the Minister of Finance's Daughter's "Introduction". Big money. Big fun (not really). Too much time spent there. It was almost a 12 hour day. Thank god I had the Power of One to read. In this scene, there had been about 30 minutes in which different groups of woman came out dancing. In each group, the groom was supposed to determine if his wife was in it (it was playful). In the final group, he went through, scrutinizing each girl, and finally he stopped in front of his bride, tapped her, and they embraced for the first time in the ceremony. It was touching. The cool thing about these ceremonies is that the groom does not speak the entire time. Instead, his family sits on one side, and he has his best friend (chosen for his speaking abilities presumably) deal with the brides father (who in this case was one of the top lawyers in Uganda... I did NOT envy him for his job). Over the course of the day, the grooms family pays the bride price, converses with the other family, eats, dances, etc... it was worth seeing.

THIS is Peace Corps. Same pic. Flip it. Desaturate it. Sew them together. Bright, warm. Black/white Drab. It's the "ups" and it's the "downs." And when you put it all together, it's a beautiful view... sunrise on the horizon. The beginning of a truly unique day.

I'm sitting now in a surprisingly nice hotel (and cheap!) in KLA. A few more of "my kind" walked up to say hi, so I'm headed with them to grab a beer, shoot the shit, and then, I've got to get on the bus and head home. Class tomorrow. MATH!

I love you all (Especially you, Michelle!)