Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ngonza Uganda MUNO!

Dear Friends, Family and Love,

Life is grand.

I am actually in the field for a two week technical immersion where we follow around another volunteer and do-as-they-do. Unfortunately, some people didn't get to go to where they will eventually be placed (eventually, read: In about 4 weeks... shit-GUYS, it’s about to get real), so Lukas and I stayed in Wakiso district (the country is broken into small districts much like the States in America. Each state has a local government called LC1-LC5... pretty similar to state governments... I digress). What I was saying is that we are still in Wakiso, the district that the capital city, Kampala, is in. We were bummed, but the experience has been awesome. Lizzie, the girl we are staying with, has a very nice place in a very rural area (even for Peace Corps Standards), and she is a fierce cook. Our mouths have been DYING from eating nothing but miserably bland posho (cornmeal turned into mush) and plantains turned into... MUSH. And Beans... which are actually good, but make my body produce cacophonous music.

So things are good. I have somehow avoided sickness, severe or otherwise, since being here. Knock on wood, but no diarrhea yet. It's all about being super careful with the water you drink, super careful with washing vegetables (which I have not really had to do yet), staying the hell away from meat unless you truly trust the source (or kill/cook the animal yourself) and, well… being very lucky.

Sickness, however, is inevitable. At least I have had a great opportunity to master my aim while pooping into a terrifying fit latrine.

Seriously though? Worst nightmare? Getting stuffed through the poo-hole, falling 15 feet into years-of-excrement, and then staying there, rotting, until death commeth... not on a silver platter, but by suffocation from someone who has a gnarly dose of giardia.

I've been into Kampala a few times, and it gets better every time. We aren't strung out on the fear that everyone is trying to jump us, or kill us, or both, and that really increases the joy of walking around a place. We’ve been shown the good spots to eat (double mushroom cheeseburgers at the java house!), good places to get movies (any DVD you could want for 1200 USh, that is, less than 75 cents), and a great wholesale market (so good that people travel 12 hours from Kenya to buy there… and they have Chaco’s… for around $10.00 a pair. RIDICULOUS).

And things keep getting better. My family is still awesome (I love them, and I’m trying to figure out how to move them all to the US when my time here is through). They feed me well, and aside from a few water shortages, I’ve been very happy. I’ve learned to identify a variety of veggies; enough that I could probably just backpack around Uganda and fend for myself straight from the land. It is just that fertile and brimming with delicacies.

Oh. I mentioned it earlier, but training wraps up soon. And thank god. Being out in the field has opened my eyes to what life in Uganda entails when 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, are not dedicated to learning language and listening to people tell you WHAT to expect but not HOW to deal with it.

I'm being unfair. We have learned a lot about "how to deal with it." But you can only learn so much from trainers. The rest you have to hear from PCVs, and they, those beasts, haven’t been included in the training nearly enough. That is why technical immersion is crucial.

So what have I done on immersion? I've taken three classes so far, and by Wednesday I will have taught 2or 3 more. These are basically 8 and 9th graders (if judged on the US scale), so they are JUST beyond that threshold of middle-school-awkward and only entering the high school-my-GOD-who-am-I?! stage. Then again, the culture is so different here, and the teaching style we have to work into is so screwy that real-strange-factor comes not from the children and their puberty-stricken minds but with the language barrier. I have to speak in a loud (I have 70 students in each class) staccato English that at-first-listen actually sounds condescending but upon reflection is fully necessary.

Yesterday I taught two physics classes, and in the audience was a trainer from Peace Corps along with Lizzie and Lukas. I just went for it and treated the front of the room like a stage, and the kids ate it up. Lizzie was quite happy with the "show," so much so that she gave me the reigns fully for the next class.

I REALLY let loose... I was describing the Kinetic Theory of Matter, and I was doing student demos (making them into atoms and having them crash into each other). I was jumping into the walls showing how the molecules of a gas create gas pressure. So they were definitely entertained: Whether this is because I am funny, funny looking or funny-retarded, I may never know.

I'm going with *just* retarded.

Regardless, judging by their homework grades, they were only confused on only one topic, but it’ll be a quick fix.

Teaching here is strange. Most Ugandan teachers just lecture, and they put a few notes on the board. This doesn't do a thing for the students because they can either write or they can listen, but they can't do both at the same time. So when the teacher talks, a lot of the info is just going in one ear and out the other. Books are out of the question, as each class has 70 students, and the school is having trouble paying for adequate desks for these kids to sit on, so additional texts are on the back-burner. Not to mention that the entire school system is set up around National Exams meaning that every teacher only "teaches to the test.” Logical thinking, critical thinking... THINKING... it is all out of the question. (AMERICA!! Take note…)

So class usually consists of me going into the room, filling a board with notes, letting the kids copy the notes and then me going through the notes. But instead of just saying what is on the board, I can put in filler examples and I can do demos (i.e. pretending that I am stuck to the wall because of adhesion forces between molecules) whenever possible.

Something that I have come to realize is that the system here is flawed... period. And my first priority will be my students, and if that means making sure they know a bunch of facts that would get them a spot on Jeopardy, then so be it. But I also want to exemplify those teachers that I so loved when I was young (fergodsakes… how old am I?!). So I am working on melding the two teaching styles Uganderican of you will. Or Americandan.

Last thing: I just want to mention one part of this last weekend. I traveled with Lukas and Lizzie to a small school in Gayaza. There, he and I put on a Life-Skills group for a bunch of pre-pubescent boys. Our topics were “Anatomy”, “Sex”, “STDs” and “HIV/AIDs.” That session in itself would require a blog post, but let me just say that the best way to describe an erection to kids is NOT to bang on a desk and say “Hard… like wood!” ‘Nuff said.

Anyway, Lukas and I had to sleep in a tent because the girls place was very small. Well, the tent was very interesting to the kids at the primary school. They were all touching it, looking inside, etc.... so I think to myself, "This kids have probably never seen one of these things, probably won't again, and I doubt that they'll get to go in one." SO I say, "Ok, who wants to go in?!" And all of a sudden there are 30 kids ripping their sandals of trying to push in...


I am nearly trampled.

So I got them ordered, which quickly fell apart as soon as I unzipped the door, and like THAT I had unknowingly solved the riddle: "How do you get 30 Ugandan Children into a 3 man tent?”

(Open it’s door flap and say, “Ok, now everyone take turns.”)

What a sight. I think my favorite part was when they zipped up that same door and began to sing...

"Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday TO YOU! Happy BIRTHDAY to YOU-UUUUU!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUUUUUUU!!"


What else can I say about my time here? The food for each meal is likely picked earlier in the day or the day before. The people smile, and they mean it. When I look around, I catch people's eyes, and I don't feel like a deer in the headlights... I feel observed, and I so I observe in return, and that is ok.

I explain almost daily to new kids and grownups alike that I love it here; that I love Ugandan's, and they have so much to be proud of. The response?

"EE! (pronounced "Eh!") REALLY?!!"

Because how could someone from the States value a place that so many want to leave?

…because I literally see something new and amazing every day, and most of these are just more reasons to love Uganda. I have seen a lot from those "Can you spare 75 cents a month for this poor child"-commercials first hand, and it is indeed devastating. Tragic. Sickening. Horrendous. You name it. But in those times you have to keep from spinning your wheels... you have to take a break, center-up, and remember why you are here.

In the great end-of-meeting-with-Nakhia words of Kahlil that still echo in CIMSS, “And that’s it.”

Ngonza Inywe! (I love you all)

Michelle, ngonza uwe MUNO! (I love you very much).


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