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!)