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!)