Monday, October 10, 2011

Hey guys! Sorry to be a bit late in sending this, as always, there have been obstacles in the way of getting stuff done here. But I’m glad to have the time to sit down and write to you now (sending it is another issue!).
I’ve read all of your letters to me, thanks for writing to me with all of those great questions. I’ve done my best in responding to each of you. It’s really great to be able to share this experience with you through these letters. Also, Miss Fusco and I are trying to find a good time to skype, so that we can all see each other face to face soon!
Alright, let me tell you all a little bit about what has been happening with me in Uganda lately. I remember writing the last letter to you and thinking that it wasn’t all that positive, and that I wasn’t really having a great time with things here. Well, I’m happy to say that my attitude has gotten a lot better since then. I think it’s because I’ve gotten back to my village and have been warmly welcomed by everyone here, combined with the work going pretty good lately. Oh and one other thing too, but I have to keep that a secret for a little while :)
Being back in my village is like being back at home with family and friends. Almost all of the frustrations of being a white person in Uganda, alone and stared at constantly, the object of everyone’s attention, has left me when I return to the village where everyone knows me and is glad that I’m around. I can sleep in my own bed again, and I can make myself afternoon tea whenever I please. I can go and play in my garden, spreading mulch and picking a few veggies here and there. The sunflowers are a warm welcome back, and the strawberries too!
Now that I’m back in my village, I can get back to work as well. The work that I came here to do. FINALLY, the grant money has come for me to begin the biggest project I am undertaking in my time here, that of making bricks and water tanks as a business for my health centre. It’s intimidating and I’m a bit nervous about it, but at last it is under way, and I am committed to doing the best I can with it. I just ordered the machine to make bricks, which cost about $1,600. Soon we will build a 20,000 Liter water tank at the health centre in order to train our workers to build the tanks.
Also, I’ve been working with a group in the village to do some micro-finance activities. It’s called a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). Every saturday, we meet and the people put some small money into savings, and other members use that money to take out small loans, which they pay back with interest. In the beginning, we had some problems with keeping records of everything, but we have really improved since then and we now have meetings that run quite well. That really helps me feel good about the work I’m doing. There are even several people who want to start another group to do the same thing, since they have heard good things about our group.
I mentioned earlier the garden I have been keeping. This has given me something really nice to do when I have finished my work for the day, which often can be after only a few hours in the morning. I’m growing lots and lots of different things, many of which are tropical species like vanilla, tomato tree, coffee, papaya, avocado, coconut, and aloe vera. And I’m learning so much in the garden lately, like how to save the seeds from many different kinds of plants. I’m also growing lots of herbs, like basil, thyme, cilantro, dill, and lavender. We are soon putting up a sign to encourage villagers to visit the garden and learn from it.
So I think you can see from what I’ve written that I’ve become much happier recently with life in Uganda. I am now midway through service here, and every day I think about how fortunate I am to be able to have this experience. I know it’s going to be over before I know it, so I am really appreciating my time here lately. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what to do after I leave Uganda, and I have a tentative plan. I am thinking of going back to school for environmental engineering. This would allow me to pursue my interests in helping people to better manage the natural resources like air and water quality, or advising for waste management, or for providing guidance in environmental stewardship. I admit that I am intimidated also by the difficulty of pursuing an engineering degree, but I think we all need to challenge ourselves if we’re going to achieve our goals in life.
I’m getting a cat tomorrow also, which means I’ll have had it for probably a few days by the time you read this letter. I am hoping things will work out better than they did with my old dog Oliver. It will be nice to have a little friend running around, and maybe chasing lizards and mice here and there. I’m naming her “Pearl”, as Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the “Pearl of Africa” some time ago.
Okay for now I’ll say farewell. I hope you’re enjoying autumn in Rhode Island these days, it’s something I really miss here. Enjoy the cool and crisp beginnings of winter, look forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas! I’ll be thinking of you all!
Disclaimer! I wrote this initially as a letter to my correspondence match program classroom, so forgive me if this and the rest of my updates make it sound like you're in high school!

Greetings! And welcome to the second year of our Ugandan/American exchange program! I hope you all had great summers, are rejuvenated, and have a positive attitude about the coming school year. For me, I also feel as though a new beginning is happening. I’ve taken almost a month away from my site work, traveling to different areas of Uganda for a little work and a little playtime. But now I have returned and am ready to get stuff done! So, we are all starting something new, both in Rhode Island and in Uganda. Except that I didn’t get to go to the beach like I’m sure most or all of you have! I’m not complaining though... As I write this, it’s a beautiful day and I’m relaxing in my new hammock on my porch, with a very pleasant breeze to enjoy. I can hear the drumming and singing from the church behind my house, and I watch the people coming and going from the health centre compound. Work will begin tomorrow, but today is Sunday and it’s time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere here.
Let me tell you all a little bit about life here lately. I know it’s been maybe three months since I last wrote you, and I think there are some of you who are new to the program, so I’ll share with you some of the experiences and thoughts that I’ve had recently.
In general, the past few months have been a bit difficult. For many Peace Corps Volunteers, the time about midway through service can be stressful. There are lots of reasons this can happen, and for me it has been a combination of things. I really, really miss my family and friends. It helps to talk with them on the phone, but nothing can change the fact that I haven’t seen them in over a year, and I know that I won’t see any of them for the next six months or so. In addition, although there have been some projects that have been going well, a couple of the projects that I’ve been trying to organize have been taking far too long to get going. Things here can happen very, very slowly.
Another aspect of living in Uganda that can be challenging are the cultural differences between life in America and life here. Really, that is a major reason I came to Uganda, to experience life in a different culture, but sometimes this creates as many headaches as it does rewards. For example, it is within Ugandan culture for a boss to have very little communication with his employees. The workplace can be said to be more like a dictatorship than a place of equal respect. The educational system is another source of frustration. The students are generally taught to memorize facts and principles, day after day, year after year. They are not taught to think critically or creatively, and different styles of learning are not catered to. If someone is not a great test-taker, they will simply fail when they would otherwise have done really well in a different setting. And they are taught not to question authority, but simply to accept everything that the teacher tells them is true. I believe this is counter productive and stifles the children’s ability to communicate their thoughts to others. These are some of the things that make it difficult for me to teach Life Skills sessions too. There is no participation in the classroom because they fear to speak.
There is also the “culture of dependency” that many foreign aid organizations have created. Because Uganda and many other developing nations have received so much money from America and Europe over the years, it has become engrained in the minds of Africans that they will continue to receive money from whites, and thus their work ethic is often poor. Why should they work to pay for a good quality water tank when some organization in Denmark or the U.S. will give them a plastic tank? It can be quite difficult to overcome some of these issues as a PCVs in our communities when people think we are here to give them money.
However, I’m happy to say that my attitude is improving, slowly by slowly as they say here. I have been learning to accept those things which I can’t change, working to affect those I can change, and learning to know the difference between the two. I’ve also had the opportunity to help in the training of the newest group of volunteers in Uganda, which has given me a source of positivity, as well as going to a conference in Kampala with all of the other volunteers in Uganda, which are about 150. These interactions have gone a long way in refueling me to be happy in my second year of service. My garden has also been a place of refuge for me, helping me focus on a nice environment and the fruits that it bears. I also know that family and friends are coming to visit me sometime, and just knowing that really helps me find peace. Lastly, just reminding myself that I’m a Peace
Corps Volunteer in the heart of East Africa is comforting because it is, after all, a dream that I’ve been able to achieve and that I live every day here. So there are, as always, many many things to be thankful for in my life! And I just received a package with the most delicious cookies in the whole wide world yesterday! Life is truly wonderful sometimes :)
I hope all of you are enjoying the first few weeks of school, and I really look forward to any questions or comments that you may have!