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!