The Final Post
It’s been a long 2 years. They days went slow but the weeks flew by. I’m home now, sitting at my parent’s kitchen table eating a grilled cheese sandwich while typing this. It’s certainly good to be home.
It’s not easy to summarize my last 2 years in Uganda serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer while working with Compassion International. I’ve seen and experienced so much in that time. Most importantly, my world view has changed. I no longer doubt that people can live on less than $1 a day because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen things that tourists would never see. It’s been an education process on people and societies and human life. My values have changed especially in regards to how my money should be spent. Now I look at $60 for an item and think, “That’s enough to sponsor a Compassion Child for 2 months. Is a new sweater really worth that?”
My favorite moments are many. I enjoyed immensely interacting with the Compassion children who were so accepting, full of energy and yet curious about me. I made so many new friends. The other Peace Corps Volunteers there are some of the most amazing people you’d ever meet. They’ve sacrificed so much to be there serving the people of Uganda. I’ve also met some of the most incredible Ugandans who challenged my way of thinking and impressed me with their goals, passions and their work ethic. I enjoyed teaching Life Skills to the secondary students who had so many interesting questions about HIV/AIDS and the difficulties that all teenagers face growing up and relating to each other. I was also proud of the 2 Purdue teams that came and did work around the community. They brought running shoes for my running clubs and they also brought over 400 children’s books to start a library at Compassion. They came in the name of Love, to serve and work and to experience Uganda and they left a lasting impact and I was very proud to be a part of that.
My last days with the Compassion kids was especially difficult. These kids, who are the poorest of the poor, brought letters they had written to me telling me thanks and wishing me well and telling me how they’d miss me. A few brought gifts. A coffee mug. A small basket with a little teddy bear in it that said “I love you”. A few of them gave candy with their letters.
I’m not leaving the place high and dry, however. The Peace Corps placed 2 new volunteers there to replace me. It’s a married couple and they seem to have just the right attitude necessary to survive. They’ve come with open minds and the desire to serve and they’re looking forward to a less hectic more easy going life where there are no phone, light or gas bills.
Let me just say, there’s no country in the world like the US, but maybe not for the reasons that you’d initially think. It’s not about wealth or prosperity. The US is an amazing country because we have laws that make sense and protect people’s rights. We have a democratic system in which our government is made up “…of the people, by the people and for the people”, and “we the people” have a say in who is running our country and there’s no thought to ballot rigging or the reining president staying in power by force. We drink safe drinking water and have reliable electricity in our homes. In Africa, diarrhea kills more babies than any other sickness. We don’t have to worry about that. We have schools in which there aren’t 60 pupils to 1 teacher. And possibly most important, we live in a land of opportunity. If you don’t like the career you are in then you have the option of changing it. There are jobs and education opportunities available. Imagine living in a country where there were no jobs and no chance at education past 7th grade if you didn’t have the funds. We have opportunity and thus we have hope.
On June 11th I’ll ceremoniously dip my rear bicycle wheel in the Atlantic Ocean as I begin my bicycle ride across the US which is being done to raise money and support for a simple building (community center) for the Compassion kids to meet in. We have raised over $30,000 for the trip already. The walls of the building are up and the materials have been purchased for the roofing materials. Once we get a roof up it’ll start to serve as a functioning building. What’s left are floors, windows and doors. (Follow the blog at http://bikeforcompassion.blogspot.com)
The big question I’m asked is: Would you do it again? Without a doubt, if I had it to do all over again then I would. Without hesitation. Whether or not I will again, God only knows.
Close to the End
Tuesday May 20, 2008
The Purdue team is back on US soil now. They spent a total of 14 days in Uganda. They lived with host families, ate local food and built 4 mud structures in their time here. They also helped out with our Center Days when the Compassion children came in. The kids loved having them. They were teaching from Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose. They also performed 2 dramas and gave short testimonies at 2 churches. Each of them brought something different to the table. Immanuel brought his video camera and 16 video tapes, so his camera was always rolling. Calin brought her big-dog-daddy camera and took a mega-ton of pictures. The rest brought their great work ethics and their willingness to serve, even at the extent of building mud structures (kitchens and goat shelters) for the poorest of the poor.
One highlight was our trip to Rwanda. We spent the morning at the Rwanda Genocide and then had lunch at the Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda). To relive the genocide where 800,000 people died in a span of 100 days was both moving and exhausting. People of the same country, the same religion, the same language, the same skin color, killing each other as the world looked the other way. Some wore shirts that read, “Never Again”. I hope so, but I have to wonder.
The Purdue group also brought over 400 childrens books with them to start a library for the Compassion kids. Classic books. Books that I used to have. Dr Seuss, Berenstein Bears, Where The Wild Things Are, Clifford, Little Bear, Zoobooks, etc. The kids loved them to say the least. They really didn’t know what to think. They’d never seen books like these before. There are no libraries or kids books here apart for the few that Compassion has and the kids only get to glimpse at them occasionally, but we set up a library where the kids could take 1 book home with them and when that book’s returned then they can get another book.
I was really proud of what Purdue did in their 2 weeks here. I could see change in them from when they first arrived and looked like tourists with their cameras flying to seeing them wrestling and playing with the Compassion Kids after spending time with them. Two weeks may seem short, but the’ve seen more of Uganda and more of Africa than I’d imagine most Americans have seen, and seeing is believing. Seeing it moves one to changing it.
The Purdue group said goodbye to my village but they weren’t the only ones. I also bid farewell to my little home of the past 2 years. Yup, my time is up here. We had a little dinner where some gifts were given and some speeches were made. My Compassion kids cried and hugged me the day before when they left my last center day.
I guess now’s the time when I’m supposed to summarize what I’ve done in the past 2 years. Now’s the time to reflect on how I’ve changed this place and how it’s changed me. Really, right now the only thing I can think about is leaving. Moving on. I’m not really excited and I’m not really sad, I’m somewhere in between. The fact is that I’m ready to get home, to get on with my life and to be more in control, like being able to drive and being able to make decisions about where to go and what to do with my free time, rather than being stuck in a little village. I’m sad to leave the friends I’ve made there but I’m super excited to get back with my friends and fam back home. Of course I’ll always have a special place for Uganda and I’d like to come back and visit someday and I probably will, but for now my focus is on the horizon.
Some of what I’ve accomplished in my 2 years of PC service:
- Created a database of the Compassion children’s information.
- Tutored the Compassion staff on Word, Excel, internet and email.
- Taught English, math, science, social studies to students ages 8-16.
- Taught health and physical education to students ages 8-16.
- Raised $30,000 for a community center.
- Raised $5,000 through Rotary for income generating activities (IGAs)
- Organized a running club with 100 boys and girls participating and 45 receiving running shoes.
- Conducted over 100 home visits and visited over 120 children to monitor their health and home sanitation.
- Began a library with over 400 children’s books for Compassion.
- Organized and supervising 30 college students to come to Uganda, live with host families and build 7 mud structures for the Compassion families.
- Taught Life Skills such as HIV/AIDS education, reproductive health, peer pressure, goal setting, etc., to 300 students at 6 secondary schools.
- Organized an Ultimate Frisbee tournament for 6 secondary schools which included an HIV/AIDS theme and drama presentation.
Some more of what I’ve accomplished that wouldn’t be considered resume material
- Helped 2 students with their school fees on my PC salary.
- Found school fees for another student.
- Helped to fund to roof someone’s house.
- Found funds to buy land and build a home for a needy family
- Ran 3 marathons (2 in Africa, 1 in Boston)
- Didn’t completely loose my sanity
- Didn’t beat anyone up for calling me “Muzungu”
- Employed a neighbor to wash my clothes which provided for her well being
- Submitted newspaper articles to my local paper to inform my hometown about the PC, Uganda and Compassion
- Wrote a weekly blog for the same reasons
- When I went home last year I spoke to the Rotary Club, Lions Club, Optimist Club, Jr Highs, High Schools, Elementary Schools, and churches in an effort to inform Americans about PC, Uganda and Compassion.
Saturday May 23
I’m officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. My card has been punched and voided signifying that I’ve completed my service. The whole process seemed like a birth and death. When we’re born there’s celebration and excitement and when we die we often go out with a whimper. It was something like that. I don’t think I’ll really feel like I’m done until I’m on the plane at the airport facing down the runway ready for takeoff. Then I’ll know that it’s not a dream and that I’m really leaving.
Today I’m leaving for Israel for a week before going back to the US. On June 11th I’ll begin my bike trip across the country to raise money for the Compassion building project which is to be a community center to serve my village. The bike trip will cross 10 states and take approx 50 days. I’ll be riding with another guy who contacted me several months ago asking if he could come along. I’m looking forward to the bike trip the most. I’ve never been out west and it just seems like an epic adventure to top all others. At which point this blog will stop and that one will begin.
There will be one more blog entry briefly talking about my re-adjustment and that will close the chapter on this portion of my life as a PCV. I want sincerely thank everyone who sent me emails, cards, and packages over the 2 years. Your friendship and thoughtfulness brightened my days and broadened my waistline. Each package and letter were treasured, priceless possessions. You can’t imagine, really, how wonderful it was to get a little ‘lovin’ from home.
So, one more blog entry and that’ll be it. Stay tuned…
Campus House team rolls up their sleeves
The Purdue team arrived with narry a hitch this week. All their luggage came with them ok. We loaded up 2 mini vans and drove to Backpackers in Kampala to spend the night. For all but one of them it’s their first time in Africa.
Day 1 we traveled to Jinja to see the source of the Nile River, Bujagali Falls. It was a beautiful day when we arrived and the trip there takes you through some dirt roads and some empoverished areas of Jinja. Once there we boarded a boat and took a trip out into the water to a small island nearby. Ben said he saw a crocodile but nobody believed him. We also paid a guy $5 to swim through the rapids. It’s his source of income to get tourists to pay him to do it. It looked death defying but when he did it it looked easy.
Back to Kampala and Backpaers to get our stuff and head to my village. Kampala traffic is always crazy. We had too many people in our vehicle and a traffic police man had us pull over where we had to pay $5 to him. Not sure if it was a bribe or a fine. A little later we encountered another police man and were going to have to pay again but the driver had me get out to meet him further up the road. I did, but when I looked back I couldn’t see our taxi amidst the dozens of other taxis or any white people. I freaked a bit and panicked. I called the drive but he couldn’t understand my accent well enough to actually communicate. I ended up having to jump on a boda and pay him to find our taxi, which he did a little ways up the road.
The guy I had hired to get us to my village didn’t show up so I had to call around and find another coaster (short bus) to get us there. By the time he got there we were 1 ½ hours late. This guy drove in such a way that it reminded me of my drivers-ed father. We were passed by every vehicle on the road. He practically stopped at every pot hole to navigate around it. In what is often a 4-5 hour trip took 7.5 hours to travel. We arrived late, which I didn’t think was a big deal in Africa after having lived here 2 years, but I still managed to get an earful for it.
We finally arrived and met our host families and got everyone to where they needed to go.
Thursday, May 8th was a rest day. We explored my village showing them the ‘Wal-Mart’ which is a tiny little shop where numerous little useful things are sold there. The longer you stand there the more you find. You can take about 3 steps and get from one end to another, but it’s full of stuff. They were also introduced to Sky Blue, my favorite little restaurant in town and then it was on to the bi-monthly market which was filled with vendors selling 2nd hand clothing, mattresses, cloth, pots, shoes, food and a bunch of trinkets you wouldn’t think they’d need in Africa. It was quite an experience and I think they wanted to stay longer to take it all in. Fortunately this year I have Jacob, Brock and Lindsey to help me show them around so we’ve been able to divide up as to not make up one massive group of 16 white people moving through town drawing stares, gawks, pointing, laughing, jeering, etc. It’s a little better when we’re in pods of 4.
Today, Friday, May 09, the Compassion kids came. I think the Purdue team enjoyed them worshiping the most. The kids really sing and clap and drum and let loose and worship. You can tell that it’s the kids’ favorite part of the day too. We went through our education sessions and the Compassion kids had a lot of questions to ask about America and dating and daily life there and the Purdue team was happy to answer and share their country and culture with them. The Purdue guys are adjusting to the quiet voices and the shyness of the Ugandan kids. It’s difficult to get them to speak out as English is a second language of theirs. They’re learning so much though every day. It’s a great time for me too because I get to share ‘my Africa’ with them. I spend 2 years here and have put a lot of effort and energy and emotion (and a lot of other words that start with an ‘e’) into this area and really nobody will every see it, so it’s nice to share my expertise and knowledge with a bunch of thirsty minds.
They’ve done nothing but enjoy their time here and they have many stories to tell already about their homestay families and using pit latrines (out houses) and bathing outside under the stars and eating the same bland food over and over and over. Tomorrow we go deep into the village for the first time to do some work. We’re sure to draw a crowd.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
What a day!!!
Saturday was scheduled to be a work day. 25 of the kids were invited to come along to help us work at one of our Compassion girl’s homes named Sarah. Sarah lives with her grandmother who must be in her 80’s. The grandmother is the only living relative of Sarah and her 4 younger siblings. The grandmother is very old and frail but she still somehow manages to take care of their garden and banana plantation though both were in desperate need of care. We spent the morning figuring out how to care for a banana plantation by watching the Compassion kids and doing what they were doing. They begin by cutting down the dead leaves that hadn’t fallen off. Then they trim any death that was occurring on the tree. My job consisted of removing the old ‘stumps’ and covering up the place they were with dirt. Others were cutting up stumps that had fallen to increase the speed of them rotting.
In addition to working on the banana plantation we also hoed in their garden. It was full of weeds. It was funny watching some of the Purdue girls trying to hoe, especially along side the Compassion girls who are experts at it. They all jumped right in and went to work though. We also put up a bathing are where the family could bathe more privately. They had been bathing from outside on the side of their house previously. And we also put up a drying rack for their dishes. It’s important for dishes to dry in the sun to kill some additional germs. This also prevents them from drying on the ground which is not sanitary. We enjoyed a meal of chapattis (like tortillas), bananas, sodas and water for lunch.
Purdue is coming!
I know I haven't posted in some time. My computer has been on the fritz.
The Purdue team is coming today. Only 1 holdover from the last group from a year ago. They are set to stay with host families for the 2 weeks they are here. They will spend their time with the Compassion kids in educational activities as well as games and sports. Plus they will venture out into the bush to do some physical labor as they work to build some simple mud structures like outdoor kitchens and pit latrines (outhouses) for the poorest of the poor of our Compassion families.
It's an extremely exciting time to spend with these eager Americans and to share with them my tiny village in Africa with all of its comforts and culture.
Bruno and the Gorillas
My little friend, Bruno, used to be a waiter at Sky Blue Restaurant. He is the most hospitable little guy I’ve ever met. He’d just do anything for you. That kind of hospitality is sometimes difficult to fine in Uganda. Customer service seems so far from people’s minds, but not Bruno. It’s just how he’s wired.
Jacob and I along with another 2 people have helped pay Bruno’s school fees for him to follow his passion, studying tourism. Currently he’s interning in Bwindi Impenatrable Forrest as a Gorilla tracker! He’s been tracking the gorillas and taking tourists to see them. He came back this weekend with a number of stories and tales to tell. He knows the ‘grunts’ the gorillas make to say “I’m OK, you’re OK” and the noises they make when they’ve eaten something they really like. He even said he’s been kicked by them a couple of times…!!! Though my PC salary is small (a couple hundred bucks a month), it’s still more than I need living in my tiny village where there’s really nowhere to spend money, so it’s good to give it away. It’s taxpayers money anyway and not really mine, so I feel like it needs to be given away. I’m just glad to help and glad to hear the excitement of Bruno’s stories and to realize that they may never have happened unless a few people got together to help.
Reinforcements have arrived!! There are 2 new white people living in my village, just a stone’s throw from my house. They are the 2 new PCVs (a married couple) who will be replacing me and Jacob once we’re done, but for the time being they are here to learn the ropes. It’s great to have some new faces here and to help them habituate to the surroundings. They are a great couple with a lot of great ideas about what they want to do here. They also seem to have the attitude about things which is nearly essential to survival here. They’re ready to ‘make lemonade’ as my VSO friend Chris likes to say. I’m looking forward to hearing about their successes in the next 2 years.
Win $5,000 and help Compassion!
Rushville Rotary to Raffle for Compassion
My time here in Uganda with the PC is nearly complete and I’m happy to announce that I’ve got a very exciting thing to pass along to you!! The Rushville Rotary is conducting a raffle to help support needy families in the Compassion International project specifically in my village in Uganda!!! I spoke at one of their meetings a year ago about PC, Uganda and Compassion International and they said they were in need of an international project to sponsor, so a partnership was made. Their goal is to raise $10,000 and to give HALF of it to us here and the other half will go to the winner of the raffle! That’s right, the winner will receive $5,000!! The other $5,000 (which could triple to $15,000 through matching grants from Rotary International) that goes here will NOT be going to the building project, but rather to our neediest families for a number of income generation projects, such as goats, cattle, garden projects, clean water collection projects, etc to improve the health, sanitation, income levels, and general living conditions of our Compassion Families, which have already been identified as being the neediest of the needy in this community. Most of the household incomes of the families which we deal with is around $1 a day!! The goal is to tangibly help and support the community through income generation projects while the community center building project is also going on which will support the community in another way.
I’m super excited that the Rotary has taken this project on! It’s a GREAT opportunity for you to help these needy families here as well as a chance for you to make some money for yourself!! Raffle tickets are $50 a piece (or 5 people could all pitch in $10 to buy one and then split the winnings $1,000 a piece). The raffle will be held on April 19th. Tickets are limited. Tickets can be bought from any Rushville Rotarian, so they can call Markus Strobl or any other member of the Rotary Club in Rush County. Markus’ phone is 765-938-5110 (business), or 938-3424 (hm), and the email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider helping this needy cause!
I heard this story when I first arrived but some new developments have arrived. Caroline is a 14 year old girl. She was found in the bush by a cattle keeper after she had been abandoned by her mother when she was an infant. The cattle keeper took her to his sister who raised her along with her own children. In the following months this new caregiver of this girl talked to local government officials and churches to identify the parents of her. Nothing came of it.
About 4 years ago a wealthy man came forward identifying Caroline as his grand daughter and said that he wanted to take her into his home. He claimed that is son fathered the girl by a house girl they had at the time. This house girl was of an ‘inferior tribe’ and in relative poverty and thus the boy could not marry her.
Caroline has known for some time that she wasn’t born into her current family but that she was found and raised by this older woman. They live in dire poverty. The grandfather and even the father are trying to claim Caroline reasoning that they can provide her a better life. They have money to afford secondary school and to provide for her needs. The grandfather reasons that he has all this money and why should one of his granddaughters be suffering in poverty when he has the means to help her.
The current caregiver, however, is reluctant to let Caroline go with them claiming that she doesn’t know who the parents are and wonders why they are just now stepping forward to claim her. Caroline has a striking resemblance to both the father and grandfather and she would receve more opportunities with her birth father. The situation was even brought to the police to have them resolve it but they said without DNA proof that the girl is related to the father the could not intervene. So, if the father & grandfather wish to continue to pursue this matter they’ll have to go to Kampala for DNA testing, but even so, trying to convince this poor, uneducated caregiver woman about DNA testing, what it is, how reliable it is, etc, may prove to be another bridge to cross.
Caroline has yet to be asked what she would like to do, but I believe that Compassion is going to do that soon.
We had a scale stolen from Compassion recently. The scale is used frequently to measure a number of food stuffs that are brought into the office. I didn’t realize it but the scale costs over $100. We have 2 cooks that work for Compassion who have been here the whole 2 years I’ve been here. The staff has told me that small amounts of food seem to disappear from our store room all the time and they have always suspected the cooks, both men. The cooks are paid around $30 a month to cook and work around the office. Sometimes, depending on what jobs need to be done, they earn $50 a month.
When the scale came up missing the cooks were immediately suspected and one in particular started acting funny. He went to the local radio station without being told and took out an ad asking for the return of the stolen scale. He also thought that the cooks should work together to replace the stolen scale. Nobody has admitted to stealing it, but it looks somehow suspicious and right now it looks like the more suspicious cook is going to replace the scale.
Leaving Soon, A Friend Visit, Post PC Plans
I’ve been away from blogging for the past few weeks, so I apologize. It’s been a combination of things. First, we had our final COS party to bid farewell to our fellow PCVs who will be leaving in May. It was a theme party where we all dressed up as movie characters. Fortunately there is a plethora of second hand clothing all over this country so piecing together a costume isn’t terribly difficult and is actually quite fun and feels quite ‘normal’, as in it’s a break from the daily routine of what always feels the same. The party was great. It was held at a Turkish restaurant near Garden City called Effandy’s. It wasn’t just my group that was in attendance but a number of other PCVs from the other groups to bid us farewell and also for just a reason to party.
The party also served as an opportunity to show a slide show video set to music of our past 2 years in Uganda. I begged, borrowed and stole over 4,000 pictures from my fellow PCVs and put it to 45 minutes of music. Songs ranged from “Find Yourself” by Brad Paisley to “Africa” by Toto to “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by Animals. I just tried to take the pictures and music and create a range of feelings and experiences that we all felt and experienced over our 2 years. 45 minutes of pictures may sound like an eternity of hell, especially if you’d compare it to Aunt Helga’s vacation videos or something like that, but it was different. It was a chance to see everyone’s point of view, their villages, their experiences, their Ugandan friends and families.
My friend, Nanette, came and visited for a week. She had served in the PC in Burkina Faso, so she was already “Africa ready” once she arrived. We traveled around a bit and saw my village. We also visited her Compassion Child who lived in one of the slums of Kampala. I’d never been to the slums. It was moving to say the least. People living in cramped conditions. It had just rained, so you can imagine the mud, muck and whatever else we were traipsing through. We visited her 8 year old girl’s home where 7 people slept. The girl’s father had died, presumably of HIV. The mother was HIV positive, but the 3 children were negative. The mother sold tea to neighbors to earn a small living and the step father drove a car owned by another man as a special hire taxi. It’s a difficult way to earn a living because motor bike taxis are cheaper and can maneuver Kampala’s frequent traffic jams quicker and easier than cars. The step father earns around $7 a day but sometimes comes home with no earnings. This ‘home’ they live in is only a single room that is 8 ft by 12 ft. There are 7 that sleep there including the mother’s 2 siblings. Nanette’s girl often sleeps with her grandmother who lives about 1 km away but who also lives in a single room. They share a bed. The grandmother whom we also visited, says that she enjoys her grand daughter’s company and that she’s a hard worker when she comes over. The slums are compounded by the fact that Ugandans have no regard for trash disposal, so they just throw their trash outside and expect it to just wash away or magically disappear.
The Compassion staff accompanied us on our visit. They were so friendly and kind. We really had a nice time with them. Each Compassion center has 4 staff members that work there full time plus a handful of teachers that come once a week when the kids come to give them supplemental education and care. This particular Compassion was a new center. When I first arrived I was told there were around 155 Compassion centers around Uganda, but on this visit I was told there are now 212. Each center has around 280 children. That equals a total of around 60,000 Ugandan children who receive education, clothing, a mattress and mosquito net, free health care and social services in addition to Christian education that would otherwise be without. And the children are identified by community members as being the poorest of the poor and the neediest of the needy.
Nanette went on to comment on how drastically different Burkina Faso and Uganda are. Burkina Faso, she said, is extremely hot year round, even at night and it’s very dry and dusty all over. Uganda is lush and green and the temperatures are comfortable and even cool in the evenings, at least in the mountainous south west. She also said that there are very few tourists or touristy places in Burkina, where as Uganda has a number of tourist attractions including the Nile River, a number of National Parks including Gorilla Trekking.
Jacob and I are both getting PC replacements for our organizations for when we are gone. There will be a small overlap due to when training was scheduled for them. We met the new couple. It’s a married couple. The guy is going to work with Compassion and his wife is going to work with Jacob’s organization. My village is a nicely sized place with a decent array of restaurants and decent electricity plus it’s nestled in a beautiful valley with scenic mountains all around that are begging to be climbed.
We had a great visit with them. They seem anxious to just get here and get started. They also just seem to have a great attitude about what they want to do and what their expectations are. That is so essential to being a PCV. Living a simple life, the ability to ‘make lemonade’ when you are given lemons and the willingness to just kind of go with the flow. Those elements can make or break a PC experience. It sounded like, mostly, they were just ready to get here and to start working as a PCV. Typical. Those weeks of training seem to always drag on as the fantasy of the real PCV life looms where you are free to come and go as you please and free to get your hands dirty and start working on your own projects. It should be a great next few weeks that we all spend together before I leave.
Speaking of leaving, I have 8 weeks remaining in Uganda. To be honest, I’m ready to go home. I know that I’ll look back with very fond memories, but for now I’m focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.
This whole 2 years was supposed to give me an idea of what I was supposed to with the rest of my life. What I’ve found instead was that it was the same 2 years of uncertainty that I would have had in the US, just in a different place. Without actively searching out purpose, it’ll never be attained. So, about a year ago I actively tried to tackle that exact issue. I searched deep within myself as well as far beyond myself (thanks internet). I decided, after much thought and prayer, that after the PC I’ll be going into campus ministry somewhere, hopefully around May of ’09. I looked back on all my work and life experiences in addition to my own gifts and talents and I feel, and have always somehow felt called to ministry though have also felt like I had to find myself first and pursue my own objectives. I’m reminded how Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until the age of 30. I wouldn’t trade my experiences, in fact, I believe they all shaped who I am, from teaching to working construction and working at Applebee’s to being in Uganda. I feel I have more to offer and am more equipped than I otherwise would have been had I jumped in straight after college. But I also feel like I’ve taken the role of Jonah and have tried to flee from a calling, if you will, and that fleeing has led to general unsatisfaction in the careers that I’ve pursued. They just didn’t jive with me, so to speak.
So, the plan in full is to ride my bicycle across the US from June to the end of July to raise money for a building project here for Compassion (http://bikeforcompassion.blogspot.com) and then to move to Knoxville to work with my friend and former minister Mark Nelson (http://standingonthedesk.blogspot.com) for 10 months, training and learning how to minister and manage a church before taking the plunge myself in May of ’09.
Getting sick happens...
I didn’t want to blog about this but I think I need to. I found myself face down in the dirt last week outside of my pit latrine unable to move or yell for help. I was lying in the dirt in a pool of my own sweat struggling not to faint as my world got darker and further away. I had left my phone in my house so I was without any lifelines. I panicked. I was terrified. I didn’t exactly know what was happening or why. Earlier that day I had felt uneasy with no appetite. I had laid down for what turned out to be a 3 hour nap and then felt the need to vomit. I went to the latrine for what turned out to be diarrhea and then it happened.
My latrine is fenced in so nobody could see me. I laid there for I don’t know how long. I could hear people going to my neighbors house to get milk for their evening tea. I mustered up the strength to cry for help. Help to get me inside to my phone. I yelled (as best I could) in English and in the local language. …I heard laughter in response. 3 people walked by the fence immediately outside and as I begged for help I heard laughter. From kids I suspect. In my delirious state I thought to even offer them candy to get them to come. More laughter. So then I was angry on top of being disoriented. I yelled for my neighbor by name… nothing.
Slowly my strength came back and I forced myself into my house to get my phone. I called Jacob and he came over immediately, but he lives 1.5 miles away and it took him a while by bike to get there. I also called the Peace Corps nurse.
My strength was back by this time but the panicked feeling of wondering what had happened, how a strong, healthy runner can nearly faint out of what seemed like the clear blue sky.
She calmly told me that what happened wasn’t terribly unusual. Fainting after a sizable diarrhea is fairly common and that it had even happened to her. She said that I was dehydrated and that I had lost a lot of fluid in my ‘long call’ and that I need to rest and drink fluids and keep in touch with her if anything else happened and that she would call in the morning to check up on me.
I remember reading about a common question that people had before joining the Peace Corps about getting very sick with nobody around to help. I didn’t think that could be the case with neighbors so close by who watch your every move and with a cell phone which I always have with me. Generally it’s not a concern, but I had just happened to leave my phone by my bed when this occurred, which could happen to anybody.
I felt a little silly by the time Jacob got there. I was feeling much better, only weak from the ordeal. I was furious that I was laughed at instead of being helped by the kids/neighbors. They must have thought that I was joking and they obviously couldn’t have seen me behind the fence, but still I was outraged that I could be lying there in need of help and hear laughter as a response.
In all honestly it was kind of a culmination of a number of feelings. With only 11 weeks left to go in my PC experience I’m tired to the point of being utterly frustrated at walking around my village and still being harassed by the same people and the same shops that I have passed for over 2 years now. They don’t see it as harassment as they yell out “Muzungu” every time I pass, but to hear it 50 times a day, every single day, just gets so old. I think that even the sickness was brought on buy stress and frustration the last few weeks, suffice it to say. But, I’m on a downhill slope now. The end is in sight. It’s been a purely wonderful experience and I would DEFINITELY do it all over again if I had it to do again, but there’s also a big part of me that’s ready to come home and see my friends and family, eat pizza and ice cream and go to the dollar movie theater again. Is that such a bad thing?
The newest group of PCVs arrived on February 15th. 60 of them but 3 have already gone home so I hear. In that group are my and Jacob’s replacements. They will actually be here with us for the final 6 weeks, which will be neat. It’ll be a chance for us to show them around town, teach them how life as a PCV is, answer any questions they have along the way and to give them some golden advice as to how to merely survive in our village. I wish I had had a PCV here to ease me in, in a way. But also the figuring out on your own is a magical time as well.
It’s going to be a fast 11 weeks. I have a good friend coming to visit next week, then in April my replacement comes and then in mid May Purdue Campus House is sending another group of 15 college kids to do some work in and around my village with the Compassion kids and their families. Last year when they came it was EASILY the highlight of my year and I’m so looking forward to their coming and seeing them experience Africa and Compassion. There are definitely some things to look forward to in the coming weeks!!