Thursday, June 28, 2012

In Nonsense Lies Strength

First off, tis the season for birthdays.  It turns out that 4/5 of my kindred-heart-spirits have birthdays in June-August.  So, Happy Birthday loved ones!  Tis also the time for several long-awaited returns to Minnesota!  Welcome back K-rads and Nathan!  Wish I was there to meet you. 

Here, tis the season for rain and untimely coldness!  I guess Uganda does get cold.  Or else, my tolerance for anything below 85 degrees Fahrenheit has dropped.  Take that, Norwegian ancestors!  I’m walking around bundled up in as many clothes as I can get.  It’s actually wonderful.  My body is suddenly telling me that I should be active, after a year of mind-stifling and paralyzing heat.  So, you may be wondering if I have been doing anything mildly active with my body?  Of late, I have been musing much upon my illustrious career as a footballer and ultimate-frisbeer.  Because of my ACL tearing, I haven’t been able to play competitively since fall of 2009! Horrors upon horrors! That’s like 3 years ago! So, I’ve been missing it something fierce these last few years, and now that my body is finally up to the task, it’s hitting me hard.  Because, there ain’t much in the way of competitive Frisbee or soccer leagues here in West Nile.  I’m pretty sure local children here think that my Frisbee is an evil tool of wizardry.  I’ve been trying to find whatever I can get, which lately has translated to me playing football with a bunch of mommas and grandmas in my female adult literacy classes.  It’s actually quite fun and all sorts of previously disregarded muscles in my legs are aching!  I’m trying to do as much as I can with coaching football, including starting up girl’s football at the secondary school (with much resistance from the girls), implementing a life skills program that teaches through the medium of football, and also helping train the women in the literacy classes.  It’s no competitive league stuff, but it’s fun, and it makes me run around and smile.  In August, there is an East-African wide ultimate tournament in Kampala that I am hoping to do with some other Peace Corps Volunteers.  I can’t wait for this.  Frisbee always has a way of completely destroying you if you haven’t played competitively for a long time, especially if you happen to be competing against Kenyans and Ethiopians, but it’s okay! One thing that PC is teaching me is how much I love and crave competitive sports.  I guess I already knew that.  Next summer when I come home, I am going to sign up for at least one Frisbee and soccer team and get back into the swing of things. 

            Tis also the season for planning many fun and wondrous things to occur over my remaining 9ish months of service.  Starting with this week!  I am going to Kampala for my midservice medical appointment, which means besides being prodded with all sorts of needles and questions, I will have three days in Kampala to gorge myself on delightful food!  I have started planning what I am going to ingest/eat/inhale several weeks ago, and so far the list is: At least two milkshakes, at least one latte, a decent loaf of bread, Korean food, Chinese Food, Thai Food, Amurican food, and the list goes on.  Kampala is to Peace Corps Volunteers what the Shire is to Hobbits.  If you expect to send us out into the far, desolate reaches of middle earth with naught but cassava and beans for food, expect that our hearts and stomachs will sometimes be with the food, revelry, and ale of the Shire.  Well, I actually sort of hate Kampala, but you get the point.  Ilse need good food.  Too much cassava bread and no play makes Ilse a dull girl.  (By the way, did you know that uncooked cassava is fatally poisonous?  So, not only is cassava bread a top-notch adhesive glue, it is also fatal when uncooked!  Poisonous glue for everyone!  Seems like a top-notch idea for a staple food!)  Anyway, after a respite in Kampala, I return to the village for the final month of term II, and then once school breaks in August, I am off to Jinja to be a mentor/counselor at a week-long camp for girls interested in maths and sciences and technology!  You may be thinking that I’m not the natural choice for this position, but at least I’ll bring a healthy dose of enthusiastic confusion to the table!  My friend Stevie is directing the camp, so it should be great, and it’ll give me a chance to see more of the east.  Then, right after the camp is the aforementioned Frisbee tournament in Kampala, and then at the end of August, I am heading down to Rwanda for a week with several friends.  Apparently, Rwanda is America to Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda, for reasons that I can’t wait to experience and confirm!  (I’ve heard whispers of reasonable public transportation, real sidewalks, and little trash!)  After Rwanda, heading straight to All Volunteer Conference in Kampala for several days, and then finally back to site for term III!  Then, only a few short months after, the epic over-land journey to Zanzibar for several weeks of exotic spices, revelry, and swimming in waters that will not lead to a chronic illness! 

            There are a lot of ups and downs.  I can swing pretty violently from day to day.  But, it always equalizes.  I’m pretty stable.  If you call me on an off-day, when I have flubbed a meal, gotten asked for money more than 12 times, or had all last vestiges of privacy invaded, you will probably be able to hear it in my voice.  But, I have a lot of good days.  And, it takes much more to irk/irritate me these days.  And, plus, I just made some incredible chocolate cake on my termite-mud dutch oven, so I’m feelin’ pretty tops.  So, allow me to divulge to you some of the factors that can make an exceptional day here.  First of all, Tom and I start everyday by telling each other, “Today is a special day.  We should celebrate!”  Because, every day IS special.  Celebration can come in many different forms.  Often, it will mean drinking coffee instead of tea, or having one beer, or eating an avocado with our beans at school, or gardening, or watching Arrested Development.  There are so many ways to celebrate!  But anyway, I think it’s important to treat everyday as a special, potentially wonderful day.  On those exceptional days, perhaps I manage to have several good cross-cultural exchanges with village women, in which I don’t really know what she/I am saying, but it still feels like I’m communicating.  Also, it might be a day where the P7 students I read to, get really excited about the book or activity that I have planned.  It might be a day when I bathe, because lord knows that those are few and far between.  Or a day when I play football with kids or women, and get to run around and sweat.  More often than not, it’s a day when I don’t attract as much attention as is humanly possible.  The days when I feel like just another (strange) member of the community.  Because, lets face it:  I’m a wallflower, and I’m not here to make a huge splash, I’m here to observe and learn and simply live.  Life is good.  I love that I can take care of myself now, keep a house fairly clean, keep myself well-fed, hydrated, exercised, rested, and healthy.  Even something as small as always carrying a full nalgene with me wherever I go, makes a huge difference.  I’m learning. 

            You may be wondering what I do with my time.  I can’t really answer that question, because I don’t really know myself.  The hours just seem to go, and the weeks, too.  I try to keep myself busy with running, playing sports, reading, cooking, writing, gardening, shooting the breeze with villagers, reading books to/with children, helping with female adult literacy, and soon will become busier with camps, my life skills/soccer program, and hopefully a program involving creative arts and expression.  I don’t know exactly if I’ve become busier this second year, but I have learned that I can only really become involved with projects and ideas that I am interested in.  I’m trying to spend my time on issues I’m passionate about, like literacy, soccer/active living, and creativity.  It would be a waste of my time and others if I tried to involve myself in areas I’m not crazy about, because then I wouldn’t throw myself completely into it. 

            In other news, a woman in Arua town was reported to have been turned into a snake, after she used witchraft to swindle a Sudanese man.  This has been confirmed by several witnesses.  Also, the students of Adumi Secondary School went on strike a week ago over food issues, and subsequently went on a rampage destroying school property, and then marched yelling “today is the day I die!” down the street at 9 pm, searching for teachers to throw rocks at.  Healthy dose of drama, but I also don’t really blame the students for rioting.  I mean, these kids get caned, degraded, and have to sit through long boring classes everyday, don’t get any sugar in their porridge, and then fail all their exams anyway.  No one was hurt, but many students are getting expelled, including my favorite student.  Also, this comes at a time when many secondary schools around Arua are bursting into strikes and riots, and there is said to be an underground student network that is linked to Al Qaeda.  Yeah, not sure about the Al Qaeda part, seems a bit far-fetched, but something IS going around.  We had a full police-riot squad in Adumi for a few days.  On a happier note, although mango season is now 3 weeks gone, now the rains have brought white ants!  Not sure how I feel about the progression from delicious mangos to gigantic flying ants that divebomb me at night and then die slowly everywhere, but…The rains truly bring wonders!  Every morning, women and small children run around picking their bodies up from the ground so that they can sell them/fry them/make them into bread.  Yup, people eat white-ant bread out here.  Sometimes I read my friend Beth’s blog, who is serving in Guyana, and I hear about week-long-7 spice curry-parties her community has, and all I can think about is white ant bread.  Really? 

            That’s it for now, because my mind is already on the food that I am going to consume in Kampala.  Not much room for anything else. 

            Love and Lemons,

Friday, June 8, 2012

Visitors and Village Life.

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.  I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.  I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.  I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.  I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it is not pretty everyday, and if you can source your life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.  I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
From oriah mountain dreamer

Each visitor I get here in Arua teaches me something new.  From Lauren, I learned how to take care of my bike and that peppermint essence really makes the difference between a mediocre and life-changing bucket bath.  From my mom and dad, I (re)learned that every child in my village, no matter how many there are, is worthy of acknowledgement and love.  From Nathan I learned that living out in the bush shouldn’t be about proving yourself, and that it’s really nice to have everyday luxuries like good food, good company, and hot showers (once in a while!).  From Agnese, I learned that each person is the own vessel of their own peacefulness, and that Latvia might be a really great place to live.  From Jerod, I learned that my village is actually quite a fun place, and that it’s perfectly okay to chase little children either until they burst into tears or reach the front door of their huts.  From Nikki, I learned that it’s not what you do or where you are that’s important; rather it’s following the syncopated and wandering beat of your own wondering heart that matters, even if it leads you away from the stability of a career or home.  (The poem above is something that she gave Tom and I before she left). So, thank you visitors, or “Awadifo Omu ni” in Lugbara.  It can be emotionally exhausting to have a steady stream of people coming, only because it takes you out of the comforts of the house more often, and forces you to be more social, but it’s truly beneficial and eye-opening.  Also, there is a Lugbara proverb that goes something like this, “A house without visitors is no home at all.”  So the fact that Tom and I have had a new visitor every few days for the last few weeks, actually makes us fit in a whole lot more around here.  Jerod and Nikki took off yesterday for their respective destinations, and we have another couch surfer coming either today or tomorrow, who apparently knows a lot about off-the-grid-living, which is what we are pretty much forced to do here.  Happily.  So, thank you for taking the time and risk to venture out to West Nile.  It helps me to see all the beauty and warmth of this place, through fresh eyes. 

            There have been a lot of small miracles in my life recently.  The first, being a pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker is sort of like an incredible hybrid of a classy microwave and a bomb.  I say microwave because it cooks food in a much shorter time than usual, and a bomb because it has the potential of literally exploding in your face.  I’m still a bit terrified of it, and approach it like a wary animal, but it so far hasn’t let me down.  And, it’s so nice having a way to cut down on cooking time, because it usually consumes most of my free time.  The other small miracle is a very small one indeed; the birth of a tiny village goat named Noodle.  Noodle is small, brown, and not yet petrified of human beings.  He oftentimes will come into our house during rainstorms, impossibly small, wet, and shaking.  When not sopping wet, he will perform random goat-acts of spontaneous joy, which often include flipping, jumping, or skipping.  I love him so much.  Then, our gardening has finally paid off.  Little green things are emerging from the ground, and I have to assume that this is what we want to happen.  In other news, I’m busy reading Infinite Jest finally, and really enjoying it.  I’ve started up girl’s football at the local secondary school, which mostly equates to me shouting nonsensical gibberish about proper shooting form and defensive jockeying for about an hour on Saturday mornings.  Then, Tom and I show a Bill Nye or two to interested students to get them excited about science and planets.  It’s the little things, eh?  Probably the biggest small miracle of all is the timely transfer of my counterpart to somewhere else.  A good man, he is, but a man of discretion and listening-skills, he is not.  I can check ‘getting my counterpart to stop talking’ off my list of current challenges in my Peace Corps existence.  I don’t really have a counterpart OR a supervisor now, so my position here has just gotten a whole lot less official.  It’s okay!  I’m officially not concerned about it. 

            I can barely hear myself think over the majestic shrieking of the goats right now; it must be coming to rain.  The “Silence of the Lambs” has taken on an entirely new meaning for me, since moving to Uganda.  Speaking of goats, I went on another safari in the middle of the work week with my visitors on Tuesday, and we did a game park tour and boat launch to see the falls.  This second tour was a good one, college campus squirrel-amounts of giraffes, elephants, warthogs, antelope-type thingies, monkeys, etc.  The only notable difference was our vehicle breaking down in the middle of the safari, and being suddenly in the middle of the savannah for a few hot hours.  Not an unusual thing to happen whilst on safari here.  Then, the spotting of a python, for which our ranger stopped the vehicle and forced us all to get out and get a good look at.  This python was gigantic, just like it sounds a python should be, and instead of letting us peacefully look at it, our ranger started kicking it to evince a response, and when that was not enough, physically pulled the snake by its tail until he had the entire writhing snake dangling its 6 feet of length in the air.  This was not received well, neither by the snake or by us.  When the snake was dropped back down, it snarled or hissed, and sprint-slithered after a few of us in a fit of reasonable anger, before disappearing somewhere into the bush.  Our dependable ranger then said, “It’s okay!  Pythons are not poisonous!  They rather will strangle you to death! Ha! Ha!  That was so COOL!”  I guess rangers in America are pretty different from rangers in Uganda. 

            In other news, Tom has shaved off his mustache, so that he no longer looks like the Count of Monte Cristo, not that this would ever be recognized by anyone in our village, besides our student Christopher who ‘fears beards.’  And, several days ago, I was reported to be ‘getting quite fat!’ by fellow teachers, after which I turned the compliment back on them.  I love living in a country where too-nice-contests revolve around rebounding “No, YOU look fat!” off of each other in an endless loop of porky-politeness. 

            I had originally written a long rant about the recent and abrupt decline in Obama-fever and fervor over here…but decided against it.  I think everyone knows or has at least heard about the general atmosphere over here regarding gay rights and gay marriage.  But, I don’t want to paint Uganda in a negative way, just because of some of its less than desirable politics that were heavily influenced by our evangelical missionaries to begin with… Most people already only know of Uganda because of Idi Amin, child soldiers, and the massive human rights violations concerning the LGBT community.  I want this blog to show you the lovely, everyday wonders found in village life, where I live a peaceful life amongst the friendliest people on earth.  I don’t want to repeat the angry headlines that everyone can read in America.  It IS hard to be around people who will not think outside of the context of the church, but hey, I’m here to experience a different culture and way of thinking, right?  

Love and LIons,