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,