Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sometimes it's time to grow, and sometimes it's time to go.

 I’m officially a returned peace corps volunteer!  Flying above the clouds at 33,000 feet back to America for the first time in 2 years with a nimble laptop at my fingertips and a airplane meal in my belly…it’s quite easy to wax nostalgic.  Am I returning bright cheeked and with a new brisk confident hitch in my step? You’d have to ask me tomorrow.  At this point, I’m returning with wildly inappropriate clothing for a Minnesotan winter and a child-like sense of fear and wonder at what lies ahead.  My journey alone has been bewildering…starting in a dusty African village, then to the urban beauty and elegance of the fancy parts of Kampala, to Kenya airport, to Brussels airport…
I’ve seen a drinking fountain, a starbucks, a whole lot of scandalous outfits (seriously who travels in miniskirts and high heels???) and have said one of the hardest goodbyes of my life. 

I’ve got to get my stock-sentence-long reply ready for when people ask me “how it was.”  Luckily, I have more than a few kindred heart spirits who I can talk to straight from my heart.  But, I’m not an eloquent person, at least not verbally or spontaneously, so it’s something to think about. 

I have no idea how much I have changed.  Up here in the clouds I can make up all sorts of previously-absent noble traits I’ve developed from living with villagers in Africa.  Mostly though, it’s the physical ones that are easy: my hair is a bit blonder, I have dust permanently etched onto my skin, and I walk a lot slower.  Am I less impatient?  More easy going?  Friendlier?  I think like most people on earth, it just depends on the day and the situation.  At least I can say that I may now be more accommodating for my own shortcomings.  Living under conditions of hardship (relative, of course) and stress can bring out previously undreamt versions and sides of yourself, and I want to accept those parts of me, too.  I’m a person who can potentially ignore hungry children who come up to ask me for food. I can say no to an old man asking me for the equivalent of 1 US cent.  Yeah, it’s not pretty on paper, but it’s a part of my experience that I’ll probably remember alongside my montage of pretty moments and accomplishments.  

I’m proud of myself.  If you have done the math, you may realize that I elected to leave a few months before my official close of service date.  Big deal? Not really.  It’s all how you look at it.  I’m still a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and have completed just about 2 years of service.  I left early, not because of something traumatic, but because it made sense.  As of December, us education volunteers were finished with our school year, and had 2 months of vacation until the new school term started.  The thing is, school terms don’t actually start in early February, because there is testing, absenteeism, and ‘slowly-slowly’ mentality.  School may start trucking around March, which is when I would be leaving anyway.  I elected to leave because having my last 4 months in country be idle and potentially mentally-contusive seemed unfortunate.  I wanted to end on a good note, and I’m also not the type of volunteer who will make up for boredom and idleness by drinking or traveling a lot.  I wanted to get home, to start a new chapter, and to start working with refugees and immigrants state-side.  Also, did I mention that Peace Corps is really emotionally hard? So, I left a bit early, but on good terms with the administration, and don’t really see the difference.  I’m proud because I got over my stupid American stubbornness with regards to “seeing something out” even if it comes at extremely negative consequences for you and others around you.  I’d be serving myself (and others) better at this point if I recognized that, yes, I won’t be doing anything the next 4 months, so might be better to pack it up.  I actually listened to myself.  After all, sometimes it’s times to grow, and sometimes it’s time to go.  And, Uganda HAS made me grow.  In all sorts of strange ways.  I’ve done my service, made some incredible friendships, done some work, sweated my face off everyday, and read some books with kids. Success? Yes please.  I'll never forget Uganda and the lovely people.  It would be impossible to even consider otherwise. More on this later, I'm sure, when I've had time to reflect. This is all happening so fast.

Any PCVs reading this will understand when I voice my concern over my potential future behavior in America…I may keep on littering “it’s okay!”, “sorry!” and “yes please” all over the place.  I will most likely see any ride in a vehicle in which I am not sitting on someone else, with a goat on my lap, flying over potholes with 10 people squeezed into 4 seats, as a goddamn miracle.  I will most likely ask people how their families are when they aren’t even acknowledging me.  And I don’t think Ill be able to stop dressing in village clothing cold turkey.  I like that I lived in a place where a grown man wearing a bonnet and cardigan (and who is not being ironic) is an acceptable occurrence. Many fellow PCVs have truly taken to this laxity in appearance and clothing.  My favorite example is my friend Kirk who is most commonly seen in: a spongebob squarepants shirt, a red doo-rag, a dollar sign baseball cap, and black socks with hiking boots.  It’s okay. 

So, please excuse my initial awkwardness.  I haven’t been to bars, am not used to hanging out with groups of Americans, and have spent most of my time sitting outside, drinking tea, and watching animals interact with each other for 2 years.  I don’t know anything about current politics, gadgets, trends in the market, or Korean pop singers.  I can’t handle more than 1 beer at a time, and I will talk about an interesting bowel movement for far longer than it is appropriate or tasteful.  

I’m still in the air, and I’m getting more and more excited to touch down in America.  I’m not sure how the whole frigid-winter thing is going to go for me, but I have high hopes.  Mostly, I can’t wait to see family and friends and walk around without getting stared at.

Thanks to all of you for coming along with me for this journey and being so supportive.  I’m ready for the next adventure. (And this is NOT the end of this blog.  I tend to think that my experience in America will be just as thought-provoking and ridiculous).

Here’s my description of service:


Ilse Griffin Peace Corps Uganda

After a competitive process stressing applicant skills, adaptability and cross-cultural understanding, Ms. Ilse Griffin was invited into Peace Corps Service.  As part of the language and cross-cultural component of the training program, Ilse lived with a Ugandan family in Lweza for approximately ten weeks and was made to feel welcome and at home.  This home stay assisted Ilse in adapting to Ugandan culture and acquiring local language abilities, thus facilitating the transition into her service in 2011.

Ms. Ilse Griffin began Peace Corps training on February 11, 2011, at the training site in Lweza, Uganda, where she completed an intensive ten week training program encompassing the following subject areas:

Cross-cultural Orientation:       Sessions on the Ugandan people including traditional customs, politics, geography, social values and norms, history, health, and gender roles (40 hours)

Technical:                                A general introduction to the education system in Uganda; a specific introduction to the secondary school system; training in community mobilization, observation and feedback skills; and teaching practice in 3 schools (167.5 hours)

Language:                                Study of the Lugbara language (82.5 hours)
Ms. Ilse Griffin passed her ACTFL exam at the Intermediate Low level.

Medical:                                   Training in first aid, tropical and preventive medicine, and stress management (20 hours)

Safety and Security:                 Training in personal and road safety issues (8 hours)

Ms. Ilse Griffin entered into Peace Corps service on April 21, 2011 and was assigned to Endru Coordinating Centre in Arua District, through the Ministry of Education and Sports.

As a primary school teacher trainer, Ms. Ilse Griffin served within the Ugandan educational system, assigned to the local Primary Teachers’ College, as an outreach coordinating tutor serving in a rural community outside of Arua, sher helped provide training and support for teachers and administration in areas such as literacy, life skills, and student-centred teaching methods.  Ms. Ilse Griffin and her Ministry of Education counterpart were responsible for planning and carrying out workshops and professional development for the teachers in the school catchment area, and also for providing support and guidance to head teachers.  Their duties included lesson planning, developing instructional materials for learning and teaching, supervising teachers, and hosting workshops for their colleagues (teachers) in order to improve teaching methods and learning environments. Ms. Ilse Griffin carried out the following activities during her/his Peace Corps service:

CCT Duties
  • Facilitated workshops alongside counterpart. Topics include new Primary 5 curriculum roll-out, student-centred teaching methods, special needs education, alternatives to corporal punishment, teacher professionalism. 
  • Taught classes alongside primary school teachers. Subjects included English and life skills.
  • Helped develop, create, and encourage the use of learning aids for primary school teachers
  • Encouraged and assisted in organization of primary school libraries
  • Encouraged girl education by coaching girl’s football at primary schools
  • Taught literacy to Primary 7 students.
  • Encouraged literacy through extracurricular activities such as the implementation of pen-pal programs, reading clubs, poetry contests, essays contests, and spelling bees in the catchment area.
  • Counseled teachers on alternative methods to corporal punishment and the benefits of student encouragement.

Life Skills
  • Emphasized the importance of sexual health including limiting one’s sexual partners, getting tested for STDs, STIs, and HIV, using protection, and practicing abstinence.
  • Counseled girls on the importance of staying in school and delaying early pregnancy and marriage.
  • Introduced reusable menstrual pads in a Women’s Day Celebration for both primary and secondary school girls.
  • Started a drama/life skills club at the secondary school, that met for three sessions.
  • Taught weekly life skills classes to Primary 6 and 7 students alongside a Ugandan co-teacher
  • Used football (soccer) as a tool to teach life skills through a weekly intervention program called “Grassroots SKILLZ soccer” at both the primary and secondary level, with the parish priest as a counterpart.

Other Projects
·         Counselor at 2012 northern Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).  Worked with girls ages 15-18 for a week-long girls’ empowerment camp with emphasis on life skills, healthy living, creativity, leadership, and decision making.
·         Counselor at 2012 Girltech camp.  Worked with girls in senior 1-senior 3 who demonstrated interest or talent in the sciences. 
·         Coached primary boys’ soccer and introduced primary and secondary girls to football.
·         Planned and directed a Women’s Day Event at the local secondary school for primary and secondary school girls.  The event included life skills, RUMPS, yoga, and banner creation.
·         Team-taught English for senior 2 students at the local secondary school, and mostly assisted with devising student- centered activities in the classroom.
·         Started a female adult literacy program in community with the parish priest as a counterpart.  The group consists of three separate parish-sized literacy circles composed of 30 women.  Three women were selected to be the Community Literacy Facilitators and the program focuses on teaching functional literacy. These groups are flourishing and have started income-generating activities.
·         Planned a training for the female adult learners in the community by inviting fellows PCVs to come facilitate sessions.  Sessions included hygiene, nutrition, tippy-tap making, and entrepreneurial skills.
·         Held individual tutoring sessions during the weekend for students interested in improving their reading comprehension and English.
·         Taught literacy classes in two different schools to primary 7 students.  In these classes, focused on listening, speaking, reading and writing, and did activities such as autobiography creation and small-group reading. Invited out local musicians to speak on the importance of reading and writing in their lives, and also invited fellow PCVs to lead student-centered literacy activities such as book creation.

Cross-cultural Exchange
  • Taught primary and secondary students how to play ultimate Frisbee.
  • Hosted visitors from America.
  • Implemented pen-pal programs with three different schools.
  • Corresponded with friends and family at home to share experience and knowledge of Ugandan culture
  • Everyday discussed issues with Ugandan friends and teachers on politics, economics, and law of the U.S. encouraging a greater understanding of the differing views between what is experienced in Uganda and the United States, especially how women are viewed and treated in each culture.

Peace Corps Leadership
·         One of three editors for the Spirit of 61.

Ms. Ilse Griffin completed her service on December 14th, 2012.

This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order 11103 of April 10, 1963, that #####(name) served successfully as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  She/He is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis.  This benefit under the Executive Order extends for a period of one year after termination of Volunteer service, except that the employing agency may extend the period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities that, in the view of the appointing agency, warrant extension of the period.

Pursuant to section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act, 22 USC 2504(f), as amended, any former Volunteer employed by the United States Government following her/his Peace Corps Volunteer service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps Volunteer service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave, and other privileges based on length of Government service.  Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of the probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.


  1. Congratulations on a job well done! I have followed your blog since Aug. 2011 when my daughter, Laura at Kuluva School of Nursing, arrived in Uganda. I was desperate to learn all that she would be experiencing as a PCV, and "somehow" I stumbled upon your blog. I was delighted when she met you as I felt I already knew you. Your adventures and experiences were so interesting to read about, and your list of accomplishments during service is commendable. All the best to you in the future -- it sounds like you have plans for continued volunteer work. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

  2. Thank you so much for your comments! I really loved getting to know Laura, and I think she is doing a great job as a volunteer, and we have a really special bond because of both living in Arua. Please continue to read and leave comments, because it's really encouraging for me to hear. I already can tell, from being home for 3 days, that I'll have a LOT to write about. :)