Thursday, February 7, 2013

Comedy of Errors

Uganda gains more significance in my life, daily.  It might be from spending the last two weeks with my partner in crime and best friend from Peace Corps, and also from the awkward international skype phone calls I am attempting to get in the pattern of making.  It might just also be that the fullness of the last two years is just beginning to descend upon me.  No, I wasn't just 'away' for the last two years.  I was right in the thick of a different culture, grasping at straws, making cultural gaffes, sweating, and attempting to make connections wherever and whenever I could.  As I yell at my computer screen, hearing myself quickly revert to broken and stupid-sounding Uganglish, I do so with a huge grin on my face.  "EH, SO HOW IS THE WEATHER?" And then I hear a muffled and equally ebullient response about the rains coming back early.  After almost two months home, I'm eager to maintain these connections that I struggled so much to form in the first place.  I'm willing to talk about the rains, to gossip over the ill-fated headteacher of the secondary school, I'm more than happy to hear news of my female literacy group.  Doesn't matter what we talk about.  I don't think it ever does.  We are all just trying to transmit feelings and messages of love to each other, and our vocabulary is just too extensive.  I'm so happy to hear these voices, crackled and muffled, but somehow transmitted from the skittish Ugandan phone networks to my computer. 

There are many memories, a whole slew of them, that any normal person accumulates over several years and are lost in the sludge of a backloaded brain, that are starting to present themselves to me at unexpected times.  Two examples I'm especially fond of.  Remember the time that I got locked inside my room the first night of homestay? I could have written about that, but I don't think I had much time during training to do so.  Fact is, the afternoon I moved into my home stay family's house, I became suddenly and inexplicably (like most things) securely locked inside my modest room.  When I didn't emerge from my room for several hours, my family wasn't too concerned because they had received cross-cultural training, and heard that Americans are prone to do bizarre things like spend quiet time on their own for no apparent reason. But, when the sky started to turn dark, my poppa came to investigate and upon discovering my situation, became alarmed.  After a lot of huffing, puffing, tugging, my family outsourced and called upon other community members to assist.  Eventually, someone chopped down my door with an axe.  If that wasn't a strange experience, then I don't know what is.  This event following my bleary-eyed (us volunteers had drank and danced the night before) arrival to find my host mother and sister chopping vegetables on the stone floor of their house with a bunch of chickens wandering around.  Why hello culture shock!  How are you?  I loved my host family.  They put up with my oddities, both general American ones, and specific Ilse ones, and still loved me.  And they embraced me with such warmth and familiarity that I barely felt out of place when doing anything---even fetching water with my sister at the village river, or accompanying my host mum to the market to see where she sold her cassava.   And although I did tend to fall asleep before they had even started preparing for dinner, they overlooked these odd shortcomings and let me sleep. 

Another great memory? I can't believe I've never written about this one.  The situation: the much awaited Peace Corps visit from our supervisors.  Often a source of concern for Peace Corps Volunteers, world-wide.  On this particular visit, both Thomas and I were interviewed at his house, separately by members of staff.  After my interview was done, I lingered in the back of the house, wanting to make dinner with Tom when he was done, but also wanting to provide at least an illusion of privacy.  During Tom's interview, it started pouring.  It really never rains calmly or casually there.  It's a stop-everything-and-seek-immediate-shelter sort of rain.  When Tom and our supervisor couldn't pretend the rain wasn't affecting them anymore, they moved from the front stoop to inside the house.  Although this solved the most immediate threat of getting soaked from roof-run-off, it didn't at all solve the more basic problem of noise.  Roofs in Arua are either tin or grass-thatch.  Grass really has the leg up, because when you are under a tin-roof, the rain hitting the roof sounds like a thousand machine guns going off at the same time.  So, as I observed discreetly through the back of the house, Tom and our supervisor had gone from quiet, professional talk to yelling at each other.  Because one ridiculous things always leads to more ridiculous things, I wasn't surprised to witness the duration of the interview.  Our cat Athena, who has some sort of problem, started reacting wildly to the crazy rain, and began jumping randomly and splaying her limbs all around the living room, executing back flips and basically acting insane.  At one point, she jumped onto our supervisor's lap and tore all of this official-looking papers from his lap all over the room.  So while Athena is tearing down curtains and acting out scenes from the Exorcist, the interview goes on, and I have to hand it to our supervisor for acting like nothing weird was happening.  Completely professional.  And then, as the climax to this story, as always happens during casual tsunamis in Adumi, all of the local wildlife started seeking shelter in our house from the rains.  I watched with horror from behind the door, as our favorite goat "Noodle" tip-tapped his way into the house, completely soaked and shivering to walk right over to Tom and our supervisor and plop himself into the corner of the living room.  Like some drowned, hysterical rat.  And, Noodle wasn't content with mere shelter in a warm house.  For the entire duration of her stay in our living room, Noodle screamed her brains out, for her mother, out of rain-caused anguish, perhaps to create atmosphere for the interview itself.  "BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA", etc.  And while we are used to this sort of behavior, it was completely fascinating to see how it played out in a so-called 'professional' setting.  To be in a serious discussion with your supervisor while pushing a rabid cat off your shoulders, ignoring the wailing of a dripping-wet baby goat two feet away, and all the while shouting to be heard over the pounding rain (and aforementioned goat).  I think this was one of the points in our lives where we realized that no matter how serious we take ourselves or our lives, it really is just a comedy.  A comedy of errors and bizarre circumstances. 

So, you know, if and when I ever take myself a wee too seriously, remind me that a screaming baby goat may change my outlook a bit. 

Love and Lunchladies,


1 comment:

  1. Welcome home, Ilse. It's good to see you're "transitioning" back to life in the good ol' USA. Laura is still doing well in Kuluva, and I'm counting down the last 8 months until she's home with us again. I love reading about your adventures in Uganda -- it helps me picture the cultural challenges that Laura is probably facing, too. All the best to you! from Laura's mom