Friday, May 23, 2008

Rock Star Treatment

Wow, the response to my year reflection has been really good! Webale kusiima banange! That's the pretentious Wes using local languange to thank you for appreciating my work. It's great to hear that some many people are reading my stuff and thinking I'm funny/insightful/awesome, whatever. Don't be shy with the sarcastic comments, i love em.

So (i start off a lot with "so" i've noticed) i've mentioned in earlier posts that I was a "rockstar" of the taxi system. We'll do to a bunch of turnovers and my unwillingness to put on a comedy show for taxi patrons, that is no longer true. There are guys who know me and we get along, but most of the time I just sit there and will the taxi not to break down, run out of gas, or stop a thousand times to run shady deals on the side of the road. However, I've become a minor rockstar on the village path circuit. Now that I have a bike, I've riding around the area and now people are more familiar with me. I move around and people are yelling greetings to me from the fields, some calling me by my local name. I feel like a politician or Brad Pitt or something moving around the area smiling and waving. I'll have to stop and kiss some babies, but that's kinda wierd here so maybe i won't! For the kids that still call me Muzungu, I stop, greet them in local language and tell them my name is Kampanya. This usually goes over well and I don't mind if people yells my name from a distance, it's kinda flattering. Some people put on headphones to drown out the noise and I'm sure I'll do that eventually, but for now, I like the rock star status!

So we're picking up the nets on Tuesday and are looking to distribute on the 4th and 5th. On the last distribution, which will be Kakoro Parish, the biggest on and the one my house lies in, we'll be inviting a bunch of District and Government peeps as well as PC staff. It's sure to be a long and stressful, yet rewarding day to finally finish with these nets and cover almost everyone in a political geographic area. There's about 25,000 people in Kakoro Sub County and almost every home will have enough to protect their most vulnerable. So so so so so cool!

In other news, there seems to be big leafs growing in my garden that I assume are some sort of squash or pumpkin. Every other sort of growth looks very weak and may not yield the results that I want (ie FOOD). One of my hens gave birth to 6 chicks (did i mention this already?) and I'm looking forward to eating them someday! I didn't get the "improved cocks" cause apparently the guy who tends my chickens already has 3...once again, hold the jokes! Ok, all for now. Going to Kampala next week for nets and my one year medical checkup. Hope I don't have some crazy disease...or any disease really!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pacing to Top 40 Hits

Ok, now that I poured out my heart on the internet, I'll tell you a little about what life is like in Casa De Wes. Well, it's a lot of fun, I'll tell you that! Especially if you like Top 40 R & B hits from both America and Africa and enjoy watching me pace around my house and talk to lizards. Am I crazy?? Possibly. But I have fun and don't judge me! Ok, you can judge. I think I'm talking to myself...

Ok, but seriously folks, the national pop music station is one of my best friends here. Sounds pathetic, but it's not. Some people write, others read books, some go running, while others garden. Me? I listen to music. That's what de-stresses me and keeps me company when I'm alone in my house in the middle of nowhere. Now a lot of people listen to music, but not to one radio station religiously. I think I do this because 1, it keeps me company and breaks the silence, and 2, I've always been a radio guy. Even in America, I rarely listened to CD's or recorded music. It was all pop radio, all the time. The radio here provides entertainment and comfort. Most songs are not really deep or inspiring, but they are upbeat, fun, and catchy. Yeah, Akon isn't exactly Mozart, but he keeps my stress down and my nights filled with entertainment.

So what am I doing while I'm listening to music? Just staring at the wall watching lizards fight? Well...sometimes! Mostly what I do, which by the way is really annoying to my friends, is pace around my house from room to room. I do this under the guise of cleaning, but after a couple of hours, i often stop, look around, and realize that my house is still a mess. "What have you been doing all this time?" my friends ask. Well, I'll tell you! I've been moving things around from one surface to another and doing small, incomplete tasks that over enough time (about 3 hours i've calculated), add up to real results. This pacing exercise provides much needed exercise and I'm often exausted after "finishing". Of course I could totally be more efficient in my tasking, like, maybe completing one task before starting another, but that'd just be a crazy waste of time! :) Oh, and there's always a lot of Crystal Lite drinking involved (and the time consuming trips to the latrine that follow). So, with all this obsessive, ADD cleaning, is my house spotless? NO! Somehow I manage to turn it into a war zone in no time. But it's not really dirty, it's just "cluttered" as my friend Jessica says.

That about sums up life in my home. Oh, things are growing in my garden that look awfully like they could produce food at some point (ie, they don't look like grass). And my chicken had 6 babies, 3 didn't make for some reason. I didn't fully understand the explanation from the guy tending them for me. And I saw a lady make peanut butter! And the baby of her female goat named "Beef" is going to be named after me!!...maybe I am going a little crazy...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

1 year better

I made it! Saturday, May 10 was my official 1-year anniversary for being a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Kakoro, Uganda. I arrived in country March 5th, 2007 as a trainee (PCT) and was sworn in as a PCV in May. I decided that to commemorate my full year as a PCV, I would reflect a little about what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed, and how I now see the status, problems, and solutions in my small part of Africa.

Overall, this has been the best year of my life. I have grown more as a person than even the idealistic stereotype of “going to Africa to find myself” could ever imagine. I’d say about 75% of the change has been for the better. Though I’m more confident, assertive, and creative than I was before, I am also more detached and unsympathetic than I was in America. What created these changes was being thrown into the village with thoughts of either saving/helping/teaching everyone, or doing absolutely nothing. What has manifested itself is a feeling of being able to do a lot of things, but not without limits, difficulties, and anger inducing situations. I realize the obvious that I can’t save everyone, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a flood of emotions related that manifest itself in a negative manner. Every time someone blatantly asks you for something for nothing or is unappreciative of your work and the difficulties involved in everyday tasks of just living in a foreign environment as an outsider, it wears you down just a little bit. You start to get a little bitter and sometimes turn the tables around a little. Less “oh, poor African living in poverty”, to “stop complaining and relying on the West, go to school, and demand more of your government.” “Stop accepting that things are bad and do what you can to make it better.” Every time someone says “you assist me” or “bring me to America” I think: stop trying to run from your country and stay and fight for change! Then, just when you’re almost super bitter and ready to say, “to hell with you Africa, deal with your own problems”, some amazing, positive things happen that make you want to fight even harder to help people out. For every person that is greedy, selfish, and rude, there are 10 that are completely selfless and wonderful people who care about the well being of others. For every “Muzungu, you give me my money”, there are 5 people who supporting 6 orphans and 3 widows with no money and never ask you for a shilling (specifically 2 woman I know). For every corrupt community based group that’s stealing money from their beneficiaries, there is one that is making change happen with literally NO resources except for what they create internally. For every person who has 3 wives and 25 children, there are 100 waiting for marriage and making smart reproductive decisions. For every person wanting something from me, there are thousands willing open their homes and feed me just because I’m a visitor and they are good people. There is a lot of hope for things to get better and when there is change it looks and feels really good. When you see people who have nothing then get something whether it’s a mosquito net or a goat or even the knowledge of how to do a new skill, you realize what you role is here and how you can help.

They say that the Peace Corps is full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. It forces you to deal with things you never imagined you’d have to and opens you to the possibility of accomplishment that defies odd and expectations. I just got a call yesterday from my mother saying that the Against Malaria Foundation had 4,700 more mosquito nets for us in Kampala so that we can complete our distribution in Kakoro Sub County. I literally danced around my house with a huge grin on my face like I was in some cheesy romantic comedy with Hugh Grant. The flip side is the days that are just plain bad. When you don’t get enough sleep and then there proceeds to be a series of small things that add up to a really crappy day. Sometimes they are personal like unwanted attention coupled with unreliable transport, stagnant work only to come home to no power and water and remembering that in your funk, you forgot to buy food and there’s not exactly a Safeway nearby. Then there are the days when the conditions around you really affect you. When you see people’s primary food and income source destroyed by hailstones in one hour. When a small kid in tattered clothes asks you for 100 shillings and you say no because you can’t give people the impression that you’re just a money source and should be self-reliant but then you feel like crap because you totally can afford to give out what’s equivalent to a nickel, the kid could obviously benefit, and you can always say no to others. There is this guilt that I think lingers the entire time that we’re here. When we sit in our houses that are extravagant for village standards and watch movies on our laptops, it’s hard not to feel bad when literally next door people are really suffering. I can’t save or help everyone and that bothers the daylights out of me. It’s really hard to help one kid or one family, because there are too many and I don’t have the money or skills to do it properly. What I try to do to counteract that is to help as many community based organizations that I can so that they can help their beneficiaries on a long-term basis. There are a few individuals that you connect with and they end up benefiting from knowing you, and then you’re like “why does this person deserve more just cause he’s nice to me,” then it’s “well, is that why everyone is nice to me? Just to get something from me??”

You may be reading this trying to make conclusions to tell people that “Wes is having a hard time” or “Wes just likes to complain a lot” or “Wes is having an easy time” or “Wes loves it there”. You’d all be right but the lesson is that my biggest fear is that people will make assumptions about everything that has to do with me being here based on a couple of lines in my blog or some phone conversations or rumor. Whether it be me, my village, or Uganda and it’s people, it’s impossible and slightly irresponsible to sum it up with one phrase. My parents put it best when they got here. They said that they had talked to me a lot on the phone, seen pictures I took, heard my stories, and did research on the country, but until they actually saw and lived it, they have no idea what it was like. I see short term volunteers in country all the time and I think “sorry dude, no way you’re going to get the whole experience in 2 months.”

“So Wes, how’s Africa?”

“It’s everything.”

As far as work goes, I’ve been really luckily. The situation I’m in is perfect for me and allows me the structure and flexibility I need to be productive. I have a great supervisor, a young and energetic organization, and a lot of support from both the community here and people back home. Other volunteers have it hard because their organizations don’t fit with them or don’t have the kind of work they want to do. I’ve been happy with all the work I’ve done and there’s plenty more to do. Though there’s plenty of time to relax and read a book or watch a movie, there’s always work to do and for that I’m happy.

I’m now comfortable moving around the country and my awkwardness level is at record lows. You get over the fact that you don’t always understand what’s going on and just have fun with it. I’m always cracking jokes and have found a style of humor that crosses cultures. People have described me as “a jolly man” and I take a lot of pride in that. For the times that I vent and flip out, there’s the 90% of the time that people see me smiling or joking or at least playfully challenging someone for being “stubborn” or “lying me.” I’ve mentioned before that I take great pleasure in the ridiculous such as novelty items sold at markets. I brag about my hologram belt that has Michael Jordan and Tupac’s picture on it. I have a goofy shirt that says “CAUTION! Heartthrob.” I rely on fun things and other volunteers for sanity and support. I have a great corps of friends near by that I get along with famously. My comedy skills are at epic proportions (as well as my ego!) and I might go on a stand-up tour when I get back.

So to sum up, like I didn’t want you to do: I’m doing great and having a good time. HOWEVER, there are many many challenges and I’m forced to make tough moral and strategic decisions on a daily basis. 1 year in, this has truly been an “opportunity of a lifetime” that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The days when I say “man, I love it in Africa” far outweigh the days when I don’t. Take care and stay tuned to my close of service thoughts and feelings. -end of heartfelt comments-

Monday, May 12, 2008


So on saturday, I had a very successful, very tasty BBQ at my house in the village. It was the first party i've thrown and people were really happy with the results. Combined with the pork collection efforts of my friend Brad, we cooked up about 6 kilos of pork (including ribs), a pack of sausages and tons of veggies and pineapple! The food was amazing and all 10 or so of my guests ate a ton of meat. This was the first time i'd bought pork in the village and was very successful. I now know where the guy is and can go back in the future. The image of flesh hanging from a hook or just sitting on banana leaves with flies all over it doesn't bother me anymore. It's no longer intimidating either. I still have to fight being overcharged, but now that I know the relative price, i can manage. The meat was marinaded in this Jamaican Jerk marinade that someone sent me as well as a ton of spices and other stuff. I was great to have an American style BBQ out in the village on my 1-year anniversary as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. I'll post another blog reflecting on my 1-year of service and the year to come.

All for now, just wanted you to know I'm eating well...sometime! Take care and check out my new photos (finally!).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Villager Wes

As time goes on, I'm becoming more and more comfortable in the village. It's still hard being stared at all the time and seeing the extreme poverty, but it's so nice how peaceful and quiet it is. I've started trying to become more acquainted with life out in the village and so far am doing a decent job and having a lot of fun. First of all, i got a new bike. A basic, 60's style bike called a Jupiter. It's a fixed-gear bike and the kind that everyone has and can easily be repaired by any village mechanic. I used to have a mountain bike, but due to the fact that I'm totally inept with mechanical things, once it broke, it became my friend Jessica's toilet paper holder. Now I'm not reliant on the horrible public transportation and can really explore all the back roads (which is most of them). Having a basic bike gives the people the impression that I'm trying to live like them and not a rich Muzungu. Now if only I didn't sweat so much...

Second course of action was to dig up my yard and plant some stuff. That was hard, but fun and it looks like stuff is growing, as is all the grass that I hoe'ed up! Not quite sure exactly what I planted, because of course I didn't write it down or make a map. We'll see what happens. It'll be like Christmas, never knowing what the gift will be! Hopefully I planted a beef jerky tree...

The third and coolest village like activity I've done, is to start growing chickens! I got 2 from my friend Derek and 1 started laying 2 days later. She's now sitting on 9 eggs and I'll soon have 11 chickens! I think that's pretty awesome considering I've never owned any poultry and it'll be cool to be able to get fresh chicken when I want. Of course the whole killing and cleaning part isn't fun, but it really makes you appreciate your food. I'm not around enough to tend them and I don't really have any close neighbors, so I'm keeping them at the home of one of my organization's staff members. He's agreed to tend them and in the future, I'll let him keep some of them. I'm planning on buying an "improved cock", hold the jokes, to help out my chickens as well as the neighbors. An "improved cock" is a larger, stronger one that helps produce offspring that grow quicker and lay more. Now really hold back on the jokes! They are pretty expensive for the average villager (about $5-10), but not a big deal to me. He will of course make his way around the neighborhood and help out the production of other people's chickens. I'm hoping to have some big, fat chickens ready for eating in the fall when my friends visit.