The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

May 29, 2010

All Eyes on Me

It's weird to be a celebrity.

On the one hand, always being at the center of attention encourages a kind of cocky self-confidence. It's not so much arrogance as it is a healthy, jovial, devil-may-care attitude that comes with feeling important. I step into a bar and suddenly the reggaeton music videos on TV are no longer the most interesting thing in the room. Heads turn, and hands reach out to shake my comparatively albino ones. A spot just for me magically opens up between the men on the bench; I grab an Eagle (my brew of choice) and sit down in it. I find myself in five simultaneous conversations in three languages. Some guy offers me his daughter. Another wants to show me his dance moves. A third asks me to buy him a drink. No, Jean Pierre, even though the house waragi is only 600 shillings, (a) despite being white, I'm broke, (b) you're wasted, and (c) didn't that stuff blind like 30 people in Kabale last month?

Living centerstage promotes self-confidence, but also self-consciousness. This is especially true when your appearance is the primary reason why you're the focus of attention in the first place. Let me put things in perspective: I haven't seen a single other white person in three weeks. And that was when I visited my PCV friends in Fort Portal. When I walk down the street, people look at me like I'm some kind of exotic animal, certainly not one of their own species. Every move I make is subject to the scrutiny of every single person that sees me. If I go on a run, or bike to the market, my friend Jotherm will know about it within two hours, because the women selling tomatoes on the corner (his spies, no doubt) will tell him. When you stick out as much as I do, you simply cannot live in anonymity. It doesn't matter what I'm doing; whether I'm gnawing on sugarcane or reading Mark Twain's Roughing It on the front porch, a group of little kids will be staring with rapt attention, curious if that alien lifeform chews his 'cane the same as them. This is uncomfortable and makes way me more conscious of my appearance and actions than I'd like to be.

At times, I hide in my house for hours to escape the eyes. I watch Six Feet Under with headphones, cook with my doors shut and locked, or listen to the BBC World Service on shortwave until the top news headlines have been repeated thrice. But inevitably, these activities become lonely and I have to go out for some human contact, even if it means being watched.

Forget teaching physics to a class of 120, dodging potholes on my bike in the pitch-black darkness of night, the mosquitoes, the long, sweaty taxi rides, and the monotonous Ugandan cuisine. Not being able to to live a private life remains the biggest challenge I've faced during my service. If you've ever been famous, you'll know what I'm talking about.

May 17, 2010


Ten weeks of being trapped in training gave all of us a bit of cage rage.
Especially Devon.

Surreal landscapes often accompany the storm clouds. This was at RACO, our training site.

Creeper 'stache #1 (Jake, on the bus to swear-ing in).

Creeper 'stache #2 (Tony, at the ambassador's house).

The ladies of Peace Corps/Uganda April 2010-2012. The picture of the guys is on
someone else's camera.

The Runyoro-Rutooro crew, right after swearing-in.

My house, seen from the street. Normally, these kinds of spaces are used as shop stalls,
so when I moved in, people were always entering unannounced, perhaps to find out
what I was selling. I had to post a sign that reads, "Enu teri dukka. Eri enju yange.
Caali otataahamu otaikirizibwe." ("This is not a store. It is my house. Please
don't enter without permission.")

The view out my front door.
Taking a few steps backwards, this is the first room in my house, which I use as
a kitchen and living room. I have since put a reed mat on the concrete floor and
am currently getting a small wicker sofa made to lounge in. I'm also going to
find a carpenter to make me a high table to use as a countertop so I don't
have to keep cooking on the dirty floor.

The same room, but seen from through the front door. On the desk you can see the
most important thing I purchased after I found out that my house has electricity:
a speaker set with a subwoofer. Sometimes you just have to drown out the incessant,
aurally abrasive Ugandan "island" music,

Walking through the doorway in the previous photo, you enter my bedroom. On the
left is my Mickey Mouse wardrobe, graciously supplied to me by Kiziranfumbi
Secondary School. Not exactly what I would have picked, but it gets the job done.
In any case, it's better than storing my clothing under the bed (center), among the
sawdust piles created by my bedmates, the termites. On the right is the drying rack
I use for my underwear. In Uganda, it's rude to dry your undies outside.

My back door leads to a small courtyard. The two black cylinders in the back
are rain collection tanks. They supply the water I use to brush my teeth, bathe,
and wash my dishes and laundry.

If you cross the courtyard, you get to the shop complex's bathing area and pit
latrines. I get my own personal, locked bathing area and pit latrine as per
Peace Corps/Uganda's requirements. This is my bathing area. Right now I take
bucket baths using that red basin and water from the orange bucket. However,
I've stuck a faucet in the green 20-liter jerrycan and once I figure out a good way
to suspend it, I'll be able to fill the jerrycan with hot water (from my stove) and
take an actual hot shower!

Ahh, my pit latrine. If only that little hole were just a wee bit bigger. I mean, three
months of living here has made me into a solid waste sharpshooter, but when it comes
to the yellow stuff, that's a hard target to hit from a standing position. Presumably they
make the holes small to prevent infants from inadvertently taking Slumdog Millionaire-
style poo dives.

The main building of Kiziranfumbi Secondary School, my workplace.

A feeble attempt to fight the student body's biological programming. These kinds of
signs are a common feature of Ugandan school compounds.

Try as we might, Peter, Theresa, and I could not get this gut in Hoima to leave us
alone. Oh well, at least he bought us beer.

With a cackle, Peter lovingly smothers Theresa. Peter is another PCV and Theresa
is a German volunteer.

The road to Butimba market, which I bike to every week, is filled with scenes like this... this...

...and baboons!

Sunset street scene by the market. If you climb those hills in the background, you
can see across Lake Albert to the Montagnes Bleues in the Democratic Republic of
Congo, forbidden fruit for PCVs.

"Yo, man, it's spelled 'm-a-r-k-e-t.'"
"Nawwww, it's definitely 'm-a-r-k-e-r-t.'"
"Let's compromise. You do yours with an extra 'R' and I'll do mine without it."
"Find, if you want everyone to know your dumb ass can't spell!"

Silly Ugandans. Arrrs are for pirates.