Elections came and went, shrouded by an air of ominous peacefulness despite protests of rigging. Museveni won the presidency and although some people were upset, most slipped into a tacit acceptance of the results.
I spent the entirety of stand fast on the cusp of two different worlds. I woke up every day with a stinging sense of nostalgia – a result of painfully ordinary dreams of family and friends back in America – but then I spent my days holding back tears as my teachers asked me how can it be that you are going in a year? You just arrived yesterday. I was overwhelmed by the love I felt in a place that no longer felt foreign but there was an emptiness that haunted me at night. Every day was a battle between things I missed – the chill of a winter morning, drinking tea with my sisters as the sun dips below, crying from laughing over drinks at a restaurant, friends who knew me better than I knew myself, the soft melody of my mom’s humming – and things I was going to miss – the sway and rustle of matooke trees, the fragrance of tea plantations, the soft melody of Gladys’ humming on quiet Saturday mornings, the joyous expressions on my pupils’ faces when I enter the classroom. I missed being called Tarin, my Bengali pet name, in a way that I knew I’d miss being called Amooti, my Rutooro pet name. I couldn’t stop thinking about how difficult it was going to be to leave but at the same time, I looked forward to arriving. I was a mess of emotions.
Eventually, pupils started filling the seats of the empty classrooms and I was brought back to my current reality. My dreams transformed from that of American comforts to those of latrines under construction, empty bookshelves, a full heart and work that needed to be finished.
There is a boy in my class who was diagnosed with HIV last year. He asks why me. I don’t have any answers. He tries to kill himself over the holidays with rat poison. My heart breaks into tiny glass pieces. We plan an intervention. We let him know that we are here and that we care. We take him to the clinic to get ARVs.
He wears a look of seriousness atypical of an 11 year old. In class, he hides his smile behind his hands but not before I catch a glimpse of the transformation. His smile tells a story with an alternate ending. So I chase that smile.
I am high. I am lying on a dock watching a sky full of cotton clouds pass by. They transform into different shapes – a private show just for me. The world changes every time I blink. I laugh, amused at the characters that decorate the sky. I listen to the birds in the nearby forest; their melodious speech a sharp contrast to the grunts of monkeys that occasionally pierce the air. The sky darkens ever so slightly as a cloud greets the sun and I am thankful for the brief respite. A breeze gently sweeps across my bikini-clad body, bringing with it a pink dragonfly. I sit up. Dots of purple and pink decorate the blue-green lake in front of me. I am mesmerized by the way the dragonflies kiss the water. I close my eyes and let my face meet the sun. My hair sways and I can feel the tiny droplets of sweat on my skin reluctantly release their grasp. I reach behind me and open the clasp on my top. A glow appears on my chest and it takes over my every being. I am swept up in the warm embrace of the sun and the wind and I am euphoric.
What I’m Up To This Term
- SFS. I am a co-director of this year’s Student-Friendly Schools Conference. The SFS Conference is a two day workshop that is mandatory for all new education volunteers and their school counterparts. It covers topics like gender-based violence, corporal punishment and promotes positive discipline and gender equity in schools. Although corporal punishment is illegal in Uganda, many schools still practice this antiquated form of punishment as a means of discipline. Caning is so embedded into the culture that many educators find it hard to move away from it. The purpose of the conference is to show educators how harmful and, ultimately, ineffective corporal punishment is to pupils. We want educators to understand the effect they have in the lives of the pupils they teach and encourage them to be good role models. Another aim of the SFS Conference is to dismantle harmful gender stereotypes to create a more inclusive and friendly environment for the girl child. Although this is the third consecutive year of the SFS Conference, we have completely changed the structure and content of the sessions. Emery (the other director) and I even wrote a book for the conference that will be printed on grain sacks and distributed to schools all over Uganda! The SFS Conference is in May.
- RUMPs. A few months ago, I applied for a grant that would allow my counterpart and me to conduct a school workshop to teach girls how to make Reusable Menstrual Pads. The grant was approved recently and I am SO excited to begin a project that I’ve wanted to do since I came to Uganda. The thought of girls missing school and, sometimes, dropping out because of something as natural and beautiful as menstruation is unbelievable but unfortunately, it’s the reality here. I am also going to add a sexual health portion to the workshop. I want my girls to leave feeling empowered by their bodies, not weakened.
- Library! The day that I can take “library development” off my “What I’m Up To” list is going to be one of the happiest days of my life. The good news is that I’ve cleaned rat poop off of/organized/catalogued about 1,600 books so far and even though I have about 1,600 books left to work on, I have a helper this term! I’m hoping to have the library finished and ready for use by the middle of Term 2, which is in June/July. Also, I received some money from a Peace Corps grant to build bookshelves. Somedays (like today), I look out at the sea of books and get really overwhelmed thinking about all the work I still have left to do (like figuring out where the heck books about dinosaurs fit in the nonfiction section. Science? History? Nature? Animals?). Then, I take a deep breath and imagine how awesome this place is going to look when I’m done, how excited/proud the kids are going to be and how CLOSE I am to that goal. Whooosaaahh.
- YTT. I agreed to be a trainer for this year’s Youth Technical Training. I was an attendee last year with my counterpart and 2 pupils from my school and it was very enjoyable for everyone involved. The training focused on youth-adult partnerships across different sectors (health, education, agriculture). It promoted youth leadership and peer education. The conference is in April and I will be facilitating sessions on “gender” with my head teacher!
- Co-teaching. I have a new batch of P4 pupils this year, which is fun and exciting.
- Overseeing latrine construction. Construction was supposed to finish in the beginning of March but, as always, things come up (or, in this case, come down)…like rain. The good news is that one of the blocks of latrines will be finished next week! In the meantime, pupils have been using the stalls in the old latrines that are still functional.