It smells like coleslaw and rain
and the moon is beautiful.
We are inside people;
the in holds us
like the sky holds the moon.
Holding until time passes.
Holding until it's safe to go out.
It smells like humidity and
charcoal and hears like
It touches like a damp towel
and bites like a fly.
It thinks like an overreaching tree.
The sun will set soon, mostly because the sun sets at the same time every day, about seven o'clock. We've been here less than two weeks but to me and to most of the people I've talked to it feels like two months.
There was so much packed into the first week of training, not to mention getting to know each other at staging, that we sort of have this artificial deepness to our relationships. We are still in the honeymoon phase of our Peace Corps service, but because we are the only other Americans we know, we are forced to depend on each other.
In the last few days we were separated into language/region groups, and it was pretty exciting. Our lead teacher trainer did a Harry Potter sorting hat thing, and we got sorted into regions. Everyone cheered when people got sorted, and we started talking about things we wanted for our houses at our sites. But when everyone was sorted, there was a deflating feeling.
We had been living all together for only a week, listening to multiple presentations about our responsibilities as volunteers, medical information, technology/phone information, transportation information, and the beginnings of teacher/education information. We had meals together, lamented the lack of hot water and varying availability of electricity together, and taken very long bus rides together. But it still had only been a week.
Now that we are separated into groups, it's obvious that some people will be around a lot less often, and the group dynamics are shifting. I'm placed in the far North of the country, which is a long bus ride down to any of the other Volunteers. People in the far Southwest have the same problem. Traveling long distances is expensive and tiring and puts you on your guard much more than normal.
And so in our minds we've begun to say goodbye to people, knowing that the last time we'll all be together after this training centre is our swearing in ceremony at the end of January.
I had a lot of notions about service before I came, but I think the one I didn't even think about was the idea that I'd have to say goodbye so early. One of our Volunteers had to go home for good today for family reasons. Our lead teacher trainer told us that no matter the group, Education or otherwise, there are always Volunteers who ET, or early terminate. It feels strange, knowing that we can say goodbye at anytime, especially because there is no chance to say it in person. Sometimes people just leave, for personal reasons, family reasons, medical reasons, basically just life reasons. And here there is no stigma, because life just happens.
I suppose the whole point of this is that I never expected to get close to people this fast, and I expect I will have the same experience when I arrive at my permanent site in January.
I know that some talk about site placement/training/scheduling is confusing and I haven't explained it fully, but that will be next time. Right now I just wanted to get this down to remember later.
Hello! So I was going to post a great and wonderful post about staging and it was going to have video and witty commentary. That may still be coming later, but the internet here is not good enough to upload video, so! I will try to paint a picture with my words.
Left Michigan on Monday flying out of Detroit, whose airport tripped me out because they had some crazy lightshow going on between terminals. Short flights, not bad. Landed in Philadelphia at about 1:30pm. Training started about an hour later after I had dumped my stuff in the room and met my roommate for the night, who was from Connecticut.
It was very obvious that we had all been in the same boat leading up to staging. Reading faces it seemed all of us had a hard time believing everyone we had been speaking with online were real people that we were now meeting. We, coming from different backgrounds and views, were now coming together to do exactly the same thing, leaving our friends and family behind. To me, it seemed like these are the people I had been wanting to find since I applied last year.
We were able to speak about anxieties and fears that we had which were shared among all of us, which may have been harder to talk about at home, since people may have wanted to talk us out of it. It was nice and felt like I could get things off my chest that I had been holding back. We also talked about the expectations PC has of us, and what we should expect as volunteers. They were things we had all heard before, but they seemed realer on the eve of our journey.
After training was done for the night, we got some walk-around money to go to dinner, and the smaller group I was with (12 or so people out of the whole group of 44) went to an Irish pub. Had a beer and some meatloaf, the ultimate comfort food, then went back to the room and crashed.
The next morning we left around 8:30 on a bus to JFK. It took about two hours and I could not sleep at all, but I figured the sleeping would come later. We traveled on a typical coach bus, with multiple luggage bays and big blue seats and and it made me think of all the other times I had traveled on a similar bus. Band trips, mostly. Each time we left on those buses there was always an understanding we'd be returning that night, or in the case of longer trips, that we'd be returning the next week. For this trip, there were different stakes. We were busing to the airport to start our job for the next two years. The people we were sitting with would become our family, more so than other groups we had been a part of.
It took about two hours to get to the terminal, and I'd never been to NYC. Driving through Times Square and the rest of the boroughs, I thought about how little I'd seen of the United States, let alone the entire world. My fellow Volunteers thought it brave that I was joining PC without having ever been overseas. For me it never felt brave or courageous, just the place for me, and the people for me, and the job for me.
We got to the terminal pretty early and none of us could figure out why, but it was definitely made clear when 44 of us had to check in, check our baggage, and get through customs. Hooray traveling in big groups! We finally got to our gate and by that point we only had an hour and a half or so until boarding. I charged my electronics in the hope of watching a lot of movies on the plane, which it turns out was completely unnecessary as Air Brussels had monitors installed in the back of the seats with a ridiculous amount of movies and TV shows and music and games. Fancy airlines, guys, fancy.
JFK to Brussels was around 7 hours, which doesn't sound bad but after maybe the 4th hour you want to be on the ground. It was also pretty hard to sleep since we were blowing through time zones so my body wasn't really sure if it was tired or not. Layover in Brussels was maybe 4 hours? And one of our party messed up with his luggage and his bags got off at Belgium, so we lost track of him for about an hour while he tracked the bags down. I was worried at first but he eventually found us. I managed to fall asleep for about half an hour while waiting for boarding, and then it was on to Africa.
We flew down past Uganda to Burundi and then back up, presumably to pick up people who didn't want to travel to the Ugandan airport. Entebbe is on Lake Victoria and if you don't want to get across the lake, it makes sense to board somewhere south of that. That flight was about 9 hours with an hour after from Burundi back up. After that flight we were all exhausted, even though we hadn't really been doing anything. It's odd how traveling can tire you out physically, though you haven't been exerting yourself. Mentally I think you are tired of worrying about boarding and customs and theft and strangers and non-native languages, and so you sort of shut down.
We were met at the airport at 12:05 local time by PC staff who were lovely. We loaded all our luggage onto a truck and then the people onto two squat long white buses. The buses had Asian characters on the front; don't ask me which Asian language because I don't remember. It makes sense though; buying Asian cars are usually cheaper.
The ride to the training center (just outside Kampala) took 2 hours more. It felt a little bit like we were sneaking up on the countryside. Driving through the country the hills reminded me of driving through Appalachia when I was doing a service trip in high school. Michigan is so flat, and so not being able to see the land beyond the hills, and seeing all the lights rising in the distance was beautiful. Many signs are in English, or as the dialect is known here, Uganglish. Ugandans use a lot of British English as a leftover from colonialism.
I'm going to do a recap of our training so far in my next post, and maybe I'll become a better writer by then. I'm probably not going to do a lot of editing on these, because I want my mindset to be preserved for when I and others look back on this later.
Please leave comments and questions and I'll try to answer them as much as I can!
Until next time.