Last Night At Shimoni

Tonight is our last night at Shimoni. Tomorrow morning we go off to our separate schools to visit for a few days, meet the administrators, see the town, see our future housing, and just generally get to know the area. After that, we go to our satellite locations and meet and stay with our host families.
We've only known each other for a month, and now we are all spending a month apart. We will still see our language groups every day for language/culture training, but the whole group will be split up all over the country.

As I mentioned earlier, it feels like we are perpetually saying goodbye. First it was to America, then to some volunteers who had to ET, now it is saying goodbye to living as an entire group. The truth is that we have not been having a Peace Corps experience, but a Peace Corps training experience. True Peace Corps is adapting to situations on your own or perhaps with one or two other people, not knowing the language and not being able to express yourself as much as you want to, and being frustrated when things don't work out the way you are expecting.

I've enjoyed training so far, even if at times it's been hectic. Learning how to teach in Uganda, bonding with my fellow teachers, and learning a new language and culture while supporting each other has been a valuable experience. But it's been comfortable. Even with pit latrines and unfamiliar foods, it's been comfortable. Leaving each other will be uncomfortable.

I remember getting here and being super stressed about it, and now everything feels fine again. And we are going to do the same thing again, be super stressed about homestay and more training, but it will probably be fine. A series of events taking us out of our comfort zones further and further.

I'm not really sure where I was going with this other than I wanted to document how I was feeling tonight to be able to look back. The country is beautiful, the sun sets in about five minutes and at exactly the same time every day, and tomorrow I leave behind most of my group. To any in my group reading this, I've had a really good time. I hope to travel to all of your regions at some point. Let's rock our service.


Uganda's Education System and Pictures!

Okay so.

Uganda's education system breaks down like this:
First there's Nursery school, which not everyone attends because of monetary concerns. This is like kindergarten. Then comes Primary school, with grades P1-P7 (Primary 1 through Primary 7). This somewhat equates to elementary and junior high combined. Usually, pupils are around 6 years old when they enter P1, but there are still a wide range of ages in all grades, for a multitude of reasons. Most of Uganda's industry is still agricultural, and so many students have to help tend farmland, banana gardens, and animals at home, as well as helping out with household chores. That may keep them from school. Or they may have started school and not had the fees to continue, and so dropped out for a year or so and then came back in.

Primary school is separated into Lower Primary and Upper Primary, where the lower grades are P1-P3, and upper are P4-P7. In Lower Primary, all instruction is in the local language, but the pupils do have English classes. P4 is the transition grade where they begin to teach in English. After P4 all instruction is in English.

After graduation from Primary, students go to Secondary school (like high school.) This is also split like Primary into Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary. There are four years of Lower Secondary and then the students take exams. If their marks (grades) are good enough, and if they can afford it, they can go to Upper Secondary, which is two years. That path generally leads to Post Secondary education, like University or a National Teacher's College, which is a higher prestige teacher training facility.

Many students whose marks are not good enough after Lower Secondary come to the Primary Teacher's College (PTC). It's unfortunate because many of them do not want to be teachers, but it is the path which is open to them. There are other options, like vocational school, technical institutions, and nursing school, but PTCs are the most common. Teaching classes at a PTC (primary teacher's college) means that you are teaching future teachers content as well as teaching methods. It's sort of like in the US if you took the education department of a college and made it it's own school and campus and only focused on teaching. Since these are primary teachers, they review the content that they will be teaching primary students.

We finished our two weeks of practice teaching yesterday (Thursday). The first week, I taught two math classes, one with another volunteer and the other by myself. Both classes were to do with converting fractions and decimals to percentages, and then the reverse process as well. This week, I taught Science lesson planning. On Wednesday, I taught the structure of a lesson and had a song to help them remember the parts of the lesson, and gave them time to write lesson plans. On Thursday, they presented them! I think it went very well and I was pretty proud of them.

We had so many sessions about teaching and classroom management and lesson planning, but it was all so overwhelming before we came here (has anyone read Teach Like a Champion?). When it was just a concept, I was terrified about it.
I was so nervous about teaching here, as many of the other volunteers have a lot more teaching experience than I do. But it worked out far better than I expected. I think living here and being out of my element has forced me to become who I've wanted to be. No one here knows me, or knows who I've been, so I can be whoever I want to be. Currently, it's been manifesting as a musician. I'm becoming known as the person who writes songs and never stops singing. I wrote a lesson planning song, and I wrote a song for the holiday celebration we're having tonight, which if I can get enough internet, I'll upload a video of. But I also just sing randomly throughout the day, and until people pointed it out to me I didn't even notice I was doing it. And singing/dancing just works with this culture.

Ugandans know a million songs and dances that they can teach you or bust out at any moment. It's just an integral part of who they are as people. It's so great, and helps in the classroom because they are willing to sing and dance about any subject. Today we had an end of two-week celebration, and the students presented songs and dances to us that were just phenomenal.

I feel like I've got so much to say, but I'm still figuring out how to say it. So here's some pictures to tide you over until I can find the words.

My first bed in Uganda, at our training centre near Kampala.

 The view from the porch of the main training hall. Kulika is an organic farm.

 These pictures are from driving around Kampala and Entebbe. I just wanted to give an idea of what traffic is like. There's a lot of roundabouts.

 This is a matatu (taxi). It says 14 passengers, but really they pack about 20-30 people plus animals and luggage on them (including the top storage rack).

 Water tanks at the teacher's college.

The students danced and sang for us today and yesterday as well. 

 The view from the front of the main training hall at the teacher's college.

 The back/side porch of the training hall.

 The beginnings of our Christmas tree. It has a lot more decorations on it now.

The view down the road from the girls' dorm at the college. 

 The view up the road from the girls' dorm.

 The building where I'm staying. The girls' dorm has a barbed wire fence surrounding it.

 Some of us made snowflakes!

 Our schedule for today. CHAKPE stands for the name of our personal party, Christmas Hannukah Atheist Kwanzaa Party for Everyone.

 Wall of folders/warm fuzzies. Basically we write notes to each other and drop them in the folder.

 More performances from the students.

 My current bed at the college. The mosquito net is so pretty!


Thanksgiving and Kampala

Last week all the trainees, trainers, current Volunteers, and lots of PC staff converged on PC Headquarters in Kampala for PC Thanksgiving. The neighborhood where HQ is sits on one of the many hills with a beautiful view of the city. Lots of red roofs, red dirt roads, palm trees and giant storks, and miles (or kilometers, rather) of hills.

Backtracking a little bit, on Sunday the 24th we all went to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Normally, Volunteers don't travel in the city for safety reasons, but we were all in groups getting a city tour. We saw a couple of malls, and figured out where to go to get to the PC HQ, and had to sort of find our own way back to the training centre. I say sort of, because the trainers showed us the taxi park and where to go.

The taxi park was completely packed, and we went to the New Taxi Park, which was very slightly less crowded than the old one. Taxis in Uganda all look exactly the same. They're imported vehicles that look like a mix between a minivan and a VW bus with Asian language characters printed all over them. Sometimes the seatbelts work, sometimes they don't. They also have pulldown seats in the middle of the aisle we're calling jumpseats. When they're all down, the aisle disappears.

I walked through the city with my backpack slung around my front because they recommended it. I don't currently have a purse that zips, just a backpack or a tote bag. It was not recommended to go to the city with a bag that doesn't close. It felt strange, but a large group of non-Ugandans are consp

The city is very busy. There were boda bodas (small motorcycle taxis) zipping around between all the matatus (bus/van taxis) and the cars and the larger coach buses and the many supply trucks. In short, the visit made me happy that I will be going to a rural site in the north rather than a larger city site somewhere urban. Though it was nice to have modern malls and flush toilets and cellphone stores, I think I will prefer the slower pace and fewer people of rural life.

We've since moved from our initial training site to a Primary Teacher's College (PTC) where we are doing school practice (student teaching) for two weeks before moving on to visiting our future site and staying with our homestay families. I have a lot to talk about regarding teaching but I'm going to leave that for a future post because at this point I am super tired and happy it is Friday. When we're not teaching, we're observing other Volunteers and Ugandan teachers teach, so our days are pretty full. 

P.S. If there's anything you are curious about, feel free to ask and I can elaborate!