Living as a Peace Corps Volunteer has many juxtapositions. Between your American education and their own disjointed, interrupted education. Between your “salary” and the money they live on. The way you are able to travel throughout their country and the way many people in your village have never left their district. The largest differences are obvious when you travel to the capitol.
For Peace Corps Uganda, Volunteers occasionally travel to the capitol to see Peace Corps doctors, for various meetings about projects, or to travel through the city to get to other parts of the country. I think this is similar for other PC countries as well. For me, I have to travel to Kampala to get anywhere in the country other than the North.
Usually you are not alone in Kampala. Others are there for their own reasons. So you end up eating with them, watching movies with them, going to the mall with them. You live almost like you were living at home. It’s a nice break from the village, but the more you go back and forth, the more you marvel at the differences.
A child born in Kampala may never travel to the village, though their parents will surely try to get them to see their ancestral land. They live in a world of consistent electricity, Western influence, plentiful food women in trousers, good roads, lots of cars, lots of foreigners, and lots of English. It remind s me of the difference between a city like New York or Chicago, and a small town in maybe Iowa or Nebraska. But the difference is even more striking. Around 15%-20% of Uganda is illiterate, and most likely a larger percentage have limited literacy skills. It’s difficult for them to save any money, have any say in their government, travel very far from their homes, or receive a good education.
I feel very guilty going to the capitol for long stretches of time, but it is sometimes unavoidable, both for official reasons and because for mental health, I need to leave my site sometimes. I think it’s difficult to compare your life at site and your life while traveling as well as your life back home. We are here to attempt to live like the people we are serving, but surely that can only go so far. Some volunteers “go village” and truly integrate, only emerging for trainings and few other things. But I would say the vast majority cannot change, at the core, who America has made them.
This is not to say that we cannot learn from our host country or cannot integrate. It’s just that there is a limit to those activities which has nothing to do with how much we try.