The Peace Corps had a very deliberate and thorough system for preparing volunteers to teach classes in a rural Ugandan setting. We went through several phases of cultural, safety, security, and language training and were exposed to our new village lifestyle in a cautious and caring fashion. Here are a few photos and insights from the three month process before moving to Bukedea, Uganda.
My cohort on November 5, shortly after arrival in Entebbe. I managed to sleep like a baby for much of the 15 hour flight thanks to a heavy duty neck pillow, eye shade, and ear plug combo.
Shared my first Thanksgiving meal away from home with other trainees at a compound called Muzardi. I missed my family the most on this day.
Muzardi was a good first exposure to Ugandan culture, but we were still staying at a training facility with running water and other luxuries. After our first few weeks of cultural, medical, and security training there, we moved to a different facility in Mukono to begin school-based training at a Primary school called Kira (pronounced Chi-RA). This was my first real experience with the large class sizes common in Uganda’s government schools.
In Mukono we spent a lot of time working on developing our own teaching materials. On a typical day we woke up at 6:30 to either observe others teach or teach our own lessons. Then after lunch, we would have more training sessions, followed by independent lesson planning time before bed. I’ll always remember these posters as some of the first teaching aids I made.
Toward the end of our training, we were informed of our sites! The location of our final assignments would dictate what local language we would learn, what region we would call home, and which volunteers would live nearest to us. The photo below depicts Levi, Rylee, Jenna, Dan, myself and our 3 Ateso language trainers. At the time of site announcements I wasn’t close with any of the people who ended up being in my language group, but within a few months, these would become some of the most beloved people in my life.
Our month-long language training took place in Kumi, one of the larger Ateso-speaking towns. I stayed with a wonderful host family during this month and was lucky enough to have a surrogate toto and papa (mom and dad) on Christmas day in the absence of my own parents. My papa was the man who gave me the local name Apolot, (which means “I grew” in Ateso) and has a soft spot in my heart for this reason. I know this name will be a part of my identity forever.
“Ajon” is a very common drink in Teso because of the wide availability of millet in this region. My host mother and sisters are shown in these pictures drinking ajon out of long straws called “epiini.” If you aren’t careful, you can spend the whole day lost in conversation around the ajon pot.
These young calves were tied up outside my bedroom during my stay in Kumi. One of them would moo incessantly in the evenings because he wanted his mother. Listening to nonstop mooing is VERY irritating, but, I miss my mother too, so I get it.
This is how my host family in Kumi dries cassava roots that they grow in a nearby field. Cassava is an edible starchy root tuber that I didn’t like at first, but has grown on me. If you slice and fry them, it almost feels like you’re eating french fries from Mickey D’s!
At the end of my training in Kumi, I gave my host family a male turkey as a farewell gift. I had to carry the disgruntled turkey home with me in a taxi from the market. Also in the taxi was my friend Dan carrying a baby goat that he bought for his host family. Dan named the goat “MJ” and made his host family promise that they wouldn’t eat her until he finished Peace Corps service and went back to America. They were very amused by our love for the goat.
At the end of training in Kumi, after passing our language proficiency exams, we all returned to Kampala (the capital city) to celebrate completion of pre-service training and to be formally inducted into the Peace Corps. Our language group was selected to learn a traditional Iteso dance to perform at our Peace Corps induction ceremony. These colorful skirts were our uniform for the dance! I’m not much of a dancer myself, but Rylee and Agnes (one of our language trainers) rocked it.
After the induction ceremony in Kampala, my host family let me take one of their cat’s newborn kittens to my final assignment in Bukedea. I named her Piper.
Home!! January 22nd marked my first day living with a new homestay family (who will host me for the remainder of service) and adjusting to life as an English teacher of a 190-student class. Life is Good.