Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New site, Going Away Party, Prefect Handover, 11 Months in Uganda, Whole Lotta Poetry!
Grab a coffee or tea, a cookie …and get ready to read a long blog update!

Location of my Office and My Apartment
On Friday July 6th I moved from Gulu District in Northern Uganda to Fort Portal in Southwestern Uganda. In a way I think this enhances my Peace Corps experience, as I will have 2 very distinct experiences. I will have worked with war traumatized youth at a school in the North, and then moved southward to work in the disabled and vulnerable youth transportation fields. On the route south, the landscape changes dramatically from flat, dry and hot to mountainous, wet and cool. I moved from a war torn area to an area that has tourism and tea estates! There is also a small golf course in Fort Portal and a botanical garden. So it is very different. You can actually feel the change in the people, as they were not affected by a 20 year war.

Even with all these supposed “upgrades”, I will miss the Gulu area. I have some great PCV and local friends there.  I will miss my garden, some of the students, and most of the staff. Some photos of my old site friends.....
My counterpart and close friend the accountant

The Tailoring Instructor

My Supervisor and House mate in my Garden

Me, The Building Instructor and Australian Volunteer
The Carpentry Instructor and me

The Secretary and me- her baby girl was born the day I left!

The Deputy Director and me

However, due to several factors, a change was required. My new organization will be a nonprofit that manufactures and distributes bikes to orphans and HIV patients to improve the individual’s access and mobility in his/her community. They also provide training and education to these groups to help develop income generating skills.

Since I am moving to a town, my access to food and restaurants will increase; and this is very good as I try to keep my weight up over here. I will also be around more Americans and Europeans as there is a larger expat community in Fort Portal.

I expect my community, both Ugandan and Ex-Pat, will be larger, as more people will live and work near me. Presently I am in a compound with a 4 bedroom house and a small apartment block on the back with 3 men. Inside the house live me, an American male volunteer for the next 2 months, and a young Ugandan man. Another young Ugandan man lives in one of the apartment rooms in the back. The organization is going to partition part of the house soon, so I will have my own little apartment with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. I have an indoor flush toilet and bathroom with a tub – no shower or hot water, but comparatively it’s D-LUX! We all share the common sitting room.

The compound is also the location of their bike workshop so frequently there are many young men around fabricating the custom bikes and bike drawn ambulances/trailers. The compound is a couple miles up a hill out of town…a nice 30 minute walk down hill in the morning, and uphill on the way home. I love the walk and the chance to observe all the birds and flowers and trees.  This part of Uganda is like a tropical paradise.

I was moved by Peace Corps in one of their Range Rovers and the Ugandan driver and I had some nice conversations. He is a devout Muslim and we stopped for him to pray at a mosque for his evening prayers. About 10% of the population here is Muslim, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet and interface with more Muslims. The ones I have met are nothing like the “terrorists” so many Americans like to imagine.  The drive took about 8.5 hours because we traveled on unpaved roads and therefore did not have to travel through Kampala. I felt like I was on a personal Safari passing villages and beautiful landscapes.  

Wrapping my Present!

Going Away Party
The school hosted a going away party for me – I was sad and a little anxious with the impending departure, but was also excited for the change. The staff all contributed to pay for the going away lunch and for a departing gift – I was mortified they had to raise funds, as some staff only make $1-$2 a day…so I also added some cash to help pay for the meat and rice. The lunch lasted 3 hours and after eating there were speeches by all attendees. My favorite was a young teacher who said “If I were God, I would make Madam Karla stay here forever and become a Ugandan Citizen as she is the first white person I have known.” OK Yeah I admit I cried like a baby a few times. My parting gift was a business suit made in China that is actually very nice. I found it ironic that was what they selected. I suppose I was under dressed for some of the Board Meetings and they wanted to help me out!
Receiving the gift!
The Feast
Co-workers and friends!
My flowers as decorations!
Listening to Testimony Speeches of my impact!

I really made some deep connections there and it was hard to leave in many ways. The day the truck arrived all the students gathered around and loaded my things and asked me to come back soon. It is a 10 hour trip, so it will not be easy to return.

Prefect Handover Day
On June 22nd the school celebrated Prefect Handover Day. A prefect is a British term for something like Student Council.  The handover day is when the outgoing Prefects turn the job over to the incoming Prefects.  At 8:30 am that morning I found out I would be the Chief Guest (AKA Guest of Honor) and would be expected to make a speech in 1.5 hours. So I changed into my best African outfit and started pulling together a brief speech. I think it came out well – Because I am in Uganda, I used culturally appropriate quotes from The Bible and Nelson Mandela, a true hero to all…however because of my love of American Football I also included a quote from Vince Lombardi. All in all I think it went over OK.
Decorations-flowers from my garden in paper vase

Handing over the Prefect Folders

More - Handing over the Prefect Folders

Listening to a speaker off to the right

11 Months in Uganda
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but on July 4th, I marked 11 months in Uganda. …this is surprising to me as I reflect on the things that have taken place in my absence….several high school graduations of relatives and friends’ children, a few 50th Birthday parties, the death of several friends’ dogs, a year’s worth of holidays and celebrations.  However – I have grown in ways that are not possible when you remain inside your safety net. It has not been easy – often harder than I can express – but it has recalibrated and sharpened my definition of myself.  

-it has been a month since I posted – so there is a lot of new poetry!

The Poet                              July 9th 2012
I have fallen in love
With my poet self
She seems to materialize
From somewhere else
Like I am channeling
A beautiful soul
Submerged for too long
Who inspires and delights me
Occasionally fear-provoking
With her clear eyed pronouncements
Yet always joyful and confident
In the knowledge that
Her words ring true
And the weight is lifted
When I listen to her

Becoming a Diamond                     July 9th, 2012
I like to imagine
I am becoming a diamond
Starting as a dark, buried
Shapeless chunk
Of worthless earth
Suffering from unbearable stresses
Pressure sure to suffocate
A weaker element
But not me
I take it
Bearing through it
Like labor
Awaiting rebirth
When I will emerge
The clearest and shiniest
Most perfectly formed
Brilliant and solid
Gemstone of a Human

A Tragic Figure                  July 9th, 2012
A tragic figure
Whispers the stranger
She tries, so brave
Though a bit unhinged
To step out of comfort
Apparently on a whim
Abandoning those she loves
Or so it appears
From the outside
Looking in

She is searching for something
Said the other
But it continues to elude
Always hopeful for the future
Squaring her shoulders
Leaning into another storm
Like some sort of Gladiator
Facing the lions
Hard to believe
Her Luck is that Bad
She must deserve it – somehow
Perhaps she brings it on herself
Refusing to be happy with what she had
Who knows what drives her
Some internal restless demon
Most likely

Nonetheless….I can’t help but admire her
Said the last one with a wistful
Somewhat envious tone
As they continued down the cosmetics aisle

Exquisite Evenings          July 7th 2012
Uganda has no winter
Nightfall is either a cool crisp experience;
Or a gentle, warm embrace
Occasionally punctuated with a thunderstorm
But in general
A lovely caressing night
With breezes that inspire
And a soft darkness that encircles the Soul

Makes a person celebrate
The instant of living
Right there and now
With the awe of beauty
And the importance of our life
Reminding us of the mystery
And supremacy
Of the existence we are given

Forcing us to marvel
At the magnitude of the moment
As we are captivated by the moon
Mesmerized by its promise
As it dances with the clouds
Racing out to lead us
Always just ahead;
Taunting us to follow
Its promise of knowledge
Never yielding its secrets
To us mere mortals

Dancing on this earth
Amazed at its beauty
Like moths to the flame
Hoping we will make
A grander impact
But never quite sure
If our moon dance
Can exist beyond the moment
Of our heartfelt ballet
With the muse of the night

Manhood                            June 17th, 2012

I presume
Being a man is complicated
Often contradictory on the surface
Stoically expected to carry the burden

Never flinching,
Being smart, monetarily successful
Taking command
Protecting, Providing

Yet to be fulfilled
To become a complete man
Takes much more

To be whole
Requires being vulnerable
Open to being wrong
Learning from others
Questioning assumptions
As you and the world around you
Continuously evolves

Taking greater courage
Than most men can bear
This openness entails
Venturing out alone
In uncharted landscape
With no guide except
The North Star
Of a deep knowledge
Buried in his soul
Ignoring societal feedback
Trusting only
Internal guidance systems

Most men pretend
This alternate path
Does not exist
Is nonsense
Scoffing at any indication
Their well-built world
Is made of cards
Belittling anyone who challenges
Their version of reality
Their best defense, a derisive offense
Collecting “Yes” people
To reinforce and participate
In their Kingdom of Machismo

True greatness as a man
Is revealed with a disciplined love
For self & others
Strength is measured
By Gentleness, diplomacy & creativity;
With humor
The icing on the cake

These men
Are beacons in the darkness
Attracting followers
Who intuitively recognize real authority
Craving to awaken it within themselves

True men use their muscle
To build and encourage other men
To join in the journey
Towards a higher calling
Of Manhood

Restless               May 15th, 2012

Driven to change
To mix and rearrange
Unable to be content
For too long

Fighting the familiar
Imagining improvements
Just over the fence
Around the corner

Determined to find meaning
Some larger purpose
The reason we’re here
The objective of struggle

Dreaming of contentment
Unsure what it looks like
Recognizing others
Appear to have found it

Is it in the DNA?
The need for movement
The drive to reshuffle
To relocate
To start anew

What drives those of us?
To leave home
Cross the oceans
Climb the mountains
Looking for what?

This force within is powerful
Pushing us
Until the tipping point is reached
And we submit

To bravely let go of what is
And move apprehensively towards
What is to be
Never knowing where we will end up
Until we are there

In Honor of the Fourth of July
American Heaven                           June 24th 2012

Peering through the window
At my former life
Where once I glided along
With buffeting winds
Like most of us
Of our level of luxury
And privilege

Now longing for the ease
Of my American life
With Knobs, switches, levers,
Buttons and touchpads
Miraculously delivering
Information, water, light, music
Clean clothes and dishes
…Power on so many levels
Not forgetting
The power of also
Miraculously taking away
Waste, dirty water, garbage

What do you miss most?
People ask

Of movement
The joy of driving
With windows down
Going wherever I want
When I want
Because I can

In unimaginable variety
Italian, Tai, Mexican, Chinese,
French, Spanish, German, Irish
Eastern European, Asian, Indian
Central & South American
Barbeque & soul
Every ingredient accessible
At your fingertips

The fabric of what it means to be American
Translated into the culinary palette

Expected, considered a birthright
Sports, live performances, TV, travel
Internet, movies, exercise, hiking

Entertainment is
A gathering under a tree
Singing and dancing
In the dirt
If there is a battery
For the radio
Or a single photograph
A family’s prized possession
Proof of the effort of their lives

Distinct and so comforting
To those of us privileged
To be raised in our borders
Unless you have been here
You cannot fathom the impact
Of good governance
Strong Judicial systems
Societal Support
Of the importance
Of not tolerating

Eyes tearing up suddenly
With appreciation
For our founding citizens
Knowing part of my purpose
On this journey
Is to remind myself
And others
To be grateful
Every day, every moment
For our American Heaven


  1. At work and want to read this but it will have to wait until I get home, but first glance, just want to say "The Carpentry Instructor and me" is my favourite picture of your journey, bar none,in Uganda. Much Love Always, Margo

  2. and lovely poem 'The Poet'
    It's there for us all to tap into and so glad you are tapping! xo, Margo