Back into the swing of Pader

The school year has begun and it’s good to be getting back into the swing of a routine.  Pader is ever so dusty, windy, and plain hot (which are all characteristics that I’m not overly fond of) but this is my Ugandan home.  The last few months have been long and treacherous yet coming back and seeing my neighbors, the Ayago ladies, people in the community, students and coworkers has been awesome.

The first night I was back at site, I went to each of my neighbor’s doors in the compound to say hello.  At 7pm, most people are home watching TV and cooking.  I took over the mixed nuts Tracy had asked for, talked toddler to Crysabella as she said “Welcome back, Auntie” in her cute way, knocked on Anthony’s door and Grace answered greeting me with a hug (after she got over the shock that I was back).  She invited me in for dinner and sitting there with a small group eating dinner was great.  I was back with Pader family and I had missed them.

Ayago ladies… they are hilarious.  Dorcus screamed “Cindy!!!” and I thought she was going to take off my head during her hug with her excitement (although it didn’t have the same form as an airplane hug).  Ah, these ladies.  They think it’s hilarious to have me order in Luo and try to get me to eat the cow insides or something.  When I started stirring the posho, they cracked up to see a white girl having to use her muscles (the stuff is seriously thick and hard to stir once it starts to form).

Omara, who is maybe 4, and his mother moved to live behind the restaurant in the strip of single rooms to the left.  Now, when I go behind to see the cooks and joke around, I get to see their lovely faces and tickle Omara.  He laughs as if he’s going to die.

There was a monkey back there the other day, I tried to get Omara to sit with me and the monkey as we took a picture but it slapped Omara in the face.  I’m laughing hysterically at this right now and I know it’s wrong. He was so scared of the tiny monkey and when he tried to sit with me, the monkey hit him.

Whenever I try to walk to my site mate Katherine’s house, the walk usually takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes longer than a straight shot would take.  I kinda like how here, if you see someone you know, you stop and chat for a bit.  Since I hadn’t seen people in such a long time, there were a lot of “Happy New Year” and talk of the holidays.  Josephine saved me a basket that I had been looking for, Proscovia has helped me find chairs, Jennifer and I have gone “grocery” shopping AND I got to see her son Obama.  Ya, that’s right.  He was born during the American elections and he’s pretty awesome.  I guess I like the fact that I live in a small town (more of a village) where I run into people and we go about living our lives together.  I’m not a stranger to them and I really missed our crazy interactions.

It’s interesting leaving for some time and then coming back and not knowing what to expect.  I’ve moved around a lot in my life, sometimes with very short notice to my friends, and I get a weird feeling going back to somewhere I haven’t been in a long time.  I of course missed the students and teachers, but with the influx of ex-pats and short lived relationships with all of them, I wasn’t sure if the relationships that were built the year before would be strengthened or they would expect me to leave without notice.

I think the relationships were strengthened.  They saw that I came back and accepted me as one of them.  At the gate, the new guard asked me to sign the book which I kinda laughed at since he had never seen me before.  I work here.  I belong here.  One of the students came up and we walked the rest of the way into the school grounds.

Speaking of crazy interactions earlier… the Pader Girls Academy students in their high pitch voices greeted me with “Cindy!  Amaro Cindy!  Cindy Maleng! Apwoyo dwogo Cindy!” I’m pretty sure they will never forget the lesson we had about self-esteem and the influence of others saying they love us, we are beautiful, and they are happy we are around.  I smile as I walk across the courtyard hearing my name 30 times in 25 different directions.  I love these girls.  We haven’t started our psychosocial classes yet but I’m expecting them to be pretty great.

There were a couple of students and teachers that I had more one-on-one conversations.  They were seriously worried I wasn’t going to come back after having to leave unexpectedly in November.  They were relieved to see me back and ready to get working.

Brenda, the tailoring teacher, and I were working on Maleng Designs last term and I was excited to work on it more.  The director of the organization said I worked a lot faster than people were used to here.  I told Brenda how if she feels like I’m pushing her or am trying to go too fast, to let me know.   She said how we were two months behind and needed to get a move on it.  I love her attitude.  I found a book back in the states with 101 tailoring projects that use 1 yard of fabric and gave it to her.  Every day, I see a new lady picking out a different handbag or baby item they want her to make.  Probably one of the best purchases brought back to Uganda.  Slowly, this tailoring project will come together.

Last term, I obtained 5 boxes from Books for Africa to bring to the school.  There really isn’t a reading culture or much value placed in literature in this area.  George/Vincent, the teacher that I have been working with about the library, is on paternity leave for the next couple of weeks.  Elvina, who is kinda taking his place for the time being, was even more eager to look in the boxes and see what goodies lay within.  Elvina, Donna, Brenda, and I went to the container where they were being stored and took the boxes where the rest of the books are being stored for the time being.

Each one of grabbed a box and wrote down the titles and authors of all the books.  I thought it was going to be like pulling out teeth to get them organized, but then I saw the teachers super excited to read the titles and wanting to finish so they borrow a few.  There were 282 books in all, ranging from children’s books such as Where the Wild Things Are, A Long Way Gone (the first book I read about the horrors of being a child soldier), and books by John Grisham.  I’m foreseeing a week in class teaching about proper book care, the varieties of books out there, and the value of reading and exploring the world of imagination.  Hopefully, their creativity and English will improve.  Plus, the children’s books will be sweet for the girls with babies to read to their kiddos.

There is a lot going on to keep me busy.  John, my former counterpart at FRO, asked if I would be willing to teach guitar lessons once a week over there and I know there are teachers and students at PGA who want to learn.  I personally want to start taking sewing lessons- learning on a machine where there is a manual foot thing to make it go is rather different than a common electric sewing machine but I’m up to the challenge.

My house has gotten sweeter since I returned.  I brought back an espresso maker that is used on the stove top making mornings so much brighter.  I have all sorts of cheesy/alfredo/random sauce packets that are switching it up from the usual pasta with onions and tomato and sometimes eggplant or green pepper sauce.

I finally went out and had a carpenter build a table to put in my first room.  Sitting at it right now and I must say I like not having to type with the laptop on my knees.  I also bought a couple of lawn chairs so now I don’t have to sit on a mat or on my bed to watch Glee or Chuck.  Life keeps getting better.

It’s weird to think that my training group has been in Uganda over a year and a half now.  From talking to former PCVs back in the states, six months left is the point that most people start putting out resumes for the next step in life.  We start leaving in September.  Crazy to think how close that sort of is now compared to when we were first in country and the line was “we’ve been here 3 months!  That’s so much longer than the short term 2 weekers!”  And now we all feel old.

But it’s a good old, or better termed as old-er feeling.  With age comes wisdom, being realistic rather than idealistic, experiences that only come after not being afraid to live.

I turned 24 in India, 25 in Uganda, and although I had hoped to keep the streak of different countries going, tomorrow I will celebrate my escape from the womb 26 years ago in Pader because of possible dangers caused by presidential elections.

I won’t be able to celebrate in Kenya or Rwanda, but that’s okay.  I’ll be with my Ugandan family of close neighbors, community members, fellow teachers, and silly students.


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