Welcome to Village Life as a Ugandan PCV
You will feel like a celebrity for your first few weeks. But the novelty of the adults’ blank stares and the children screaming “mzungu!” will soon wear off. You will crave any place you can go to not stand out. You will never find one.
Everyone will want to be your friend… until they realize friendship is not a paid position.
You will be paralyzed by the heat and blinded by the dust in the dry season, as you pray for rain.
The rain will come.
All business will come to a standstill as a storm passes, and when you finally move you will be covered in mud. You will pray for the dry season.
The dry season will come. Repeat.
All visitors of the opposite sex will be assumed siblings… or spouses… or “side dishes”… Plan your introductions wisely.
No, you should not expect the carpenters to make what you order, the stores with outside signs reading “_______ sold here,” to sell _______, or power to be on/ your modem to be working/ the internet cafe to be open when you REALLY need to send an email. Yes, you should expect to be over-charged for any and everything you purchase.
You will earn respect by hand-washing your own clothes instead of hiring a neighbor; you will also earn blisters on your hands and aches in your back and arms.
Ladies, you will never become a perfect aim into the pit latrine. Never.
No, you cannot walk to your latrine at night, when the stray dogs and robbers are out. Yes, you will pee into that bucket on your floor, and wash it out each morning.
You will arrive early to prepare your 9am meeting or event; everyone else will show up after 1pm.
You will zoom through the country in speeding matatus (taxis), with 5 people seated in your row, a stranger’s baby in your lap, a chicken at your feet, and curious woman pulling at and combing through your mysterious mzungu hair.
It is very likely that you will either eat an insect or have one lay eggs under your skin… it is more likely that you will experience both.
Yes, those are bats in your ceiling. No, I cannot guarantee that you will never wake to one hanging off the outside of your mosquito net… or to a rat running across the top of it.
You will be desperately lonely and homesick… especially when you get physically sick… which will happen soon.
You will remember that you joined the Peace Corps to better yourself, and you did not move to Uganda to live the way you did in the US.
You will learn to embrace change and you will grow from every challenge.
Mpola, mpola, your neighbors will begin calling you by name and inquiring about your day. You will develop an identity besides “mzungu,” and if you are lucky, it will be an identity reflecting who you actually are.
You WILL find Ugandan friends, who appreciate you for your personality and not your skin… eventually. Be patient.
You may never love the seasons… BUT your US friends will envy your January tan… And you will never again take water or a cool breeze for granted.
Plan your introductions wisely.
You will (eventually) find the businesspeople who stand by their word, and they will become your most valued resources. And the first time you’re not quoted a mzungu price, will be one of your happiest moments.
After months of washing, your blisters will callous and your back and arm pain will turn to strength.
Sorry ladies, the pit latrine never gets easier.
The “night bucket,” however, will be one of your greatest comforts.
You may never get used to waiting hours for everything. BUT, you will read more books than you ever imagined.
The horrors of matatu-riding will remain ever-present; BUT, when you have those rides in which Ugandans are impressed by your knowledge of the local language, or are deeply thankful for your work here, or are serenading the taxi in song, you will think, “I live in Africa. What could be more amazing than this?”
The insects… Well, you live in Africa.
The bats and rats (and roaches and wasps and spiders and mosquitoes and moths and ants) may not go away; but you will learn to live with them in peace. I promise. After all… You DO live in Africa.
“Home” becomes your village and your quaint little house or hut. (Go ahead and nest.) Your PCV friends become your family. (Let yourself be vulnerable.) Your work becomes your life. (Give it everything you have.) You may still miss Starbucks lattes, Taco Bell, sushi, short dresses and heels, driving, Ikea, and your friends and family, but two years will fly, and they will all be awaiting you when your plane touches US soil.
So for now…. Welcome to Uganda. Welcome home.