Hello wonderful followers of my Peace Corps Journey,
I know it has been a while since I wrote but so much as happened in the last 4 months since my last post. I have been at site officially for 7 months, I have created lots of ideas and special things for my students and grown tremendously in ways I can only imagine. Aside from living life and continuing to cope with things such as mice and mosquitoes, I realized that I lost a big chunk of myself while serving in the Peace Corps. The part I lost is hiding in my clothes back home. “Clothes?” you ask. Yes, clothes. To better explain myself let me back track (climbs in time machine). Wayyyyyy back to last November as I prepared for the journey to Uganda, within the various emails I received from Peace Corps, dress code was mentioned a lot. Along with the advice of Peace Corps emails, various volunteer packing blogs, and just plain guessing I was able to come with a solid wardrobe for my service. I made sure that everything was as appropriate as possible so that I would not create a bad impression through my form of dress. This proved to do me justice. Since being in Uganda I have gained a reputation at my school for being very well dressed among my fellow teachers and PC volunteers. This pleased me for quite awhile until yesterday. I was preparing to go to burial service and was having trouble picking out something to wear. Everything in my closet I noticed made me look either too fat, too old, or just plain school marm-ish. It then dawned on my that my clothes reflected how I had been feeling the past couple of months….old and worn out. All of my clothes reflected a serious, beaten down, stressed out Peace Corps volunteer; Not a young, vivacious, women traveling the country. Along with that I then noticed that my daily routine was predictable. Cleaning, sleeping, eating, teaching and watching cartoons. I felt so old and washed up…and I’m only 25. At that moment my wardrobe filled with ankle length skirts, underslips, beat up sensible shoes, safe mono colored tops, and dresses that make me look like a pioneer woman reflected how sad I felt inside. I hated that I felt forced due to the conservative dress constraints on women in Uganda to lock up fun, happy Vashalice, with her stylish dresses and pants. I longed to feel like me again. I love Uganda and all the people that I have created relationships with…but I missed being fun and fancy free. I cried inside. I wanted to burn all my clothes go back home to the states.
That is all for this post. Its not very happy, but honest. I’m now online window shopping for clothes and telling the old Vashalice I miss her and I wish I could let her out for just a little while.
Today in my thought process, I’m taking a fall back from my more serious post about life and growing to talk about make up/clothes!! I love looking amazing and looking good at every turn and its no exception here in Uganda. Chile let me tell y’all about looking fancy in Uganda. Its rough out here for a young queen. The hair alone is costing me thousands of shillings and time wasted searching endlessly for products (and hair braiders) that work for me. If you are a black woman, hell a woman period then you know the struggle of finding beauty products that are tailor made for you. I personally spend over 100 US DOLLARS ALONE in hair products before even setting foot in the lovely country of Uganda, and over half of said products are gone. Even the shea butter that I THOUGHT was going to be flowing in my backyard is a myth because I don’t live in the correct region (Shoutout to Mary-Anne tho for the Shea Butter hookup!!!)Granted the make up scene is quite sparse in these parts (Jinja, where I live), but that does not stop me from using Amazon and the angel that I call my mother to send me care packages full of MAC, Black Radiance, and Revlon. So I know you all are wondering why talk about make-up/clothes when there is so much going on here within the education sector of Peace Corps. My response to that would be….well why not! In my Peace Corps journey my life have been quite a jumble of confusion and surprisingly anger. So to combat all of this I throw myself into what I love (outside of reading a good book) which is fashion and make-up. I love being the best dressed and best liplined PCV in my cohort. It gives my great pride to know that along with working hard in the class, my clothes, hair, and make-up look just as good as the results I bring in. It can be hard work though looking as well as I do! Between the almost daily facial mask/scrub, ironing of tailor made clothes, the CONSTANT scrubbing of feet in the hottest of water, and the constant moisturizing of hair, skin, and the painting of nails, its time consuming. My body is my church and like most churches I want the architect to be amazing. Its all a part of self care. I take the concept of self care very seriously. Whether its listening to music, painting my face with MAC, or an early morning yoga/prayer session. Do whatever to make it through life with your sanity in tact. So far I am doing my best to remain happy and healthy in these Ugandan streets. I workout on a weekly basis (save for the past couple of weeks, my knee isn’t allowing me to do squats or lower body workouts), I am getting my life together. Its all a process that I’m still learning. I feel so non-productive sometimes because I feel like I should be doing more than what I am, but I have to always remind myself that pacing myself is ok. Spacing my work out is ok. Sleeping the whole day away to recover from a stressful week is ok. Drinking green tea and wine at the same time is ok. I’m still a queen in training.
P.S My home renovations are just about done! I am a proud member of #PoshCorps Below are some of my pics. Before and after: No ceiling to Mo ceiling!
Long time no see! A lot has happened in these past 3 months. Although I’m NOT as chipper as I have let on in my beginning salutations, its my job as a Peace Corps volunteer to share it all, the good, the bad, and the homesick. ….Yes, that little annoying homesick bug as finally bit me. I kept it all together pretty well, but tonight (its currently 12:44 am) it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m sitting on my chair fighting sleep, curled in my sleeping bag because I’m afraid to sleep in my own house, I’m listening to bats (yes my friends….bats that fly) fall in my freshly washed pots and pans, wearing yesterday’s legging and shirt. Along with missing my family, I’ve had a stunning realization…its hard becoming a Queen. I’m of course little miss princess but I tire now of that title. I have accomplished just about everything I set my little heart to. Throughout middle school all the way to college, I have been knocking down milestone after milestone, leaving checked boxes of to do list in my wake. This whole elevating and becoming Queen business is not as easy as I assumed it was. In the process of joining the Peace Corps my whole persona has warped in the most riveting ways. I no longer fear being without wifi, missing out on the new episode of Empire, or rats…..well I’m still VERY fearful of rats (I just saw one in my kitchen!!!!). I’m becoming a Queen and I’m not a fan of the process. I cry just about everyday now, I have aches and sores that I can’t explain, I’m dying to have my stuffed doll Pandora with me to help ease the pain, my feet look like they could start a fire, and my hair is as dry as a bale of hay thanks to this lovely dry season. Transforming is about going thru the fire and praying to God you come out pure gold. Transforming is stripping away all your insecurities, like you would peel off a jagged hangnail….make that a millions jagged hang nails. Transforming is asking yourself if what you wanted from God is really worth it in the end. Becoming a Queen is hard fucking work. I haven’t even started teaching but the weight of the stress along with the longing for a Checker’s burger is finally getting to me. THIS IS HARD! But by February 2018, Vashalice will return to the States a Queen.
By the time you see this post is will most likely be Christmas day in the states. As always I do a lot of reflecting in the Peace Corps. Through the language training, the lack of showers, and searching for free time, I have found that what I deem an awesome Christmas gift has changed. This year all I want it peace, quiet and a good night’s sleep. Something as simple as rest is a luxury now. I legit haven’t had proper rest since I left the states. I miss showers, I miss soft, cool, sheets against my skin. I’m actually complaining because I did sign up for this but I’m just tired. So much of my journey in the Peace Corps is very spiritual. God is testing me and pushing me to the limit each and everyday. Things that never bother me get on my last nerves and things that use to create havoc in my life are barely a bother. I just keep leaning on the fact that God has me and will never let go of my hand. He walks with me everyday and makes life here in Uganda some of the best moments in my life thus far. I’m blessed with pretty OK health (I’m currently sick as I am typing), and I have the pleasure of working with some of the best people in the world. So the fact that I am overseas without A/C on Christmas day doesn’t worry me. I simply pray that all is well and that God’s will continues to be done in my life…….oh and that the courtyard rooster gives me some peace for a goodnight sleep.
Its me again!! So Much has happened since I last blogged to you all. Since then I have acquired a new home, become an accomplished art bargainer, finished teacher bootcamp, completed 1 full month of Peace Corps, gained a new family and started my 6 weeks of language training!! So to keep this post sweet and organized I will again utilize bullet points
New House/Town in Wanyange!!
So I have this sweet new house in Wanyange (a town just 20 minutes away from Jinja, Uganda), its literally the bee’s knees or that bat’s knees (I have lots of new friends who love to fly around my house at night and squeak until daybreak).
Its one of the bigger Peace Corps houses and even has a guest room!! Outside of the bats and spiders that plague my house its amazing and is inside my school compound.
I have inherited a new best friend or friends I should say. Tonny (my 16 year old neighbor) and his sister Fiona (who is 17 years old). They have been so helpful and loving. They are currently house sitting for me while I am away at language training!
Cooking at my house is the best since I am the owner of what I am claiming as the biggest kitchen in Wanyange!! I also have an outside kitchen as well!!
My supervisor Mary or as me and my fellow sitemates call her Mary #1 is the best boss in the world!! She made my site visit stay so easy and welcoming! Plus she comes over for tea as well during the day 🙂
Hannah (the Peace Corps Volunteer I am replacing) is literally the best person you will ever meet! She actually stayed an extra week just to help me become adjusted to Wanyange, Jinja and life in Uganda!!
I will provide pictures of the house and my kitchen in a later post dedicated solely my house and town in Wanyange
Trip to Jiinja!!
Along with seeing my new house during future site visit, me and my site mates Mary, Lucy, and Pascal took an amazing trip to Jinja!
Jinja is on of the bigger towns in Uganda. Its a very popular spot and attracts lots of tourist!
I toured the town and ate at this amazing restaurant called The Keep, where I had a cheeseburger and a vanilla shake!!
I saw the post office, met my local tailor, made a trip to the local shops and the bank!
The highlight of my trip however was going to this local art gallery called Kasspa Art, where I purchased this amazing painting called Melodies of Joy! I spoke to me very deeply so I had to made it mine!
Teacher Bootcamp finale
Teacher Bootcamp finally came to an end. I had amazing time at Kira Primary School and met some of the most beautiful students.
As some of you know I was a little discouraged going in to teacher botcamp because I honestly didn’t think I was gonna make it. But God saw fit that I came through in the end like a champ!
One of my favorite students (Vanessa) made me this awesome bracelet that reads “I Love U Vashalice” She made me cry! Its nice to touch students lives but it even better when they touch yours.
I said goodbye (for 6 weeks) to my HoCoFoSho cohort 4 group! I miss them very much but I know they will learn amazing things and have a blast at language training!
I officially have started language training! Although it does tend to go a little faster than what I would like, I am learning more and more everyday. So far I can greet people, say my name, and let people know that I rep the 813 in Florida lol
My new sisters are the best (Nana is in the picture below and so is Margret the little one trying to escape out the door in the background)!! I have 5 in total but only two were shown. They keep my schedule packed with reading, painting nails, and our daily games of Go Fish.
I legit have the best language trainers ever! Mango and Ken (the one in the picture) are the best teachers when it comes to learning Lusoga (my local language)
I am growing closer and closer to my region group! They keep me sane, even when I feel like throwing a fit and losing my mind!!
Its me again with another (long overdue) blog post. Today’s blog will be about my job and what I do for the Peace Corps. I am a Literacy Specialist for MM Wanyange Primary School near Jinja, Uganda. As a Literacy Specialist, my job is to promote literacy and reading culture throughout my school. One of the many ways I will accomplish my task is by working in the library. The library is the hub of the school. Sometimes its literally just a its just a dusty old room with boxes of books, but it takes Literacy Specialist to turn this into a functioning library. I also will lead reading intervention groups with P4 or the U.S equivalent of the 4th grade. I work with them on key reading skills such as fluency, alphabetic principle, and phonemic awareness. My Job description will be pretty brief as of now because I have yet to actually start my job so to speak. Teaching has always been a passion of mine. Being able to shape young minds along with gaining key skills is essential to the job. For now I will keep you all posted on my teaching endeavors as they come.
Much has happen seen I last wrote. I thank you in advanced for bearing with me, I have been having issue with my camera (or lack thereof). The camera on my phone is crappy at best. So I will just have a feature photo per post till I buy a camera and add more better quality pictures (Christmas gift mommy!). My first and currently second week of training has been very tiring but informational. Thus far we focused on…(drumroll please!) The 5 Big Ideas of Literacy! These are the teaching foundation of my job as a Literacy Specialist, which I will explain in my next post. So what are these BIG ideas you ask? They are:
Phonemic Awareness: The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds in words and the understanding that spoken words are made up of sequences of sounds.
Alphabetic Principle: The understanding that words are made up of letters that represent sounds and the ability to use letter-sound correspondence
Fluency: The ability to read smoothly, accurately, at a good rate, and with expression
Vocabulary: Specific teaching of key words to comprehend a text
Comprehension: Understanding what you read
Each aspect of the big idea umbrella is crucial to establishing a strong foundation of literacy. Along with teaching the ideas of literacy, we also have been creating lesson plans ( I will attach a sample lesson plan). Lesson plans are the best and the worst things I feel a teacher has to make every week, only because you have to get your lesson across and to engage the students. Its a sometimes fine line to walk in education, being engaging and effective. Some tips we use to combat the “line-walking” is to create a fun atmosphere when you create your lesson plan. I make sure I have music playing or I plan lessons with my fellow PCVers to keep the whole process light and fun. I also treat myself for a completed lesson plan or when I have made a new lesson/vocab game for my students. My current treats as of late are taking time to paint my nails, “window shop” on amazon for make up, or fried grasshoppers (don’t knock it till you try it!!!). All of this can contribute to less stress and more productivity.
Now on to the fun stuff!! We recently had a huge thanksgiving feast at the PC office. The menu was awesome: BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, sweet potato pie, dressing, mangoes, jack-fruit, green bean casserole and more! I ate myself silly……and to sleep on the couch in the PC lounge lol. It was really nice to have free day to eat and fellowship with my cohort and NOT HAVE SESSIONS!! I felt a little bittersweet because our “Thanksgiving” made me really miss spending thanksgiving with my family. The fried turkey, MY mother’s mac and cheese, baked ham, and hugging my mama and smelling a mix of food and Avon perfume. Granted this is my first time away from her for a major holiday the love is always felt.
Today I want to talk about Unity. Unity is defined as coming together for a common cause. As a member of the Peace Corps, unity tends to be a huge part of the job. In my interview prior to becoming an official PCV, I asked my interviewer was she proud of the 25% diversity number that Peace Corps produced every couple of years. Her reply was mostly a “cop out” meaning that she only discussed ways that the PC was “trying” combat that low number, not directly answering my question. So that got me to thinking about how Peace Corps views diversity as a whole. If a representative of Peace Corps couldn’t confidently stand by that number then how would my future cohort feel about the subject? Unity and diversity has been one of the hot topics within my Peace Corps cohort thus far. So far we have had a couple group seminars about it, but I feel that underlying issues/problems are not being addressed. For example, as a group we are pretty diverse regionally, lifestyle-wise, and and of course in regards to train of thought. How we all view diversity is very telling to the overall experiences we have had in our lives. My view of diversity based on my upbringing (traditional single parent African-American household) may be very different from someone who was raised differently from me. I understand that but it still forms questions in my mind.
From the jump, we talked extensively about Ugandan culture and how to respect the country we are here to serve. I found in the beginning of being in-country however, that diversity and respect for cultures within the cohort was lacking at times. Honestly, this troubled me a little. So being my usual outspoken self, during our morning circle (this was last week) I petitioned for an impromptu diversity “meeting” because as a whole I wanted my cohort to become more educated about the backgrounds represented in our cohort. The result of that meeting was very enlightening for me. It allowed me to see each of my cohorts more clearly in regards to mindset and personality. I would be lying if I stated that I wasn’t surprised by some attitudes showcased during and after our meeting. Mostly, the general feeling was that of questioning and provoking the “safe” thinking of everyone involved. That is what I push everyone to do, myself included. ALWAYS challenge your thinking and get “uncomfortable” to develop. The flower must withstand the rain and dirt to grow. Since then I do my best to focus on the positive within our group, but still strive to fight for proper (and more) representation for the minorities within our cohort.
When I received the email that I was accepted into the Peace Corps for Uganda, Africa it was literally on of the happiest days of my life. I rejoiced because all of the prep and praying that I did, begging God for a chance to prove myself to him thorough the Peace Corps, and yet again beating the odds and showing the world that a Black woman can break down walls by representing America as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Quickly however, my excitement died down month by month only because I truly began to realize that with great blessings comes great responsibility. So to help quiet the loud doubts in my mind about joining the Peace Corps (and inadvertently representing my entire race) I began to look for the infamous Peace Corps blog. The Peace Corps Blog in itself is the holy grail of REALLY knowing what Peace Corps is all about. I quickly realize that finding a Peace Corps blog that chronicled the day to day life of a Black woman (with natural hair) serving in Africa was almost non-existence. So I then begin to look for PC blogs in general written and maintained by black women…that was also like finding a BOGO free deal for Shea Moisture at a crowded Walgreens….very difficult. I was able to find a few but still not the same results as my white counterparts. This discouraged me even further in regards to performing well with my service, because I had little to no example of Black people (let alone black women) successfully completing the two years of service. Needless to say I craved support.
I tell that small story to express how important it is for me as a Black women to blog about my experience within the Peace Corps. From my struggles coping with being one of the “token” in my cohort to the anticipation of diversifying my collections of shea butters, and preparing to face racism within my teaching profession here in Uganda in regards to being American born.. Its all an essential narrative to tell. I certainly cannot be the voice for every black woman that has every joined the Peace Corps, but I can be another shade of PC that is rarely seen or a voice that is barely heard. Little by little, I will unpack all of my cares, concerns, fears, and joys through my blog so another lost black woman can have a role model in me or a guide to navigate the murky waters of being Black in the Peace Corps.
Today I want to officially change the direction of my blog from here on out. I had a very raw and real conversation with some members of my cohort and a few of our trainers during dinner time yesterday, and these are some of the things we discussed:
Culture and what it means to you
Diversity and its various definitions (in regards to Peace Corps)
Equality vs. Addressing individual need
Tactics minorities have to use to “protect” themselves in regards to race
Talented 10th vs the Exceptional Negro
The Poppa Pope Speech (You have to be twice as good to get half)
We covered far more than what was listed but these were some of the highlights. Race and Diversity is NEVER easy or fun to discuss but it is a necessary evil (or good depending on your outlook). Me personally, I always look for discussions such as these. I’m very much like Chris Rock (Reference. Kill the Messenger) in the aspect that I am ALWAYS looking for racism. No matter where it lurks, I’m always on the hunt for disparities between the races. I realized yesterday that within the Peace Corps, as much as I respect and love the organization I serve with I have qualms about how true diversity is handled. I do my best not to come off as the stereotypical angry black woman but it hard not to. It frustrates me to no end that Peace Corps as a whole parades around as this pioneer in “diversity” and showcasing this ideology to the different countries it serves in. In any given year the “diversity” percentage is between 21%-25%. The other 75%-78% percent is occupied by people of European decent. To make matters a little more complicated the “diversity” percentage isn’t broken down.
So as you can see the “diversity” percentage is very troubling. To everyone reading this I would challenge them to ask themselves what does diversity mean to you. Is it 75% vs 25%? Is it equal representation across all races, class, and genders? Or is it just a catch-all word to sum up experiences and backgrounds. Critically, I feel that there is way more that can be accomplished in regards to increasing proper representation for Peace Corps. Yes, African-Americans, Latinos, The LGBTQ community, and many others make up a small minority within the USA, but its crucial that all voices are heard and respected. In Uganda, teaching is revered highly and its only fair that the countries that Peace Corps serves in (especially the African countries) be shown a proper representation of the true USA, good and bad, and not a glorified call to become yet another white savior.