Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Last Week

Laban, my friend and counterpart, stands in our doorway in his scouting uniform. “Ah, but we will miss you.”

I hunch beneath the overhang of the library, reading to the kids sheltering from the pounding rain. “And one fell off and bumped his head!” we all chant under the tin roof.

Moses pulls his motorcycle up to our house, jogging down the little hill to our door. “I…” he begins, struggling with his basic English. He holds up an envelope. “For you, your husband say you like.” He tilts the envelope forward and its contents spill into my hands. Six small, ripe, beautiful strawberries. “I also have a chicken…”

Anitah slips me a letter. “For me I feel very sad because I am sorrow that you are going…how will I survive.”

Maudah shows up at the door with a 5-liter jerry can. “I want to send your parents my honey!” Kris and I try to calculate how much weight a 5-liter jerry can of honey is going to add to our bags. Convincing her it would take an American years to eat all that honey would be futile anyway.

“Did you hear?” says the deputy headteacher over her posho and beans. “Lightning hit the school down the road yesterday. 5 pupils were killed.”

I sit around a plastic table with a cold beer in front of me, watching the faces of the next National Directors of the Uganda Spelling Bee light up as we talk about plans for the future, about the sustainability of this project. Ben and I dream of flying back here in ten years to see our work come to full fruition.

Robert, the local duka owner, cries despairingly, “Ah, but you are leaving without having visited my home!”

The deputy principal at the college tells me, “I am going to suggest they name the library at the primary school after you.” I can’t tell if he’s joking or not.

A text pops up on my phone. Amos was in a boda accident and had to have his leg amputated. He’ll be in the hospital for the next few months. My mind churns with the opportunities that are not available to him here.

I stir the marinara sauce on the gas burner stovetop, hearing echoing laughter from next door as Kris meets with his ICT club for the last time. “Well, the first time someone asked me for a rubber here, I was very confused…”

I stare out the taxi window as we slow down to pass through a trading center. I catch glimpses, snapshots of life – a man wearing sunglasses welding a gate by the road, a woman grilling maize on a sigiri, a group of guys straddling benches and heckling a game of draughts, children running towards the well, empty jerry cans bouncing against their legs.

I sit down to write a list of who to say goodbye to, of things to do to wrap up my service, but my pen never even touches the page. Where can I even start? Will my service ever really end?

The older children beg, “I want you to take my picture with my friend!” They pose in front of the hedges, giggling and pulling each other in front of the camera.

The headteacher clucks in annoyance. “The man took the money for the bookshelves and went to Kampala. I am trying to contact one of his relatives.”

Maude types slowly on our computer, composing an email to my mother using her newly-opened Gmail account. “They are the first Bazungu to interact with me and the whole family at large and they never proved to us to be special only they were people like us.”

I swirl my steaming posho porridge in my plastic mug. The P6 teacher enters the staff room and asks me in Runyankore, “You haven’t left yet?”

The younger pupils peek shyly through the library door. “We want to read books.” They stack the tomes neatly back on the mat without being asked when the sound of a rock beating against a car rim rings out, signaling the end of break time.

The woman in the bus park shakes her head sympathetically as I desperately try to hide my tear-filled face from the crowd. I wave a ticket in front of her that is NOT for the bus I was told it was. “You should always get a seat before you pay,” she gently chides me. How can I still not get the rules here?

Our minibus rolls slowly by the twisted metal. The driver’s limp body is being pulled through the broken window. There is no sense of urgency; no emergency vehicles are coming.

I sit in the shade of a tree with my carrier volunteer, who is freshly arrived to Uganda. I am reinvigorated by her energy and optimism; I treat meeting her like a therapy session. “I started this project…I never did this, but I think it’s a great idea…I wish I had done…I wish I had known…I wish I had worked with…” Maybe she will. Maybe I did plant a seed.

I find a dime as I'm cleaning out our old suitcases. It's so small and light; it feels like toy money. I wonder - will everything else in America seem as strange?

I wave at my pupil watching over his herd of cows as I walk home from the post office. The sky stretches out over my head, and brilliant blues and greens dominate the scenery.

I wince at the sound of thunder in the distance. The lights go off a minute later and I work in the dark on my last paper, my last requirement for my Master’s degree, until my laptop dies. Five hours of power in the last three days and still 30 pages left to write.

I wait for Moses to come pick me in one of the busiest, noisiest areas of Kampala. I feel something and pick a cockroach off of my shoulder.

I stare at the movie screen as the science fiction film flickers on. Screams erupt from the speakers as the CGI effects create a scene of dying children.

I buy some Internet and search for jobs. Nope, no perfect job. Can I really justify waiting to find what I don’t even know I’m looking for? I hear of the jobs my friends back home are getting: resident artist, animal trainer, creative writing teacher of gifted youth, program coordinator at a non-profit helping America’s most high-risk young people. Listening to the wind rustle the banana leaves in the distance, I wonder how I can find something truly fulfilling.

I wake up in my bed Sunday morning to the sound of drums and singing drifting across the campus. I think about how much I’ll miss hearing church, miss music and dancing being as much a part of life as eating and breathing.

I hand Carmen her birthday present, “wrapped” in a black plastic bag. She pulls out my old Sunnydale High School t-shirt and holds it up in the candlelight. Her eyes well with tears. We don’t have to say anything.

I wet a cloth from my water bottle and press it over a temporary tattoo held to the arm of one of the P2 pupils. We count to 30 in English together and I peel off the backing. Cries of excitement and astonishment erupt. “Teacher, I want one here!” yells the smallest, pointing to his forehead.

I give Edith the first pen pal letter from America during an exam break. The whole class crowds around her, just as excited to read the letter as if it were personally addressed to them as well. Ooohs and aaaahs break out at the rubber band bracelet, immediately slipped on by Edith.

I hear a knock and open the door. The neighbor kids’ upturned faces greet me, the unspoken question bright in their eyes. Time to play?

I say goodbye. Again and again and again. I say goodbye, probably for forever.

"What's coming will come, and we'll meet it when it does."

- Hagrid 


  1. Hi Heidi,

    Sorry to bother you.  My name is Ray Blakney and I am an RPCV from Mexico (2006-2008). Hope all is well in RPCV life. I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost.  I have created a sub-section on the website my wife and I run Live Lingua with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV's).  I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios, and even some videos. 
    The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the word out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV's or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use.  I was hoping that you could help getting the word out by putting a link on this on your site at here, so that people know it is there.  There should be something there for almost everybody.  It is all 100% free to use and share.  Here is the specific page to what we call the Live Lingua Project:

    Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success.   And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, please don't hesitate to pass them my email.  Thanks and have a great day.