Dear President Obama:

Greetings from Uganda! I hope this note finds you well.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I am writing this letter to bring an action taken by Peace Corps Washington to your attention. You might be under enormous stress to make some positive reform in our nation’s health care, but I hope you take a few moments to see the gravity of what is happening in Peace Corps Uganda.

Larry Brown, our outstanding country director, was removed from duty.  Citing the Privacy Act, the current (acting) country director cannot disclose why he was terminated from duty.  Last week when I contacted his wife, she told me that he did not know the reason behind his removal from duty.  When I visited them, I got the same answer from him.

I find PC Washington’s decision to remove Larry Brown from duty disturbing.  Larry Brown, a former professor from Harvard and Assistant Peace Corps Director under President Carter, is an exceptional individual.  His love for PC Uganda, PCV’s, and Uganda is clearly visible when one pays attention to how quickly he gained the trust of PCV’s and Ugandans.

In the last seven months, Larry turned PC Uganda into a strong post as he increased the number of volunteers in Uganda.  PC Uganda had not only grown in number but had also transformed into a great family.

Larry Brown and his wife were an incredible support system for us.  A few weeks before he was removed from duty, his wife and he hosted a pride dinner, where all volunteers were invited, at their residence.  His wife and he supported gay and lesbian volunteers in a country where homosexuality is openly condemned in the media.  I feel honored to have known a country director who supported my fellow volunteers.  When my husband and I decided to repair the house before we moved to site to make it more safe and secure, Larry was very supportive of our choice.

Many volunteers and I are confused why PC Washington chose to remove a person from duty when he is really good at what he does.

All I am asking is for you to take a few moments to urge Mr. Aaron Williams to evaluate what happened.  Even though Mr. Williams might be overwhelmed by his responsibilities as the new PC Director, I believe he should give Larry a fair chance because I believe he was removed from duty for the wrong reasons.  If Aaron Williams does not at least hold an investigation, we would never know what happened in Washington.

A man who dedicated his life to leveling the playing field would never know why he was let go by the American government.  As a young American voter I feel my faith in our system is tested through this unjust action by PC DC.  I hope you choose to renew my hope in our system by urging Mr. Williams to give PC Uganda another chance to grow under Larry Brown’s diverse experience, knowledge and leadership.

Thank you for your efforts in making America a better place.

Sincerely,

_____________

PCV Uganda

2009-2011

The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within. (Mahatma Gandhi)

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The brown man’s complex

August 15, 2009

A few days ago I was at a supermarket.  Waiting at the counter for my turn to pay for the 500 mL Dairy Fresh strawberry yogurt.  As soon as the South Asian supermarket lady saw me, she acknowledged my presence and focused her attention from her musoga customer to me.  Not knowing how to effectively divert her attention, I told her we would be back at the counter with the tray of eggs we forgot to get.  After wandering the three aisles and looking at things we didn’t need to get, we picked up a tray of eggs and an additional tray to enclose the eggs in.

We were back at the counter, right next to the same musoga man, with the tray of eggs.  Next to the same musoga man, a South Asian man stood eying me and spitting out the monstrous amounts of shillings the supermarket lady owed him for the FIDO chocolate bars and FIDO strawberry & vanilla 250 mL and 500 mL of ice cream he just delivered.

I turned to Fractal and told him my increasing discomfort of the brown man’s indiscreet staring.  With the same intensity as the FOB brown people in America stare.  The kind of stare that non-verbally demands attention for a fellow brown being.  His pumping testosterone.  And his switching attention from Fractal to me.  Back to Fractal.  Me.  Curious prodding why the white man was standing so close to a brown woman.

At the counter as we were paying for the eggs we asked the supermarket lady if she could recommend a way to transport 24 eggs in Fractal’s backpack.  She suggested placing the 24 eggs, sandwiched between the yellow and purple egg trays, in a plastic bag before Fractal packs them in his backpack.  The brown man eyes were still changing focus from Fractal to me.  Back to Fractal.  Me.

The musoga man suggested tying the four corners of the sandwiched egg cartons before placing it in the white plastic bag.  As soon as the musoga man offered his suggestion, the brown man retorted that it would never work.  He said Fractal should hold the tray of eggs in his hands and carry it home. Maybe, in a box.  The sandwiched tray of eggs sits on Fractal’s hands while his legs pedal his Apollo all the eight kilometers to the village.

We asked the supermarket lady if she had ties to secure the sandwiched ova package.  She grabbed another white plastic bag and ripped it open.  The musoga man helped tear the ripped bag into long strips of white plastic while the brown man shook his head.  We threaded the strips into the corners of the sandwiched yellow and purple ova package while the brown man said “it would never work” again.

While Fractal placed the package in his backpack, I proceeded to the other side of the store to grab 2 FIDO chocolate bars for Fractal and me.  As he searched his backpack for the shillings, I ate my ice cream bar.  As he paid for the purple tray of eggs, the yellow tray, and the two FIDO chocolate bars, I opened his FIDO, went outside and ate his chocolate bar. More brown people in a white Toyoto Corono saw me.  Honk.  HONK.  HONNNNK.

Seeing that Fractal seemed slightly annoyed that I would gorge on his bar, I explained that his FIDO chocolate bar was melting.  I went back to the other side of the store to grab another one.  A jeans-clad and stripped buttoned down shirt musoga man and his black trouser counterpart stood between the FIDO chocolate bar and me.  Excuse me.  No response.  Excuse me, I mean move out of the way please.  Oh, said the jeans man.  He moved five inches away.  I grabbed a FIDO chocolate bar.  Excuse me.  No response.  Excuse me.  Oh, said the jeans man.  He moved four inches away.

Back at the counter, the brown man explained that his ice cream should be eaten quickly.  As Fractal took the bar away from me before I tried rescuing another FIDO chocolate bar, I thanked the musoga man.  Webale nyo. For his creative thinking.  The brown man shook his head.  We waved goodbye to the supermarket lady.  Sukriyah for her service.  Fractal ate his FIDO chocolate bar.  Said he had only one.  I had two.  I responded that I was saving that bar from dropping on the floor and wasting away.

We biked home to the village.  Under the same sky.  That protects the brown man and his black brother while his other brown brethren celebrates their 63rd Independence from the white man’s world an ocean away.

Building Bridges

August 8, 2009

“Speak when you are angry–and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” (Laurence J. Peter)

Many people are guilty of speech under the influence of ANGER.  On numerous occasions I’ve opened my mandible and allowed words to come out my mouth while my inhibitions were lowered under the influence of ANGER.  After  some time has passed, I would analyze the situation and the response till I feel I should be diagnosed with OCD.  In the end I would tell myself that I could have saved a few brain cells if I could just remember to slow my tongue before my cerebrum processed the consequences of the words.  Speaking under the influence of anger is like trying to walk while one’s drunk.

On the other hand, choosing one’s words carefully requires tact and forethought.   While a person is infuriated, if there’s something that could remind him/her of the dire consequences of words or actions, so the impulsiveness to respond is delayed, then perhaps we can avoid burning bridges.

Using fewer sharp words aid in the building bridges among various people around the planet.  Back home in the USA, people take special pride in making direct comments.  Comments that tell another exactly how they feel.  Well, maybe, too direct.  The directness in sharing one’s opinions, beliefs, or feelings is not appreciated in every culture in the world.  People in these parts use caution to avoid breaking bridges.  Perhaps that’s something one needs in every relationship: professional or personal.  Relationships are not forever, so perhaps we need to take care of them like we should maintain a nation’s bridges.

Home at Last

August 8, 2009

Last Tuesday we moved to the village.  Canceling was almost unavoidable, but the chairman of Fractal’s NGO saved the day.  We’re home after more than three months of swearing in as Peace Corps Volunteers.  We’re glad to be home.  We discovered along the way that it takes a village, a town, and folks across the Atlantic to make a home.  Under the safety blanket ceiling, solar-powered lighting, hungry geckos, and armies of diligent ants, we’re home at last.

As we hike and bike our village, we meet faces and smiles that remind us why we’re here.  To live a different way, learn a new perspective, and make a change.  Small changes in oneself.  Small steps towards meeting people in the middle.  I’m really glad that summer day in ’07 I sat at my desk to fill out the on line application.  No, this is not a pitch for increasing the number of applicants who apply to the Peace Corps.

After living in Uganda for close to six months, I believe travel should be part of everyone’s life.  Living in places outside a person’s birthplace in the first ten years of one’s life is essential.  Traveling abroad is not the only way to gain novel perspectives.  Seeking opportunities to diversify experiences add colorful dimensions to a person’s life.  Perhaps the first step to thwart wars, or fights from precipitating is to put yourself on a chair in a conversation with a person who has another view.

The people help me see new ways.  The people help me hear different beliefs.  The people make me a better person.  I’m glad to be in their home.  A kind of home where I see more stars at night, hear fewer vehicles when I go to sleep, breathe fresh clean air when I wake up, and experience a connection with another group of people on the planet.  Perhaps we’re connected because our ancestors were brothers.  Or maybe because we see the similarities in each other.  No matter what the reason is I’m content to be home in the Pearl of Africa.

Close to the Rift Valley.  In the emerald of Africa.  Among the Bantu.  Under the same sky.  Home At Last.

The World Citizen

August 8, 2009

This is my dream that one day I’ll have a passport that says just “Earth.” People of all colors join hands and live in peace and harmony.  Humans pledge allegiance to protect all other species and the planet.  No, I’m not high on any substance.  Of course, this is my personal opinion and not the opinion or belief of the Peace Corps.

I wonder if we teach our children the multifaceted human identity, then whether they could respectfully regard the similarities and the differences.

We are first and foremost, a human being.  Our gender, ethnicity, religion, and beliefs enrich our personality and being. We’re similar and dissimilar.  We don’t hide our differences but celebrate them.  Yet recognize that we’re one species.  We don’t all have to like each other.  We should be able to sit, listen, and talk.  Share ideas.  Hear out and absorb the new perspectives without feeling threatened by them.  We don’t have to put people in categories to understand them.  We listen to hear what they’re saying about their identity.

We can travel and live in regions outside our birthplace and come home with a mind free of prejudice.  With new understanding and a fresh look on life.  Or stay and become part of the new home/homes.  With more interactions with different people we realize our assumptions about people and strive to strip them away.  We work together, so one day all people can sit together at a table.   The world citizen.