How did we celebrate the 4th of July? Watching Back to the Future and Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, roasting chicken, potatoes, peas, carrots, and onions, splurging on Snickers bars, listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade and Broadway’s Hamilton, and…working. Peace Corps encourages volunteers to use American holidays as Goal Two opportunities (“Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of Ugandans”). Strangely, it felt more patriotic to work on the 4th instead of taking it off. What better way to celebrate the U.S. than carrying out the duties of a Peace Corps Volunteer?
Matt had a typical day of school and didn’t go much beyond informing his class that July 4th is America’s Independence Day, but Victoria made presentations at her primary school to P6, P7, and her fellow teachers which included a brief history of the United States, singing the American, Ugandan, and Buganda national anthems, playing a “Fact or Myth?” game about the U.S., and bringing Coca-Colas for staff to celebrate the consumerist corporate culture of our home country.
Half of the Coca-Colas were in small plastic bottles and the other half was in larger glass bottles (to be returned to the dukas, or small shops, for a refund after drinking). The teachers preferred the plastic bottles. This was worth noting if only because it seems at odds with the somehow American nostalgia for the days when Coke was sipped out of a striped straw from a glass bottle.
Victoria’s American history lesson started with an activity matching dates with events. We had done this same activity but for the history of Uganda in our language training. In both our Luganda training and Victoria’s 4th of July presentation, the activity highlighted the deception in the word “discovered.” White Europeans did not “discover” the United States of America or Uganda, but in both activities some American and Ugandan participants reflexively matched the earliest dated events with the deeds of European explorers.
Victoria’s history lesson began with Beringia and ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The thrust of her lesson was a pseudo People’s History of the United States and emphasized the existence of Native-Americans and Africans in the United States and how marginalized groups like these continue to perish in white supremacist power structures.
The closing activity included reading statements and asking participants to guess whether they were fact or myth. For example:
- White Europeans were the first to discover what is now the United States of America. (Myth)
- There are black Americans. (Fact)
- Barack Obama is an American. (Fact)
- Native-Americans were treated kindly by white Europeans. (Myth)
After the presentation, one of Victoria’s teachers asked, “when was civilization brought to America?” Victoria answered that civilization already existed in what is now the the United States of America before white Europeans came.
The strangest footnote to our 4th of July in Uganda was its not being just another day in Uganda. The country hosted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who had come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Israel’s raid on Entebbe. One college tutor remarked on the irony of Uganda celebrating its own invasion.
We spent our July 11 wedding anniversary at Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda, our first time leaving the central region. Lake Bunyonyi is located in Kabale, which is in the “Little Switzerland of Africa.”
A quiet weekend of reading near the lake in one another’s company put us in a reflective mood. Out of 30 members of our Peace Corps cohort, six of us are married. The cohort before ours had 0 out of 31 married Volunteers. Being married in the Peace Corps is a unique experience, and unfortunately for our collective guilty conscience, being married offers more advantages than disadvantages. More than a year into marriage and eight months into service, we would like to use this post to feast on the fruits of our loving tree.
- Better housing
During training as well as at our site, it seems like our accommodations are usually higher quality than our fellow single volunteers’.
- Roommate harmony
At Peace Corps events, volunteers often have to share rooms with each other. Even the Peace Corps Volunteers who served at our site before us had a platonic, professional relationship but shared housing for two years.
- Power-of-Attorney situations
“Working” for a government agency like Peace Corps, we often have to go through bureaucratic channels as Peace Corps is our medical, legal, and financial service provider. Having two of us to be able to split duties in terms of waiting in a line, filling out reimbursement forms, or handling sensitive medical information over the phone has helped to cut all that good stuff in half.
When Matt lived alone while studying abroad in Dublin, much of his free time consisted of watching Mad Men and Breaking Bad on a sketchy live-stream website. When Victoria has a place to herself, she takes three-hour baths with a spring fashion issue of Vogue. Having someone around to remind you to brush your teeth, go to bed, or wake up for work is a major upgrade.
- Mood Stability
Some of our fellow single PCVs have (understandably) had a roller-coaster of a time with dating whether it’s a Ugandan, fellow expat, or someone from back home. With all the ups and downs serving in the Peace Corps entails, we appreciate not having to think about centrifugal force when we think about our lovelife.
- Cultural status
We’ve observed a difference in the way that Ugandans speak to us as a married couple versus the way that they may speak to a single Peace Corps Volunteer. Ugandans have related their relationship status to age (when Matt told his counterpart he didn’t know he was married, the counterpart teasingly replied, “You thought I was a young boy?”).
- Sharing cost
This is the same principle as families in the United States saving money buying in bulk (there’s no Costco here, but if there is, Matt’s dad will find it when he visits in August).
- Less harassment
Female Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda almost unanimously report sexual harassment as being a (sometimes major) part of their service, but Victoria rarely goes anywhere without Matt, which practically eliminates catcalls and other unwanted attention.
- Division of labor
If you’ve ever come home exhausted at the end of a long day and felt like cooking dinner and washing the dishes would qualify as Herculean, you can imagine how sharing chores serves as an advantage on par with being the strongest figure in Greek mythology.
- Praying together
Being away from our church in Washington, D.C. has been difficult, and we haven’t enjoyed our 1928 Books of Common Prayer as much as we thought we would (the novelty of saying “Thou” and “thine” in every prayer wore off pretty quickly), but having that shared experience with each other has softened the blow.
- Convenient and trusted collaborator
Beyond Bloganda, we ask each other to edit just about every e-mail before we send it, every lesson plan before we teach it, and every outfit before we wear it. Serving in the Peace Corps can be stressful in good and bad ways, but having a trusted, physically present person to vent to, to bounce ideas off of, to get a second opinion from has helped us to affirm our whim to end phrases with prepositions and manage the good and the bad, together.
- Broader support network
Getting married is, among other things, the joining of two families. That means the emotional support volunteers get from home is effectively doubled in our case. Why do in-laws get such a bad rap?
- Having someone who knows “Pre-Peace-Corps” you
We don’t need to preface our opinions with each other, provide one another with our back stories so that we can evaluate each other’s work in context, and we can say things like, “Oh, sorry, I’m going to take this call with Aaron” instead of “Oh, sorry, I’m going to take this call with my friend from DC whom I met through a mutual friend and he works in Kenya sometimes and he was one of my groomsman and I haven’t spoken to him since the wedding.”
- Local language practice
When Matt asked Victoria on our walk to town today, “How do I say ‘your family’? Amaka gawe? Amaka gwo?” Victoria set him straight (amaka go). Having that conversation as a monologue may not return such accurate or conclusive results.
- Help/caretaker when sick
When Matt woke up with a nasty fever the other day, Victoria was there to call the Peace Corps Medical Officer, administer a malaria test, get Matt Tylenol, call a driver to take us to a clinic, and tell Matt that she loves him and everything’s going to be okay. A roommate may very well have done all those things, but Matt would have felt obligated to apologize and thank him ad nauseum (pun not intended, but here we are).
- More celebrations
Double the Birthdays! Anniversaries! Career-related triumphs! Births of new babies! etc. etc.! (Since this is only a list of advantages of being married in the Peace Corps, we will leave out deaths, illnesses, unemployment, etc.)
Bill Murray’s character compares 16 years of marriage to 16 years of life in Lost in Translation: “you’re just a teenager, at marriage, you can drive it, but there’s still the occasional accident.” In our first year of marriage, we are still pooping our diapers, struggling to eat solid food, and depending completely on others, but we are enjoying all the new sights and sounds this unfamiliar world has to offer.