Sunday, July 22, 2012

100 books

I finished my 100th book in Uganda last night. The End, the 13th book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.  I was hooked on the series and reveled in finally getting to the last one, but was still left with a ton of questions and promptly got on wikipedia to search for all I could find. Then I realized what a nerd that makes me. Whatever.

I've relished having the time to read to my heart's content.  I am tickled when a book I'm reading relates to something in another book I've read, and even more so when both of those books relate to a conversation I'm having.  I am absolutely that annoying person who chimes in with "oh, that's like in this book I just finished!" Sorry about that. 

Looking at the list of one hundred, these are the ones that stick out at me, though I have enjoyed almost every single one (except Lolita. Ridiculous book.)

Aboke Girls - This is the story of one nun who worked at St. Mary's College in Aboke, Uganda during the war between the Goverment of Uganda, and the Lord's Resistance Army (see my friend Jacque's post for a much fuller, better account of it.) 139 girls were abducted and this woman worked tirelessly to bring them back.  St. Mary's is about an hour from where I live. 

Lamb - A satire, looking at the 30 years in the life of Jesus that the Bible skips over. It's told from the perspective of Jesus's close childhood friend, Biff, and gives an account of travels they took together and influences to the eventual teachings of Christianity. I'm not sure how someone much more religious than I am would see it, but I think it was done tastefully and respectfully and definitely recommend it.

Molokai - The story of one woman's lifetime spent in Hawaii, in a leper colony that is hardly ever talked about. (I didn't even know there was one until I heard about this book.) It's a novel, but the colony is a real place and its history is heartbreaking.  I cried myself to sleep almost every night for the week it took me to read this. It weighs on you, but it's amazing.

The Shadow of the Wind - This is just a fantastic mystery novel written by a Spanish author which was then translated into English.  Normally some of the original awesomeness can be lost in translation, but not in this case.  A young boy discovers a book that he falls in love with, but when he tries to find other books by the same author, he finds that they are all being destroyed... suspense and mystery ensue! 

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand is a suberb author, and while her political leanings tend to lean opposite mine, I really enjoyed this book.  Another book I read referenced Fountainhead and the boy reading it was told to "be a filter, not a sponge," which is spot on, but that's good advice in almost all cases.

The Lost City of Z - The account of one of the last expeditions into the Amazon River Basin when it was being mapped by Europeans and Americans.  There is something magical about diving into a world where maps were only estimates of what continents looked like and where being an "explorer" was an actual career.  It takes place in the early 1900's, which is all the more interesting since that's the world my grandparents lived in.

The World According to Garp - Not sure why this one is so good, it just is. Read it!

To Kill a Mockingbird - This is the only re-read I'm putting here because it's so so touching.  It serves as such a good reminder of what it means to be a decent person and have a strong moral compass.  It's one of those books that will stick with you forever.

Guns, Germs, & Steel - A long and tedious but beyond fascinating history of the world and why we ended up the way we did.  So many things relate to this book when I am having conversations with people in my community on why America is different from Uganda.

I have 50 books and 9 months left to reach my goal of 150 in Peace Corps. Again, I'm a nerd.  Books in my immediate future include The Long Walk to Freedom (I want to read this before going to South Africa in December!) Atlas Shrugged, The Red Tent, The Game of Thrones series, Little Bee, Quiet, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Book Thief, and any others you want to send my way :) 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

There's whiskey in the jar

It's mzungu season in Africa. By that I mean that all over the world, short-term volunteers are packing bags full of crayons, donated clothes, toys, bibles, and hand sanitizer and boarding planes bound for my home. They are buying all of the granola, cheese, and cheap powdered milk that I so viciously hunt for on my once a month shopping trip.  They are hiring drivers, playing with children, drinking bottled water, and giving things out. They are making me look like an asshole. There are about 50 white people in my village currently, when I'm usually one of two, it's weird.  I watch them laugh and chase the primary kids, and think to myself "wow, I really suck, I never do that" but then I remember that the primary kids usually chase me when they see me on my morning run.  I feel like crap when they talk about building a new dorm or fixing the roof that blew off in February, but I also know the financial workings of the college better than they do and know there is no such thing as a maintenance fund and that upkeep is non-existent.  I know that until those things are in place, fixing a ceiling that's collapsing is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot.  I can't imagine what it would be like to have the resources and energy of a short-term volunteer over the entire stretch of the 27 months I'm here.  I wonder how much either of us is actually accomplishing.

Last night I cooked dinner for my Irish neighbor girls, and I absolutely left the spread outside on the table when they all left and I went to sleep at midnight.  A dog got into my trash and the vodka and wine bottles were still on the table when 30 PTC students showed up to slash my grass and sweep my dirt at 9:15 this morning.  I grumbled and ate my oatmeal sitting on my bed so they wouldn't stare at me, most likely silently judging me for being such white trash.  I debated using my night bucket so I wouldn't have to walk to the latrine past all the girls who were in charge of maintaining my yard.  It was an awkward morning. Then one of my students showed up clutching his Peace Camp application and asked if I thought he'd be accepted.  I read it over and saw he'd been abducted by the LRA and was a child soldier from ages 10 to 13. All of the sudden nothing I've done here felt important, and I wanted to start over so I might actually be useful.  It gave me chills to type his application to email it to the camp coordinator. His brother and sister were killed during the war. He wants to start a peace club. He isn't allergic to any foods except poisonous ones. His education was interrupted. He went back and finished his education.

Most days here I read and clean and chat with the other tutors and formally greet 63 people. Occasionally I lecture and play games with the students if they're in class. I text other PCVs the silly things I see around me. Some days, however, make me rethink everything I know about the world and my own life. I have so little to complain about and so much to be thankful for, and I need to do a better job of conducting myself in a way that reflects that.