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The view from Carleton College's physics department

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“From the Pearl of Africa, with gratitude”

Posted by Arjendu on June 10, 2010

As we race to graduation, email to the Department from a recent alum:

Physicists of Carleton,

Howdy! Somehow, a year has passed since I was last in Northfield. How
the hell did that happen? Anyway, as it comes on the first anniversary
of my graduation, I find my thoughts turning to my four happy years at
Carleton and to you, the wonderful Olinites that helped make them
happy.

I write this from Kikuube Health Centre, Hoima District, Uganda. No,
I’m not sick, but it just so happens that my friend here, Dr. Fred,
has the only wireless modem in the subcounty and he lets me use it for
free. The Health Centre is a 1-km bike ride down the most dangerous,
potholed dirt road you ever laid eyes on, from the small trading post
of Kiziranfumbi, where I serve as a volunteer secondary school math
and physics teacher in the U.S. Peace Corps. I’ve been at my post for
about a month and a half now, since completing 10 weeks of intensive
language, technical, and cross-cultural training in-country.

Uganda is wild. It’s the 21st most failed state in the world, and is
bordered by number 3 (Sudan) and number 5 (Democratic Republic of the
Congo). HIV/AIDS afflicts a whopping 6% of the population. Many people
live in mud huts and some go to witch doctors for medical treatment.
The disparities between here and the West are unimaginable. I don’t
think there’s running water in a 20-km radius from where I live (and
there are several thousand people living within those bounds). Believe
me, you get an appreciation for how much water you consume when you
have to haul 40 liters of it from a well every other week. It’s the
dry season now (Uganda has only two seasons,  wet and dry, given its
position on the equator; quite a far cry from Northfield’s sometimes
unpleasantly distinct four), so I get really excited whenever it
rains, and run outside with my bucket to collect rainwater for bathing
later. I’ve had to adjust to procuring of food by haggling with
outdoor market vendors in the Runyoro language, wide-eyed children
stroking my arm to see what white person skin feels like, vivid
nightmares (a side effect of my malaria prophylaxis), and obnoxiously
loud goat fights outside my house at 2 am.

There are some nice perks of living and working here: the tropical
climate, a lush landscape that includes the highest mountain range in
Africa (the Mountains of the Moon), 25¢ pineapples, giraffes, lions,
hippos, 1000+ bird species and a whole lot of primates, rock-solid
government health care, an amazing support network of Peace Corps
Volunteers and staff, and a country full of some of the friendliest
people imaginable (Minnesota nice has nothing on these folks – I can
hardly go for a walk without being offered gifts of avocados picked
straight off the tree). But the biggest perk of all is two years of
freedom to do basically whatever I want to initiate sustainable change
at the grassroots level.

I thank all of you for enabling me to do this. Without your patience,
understanding, knowledge, and undeniable abilities as educators, I
would not be here. You’ve instilled in me a passion for science that I
carry with me to the classroom every day, and pass on to the 120 faces
staring back at me when I climb up on a desk and drop hardcover
dictionaries to demonstrate gravitational to kinetic to sound energy
conversion. My thoughts are with you whenever I shade my shaved head
from the equatorial sun with my “hat”-hat or do problems from
Townsend’s A Modern Approach to Quantum Mechanics (you know, for fun).

Take care, be well, and enjoy the summer break!

– Lukas

P.S. – I’m doing the blog thing. http://iganda.blogspot.com/

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