I spent 22 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Western Uganda, working alongside a local microfinance institution. Affectionately known as the “Pearl of Africa,” Uganda is home to the source of the Nile River, abundant lakes and national parks, as well as the continent’s highest mountain range. Over the course of these months, the friendships I developed with people in my town and colleagues in the Peace Corps made Uganda feel like home.
While life in the Peace Corps can be slow, isolating and difficult at times, you grow accustomed to living without the usual amenities of American life. Each PCV develops village routines that become second nature. For me, that meant working until five o’clock, meandering along the dusty road through the center of town and stopping at several shops run by close friends before hitting the open-air market. After a beer (or four) to watch the sunset at the local bar, I would head home to cook dinner and prepare for the next day.
This routine was upended on March 16 when PCVs around the world received an email from Director Jody Olsen at 6 a.m., informing us that every Peace Corps post would be evacuated as soon as possible due to the threat of COVID-19. It was an abrupt decision that incited chaos as my friends and I waited for further guidance from our Country Director. Six hours later, we got word that all 160 PCVs would be picked up the following morning to consolidate at a hotel in the capital. The decision was a shock to some, but a few friends and I had been closely following the spread of the pandemic and saw it coming. With little time and a heavy heart, I packed a few essentials into a backpack and a duffel bag, leaving the rest for my neighbors.
The next morning, a Peace Corps car picked me up and I squeezed in with four other volunteers from my region. We commiserated together about our sudden departure, the memory of abandoning our organizations and communities fresh on our minds. After a seven-hour drive to the hotel, we joined our colleagues for several days to close our accounts and wait for flights home. The scene at the hotel was chaotic as Peace Corps staff tried to plan 160 separate trips. Bit by bit, groups of 5-10 volunteers were told to pack their bags as flights became available. I was fortunate to get a flight by the third day, and said goodbye to my closest friends before rushing off to pack and make it to the airport.
Besides traveling through five airports and rerouting to New York, where I have been quarantining at my girlfriend’s apartment, I was incredibly lucky. The majority of my close friends remained stuck, waiting for flights, for three more days. Along with PCVs from Ghana and Namibia, they were the last group to leave Africa.
📸: Photo submitted