Michelle Claus didn’t go into Peace Corps expecting to have a pet, but after her house was broken into she thought getting a dog would be a good idea. You know, for security. But, she’d only have her dog during service. She wasn’t going to bring him home. Yet, Sipi had other plans…
Photo’s from Michelle’s Story
Michelle Claus’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served in Uganda between May 2012 and July 2014 officially as an Economic Development volunteer. I considered myself more of a Youth Development volunteer being active with the youth empowerment camps put on by Peace Corps Volunteers and teaching lifeskills at a local community church. For a few months I lead a basic fitness class with the few students who boarded at the school I was partnered with and tried promoting environment awareness through trash clean up days and sharing Planet Earth videos as rewards for cleaning up. Towards the end of my service I was awarded a USAID grant to build a playground at the school and develop a recreation field.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
After the amazing and exhausting week of co-directing one of the youth camps I traveled to the Eastern region of Uganda with a few other volunteers to unwind and visit the beautiful region. We decided to get a guide and hike to each of the three waterfalls that make up Sipi Falls. In between two of the waterfalls we were hiking on a small footpath in a rural village and were passing a woman with two puppies sticking out of a plastic bag. At this point in my service I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for home security reasons as is the common use for dogs in Uganda. To make a long story short I bargained with the woman and ended up paying 20,000 Ugandan Shillings (aprox. $8 USD) for one of the puppies… then I had to carry him for the next 4 hours while we explored the falls because he just slept the entire time and was too small to keep up.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
When the Anti-Homosexuality bill was passed at the end of 2013 despite backlash from the international community. That day I remember being at a Peace Corps training conference. During breakfast it was one of the rare occasions in Uganda where I was in a room with a television and it just happened to be broadcasting the President of Uganda announcing the passing of the bill. The only good thing about that day was being surrounded by support and with other volunteers. The law was annulled the following year in August 2014.
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
I miss the simplicity and slow lifestyle pace of rural Ugandan living. The sound of the rain pounding on my tin roof during the rainy season and the unbelievable freshness of all the fruit, pineapple and bananas will never taste the same to me. Most of all I miss the sense of community with my fellow volunteers in the Southwest region knowing that we were truly in it together. It was an incredible feeling that I still carry with me today by keeping in touch with those volunteers.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
I’ve learned to live more in the moment and to appreciate what we may think of in the US as ‘the little things.’ Running water (especially hot), reliable electricity, and the freedom to drive my own vehicle.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
Since its been a few years and I mainly spoke English and broken Runyankore during my service, the phrase that stuck with me the longest for some reason is: Oine emitwe nkahi y embuzi…. which roughly translates to “You have the manners of a goat.”