Saturday, July 21, 2007

What I've done at CETRUD

It's been a while since my last post... and so much has happened:

1. I’ve finished my surveys on CETRUD’s potential Microfinance expansion and presented the report to the Executive Director (hopefully I’ll find a way to upload it online for you all to read).

2. I lived in rural Uganda… which means that I used a pit latrine extensively, did not have running water for showers, I slaughtered a chicken for dinner, I cycled (and drove) around in the bush, played soccer with a bunch of high school kids. I had a great time!

3. I attended a marriage introduction ceremony, which incidentally was bigger than most weddings I’ve been to in my life. There’s always an introduction before a wedding here where there is a symbolic negotiation for a dowry.

4. Along with the wedding ceremony, I also attended a burial ceremony. It was actually quite sad, because it was a burial for a young lady (20 years old) who died in a terrible car accident. The burial ceremony lasted the entire day, and everybody in from the village, and outside, showed up for it.

5. I’m designing a website for CETRUD (temporary link). I’ve learned so much about web design as a result, and I only have my friend Nathan Huening to thank. Therefore, I will shamelessly plug his web-hosting services on this blog… so if any of you want a server and a domain name for a website you’re designing, click here and you'll see how he can hook you up through bluefield hosting.

6. I visited the future Agritourism facility for CETRUD which is right next to Rwenzori National Park. This means I had the bounty to see how the local mountain farmers operated their activities. It’s amazing to see people farm even on very steep slopes.

7. I had an epiphany about the power of the internet. One day, a man in my office was telling me how difficult life was for the women in the mountain. They have to wake up early to hike down a couple hours to fetch water and then hike back. We decided there must be a cheap and easy way to solve the problem, but didn’t know how. I did a quick search online and found blue prints for a hydraulic ram pump, which costs around $50 (very affordable) and pumps water without electricity. We’re currently in the process of installing this near the Agritourism facility.

8. We hosted a conference of eight NGO’s (all of the AGRADU NGO’s were here, with two person delegations - no UNC AGRADU interns) funded by Firelight Organization in the U.S. It was a lot of fun, but very hectic. I learned a lot, and had the chance to network with all of the NGO’s, so I hope to visit them during my 4 and a half month stay that I have left here in Uganda.

I’m sorry that there’s not much here in terms of reflections. I’ve definitely had a lot of time to think about what I’m doing, where I am, and the conditions of poverty, and I’ve learned so much just by being here. Unfortunately, power is out, and my laptop battery is very low, so I won’t be able to type anymore for this blog post. Hopefully I’ll have time to let you know about my thoughts sometime in the next week. Otherwise, take care!

Monday, July 9, 2007


On Sunday June 24th Saw, a co-worker from Foc-REV, invited us all to church with him. Religion is an important aspect of most Ugandans lives. Often when they introduced themselves, along with their name and age, they also mention their faith. Recently I had a conversation with one of my colleages about religion in the United States. He was appalled when I told him there is separation between church and state in US and even more shocked when I told him administrators are not allowed to pray during assemblies in school. Saw is a born again Christian and was very excited to have us join him in church. The church service was quite enjoyable and filled with song and dance. The majority of the service is praise and worship. Every choir including the young adults, youth, male, and senior has the opportunity to sing at least two songs. There is also a portion of the program devoted to dance. During this time, youth usually come up and offer praise through the latest dance moves. The service was very exciting, to say the least.
Later in the week I had the opportunity to attend a meeting for the Memory Book Project headed by NACWOLA (National Community of Women Living with AIDS). The Memory Book Project is geared to empower HIV positive mothers with effective family communication skills to disclose their HIV status to their children. After they have disclosed, the women involved in the program create a book filled with precious childhood memories and important family history to leave behind for their children. This project is so impressive to me, because it not only enables children to better cope and experience less trauma when their parents eventually pass away, but the Memory Project also serves a learning tool for children and adults to obtain accurate information about the transmission of HIV/AIDS. There are still a number of misconceptions among the Ugandan community. Many people here still believe one can get HIV/AIDS from sleeping in the same bed with an infected person, sharing toilets, and some even believe if one is to have sex after midnight the virus can’t be transmitted because it is dormant. It is really unfortunate that so many people still believe these myths, but FOC-REV is striving to change and educate.
Since I work week was not as busy, Sandra and I had plenty of time to play with the children across the street. You wouldn’t even know that we don’t speak the same language by watching us play and interact. A few of the older children know how to speak English, and so we are able to communicate to the younger children through them. We’ve learned a couple of Ugandan games from them and I hope to learn them well enough to teach other children in the Untied States.
This past week we had the opportunity to shadow Community Health Volunteers. These persons visit with people living with HIV/AIDS and check to make sure they are taking their medication, eating nutritiously, and to address in any other problems or concerns. All of the clients were polite and were honored to have an American in their home. They are such kind people in spite of the illness and poverty they face. I too was honored to be in their presence.
Our weekends have been so much fun. During the last weekend in June, Sandra, Andrew, and I traveled to Jinja. On Saturday we visited Bujagali Falls, where I was charged a lesser entry fee because I was mistaken for Ugandan. I gave the checkpoint guard my money without saying a word, in fear he would realize his mistake. Fortunately, he didn’t and I have kept my ticket stub because I plan to have it framed when I return home. On Sunday, we took a boat ride on the source of the Nile. It was absolutely beautiful and I can’t even begin to describe what it was like. This past weekend, Sandra and I traveled to Mbale and visited Sipi Falls. Again this place was absolutely beautiful and breath-taking. We slept at a beautiful guest house in a hut. The guest house overlooked the falls and that night I fell asleep to the sound of the falls crashing into the river. I hope to return there someday with my family and Weyling.
Next time I’ll try not to wait so long before I post a blog. Internet access is never promised here in Busia! Until then - enjoy!


As I sit here writing this entry, I am constantly distracted by a cute boy who has a rolled-up chapatti (really yummy tortilla-like thing we have fallen in love with here) in one hand and a scrap piece of paper we have been drawing on in the other. As I try to concentrate, he pokes me so I look at what he’s drawing, flicks stuff at me to get my attention, throws our attempt of a paper airplane at me, and stares at me with his big, round eyes. He has become my friend and always makes the days at the office better when he is around (he’s the 6 year old son of a woman who works here and he comes on his school break). At first, he wouldn’t even look at me because he is very shy, but slowly we became friends and now when he’s around its quite difficult to not have him around wanting to play. It is always interesting because as he explains things to me I have no idea what he is saying, and when I try to tell him something he looks at me like I am crazy!

It’s always hard to communicate with someone when you do not speak the same language. Hand gestures are always helpful, as are facial expressions, but I think the easiest people to get along with when you don’t know a language is children.
You can find kids everywhere in Uganda. Especially in Busia. Especially right around our hotel. Even when it looks like there are only a couple of kids, as soon as you give any attention to one child, many others start peeping out from houses, bushes, trees and before you know it you have an entire group of kids formed around you. I love playing with these kids and if I could, it would be the only thing I would do all day!
I decided to teach a couple of kids across the street how to give a high five. When I went the next day to see if they remembered how do it (which they did), the other kids that had joined them quickly learned how to give one. The next day I decided to sit down with them, and though they speak absolutely no English (besides knowing how to say ‘mzungu, how are you?’ and ‘I am fine’), and my Lusamia skills were limited to ‘Hello, my name is Ajambo Sandra. Thank you very much for everything. Good bye!’, we were still able to ‘communicate’ and play for over an hour. They were very good at the repeating game (ie I say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘why’, ‘oooh’, ‘aaah’ etc and they repeat everything I say). We also played the jumping game (everyone gets up and jumps until all of a sudden everyone decides to plop back on the floor), the tickle game (they put their hand on my leg and I tickle them), and the stare game (we all would just sit there staring at each other, not quite sure what to do or say). Austin came out and we taught them Ring-around-the-rosy, which they loved. Most of the time they would just look at us and giggle, fall over and laugh on the ground. As the days went by and Austin and I would go and play with them after work, they have taught us their names, along with how to play some local games. They have tried teaching me a phrase (which I later learned meant “I want to go bathe” – very useful, right??), how to sing and how to dance. They find it hilarious to see a mzungu shaking her bootie…I just love listening to their laughter and seeing them get all excited! Playing with these new friends and any other random kid along the street we decide to stop and play with a bit is my favourite past time here in Uganda!

Work-related everything is going well. The people here are so nice and when there is not much to do we can always find someone to talk to about anything and everything. Lately they have been mentioning they are sad that we are soon leaving (I cannot believe we only have two weeks left!!) and ask when we will come back and work here permanently with them. Francis, our executive director, is already starting to plan our farewell party where he wants to include everyone we have worked with and met in the entire district! They have given us amazing opportunities to see what the kind of work they do here is like. We have gone to different event and random meetings. Last week our task was to accompany some CCAs (Community Counselling Aides) on their visitations to the homes of HIV infected people in the community. All of the CCAs are also HIV positive, and they are trained in psycho-social support and are knowledgeable on the important places they can refer the clients to. They are all volunteers and simply commit their time in order to help other members in their community and help fight the stigma against HIV infected people. It was great to be able to go into the different areas in Busia with them, visiting people’s homes and seeing how many people here live. Everyone is so hospitable and nice and they were all happy to have us visit them at their house.

This week we are travelling across the country to a district called Hoima which is on the Western border. We are going to see how an organization there is working on their sustainable livelihood program, which should be fun and interesting because we have been working with the sustainable livelihood program here in Busia and in the neighbouring district. I am very excited to see more of Uganda – it is all so beautiful! Besides our usual trips around Busia and Bugiri districts, we have used a weekend to travel to Jinja and see the source of the Nile (soo beautiful) and another one to go up to Mbale where we went to Sipi Falls and stayed in a banda (a hut) in the mountains that overlooks the amazing waterfall.

Things are going great, I’m loving it and I am sorry to be leaving so soon! I have noticed we have started speaking English like Ugandans, using their phrases, their replies and following their train of though. I’m even getting sad thinking that in a few weeks I will no longer be able to eat matooke! Anyways, I will try to post again next week but internet access is quite limited out here in Busia….

Ajambo Sandra

Monday, July 2, 2007

And That's The Way It Is

A French-Canadian woman who sings about love of titanic proportions is the It Girl of Uganda. Next to the football-crazy Cranes, this superstar has the entire country under her spell. She is Queen Celine. Diva Dion. The woman who, on every radio in the heart of Africa, goes on and on and on.

It is hardly surprising that I have heard my fair share of Celine by now. Cassettes, radio stations, televisions. She is everywhere, coming on day and night, rain or shine. In fact, most mornings start out with Celine blasting out from the main hotel building. Uganda’s version of a wakeup call, I suppose. Needless to say, Celine is often stuck in my head. So much so that I may leave Uganda as the crazy mzungu belting out “The Power of Love” during any and every walk into town.

The woman has practically seeped into everything. My ears, my head, my vocal chords. Even my attitude. Yes, to help immerse myself into Ugandan culture, I have even learned to adopt the Celine Dion attitude. The That’s-The-Way-It-Is view on Life. Not surprising, it has proven to be quite handy.

Take last week. I had a very stimulating conversation with a born and bred Ugandan. Over lunch, we swapped questions and answers in table talk about many a topic. By the end of the chat, I could begin to paint a distinct (though incomplete and albeit generalized) picture of what goes on inside the ordinary Ugandan mind. It is a world that I don’t fully understand, one that has as much allure as it has challenge. Just like any other culture (including the red, white, and blue one I find so familiar), there are good, bad, and ugly things. There are beautiful and darkened sides of the cultural coin. And there are je-ne-sais-quoi pieces that make little sense to outsiders.

The picture that I was beginning to paint had humor and honesty. Parts were refreshing and quite revealing. Others were offsetting, even intimidating. It was a picture that viewed Americans as heroes for fighting the Arab world and tricksters for honoring shady marriage norms (read here: prenuptials). A picture that focused on the nurture side of the origins of homosexuality debate and posited gays and lesbians as the products of choice. A picture that had definite views on Indians and Arabs. On the all of the West (read: America). On blacks around the world. On mzungus far and wide. A picture that brought out laughter at one moment and, at another, unearthed quibbles deep down in my insides.

Of course, any picture of Uganda painted by yours truly would – as they say in the world of art – carry a perspective all its own. It would be Picasso-like, a hodgepodge of observations and puzzling thoughts. And it would certainly have the potential to showcase judgment. To emphasize my picking and choosing of what makes up Uganda rather than to portray the country in a truer light.

So instead of painting pictures, I tried to end the chat in the way I imagined Celine Dion might. After all, when in Uganda…do as the Celine Dion-loving Ugandans do. Respect instead of judge. Soak up information rather than dish out commentary. Recognize that differences exist.

Realize that I am me.

And Uganda is Uganda.

And that’s the way it is.