Monday, June 30, 2008

Poule, Poule

Poule, Poule, Nemuyendo....Harraca, Harraca, Hieyna Barraca
A proverb meaning: slowly, slowly things will come...quickly, quickly, accidents happen.

I have found this to be the way of life in Uganda; poule, poule. Many factors about the country and culture create a much slower pace. Simply the climate within the country is one limiting factor. No one would dream of rushing around in the heat of is simply an impossibility. Culturally, rituals and long ceremonies (five or six hour weddings) all contribute to a more relaxed pace.

This tendency to move more slowly here, I have found, breeds patience. For example, gaining internet connection to write this post has taken several fleeting attempts and bad connections :)
Thus, in taking more time to accomplish tasks, one has more time to gain perspective and truly absorb the work you are doing and fully experience the moments.

Recently, some of the more poignant moments have been in those slow-pace times: teaching hop-scotch and back-bends to the village kids, learning my Lugandan numbers while preparing pineapples for planting, going for runs with the farm puppy Cliff (which is a real shock for everyone we meet... a Muzungu and a dog as a pet, two bizarre sightings in one).

This slow pace really manifests itself on the farm in a beautiful way. There we work together planting and caring for crops and animals. (Funding from AGRADU went to a new animal husbandry program, so I have literally been playing "mama hen" to 500 baby chicks).

After planting together we also harvest together, cook together and finally share long meals and conversations together.The connection to the land and to one another is a welcome change of pace from the supermarkets and immediate gratification that is so common in the U.S.

Of course the slower pace can lead to frustration and there are times when I feel unproductive and I could do more "if only..." . Yet, despite the frustrations and occasional feelings of still moves on: poule, poule.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Really Truly Grassroots

Yesterday I helped build a fuel efficient stove from bricks and mud with grass mixed into it. This mixture was created to maximize insulation. Banana stems were used to provide a mold to connect the heating surfaces together to maximize use of the fire, which will be lit through a little opening in the side of the stove. A chimney was also constructed to expel the fumes from the stove out of the kitchen.

This is the first time that I've helped build something as part of community service. I never thought I would want to help out in this way, but it felt very raw and natural to get my hands dirty and work with bricks and mud for three hours. They were the most productive three hours I've had since I've been in Uganda. It was hard work. I can't help but admire people that work like that for days on end.

The day before that, I helped make necklaces from varnished beads made out of magazines. I was working with the support group for women with HIV/AIDS. They all had a debilitating disease, but they were laughing throughout the meeting. I enjoyed being in that atmosphere and examining the beads they had made for the ones that were good enough for necklaces. We had to discard a lot of beads. I didn't realized the amount of effort that goes into making magazine jewelry.

Many people in the US would not consider tasks like building stoves and making magazine necklaces as meaningful internship experiences. I think that the opposite is true. I think it is critical to have some experience participating in the daily activities of people working to sustain their own development because only then can one have an idea of what it's like to be in their shoes. Of course, there is no way a person could possibly know what it's like to be in their position, but I think it's important to try. From my experience, they really appreciate it. People enjoy seeing that Mzungus aren't above doing certain tasks.

Monday, June 23, 2008


“Give a man a fish,….

and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a life time.”
I don’t necessarily agree with this statement. It means that you assume that you know more about fishing than the man, and that is not always the case.

Over the past couple days I have been teaching about nutrition and water and sanitation in schools. Often just because I am not African, it is assumed that I should know the answer to every question that is asked. This is true even if the question has nothing to do with what I presented about, or if the question is related in a convoluted way. At first I thought it was because of an internalized perception of African inferiority left over from the colonial era, but sometimes I feel like the people are testing me. It might be a way of indirectly saying, “You think you’re so smart because you aren’t black.” I don’t take it personally though.

For example I was presenting about nutrition a couple days ago, and the teacher asked me something along the lines of “Why does Africa have diseases?” The answer is very complex, and public health specialists still debate about it. I didn’t have an answer for him. Then he said that he knew the answer. He said that people have the resources, but they don’t utilize them. I felt like he was saying that if a person gets sick, it is partly their own fault.

While it is certainly a person’s responsibility to take care of their health, I don’t think it is fair to blame people that are sick for their illnesses. While some people may not properly utilize resources to their advantage, there are those who just do not have the resources. I tried to say something along those lines.

Prior to that outreach, we went to a high school where the children asked questions because they were genuinely curious about the world. The questions were so intelligent. We were teaching about a product called Water Guard, which is sodium hypochlorite. It is used to kill bacteria in the water so that the water is drinkable. People asked questions like, “What about bacteria with particularly hardy cell walls? Are they affected as well?”, “Does chlorine cause cancer?”, “What happens if you put too much water guard in the jerry can of water?", "What happens if you put too little?” * They also put on a creative skit about what happens when a person drinks contaminated water.

I didn’t think I would be teaching when I first decided to come to Uganda, but I am very glad I am. I’m starting to understand more clearly the relationship between seemingly disparate fields like environmental science, education, and public health.

* In case you wanted to know, water guard kills all the bacteria that are harmful to humans in the water. Because only one capful (three or four milliliters) is used per twenty liters of water, water guard is not harmful to human health. If you add a little too much the water would just taste bad, but a person would probably get sick if they drank it straight from the bottle. Did you know that in the US our tap water is treated with a compound similar to water guard? It is also really nice because a bottle costs 1000 shillings (61 cents) and treats 1000 L of water (50 jerry cans that hold 20 L water).

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

Several weeks ago I made the journey from Kampala to Kasese. The trip can be made in about five hours or so, yet we made several detours and enjoyed an interesting 8 hour adventure!
Among our detours were several stops to pick up supplies for the farm including: sapplings, seeds, equipment and dogs...yes dogs.
So, I trecked through the bush to mud-brick huts, through fields of long-horned cattle and sheep (literally through the herds), and helped select dogs which rode in the back of the car with Branson and I...all the while experiencing Ugandan driving at its best: careening at 110 km/h through traffic, people, goats and chickens. Yeah...welcome to Uganda!
Since my arrival in Kasese I have taken many journeys to and from the farm in the village of Karusandara. I have passed most of these journeys in the back of the pick-up truck; wind in my hair and the occassional bug in my eye :) It is a gorgeous stretch of country in the Rwenzori Mountains, the view is almost surreal.
Many of the trips involve transporting equipment for projects out on the farm. Recently we began an animal husbandry project and have relocated several hundred baby chicks to the farm. One very memorable journey occured a few days ago. We have been constructing a fence for the goats and thus we loaded the truck with timber, 18 goats, several bunches of plantanes, chicken feed and about 10 people...this is a standard pick was an impressive feat!
Things have been busy here at CETRUD (The Centre for Environment Technology and Rural Development) as we have been preparing for NOGAMU. NOGAMU is the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda. It was a really inspiring event where I met farmers from all over Uganda who share a beautiful relationship with the land and are strongly connected to those core values and one another.
While preparing for the exhibition we traveled to many farms sponsored by CETRUD to gather produce to exhibit. One such journey began late one evening as we all piled into the pick-up and traveled deeper into the village than I have yet been. Villages here dismantle whatever image or concept of a village your brain has compiled.
We turned off the main road (a very passable dirt road with its fair number of pot-holes and wash outs) onto a secondary road which is literally a walking path that has been carved out by surrounding residents. We continued on this path with a constant onslaught of trees and brush pummeling the sides of the vehicle. You shake so violently over the terrain that you become very aware of your insides as they knock against your bones! I found myself laughing at the absurdity of taking a car through this...when it has probably been years since another vehicle has had any reason to pass.
Suddenly, we came upon a smooth, swept dirt patch, barren and beautiful, that served as someone's front yard. It was such a surprising, welcome change of scenery. This was the first of a series of homes which compiled the village. We reached our destination and were welcomed into the field to collect pineapple for exhibition.
Standing in the middle of the pineapple field, lit only by the moon, brought this overwhelming sense of calm. That universal peace you experience on a mountain somewhere or sitting on the beach or even quietly in your own back yard.
Thus, what felt like the road to no where, actually delivered me to the unifying experience of quiet, calm and peace.

Week 3 in Busia

We are entering into our 3rd week here in Busia and with FOC-REV. Time has flown by and I’m not sure where it all went.

Last week we sat in on an HIV/AIDS planning meeting for the town of Busia. The things we learned were unbelievable. About 42% of married woman in Uganda are infected with HIV. That is almost half of all married women. It is unbelievable that the ones who are in committed relationships are the ones who are affected the most. These women are for the most part faithful. They are being infected by their husbands who are sleeping with other random women, most of the time spending their wife’s money on a sex worker. Then the wives have to take care of the children, and pick up the slack even though it is their husbands fault. It is just sad and I feel so bad for them.

On a good note, we have found some wonderful organizations here in Busia that are trying to alleviate this problem. In addition to FOC-REV and the wonderful things they are doing, we have been introduced to an organization called Bamacoda. Bamacoda does free HIV/AIDS testing and counseling 3 times a week for the people of Busia. Because Busia is a boarder town, there is a lot of traffic that comes in from Kenya and there are a lot of truckers that carry the disease and spread I to the people here in Busia. Bamacoda is located right at the boarder so that it is easily accessed by the truckers and the sex workers who work on the boarder. Bamacoda also does a lot with peer counseling and training residents of Busia to be able to help each other.

We also found an orphanage here in Busia that is working to teach the children in Busia how to become respectable men and women. The orphanage is called New Hope. It is currently supporting about 70 children, 50 of which live on sight. The children are provided with housing, food, clothing, school fees and education, healthcare and psychosocial support. The children are all victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic here in Uganda. All of the children either have a parent or both who have died from HIV or is suffering from HIV. Recently all of the children have been tested for HIV and thankfully they are all negative, which is quite a miracle. The children are all wonderful. When we first went to see them, they were all warm and welcoming. They all greeted us and were very well behaved. It was the first time since we have been here, that after being in a place for more than 5 minutes that none of the “mizungus” were asked for money by anyone, child or adult, which was very surprising.

Ok well that is all for now. I have to go deal with some things. Until next time.

You can't always get what you want, or can you?

My Luganda name is Ayagala, which means one who wants/needs. It was picked for me because it's very close to my last name. In America I’m used to getting what I want. If I want to flush the toilet or take a shower, I can do that any time. If I want to use the internet, there’s usually nothing stopping me from doing that. If I want to call somebody, my phone is not going to kick me out of a call because I haven't paid enough money in advance. When I go to meetings, they usually happen on time and last for an hour at most.

That’s not the way it is here. Sometimes we don’t have water in our house, and the internet is excruciatingly slow if it is available. Every time I want to call somebody on the phone, I have to pay a little over three dollars. Meetings can happen at any time of day, even if they are scheduled for a certain time. They can last for three or four hours.

I realize now that my life in the states is all about getting my way as fast as possible, but it seems like the lives of Ugandans are about celebrating being alive.

Most people who live in my village and in the surrounding areas don’t have running water at all. Some don’t have electricity, and many people only eat mashed up plantains, yams, and peanut sauce every day because goods like meat, milk products, rice, and imported fruits like apples are expensive.

Despite this adversity, or at least what looks like it to me, the people in my village are some of the friendliest and happiest that I’ve ever met. It’s impossible to go anywhere without being asked about my welfare by a smiling face. Our neighbors even shared fresh jackfruit and sugar cane with us.

My favorite part about being in this country is interacting with the children. Wherever we go, they run up to us, arms flailing, and say, “Bye!” until they can’t see our backs anymore. What's even more incredible is that some of these happy children have no parents. When we visited a school with no walls, the students sang for us with so much joy that soon we were infected. We had to sing along with them.

I’m not quite sure why people are so happy out here, but it may have something to do with how beautiful the landscape is. Sometimes when I’m walking around the village, I have to stop and stare at the silhouette of a tree against the sunset or at the morning fog settling on the lush green hills. It’s so quiet that I feel like I have to silence my thoughts. When people ask, “What is the meaning of life?” enjoying moments like these has to be part of the answer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A picture is worth a thousand words…

But internet here is slow, so words will have to suffice. Africa, Uganda, Kampala, and Busia…this has been a whirlwind experience so far. After flying into Entebbe, and staying in Kampala, I finally arrive here in Busia, a boarder town of Kenya in south eastern Uganda, right on Lake Victoria. Upon arriving in the town, I saw baboons on the road way and cattle, chickens, and goats littering the streets- this was my first impression of the beauty of Uganda. On our travel to Busia, we passed through a tropical rainforest and past fields of mango trees. It is a very different and beautiful world here.

Since arriving at FOC-REV though, I have been reminded that it is not all beautiful landscapes and exotic wildlife. Here in Busia, the HIV rate is nearly 35%, a rate which nearly quadruple the national average. Busia is very much a truck-stop town and is very near to many fishing villages, and the transient aspects of Busia are what contribute so much to its high incident of HIV. This increased rate of HIV then leads to a very high population of orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and sex workers, which perpetuates and extends the issues of HIV. This is a very brief and summarized version of very many complex issues that FOC-REV is working to combat and treat, but at its surface, this is what it looks like.

FOC-REV operates in three different “theaters” to combat these very serious issues. First, they work with BAMACODA, another organization in Busia, to offer free and accessible HIV testing to all people, as well as home based care and a health center in a nearby village. Secondly they work to provide school fees and uniforms for over 500 OVCs in the area (which often costs nearly $180 per year, even though education is said to be “free”). Thirdly, they provide a revolving fund to support sex-workers in starting up their own businesses, like shoes and clothing shops, so that they are able to leave their life on the streets, which endangers themselves and their children.

My first week has been very much about figuring out where I fit into all of this. The directors have spent a lot of time telling us what they do and even allowing us to see it, but it has been very difficult to find areas where we can actually pitch-in. As far as grassroots development goes, FOC-REV is an amazing example of what people truly committed to change can do with the correct resources. What they are doing is very worthwhile, and they are truly affecting people and change. I believe their next big task will be to begin the process of transitioning to a program which supports the promotion of prevention and behavior change, and not simply treatment and care. Behavior change, or altering centuries held beliefs about gender, social and cultural norms, is not something that comes easily, and this is easy to see in Busia, but it is something that I truly believe FOC-REV has the ability to affect. Many say that “children are our future,” and this is very much the case, even in Busia, and I think that if organizations like FOC-REV begin to target children, attempting to alter sterotypes and assumptions about gender, HIV and relationships, they will truly create the change which they all hope to see.

Friday, June 6, 2008

What Exactly Is Sustainable Development?

That is the question. It has been challenging trying to figure out how my actions will contribute to sustainable development. The goal is to create or contribute to projects that the local community will benefit from and will be able to continue when we leave in two months.

It seems like outsiders are relied upon for tasks such as securing funding for projects. Initially, Ashley and I were thinking that we would help in this regard. We’ve come to realize that if we do not also teach the staff at CBHCP how to find grants and write grant proposals, the next large chunk of funding may come in primarily through outsiders. We’re going to run workshops about how to apply for and successfully implement grants.

I am working on designing a website for CBHCP, and I am going to make sure that at least two staff members learn how it works before I leave. The website will hopefully raise awareness about the organization and encourage donations. The main hurdle is that the only internet connection is through one wireless USB device, which means that the going is slow.

The projects that seem most sustainable at the moment are the ones such as keyhole gardens, which are designed to conserve water and retain nutrients in the soil. They have a central location where organic waste, leaves, grass, and ash would be deposited, and the nutrients from this compost would leach into the soil. There is also a built in irrigation system in which the garden can be watered from a central location as well. There is also a project that is working to create income generating opportunities for women with HIV/AIDS such as craft making.
I hope to help in whatever way I can with the keyhole gardens and the women’s groups.

I know for sure that I am going to be teaching about nutrition in the local schools through CBHCP’s outreaches. Today I met the headmistress of Rina Junior Academy in Busaka, the village where I am staying. A pen-pal program between American children and students at Rina will be established before I leave. However, the headmistress wants all 198 children to have pen-pals. I've only secured pen-pals for 26 of them, so if any of you know of schools that would be interested in partnering with Rina, please let me know.

A key component of participating in sustainable development seems to be building relationships with people. Real live human beings are going to be carrying out the process, and they will be more likely to work on projects if they feel valued while doing them. The local culture values making time to interact with people even when one doesn’t have time. In fact, I don’t think there is such a thing as not having time to talk to someone here. It is expected that when you see a person you know, you stop whatever you are doing and talk to them for at least five minutes. I think this kind of behavior is important because it lets other people know that you acknowledge and care about them. I’m going to try to act this way more often, even when I go back home to the US.

When I got here I felt that because I have been educated in America, I have to utilize the unique skill set that I have to benefit CBHCP. I got very excited about making a difference. I knew before coming here that in order for development to be truly sustainable, the local community must be able to affect their own progress. However, I now realize how fine the balance is between making a difference and being a part of change that people create for themselves.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Finally in Busia

Just wanted to post a short blog while I am here at the internet cafe. Africa is beautiful and the people are so nice. I have not met one person yet who has not openly welcomed us to Uganda. I have learned so much about FOC-REV and it is doing such amazing things, it is unbelievable. I knew before that FOC-REV was a wonderful organization, but it is so much better than i thought. any who I am almost out of time, but until next time :).