Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Everything is well in Kampala after about three weeks. Zach has outlined the nature of our work, so I’m going to go ahead and chronicle some of the more unusual (in my mind) occurrences witnessed in the recent past. For me, our trip to the zoo qualifies since many of the featured animals I had never seen in my US zoo-deprived childhood. George, Zach, and I embarked on the aptly-named Forest Walk within the zoo, which was comprised of lots of large spiders, huge hoards of red ants, and eventually an accidental exit of the zoo’s grounds via exploration of several unkempt trails. Nonetheless, the zoo was a great experience overall. Other things I didn’t necessarily anticipate are as follows:

Animals everywhere – from cows holding up traffic to chickens wandering into houses, stray dogs and cats left and right, animals do just about whatever they please here. Also, in certain areas such as near the zoo and in the woods by Katosi there are these small cool-looking monkeys all over the place.

Traffic – terrible traffic jams, horrendously built dirt roads, and near-accidents are the norm here. Observed a few minor collisions, usually involving boda bodas in the congested city streets.

People swimming down rocky rapids of the Nile for money – self-explanatory

Some cultural oddities – On a trip to a very rural area to meet with a potential partner for KWDT, Zach, George and myself were treated to chairs while the women (who played such an exponentially more important role in the meeting it was laughable) including the hostesses of the home, sat on some mats on the floor. We were told that among their cultural practices was the idea that men must always be above women. Furthermore, the gathering was conducted outside and another woman who appeared to be listening sat in the dirt off in the distance. When we inquired about this later, George explained that the lady was the mother of the woman who lived there, and was not allowed on the property, although the mother of the husband would be welcomed any time. This discovery baffled me for quite some time. Imagine if one of your grandmother’s was greeted into your family’s home with open arms while the other could not set foot in your yard.

Rollerblades – did not see this one coming. On three occasions I’ve seen people on rollerblades, which is pretty much a death wish on any street in Uganda. One was clutching the back of a motorcycle moving at a decent clip, one was holding on to the back of a slow-moving truck, and one was cruising down a crowded street alone at night, which I think is a fabulous idea.

Overall, I am having a great time. Our host family is great, work is picking up, and we are all excited for our safari this weekend. Couldn’t ask for any more from the experience thus far.

- Grant

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Greetings from Kampala, Weeks 2-3

3 weeks in and life is good in the capital city. Grant and I are working in the main office of the Katosi Women Development Trust on the outskirts of Kampala with the 5 full-time employees of KWDT. The staff here is thoroughly enjoyable and upon arrival I quickly felt very comfortable with the office environment and the work that we have been given. Most of our responsibilities are related in one way or another to seeking grants and applying for funding from international foundations whose mission is compatible with KWDT. This can at times be a frustrating process-sometimes we will locate a promising organization who shares the values and goals of KWDT, yet, for one reason or another- either we narrowly miss a requirement or the organization is not currently accepting applications, we cannot always apply for funding. To complicate the matter, the internet here, reportedly the best available, can be painstakingly slow and internet speed often varies from minute to minute.

However, when we do find a project that fits it is very encouraging and is easy to find the motivation to pursue it. Currently Grant and I are working on a School Enterprise Challenge where schools initiate a student-run business that can be profitable and self-sustaining and can provide funding in addition to that provided by the government (which, from the looks of the schools, appears to be minimal) and by organizations like KWDT. Grant and I thought about possible profitable enterprises and quickly realized that we did not possess sufficient knowledge of the market conditions for various businesses, let alone profitable ones, and if we were to implement a business in a school based on what we knew about operating a business in Uganda (which is nothing) the business would be an utter failure and waste of funding. So we approached the school that our organization thought would be most prepared for the challenge, called Katosi Primary C/U, which was deemed qualified b/c of its long-running success with utilizing and maintaining bio-sand water filters and rain-water harvesting tanks. KWDT has installed water hygiene and sanitation instruments in nearly 30 schools, but often the schools neglect to properly care for the instruments and they end up no longer functioning-leaving the schools w/o access to drinking water and water to wash their hands with.

So we discussed the challenge with Primary C/U and decided upon opening up a pig-farming business that would be supervised by two of the teachers (also the heads of the sanitation club) and managed by six of the students. We have gathered the basic information to enter into the challenge and are currently creating a budget to assess the feasibility of the program given our funding and to create the business plan that is due in about a month. More updates on the challenge as events warrant.

The weekends are spent exploring other parts of Uganda and breaking the day-to-day routine of the work-week. In order to mentally prepare for our safari coming up this Friday (which we are very excited about) and to become familiar with African fauna, George, Grant and I headed to the zoo in Entebbe on Sunday where we got to check out some rhinos, lions, giraffes, monkeys, and quite a few more. After our visit, we certainly felt better-equipped to observe the animals in their natural habitat. The previous weekend we visited Jinja-the source of the Nile River-where we observed a group of men kayak and swim down very impressive and powerful rapids (they do it for money, and given the danger of the activity I was uncomfortable encouraging it) but fortunately I was able to free-ride and enjoy the show w/o having to pay.

Well, I think it's time to return to work. Future updates will be more frequent.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Katosi Field Site

So I taught my first English class on Tuesday and it went pretty well.  I have to speak extremely slow and get strict now and then to restrict the giggling, but other than that I really enjoyed it.  Leslie and I also held our first sanitation club meeting this week at two schools.  At the first one we concentrated on washing your hands and body and at the second we also discussed washing hands in addition to composting.  The school already had a box, so we asked them to bring worms to the meeting and we officially started a compost box for the school.  We explained how composting works and the benefits of composting for the environment.  The amount of trash in Uganda amazes me.  There is no such thing as a trashcan here (in the house or out), so the citizens either throw their trash on the ground or burn it.  Both of which are terrible for the environment and the overall sanitation of the city.  I have seen a few signs that read “keep or country clean”, but I have no idea where people are supposed to put their trash.  I have to admit that Leslie and I have a bag of trash in our room and it is almost full and we may have to burn it because there really are no alternatives unless we start composting ourselves.  Anyways, all three classes we taught were great and I am really excited to finish the sanitation guide I have been working on.  I want all of our sanitation clubs to have a binder with my information guide and a notebook so they can take the minutes at each meeting.  In addition, I would also like to make some hands on activities that will reinforce healthy sanitation practices.  I was thinking about laminating different pictures of good and bad practices or pictures you have to put in order etc. that the kids can piece together in groups.  From what I have seen so far the schools have good teachers and the material is on par with the United States, but due to the lack of money there are absolutely no hands on activities.  The teacher writes on the board and the kids copy.   So I would love to have some hands on activities to mix it up and really get the kid’s attention.  On a slightly different note, it has been really refreshing to not be called “Mzungu” for the past couple of days.  “Mzungu” means “white person” in Luganda (the local language) and I swear we get called that word one thousand times a day.  However, now that we have been working with the schools a lot of the students know my Luganda name, which is Babirye.  So I am actually being called by my name now (sort of) and I love that all of the children are taking the time to remember it instead of saying “Mzungu”.  It is funny though how a lot of the younger children cling to Leslie and I like white on rice.  They fight to hold our hands and touch our skin.  They are so interested in examining our skin because they don’t understand how the color is so different.  I think a lot of them think that it isn’t skin or something.  We went to play with a pre-school class yesterday afternoon, but we made the mistake of going an hour before school was over.  We played with them and sang some songs, which was great, but when school was over they all followed us home.  I think about one hundred kids were walking with us so we intentionally went to a store because we were worried that the children would come to our house later if they knew where we were staying.  It was great and they all went home when we went in the store, but it just gives you an idea of how rare white people are.  I think the fascination is a combination of wanting to see how and why we look different, coupled with the stereotype that white people are rich.  We have already been asked to take people to the U.S. in addition to a few marriage proposals etc.  Basically, it is absolutely impossible to be inconspicuous and stay under the radar here.  I struggled with that for the first few days, but now that I am more comfortable with my surroundings and know the village it is not so bad. 

This is certainly a very different place compared to the United States though.  One thing that strikes me is the way people carry themselves.  It is very important here to be dressed well and appear professional.  Everyone has a cell phone and they go off all the time just like they do in the U.S.  These two things were very odd to me, however, since only 4% of the population in Uganda has electricity.  Where do they charge their phones?  In addition, almost everyone works outside since all of the shops and stores are open to the street.  The streets are paved here and there and trash is all over the place.  I guess what I am trying to say is that the people don’t match the setting in my mind.  To put it in perspective, I attended one of the group meetings for the women’s center I am interning for.  The meeting was outside of one of the member’s homes (a rundown brick home) and we were all sitting outside on grass mats to avoid the red clay that covers everything.  The home stood alone with the forest behind it and the dirt road in front.   In the middle of the meeting, one of the members phones went off and she went into the woods to answer it. It definitely caught me by surprise.  I guess it makes sense that they have phones in order to get in touch with people, but I was shocked that so many people had them and I am still confused as to where they charge them.   I think that it is wonderful that the citizens take pride in their appearance, but it was definitely something that I had expected to be different.  I guess I thought the clothing would also be a bit cooler, but all of the men wear suits and the women wear long skirts.  However, I came to Africa to learn about the culture and I have already dispelled a few stereotypes like this one.   Live and learn.  Thanks!


My New Community

Settled in in Katosi, this past week Kristen and I took off running. Thus far, we have been working with four schools, three primary and one secondary, possibly adding a couple more to the agenda this coming week. In the Ugandan School System, students complete seven years of primary school, followed by six years of senior secondary, before taking exams for University. A bachelor's degree requires three years of university, instead of the typical four in the USA.

I have been in Katosi for two weeks now and already I feel included in the community. When I walk down the street, more often than not, I will hear children calling my name "Nakato!" instead of shouting the generic "Mzungu!" Yesterday, when I went to the market to buy items for lunch, I was greeted by a woman I did not know. I greeted her "Oli otya nnyabo?" "Gyendi nnyabo. Weebale. Oli otya Nakato?" I expected to be called "nnyabo" - woman - which is the formal term used in greetings, yet she surprised me by knowing and calling me by my Ugandan name. I suppose word spread quickly when there are only three white people in the town.

I have been staying busy teaching in the classrooms (Nursery, P2, P5, and S3), making yogurt for KWDT Dairy, entertaining the children of the community, leading sanitation clubs, helping with household chores, hand washing clothes and dishes, cooking two or three meals a day, keeping my daily journal, reading books, and socializing.

A few highlights of the week:
On Tuesday, after teaching P5 Math and Science at Katosi C/U Primary School, I went into the P2 classroom and taught a song with Kristen. Asked to come back on Friday to sing more songs, we did. The children, no matter what age, are always so excited when we walk into the classroom. After Row Row Row Your Boat and Mary Had a Little Lamb, the teacher told us that some of the children would like to share a word with us. We expected them to teach us a couple phrases in Luganda, but it was clarified that he meant a word from their income. We received eight tomatoes and four avocados from as many students because they wanted to show their appreciation of us.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Kristen and I worked with the Nursery class at St. Mary's Primary School. One hundred 3-5 years old students circled around us as we taught songs - The Very Little Spider (The Itsy Bitsy Spider), Row Row Row Your Boat, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Wasswa and Kato (Old MacDonald) Had a Farm - and dances - The Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance - and more. In return, they sang songs and danced for us, overly excited that we were paying them so much attention.

On Saturday, we went with Heidi to St. Joseph's Secondary School for their Health Club. We played a few games and completed a Life Skills Activity to encourage the students to think about who they are and who they want to become. All the students were asked to draw a picture of who they currently are and another of who they want to be in the future as well as write a description of their goals and aspirations. Everyone shared their drawings and asked questions about their goals. These students were very enthusiastic and interested in what we had to share with them. With students like the ones I have had the opportunity to work with this week, it is no wonder why so many of them desire to be teachers.

As a thank you for the time we spent with her class, Harriet, the head nursery teacher at St. Mary's (there are three teachers for the 100 students), invited us to her house on Sunday for fruit. The invitation in and of itself was very kind of Harriet. However, when we arrived, she had prepared so much more than we expected. A full meal of matooke (cooked green bananas) with beans, fish, and greens and a bottle of grape Mirinda sat waiting for us to share with her and her two adorable children. She also gave us tomatoes, avocados, and lemons from her garden. She told us how several parents had contacted her to ask if it was true that two mzungus came to teach in the classroom since their children had come home telling them so. The parents are all very appreciative that we are willing to work with their children.

In Uganda, the emphasis that is placed on community and the importance of hospitality is immense. While I may feel that I not making much of a impact, I have come to realize that the smallest amount of generosity and effort goes a long way. Sometimes I wonder why I fall in love with certain places, like Katosi, but then I think about the hidden beauty of the location, especially that which is in the people, and I remember. I have traveled to many countries, yet nowhere in the US or Europe have I seen such complete selflessness and hospitality as from the people I have come to know in Uganda and Ghana.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

“I still can’t believe we are in Uganda”

Greetings from the beautiful village of Kyetume (pronounced Che’tume) in the South Eastern corner of Uganda about an hours drive from the Capital of Kampala. As I write, it is three o’clock in the morning here and the lights have just returned in the incredibly comfortable 2room apartment Georgia and I share (pictures forthcoming). Since we forgot to shut our bedroom window before darkness set in, mosquitoes are having the time of their lives at my expense though after about the third bite, I have become accustomed to the sting (and itch).

“Are you ready?”

My journey to Uganda began on the early morning of May 31st 2011. Well known for my procrastination or as I like to say it “waiting for my motivation to reach its capacity”, I chose this morning to go about the business of withdrawing the cash I would need while in Uganda, shop for gifts to bring to the children here, and apply for an internship with a July deadline. As most procrastinators will testify to, the beauty of procrastination is that you know whatever needs to get done WILL get done, never mind your stress level. In any case, I finished the aforementioned tasks and loaded into a car with my mother, brother, sister and aunt bound for Logan International Airport.

“Is that a Popeyes in Istanbul?”

The flight to Istanbul was pleasant enough mostly due to my sleeping 7 out of the 9.5 hours it took to fly there and good entertainment courtesy of one lesser-known movie (and for good reason) called The Losers. I had taken a terrorism class last year and part of the lesson plan included a brief discussion on Turkey and factors affecting its entry into the European Union. Since most of the EU member states’ objection to Turkey’s entry was based on the latter’s Muslim majority, I expected Istanbul to be somewhat conservative. I could not have been more mistaken. The Ataturk airport in Turkey was as western as any other airport in a non-English speaking western country with both men and women dressed and “made-up” in distinctly western styles (this is not to discount the presence of a mosque at the airport and the prominence of Muslim names). But this surprise was nothing compared to the shock I experienced when I saw a Popeyes chicken joint. Although I was scarcely hungry after just having enjoyed a grilled chicken and rice meal on the inbound flight, I was OBLIGATED to try Turkey’s Popeyes fried chicken. It was not until after I had consumed my entire fried chicken salad (an oxymoron I know) and had thoroughly enjoyed my orange soda (made with sugarcane not high fructose corn syrup) that I realized I hadn’t the slightest clue as to how fried chicken at a Popeyes in Turkey compared to fried chicken from a Popeyes in the U.S. This was the case largely because I couldn’t recall the last time I had Popeyes in the States. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed my fried chicken salad from the Popeyes in Turkey as much as I imagine I would have from a Popeyes joint in the States.

“Breathe in, this is Entebbe”

We were wheels down in Entebbe at 1:15 in the morning of June 2nd. AGRADU had made arrangements to have me picked up from the airport by a taxi driver working for the hotel where I would be staying the night. Everything went smoothly; I was granted an entry visa with no incident, all three of my suitcases arrived, and Dennis was standing at the exit door patiently holding a sign that read NJERI MUGURE MWANGI, SUNSET HOTEL. The first thing that came to my mind upon exiting the airport was how fresh and cooling the air felt in my lungs. There was this positive energy about Entebbe that penetrated deep into my soul triggering a strong connection with a land with which I was scarcely familiar. It’s one of the most difficult things to put to words the feeling one gets when everything is at it should be. Within a very short time, Uganda had pulled me tightly into its grasp, enticing me with its refreshing air, lush greenery and best of all, its generous people.

Sunset Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda

“Where is George?”

The plan was to meet George, a field officer at the Katosi Women Development Trust, at the airport so that together we could wait for the rest of the AGRADU interns to arrive. Unfortunately, when I got to the airport George was nowhere to be found. I desperately searched for him even resulting to asking any young men who appeared to also be searching for somebody if they were George. But none of them were. Afterabout an hour and a half (it took a while for the 7 AGRADU interns to clear customs since 2 large planes had landed at approximately the same time), the taxi driver who had driven me to the airport asked that I retrieve my luggage as he had an engagement. I unloaded my luggage and just as I was about to walk back to the arrival terminal to continue looking for George, a man came up to me and inquired as to whether I was Njeri from AGRADU. It was George! Apparently, someone had sent George a text message describing my hair and what I was wearing. I HAD FOUND GEORGE or rather George had found me! After loading my luggage into the minivan George had driven in, we returned to the arrival gates to find the AGRADU group waiting for us.

“Are there no rules for traffic here?”

The 45 minute drive from Entebbe Airport to Kampala was interesting least of which was because I was having the time of my life watching the chaotic traffic scare the daylights out of Kristen. The constant honking at people who could not be bothered, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, almost miraculous riding of boda bodas (motorcycles) in tight spaces and the sudden appearance of pedestrians crossing the road at all sorts of places was a sight like no other. While I had witnessed this kind of driving in Nairobi, I had been lucky enough to be in the backseat for most of those rides. This time however, I had front row seating. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and prayed since I wasn’t sure whether our health insurance was active upon immediate arrival in Uganda or the day after.

“Wait airtime isn’t talk time in minutes?”

Kampala was much more spread out and “less taller” than most of us had imagined. Structures were scattered over a large area and most buildings were not that high (by western standards). We spent our first few hours checking into the hotel, acquiring Ugandan currency and buying local phones and sim cards. One of the biggest problems we immediately ran into was interpreting airtime. It was explained to us that 5000 Ugandan Shillings bought you 5000 shillings worth of airtime not 5000 talk time minutes and there was no way to figure out exactly how many minutes was contained in 5000 shillings worth of airtime since it costs different to call different people depending on distance (whether in Uganda or elsewhere), type of service being used (calling or texting) and service provider. In general, the customer service rep. continued, it was cheaper to call than to text provided one was calling people within the same service provider (think in network calling from sprint to sprint). Also, one was charged for outgoing calls/texts but not for incoming ones and perhaps most obviously, calls to the US were quite expensive.

Kampala, Uganda

Orientation at Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT)

After two days of jetlag-induced erratic sleep, we were finally ready to begin working. Our first task involved attending orientation at the KWDT site. KWDT works to empower women in developing small businesses such as farming, milking, sawing, bee keeping and cattle raising, among others. It was incredible to imagine that the three little women giving the presentation (Vaal, Rehema and another young lady whose name I sadly cannot recall) were responsible for so many projects and as a result so many lives. It also brought home the reality that we would all be living for the next 8 weeks and (should I decide to continue pursuing my goal to become a Human Rights lawyer), perhaps the rest of my life. I left Katosi encouraged by the fact that while some were busy trying to run our world to the ground, countless others were fighting to uplift it.

“Wow, this is a really small town, umm… village”

While we had enjoyed each other’s company in Kampala, we were all ready for our journey to truly begin. George picked Georgia, Leslie, Kristen and I up from the hotel at around 9AM bound for Kyetume then Katosi. The journey to Kyetume was shorter than I had imagined taking a maximum of 1hr from Kampala. Our two-room apartment was better than anything we could have imagined. It consisted of a gas stove, a small refrigerator, kitchen table and chairs, cooking utensils, two beds with mosquito nets and a porcelain in ground toilet with a shower right above it. While our apartment contained all these modern amenities, our neighbors were not quite as lucky. The children occupying the apartment to our left washed their dishes outside even though they appeared to be no more than 8 years old. The elderly woman who lived two houses down cooked outside using firewood and three stones. I was at once happy and guilty when I thought about the modern conveniences we had been so lucky to afford while others who through no fault of their own could not.

“Does Jaja speak English?”

Georgia and I had not settled in our new home even ten minutes before the elderly woman (Jaja) living two doors down knocked on our door and requested that we follow her. This was all done using hand gestures as my roommate and I understood virtually no Luganda. As soon as we walked into the main road, all the village’s children ran up to Georgia shouting “Mzungu, mzungu”. They all held onto her hands as Jaja showed us around. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see so many children made happy just by the ability to hold a white woman’s hand. I wished that happiness would continue to come so easily for them in the future!

Jaja continued the tour of her village showing us where to buy rice, potatoes, flour, cooking oil, onions, tomatoes and fruits among others. Each time we passed a native of the village, Jaja was careful to tell them that we were visitors who would be living in their village for a while. I knew this is what she was saying because she would speak, point to us, then the person she was speaking to would turn to us and nod “ahaaa”. Our first meal in our new apartment was white rice and potatoes! Before retiring for bed, Jaja stopped by our door to ask if all was well (in Luganda of course). I would have been content with the fact that she only spoke/understood Luganda if she hadn’t muttered the words“good night” as she walked out. My face quite literally fell. I waited a few minutes, picked it up and proceeded to excitedly ask Georgia if she had just heard what Jaja had said.

“We’ve been planning months for this and now we are finally here”

Our first day at work was busy to say the least. It started with a meeting with Reuben, the programme manager, where we discussed our expectations of the organization and which projects we wanted to work on. We then took a tour around the resource center and were shown around the Kyetume Community Health Center to include the wards, immunization rooms, laboratory and the theater room where minor surgery was conducted. Everyone was incredibly excited to see us and they each took the time to explain what they specialized in and how important the health center was to the community.

We also talked with a man named Beni who with the help of Kyetume had erected a keyhole garden that he credited for his good health and extra income. This was the first time I had met someone who had been directly affected by the keyhole gardens and was immediately motivated by the fact that keyhole gardens were desperately needed/wanted in this community.

After touring the health center, we made our way to the Katosi Static Center, a branch of the Kyetume Community Based Health Care Programme, which was erected for the sole purpose of serving communities that lived too far away from the main center. While not as large as the Kyetume branch, the Katosi health center provided many services and referred clients who needed more serious medical attention to the larger Kyetume center.

The Heifer Project

Before retiring for the night, David, a field officer who works for Kyetume Community Based Health Care Programme, requested that we make two quick stops to check in on two clients who had been recipients of Heifers. Heifers are mature cows that are given to families with three or more orphans with the expectation that the family will care for the cow and once it has a female calf, pass that calf along to another orphan family. According to the Heifer project guidelines, if the Heifer happens to calf a bull, the family is obligated to raise the bull up to an age when it can be sold for a good amount of money and then use the funds to buy the orphans books, uniforms, blankets or pay for school fees. David explained that he advises the orphan families to try and have the cow calf as many calves as possible while its in their possession since the project only requires the first calf (if it’s a cow) to be passed along (the family can keep any calves born after this first one has been given to another family).

With a Heifer in Katosi, Uganda

Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting to Katosi

WOW!!!!!  I knew what I was getting myself into, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  I think that this is first time that I have ever experienced culture shock.  Everything is so different here that it has definitely taken me the last week to get acclimated.  After having some time to get used to my new living conditions, however, I am starting to get comfortable.  My landlord is Mama Gertrude and she is awesome.  I would guess that she is in her 60s and her English is a little rough around the edges, but she is wonderful.  I understand why everyone calls her “Mama” Gertrude.  She makes sure that Leslie and I are ok 24/7 and she has really made us feel at home.  We have also been shown all of the ins and outs of the village by a local named Raymond.  He also boards/lives in Mama Gertrude’s house and he has been an amazing guide and friend as Leslie and I figure everything out.  So in spite of my initial shock, this experience is really becoming positive.  There is also a Peace Core Volunteer named Heidi and she arrived today after being at a meeting all week.   She showed us around the local school today and we were introduced to all of the students.  Leslie and I also sat in on a few classes and it was decided that in addition to attending and helping run the school’s sanitation club on Thursdays, we are also going to help teach at least once a week.  I am teaching English and Leslie is teaching Math.  I am glad to finally get started and I can’t wait to contribute to some other schools as well.  Heidi says that Katosi, the school we went to today, is one of thirteen in the area, but it is the only school that really benefits from foreigners, so she asked us to work at some of the other schools too.   So starting Monday, Leslie and I are going to begin exploring some of the other schools to address sanitation issues as well as to decide which schools are in the most need of bio sand water filters.   

I am very excited to get started and make my small difference.  I am also extremely nervous.  Heidi, the Peace Core volunteer, has been here for almost two years and she has done a lot like help the school get new latrines, started composting at the school, as well as taught the Katosi Women Development Trust how to make and sell yogurt.   Yet there is so much to be done and I don’t know how we will do much in 8 weeks.  It is a little overwhelming and discouraging so I guess I just have to continue with my specific project (water sanitation) and hope for the best.  I am also skeptical about my teaching skills.  I hope that I can get the hang of teaching children who DO NOT speak English.  It is a little scary, but I guess all I can do is jump and in and see how it goes.  Other than that I am just thankful for this experience and I hope that I can live up to my potential here in order to help others live up to their potential even after I am gone.  Until next time.


Week 1 in Uganda

Our group embarked for Uganda about a week ago and, as mentioned by several already, we have had a number of adventures thus far. Among these include nearly missing the plane from JFK due to a quick turnaround, a 4+ hour excursion through Kampala during a crucial international soccer match, watching Leona Lewis music videos with George (which he has on DVD), eating all new yet delicious types of food, an unexpected guest making themselves at home in our hotel room in the middle of the night, a quick taste of what one can do with oil money in the exquisite city of Dubai, getting stared at everywhere we go, feeding bananas to monkeys with tails twice as long as their bodies, watching a helmetless motorcycle driver speed past us wearing a shirt proclaiming, “Use your head, wear a helmet” in huge letters, listening to stories about people with so many siblings they don’t even know all of them, etc. Our wonderful host family includes Rehema (who works at the KWDT office in Kampala with Zach and I), her husband Frank, and their daughters Denise and Rachel, age 4 and 10 months. They live in a quiet, village-like atmosphere a significant drive to the bustle of the big city of Kampala. More details about my job in the office will come in the future, as this work week featured a day trip to Katosi Tuesday to visit some field sites (areas where KWDT does their work) and we saw Leslie, Kristen, and met all of their crew, as well as a public holiday Thursday (Heroes Day, our Veterans Day equivalent) which was spent at George’s place and picking up some things in town. This weekend we are all planning to meet up in Jinja, the city famous for being the source of the Nile River. That’s all for now.

- Grant

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Updates from Kampala, Week 1...

Today marks our first week in Uganda, and the week's events have certainly provided plenty of topics to write about. As much as I enjoy flying and traveling, spending a day and a half in transit left me fairly exhausted and ready to arrive in Kampala for some time to unwind and adjust to living in Uganda's capital city. The group spent 2 1/2 days in Kampala taking care of a few logistical issues, namely getting cell phones and booking a safari for later in the month, and once these were taken care of we took the time to explore the city and hang out together. Some noteworthy happenings:

-A 2-3 hour adventure to find a hostel located about 4-5 miles away. Eager to stretch our legs and anticipating the hostel to be much closer than it actually was, we decided to walk to there. Unbeknownst to us, we were walking down the same road as the national stadium on the one day of the month when the Ugandan national soccer team was competing for qualification in (next year's?) African cup. Traffic in Kampala is horrific enough on a regular day (hundreds/thousands of vans spewing enough smoke obscure your vision if you are behind them, and then countless numbers of bike taxis weaving in and out of traffic (at first glance it looks extremely reckless, but after observing hundreds of what I thought to be near-collisions, I'm extremely impressed at how adept they are at navigating the traffic)), and the mass of crazed fans screaming, honking horns, and blowing vuvuzuelas made the situation all the more chaotic. We quickly tried to find an alternative route, and within about 30 minutes we found ourselves off our dinky travel book map and next no significant landmarks, as it turns out. We thought that the cattle slaughterhouse we were at would be an easily recognizable place for a taxi to pick us up, so we waited outside a gas station and called for a taxi. Then we waited for about an hour and eventually a gas attendant noticed we could use some help and arranged a ride for us. So, around 3 hours later we made it to the hostel.

-An unwelcomed visitor in the hotel room. Jeffrey, Grant and I split a three person room at the New City Annex hotel-conveniently located near the center of the city and with easy access to just about any modern convenience we could ask for. Despite the great location, the hotel itself was a bit dreary-cinder block walls masked by a thin layer of paint and window shades that couldn't quite hide the iron bars that would prevent an intruder (or escape?). I would not be surprised if sometime during the buildings history it acted as a jailhouse. The doors that could be locked from the outside further reinforced my suspicion. Though for 6 bucks a night it was a steal. So anyways, on our third and final night, unlike the previous two nights, we forgot to lock the door to our room, and when I noticed in the middle of the night the door was unlocked I could not find the key in the darkness , so I kept the door unlocked…Around 6 AM, in that state somewhere b/t sleeping and being fully conscious I sense the unmistakable (and startling) feeling of pressure being placed on the opposite side of the bed and the rustling of my sheets. I look over and see this rather large black woman, clothed only in a bath towel (fortunately it was a very large bath towel) positioned about 8 inches away from my face on the bed…Safe to say I did not see this one coming. I realized I was in a bit of dilemma, so I spent the next few minutes contemplating the various courses of action I could take and the moral desirability of each. . On one hand I could just let the situation be: The woman, now sleeping peacefully next to me, must have had a rough night and was in dire need of some sleep. Who am I to deny her that? Maybe I should just roll over, go back to sleep, and address the situation in a few hours. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…right? In her condition, I would probably want to keep sleeping.

On the other hand, I had paid for the bed, in essence it was my property for the night, and I therefore had the right to exclude her from use. And she is a stranger, and she's in a bath towel, and this situation is really weird.

Okay, in reality, I jumped to this latter conclusion almost instantly, and I ran outside waving my arms and trying to convey the urgency of the situation to the hotel maids who could not understand my English. After a few minutes of poking her to get up and summoning the gentleman in the room next to us (whom I am assuming she was with, though I did not ask for details) the lady left the room. Mission accomplished.

This entry is getting longer than I anticipated, and I hope it does not paint a bleak picture of my travels so far. Besides a few strange occurrences, I am having a great time and am thoroughly enjoying Uganda. I will discuss more about my internship, the great family I am staying w/, and any further adventures in my next blog.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Experiencing Uganda

We have been in Kampala for 3 days now and I am still shocked when 3 and 4 year old children beg for money and food. I wonder if that is something that you can become immune to?  These poor kids have begged since they could walk and they lay in the sidewalks covered in red mud day after day.  Because 5 of the 8 of us are white they flock around us and will follow us for blocks. It is the worst feeling because we simply ignore them and keep walking.  If we gave money to one of the children it would cause a frenzy.  Today, however, one little boy was following me (I would say he was 4) and he had large lesions growing on his neck.  I felt so bad that I gave him my water bottle (1.5 liters) which was almost as big as he was.  I know that this story is not shocking or abnormal for a lot of African countries but it will remain sad no matter how accustomed I get to it.  It breaks my heart.
On a happier note, the people here are extremely kind.  Six of the eight of us went on a walk today with the intention of finding the Red Chili Hotel.  We got completely and utterly lost, however, so we had to call the hotel.  They sent us a cab, but after waiting for 40 minutes a gentlemen came up to me and said “you look stranded?”.  I told him that our cab was taking forever and he offered to get us a cab.  A cab came in less than five minutes and we were at our destination in ten.  Every person that I have come across has been extremely helpful and kind just like this man.  It is a very refreshing to know that people are not out to get you and that they want to help.  I think everyone is Uganda is happy today, however, because the Ugandan football team (soccer) won today.  The team has not qualified for the finals in 40 years so today was a big day for Ugandan citizens.  Whistles, horns, and every other sound imaginable have been going off all day.  I thought that the United States was vocal about sports, but the people here on another level entirely. It was really fun to see the excited faces today as the whole country cheered on their team.  I saw thousands of yellow Ugandan jerseys as we attempted to get through all of the traffic.
Tomorrow we are going to our sites which are going to be very different from the bustling city of Kampala. My village is called Katosi and it is approximately 2 hours away from Kampala.  Kampala has been a blast but I am excited to get to my village where it is quieter.  I’m not exactly sure what to expect so I am waiting in anticipation to see what our accommodations are like as well as to see how many schools/children we will be working with. I spoke to one of the women in charge of our site, however, and they have no funding (grants) for water filters so they are very excited for my water sanitation project. I am so glad that I can fund and help build water filters for this village and I can’t wait to start.  Even if I do nothing else, it feels good to know that I can make a concrete difference by building a few water filters that will last forever. That is it for now.

Oli otya Nakato?

How are you, Nakato? My new Uganda name is Nakato, meaning the younger twin while Kristen's is Babirye, the older twin.

I have fallen in love with Katosi. A small fishing village on the shore of Lake Victoria, Katosi has a unique serenity about her, maintaining a balance between the public and private spheres of life. Kristen and I arrived Sunday afternoon, not knowing what to expect. We were immediately welcomed with open arms by Maama Gertrude, our host and mother for the next two months. She is a lovely lady with six grown children and a large friend network in the community. In the evenings, there are always people coming and going from her house, watching TV, holding conversations, and praying.

Also living at her compound is a mother with her three small children. Abraham and Dan (4 and 3) quickly warmed up to our presence. Rose (1.5), however, is still a little unsure. This is the case with a lot of children. Most will run up to us excitedly, while others will see a muzungu (white person) and start crying! Luckily, this doesn't happen often. There is also a boy named Paul who takes care of Ana, the pregnant cow. She is due in July. Cow birth anyone? And Robina, a sweet, quiet lady, who assists Maama Gertrude with the house chores.

We have meet several members of Katosi over the last three days. Notably, Raymond is a young gentleman, a student studying medicine at a university in western Uganda, who has graciously taken Kristen and I on an extensive two-day tour of Katosi. We have fed Papas monkeys bananas, learned how the fishing boats are made and their different uses, milked a cow, visited the police station to introduce ourselves, grazed a goat, learned how to make bricks, hiked to the top of the hill overlooking Katosi and the surrounding lands (gorgeous view!), played with the children, been introduced to the variety of crops grown in the area, explored the market, and traveled to Mukono, the nearest city with internet, one hour's ride from Katosi. He also showed us a few isolated locations where we can occasionally go to have some quiet time. Tomorrow, Heidi, the Peace Corps volunteer and our supervisor, will return to Katosi and we can begin working with the schools.

It has been an exciting first week. Next week, we shall settle into a routine and begin working on our projects. Yesterday, Raymond said "There is beauty in all things." I could not agree more. We were standing on a road with completely different views in opposite directions. On one side was the sand yard where sand is taken to build houses. It is a large expanse of red clay, small sand hills here and there with cliffs in the back where sand has visible been removed. One length of earth revealed the various sediments packed below the surface of the ground on which we walk. The earth contains so many hidden secrets, waiting to be discovered and noticed. On the other side was an oasis. Pools of water covered in part by water lilies and marsh grasses providing landing grounds for several different bird species, including the rarely seen national bird, the grey crowned crane. There just happened to be two standing side by side enjoying a mid-day meal and rustling their feathers. The grey crowned crane is on the endangered species list; thus, we were very fortunate to see them and so close. Beyond the water began a forest, providing shelter from the sun and a home to many more creatures.

There truly is beauty in everything. Sometimes we only need to slow down our pace of life to find it. While the pace of life is slower in Uganda, it allows time for reflection and appreciation of everything that is around me. I am ecstatic to spend these eight weeks making Katosi my home, growing, learning, and giving.