Sunday, January 28, 2007
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Dad sent me a reminder to be "extra vigilant on your last night in town, as predators assume you won't bother filing criminal charges if you're headed back to the US." Thanks Dad. Upon my demand, Katie set up a goodbye dinner at Crocodile Cafe in Kisementi, the home of delicious avocado salads, banana splits and a phenomenal selection of 1980s movie soundtracks. Our first dinner there, they played one song on a constant loop -- I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner. It's quite a charming place. Our dinner group was Katie, me, Rebekah, Jared (our roommate and the proud owner of a fantastic red moustache, grown specifically for his time in Uganda), Joseph, Howard (our friend from Apac up north that was in town), Enoch and Ortega. We had a great dinner, ate a ton and then headed over to Fat Boyz for Pilsners and reggaeton - and to watch the guys dance, which they do so well in Uganda. Since Enoch had to go study for a finance exam, I imitated his calypso dance, complete with shoulder shrug, arms akimbo and the little foot shuffle. At the very least I had fun entertaining myself. The evening wrapped up for me around 2 a.m. back at the apartment above La Fontaine. I passed out and slept fitfully, dreaming of missing my flight in the morning. I was to discover on the plane that since I slept without the mosquito net, I was completely covered in bites. In the midst of my waking dreams, I can remember the high-pitched hum of mosquitoes in my ears as I tried to sleep. They feasted on my arms and left knee.
I awoke at 5 a.m. to get packed up. Peter was picking me up at 6:30 to get to the airport in time. Our generator was off at the apartment, so I took a cold shower with my headlamp on, in an effort to be clean and comfortable for the plane ride. Rebekah and Katie slowly roused and helped me check to make sure I hadn't left anything behind. I stepped outside in the lavender mist that hangs over Kampala mornings before the sun reaches the horizon. To my surprise, Ortega had returned and was waiting at the gate to see me off. Peter was already waiting, car door ajar. I embraced my friends (several times over) tearfully and got into the car. Peter and I sped off on the pothole-filled road, my last glimpses of Kampala flying by. We passed the NUPI offices, Garden City mall, the Jinja Road-Kampala Road roundabout, the industrial area...all to the tune of the tinny car speakers blaring Sean Paul and Sasha "I'm still in love" on Sanyu FM radio. I'm certainly still in love with Uganda.
Kampala is known among ornithologists for its spectacular variety of birds - especially in an urban setting. The most notable (and infamous) are the enormously unattractive Marabou Storks, which nest in the trees and stand with their knobby knees atop Kampala's buildings, looking down on passerby with their sinister appearance. Last week, I had opened the New Vision to see that the electrical company had cut down trees on the Kampala-Jinja road roundabout without concern for the nesting Marabou Storks. The paper had a color photo of a baby stork, a lumpy pink mess - much like the larger version plucked free of feathers - standing alone on the roundabout as workers, bodas and matatus buzzed past. Katie and I first made fun of the article, laughing about how the appendage hanging from the bird's necks took on the nasty appearance of particularly unattractive human appendage. We were in constant fear of the birds unleashing huge piles of crap as they flew overhead, which was known to happen quite frequently. Now, thinking about the baby stork, looking lost and isolated on the roundabout as the world spun by, I feel sad. Coming back from Uganda feels a bit like being thrown from the nest, not yet ready to face the realities awaiting on the ground. After nearly a month making a home of Kampala and Gulu, I already knew that returning to the US would make me feel all lumpy, pink and vulnerable.
Readjustment is difficult, but I'm going to venture to say that this return will be a little smoother. I spent a lot of time learning to live in Kampala, and making some great new Ugandan friends. The biggest consolation is that I know I will return soon enough, and that each time the experience will be a little bit richer.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Katie and I met with Joseph and Howard for some more discussion on the One Mango Tree project, and after our disheartening meeting with BeadforLife yesterday, today was a bit uplifting. I still have to debrief with Katie, but I think there are some definite cultural differences we need to address while trying to set up a legitimate business. I'm leaving the details out for the sake of those who are not so interested. I can fill in the rest of you later. We're still headed to Namuwongo this afternoon to look at products and meet with the women who make them...and possibly catching a practice of the Namuwongo branch of GYPA's Gomo Tong Football Club. They are beginning training in anticipation for attendance at the 2007 Homeless World Cup to take place in Denmark in July.
In other news, I had a great lunch with Stig Marker Hansen today - the Belgian Chief of Party for USAID's Northern Uganda Peace Initiative (NUPI). Chief of Party - the title which I've aspired to ever since I first became interested in development work. I have lots of experience from OSU - I was Chief of Party for many a jello-shot-filled event. In reality Chief of Party is USAID's term for the Program Director for projects abroad. There are Chiefs of Party all over the developing world, and the position is highly coveted by ambitious development types like myself. Stig's been working on this program on conflict resolution in Uganda for the past three years - Josh joined him last year as a program assistant. I got some great pointers for doing work and making contacts in this part of the world.
I'm headed off to the National Theater Market to pick up random earrings and "a nice red and yellow snack plate" (requested specifically by Carly), as well as other crafty African products to suck up to all you people back home. Just kidding, I love shopping, especially for gifts for other people. My goodbye dinner (hopefully complete with Enoch's calypso dance moves and some Pilsners) is tonight. Hopefully I won't drown my friends in a torrent of tears (though I'm sure they'll come on the airplane tomorrow).
On the bright side, I get to come back and show all of you an interminable slide show of photos from the trip, and reiterate (with greater detail and exaggeration and hand gestures) all the stories I've shared on these updates (and others that couldn't be included in the name of public decency). Barring any flight disruptions, I'll be back in the Western world in something like 48 hours.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Later on yesterday afternoon, Katie and I went to the breakdance class at Sharing Youth Centre in Nsambya, where tons of kids come out to learn breakdancing on the veranda. Every Monday and Wednesday, Abramz and others teach the youth as a goal for promoting peace and reconciliation - uniting Uganda. The class was great and the kids came from everywhere to learn - and they were so good! After an hour or so I decided to join in (believe it) and Abramz taught the crazy muzungo to do a "baby freeze." Yes, I actually balanced on my head. Katie took a picture - so you all can see it for yourselves. We also met another crazy muzungo - a Belgian freestyle rapper-cum-travel-agent named Wim.
If yesterday's experience with Ortega in Namuwongo was disheartening, today's was extremely redeeming. Today has been a very good day. I met Ortega in Namuwongo at 9 this morning. He'd been doing some work since we last talked yesterday. The best news to start with? He gets his house back on Friday. I am so sad I'll miss the homecoming when he and the girls move back in. The new tenant is being given three days to move elsewhere. He is thrilled (as am I). The next big piece of news - Ortega had to stop attending school back in 2003 for financial reasons (secondary school charges more expensive fees than primary). This morning I took him to his academy, met with the headmaster and paid his school fees. He starts classes on Monday! We also made arrangements to pay for Judith and Makito's fees, as they start school on Monday as well. After collecting the girls from playtime with their friends, the four of us picked up some swim costumes for the girls and headed out to Munyonyo, where we've been all day. They've never been swimming before and have been screaming with joy since they first saw the pool. They are like little fish and refuse to stop swimming. I have about a thousand pictures of their smiling faces.
A side note on the warmth of Ugandans - last year I met Gottfried - a young guy in Namuwongo who happens to be very tall and plays basketball. Of course I started talking about my brother and his bball skills. This morning I saw Gottfried - he had heard I was in the neighborhood and wanted to bring the gift he had for my brother - it's wrapped in silver paper with roses and a note - to joe, from africa. Joey's going to have tons of friends here before he even arrives.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Luckily we received a call from Rebekah saying that a room in her house was available for Katie and I to share for the remainder of the trip. After spending the day at Cafe Pap drinking coffee and working with Abramz on his Breakdance for Social Change project (setting up email, teaching him how to keep a ledger book of expenses and receipts), Katie and I packed up once again and moved to Kisementi, the beloved neighborhood of Fat Boyz and Just Kickin. We can see the bars from our quaint purple balcony. The house sits atop a "French" restaurant called La Fontaine. Oh, and for dinner last night we tried the rumored Mexican menu at Fat Boyz - it was actually pretty good (think chapati with beans, rice and chicken).
The last two days have been relatively uneventful (especially compared with hiking Sipi and running around with all the students), but I think that was a good break before the start of my final week. Sundays in Kampala are beautiful. The town is quiet, as everyone (and I mean everyone) is at church. Precious few places are open, so we spent the whole day at Cafe Pap. I took a walk around Parliament as well. It's a completely different place during the week, full of whizzing bodas and car horns, dust and crowds of people.
Today we are in town early to take Abramz and Ortega to open bank accounts at Barclays. We're taking Ortega to pick up mattresses and some other things that were stolen from his home last week. Tonight we're attending a breakdance class that Abramz will be teaching in Nsambya. We've also been working a lot on "to do" for the fair trade project with the women in Namuwongo, and we'll be moving forward with that in the next few days.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
We made our way to the Old Taxi Park in Kampala, which is a treat in and of itself. It's a sunken parking lot completely jam-packed with buses, matatu van taxis, bodas, and vendors. When you want to get somewhere, you just find a matatu headed in that direction, pile in, and wait for it to fill up while vendors shove any and all goods in your face, from the practical (water, food) to the absurd (used scrunchies, fake rolexes, misc pieces of plastic junk). The matatus themselves are made for about 14 passengers...we had at least 18 in ours. As usual, I spent the ride in and out of consciousness. We arrived in Mbale around 7 p.m., and (against the Sheraton's advice) followed some Ugandans that were headed to Sipi...and piled into another jam-packed matatu. I dozed for a few minutes and woke up in total darkness - we were heading up Mt. Elgon -- Sipi is situated on the slopes of this enormous extinct volcano. The road was so steep and dangerous, I was glad for the darkness. In the meantime, the Ugandans were telling us about how muzungus (white people) had just died in a traffic accident on this road, and kept reiterating how taxis "turn into aeroplanes" on this one hairpin turn. We made it to Sipi safely, but in total darkness and with no clue where Crow's Nest was (our destination) or whether or not they even had a cabin for us. Luckily one of the locals took us to the gate and there was one cabin left just for us.
The next morning I awoke to roosters (my favorite wake up call - definitely not) and stepped out of our cabin to stretch --- we could see the falls right off our porch. AMAZING. I drew a picture. We spent the day with Malishe, a local guide who took us on a 4.5 hour circuit hike of the three falls. The first (and the most commonly photographed) is 97 meters. The second is smaller and the third is 78 meters. The scenery was bucolic and the hiking exhausting, and we were completely covered in mud by the end. Due to my spill on the metro escalators in DC last year, I now have this intense fear of slipping down steep surfaces --- not helpful when hiking on muddy slopes. At one point I "butt-climbed" down some rocks...I ended up with a butt and feet completely covered in mud by the end of the day. During our hike, a group of tiny kids started chasing us yelling "muzungu!" and "something!" Later on in the hike one got the idea to make fart noises and we were soon chased by a huge herd of kids and a cacophony of farts. Needless to say, Katie and I were hysterical and may or may not have made fart noises back at them.
After hiking past the first waterfall and bat cave, we were persuaded by some villagers to taste the "local brew" - a corn maize, yeast and water concoction served in rusty tin cans (see photo at left). It tasted a bit like when you burp and get a little vomit in your mouth. Actually that's exactly what it tasted like.
We also went into a bat cave - this was my first real spelunking adventure. It reeked of ammonia from all of the bat dung. The creepy part was when we got into this open area and you can see thousands of orange eyes staring at you from the ceiling... and tall people in caves does not really work so well.
So yes, Sipi was great - the food, relaxation, hiking, waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises, all of it. After looking at a map, I realized that I have now covered the furthest points west (Fort Portal) and east (Mbale/Sipi) of Uganda. I've almost reached Sudan (about two hours north of Gulu)...and I have yet to travel down to Lake Bunyoni, on the Rwandan border.
Katie and I claimed shotgun on our matatu rides back to Kampala today, and as a result my left arm has a glorious trucker tan (I'm talking 3 shades darker than the right arm). We just booked our room at the Embassy Hotel in Kabalagala for the week (it's semi-close to Namuwongo, where we'll be spending a lot of time). I can't believe there are only 6 days until I come back to the US!!!
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Katie and I checked in at the Sheraton Kampala for some R&R (aka our first hot shower, laundry service, super fast internet, clean down comforters and a gorgeous balcony with a view of Kampala's charming skyline). Kampala really is a manageable city - and a beautiful one, despite the congestion and poverty. While browsing at a supermarket yesterday night, I realized that I really could spend a lot of time here (sorry Mom and Dad but it's true).
So here's the plan for the next week so far:
We'll check out of this glorious hotel tomorrow morning and embark on an approximately 5 hour journey to Sipi Falls, which is about an hour outside of Mbale and apparently has incredible waterfalls and hiking.
My Dad has shared some really exciting updates about his Public Relations project (didn't I tell you dad's my PR guy?). I'm going to be interviewed at the NPR studio in Cleveland on January 31. I will keep you all updated with the URL so you can listen if you're interested (hopefully I won't say "dude", "it's cool" or "and stuff"). Also, WKYC Cleveland may be sending a film crew to Strongsville High School, where I'll be meeting with classes to talk about my experiences and promote the screening of Invisible Children. In addition, I just received an email from an editor at East African Business Week and Katie and I will be meeting with him for an interview next week to discuss GYPA and our programs. I'm thrilled -- and that means I'll be hard at work on presentations for the next few weeks!
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
After TASO, I took a walk with one of the participants to see the World Food Programme Storage facility - where tons and tons of food are stored in huge tents behind barbed wire - this is the distribution facility from which food aid is distributed to the camps. After seeing thousands of kids with swollen bellies in the camps, it's pretty surreal to know that there are enormous tents of food just five kilometers from their squalid camps. Conditions in the camps (as far as congestion) have improved since the last time I was in Gulu, but if you haven't been following the news, you should know that the peace talks are in limbo once again, as the LRA has demanded to move the talks from southern Sudan to either Kenya or South Africa for reasons of insecurity. This is another major setback.
I've spent a significant amount of time on the balcony of the Hotel Kakanyero, reading The Places Inbetween, by Rory Stewart - a Scot who walked across Afghanistan amidst the fall of the Taliban. Our last day in Gulu I visited Janet, a 19-yr-old Acholi massage therapist at a health club (highly recommended by Josh, our summit coordinator). My massage was an hour and a half (and the best I've ever had) and followed by a body scrub -- total cost? 15,000 USH, which is about $8. YES! I have to get in my little luxuries here and there.
- Promote the restoration of local culture and break dependence on foodaid by encouraging development of agribusiness tied to resettlement. By participating and sharing knowledge gained from agriculture-based training, youth will be prepared to lead the rebuilding of a peaceful northern Uganda.
- Facilitate increased access to capital and markets through expansion of microfinance to rural areas and improved transport and communication infrastructure. Integrate practical and entrepreneurial training into educational curriculum to develop a generation of job creators
The students are going home tomorrow, and I will miss them a lot - but I'm really looking forward to spending the next 10 days experiencing Uganda at a slower pace. Lots of students have been really sick this past week with the typical travelers stomach afflictions, and one participant seems to have malarial symptoms - we visited health services yesterday for a test, which came up negative. One student was robbed at an ATM in town and another student decided to spend the entire night out without informing us. I'm getting some seriously stressful leadership challenges, and now I know how my parents feel when they worry about me!
Also, Godwin Ortega, one of our Ugandan participants that lives in Namuwongo was robbed this weekend, losing all of his money, documents and possessions. Ortega is only 22 and takes care of his 3 sisters, one of which - Judith, age 7 - he's been bringing to spend the days with us. She's adorable and I've been spending lots of time with her teaching her how to use my camera and giving piggy back rides and tickle fests. I gave her the Hello Kitty purse from Auntie Paris, which she LOVES and carries around with her everywhere (she even wrote her name on the back and keeps a 100 shilling piece inside). The American participants have really bonded with Ortega and are contributing some funds to help him keep his sisters in school and get documents back. Once the students leave I'm going to take him to try and open a savings account and pick up some things - and we're taking Judith and some other girls from Namuwongo to spend the day at Munyonyo Speke Resort for swimming, slides and ice cream.
To my delight, Katie - my American co-leader, has decided to extend her stay and we'll be traveling together.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Gulu town is laid out in the typical British colonial style - a small grid of manageable streets with a few roundabouts. The cool morning air is already starting to burn off by 9 a.m. and the dusty streets are filling with pedestrians carrying goods on their heads, bodas and bicycles, rickety trucks and NGO Land Rovers. Around the corner the market is filling up with goods - flies are descending on the fish, women are peddling avocados, mangos and bananas, and tailors are busying themselves on their foot peddle sewing machines - bright and stiff cotton fabrics fluttering in the shady breeze under the market stall rooftops.
Around midday the sun beats down relentlessly in the clear blue sky and the streets are packed with noisy activity for the remainder of the afternoon. Trucks filled with soldiers or matooke wobble down the road. I spend these hours either drinking a Pilsner at Havana Pub or flipping the pages of a book on the balcony at Kakanyero until the heat begins to dissipate.
The sun, a dusty orange ball, sinks quickly below the horizon, but not before shading the the sky first in lavender and then a creamy grayish hue. Market vendors pack up their wares, women and men alike piling shoes and fabrics into large woven plastic sacks that are hoisted away, either on the back of a bicycle or held high atop the head with one slender arm to balance the load. They begin the long walk home. At twilight the empty market stalls take on the lonely look of a forest in winter - branches that held colorful fabrics now lain bare.
Night falls quickly and an inky, opaque darkness settles in - the appearance of the road as an endless abyss. Potholes are masked in this thick cover and the solitary light of a boda driver quietly passes by. Fireflies dance in a frenzy through the fields surrounding the town. And then, suddenly, all is silent. The metal doors of the shops are latched shut to block out the night. I close my book, walk down the stairs and entangle myself once more in the mosquito net, awaiting the crow of the rooster at dawn.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Today was the Gulu Mentoring Program. As I mentioned yesterday, Gulu is filled with NGOs - there are 217 NGOs in town, all with varying levels of involvement (which is a nice way for saying that some of them do nothing at all). Many of them are relief agencies, which provide food relief for the IDPs. While this seems essential, the long term value is questionable. The war has been going on for 20 years, and these people have become dependent on food aid, which will make the transition back to agriculture more difficult. Anyhow, we paired our students in small groups to visit the NGOs for the day and learn more about what they do. I visited a USAID project for HIV/AIDS, which provides reproductive education courses for youth in the IDP camps, as well as HIV testing.
After the visit, Christopher and Hon. Oola Patrick Lumumba, two of our Ugandan participants, and I had a very interesting conversation about Acholi traditional practices. Polygamy is very common in Uganda, specifically in the Acholi culture. When they found out I was 25, Christopher and Patrick wanted to know why i was not yet married, and when I intended to marry. I'm an old woman in Ugandan terms. Life here in the north is inherently communal, and raising children is the responsibility of everyone in the clan, which is composed of several families. Technically, there should never be orphans in Acholiland, which makes for a very complex problem when you look at the thousands and thousands of orphans in the camps (for example, the largest camp has 50,000 residents, 40,000 of which are children).
This afternoon I took a group of students via boda bodas (motorbike taxis) to Coro IDP camp just outside the city. A representative from Invisible Children joined us and we saw their bracelet making campaign in action - making bracelets provides valuable work for more than 200 individuals in the camp, and enables them to pay school fees via their sale in the US market.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
We arrived yesterday here in Gulu, which is a small town in northern Uganda. Dad will be happy to hear that since last September, Gulu is no longer in the midst of a conflict zone, since the LRA has signed a cease fire that is still in effect. Our running group has resumed our morning runs, and the air out here in the rural areas is much friendlier than the heavily polluted air in Kampala. Gulu has been transformed from what it once was, as it now houses hundreds of NGOs and humanitarian relief organizations that administer services to the millions of Acholi who are living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Yesterday evening was dinner with the northern Ugandan participants (the American students are introduced to a whole new set of 11 Ugandan students who have been attending Gulu University). They are an extremely intelligent bunch (evidenced by the debate on the bus about theories of economics). The Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the university greeted us last night, welcoming us to northern Uganda.
Today was a difficult day for the students, as we visited Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO) in the morning, and Paicho IDP camp in the afternoon. GUSCO was featured in Invisible Children and is a center for rehabilitating child soldiers that have come out of the bush -- to better integrate them into society and provide psychosocial therapy. Paicho IDP camp is about 15 km outside of Gulu and home to more than 17,000 IDPs. We toured the camp and talked with Ugandan students about what will happen to these camps when peace is achieved. Jan Egeland (United Nations) called the situation in northern Uganda the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world." Surely that was visible during our visit, but the resilience of the Acholi people is remarkable. They are extremely hopeful for peace so that they can return to farming their ancestral homelands.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Today is the first relaxing day of the trip - we've taken all of the students to Munyonyo Speke Resort on Lake Victoria - a place that our Ugandan participants wouldn't normally have had the opportunity to go. It's gorgeous and has a large pool and lots of fun things to do - like eating whole tilapia poolside (see below). Even the eyeballs were eaten. I've spent most of the day giving swimming lessons to Enoch and Ortega, two of our Ugandan students. And yes, I am getting a killer tan.
As for the trip itself - it could not possibly be better. Very few cases of any traveler's "D", just a little fatigue here and there. We've had some more incredible speakers - the Permanent Secretary of Internal Affairs, who is in charge of the Juba Peace Talks, spoke to us on Friday morning. We spent the afternoon exploring Kampala and introducing the students to getting around on matatus (taxi buses) and boda bodas (the much quicker and extremely dangerous motorbike taxis). Friday night we were back at Rouge - the night club we went to in June. Good times were had by all, and I even received compliments on my Butvin bounce dance moves (they love reggaeton here). Colin told me I need some more work.
Yesterday was our first day working with communities. We split into two groups and took half to an orphanage (where they cleaned dishes and cooked) and the other half with me, to Namuwongo. Henry, the youth leader in Namuwongo, lead us on a tour of the slum community that he and thousands of other people displaced from the northern war call home. Conditions are horrific and life is extremely difficult. It's a lot to digest for the students, and the upcoming week will be even more difficult. We are easing them into the issues and having lots of discussion and interaction with the Ugandan students, which has been tremendous in keeping the morale up.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
We arrived yesterday at 8:30 a.m. local time - with only two lost bags in our group -- quite an accomplishment! The trip is going extremely well so far - the American side of the group is 12 girls and one guy, while the Ugandan side is just the opposite. We have much to learn from one another! We are staying at M.U.B.S. this time (Makerere University Business School) and accommodations are similar to the last trip. I have to pinch myself occasionally for two reasons - to believe I'm really here, and to remind myself that I'm helping to actually lead the trip this time. It's a whole different level of responsibility this time around.
Uganda is as beautiful as I remembered - we were greeted with sunny skies (yes!) and gorgeous views of Lake Victoria on the ride to Kampala from Entebbe. I am thrilled to be here, as you all can guess, back to eating matooke (green bananas), rice, and potatoes. A group of us went for a run this morning for about 4 miles (yes I almost died) up and down the hills...a great way to see the city waking up to life. I'm hoping to keep up the habit throughout the trip. The Ugandan students are enjoying teaching me Luganda (the most common tribal language in Uganda) and they all get excited when I mimic the phrase back to them.
More than anything I am so happy to be back in the company of old friends - and making lots of new ones. It feels as though I never left.
Our trip schedule is about to really take off - we had a busy day of meetings with the Minister of Youth, the Chief of Party for the USAID Northern Uganda Peace Initiative contract, and the exective director of Uganda Microfinance Limited (Uganda's largest microfinance firm). Tomorrow is a panel discussion with the man in charge of the peace talks in Juba and then a round table on Global Citizenship. Back to Namuwongo (I can't wait) on Saturday. We leave for Gulu on Monday and will be there for a week. Rebekah (of Jackfruity fame), our marketing coordinator, is updating our trip blog