Monday, August 24, 2009

rainy season: my work

I've said it before - living and working in Uganda sometimes feels a bit bipolar. A self-fulfilling prophecy, the bipolarity reached extreme magnitudes this month.

Crest. Trough. Crest. Trough.

the pink palace - right before move-in

Perhaps the biggest crest of all was the opening of the new One Mango Tree workshop in Gulu. In one swoop we closed Unyama and Bobi locations and brought all the women together under one roof - Plot 9 Obiia Road, Gulu. The pink palace. One Mango Tree has an address, and it has a giant mango tree right outside the front gate. A compound manager, a guard, a cook, a guest house. All under the [invaluable] direction of Josh Engel and Hilary Dell - the One Mango Tree summer interns. With that huge move came big changes, and change is not always easy here. The personal and professional relationship with Lucy stretched and strained, as I sought to understand the reasons behind her choices; her decision to step aside as One Mango Tree achieves what she had dreamed. The smiles, laughs and gratitude of the other sixteen tailors shadowed by the confusion behind Lucy's refusal to take on a key role; the unhappiness that seems to grow proportionately with her successes.

Lucy in her shop, photo by Stephanie Makosky

But there are the other sixteen women, arriving early each day, picking soursop fruit from the tree out front, eagerly sweeping the production floor and settling in for a good day's work. The happy delivery of posho and cabbage cooked up by Mili while the morning hours pass. There is Prisca - eagerly taking on a management role at the workshop, commanding the ship with grace and ease. Crest.

Mili, dishing out posho and cabbage

Another crest was the visit from Stacey Edgar - the founder of Global Girlfriend. She arrived at an intense period of change for One Mango Tree; and provided a guiding voice for all of the difficult things I so needed to hear. We agreed on five apparel pieces to add to Global Girlfriend's best-selling organic cotton knit collection. We received our biggest order to date (this single order topping ALL of our orders combined from 2008), but it sent me packing to Kampala, a quick descent to the trough - to get the legal and financial pieces of One Mango Tree situated. NGO registration (constitution, bylaws, work plan, budget, LAWYERS...), export certificates, commercial invoices and GSPs...the export promotion board...a frantic (and still failing) search on how to take advantage of AGOA's duty-free policy on exports for our handbags. One million ush withdrawal limits at the ATMs, with 30 million ush due to the tailors and vendors. Daily trips to the ATM, hourly calls from vendors wanting their payments. Reserving a van to deliver materials and realizing it will take a lorry, not a van, to get all of the materials to Gulu. Realizing this after 500,000 ush is already sunk into the van rental.

Back and forth, up and down.

Cresting again - today I signed a contract with International Organization for Migration (IOM). We're receiving an in-kind grant through their USAID funding - 16 sewing machines and lots of fabric and liner to take on 10 referrals and provide them with work within the next six months.

I laugh, I cry, I scream, I slam my phone down after the fifth Sunday morning call from Joel the sponge guy asking for money ("Joel! we agreed on a payment schedule", "yes, madam but you know these African guys"). My chest gets all tight, I become convinced that I'm crazy, and then I chill out and breathe and start again.

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