Category Archives: Notes from Uganda 2010

Posts from my “internship” in Uganda – Summer, 2010

Leaving Uganda

Typed in three steps: outlined in Lira, typed in Kampala, and finalized in Entebbe on the 4th.  Finally posted – from Phoenix!

On Friday I said goodbye to a lot of Lira friends.  On Sunday I met up with the rest of them in Kampala and said goodbye as well.  Over the last couple of days I’ve been saying final farewells to all of my Kampala friends and I’ll be on my way back the U.S. late tonight.  I’m really excited to go home, but I know I’m going to miss this.

I’m incredibly excited to go home.  It was my first time on a solo trip and my first attempt to live abroad, and it’s been an experience I’ll never forget.  I made myself a tiny little short-lived life here, and I’m sad to let it go.  I’ve been aching for home, but I always knew I’d get there.  I have no idea if or when I’ll be back in Lira or in Uganda, so it’s definitely a weird feeling.

My internship was, essentially, a failed attempt.  But, in these last weeks I’ve managed to do some tangible work and I think everything has turned out okay.  Beyond work, though, I met a lot of great people who I won’t soon forget, and I really enjoy the atmosphere that Lira has, from the streets and the restaurants to the busy market and the relaxing compounds.  Here’s a breakdown of everything that has popped into my head about leaving this country, sometimes with explanations and anecdotes.  Excuse the length, as I’ve been thinking about this post for the last two weeks.  Enjoy.

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Greetings from Entebbe

Yesterday after dropping Alison at the airport and finding my hostel, I relaxed for a little bit in my room before heading out into town.  Went to the Botanical Gardens and wandered around a lot, enjoyed the gardens, and read by the lake.  I also met a few Ugandans that were really nice and one girl even showed me around parts of the Gardens.  After that I roamed around until I made it to a Chinese restaurant where I had a hearty lunch before heading back to the hostel for a nap.  After resting for a good half-hour I started counting my money and budgeting my trip (bank card wasn’t working on Tuesday in Kampala, so I was worried something had gone wrong).  Suddenly I got a call from Ben – his friends were staying at the same hostel and he saw my name on the register!  So, I hung out on the patio with Ben and two of his friends for a few hours.  Around 8 we all split up as his private hire arrived and his friends went out for dinner.  After some work on my paper I called it a night and got some much-needed rest.  Today, I meandered town and had a small breakfast.  Finally got my bank card to work (thank you Stanbic Bank!) and went into town to buy a few small things, and now I’m relaxing at the hostel watching the news.

Entebbe is a pretty decent little town.  It’s quite small, and has a couple of nice restaurants and a pretty compact little town area.  The bus park reflects what people use the town for – it’s half matatus heading to Kampala and half private hires heading to the airport.  From several parts of the area you can see Lake Victoria, including a really nice view from the Botanical Gardens, which run alongside part of its coast.  The road to the airport is pretty quick, and apparently you can see the plane from the ’76 hostage incident at the old terminal on the way to the airport.  I’ll be in town for a couple more hours and then taking a private hire out to the airport to begin my 26 hour journey back to Phoenix.

The City

I spent three great nights back in Kampala and I’ve got to say, there are many sides to this city.  My first week here I didn’t know what to do or where to go and ended up relegating myself to the NACWOLA office and Wandegeya before going to Naguru to rest and repeat.  These passed few days in the city have been a world apart and have been really busy.  Kampala with expats looking for fun has taken me to a number of really nice restaurants and even a fancy pool.  Plus it was nice to have company in the form of so many people, even if each one had its own goodbye.

After saying a lot of goodbyes on Sunday, on Monday I finally made it to 1000 Cups with Alison and had a breakfast of brownies (that’s okay, right?) before going to meet up with Tony to big him farewell.  I ended up moving with Tony to his music class and then eating a small meal at People’s Choice for the last time before saying hi to some of the people at NACWOLA and visiting the Nsambya Craft Market – this was the Kampala I knew.  At the craft market I spent a lot of time bargaining with this one guy for the only likimbe I could find. Satisfied with my new haggling prowess, I joined up with Alison at Quality Hill for what I’ll call new Kampala – the best steak I have had in ages! Seriously, if Le Petit Bistro existed at home I would still be a very happy carnivore.  From dinner Alison and I debated what to do before calling it a night and opted for a really nice night on the balcony with wine, soda, and music.

Hanging out with Morris and George on Sunday

Hanging out on the balcony

Balcony night!

Tuesday was a busy last day in Kampala.  I had some nice pastries at Quality Hill with Alison before I visited NACWOLA again and got to see almost everyone.  When I first arrived I just said hi and then Ismail took me on a long and winding trip to his old primary school.  I knew he had gone to school in an orphanage and expected to see a lot of excited faces (because most kids are excited little humans, lets be honest).  I did not expect A. a short song about HIV/AIDS prevention, 2. a massive rendition of a rite-of-passage dance from the East, or III. to have whole grade levels greet me in unison.  But! It was really cool to see.  From there I went back to the NACWOLA office just to say goodbye, but instead found that while I was gone they had organized an impromptu farewell: sodas, spice cake, photos, speeches and all.  They also helped arrange transport from Kampala to Entebbe for me which was an unexpected awesome!

Alison and me, with Williams Street behind

Ismael and co. at NACWOLA

From NACWOLA I went to the pool at Muyenga to meet up with Alison.  Another two-Kampala moment – this place had a nice pool, a nice view, a nice sitting area, and even some nice music (Destiny’s Child ftw).  I got to do some poolside reading while we hashed out a plan for the night.  Alison did some computer errands while I scrambled to pick up a drum for Kenny and dropped it off back at the room before we reconvened at the National Theater market. From there we made our way to Fuego, a nice Eritrean restaurant, to have a drink with Ilaria.  Hanging out with Ilaria was really nice, and it was nice to relax outside on a couch under giant trees for my last night in Kampala.  After Ilaria left, Alison and I shared a pizza and some kitfo and talked for a while before going back to the hotel to deal with the daunting task of packing.

After lots of crunching, folding, and squeezing we managed to pack and call it a night.  I got online for a bit before retiring for four hours before we got up to get ready and roll out.  We got picked around 6 and gave Alison a push to the airport at 7 and said goodbye.  From there I made my way to Entebbe Backpacker, my hostel for the night and home base for the 2 days I’ll be here.

Lira does Kampala, and Europe does Prom

Saturday morning the ILF house slowly stirred.  After going to bed at 5.30 in the morning as the night finally wound down, I heard Rehmbo and Ben leaving around 8.  I got up and helped them close the gate and then did some lounging until my phone rang. Alison’s missing phone was calling me.  Normally, when a phone gets stolen here the thief gets rid of the SIM card right away and replaces it or sells the phone.  So, when I answered the phone I was a bit confrontational, and the guy who took the phone was talking about maybe bringing the phone back and then he hung up on me.  At this point Alison heard me talking and came in and we discussed how weird this whole situation was.  He called back and Alison talked to him and he said he was willing to bring the phone back but was worried he would get in trouble with the law, so she tried to assure him that she just wanted the phone and that’s it.  When Ben came back all three of us were talking to the guy and arranged a meeting down the street – but he never showed.  Out of time and patience, we got ready for the Kampala trip sans cellular.

Back at the house I finalized my packing and withdrew some more money for the city.  I said goodbye to everyone and even bid the goat and chickens farewell.  The ILF car rolled up and I plopped my things in and we were soon on our way.  A good five hours later we meandered through traffic to Old Park and dropped Alison and me at a fancy glass tower amidst the crummy chaos – our hotel!  This place was a really nice hotel in the middle of the city center, and we were greeted by a giant bed, a TV, air conditioning, a nice shower, and even a balcony!  After checking in and relaxing a bit, we went out and I got my first taste of mizungu Kampala – Lotus Mexicana!  I had a delicious meal of Mexican food in this African capitol before heading to a rooftop bar in Bukoto for – yes – an “American Prom”-themed party.

In the circle of the UN, a guy named Stijn has (sort of) never had a birthday party.  Since all of these Europeans had never had a Prom either, they decided to have a prom in honor of Stijn’s birthday.  A few weeks ago Lisa approached Alison and me to be the prom consultants since we were the only ones who had ever attended one.  In Lira I found the best possible shirt – a shirt from an American high school’s After-Prom Luau! I mixed this with purple trousers I found in the market and a coat I found in town.  But this fashion had nothing on some of the guests at this place.  Lisa was in the most amazing dress ever bought in Lira.  Ilaria was in a white tuxedo.  The birthday boy was in a dazzling silver shirt that shined amidst the lasers and lights at the party.  The party was really fun and it was a great welcome to Kampala.

The next morning, Alison and I boda’d our way over to Cafe Javas to have a grand goodbye.  Our commute was sprinkling, but right after we arrived it started pouring and we ended up meeting with a drenched Debs, Lisa, and Ilaria for lunch.  After trying to make sure everyone was dry and warm, we had a good meal and talked a lot before bidding farewell to our Lira folk.  That afternoon Lisa, Debs and Ama all headed back upcountry, so it was good to see everyone off.  From there I met up with Morris and George in Wandegeya to catch up for an hour or two before going craft shopping.  I ended the day with a solo trip to Ndere Center which was really cool, but it deserves its own post so you’ll just have to wait.

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Murchison Weekend

Typed on the afternoon of the 26th of June at the house.  Sorry this post is out of chronological order and still lacks pictures – should be rectified in a few days.

I got back from a two-day, one-night trip to Murchison Falls National Park last night.  This post will be half-positive and half-negative, so bear with me.

Saturday morning I went into town and met Moses, the guy from whom I was going to hire a Rav4 for the weekend. He had just had some fine-tuning work done to it and it was ready to go, but getting paperwork filled out took a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I was behind schedule and didn’t get out of town until around 10.  That said, I enjoyed the drive a lot.  I hadn’t been in the driver’s seat of a car in two months, and a right-hand drive car in ever.  The road from Lira to Kamdini is pretty ugly, and I had to ensure a few heavily speed bumped roads, and there were chunks where there just wasn’t any pavement at all.  It was still nice to drive, though, and I brought along a burned CD to keep me busy.  Just passed Kamdini, I took the turnoff before Karuma and found myself on a really nice, wide and paved road soaring westward.  I finally made it to a village called Purongo and turned down a dirt path through some villages on my way into the park.  Finally made it to the gate around 1.30, a bit behind schedule but in high spirits.

Spirits were a bit dampened by the cost of entry.  Not sure how, but I mixed up the numbers in my head and was thoroughly surprised at the gate.  But I was soon driving through the park and spotting tons of gazelles and some giraffes and warthogs too.  I got some basic directions from the guard and I slowly made my way towards Paraa (where most of the accommodations are).  After a lot of sightseeing and no Paraa, though, I started to convince myself that I had missed the junction and was on my way back out to the gate at Pakwach.  This was exacerbated when I asked for directions from a lost couple who were coming from said gate.  Turned around and headed back whence I came, with the other car following.  After a while, we were informed we were headed in the wrong direction (which means I had originally been heading in the right direction) so we turned around again!

This is where things got bad. As I was driving here, things went awry.  My front right tire stopped steering completely.  I swerved hard to the right, and then skidded to the left across the road and ended up against a bank of dirt.  Somehow, I kept my cool and tried to steer it forwards, but realized something was definitely wrong.  I called every number in the park that I had while I climbed under the car and realized that the drive shaft was clear off the wheel.  I finally reached a mechanic who said he’d call me back while I managed to affix the shaft back onto the wheel, but there was a nut missing and I knew it wouldn’t last.  I continued forwards, and after a few meters it popped right off again.  For the next two hours I would be under the car at least a dozen times, and this is including a good 45-minute ceasefire during which the car worked and I played spot-the-junction-or-you’ll-end-up-in-Pakwach.  I informed Moses of the problem and told him I’d keep him updated, and in the meantime I never heard from the mechanic ever.  Eventually, I found the junction and realized that, had I not stopped to ask for directions, I would have found it in another ten minutes or so.  Slowly rolled into Paraa and sat at the Nile for a bit while waiting for the ferry.

A good chunk of the day had been wasted with a broken car, but I was glad I wasn’t 100% stranded. But I was angry about the circumstances and slowly realizing I had no idea if I would get back to Lira.  But, I made it over the river and to Red Chili Rest Camp, the only inexpensive and probably the coolest hangout/accommodation place in the park.  I knew it was booked, but was hoping I could fenagle a tent or something.  I ended up secretly sleeping in the car in the parking lot for free, which is comparable to a $5 camping fee and a whole lot better than all of the $140 rooms at the other lodges.  Before going to bed I hung around the campfire and met some pretty cool people.  There was a guitar and a group of Brits sang a lot of great songs and it was really fun.  A few of them even improvised blues songs!  Oh, and on our way back to our respective camp sites we saw three hippos in the camp site. It was totally freaky being that close to those things since, you know, they could kill me.  It was a nice way to end the evening.

The next morning I went out on an early drive to the Falls. It took about an hour and 7 quick-fixes to make it there, but it was a really cool sight, so I’m glad I made it out there. I’m also glad that on the way back to Red Chili a bus stopped to help me with my car troubles and I got some international support. A bunch of Ugandans and expats tried to help and eventually we got some rope and tied the drive shaft in place. From then on I was able to drive, albeit with some hesitancy. From there I grabbed a small lunch and made my way north to the Pakwach gate while keeping an eye out for animals. Got to see some more giraffes and antelope, and one faraway elephant! Then I made my way home with my roped up car and called it a trip.

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ACF and My Last Week

As the end to my hopskotch volunteering, Erik found me some work with his team at ACF International.  Erik works in food security and last Friday I helped for a few hours since they needed to sort through an excel sheet of some 1,500 names to find conflicting reports.  This week, though, I got to do my ILF expertise: data entry!  The food security program gives unconditional funds to a number of beneficiaries in villages to ensure that they can provide for themselves.  On Monday I had an overview with Cresencia, a woman from Erik’s team, and four surveyors.  We went over the questionnaire and I made some changes to the main document while the surveyors translated everything into Luo.

Tuesday was my free day.  I spent a lot of time at home working on homework and gave dumplings a second try (turned out okay!) and then went out with a bunch of friends to PanAfric for Erik’s birthday dinner.  Food was delayed (like, two hours delayed) but it was great hanging out with everyone and I got see Martin and Annett’s place (they have little houses for all of their animals in the compound – too cute).  Got home and crashed soon after.

For the rest of the week I’ve been spending mornings (and a little bit of the afternoons) upstairs at the ACF office entering data from the questionnaires.  It’s interesting because I’ve never been an advocate of handing out money to people.  I’m still not fully convinced that it’s a sustainable program or that it helps any more than other methods that might promote more ownership.  That said, it’s been interesting to see how the money is spent.  Almost without fail, the beneficiaries are spending money on life essentials: food, health and education mostly, sometimes shelter.  On Wednesday I also took the position of native-English-speaker and edited some case studies written by German- and Luo-speakers to make sure they sounded good to donors.

Friday afternoon I spent relaxing and packing.  I threw all of my clothes and books and stuff together, and I hung out in the compound a bit.  I also ran around town a little getting soda for Alison’s farewell party.  The party was a lot of fun, I tried to dance a bit but that – as expected – was piecemeal at best.  But I got to hang out with a lot of people one last time and it was a lot of fun.  However, as the party wound down we realized there was a party crasher in our midsts.  Soon thereafter, Alison lost her phone and when I called it it was turned off.  So, we patted down the stranger and kept him inside – until a bad coincidence in which I was the last one outside and I turned away and then heard the gate shutting.  I ran outside and heard footsteps across the field, but couldn’t figure out how to give chase.  In the end, it was a really frustrating end to the evening, and I feel really bad for Alison.  Hopefully she can find the numbers to her Kampala friends and use my phone while we’re there together.

I’m spending the night at the ILF house tonight, and then I’ll finish packing in the morning.  Kampala, here I come!

Two Weeks

This post is about last week and next week, hence the title, but it also just so happens that in exactly two weeks (and three hours) I will be saying so long (and apwoyo) to Uganda.

In the passed week, I have bounced around sufficiently, and in a number of ways.  I spent two days working at International Lifeline Fund, three days working at Erikatten Buds Nursery School, and two days not working at all.  One day I actually, are you ready? consumed a bit of alcohol.  Altogether I spent three nights sleeping over at Ama and Alison’s place.  I also had the house to myself for a few days with both Nadja and Monica out to pick up significant others.  In more recent days I have met said significant others and played badminton.  It was a very up-and-down week of being really homesick and down and really social and distracted.  I was also really glad to be finding some work where I didn’t simply sit for four hours.

More recently, Lira is pretty much drained of water.  On Monday night I noticed the kitchen sink had no pressure, but thought maybe it was just something weird.  Tuesday morning we realized the kitchen and washroom had no water but the rest of the house did, so we figured the pipe burst or something.  Little did we know, the whole town was messed up.  At the nursery school we were getting water directly from the tap of the tank.  Junior Quarters (where the nursery, ACF, Erik’s house, and Ama & Alison’s house are) was completely out.  It was supposed to get fixed last night, but we’re all still waiting and conserving.

Next week will be my last week in Lira.  It’s very, very bittersweet.  I wish there was a way to go home without leaving Lira, but I’m pretty sure it would take a few natural disasters to make that happen.  This weekend I’m thinking about making a solo trip to Murchison Falls, but it could very well turn into a solo trip to wherever I get lost to, so I’m trying to get everything in order.  Next week I’ll hopefully be working with ACF International for a few days and checking in with NACWOLA one more time.  I’ll probably roll into Kampala on Saturday and spend a few days with friends before making my way to Entebbe.  I’ll check back in with more formulated plans and maybe some more pictures!

Educate

Typed the morning of Wednesday the 22nd of July.

This Friday, to round out my week of bouncing around town for work, I went to a small nursery school run out of a Swedish woman named Erika’s home. I spent the day helping five children between ages 3 and 5 with geography, mathematics, and English and monitored playtime as well. It was really interesting because it was such a small atmosphere and the students were really getting attention to help them learn. I helped children find different cities on a map of Uganda, made sure they counted, added, and subtracted straws correctly, and made sure they copied down the right letters. Now, I haven’t been to a regular school in Uganda yet, which is a real shame because i know it would be a very interesting sight.

Just from footing passed a small school on my way to the matatu from George’s place and passed St. Anne’s on my way to NACWOLA I’ve heard the drone of hundreds of children reciting numbers and reading words off the board.  Some of my friends refer to it as “chanting class.” Rote learning can really only take you so far.  Since they are paid by salary and there is little accountability, there are a lot of cases of teachers not even attending class.  There are still many schools that are basically a teacher sitting under a tree talking to students with no materials or curricula.  Being in a small school with adequate attention being given to students was really nice.

I went back to the school yesterday to help out some more.  The power and water were both out (water is apparently out in all or most of Lira town, so we’re all rationing and Erik borrowed a bunch from us last night) but we were able to still do some math and some English.  I’ll probably go back at least one more day before my time here is up.  Here are a few pictures from my two days at school:

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Work! And a little worry.

In the days since the World Cup, there’s been a lot of confusion and hearsay. I heard confirmations that a bomb was deactivated in an area in southeast Kampala. Also heard unconfirmed reports of a bomb being deactivated at a petrol station. I know a lot of expats in Kampala are (understandably) worried and are trying to get out of there. Lira has been quiet, but most of us have an ear to the south and an eye on the news. My basic plan of action is to avoid Kampala until it’s time to leave, and then figure out exactly how safe Kampala and Entebbe will be.

In the meantime, things are maintaining regularity here.  Still no work.  Hope was actually really angry about not having funding yet, and when she found out just how soon I’d be leaving she was even more unhappy.  I ended up asking around and nudged myself into possibilities.  Yesterday I seconded myself to International Lifelife Fund and helped Alison with data entry.  It was nice to have a longer workday with actual work and also be able to hang out with her and Ama.

ILF has a sort of two-pronged program, and I was helping the environmental department which sells fuel efficient stoves to people (the other is sanitation with wells).  The stoves, called okelo kuc, are portable and use less charcoal and take less time to cook.  The environmental department oversees stove distribution and do surveys.  When I was in Gulu I ran into ILF doing pricing surveys, asking people in Gulu town how much they would pay for them.  Yesterday, I did some data entry including information for potential vendors of stoves and a small stack of the aforementioned pricing surveys.  If you want to learn more about the stoves, there’s a bit on their website.

Yesterday there was also some torrential downpour – it reminded me a lot of the occasional insta-storm back home.  I ended up moving with Alison and Ama and watched a movie before Alison and I double-teamed a pasta and bruschetta (she led, I followed) before watching another movie and then I proceeded to crash there.

Today I’m probably doing some more data entry, and tomorrow I’ll be shifting to another volunteer opportunity where I’ll help a woman who is running a really small nursery school.  The last half of this week is proving more beneficial than the first half of my 2 month stay in Lira.  Plus, I’m always on call from Lisa for when the UNOHCHR goes into the field.  Supposedly, funding will come through next week for NACWOLA, but I don’t know if I believe that or if programs will start right away.  I think I’ll be bouncing back and forth for a bit – but I’m glad to be productive!

Sunday.

Sunday night, I was with Lisa and Ilaria when we got a text from Susan, who was in Kampala, that there were two explosions at clubs during the World Cup. From there we called everyone we could to make sure people were alright, but we knew very little and couldn’t get ahold of everyone.

Over the next 24 hours, it’s sunk in more and more. In the morning I found out that more than 50 people had been killed, and I got confirmation of what Lisa had speculated the night before – that al Shabaab had done it in retaliation for the AU troops in Somalia. It wasn’t until the early evening that Monica told me the restaurant hit was Ethiopian Village, her favorite restaurant and a place I probably would’ve visited before leaving. It was a while later that I found out that the one American killed, Nate Henn, was a former IC intern and was close to a lot of my friends. That’s also when I found out Tony had been with him. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I found out that Brian and Susan had been at a bar just 500 meters away from the rugby club.

The attack gradually sunk in more and more as the day went by. With internet only marginally working and running out of time on our phones, it was all I could do to make sure my parents and Kim knew I was okay.

It’s an eerie feeling, being here – even in far away Lira. I mean, when 9/11 hit I was thousands of miles away and had never been east of Missouri. I knew people who were in England during 7/7 and in Moscow during the train bombing earlier this year. For me, I had been in Kampala just seven days before, in the same area. If I had found myself in Kampala during the World Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had found myself close to one of the two places hit. It’s surreal to know and think these things when you’re just a few hours away and know people who were directly affected. I’m glad I’m safe and everyone I know is safe, but my thoughts are with all of those who weren’t so lucky.

For those that are worried, I’m safe in Lira – a small, northern town that’s presumably not an attractive target to foreign militants concerned with mass gatherings. I’ll be remaining up north for the next few weeks, but will inevitably be in Kampala for at least a couple of days before my departure. For now, all is well in Lira town.