Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Off to Kenya

We're leaving for Kenya for a 3 day safari tomorrow afternoon. We're going on four game drives--one Friday, two Saturday, and one Sunday. Plus, we get to see the Wildebeest Migration. At this time every year thousands of wildebeest migrate from the southern Serengeti of Tanzania to Masai Mara, which is on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Our safari is on the Kenyan side of Masai Mara, so we should be able to see some wildebeest, in addition to the big five--elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, and rhinos. Fingers crossed that we see them all! And some babies...

Rafting Pictures

Here are a few of the best pictures from rafting. There are many more posted on facebook. I also brought a waterproof disposable camera, so I'll have some more of the floating-on-the-water variety when I get home.

Sights along the Nile

It was really interesting to witness life along the Nile. There were mud huts speckled along the hills through which the river winds. There was even one on this very remote island in the middle of the river. All along the bank we saw men and women washing clothes and shoes, often sitting there naked. Small mesh tents were hanging from the trees to catch Tsetse flies. I obviously couldn't see what was beyond the hills, but it still seems incredible to me that people live in such seemingly remote places. I thought I grew up in the middle of nowhere because I had to drive 15 minutes to get to the grocery store, but that was nothing. At least I didn't have to walk for 2 days over a mountain to get there.

As for the Nile itself, it was amazing. We were able to swim at some parts; the water was so warm! At others, we weren't allowed to get out because there were crocodiles in the water. We didn't actually see any while we were rafting, but we saw them when we were driving over the river on the way back to Jinja town. There were also some huge birds standing on rocks with their wings spread to dry them in the sun.

Conquering the Nile

So, this weekend was awesome! We made it to Jinja in record time on the bus on Friday. The Elgon Flyer redeemed it's title as the most luxurious coach in Uganda. Once we got to Jinja, we headed straight for the Source Cafe. It was kind of a let-down. First of all, it turns out that it's connected to some faith based organization or something. The missionary guy who runs the place is a bit strange, talking incessantly and whatnot. And the menu was extremely limitedt--here wasn't a single vegetarian item on it. I can't believe they didn't have Virgin Mary French Toast. I settled for a chocolate milkshake, which was delicious but not entirely satisfying. Also, the craft shop attached to the place is way over priced. They're more worried about making money for Jesus than selling goods at fair prices.

We then moved on to some of the same craft places we had visited before As I am my mother's daughter, I bought a few more things--but I definitely got some good deals. Then we headed to 2 Friends for dinner. 2 Friends is apparently one of the nicer hotels in Jinja--it was out of our price range so I can't comment on the rooms, but the restaurant was pretty good.

After dinner we headed off to Adrift Lodge. Included in the price of the rafting trip is one free night at lodge. I kind of felt like I was back at camp/sleeping in a tree house. There were four bunks, each consisting of four beds, made out of huge tree trunks. The beds had about three feet of space between them, so it made for a slightly cramped and claustrophobic sleep. Some beds had tiny little bed nets, while others went without. My bed had a net, but it also had a hole the size of my fist so I'm not sure how effective it was. Also, the sheets were super musty and of questionable cleanliness. Needless to say, my allergies did not fare well. I woke up wheezing and unable to breathe. Nothing like the fresh air of the Nile to clear that up though!

We got up bright and early in the morning--mostly no one slept that well--had some breakfast, loaded on the sunscreen (that was mostly me), and headed off to our boats. Between the 12 of us, we split into two boats--a wild boat and a mild boat (though the mild boat actually had the wildest ride). I was in the wild boat with 7 UBC students and our guide, who was also Canadian. We went over class 3, 4, and 5 rapids. It was SO much fun! We had a delicious lunch of sandwiches and fruit. It was so nice to eat whole vegetables rather than ones that had been chopped up and made into a sauce. We applied more sunscreen, and set off for the second half of the day. We went over a 16 foot waterfall, though it didn't really seem that high. I was a bit scared at that point, but it al turned out well.

The mild boat had a much different experience. There was a large rock at the top of the waterfall that several boats got stock on. Naturally, one of these was the mild boat. I heard this story after the fact, of course, but apparently their guide, a local guy who had grown up on the river, was yelling at the boat, and Nrupa in particular, that they didn't paddle correctly, which caused them to get stuck. After several minutes of bouncing and attempting to get the boat unstuck, the guide (Tutu, though now renamed Totem Pole) jumped out of the boat and supermanned it over the waterfall. The boat slid of the rock and over the waterfall. For about an hour after this event, our boat didn't know what had happened. All we saw were pissed off faces and silence between the guide and everyone in the boat. After a powwow a bit later, the mild boat switched guides and had an enjoyable remainder of the ride.

Saturday night we headed back to Jinja town and attempted to find a hotel. We had emailed the hotel we stayed at two weeks ago earlier asking for the same rooms, but apparently there was some confusion. The manager on duty told us that we were actually charged incorrectly last time. Now, our two rooms with two full size beds for four people would cost 50,000/= more shillings. Apparently they decided that a double bed is really only made for one person and that the two extra people staying in the room would each cost an additional 25,000/=. After much arguing, we went to a different hotel, which turned out to be much better. It was slightly cheaper, had much nicer bathrooms and really good food. After showering and taking a quick dinner, we all promptly passed out.

The next morning, we took some breakfast and went back into town to finish our shopping. I managed to get all of my gifts and then some, plus a really good milkshake! We caught a taxi back home. Ramtin sat with a live chicken. I had someone ask me if I wanted to make babies with him. All in all a pretty standard taxi ride back to Mbale.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Source of the Nile

We're off to Jinja this weekend to go white water rafting on the Nile! I'm so excited! I shall return Sunday with an amazing post about our adventures.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I never thought I would be cheering that! To all you lame-os who don't know, the US somehow managed to take first place in their group in the World Cup and will be moving on to the next round. My best guess is they won't get much beyond that, but it's farther than anyone expected them to get so that's good!

As for more relevant issues, everything is pretty much the same at work, though today was a really good day. We walked in the door planning on spending the day in the library working on our project, and ended up sitting in on a bunch of counseling sessions. Today was a special day--the third Wednesday of every month is PMTCT day, so all the women come with their babies and/or pregnancies and get counseled on how to avoid passing HIV on to their child, what family planning is, etc. Very interesting. Nrupa and I were really focused on the involvement of men in this day. I sat in on a group counseling session with 3 couples, 2 men who came as representatives of their wives, and 1 woman whom I think just sat down in a random chair and ended up in the session. One of the couples was an older man with only two teeth left in his whole mouth and a woman who looked to be about 20-30 years his junior. She was holding their child who was definitely less than 1 year old. Madoyi, the counselor, made sure I noticed the gender gap. Nevertheless, this man was the first to speak up when I asked (via Madoyi) why the men decided to come and if they thought that the information they were receiving was important.

After work, we played volleyball. It started as 4 muzungus. Well, 3 muzungus and our friend Alan who might as well be muzungu, and then turned into a full game of 5 on 5. It was so much fun, even though I suck at volleyball and all the Ugandans who joined us were really good (naturally). The ball, however, was extremely heavy and inflated too full, so now my forearms are covered in bruises. Oh well, it was worth it.

The evening ended with a transparent lizard crawling on my as I was finishing brushing my teeth, so now I'm trying to avoid going back to my room even though I'm really tired.

Also, the Safari is officially planned!!! Kenya here I come!

Climbing Guava Trees

I didn't dare do this, but Edrin (or Edwin...we're not quite sure), Tom's 6 year old son did. On Saturday, Tom sent his kids to our house so that we could meet them. We ended up meeting them (aka babysitting) for the next 4 hours. One of the fellows last semester got a package from her friend, but thankfully it didn't arrive until after she had left because it contained lots of amazing things for kids to play with. We got a soccer ball, frisbee, cards, coloring books and crayons. This package was our lifesaver Saturday afternoon. Tom's 4 kids (and neighbor's kid, who came along for the fun), played soccer, colored, and climbed our guava tree and picked fruit which he threw over the fence to the kids waiting on the other side. Since I'm not the biggest lover of kids, this afternoon was a test for me. Let's just say that my maternal instinct is not quite as mature as Nrupa's, a fact that was clearly demonstrated when I likened Tom's youngest child, 9 month old Matthew, to my 125 pound black lab--they both like to chase tennis balls and they both drool more than any other creature I know. No matter how many times we wiped Matthew's mouth, there was always saliva dripping out of it, some of which unfortunately ended up in my hair. I should also mention that this is one of the largest babies I have ever seen. My arm was literally sore from carrying him around. I'm not sure how his 6 year old sister does it.
I know you're not supposed to pick favorites with kids, but they're not mine so it's okay, right. My favorite of Tom's kids is definitely his oldest, Isaac (9). He was the leader of the pack and definitely dressed for the part. He came to play in a nice pair of gray slacks and a fancy Africa themed shirt. He was so interested in my computer that I let him gchat with Aditya a little bit. Aditya promptly asked me to bring Isaac home. If only...

Other than our play date, things have been pretty boring. We're still making some progress on our project, slowly but surely. I also found a potential project for my CE (final project for school). Now I just have to write a proposal and hope it gets approved...

Really what I'm most looking forward to is the traveling we have planned. We're going to Jinja again this weekend to go white water rafting on the Nile!!! (And we're going to eat at the Source, Mom. You can tell your friend). The following weekend we're going to Kenya to go on a Safari, then the weekend after that we're going to stay a night or two with our friends who live in the mountains. We'll finally get to see a really, middle of nowhere village! Other weekend plans include: Shabbat dinner with the Abuadaya (Ugandan Jews), trip to Soroti, a neighboring district, to meet one of our coworker's children, and I pushing for a trip to Rwanda the week before we come home (hopefully passing through Tanzania for a moment on the return trip to Entebbe where we catch our flight home). Nrupa is hesitant about Rwanda because of the cost, but I'm trying to convince her that we should go because we've already spent an obscene amount of money to get here. We might as well make the most of it...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sights and Sounds of Mbale

So, nothing exciting has happened since my last post. Nrupa and I spend Thursday and Friday researching for our project and developing our questionnaire and background documents. Thus, instead of writing about our relatively mundane daily activities, I decided my time would be better spent giving a more thorough description of our house and life in Mbale than I have as of yet.

Home Sweet Home: We have a four bedroom, three bathroom house that is way too big for just the two of us. Nrupa and I each have a room, one room is the guestroom, but since we never have guests it has been converted into a yoga studio/wardrobe. It's the only room in the house with a quality full body mirror (the other is in my closet and just not very accessible). The fourth room doesn't even have a bed because GW only sends 2-3 fellows each semester, so it is used as a laundry/drying room. Normally our clothes line-dry outside, but on days when it rains before the clothes have dried or when something (like towels) take a super long time to dry, we hang them in that room so that they don't get rained on. Both Nrupa and I have bathrooms with showers in our rooms, though we only use the toilets. My toilet is a bit sketchy because the seat and lid aren't attached, but it has a good flush and drains quickly, so I deal with the seat issues. The third toilet and shower are in the hallway that leads back to three of the bedrooms (mine, our wardrobe, and the laundry room; Nrupa's room is directly to right upon entering the front door). The toilet and shower are in separate rooms, which is actually kind of nice. This shower is hooked up to a water heater, unlike the other two, so it's the one that we use. The pressure is a bit lacked (it's usually just a single dripping stream), but at least it's warm and not from a bucket. I think that lack of pressure is worse for Nrupa since she has about 10 times more hair than I do.

We spend most of our time at home in the living room. It's a huge room with a large dining table, a couch, two easy chairs, and our refrigerator. Not really sure why the fridge is in the living room instead of the kitchen, since there's definitely room in the kitchen, but whatever. We don't really worry about it. Our furniture is surprisingly comfortable. The seats are foam padding and very nice for lounging at night and reading. We also have a little library set up in one corner of the room. It was started by the fellows last semester and so far I have added two books to the collection. I brought 13 with me and, assuming I finish them all, will most likely contribute them all when we leave. No sense in carrying that extra weight home.

The kitchen is my least favorite room in the house. It actually kind of grosses me out. The light doesn't work, so if we're doing dishes or cooking after dark, I have to wear my head lamp. There's a large pantry to the left where we keep our dry goods and another galley room with shelves where we keep our pots, pans, dishes, broom, coal, etc. The main room of the kitchen has one tall, square table used as a counter. The sink takes up the main wall in the kitchen. On one end is our dish drying rack and on the other is our hot plate. On the floor in the corner is our coal stove that neither Nrupa nor I know how to use. We leave that one to Regina and stick with the hot plate when we need to boil water or cook (which we also mainly leave to Regina). It's a good thing our power doesn't go out too often.

The best part of the house is the huge yard! In most cities in the US, three or four houses would probably be built on the property that we have. We don't use our yard very often, but it's nice to know that we can. The other day we actually did some exercises out there with our UBC friends. The property is completely surrounded by a locked gate, so we have a lot of privacy (all the windows and doors also have bars for safety purposes). We also have avocado, matoke (plantain), and guava trees in our yard. Tom, our night guard, cut down a bunch of avocados and guavas for us the other day. We're not the biggest fans of matoke (the fruit is cooked and then mashed; it's not bad, just pretty flavorless), so we don't worry about that too much, though I would like to try cutting some down and frying them...

We also have a little garage that Tom spends the nights in. He was staying in this little shack right inside our gate, but that depressed us so we were able to move him into the garage once he got the key from a friend of his who had been renting it from the landlord for his car, but is no longer doing so.

Mbale: I really like Mbale. It's a small town by US standards, but pretty large by Ugandan standards. It's actually the 6th or 7th largest town in Uganda by population. We live in what is called Senior Quarters, which is the more residential part of Mbale. We're probably about a mile, mile and a half from the town center. The town has one main street, Republic Street, and then a couple big streets that run off of it. In the center of town, there is a huge clock tower painted bright pink. It serves as advertising for Zain, one of the main telecom companies in Uganda. I love the stores here, though often I'm too nervous to go in them. They're so different than stores in the West. First of all, they're all painted bright yellow or pink or blue depending on which telecom company owns the building or has advertising rights (yellow is MTN, pink is Zain, blue is Uganda Telecom). When you walk in, the majority of the items are in cases or behind counters. There's not really a concept of browsing, probably due to theft prevention. If you want to see anything closely, you have to ask the clerk for it. This means that you really have to go in the store knowing what you want. Secondly, they're all tiny. About 3 customers can comfortable fit in the stores, though, this being Africa, about 10 usually pile in. Also, in some stores, especially the electronic stores, the space isn't actually large enough for the merchandise so it ends up spilling on to the sidewalk. Sidewalks themselves also serve as selling areas. Women sit along the sidewalk in brightly color dresses with pineapple, bananas, and maize laid out on another cloth in front of them. Men use the same method for selling newspapers and shoes. Others sell clothes, underwear, dishes, grasshoppers (which a quite the delicacy. I had the opportunity to try them, but I declined). On one corner near our two favorite super markets, men set up tables selling jackfruit. They slice the huge, spiky fruit open on the tables making the corner smell sweet like the fruit.

This is also a devoutly religious country. Most of the signs and mottos for schools announce their intention of educating "God-fearing" citizens. In the mornings, a man stands by the clock tower preaching from his Bible. On Sundays, few stores are open and less people crowd the streets because they all go to Church. Though, I actually haven't seen a Church yet. I probably just haven't ventured far enough off the main street yet, as there must be quite a few. Also, I rarely go too far beyond the clock tower in the opposite direction of our house. Our UBC friends live over there, but we live in a safer area so if we're hanging out a night, we often do it at our house (it also doesn't hurt that we have our own house versus living with a family). I have yet to explore that side of town thoroughly, but I think more people live over there because it is less expensive, so I imagine that more Churches are located there. There's a Hindu temple (thus why the area is called Indian Quarters), so there must be some Churches, right...

The guidebooks I read before I came told me that Mbale was a quiet, sleepy town, but I can attest that it is not. The nightlife isn't too diverse, but there is certainly a lot going on. Last night we tried to go to a concert at a hotel down the street. The flyer said it started at 7, so we showed up at 8, and of course nothing was really set up or happening yet. I finally heard some music from there when I was walking home from watching the World Cup at 11:30. I'm not sure what it is about the music or the way Mbale is built, but we can clearly hear loud music from who knows where on the weekend nights. It often sounds as though someone is blasting a stereo in our front yard. The first couple nights here, Nrupa didn't sleep very well because of the loud music. Thankfully I rarely ever have a problem sleeping no matter what the surroundings are. As I'm writing this, in fact, our across-the-street neighbors are celebrating a wedding and their music must be turn up to maximum volume. Not sure what song is playing now, but earlier today they were blaring the song from Titanic by Celine Deon. And one day a few weeks ago we heard Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" no less than three times.

Okay, that's about as good a description as I can give now. The rest will have to be told via pictures. Now I'm off to watch some football matches!!! (real football, not that American football nonsense. They barely even use their feet--why in the world is it called football???)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This week

Monday, June 14, 2010
This morning we did nothing, but this afternoon we had an amazing two hour meeting with Martin, one of the data guys at TASO. He pretty much designed our project for us and told us step by step what we need to do.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
We went into Tuesday with some purpose. We spent the day researching articles that we can use as background information for our project. As much as I hate doing research and usually can't focus (compared to Nrupa who is a research machine), it was so nice to actually have something semi-meaningful to do. I finished off the day by watching three football matches. And two of the three were exciting ones to boot!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Today we went to work with the intention of completing more research, but ended up going to Bukedea district for an outreach. This was a specific one called CDDP--Community Drug Distribution Point. It was the same as the first outreach we went on, where we took client's weights and refilled their ARVs. It was actually kind of boring just because we are limited in our ability to help both because of language barriers and lack of qualifications (ie: we're not nurses, doctors, counselors, etc). Though it was fun because we were joking around with the nurse, Ogolgol (aka George Allen, but he prefers his local name). It's amazing the racey comments that our TASO co-workers say. At one point, in reference to paperwork he was completing for a client, he joked: "This woman isn't sexually active, unlike Nrupa." Also, he kept asking probing questions about our relationships, often about why we're not yet married and don't have kids. This is a very insensitive comment, but while Ogolgol was asking me questions about dowries and marriage rights in the US, I couldn't help but think how limited his knowledge of Western culture was given his regular contact with students from GW and UBC. Not that that's a bad thing. It doesn't really matter either way and in reality I wouldn't expect him to have a strong understanding of the West given that he's never been there. I've been in Uganda for a month and am still learning new things about the culture every day. On Monday Martin asked us to name a some Ugandan tribes. We started listing things we thought were tribes as he laughed at us. We're still think our answers were correct, but are now self-conscious about that and trying to learn a new tribe every day. We're also still working on our languages, even though a different one is spoken in every village we visit. I can barely remember what the languages are called, so I have no idea how I'm going to remember any of the words...

Weekend in Jinja

Last weekend we went to Jinja, the second largest town in Uganda. We're going back in two weeks to go whitewater rafting on the Nile, but last weekend we just went for a change of scenery. It was certainly an adventure. We decided to take a matatu (van taxi that seats 14) for the two hour drive because it was the cheapest option. It turns out to have been a big mistake. We caught the taxi at the taxi park, and then sat in it for almost two hours as we waited for another eight passengers to fill it up. When we finally got going, after putting more air in the tires and gas in the tank, we still stopped every 500 feet or so to let people off and/or recruit new passengers. Nonetheless, I noticed some interesting things along the route:

- At the taxi park, a crazy man amused us with his karate skills, which were actually quite limited but still amusing.
- The taxi park also serves as a mobile mall. People walk around with their arms full of items such as newspapers, baby dresses, underwear, wallets, socks, etc. Really anything you would never want to buy in this manner (yes, I meant never).
- Every 100-200 feet for long stretches there were piles of cassava laid out to dry along the highway.
- We passed women in rice patties and bean fields completing there work with babies and young children strapped to their backs. No baby sitters here...
- At one point, a man started sprinting behind our van to catch it while the drive slammed on the brakes and veered off the road to wait for him. Then he didn't even get in because he didn't want to go to Jinja

When we finally reached Jinja five hours after getting in the taxi, we settled in for a low key weekend. We had a relative good lunch at the hotel, minus the bill issues at the end. Two people ordered ice cream for dessert. Technically, ice cream alone wasn't on the menu. It was ice cream and cake for 4,500=, but they were out of cake so the waitress said we could have ice cream for 3,000/=. Then when the bill came, she still charged us 4,500/= for the ice cream and, after much arguing and pretending like she didn't know what we were talking about, she told us that she didn't have the authority to set a price for the item. We decided to calm down from this experience by hanging out at the pool (and of course watching some of the World Cup). We then had another 5 hours long dinner. Just another example of the slow pace of life in Uganda. We sat down to dinner around 8 or a little after, and didn't leave until nearly 11:30. Aside from the long wait time for the food to arrive, nothing ever comes out at the same time. By the time one person's meal comes, someone else has finished eating. We've done away with the niceties of waiting for everyone's food to arrive because then only one person's food will be hot(ish). We were going to go out dancing after, but everyone was exhausted after our ordeal of meal. Better for me because I got to watch the end of the US-England match!

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel around 10am and went to explore Jinja town. Of course, it was Sunday so most things weren't open. We finally found a place called Flavours (also known as Muzungu town) to eat a really good breakfast. By the time we finished, some craft shops had opened so we all did a lot of shopping (though I think I did the most...good thing nothing is very expensive). I got some awesome gifts and souvenirs, though I do still have a few more things to get when we go back for rafting. Jinja is the place to get souvenirs because they're are so many shops and it's cheaper than anywhere else. In Mbale, we only have one crafts store.

We hesitantly caught another taxi back to Mbale. We really wanted to catch a bus because we didn't want to repeat our experience on the way to Jinja, but we weren't sure when any were coming. We got some assistance from some locals to make sure we got in the right taxi. They told us to climb into a van that looked completely full to me. When will I ever learn that there's no such thing as a full vehicle in Uganda. By the time we were all in, there were 20 people plus driver in a 14 seater van. Thankfully, this driver was much better than our first one. We made it home in 2 hours, bought some delicious jackfruit from town, and had a nice evening at home/watching the World Cup. (This was also the day of the awkward situation with Tom which has since been resolved. And by resolved I mean never discussed but last time we were at Mbale Resort he paid for his drink before I even paid for mine, so I guess what I did worked).

Last weeks highlights

Wednesday, June 9, 2010--On Wednesday we went on outreach in Ikiiki. Nrupa and I were trying to get some baseline information for our project, though I'm still not sure how well that worked out for us. At the beginning of each outreach, one TASO staff member gives a health talk. The main topic varies, but the point is to relay important information and take general questions from the group. TASO Mbale is testing some new techniques to draw more men in to their services, so this particular health talk covered topics such as why the men came, why others didn't, and why couples didn't come together. It was interesting, but we had to have someone translate for us, so it was difficult to follow and we're not sure about the quality of information we were receiving. Furthermore, there were a few questions we tried to ask, but we're not sure if the translator really understood what we wanted to know or asked the questions properly. It would be so much easier if we knew the language(s).

After the health talk, the clients broke into small groups for group counseling session, and from there received individual counseling sessions. I sat with one counselor, Emma, during the group session. I was hoping that he would translate for me as he went, but he didn't. Instead he told me that he was going to do a lump translation and debrief after the entire outreach had finished. Needless to say, that never actually happened. His method also made it impossible for me to ask questions as he went because I had no idea what was being said or if my questions were even applicable to a specific client.

Finally, realizing that sitting with Emma was of no help, we tracked down Nova. We've started working on another project with Nova, so we thought he might be more helpful. He's also much better at comprehending our questions than some of the other counselors. It turned out to have been a fantastic decision on our part. Nova translated the conversations with the clients as he went along and allowed us to ask questions of the clients. None of the information we gathered was really helpful for our project, but it was very interesting to learn about the predicaments that people are in and how they cope with their situations.

On another note, as I'm sure can be deduced from what I just wrote, the level of confidentiality (or, more accurately, the lack thereof), is appalling. Client files are sorted on the grass with only one person "watching" over them. Individual counseling sessions are conducted about 2 feet away from where the group sits waiting for their turns. Obviously, the atmosphere is going to be different than at the center just because of the available/unavailable facilities, but it seems to me that the individual counseling sessions at least could be conducted in a more private manner. At the Center it's a bit better, but not much. Client's files still sit in cabinets in the main waiting area where anyone could read them. At any location, they let lowly graduate students sit in on the meetings.

Thursday, June 10, 2010--Nothing to exciting happened today. We did a bit more measuring of kids for malnutrition. Learned a few more words in Luganda and Lugisu so that we could ask people what village they're from and how old that are, but that's all.

Friday, June 11, 2010--Friday kind of sucked. On Thursday, the counseling coordinator, Robert, had specifically told me and Nrupa that he was going to take us on outreach to Bukedea on Friday so that we could collect some information for our project, but then when we found him on Friday he told us that the trucks were full so we couldn't go. We ended up doing absolutely nothing all day. In the morning, we sat in an office reading and talking to our UBC friends, who also had nothing to do. After lunch, we just went home. Friday really made us both feel very antsy and useless. It was the end of our 3rd week at TASO and we hadn't done anything useful yet. I didn't come to Uganda to sit in an office and read a book. I could very easily do that at home. Even after almost a month in country, I'm still getting used to the very slow pace of work and life in general. It's so different from the "must always be busy" attitude of the west.

Friday night, however, was wonderful. It was the opening of the World Cup. South Africa versus Mexico. We watched the game at one of the two cinemas in town. We got there at 4pm, one hour before kickoff, and the place was already 3/4 full. I don't think I can do a description of the cinema justice, but I'll try. It's just one large room with a sloped for to simulate stadium seating. The seats are straight out of 1917. I'm glad the lights, when the were working, were very dim because I do not want to know what the chair I was sitting in really looked liked. They were wooden chairs with a semblance of upholstery, though what cushioning was left was very torn and lumpy. Also, most of the chairs seemed like they were about to fall over, yet still managed to support the weight of full grown men. I think that the 5 girls in my group may have been the only women in the entire place, and we were definitely the only muzungus. I absolutely loved watching the game in this atmosphere! Since South African was opening, everyone in the hall was trilled. You could practically feel the excitement in the room. One of the World Cup sponsors, MTN, has this big add campaign about uniting Africa during the games. Five African teams are in the Cup, but they're trying promote African football by portraying them as one team for the continent. Anyway, it was a pretty amazing experience. The only bad part was the BO. Ugandans have a very distinct body odor which, thanks to my deviated septum, I can rarely smell. In this enclosed room with no circulation, however, the concentration of the smell was overwhelming. Then, about 10 minutes into the game, they turned the fans on. This was great because it was so hot and stuffy in there, but awful because it just made the smell worse. Our friends Jessie and Dave call Ugandan BO "the JAB," because of the way it punches you in the face. It's so true! All I can say is: Beware the JAB!

Things I like about Uganda:
- How nice and approachable all the people we've met are
- The predictable weather. On days that it rains (which is most of them), it always rains between 2-4pm, usually for no more than an hour. Also, every rain is preceded by about an hour of darkening sky, so it's very obvious that the rain is coming. Also, it doesn't get too hot here, and when it is hot it usually only lasts for an hour or two before it cools down again. I actually get cold at night with only my windows open (no fan or anything). That never happens at home.
- The relaxed, go at your own pace atmosphere...usually

Things I don't like about Uganda:
- The relaxed, go at your own pace atmosphere when I'm trying to get something done or figure out my project.
- The way people assume that, because I'm muzungu, I have money.
- The JAB (Ugandan BO)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Random Rant

So, I know I've mentioned this before, but I just needed to restate how much I hate the subject of money in Uganda. Anything having to do with money is so awkward because it always involves someone asking me for some. Two recent examples:

1) Yesterday morning, mine and Nrupa's go-to boda driver, Robert, asked us for 20,000/= for his kid who is apparently sick (we didn't even know he had a kid--he's 26, though most people that age probably do have kids). Though 20,000 shillings is not much money (about $10), it's the principle of the matter that is more important. First of all, we haven't known Robert very long. At home, it's often uncomfortable asking even one of your closest friends to borrow money, but here such social restraints don't exist. I'm sure Robert asked us for money before he would ever have asked his friends or family because he assumes that we have it, where as others don't. Obviously, we do have $10 and, if he seriously needs it for a sick child, are willing to help, but we don't want to set a precedent whereby he thinks a) it's okay to ask us for money and/or b) that we will give it to him. We're going to wait until he brings it up again (which I'm assuming will be tomorrow morning as he even called both me and Nrupa while we were out of town this weekend) and we're going to offer him a proposition. He told us he would repay the money plus interest, but we're not going to take his word on that. Instead we're going to tell him that we'll give him the money in exchange for 20 boda rides, each of which costs 1,000/=, and we'll give it to him in two parts. He won't get the second 10,000/= until we've received 10 boda rides. I'm going to let Nrupa do the talking because she's better at dealing with these things.

2) The World Cup is on, which is a time for celebration and excitement. As we don't have a TV, I've been having to find other places to watch it (which is not a problem at all. Every TV in Uganda is tuned to Super Sport (the TV channel) during games). Tonight, I went to Mbale Resort, which is just down the street from our house, to watch the game. I was hoping to go alone, but our night guard, Tom, wanted to watch the game as well so we went together. We were essentially sitting at a bar so I felt that I had to order a drink. Both Tom and I ordered pop. At halftime, I decided to leave to go to bed. I went to the counter to pay for my pop. While I was waiting for my change, Tom said something to our waitress, who then came over and asked me whether I was paying for just my drink or for both. I said just mine, which she reported back to Tom. He had a very disgruntled look on his face and as I left he didn't really say anything to me. If we had left at the same time, I was going to offer to pay for his drink, but only if he attempted to pay for it first. I hate the assumption that since I'm muzungu, I'm obviously going to pay. At home, there's usually an argument over the bill. Here, so far as I've experienced (outside of TASO), if you're with a muzungu, the muzungu pays. No discussion needed, even if the muzungu doesn't agree with this decision. First of all, I didn't even invite Tom to go with me. He actually asked Nrupa if I was going to watch the game at the Resort because he was planning on doing so, then waited for me to walk there. Secondly, I never offered to pay for his drink or said that I was going to. If he doesn't have the money for it, he shouldn't have ordered it! This is actually a recurring problem with Tom. It seems that every day he has something new he wants us to buy or something for which we need to give him money. One day it was a trash can, even though all of our trash just goes in a pit in the backyard. The next it was a TV so that we could give it to him when we leave (even though he has a TV with a satellite dish at his house). Today it was money to sharpen his machete that he uses to cut we don't even know what. Apparently it's something on our property, but we've never actually seen him engaged in this alleged cutting. And the thing is that I was willing to pay for his drink this once, but I was afraid that if I did he would assume that I was going to pay for it every time we go to the Resort. Given that the Cup just started and lasts a month, I was not willing to set that precedent. Oh well. I don't think he likes me much anyway, so this will just reaffirm his feelings.

Updates about last week/weekend are forthcoming.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday Highlights

Today, four exciting/interesting things happened:

1) We made some progress on our project. We're going on an outreach tomorrow to see the implementation of some new male sensitization strategies. Yay for progress!

2) We met three seriously malnourished children today. Nova, one of the pediatric counselors who specializes in nutrition issues and therapeutic feeding, came searching for me and Nrupa so that he could introduce us to these children (he also took some pictures with my camera). Two of the children, both less than 5 years old, had severe edema, which was particularly noticeable in their feet and abdomens. The little girl also had skin irritations around her groin. They were both going to be enrolled in the therapeutic feeding program.

The other child in the room was a 2 month old baby that looked like she had been born at least a month premature, though apparently she was carried to term. She was so tiny. Her entire foot was the size of my thumb. Her mother had recently died of AIDS, and now her step mother was supposed to be taking care of her, but often neglected her. Her step sister was the one who took time off school to bring her into the clinic. (We weren't entirely clear on these relationships as we were getting this entire conversation through translation, but I think that this was a multiple-wives situation and one wife died of AIDS so another was supposed to be taking care of her child but instead resented the child and neglected caring for her). Anyway, this was the first time the baby had been brought to the clinic, so her HIV status was still unknown. They were going to do PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to test for HIV (blood tests don't work for children that young because they could have maternal antibodies that lead to a false positive result). Seeing this girl reiterated the importance of prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) programs. With ARV prophylaxis, vertical transmission rates can be reduced to less that 10% (even lower in developed countries), yet some women just don't know or don't have access to such care. Hopefully our project regarding male involvement will help address some of these issues. Since men are the heads of household and the decision-makers, educating them about prophylaxis, etc could have a profound effect on MTCT and family planning.

3) Nrupa and I will be measuring malnutrition among TASO clients as part of a nutrition assessment that Nova wants to conduct at the center. We started today by measuring about 15 children in the pediatric wing. We used what's called a muac tape to measure the circumference of the upper arm. Based on these measurements we can determine if the child is malnourished or not. Obviously such measurements are not foolproof, especially since edema is a common side effect of malnourishment, but it's an easy and cost effective way to get a general idea. Among the 15 children we measured, we found about 4 who were malnourished and will be started on therapeutic feeding. We also had 3 that were previously enrolled in the therapeutic feeding but now measured normal. It's good to see the concrete positive outcomes for some of these programs.

Our major challenge with this task was the language barrier. Most of the clients speak little if any English and though we're trying to pick up some of the local languages, there are way too many and we certainly won't know enough in 3 months to really get to know these clients without interpreters. Thankfully some TASO staff were available for assistance when necessary.

Side note: Nrupa got to hold her first Ugandan baby. It was a truly memorable experience for her and one she has been looking forward to since we landed.

4) We decided to go for a short run after work today. We were slowly making our way up this huge hill behind our house when we met two local women, one of whom was carrying an adorable baby on her back. We got to talking with them and they ended up inviting us over to their homes. We just had quick visits (and we both got a chance to hold the baby, though she wasn't too excited about it...), but their generosity in inviting us over (and trying to get us to stay for supper) shows one of the major differences between Westerners and Ugandans (at least the ones in Mbale. I don't want to be too general). Even when we pass other muzungus on the street, they barely nod or smile at us despite the foreigner connection. But random Ugandans will come up, shake our hands, ask how we are, etc. and then greet us again the next time we randomly bump in to one another (which does happen. This is a relatively small town and we're quite recognizable). People in the US talk about Southern hospitality, but that's nothing compared to the Ugandan variety.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sipi Falls and Mount Wanale

Saturday, June 5, 2010

This weekend was a blast. After our amazing night out on Friday, we woke up bright and early Saturday morning to go to Sipi Falls (and I made us a delicious breakfast--eggs in a basket. It was the first filling breakfast we've had since we got here). Sipi Falls is a waterfall about an hours drive from Mbale that is part of the Elgon range. Its a very popular tourist destination, so naturally we had to check it out. The drive there was beautiful. As our van climbed the mountain, we could see all of Mbale town below us. Also, due to the amount of rain in the area, everything is green and lush. I took some pictures that don't do the scenery justice.

Once there, we took a short but strenuous hike to the lower falls. The ground was wet from the rains and the splash from the waterfall, which made hiking the steep slope more difficult. At the lower falls, we were standing about halfway between the ground and the head of the falls. All the people we passed on our way up were soaking wet, but we stayed behind the falls rather than going in front so the splash wasn't as strong and we didn't get too wet.

We then hiked to the upper falls. We crossed this rickety bridge on the edge of the mountain and I just kept picturing myself rolling over the edge. We also ran into some guys (mostly boys, but a few older ones too; one was wearing an Obama shirt) who live up there. They stand on the path and try to get people to hire them as guides. We said we didn't need their assistance, but they walked with us anyway. It was quite obnoxious because they were moving so quickly since they are accustomed to the terrain. We all felt pressured to move faster, which for me and Nrupa was bad news. We both ended up falling, and now I have a big bruise on my shin. And then, of course, when we were leaving they asked for money even though we said we didn't want their help.

After the slow journey down, we went to wash our feet and hands in a stream. As my luck would have it, my phone slipped out of my backpack into the rushing water. Thankfully I hadn't paid for it in the first place (thanks Julie) and didn't have much airtime left on it. We drove to one more spot just for another quick view of the falls, and then headed home (I was exhausted and slept the entire ride).

Back in Mbale, after I purchased a new phone (they really need to redo the cellphone industry in the US. It's so much better and less of a hassle here), Nrupa and I tasted our first street food. It's the first thing any health and/or guide book advise against, but it's so good! We got a Rolex, which is a chapati with fried egg. So delicious! Thankfully we just spilt one because it was so big. And neither of us got sick!

We spent the rest of the afternoon at a friend's house watching two of the worst movies I've ever seen. We were laughing the entire time even though they were "serious" films (though films is too artistic of a word for these atrocities). The first was Dear John. which we all knew was going to be bad but wanted to see anyway (at least I did). The other was selected by Allen, our Ugandan host. It was called Love Comes Softly and must have been the first movie Katherine Heigl ever did. The acting was so bad and the writing was terribly cheesy.

Nrupa an I finally left to go home around 7pm. We were on the other side of twon, so we caught a random boda back. He was the worst boda driver ever! Firstly, he was driving way to fast, especially given that it was a busy Saturday night. Secondly, he was swerving like crazy. All drivers swerve a bit to avoid the potholes, but this was extreme and exacerbated by the speed. Then, when we were about two blocks from home, we hit a huge pothole and tipped over with a car blaring it's horn behind us. We didn't fall all the way over and we were both mostly unscathed, but we were obviously upset. The driver of the car behind us said something (not in English) to our boda driver as he righted his bike, then he sat there waiting for us to get back on. Yeah right! We paid him (even though we shouldn't have) and then walked the rest of the way home with our flashlights in one hand and bug spray in the other to use as mase incase anyone threatened us. Thankfully we made it home safely. We has a quick dinner and went to bed early.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday morning we woke up even earlier than Saturday and prepared to hike Mount Wanale, a small peak that is part of the Elgon range. We took bodas to the start of the National Park, about 30 minutes up a steep, winding rocky road. I was holding on for dear life, especially after our experience from the night before. We reached as far as the bodas could go and began hiking to the rangers camp. I slipped in the mud about five minutes in, which was very foreshadowing of the remainder of the hike. After meeting with the rangers, the six of us set off with our guide (who carried and AK-47) and three of our boda drivers. We each had waking sticks that were prepared for us by a kids with a machete. He literally just hacked branches off trees and gave them to us.

Within another 10 minutes, I had fallen three more times and my shoes and pants (sorry Mom, they were actually your pants--though they're surprising clean now) were covered with mud. Despite my inability to walk, it was such a beautiful hike. At points it felt like we were forging the trail ourselves. About 45 minutes to an hour in, it started rain. At first it was refreshing, but it soon became very hard and cold and made the trail even worse.

At the summit, we reached a small cave where we took refuge from the rain for a little rest and some lunch. As we started descending, a thick fog overtook the mountain. I couldn't see more than 20 feet in front of my. The craziest part was that people live up there. We were walking through carrot and bean fields and passing small mud-walled houses with thatched roofs. I can't imagine living there. How do these people get basic necessities like flour that they can't grow. By the time we finished our hike, the six of us were ecstatic to be finished--I can't imagine living up there and having to walk that every couple of days. On the positive side, the ground is very fertile from the rain so I'm sure the crops are often good. Still, I couldn't help but wonder what makes someone decide to to live at the top of a mountain rather than closer to town, though i guess such a sentiment is applicable throughout the world, even in the US.

After another treacherous boda ride down the mountain during which my knuckles were white from gripping the bike (and for which my forearms are still sore), we made it home. Nrupa and I stripped in our back yard and washed our clothes as best we could in the spigot (thank goodness we have that spigot!). After our wonderfully warm showers (our poor UBC friends don't have water heaters. They may be getting a more "African" experience, but I'd rather have the water heater). We settled down for a relaxing afternoon of reading and napping before taking dinner at a local hotel. During dinner, the power kept flashing on and off. While it was off, we got an amazing view of the sky, unpolluted by light. It was so breathtaking and something rarely seen at home.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Highlights of the past few days

Tuesday: We barely spent any time at TASO on Tuesday. The person with whom we need to meet isn't available until Monday, so we were mostly killing time. We did so by going to the market with Regina. It was slightly less overwhelming with her there, though only slightly. We then bonded with our UBC colleagues over not having anything to do and spent the evening hanging out with them at our house. It was nice to have the company of a few other people and not just be reading and being bored all night.

Wednesday: We went on our first real outreach, though our pseudo-outreach on Monday was better. We made sure to arrive at TASo at 8:30 on the dot, but all of the TASO vehicles were already full. HR managed to arrange a vehicle for us, but it took over 2 hours to pick us up because it got a flat tire on the way to meet us. When our chariot finally arrived, eight of us piled into a minivan that normally seats 6 or 7. This seems to be the style around here. We drove for an hour on ridiculously bumpy roads, weaving back and forth to avoid potholes. I think our top speed was around 15 or 20 kmh. When we reached the hospital, we took some tea, then spent about 45-60 minutes sorting pills, before we pilled back into the van in time to beat the rain. About 20 minutes later the TASO land cruiser, which left a bit after we did, zoomed by us since it can better navigate and withstand the potholes. In the evening, we hung out at our house with the UBC kids again and then we all went to dinner at this descent Indian place. The food wasn't bad, but the service was. I think it was a mixture of being in Africa (where time is not of the essence) and a power outage, but it took 2+ ours for our food to come once we ordered (Jared would certainly have complained). Then when it did, they messed up one of the dishes so Nrupa and I ended up with only one of our two dishes (which they finally did give us when we were ready to leave, so we took it to go only to find it covered with ants the next morning). Best thing about Wednesday: I tried my first bite of sugar cane. It's delicious!

Thursday: Thursday was a national holiday in Uganda (Martyr's Day, though I don't really know the background behind it. Something about Christian missionaries and battles), so we didn't have work. We spent the morning lazing around and fending off ants. Somehow they've gotten into our fridge, so that morning we found them in our juice, milk, bananas, and leftovers. While recovering from the bought of homesickness that this situation brought on, I finally organized my room and put my clothes away. I also hung my new bed net, though I still wind up with about 3-5 new bug bites each day. In the afternoon, we met up with our UBC friends to explore our surroundings (environment, as they call it here). We were trying to get boda bodas or a car to take us up part of the mountains right by us, but the road was bad because of the rain and it was too expensive, so we walked around town instead. Then we spent a quite night at home with no power.

Friday: The power still wasn't back on this morning, so I took a freezing cold shower after my run this morning. At work, Nrupa and I spent the first part of the day working on a PowerPoint presentation about toilets and toilet hygiene for the staff meeting on Monday. In the afternoon, we went on home visits with some of the staff. We mostly spent a few hours driving around trying to find community nurses to take us to clients homes so that we could check on them. Community nurses are usually retired nurses whom TASO employees as liaisons in distant villages in which the clients are unable to make it to the center. Unfortunately, in the two communities we visited, we had trouble finding said nurse. The first we abandoned for now, but in the second we were able to find a community volunteer (an HIV person who helps distribute drugs and monitor clients, but who has no formal medical training). She was able to lead us to the home of two clients, one of whom was there. The client we met was living with her son and several grandchildren in a small, two room house. I'm not sure of the time frame of her story, but at some point she was sick, so her husband took her to the hospital. There she tested positive for HIV, so her husband left her at her son's house and took a new wife. This is actually better than a lot of stories. At least he took her somewhere safe, and he still supports her. We're not sure of his HIV status, but most likely he's the one who infected her. The medical staff counted her medicine to make sure she was taking it correctly, and then she had a brief visit with the counselor. To worsen matters, her 6 year old grandson most likely had malaria (the doctor/nurse (not sure which she is) didn't do a test, but the symptoms pointed to that). He shook our hands and just from that you could tell that he had a raging fever. TASO's policy, however, is that they will treat dependents of clients who are under 5 years old, so this boy didn't make the cutoff. It was heartbreaking to know that you have the medicine to treat this boy, but because of legalise and policy and funding issues you can't do anything for him. As we were leaving, however, the grandmother said that she had malarial symptoms, so we did leave her with a supply of anti-malarials. I'm not sure about this, but I think (and hope) that she was lying about the malaria symptoms and just said that to get medicine for the boy...

Interesting Things:
- Exploring villages today was amazing. We went inside the community volunteers home, which I think was probably on the nicer end. It was nice one room house with thick mud walls and a tin roof. She had a bed, a small bench and table, and the bicycle given to her by TASO to carry out her duties. There were also a small cat and several chickens going in and out of her house, even jumping on her bed! The client's house was similar to that of the counselor, though even farther out. We drove on what is normally a single-file walking path. Apparently we were only the second car to drive on this "road." At her house she ran around and grabbed chairs from who knows where so that all six of her guests had a seat before she finally sat on the floor. I was trying to offer her my chair but she wouldn't take it. In the front yard, beans, cassava, and laundry were drying.
- While driving through the villages, we bough pinepple and maize without even having to get our of our vehicle. Much like on the bus, sellers came storming up to the car with grilled maize and bags of fruit. We bought three pineapples, one of which we had the man cut for us to eat right then. Even though it looked unripe, it was very juicy and good. We're going to leave the others for a few days hoping that they'll be even better. The maize is interesting. It's much harder than corn from home and tastes almost like unpopped popcorn kernals. It's good, but I don't think I could eat it every day.
- We saw some of the cutest children. It's crazy how 5 year olds are put in charge of their younger relatives, even though they are barely able to care for themselves. They carrying their young siblings and cousins on their backs. Also, pants seem to be an optional piece of clothing, particularly for young boys. We saw several young children today running around with their tiny members flying in the wind. We also saw one baby with what we think was a hernia. When he sat down, a large protrusion came out of his stomach/groin area.
- I can never tell if kids are excited to see us or making fun of us. I think sometimes it's a bit of both. Many in town or nearby villages will yell "Muzungu how are you" and then burst out laughing. Others, especially little girls, will come up to us, shake our hands, and curtsey. It's actually very uncomfortable and I wish they wouldn't do it.

Language Lesson:
Lugisu--Malembe = Hello; Urienna = How are you?; Weebale = Thank you

On that note, I'm going to go finish getting ready. We're going out with our UBC friends and one of their host-brothers. Then tomorrow we're going to Sipi Falls, this waterfall on Mt. Elgon, and Sunday we're hiking Mt. Wanale, which is a small peak of Mt. Elgon. Should be a fun weekend! (Awesome night out!!! I hope I can actually wake up in the morning...)