Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Three months already...

I can't believe that I'm packing my bags. It doesn't feel like three months could pass so quickly. I'm feeling an odd mix of heart-pounding-in-chest excited and ridiculously sad. I've had such an amazing experience this summer and can't believe that I am lucky enough (dare I say blessed...) to have had the opportunity to meet all of these people and see some of the things I've seen.

I've promised several people that I will certainly come back to Uganda, and I sincerely hope that I can keep that promise. As cheesy as it sounds, I'm definitely leaving a part of my heart here and will always have a fondness for eastern Uganda, mostly because it provided me with my first international experience, and it was an outstanding and invaluable one at that.

Anyway, off to finish packing. By which I mean stepping around the piles of clothes in my room and going to bed, then loading them into a suitcase tomorrow. Mostly because half of my clothes are still wet since Regina left the laundry in the rain today. Awesome.

Also, funny story about buses in Uganda. We went to buy our tickets for the Elgon Flyer to Kampala tomorrow. If you remember from one of my earlier posts, the EF is the top bus from Mbale to Kampala. So, we went to EF office to buy our tickets today for a 10:30am bus tomorrow. When we were purchasing them, the agent told us to be sure to arrive at the bus stop at 9am for our 10:30am bus because the 10:30 bus left at 7:30am today. And I was the only one laughing at this statement. A) What good does it do for us to arrive at 9 if the bus is leaving at 7:39 anyway. B) Why in the world is the 10:30 bus leaving at 7:30 anyway. Isn't that why you buy tickets and have set times. So that a certain number of people can get on and they know what time to be at the bus stop. C) When I asked what time the next bus after the 10:30 bus leaves, she said 3:30. Even if the 10:30 bus leaves 3 hours early, the 3:30 bus still leaves at 3:30. I really don't understand transportation in Uganda. It's amazing I've managed to get anywhere.

Okay, Rwanda, here I come!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Snip Snip

On Friday, August 6, we attended the local circumcision ceremony. Every other year at this time, Bugisu (the local tribe) boys ages 13-18 or so gather to commence a four month period of public circumcisions. At the opening ceremony, all of the eligible boys gather for a dancing competition. The group that wins is the first group circumcised.

It was so exciting. There's a fenced in area on the cultural grounds where the events take places. All of the townspeople line up outside the fence, stacked about 5 feet back and pressed tightly against one another in the sweltering heat. We were lucky enough to go with a group led by someone who is close the the president, so we were able to get seats underneath a tent inside the fenced area. Most of the day was spent listening to speeches we couldn't understand because a) the sound system was awful and b) the majority were not in English. The exciting parts were the dancing. Boys dressed and beads and bells were stomping all over the field. We technically weren't allowed to bring cameras in, but Nrupa and I were able to sneak one in, so we have pictures of all the dancing. It was great! We even joined in at one point!

The other exciting part (and the reason we weren't allowed to bring cameras in) was because the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, was in the audience (for about an hour). Nrupa and I missed his entrance because we were in the bathroom (by which I mean some random person's house). We couldn't take pictures while he was there, but he was sitting about 50 feet from us in this cool yellow tent. Then he gave a speech (also not in English) standing on a drive-up podium about 25 feet from us. I really wanted to take a picture, but they specifically said that no personal cameras were to be used while the President was in the audience. It wasn't worth getting shot and/or arrested.

The President left promptly after his speech, at which point the crowd rushed the field and we left. We didn't get to see any actual circumcisions, but apparently they only did 4, and the rest will be conducted over the coming months. I'm really not sure how they managed to do anyway with everyone pushing their way to see. I would not want be the guy with the knife...too much responsibility. Though I also wouldn't want to be the kid getting circumcised either. No pain killers. No sedatives. All they get is a stick to hold behind their necks...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Quick note about internet

Just in case anyone is interested and was really hoping to talk to me, I'm not sure what my internet access is going to be for the next two weeks. We definitely have it at work, though the connection is very slow and email often doesn't work. Our internet stick technically ran out last week, but it's still working. Hopefully it keeps on working for the next. The last week that we're in Uganda, we'll most likely be traveling, in which case internet will not be a priority.

I hope that you've all enjoyed reading my blog and hearing about my adventures. I know I can be a bit long winded, but it was a nice experience for me to document what I've been doing via this public journal.

I'll make one or two more posts from Uganda, but I'll most likely sum up my experiences (and hopefully my time in Rwanda) once I get home.

Exploring Eastern Uganda

This weekend was so much fun again! We spent both Saturday and Sunday in different towns visiting two of our co-workers. It was great because we finally got to see true life in Uganda. It obviously wasn't completely day to day because the programs were a bit different since we were there, but it was still nice to meet their families and see their homes.
Saturday in Budaka

On Saturday we met Madoyi, one of the TASO counselors, in the morning and traveled with him to Budaka where his wife and four kids live. His wife is a teacher at a primary school, so they live on the campus of the school. Most schools around here are mixed day and boarding schools, so the staff live on the property to help monitor and care for the students who board there. Madoyi and Alice have four kids--Linda, Lillian, Reagan, and Lynn (yes, Linda and Lynn...). After welcoming us to their home with teach, g-nuts (peanuts), and bananas, Madoyi took us around town a bit. He showed us the plot where he's building his house and took us to a few areas where he owns land. He has about 5.5 acres on which he grows Eucalyptus trees, tomatoes, g-nuts, millet, and a few other crops. I also got a chance to drive Madoyi's motorcycle! He was behind me the entire time and his hands were on the handlebars for most of the time, but I was definitely driving! We didn't change gears at all, which is good because I didn't really understand that system. I think I need more than the 30 second overview he gave me. But I was accelerating and steering around this open field for a few minutes. Nrupa took some good pictures! I want to have a longer lesson. Hopefully I can get someone at TASO to teach me...
On Saturday night, we came back to Mbale and went to our friend Ronald's house to make dinner. He and Martin were supposed to cook for us, but Martin and I actually ended up doing most of it. Though Ronald had made some pretty good dal earlier in the day. We didn't end up eating until about 10:00, despite our original 7pm meeting time. Then all four of us were supposed to go dancing again, but Ronald bailed to do laundry (lame) since he's going to Gulu this week to visit his parents. Martin tried to bail too, but we were able to convince him to come. We met Allan at the club (Oasis). It was so much fun! Oasis is much cleaner than Rendezvous, though of course the shadeballs are still present. At one point Nrupa was dancing with Martin and Allan and I were standing to the side talking. This random dude came up to Allan and asked if he could dance with me. When I said no, I don't dance with people I don't know, the guy then asked if he could dance with Nrupa, even though she wasn't anywhere near this conversation and was clearly dancing with Martin. I again said that no, she wasn't interested, at which point the guy made the money sign with his hand (like he was rubbing bills together), saying that he would pay to dance with us. I immediately shooed him away after that. What a loser! We finally went home around 2:30am, which was bad as we were supposed to be on a bus at 8am to go visit Ogogol in Soroti.

Sunday in Soroti

On Sunday, we ended up sleeping well past when we were supposed to be on the bus to Soroti. We felt bad being late, but neither one of us would have been able to function if we had gotten up earlier enough to catch the first bus. Instead we caught one around 11:30 and got to Soroti around 1. We had such a nice time. Ogogol met us at the bus park and took us via motorcycle to the house that his family rents, which is a bit outside of town. His wife, Mildred (her name does not fit her. It's much too old and dowdy, whereas she's beautiful and vibrant). and two kids, Lea and Albert) greeted us and then we went and sat inside and talked. We had a really good lunch and talked and talked. His kids are adorable! And his wife is so nice. It was really interesting to see them interact. You could tell that they really love each other and their kids. It was so different than with Madoyi and his wife. They barely even spoke, whereas Ogogol and Mildred were kind of affectionate. At one point she reached over and fixed his collar, which I thought was really cute. They showed us pictures of their introduction--the formal traditional ceremony where the woman introduces her intended to her family, and then took us around to the plot of land they own where they grow a bunch of different fruits and vegetables and where they're building a house. The house is gorgeous. Right now it's only brick walls, no roof or doors or windows, but it's HUGE. They've been working on it for 2 years, and expect to take another 3-5 before they're able to move in.

It's bad, but I think I had more fun with Ogogs and Mildred. There children were cuter and much cleaner, and Mildred was a more engaging host than Alice was. She actually had good conversation with us and joked around with all of us, whereas Alice only spoke to us and sat with us when Madoyi wasn't around. I'm sure it all has to do with the culture, but it was just a personal preference. Either way I had an amazing time with both co-workeers. At both we had discussions about how connected Africans are to their food and how disconnected Americans are. Madoyi served us some g-nuts that he had grown and Ogogol served us maize, pineapple, and potatoes from his land. It was also interesting for us to see how common it is for the men to commute during the weekends. Every Friday both of them travel back to the families and then come back to Mbale on Sunday or Monday. I think it's a bit easier for Madoyi because he lives about 30-45 minutes away (which is still too much to commute during the week), whereas Ogogs lives about 2 hours from his family. Unfortunately there's not really a way for Ogogs to get closer. His wife also works for TASO, and company policy states that two people who are involved with each other cannot work at the same center. Since his family lives in Soroti, his wife works at the center there and he works in Mbale, which is the next closer center. And now he's starting school in Kampala, so he's going to be traveling even more. He's spend Monday-Wednesday working in Mbale, Thursday and Friday in Kampala for classes, and Saturday and Sunday in Soroti with his family. It's amazing how dedicated people here are to education. I don't think anyone in the West values education that much because it's so much more of a guarantee there than it is here. One of the doctor's at TASO is about to spend four years away from his family. He's going to spend two doing an ob-gyn rotation in Kampala, than another two completing his MPH in England. It must be so difficult, because I don't think he has the money to travel back and forth from England while he's there, and he has a wife and two young children. But I guess it's all for his children's future...

Anyway, it was a really great weekend. It was nice to finally get to see a much truer and more real side of Africa. Now we're preparing for our final week, winding up our projects. Right now the plan is to leave Mbale next Wednesday and head to Kigali, spend a few days there, then spend one or two days in Kampala before flying out. We'll also have about 5 or so hours in Amsterdam!

Second to last full week at TASO

Ah! Only two weeks left. This week was fun and stressful and anxiety ridden all at once. Monday was uneventful. We both just did some work on our independent projects at work. That night we were going to go to a movie with Martin, but he got called suddenly to move to Tororo. He had gotten a job there a few weeks earlier, but had told them that he would start August 2. On July 26, however, they called him and demanded that he be at work the following morning. We tried to tell him that it was inappropriate for them to demand his presence like that, but I guess things work differently here. No where did he have documentation that he had been offered the job or that he had said he would start the following Monday. All communications had been made over the phone. Instead of seeing a movie, we ended up just walking around town with him and Ronald.

Tuesday Nrupa and I had arranged a volleyball/football (soccer) tournament for TASO. Well, it was more just some games than a tournament. We had been talking about it for a week and even hung posters around the Center. About 30 people had said they would be there, but of course only 6 or so showed up. And within in the first 15 minutes Nrupa accidently popped the volleyball because it was overinflated. We used another beach-type ball for a bit, but then thankfully some random guy showed up and let us use his volleyball. It was so much fun. We played so long by the time we finished we couldn't even see the ball because it was so dark. Our friend Martyn (different from Martin) drove us home. On the way, we bought him a beer for his birthday.

Oh, also on Tuesday--our electricity was shut off. Such a debacle! They disconnected it because we've never paid the bill, but we've never paid the bill because they've never delivered the bill. Because there's no central system here like there is in the us, the electric company, Umeme, sends people called readers to each house that receives electricity. They're supposed to come at least once a month and take the reading directly from the meter. The monthly bill, then, is calculated by multiplying the difference between the current month's reading and the previous month's reading by 385/=, the fee per unit used. Then they come back to the house and personally deliver the bill. Obviously, this system is very flawed. Firstly, if no one is home they can't enter the property to read the meter, so they make estimates regarding the reading and then, if necessary, calculate the bill from the estimate. I'm not sure what calculations they use for making these estimates, but they're obviously not very accurate. Then, if no one is home when they try to deliver the bill, they're supposed to leave it. However, they obviously don't do that since we've never received a bill. In fact, an electricity bill hasn't been delivered to our house since January when the last group of GW fellows lived there. Before they left they had to go to Umeme and personally request their bill.

Anyway, on Tuesday they stopped by our house and Regina, our housekeeper, let them in. They disconnected the electricity and left a bill for 564,000/= shillings, which is around $250. Nrupa and I both almost had heart attacks! School had told us that the electric bill should be around $20/month, so we both had budgeted for about $30/person for the entire time that we were in Uganda. After talking with several people, we realized that there must be some mistake and Umeme must be trying to cheat us in some way because an electric bill that large was almost unheard of.

On Thursday, we went to Umeme with Henry, our landlord's son. He brought all the old bills that he had (which was only once since none are ever delivered). He also told us that the girls who were here in the Spring only paid 57,000/= (~$25) for the electric bill for their entire time at the house. After a 3+ hour conversation with several different people at Umeme, we learned that the electricity bill we received actually dated back to February 17. Apparently between February and now, they had fired a reader so they canceled all of his readings, which delayed the bills. They had also made two estimates at our house, which delayed the bills further. In the end, Nrupa and I paid a total of 150,000/= and left the balance for someone else to deal with. We're obviously not going to pay for electricity for February-May, when we weren't even living in the house. We sent a long, detailed email to school telling them about the situation, so hopefully they're fixing it.

In the meantime, our power is still disconnected since there's an outstanding balance. Well, it's supposed to be disconnected. Tom just plugged it back in for us so we're technically using the electricity illegally. Oh well. I like having light at night and warm showers. We're only in the house for another 10 or so days. This whole fiasco is one thing that's making me ready and excited to go home.

Despite the debacle of the day, Thursday ended up okay. Jessie and Dave came over and cooked us a really good dinner. Pasta with a vegetable and cheese sauce. Then Jessie and I made an amazing dessert. Ice cream with bananas, drizzled chocolate (which actually clumped and was more like brownie bits), and cookies crumbled on top. Yum! They left Mbale Sunday and leave Uganda Wednesday, so that was our last time hanging out with them.

Friday was stress management day. We went with the medical team to Sisiyi Falls, which is about 45 minutes outside of Mbale. It was beautiful and so much fun! We hiked up the falls a bit, but for the most part we just hung out in this little field area. We had lunch and dinner there and played football, frisbee, jump rope, cards. So much fun to just kick back and enjoy the company of our co-workers. We also got to know some people we hadn't met before. Better late then never I guess. By the time we came back we were so exhausted. We met up with the counseling team at Sports Club for a little bit. They were having their stress management there. We danced for about an hour then headed home and passed out.

Weekend Fun

July 23-25

This weekend was so much fun. This and the subsequent week really made me realize how much I'm going to miss Mbale. Friday night we went dancing, which, surprisingly enough, even to me, is something that I really enjoy. We first tried to go to Restville, the place that we went at the beginning of our time here with our UBC friends. When we rolled up, however, the place was literally empty. I think there were all of 5 people there, and at least 3 of them work at Restville. We changed venues and went to Rendezvous instead. We were a bit skeptical about this club. Our UBC friends went there when we were in Kenya and said it was fun, but strange. Apparently when they walked in, the place was completely silent, but everyone inside was still dancing...and wearing headphones. The headphones have two stations, so each person essentially dances to their own music. Two people dancing together could be listening to different songs. So weird!
Thankfully Friday night was a normal night. At first no one was really dancing, but the muzugus quickly turned the party around! Aside from the fact that the place smelled like ass because the bathrooms were literally on the dance floor and they only played African music that's sort of strange to dance to, it was really fun! There were a few skeezy guys though. One dude came up and started dancing with me and my friend Allan, so I thought that he was a friend of Allan's, but apparently Allan had no idea who this guy was. Then the same guy came up behind me a little bit later, leaned over my shoulder, and told me he wanted me to buy him a drink. I laughed at him and told him to go buy his own drink.

Saturday morning we slept in, then did some errands in town. We ended up meeting up with two of our friends, Martin and Ronald, at TASO because they were doing some work. We hung out with them there for a bit, and then made plans to meet up later to go dancing again. You have to know Martin to understand, but to no one's surprise he flaked on us, so we just watched a movie (Stardust!) and went to bed.

On Sunday I awoke to find Nrupa standing in the living room in a dress. Seeing her in a dress is an unbelievably rare occasion, so I was very confused as to what was happening. Apparently she was going to Church with Martin. I kindly declined their offer and spent the morning watching Sopranos. I love relaxing Sunday mornings! When Nrups and Martin returned from Church, we made some pretty good eggs and hung out for a bit.

A few hours later, we met up with him and Ronald and walked around the slums of Mbale. It was really interesting. Martin had done research in Namatale (the slum), so he knew some of the people and a good bit of the history of the area. There's a road that divides the two sides, and on one side of the road the rate of HIV is much higher than on the other side. I'm not sure why, and I don't think he ever figured it out either, but it's quite an interesting phenomena.

We walked around for about 3 hours, all through these areas of Mbale we had never seen. Then we met up with Dave, Jessie and Rachel for dinner at Elgon. Rachel was introduced to us via email by Joslyn. She's an undergrad doing some microfinance research in Uganda for the summer. It was a fun dinner. Then Rachel ended up spending the night because the NGO with whom she's staying had locked the gate and she couldn't get in. It was so excited to have our first house guest! We had a brief dance party to the song Monster by Lady Gaga (which we listen to at least 8 times each day), and went to sleep, ready for our second to last full week at TASO.