Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Moving Through Mobilization

The past couple weeks of my project has focused on mobilizing the community of Bugembe to do ONE thing - attend a free training on savings skills. You even get free food out of it! What a deal.
Unfortunately, mobilizing has been harder than I thought. Despite trekking all around the community for over a week spreading the word about the training to groups, schools, and churches, we only received an attendance of 50 on Saturday. Out of a target group of 300. Did I mention that they all arrived 2 hours after the training was scheduled to start?

Fortunately, even though it was a small number, the training was successful and I feel the attendees earned a lot. Hopefully it will translate into a larger number of people attending the second training and signing up for lockboxes!

Part of this problem can be attributed to African time (aka the attendees showing up 2 hours late), and so it's something pretty much out of my control. The attendance is the frustrating part! It shows how essential proper mobilization strategies are in a community where formal advertising doesn't take place and is expensive. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of stimulating people - and it takes time and energy. It takes talking to the right people, talking to a LOT of people, and visiting groups. It also takes knowing that you don't have the easiest product to sell - can you see how difficult it would be to convince people to come to a savings training when they have a deep-seated mistrust of banks?

But the most rewarding part of that aspect of my project is making impact in the community by changing misconceptions and establishing appropriate savings skills! The project isn't just about increasing working capital for the SACCO: it's establishing new culture.

Go Down that Grade 5 Rapid? Oh, No Problem

Despite being bruised, cut, a little chipped, and maybe sick for about a day, Laura and I survived our rafting trip down the Grade 5 run on the Nile River! Grade 5 rapids are usually rapids that'll flip your raft - as we saw on Sunday. Out of every rapid we went down, we probably flipped on all but two. The last rapid, a Grade 5 named "The Nile Special", flipped our raft on the first wave. There's nothing that wakes you up like the second wave hitting you - POW, right in the kisser.

We had an interesting raft companion named Matt who liked to dive out right into the rapids and float downstream to safety. If Matt was asking if the water was deep, we knew he was going to bail on us right when we got into the whitewater.

After every rapid, there was usually a long stretch of calm water where we could take off our helmets and go for a swim and float around. We were served fresh pineapple while floating down the Nile - nothing is more serene! I was so glad I got the opportunity, and really glad to take my first rafting trip in Uganda down the Nile River.

Unfortunately, I think I swallowed some of the lovely Nile on Sunday, and so on Tuesday I woke up with a tummy bug. Lessons learned - love the Nile, raft on it, but drink the beer, not the water.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Struggle Boat

Sunday Mallory, and I knocked a big one off our bucket list - white water rafting the grade five rapids of the Nile River! That was not the easiest feat if I say so myself. A glaring sunburn, a few bruises, and one chipped tooth later we came up out of the water alive!

Along the way we definitely encouraged each other as our raft continued flipping over (nearly)every rapid, but really we had a great time with some other interns, our guide, and that peace core volunteer who kept jumping ship...

(no you can't see me in this one - I was in the back, thus I was at that point under the boat)

(Some Muzungu Birds)

(The Dream Team)

That struggle boat we were in was one of many struggles I have faced throughout this summer.

It's time to get real on this blog and let you in on those struggles.

I'll begin with that brief mention of a chipped tooth - yes that was me of course. It is now expertly filled by a Jinja dentist who does not believe it necessarily to use anesthetics before digging right in.

On a less physically painful note, my project keeps slipping behind in its schedule. It is incredibly unfortunate - but what can we do when the road is washed out from construction right before the heavy rain, or when a community member passed away and the savings group is making burial preparations. My supervisor in the field is very supportive of trying to find solutions and we are finding ways to skip some steps or revisit them later as time allows.

Also as we visit groups I hate reaching that point of our presentation where we need to clarify that some groups will not be included in the pilot program - they smile, eyeing me and say "I think you will pick us..." I may have learned how to give a bad news message (shout out of thanks to Jeanette Heidewald and the Kelley School) but it is still not something to look forward to.

Through careful communication we will keep moving forward, and I am proud to say we have organized our brand goals, developed respectable logos, and chosen three savings groups for our pilot branding program! Ever the optimist, I laugh off the setbacks with my colleagues who face the same challenges every day - rather than for a short eleven weeks - and get back to work!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Organized Chaos

I love when I learn about some reason or meaning for typical parts of life in Uganda, especially concerning their language. For example: A Rolex (no not the watch) is Chapatti rolled up with a fried egg omelet and costs around 1000/= Ugandan Shillings (Again not the watch for $.50 USD, that would be too cool). Anyways, it was named a Rolex because you take the food, and roll it up. Plain and simple, and delicious.

Also I have learned so much about Boda Bodas this week!

First interesting fact is that their name was shortened from border-to-border. Motorcycle taxis provided cheap transportation across the border in the East to Kenya and became known for taking people from one border to another. Convenient name? I think so!
The second thing I learned is that they are incredibly organized! While visiting Mallory and another intern, Nick, in Bugembe on Wednesday I arrived rather early with no idea which way to go. A colleague was dropping me from work (hence the early arrival) and instructed me to sit with the bodas and wait. Among the ten bodas at this boda stage, I met the Bugembe boda Chairman! They have a chairman! So does Jinja apparently, and everywhere.

After being introduced to each by their name and religion, I asked about how they got stationed at this particular coaster stop. It is a prime location, and I am not sure how some end up working that corner, and another guy sits all day at the end of my street waiting for someone to come by. No clear answer emerged from the conversation. All I know though, is it may be more competitive than I first thought!

I'm so curious about this taxiing industry, I have many follow up questions for my new friends next time I visit Bugembe, but perhaps I will save that for a sunny day!

(View of Lake Victoria from some hilltop in Bugembe)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Top 20 Best Things About Uganda

Like Laura was saying earlier, it's shocking how the weeks have gone by - next week we will be going on our midterm retreat, and my program will be halfway done! I wanted to chronicle all the best things about Uganda (so far...).

  1. Friendly people
  2. Awesome weather and amazing, lush scenery
  3. Boda boda rides!
  4. Tea time + dubbed over Spanish soap operas = supreme happiness
  5. Coming home to your host family and being tackled by your host brothers/sisters
  6. Fresh fruit and vegetables - avocados, mangos, bananas, pineapples, passionfruits...
  7. Organic/nonprocessed food in general
  8. Street food! Chapati, rolex, samosas, pancakes...
  9. Sodas. A Stoney (spicy ginger ale) a day makes a happy Mallory.
  10. Awesome FSD interns
  11. Being so close to the Nile makes for great scenery and tourism opportunities!
  12. Our favorite hostel, Backpackers, has an awesome crowd of 20-somethings from the U.S. or the U.K. on weekends.
  13. Beer. Big beers. Good beers. My favorite is the Nile Special.
  14. Blue Band. It's this margarine spread from Unilever and it's sooooo good.
  15. Ugandan friends calling you to update them on where they are and what they're doing.
  16. Obama-fever. There are Obama tote bags, hair salons, belt buckles...
  17. National football matches! Vuvuzelas, anyone?
  18. Copies of your favorite movies and TV shows before they're even in the stores in the US....
  19. The Ugandan ice cream truck
  20. Chickens, goats, and cows running all over the place. I think I just really like farm animals...
  21. The markets in Bugembe and Jinja. So lively and so much good food.
  22. The touristy shops selling traditional crafts. It's all I can do to keep from buying them all!
  23. Ugandan fabrics. I bought a purse in Kampala that's made out of traditional Ugandan fabric, and it's my favorite thing.
I lied and went over my list! Definitely more good things to come, so I'll just keep this running for now.

Energy Woes Pt 2

In the past few days, I've started to see a lot of differences in how much energy I consume versus how much my Ugandan counterparts consumer. In another idea from Tom Friedman’s book, he talks about how people around the world aspire to live the “American lifestyle.” The expansion of the global middle class is a testament to that. The issue is, Americans use more energy per person than any other country on the globe.

As an American in a country with an energy shortage, I’ve grown acutely aware of how much electricity I use. I have to charge my laptop, my iPhone if I want to listen to music and call my parents, my lantern, my Ugandan phone, my camera, etc etc etc. I can’t think about how my host family’s electricity bill is going to go up because of me.

I’ve also realized how much stuff I have. My host mother told me that I had the most bags out of any intern she had ever seen. Did I really need to take my iPad with me? Did I really need to take all these clothes? It’s become my new goal to reduce my bags from three down to two, so hopefully I won’t struggle on my way home!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Up the Nile without a Paddle

Hopefully I will not actually lose my paddle as Mallory, myself, and four other FSD interns take on some 25 kilometers of Grade Five rapids on Sunday!
I heard from a very persistent tour guide that it takes approximately three months for water to travel the entire 6000 miles to the Mediterranean Sea. That made me think about how far I've come on my journey here, which will be just shy of three months. I suppose at three weeks in I must be somewhere in Southern Sudan on my metaphorical journey downstream.

Upon arrival I thought eleven weeks was somewhere beyond the horizon - past some matoke, villages and monkeys - but I was wrong. My work plan timeline is flying by, and weekends are filling with adventure! I am grateful for this blog for a chance to record everything that's happening, and I really hope I can get down to business with my branding project, rather than letting time continue to float by.

No Cake for You!

Ugandans sure know how to throw a party! And really they do, it is not the work of a wedding/party planner, they like to keep it in the family! I'm surprised that wedding planning is not a viable profession in Uganda, where traditional festivities can last up to a week, or more! If the culture were to change in the future to be open to a wedding planning industry, well lets just say I see quite a lucrative potential market!

I missed the engagement party on Thursday. I was very disappointed, as it was four hours away in a rural village, and I missed out on wearing the traditional Gomasi. A Gomasi is like a sari, but with pointed shoulders, you can maybe see a few in my pictures and video. I did not wear one to the wedding on Saturday, it was a traditional Catholic wedding held in a church in Jinja. A nice dress, and some fancy sandals helped me to fit right in, well as much as I could.

On June 18, 2011 Ignatius and Daisy were married, and my host dad David was the best man. You can see him just behind the bride, bridegroom and flower girl, as they dance down the aisle.

Yes that's right, they danced - never walked - and it was awesome! My host sister Haniffa described how great the procession is when you get a couple who really loves to get down, I can only imagine. Neither Haniffa or myself met the couple before the wedding, so we stuck together and she let me pick her brain on all things wedding related!

Cool things I learned:
  • Always account for twice as many guests as you plan for (my host parents invited 200 and 400 came)
  • Invitation is generally by word of mouth - because you expect your friends to come, they do not need an invitation. (The workplace and far away relatives generally receive invitations.)
  • The wedding party dances anytime the travel somewhere
  • We had a lunch break between the wedding and reception
  • The bride and bridegroom were constantly surrounded by photographers. Turns out they didn't hire all of them, some just heard and showed up. At the reception they came with multiple copies of their prints to sell right then and there to the guests!
  • It is super convenient to be married in Jinja, because then you get to have your reception on the Nile!
  • Cake is reserved for important people - I was not one of those - It is a way to show recognition to family members and employers and good friends who attend your wedding, and then it gets passed backwards from their to the other excess guests.
My video of their dancing and cake giving isn't loading, so here are a couple quick pics from the reception!

Let's Talk Romance

As Laura said in her previous post, one of the great things about Uganda is how friendly people are. But as a girl, it's a little bit hard to distinguish when someone is being nice to you, and when someone wants to marry you and come to America with you.

An example: both Laura and I were propositioned by some men last week who wanted to marry us. I was in a taxi headed to Iganga, and told my lovely proposer that I had a husband in America. "But America is so far away!" he said. "And I'm right here!" For Laura, her beau told her that his grandmother, before she died, told him that he would marry an American woman. And then he spilled Caroline's (our intern coordinator) drink all over the place.

People will come up to you, and ask you for your number. I even met a man in a church where I was giving a talk about savings culture - I gave him my number because he was interested in learning about the SACCO where I worked. Only after a couple of sketchy phone calls did I finally label him in my phone as "Creeper."

On a positive note, they usually give up very quickly! You say no, and they take it like a man. And let's face it, we get bothered just as much by guys in America.

But we don't hate marriage in Uganda! Laura attended a wedding last weekend, and her host father told her that "she's next." Time to look for some prospects...

Energy Woes

While I've been in Uganda, I've been trying to chisel my way through Tom Friedman's latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I've always been following his concepts, but even more interestingly, I see a lot of what he's talking about here in Uganda.

One of his main ideas is that world population is rising, and so is the world's middle class. Along with the rising middle class is a rising demand for electricity - that fossil fuels just can't provide. He calls it energy poverty, or energy haves and have-nots. Here in Uganda, one of the main challenges in doing business is lack of energy infrastructure. In my town of Jinja, the main electricity generator for the country is the Owen Falls Dam, but even here we experience blackouts. Yesterday, we had a rolling blackout that lasted from 10 in the morning until late at night, and the electricity is still out at my work!

There is even electricity rationing due to high levels of demand. While something like this would be unthinkable in the United States, this the norm here. When Laura and I arrived in Entebbe Airport our first day here, we sat down in a cafe area to wait for our site team to pick us up. As we were sitting, the lights flickered and the power went out twice - in the national airport.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

People, Pleasantries, and a Little Trash Talk

“How do you find this place?” “It’s good. Bulunji.”My friend Lillian, a University student from Central Uganda, has been the only one to follow up with, "Why do you only have positive things to say?" Lillian, Mallory and I met at the source of the Nile, she is in Jinja completing her student teaching for her education degree. It is a very reasonable question, and Jinja is not exactly paradise, but her question made me laugh all the same. The experiences of being in a new place seem to have had more positives than negatives, we will see if this changes with the more time I spend here.

(Mallory, Lillian, and I in the middle of the Nile River)

A positive experience has been how nice people are. Ugandans rave that they are the nicest in Eastern Africa, and my colleagues assure me that they, the Busoga who live in this Jinja district, are the kindest tribe, the others are stubborn. And generally, people have always been very pleasant and friendly to me. It may have something to do with the customary greeting of "You are most welcome." That just makes a person feel good!

To be fair to Lillian’s question - I dislike the trash removal system here. Of the Ugandans I have interacted with, I have realized that I generate more trash than they do. Our family trash can is a small bucket emptied just a couple times a week. Much of what is thrown out is paper product or compost waste and so burning seems to be the removal method of choice. Dumpsters are found with smoke pouring out and trash spilling over. Once or twice I have seen a man with a shovel gather the trash back into the dumpster, but never have I seen it emptied. Through some curiosity and investigation, I learned that there is a city garbage removal, which takes the dumpsters away, empties them and then returns them. Those near the marketplace are emptied maybe every other day. You can see in the image to the right some mid day trash burning outside my office in Mafubira.

Now I don't want to leave you on such a negative note, so getting back to the discussion of the Busoga and tribes, those cultural ties are very strong. Heading to Mafubira I always pass the hill the tribe king is building a house on. One of my favorite questions to be asked is, do different tribes in America speak different languages? It reminds me of the differences between ourselves, where people do not always know their heritage, and this youthful country which became independent in the 60s. Could you imagine if each US state spoke at least one local language?

Day of the African Child

Thursday was the International Day of the African Child, a holiday celebrated since 1991, to honor those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 as well as raise awareness for the need for improvement of the education available to African children. Events rose up around Africa, and around Jinja, UNICEF, Red Cross, and my host mom's organization Children of Grace were among those to hold special awareness events. Check out this article for more information!

In Soweto, South Africa, on June 16, 1976, roughly ten thousand black school children marched in a crowd longer than half a mile, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds were shot and and thousands more were injured or killed in the following protests. My host brother Francis really enjoys high school, and we have spent a lot of time talking about his school and how important it is to him. He wants to go to University to study English or Literature.

It is always fun to see kids running around and playing. It is not so common to be in the streets around the compound where I live, but in the villages and in town they are everywhere. Some sport school uniforms, others casual outfits you would see around any typical American town. Young children wear an oversize t shirt and mismatched shoes, and some don’t have shoes at all. It seems shoes are not a huge priority for children who outgrow them quickly. But it is something more than that. Not wearing shoes is part of their culture. Upon arrival at work, some of my colleagues take their shoes off for the day.

Children growing up in Uganda can get away with so much! A friend here described it a little differently, claiming the children are unruly. While visiting a village in Mafubira, a litter of children were playing outside with a large sheet of plastic. Once they realized this muzungu was watching them it became a performance of rolling under, wrapping up in, and tearing this large plastic while yelling out “Muzungu bye bye!” I waved and smiled and fist pounded each in turn and we all exploded into a fit of giggles.

I hope any parents who read about this experience are taken aback by the children burying their faces in plastic. Growing up in Uganda emphasizes different cultural lessons to be learned. They play with what they have, and if it turns out to be dangerous, well they soon learn that. Obviously all these children survived their plastic sheet experience, and have probably picked it up again today. This particular experience reminded me of a TED talk I saw recently, children in America grow up extraordinarily protected. This is not a severe problem, but it is just a difference I have noticed from my short time on the other side of the world.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Please Grant my Grant!!!

What a week this has been! I decided midday Monday that it would be worthwhile to write a grant proposal in order to receive more funds with my project. My project, known as the Pilot Brand Development Program, is packaged into a nice little compact 10 page single spaced proposal. The quality of that proposal is yet to be determined! I spent my time writing amid field visits, which rocked my vision of the low level at which we are beginning, and with an occasional break for Marimar or some passion fruit juice with a friend.

Mini pep talks helped to get me through "Come on Laura, its not like this is Target project all over again..."

The first objective of this pilot program is to choose who will be in the program. Without too much thought beforehand about the requirements to be in the pilot (mistake!), we visited the first of 12 Village Saving and Lending Groups. They were absolutely interested in participating, so we began to discuss what their current brand image is.

The Marusacco Secretary Manager Esther acted as translator, and took a rather long time with the first question. I could see some confusion, internalizing, and small responses prompted Esther to expand once again. Pulling out simple traits of the group's image was like pulling teeth, and basically rural marketing is nonexistent among the inconsistent sales of their commodities in local markets. It will be a learning experience for all of us, as banking and marketing take on whole new meanings when everything is done on paper.

Square one. This is where I am, no foundation other than some enthusiasm and a COMPLETED!!!! draft grant proposal. Luckily, that could be just enough!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Biggest Adjustment Challenge = Letting Someone Else Cook Breakfast For You

It’s interesting the contrast of my life in the U.S. and life here. I think the biggest challenge is accepting that I have to be dependent on other people. Back home, I would get up on my own time, fix my own breakfast, follow my own schedule, eat dinner on my own time, and spend my evening as I saw fit. I could also complete my schoolwork and my part-time job all by myself for the most part.

Coming here, I had to slowly realize that the success of my project and my time here was dependent on other people. I couldn’t move around the community without my coworkers. I couldn’t organize a training without my managers. If I didn’t get anything done during the day, it was because my coworkers couldn’t help me. At home, if I want a snack, I can’t get it myself because everything is cooked by hand. I can’t make myself breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

As a person, I don’t like to be dependent on other people. So probably the hardest part was giving people my clothes to wash, being served at home, and having other people fetch buckets of water for me.

But it's a good learning exercise: not only in being not so self-sufficient and hardcore independent, but also realizing that a project can't succeed just by my own effort. I've learned valuable lessons about getting other people to be motivated and personally part of a project.

African Business Guide - African Time?

Working in Africa has given me a first hand look at doing business...on African time. What's African time? Basically, people in Uganda don't live by the clock like Americans do - scheduled events can happen half an hour, and hour after.

Here's some handy translations to help you get around!

Let's meet at 9:00 = Let's meet half an hour to an hour later

I'm ready to go = I'll be ready to go in fifteen minutes after I get distracted by something.

I'll do it today = I'll do it tomorrow.

This is the last question I'll ask = I have to ask about 50 more questions

The biggest lesson I've learned about working in Uganda is being flexible. You can't get bent out of shape because your schedule got messed up. And above all, have a sense of humor!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Noted Moments

Following is a collection of random moments from my week I though to be of interest:

The right of way hierarchy:
-cars, trucks and taxi buses,
-boda bodas
-bike boda bodas

Furthermore people drive on the left side of the road, which means you walk past people on the left side. This really throws me off when someone tries to pass on the right.

I saw a monkey! They were all around when Mallory and I were exploring the source of the Nile, like squirrels at IU only sightly less populous and incredibly less fat.

My host baby brother had an infection, leading me to my first Ugandan hospital experience.
My family chose to take him to a children's hospital which is frequently overcrowded and not the cleanest place around. It is government run, so their services were free and it offered pediatric specialists. Well worth the compromise. You can either stay in the large common area - often with 3 babies to a bed, or pay extra for a bare room to be shared with one other patient. My family brought their own blankets, food, and baby Solomon's mosquito net tent.

The kids are the most likely to call me a muzungu to my face.

Otherwise I am called Raula, rather than Laura.

Muzungu food is good, expensive, and the pizza comes with no sauce.

I should eat more mangoes (they are incredibly fresh and delicious!) but I do eat many avocados ...and Irish potatoes.

Muzungu prices will probably haunt me throughout the summer, what they don't know is I am siri muzungu! (Not muzugu) I will not pay so much!

I can frequently hear thunder in the near distance, with hardly a cloud in the sky

Well, until this weekend, when it finally poured. Hello rainy season.

The family TV is always on, Marimar and other old dubbed soaps,English and Lugandan news, and the Hostel (a Ugandan Real World). Then on occasion we will buy movies and TV series for UGS 1500/= (Ugandan Shillings) which is roughly USD $.75 Its the BEST!

Wedding crashing is absolutely acceptable (and thus, also the BEST). When one invites 200, they will budget for 400! And that is what I plan to do this weekend, in full traditional dress!
(Well technically I was invited, but I have not yet met the bride or groom)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let's Talk Politics

I feel more plugged into political issues here within one week, than I did in the United States. News is everyones business, and don't fret if you don't get a hold of a news station via television or radio, because everyone will be talking about it the next day.

Recently Ugandan elections left many suspicious, but in short, the majority party remained in power. The 9th parliament (of 375 members) was sworn in this week, and President Museveni gave his State of the Nation Address speech yesterday. He began two hours late, on typical Africa time, and spoke for over two hours. I have seen the appreciation of Ugandans when I can contribute to their conversations, and am making a point to check the news when I get to work too!

The top print news sources in Uganda are the government run New Vision and independently run Daily Monitor; definitely check these out if you have a moment of curiosity!

Wait - I Actually Have to Work Too?

Amid the excitement of being in a foreign country, have no fear: implementing my project for the SACCO is underway!

All the interns in our program have to create a workplan to address a problem in their organization and community. When I first got to my SACCO, I began my needs assessment/asset mapping of the organization, during which I would identify the problem that my work plan would address.

What I found is that my SACCO can't make loans sometimes because it has very little working capital; and the members have very little savings culture. They not only distrust the SACCO, but they also think that a person has to be rich to save effectively. Lack of working capital is really harming the SACCO, and forcing them to take out a loan from another lending organization to stay afloat. Most of the time, the loan repayment to that organization exceeds their operational costs - and my "little bank" hasn't made a profit the entire year.

My work plan is hopefully going to kill two birds with one stone: giving the SACCO more working capital and building savings culture for the members. We are going to make simple wooden boxes with padlocks and slits in the top. These boxes will be distributed to a pilot group of members, groups, and schools. Members will deposit their savings in the boxes, and at the end of every week, the loan officer will come with a key to the households and collect the savings. Before members can get the boxes, we will have two training sessions to educate the participants on savings importance and other financial literacy skills. If the pilot program takes off, the SACCO should have savings deposits of at least USH 6 million at the end of the month.

There are definitely some kinks in the program that we need to work out - mainly being the costs of the boxes. We need 325 boxes; my supervisor and FSD supervisor feel that any number lower won't be profitable. We can't have the members buy their own boxes; since this is a pilot program, the members won't be willing to pay to try it out. Another kink is simply the poor savings culture here in Uganda. People simply won't trust that their money is safe with our organization.

Finally, it's definitely been an experience working in an African office. We have to contact the 300 individuals, 10 schools, and 5 organizations before next Saturday when we have our training. Trying to get my SACCO mobilized has been like pulling teeth; but my hopes are high that we'll develop a sense of urgency soon!

Sorry for the business-y blog post: more fun later on!

Its Okay

Life in Uganda is Okay. This common expression here might be below the enthusiasm level I wish to express, but I am adapting to these what? ...To these customs. I also want to express what I have seen and dilute uneducated perceptions of life in an African country (Of course stereotypes stem from some truths).

First, the concrete and tile floors, with cracks stained red from the ground, bring wonderful relief from the afternoon sun! Relief also comes from the cool tradition of wearing skirts, refrigerated boiled purified water, and a soft breeze coming across in the shade. Oh how I enjoy the shade. There is plenty of cover in this green environment. Plants and animals are hugely diverse. I have heard since arriving that Uganda has one of the most diverse bird populations in the world. I definitely believe that. There is one bird I am keeping an eye out. Well, it may be a confused monkey, but either way it's unique call has kept my eyes trained on the tree tops, above the red dusty roads.

While watching the scenery, I noticed the dust had migrated, and more leaves were red than green. I wish I could identify the types of trees for you, but I do know when I pass a banana tree. My home has a few banana trees, as well as many other luxuries amenities such as hot water and TV/DVDs, and we keep ample stock of matoke in the house. How blessed I feel to have been placed with the Mukisa family. They have hosted many interns and students from around the world and Uganda, and I enjoy talking with them about everyday life in Jinja, which often leads to laughter. There always seems to be someone at home, cooking, cleaning, holding baby Solomon, or watching old Spanish soaps.

In one week so much has become typical so quickly, comment your notions of life in Uganda, and I will do my best to continue reporting what I see and experience! So really comment, its okay.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Sweet Sound of 50,000 Vuvuzelas

For my first free weekend here in Uganda, I decided to make it memorable by traveling with another intern to Kampala for an overnight stay. On Saturday, the Uganda Cranes were playing Guinea-Bissau in a football (and by football here I mean soccer) match that was a qualifier for the African Cup. Seeing as how I had never been to a REAL football game, this would be the only chance I would get to put on an Uganda Cranes jersey, break out my vuvuzela, and attend the real deal.

After loading into a crowded mutatu taxi in Jinja, we stumbled out a couple hours later into the crowded, hectic streets of Kampala. The roads twist and turn, and the sidewalks are uneven. Pubs, stores, and restaurants are clustered next to each other, and when the buildings end, small shacks and buildings made of plywood with tin roofs crowd together with vendors selling tomatoes, bananas, or mangos. Even on the sidewalk, vendors sell shoes, books, mints - anything you could possibly imagine. When the sun goes down, even more street vendors come out, selling irons, bras, argyle socks, even grasshoppers. Fried grasshoppers, by the way, are absolutely excellent: a little crunchy, but very buttery and flavorful!

Thankfully, my host uncle lives in Kampala and he kindly rescued us and showed us around the town. Among other things, we toured Makere University, which is the largest and oldest university in Uganda, and ate typical food from the north of the country. Wyclef also helped us bargain with shopkeepers, which saved us a lot of money than if we paid the muzungu price.

On Saturday, we woke up to the sounds of vuvuzelas down on the street. Sam and I had bought Uganda Cranes jerseys, and we couldn't walk down the street without people thanking us for supporting the Cranes. Making it into Nelson Mandela station in Nangoole was a challenge. The stadium holds 40,000 - however someone thought it would be necessary to print 50,000 tickets; so I can't even describe the crush of people trying to get in. Even though we got there an hour early, all the seats in the stadium were filled. So we fought our way to the top and stood to watch the entire game. The sounds of the vuvuzelas and the cheering absolutely unbelievable. We even had a streaker whip off his shirt and run onto the pitch before being tackled by a pile of policemen.

The Cranes clinched their match 2-0 to Guinea-Bissau, and we went home with lots of stories and pictures for our host families. Overall, I think I prefer Jinja and Bugembe to Kampala - in the capital, you constantly have to worry about being pickpocketed, and the street children follow you everywhere asking for money. In Bugembe, life is slower and people greet you on the street, and in Jinja, there are plenty of muzungu cafes where I can feel right at home!

This week, I'm working on developing and implementing my savings mobilization project with the SACCO. More on that later! Now it's time to head back to my host family, sit down for tea, and enjoy a soap opera.

Siri Bulungi!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

LIFOA (Life is Full of Acronyms)

Two days in to work and I already get my first holiday? I hope everyone had a joyous Martyrs Day on Friday.

Leading up to this luxurious three day weekend I began a needs assessment at ORUDE, burying myself in reading material in order to understand the organisation's mission and prior projects. ORUDE has recognized that they would like me to help with some needs in Mafubira. Mafubira is a community which is home to ORUDE's (are you ready for this) MARUSACCO, their most developed SUSALECO. MARUSACCO consists of five VSLG, further divided into FABAs. The SACCOS ORUDE starts and supports work to empower women in rural areas who don't have access to loans from MFI's because of their high risk potential. ORUDE's current Strategic Plan of ERUSCA lays the guidelines of where they want MARUSACCO to be in three years, entering independence from ORUDE, and upon my visit to the community tomorrow I will continue developing a SWOT to see where I can contribute!

My training feels scattered, from stats classes to folkloric studies of what creates a community, to three long days of community development training. I am straining to compound my knowledge in able to create a sustainable impact. My work plan should be set by Wednesday, and I am feeling the immensity of what profound changes can result if I work hard and smart.

I have found the limits and bounds of my project, in my eleven (now ten) week departure and a $200 grant. I want to push those limits, and I just feel tomorrow can't arrive soon enough so I can meet these groups so I can start thinking big (and realistically) for a SMART goal.

To avoid a total muzungu move, I have not taken as many pictures as I would have liked to be able to share, but I do hope to describe in great detail what I have seen and experienced with my host family and throughout this lovely little town, but all these acronyms have worn me out. So that is a blog for another day.

Acronym Key:

MARUSACCO - Mafubira Rural Saving and Credit Co-operative (Limited)

SUSALECO - Sub-county Savings and Lending Co-operative

SACCO - Savings and Credit Cooperative

VSLG - Villiage Saving and Lending Groups

FABA - Farming as a Business Advocates

MFI - Micro finance Institute

ERUSCA - Enhancing Rural Women's Savings and Credit Access

SWOT - Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats

SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely

Friday, June 3, 2011

Do you want Matoke, Posho, or Rice with your Chicken?

Or perhaps all three? During our week in Uganda, Laura and I have gotten introduced to traditional Ugandan food. In summary: carbs, carbs, carbs!

I always find that one of the best ways to experience another culture and become immersed in it is to try and take risks with the traditional food. Food is such a definer of an individual culture – it reflects the climate, geography, resources, values, even the religion of a community.

In Uganda, meals consist of a starchy, carbohydrate base – either rice, matoke (mashed and boiled plantains), posho (fluffy, tasteless rice extract), cassava, Irish potatoes, or sweet potatoes. Then added on is protein – which is either beans or meat. And of course there is no lack in abundance of fruit. I have had freshly picked pineapple, avocado, mango, and even passion fruit.

In my town, Bugembe, there’s only one Internet cafĂ© so I haven’t had time to post very frequently. I have moved in with my host family, and started my job at Nakanyonyi Good Shepherd Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO). The SACCO is a small credit and savings cooperative that gives small loans and savings services to its members.

I start my day around 7:30, and by that time all my family members have left for work or school, except the babysitter Agnes and Precious, the two year old baby.

After a breakfast of pineapple and bread, I walk fifteen minutes down the road into Bugembe town to my work. People greet me along the way with calls of "Muzungu!" Muzungu has been a familiar sound to me - it means a white person.

I work in my tiny SACCO until 5:00. Right now, I am in the middle of defining my project. As it stands, I will be working on a savings mobilization project for the organization. After work, I walk back home, and relax with my host sisters in front of the television. Since I have muzungu hair, the main activity in the evening has been braiding it. I feel so pampered!

This weekend, I'm going to Kampala (the capital) overnight to see the Uganda soccer team take on Guinea-Bissau for a chance to qualify for the African Cup!

Siri Bulungi!