Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Ode to Family, Friends and Food

Disclaimer: This has almost nothing to do with Uganda. Definitely nothing.

Hey everyone at home (and by home I suppose I mean North America in general, or... anyone who considers themselves friends or family), just wanted to let you know I miss you! But don't be alarmed, I'm far from being homesick... I miss you in a good way. I miss you in the same way that I miss iced coffee and donuts (yup, spelled the dunkin way), or the way I miss maple creemees with maple sprinkles, or chocolate chip pancakes made by dad... but, in a more meaningful, less fatty way. And luckily, unlike my dearly missed sugar-filled treats, I can actually tell you that I miss you!

Now, ok, some of you already knew this because I've been sending you more than frequent updates on everything ranging from what I did at work, what I made for dinner, how bad the traffic was, what I want to do with the rest of my life (any ideas?) to papers that need editing or crazy traveling ideas I've had. Alas, if you haven't received these constant updates, don't feel left out, it's only because I know you would feel too pressured to respond and eventually resent me for the constant flow of (useless) information from ye old ugandae. (Or perhaps you fall under the category of "wouldn't respond, but would feel really bad about it").

In any case, whether you like it or not, chances are you will be pretty up to date on what I'm doing on any given day (which I guess you don't mind because you're reading my blog) because I'm trying to be well rested for work and not spend money (i.e. spending evenings in), I don't have a TV and my DVD drive doesn't work (no "Friends" or "Glee" for me...), I live and work with the same people so inevitably we run out of things to talk about eventually and yes, yes, yes, I do read, but more often than not it puts me to sleep. So, when I'm not writing all of you or updating le blog, I am usually enlightening myself with the magic of the Internet. I am becoming quite the expert on news (Facebook gets boring pretty quickly... BBC, NYTimes and Al Jazeera are the replacements) and I'm trying not to rot my brain with celebrity "swill," as my dad would say (not that there isn't a decent amount of swill in the regular news).

The conclusion is, to get back to the original point of this entry, that I really don't feel very far away from any of you because I'm living quite comfortably and normally here, but I look forward to the immediate gratification of conversing with you in person, some nine months from now (doesn't that make it sound like I live in the early to mid 1900's and just secretly went to live in the country and have an illegitimate baby in order to spare my ritzy family the shame... and all this Uganda nonsense is just a facade... Maybe I'll be a novelist when I grow up. I think that's a very original story-line, right?).

Well, after a few too many tangents and far too many run-on sentences (in reality, I think they were all perfectly constructed sentences that may have just been unnecessarily strung together with over-zealous use of parenthesis and commas), I think it's time to conclude my post... Here is my departing advice for you all: tomorrow morning, go get an iced latte and a frosted donut. I think you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Graduation

Well, the graduation of this specific class of scholars from Educate! (which, as a reminder, is a two year leadership program that includes a Social Entrepreneurship Club) may have topped UVM's when it comes to time! And this was only for about twenty students! That said, it was a pretty good time. The students fundraised all the money for the celebration and set up fancy looking banquet tables (separating the S6 scholars, S5 scholars and the Educate! staff/mentors/school administration. As a side note, S6 is the last year of high school, and S5 is the second to last. The S5 scholars are currently in their first year of the Educate! program).

Anyways, two very charismatic S6 scholars played MCs at the event, while other students were charged as DJs, cooks, servers, etc. However, despite their various duties, they all seemed to be having a fabulous time. It is a boarding school/day school, so all the other students who weren't part of Educate! were gathered close by outside to keep up with the festivities. There were many speeches made and generally they were very long, drawn-out speeches that ended with "well, I don't have much to say.... but" and then they would launch into the next twenty minutes of talking.

In between speeches, the wonderful MC would call on two or three students (usually the same couple kids again and again) to go to the center of the room and dance. So we had some very entertaining dancers and everyone voted for their favorites. But what I thought was even more hilarious (in a good way) was when they called up the same students to "mime" (or as we would say lipsync) to great R&B songs (both American and African). Those were hilarious--imagine high school boys imitating Backstreet Boys or Boyz II Men... yea, hilarious.

After many, many, many dances and mimes, we finally had lunch... A lot of lunch... They served matoke (the banana dish I've told you about), rice, spaghetti, potatoes, chicken, beef, groundnut sauce, chipote and fruit. So ok yea, that sounds like a lot of food, right? Now imagine that each one of those would be enough for a whole meal on its own... Then put all of it on one plate... That's what we had! But it was pretty delicious (and no, of course I didn't finish it all. I don't care what country I'm in, I'm not going to literally explode my stomach just for the sake of manners.. Plus the deputy of the school didn't even finish his).

After eating, we had a few more dances and mimes and speeches and finally they invited the guests (yup, that includes me) up to dance, which they found hilarious, of course. We finally left and it took about an hour to get home.

On that note (transportation), it was pretty neat driving into the city this morning because I just felt the air of an important event around me! As I think I've said before, there are just military and police men lining the main roads. So. Many. And every once and a while (a few times a day) a huge convoy of cars will drive by with police sirens in front and in back, and clearly some important head of state is in the car in the middle. Apparently the President of Mexico is here, Eric Holder is here, Gordon Brown was or is here, and lots of the presidents of Caribbean nations are here. And obviously, it goes without saying, almost all of the African heads of state are here (excluding Egypt, because he cancelled... ill health). I haven't seeeen any of these important folks, but it's pretty neat to be in the same city anyways.

Well, that is all for now! I'm off to bed to rest up for another productive week!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'll be Off a Second Later and Go Straight to the The-ater!!

(Anyone know what song my title was taken from?...)

So, after our in-coming country director clarified the email sent by the president saying that she really had to advise us against going to the theatre for liability reasons, it was ultimately up to us and she didn't mind too much either way. With that, one of my friends and I headed off! We took a boda (motorcycle taxi) there because we were running late and it was much easier than taking a matatu, which wouldn't have brought us all the way there. However, rest assured we both brought helmets and although I always feel kind of dorky wearing a helmet, I value my life. I'd rather be a little dorky than a little dead. (Also, dad I know you read about the sketchy boda drivers around here, so you can also be assured that I only take them during daylight hours, with friends and only the drivers who are near our house or the office, because it's always the same group of drivers and they know us).

Anyhoo, we eventually made to the theatre, were checked for bombs, got our sodas and entered the sparsely populated theatre! I had a kind of cool revelation when I realized I had seen the theatre once before in a documentary (Erin and Amy, it was the documentary that Pierre lent me, haha). That was cool. Then I got nervous when my friend started snapping pictures as the performance began, because of course that is such a faux pas in US theaters, but apparently it was the norm here! (Sorry for my inconsistent spelling of theater. The American version is theater, but the UVM theatre department spells it the British way with the "re." I had started to take ownership of the "re" until my darling sister called me out on it... Now I'm wavering awkwardly between). The performance began with a hip hop group who did a short, but very energetic routine. Then the feature performance began.

There was a short 12 minute piece followed by a longer 45 minute piece. The short piece was entirely to a solo drummer and revolved around the dancers (all men) fighting over a bench. They were incredibly athletic and it was pretty amusing and entertaining to watch. I should preface my description of the second piece by explaining that this dance company (as I discovered only tonight) is run by an older (but not old) French woman (I hope she doesn't read my blog...) with some crazy brassy blond hair and who has clearly spent a lot of time in the sun. She was in the second piece and seemed to posit herself as one of the love interests... Hmm.. Anyways, the improvised sections by the men were incredibly impressed and they're clearly very talented. The choreographed sections seemed amateurish. It definitely had some shining moments, but they were other times when it seemed a little comical for the wrong reasons. (I really hope they don't find my blog).

Anyways, it was totally worth it and I had a fantastic time! I'm excited to track down some more interesting performances in the future. I also will be stealing some of my friend's pictures, so you can expect to see those sometime in the near future!

A Little bit of Music, Not so much Dance

Well I am finally in the middle of a typical work-week after the unexpected events of last week (which seems like ages ago). We had our usual Monday morning meeting with the entire staff, which was great and a guest speaker talked to us about mentorship, entrepreneurship and achieving goals. She was very interesting to listen to and is actually a partner at the largest female owned venture capital firms in the United States, which was pretty impressive.

That night we had a going away party for our out-going country director who has been with the organization since it began and was invaluable in establishing the relationships we have with schools, administrators and other officials and organizations in the country. All the mentors gave short (mostly) and very heartfelt goodbye speeches to her, interrupted occasionally by interludes of dancing (very amusing). It was a wonderful event to be a part of at this point of my time here because it really emphasized how meaningful the organization has been for so many people, the kind of family relationship that has developed between the employees and volunteers, as well as the unique and innovative, ever-evolving work that happens at Educate!

That set the stage perfectly for my Tuesday where I spent most of the morning researching for the Poverty Manual I've been tasked with writing (have I mentioned that on here yet?... I think I have, but it's a resource for the scholars to use in developing their community entrepreneurship projects), and in the afternoon I went to observe one of my mentor's classes. This was a really interesting class to observe because it is sort of a pilot program to see if this curriculum works in settings other than schools. It was at an orphanage which takes in street children and empowers them through music. They sang a lovely little song about Educate! before the class started (see first half of entry title!). Anyways, it was really chaotic at first, but eventually about twelve kids showed up for the class and they discussed "advocacy writing." Despite the multitude of distractions around them (kids playing trombones, little kids yelling to each other, "mzungus", i.e. white people coming over to say hi with no respect that there was a class going on) , they were really enthusiastic and interested in the material. Next week they'll be reading their advocacy papers outloud, so perhaps I'll try to be there for that!

In more disappointing news, and getting to the latter part of this title, me and a few friends were supposed to go see the Ugandan National Contemporary Ballet tonight at the National Theatre (already bought tickets and everything), but security issues are preventing us.. :(. There are just concerns going around that there may be more attacks especially because the African Union Summit is being hosted in Kampala this week. So anyways, I understand the reasoning, but it still sucks. Guess I'll just have to be on the look out for when they're performing next!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

f.r.i.e.n.d.s.

There's a local bar here called "f.r.i.e.n.d.s. p.u.b.," (haven't been to it, probably won't go) which I found amusing because it's written in the tv show "Friends" font, and it just seems really random. And I love "Friends," and have no way to watch it, alas... I'm not complaining though.

In fact, in my non-Friends watching time, I've been doing lots of fun things. I had a successful expedition into Kampala yesterday with one of my friends. Our first stop was one of the crafts markets, which happened to be right behind the National Theater. As we walked towards the theater, we saw some people being interviewed by a TV station and assumed they were famous--they weren't. We kept walking and someone called to us from the TV crew and asked to interview us too. They were just asking about the vuvuzelas from the World Cup, and apparently we'll be on the news on Tuesday night. A very random start to the day.

After that we wandered through the craft market and then went to get some lunch. Ever since the bombings last week, security has been amped up everywhere and will probably continue to be that way until the African Union Summit is over after this week. Anyways, so they have scanner things and check everyone's bags. So after we had walked around Kampala for a while we headed back to the Old Taxi Park. We stopped at the entrance and I opened by bag for the guard to check. He looks right at me, totally straight faced and says "do you have a bomb?" I was a little surprised at first, but then I said "no" and he started laughing. But hey, at least they're being thorough!

But overall I would say being on the news, buying a touristy "Uganda" t-shirt with a picture of a giraffe on it (yup, new favorite shirt), and being questioned about bombs is a sign of a successful tour of Kampala. And my fun day was topped of with a very fun night having a going away party for our out-going country director (resulting in a very lazy day today!).

P.S. since this will likely be my one and only "friends" themed entry, I have to share a recurring thought I've been having lately. Because I don't have TV here, I've been reading the news a lot and Yemen keeps showing up because the US thinks it's a safe haven for terrorists, and anyways it makes me think of Chandler and Janice every time! Every. time. You would think I could have a deeper, more thoughtful first reaction to this new portrayal of Yemen, but mmm, nope, just Chandler.

Okay, the end.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Map!

I wanted to make my title a line from that "Maps" song, but it didn't translate very well to writing... Anyways, here is a map of Kampala so you can all see where I am. (If I were tech-ier and more patient, I might actually just copy the image onto my blog, but I'm giving you a link instead). If you look at the map, I am farther south of Kabalagala, and going north of Kabalagala takes you into "downtown." All the "taxis" or "matatus" (small mini-busses, just like the ones I rode in Ghana), take you into the city and travel on set routes out of the city.

Anyways, hopefully today as I wander around Kampala and familiarize myself with the area, I'll get some good pictures to share with you all!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Scholahs and Mentahs

I had the wonderful opportunity to sit in on my first Educate! Socially Responsible Leadership Course today at one of the schools. There were eleven scholars (or "scholahs" as Ugandans would say) present, although I think usually there are around 13 in this particular class. They are all in their second to last year of High School, referred to as S5 (juniors). The lesson today was on advocacy writing and they were asked to select a topic from the PEDVU model to write about. PEDVU stands for poverty, environment, disease, violence and uneducated/disempowered communities.

The course lasted for two hours, though it was broken up into different sections. We discussed writing strategies, played a game ("A Cold Wind Blows" if any of you have ever played it), and then wrote and presented speeches. The class ended with one of the students reading the speech of the week, which was "African Progress," by Kofi Annan.

I was really happy to see the students becoming progressively more comfortable and talkative as the class went on. Earlier on, they were speaking very softly and mumbling, but with encouragement from the mentor they started to enunciate and raise their volume. Overall it was a great first class to attend, and I'm looking forward to more! I know this wasn't much of an analytical, interesting post, but at least you have a sense of what I'm up to over here!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?"

Yup, I quoted the Spongebob theme song in my title, so what? I wanted to put a picture of his pineapple house too, but this blog's just not that fancy (and this internet's just not that fast). Anyways, this is all relevant, I promise. I just ate a pineapple. The end.

Gotcha, not the end! Prepare yourself for a thrilling lib story: about... some number of years ago, let's say.. 6, I developed a very mild allergy to pineapple (e.g. itchy throat, mouth, ears). Since that time I've gone through phases ranging from respecting the allergy and avoiding even the most tempting of pineapples, to attempts to defeat the allergy via frequent pineapple consumption. Anyhoo, while in Ghana two years ago, I discovered that Ghanaian pineapples somehow didn't trigger my allergy, I had won! Alas, it came back towards the end of my stay, and here I am now... in Uganda. I just ate a pineapple, which I bought for the equivalent of 30 cents (a whole pineapple), and not a single reaction!

Hm.. Perhaps that wasn't blog-worthy. But you've already read it! Ha.

Can you tell I've been stuck in the house again all day? The embassy advised us to stay home (or in the neighborhood) again, and I was really disappointed at the prospect of another slow day, but it looks like tomorrow we'll be back in action! We have an ops meeting (operations, if you didn't figure that out) in the morning and then I'll have lunch with the Program Director to discuss my position in more depth (although I got an overview today).

Looks like primarily, I'll be working with a team of four mentors at four different schools around Kampala. They are responsible for teaching a two-hour Socially Responsible Leadership Course once a week to high school age students in addition to supervising a Social Entrepreneurship Club. I will be meeting with the mentors one-on-one every week, sitting in on their classes frequently and participating in larger meetings with the whole organization. I've also been put in charge of writing a "poverty manual," which will essentially serve as a resource for the students to use in understanding issues of poverty on a deeper level, seeing how it is relevant to their communities, and how they can develop projects to address specific issues. Quite a task! Should be fun.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Sleepless Sunday Night

After a long (and fun) weekend in Kyangwali and with the expectation of a busy Monday workday, I decided to skip on the World Cup Final festivities in Kampala to get a little sleep. However, I had only just fallen asleep when I was woken up again by one of my friends to tell me about the bombings in Kampala. I almost went right back to sleep, but took a moment to process the information and decided to get up.

Though the E! group was sort of spread out between different houses, we eventually were able to account for everyone and they were all fine. I feel a little odd even commenting on the attacks because I've been here for a total of... what, 6 days? Though I can say that I was incredibly glad that I had been following the news coming out of sub-Saharan Africa for the past year consistently, so I could actually make some sense of where this was all coming from. Do your research before you travel!

Anyways, today I'm sort of in a bubble. The U.S. Embassy advised Americans to stay home, so our busy Monday schedule was moved back to tomorrow, and we've just been hanging out. I got a bit of cabin fever though and went with one of my friends to a hotel nearby to sit by the pool and stare at the beautiful view of the lake below (again, pictures to come!), and relax and do some work.

I feel incredibly sad for the people who were victims of the attacks, and for those who had family or friends there. It's sort of mind boggling that so many people can see violence as a solution to their frustrations, and that a country supplying peace-keepers to your nation can be seen as an enemy. But, we shall see how Uganda and the international community proceed from here...

As for me, I'm looking forward to exploring Kampala more and orienting myself to my new role at Educate!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

From Kampala to Kyangwali

Let me preface this post by saying that I would love to add pictures, but the internet is being so slow that I've lost interest and patience in that pursuit. I'll add some soon though, promise! You'll just have to rely on my superb descriptions in the meantime...

Early on Friday morning, I wandered into the center of Kampala with two fellow Educate! (hereby referred to as E!) co-workers in search of a bus to Hoima, a small town in the western part of Uganda; close to Lake Albert if that helps. We wandered around there for a while before meeting with up the rest of the group and heading off to our final destination, Kyangwali Refugee Camp (pronounced chahn--gwah--lee). Refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi began arriving to the camp around 1997, and many are still fleeing there today.

E! is connected to the Kyangwali primarily through COBURWAS (Congolese, Burundian, Rwandese, Sudanese), which is an organization that was started by a few young Congolese refugees when they first arrived in the camp. We were fortunate to have a few of the founding members at the camp that day to share with us the history of their organization, the challenges they has faced and their future goals for COBURWAS.

After hearing them speak, I went with a few other people to visit the Sudanese side of the camp, where we spoke with a 15 year old boy and his four brothers about their daily life in the camp. His biggest concern and question for us at the end of our conversation was how to get more resources for his football (soccer) team! Of course. We advised him to follow the lead of COBURWAS and organize with his team to find creative ways to raise money for their gear. As we walked the hour and a half walk (yea... so long) back to the Congolese side (there are houses the entire way through, it just happened to be very far from where we were staying), I considered how I would have felt if I had had to do manual labor and farming and pleading with the elders and foreign organizations just to play soccer as a kid, and honestly... I might not have played at all!

After our day of walking all over the camp, we were serenaded by a fabulous singer/song-writer and his family of singers. The first song they sang was written to honor the E! founder, Eric, and being the humble guy that he is, he was incredibly embarrassed, which made it all the more entertaining. And the leader of the singers, DJ, was shocked and I think kind of thrilled to find out that someone had put the song on YouTube. Needless to say, it was a fun night.

Finally, we drove back today, dusty and dirty as can be and made it safely back into Kampala. I'll update soon with observations on architecture, food, etc., but I think this is plenty for now. And hopefully I'll have pictures up soon! The. End.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Like to Eat, Eat, Eat...

apples and BANANAS! As anticipated, the bananas here are delicious. Bananas were also incredibly delicious in Ghana, but Uganda has raised the bar by having about seven different varieties of banana. I've only tasted one as of yet, but I was very impressed. Much sweeter than the ones at home.

A banana was about the only thing I could stomach this afternoon after getting rather ill at the office. I haven't started any actual work yet, but I went into the office and was planning on going into Kampala with one of the mentors (all the mentors are Ugandan as a heads up, maybe I'll give a run down of the organization at some point). However, I started feeling incredibly sick, threw up, and went back to the house. After drinking some water, eating a banana and taking a very long nap, I am feeling infinitely better! (ps- I had a dream while I was napping that there was a tornado at home! and then a hurricane!). If I had to guess, I would say my mysterious illness was a result of a weird sleeping/eating schedule induced by traveling. Alas, life goes on.

This weekend (as in tomorrow), we're all heading off to Kyangwali Refugee camp, where Educate! was born, for some team building. Apparently it's very hot there and there's a higher risk for malaria (I'm presuming this all equates to higher humidity... yuck), but not to fear, I've been taking my anti-malarials! So with humidity and malaria aside, my greatest concern about going actually relates back to my Costa Rica days in high school.... There are chiggers at the camp. Chiggers, which I researched fanatically, driven by fear, before going to CR, are little bugs that burrow into your skin and lay eggs.... Uhhh, yea. Gross! I never got one.... but no reason not to be scared of them! Although by wearing sneakers and pants, there shouldn't be much to worry about.

So, expect some chigger-free, malaria-free, and adventure-full entries after this weekend.

(I realize that adventure-full is a silly looking construction, but I had to keep with the word dash word structure, obvi).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jet Lag is Real.

I'm in Uganda and will be updating my blog soon with stories. I will aim to keep them concise, interesting and with some semblance of a plot structure or point, but I can't guarantee anything. I'm too tired to write anything of substance right now, but check back soon for some interesting (hopefully) updates!