Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playing in the Mud!

One of the main projects that HELP specializes in is building Adobe Stoves. They reduce cooking time, save costs on fuel, and significantly reduce a families exposure to harmful smoke that causes vision and respiratory problems. I was so excited to get to build my first stove with the team for a single mother of 4 children in our neighborhood, Nakazzade. Stove building requires that you first stomp the clay with sawdust and water until it is the right consistency, and then you patty cake it into these mud balls that you throw into the frame of the stove. It was so much fun and the kids got such a kick out of seeing a bunch of mzungus (white people) do this kind of work. Within 4 hours we had completed the stove and the woman and her family were so happy. It was a great morning!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

St Paul & Rose Orphan Home

After being in Uganda for 3 weeks I was so excited to finally make it out to visit the St. Paul and Rose Orphan Home. We traveled for nearly three hours to this rural village to meet the 30 orphans that stay there, but it was well worth it. When we got off the taxi we were greeted by cheering and singing as the kids rushed out to meet us. They sat us under a tree and sang to us for nearly 30 minutes. Good thing I had glasses on because my eyes were tearing up the whole time. The children were so amazing and intelligent. It was so hard to believe that they had all lived a significant portion of their lives on the streets where Rose and Paul had found them. Now they are managing a farm and going to school and learning to be good Christians. It was a perfect day and reminded me of exactly why I wanted to come to Africa. They shared everything they had with us. Hopefully we can give something back. We're working on trying to help them with an income-generation project. They've requested a chicken coop to sell eggs and poultry, so we will be going back soon to see what we can do!

The village where the orphanage is located in the village
of Buula.

Wearing the bead necklaces that the orphans make out
of little strips of paper and sell to pay their school fees.

The children enjoying their dinner of matoke. Every
Ugandan says this is their favorite meal...

The group eating the matoke and GNut sauce that Rose
prepared for us. We at Ugandan style...with our hands and
completely against all the sanitation lessons we've been
advocating...none of us had washed our hands. All day.

Daily reminders...

That I am in Africa...

Daily I have these surreal moments where I remember
where I am. While driving home from Kampala, this sign
kindly reminds me that I'm neighbors with Kenya. Awesome.

The city "dump." We always see little kids
picking through the trash looking for something
to eat. Heartbreaking, and right around the corner
from where I live right now.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Uganda v. Kenya

On Saturday we got to go to a Ugandan football game at Mandela Stadium, which is something I had been so excited about! The whole team piled in a taxi and made the trip to Kampala for the big match. Since this summer is the World Cup in South Africa, the whole continent is buzzing with football fever. We maybe made a little pit stop at the local Pizza Hut, as no one has had a bite of dairy since arriving. It was so worth the 10,000 shillings to enjoy some semi-delicious pizza. Oh, and they won. Uganda 1, Kenya 0.

Ugandan "Cheerleaders. They played the drums and danced
during all the time outs.
Waiting outside Mandela Stadium for the big game!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't shoot!

Wednesday we decided to go into Jinja, which is the town which hosts the headwaters of the Nile. It’s a pretty popular tourist destination since it offers some of the best white water rafting in the world and so it’s pretty common to see mzungus around. Nicole and I wanted to familiarize ourselves with the place, find places to shop and eat and how to get around, before our volunteers arrived. Plus, we thought it would be fun to get some pictures by the Nile. Little did we know what a bad, and come to find out, illegal idea this was! We caught boda bodas down to the bridge that crosses the water. Now the bridge is in fact quite heavily guarded, which should have been a clue to be careful, but in any event we set out walking across the bridge, looking over the rail, and taking pictures of each other and the river. Before we knew what was happening, one of the armed guards made his way over to where we standing and began beckoning us to where he was standing. He didn’t seem to speak any English and shortly another guard arrived and began to speak to us in somewhat broken, but nevertheless authoritative English. He was saying something about no pictures and to give him our cameras, but the next thing out of his mouth is what really threw us for a loop. “You are under arrest now.” WHAT?!? We were so confused. Literally dumbfounded. We just kept saying, sorry, sorry, we will put our cameras away as we began to unzip our bags. No, said the man with the rifle by his side, “You are under arrest now, come with me.” Crap, ok country director, think fast. “We are so sorry, we did not know your laws, we would never intentionally break your laws. We are here to serve your people, we live in Lugazi…we…we…We know the mayor! We are friends of Mayor Ozuma!” We are in fact, friends with the mayor. Nevermind we just met him that morning. He told us “You are welcome,” about a million times, so I think that means we’re tight. Either way, this was enough for the guard with the gun to “unarrest” us and let us keep our cameras, and NOT pay him a bribe and run away and jump in a taxi to cross. Note to all our volunteers. Don’t be scared to pull the mayor card. Phew.
We spent the rest of the afternoon bumming around and looking at souvenirs. There is some pretty cool stuff. I want it all, especially these little stuffed Noah’s Ark with little stuffed animals and a black Noah. What am I, five years old? But they’re cute and I will be bringing one home. Any requests? J
 Needless to say, this photo is now all the more valuable. And memorable. Just sayin.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Labor Day, African Style.

Saturday was an adventure, to say the least. We had no idea when we headed off to Lugazi that we would be spending the day with the Chairman of the Buikwe District, Livingston Ssewa. Uganda is divided into districts, each of which includes many villages and are the equivalent of states in the U.S. The Chairman is the government representative of each district, and the equivalent of a congressman. When we arrived at TYOM on Saturday, Chairman Livingston came to meet us and invited us to join him for a visit to a remote village in his district where they were celebrating the National Labor Day holiday with a football tournament and gala. Although we had tons to do, we were honored by his invitation and felt like this was an amazing opportunity to see more of the community. We didn’t quite know where we were going, or how long it would take, but made it clear we needed to be back before dark, by 7 p.m. The hired driver pulled up in a Sedan, and Nicole, Robert (TYOM manager), Wilson and I squeezed into the back seat with the Chairman in front and headed down a dirt road for our next African adventure. We drove past mahogany trees, papyrus and sugar cane as the road became more and more bumpy. Some of the pot holes began to look more like ditches. Well, Nicole gets carsick. And so far she’d been a soldier, toughing it out in taxi after taxi. But this winding drive, being squished in the back while the windows fogged up from the rain, was the straw that broke my little partners back. She wasn’t talking so I knew she was ill, but she said she was ok. Well next thing I know she’s covering her face and heaving, and was about 2 seconds from throwing up on Wilson, our most trusted partner, in the back seat of the car with the Chairman. I felt SO BAD for her, but in my desire to not let the irony and humor of this situation be lost, I imagined how funny it would have been if she actually would have thrown up on him. After driving for about 2 hours, but only covering about 30 km, we finally arrived in the town of Ssi. It was well worth the trip, and Nicole’s puking incident. The town was beautiful and included a huge soccer field where we got to watch the most legit soccer game I’ve ever seen. I’m talking bicycle kicks and Africans in the mud. It was awesome. Hundreds of people had walked for miles to attend this celebration, an occasion that is rare, and it was so special to be a part of it.

At first people, especially the children, were shy, and content to just stare at us. But by the end of the day we had trails of kids literally climbing on us. We taught a little group of girls to play “Dush, Dush, Goose!” They couldn’t manage the “ck” sound for some reason. Music was played throughout the day, and every time it came on the kids would jump up and start dancing…Oh. My. Gosh. I know for a fact they don’t get MTV out there and these kids know how to MOVE. Video to come…At one point Nicole got up and started dancing with them and attracted the attention of the whole crowd. A man got on a microphone and said “thank you Madame for showing us your moves” It was pretty hilarious. By the end of the day we were dancing with the kids. Best day ever. And it’s only day 3 in Uganda.
 First game of Ugandan football in the village of Sii. 
Me watching some cute kids watching the game.
And some more. These little dudes know how to dance!
Here goes nothing! First traditional Ugandan meal. Prepared and eaten outside.
Nicole, my partner in crime, Chairman Livingston, our host for the day and 
Wilson, from TYOM and our good friend!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blame it on the taxis.

Before we arrived in Uganda, we were warned continually to get used to Ugandan time. Apparently Ugandans are not as “uptight” as we Americans, and appointments and arrival times are merely a suggestion. I had created a picture in my head of how relaxed and easygoing Ugandans must be and how I could not wait to learn to relax beneath a banana tree, take in the scenery, and maybe enjoy a book while waiting for a partner organization to show up. My dreams were promptly shattered when Nicole and I attempted to get to our first partner meeting. A walk, two boda boda (small motorcycles) rides and a taxi later, we arrived in Lugazi (40 km away from jinja) three hours after we left, and two hours late to our meeting with The Youth Outreach Mission, and Mr. Laker Wilson. Wilson was very understanding, but didn’t fail to make note of our tardiness. “I know how careful Americans are about time. I want to be very considerate of your time. My manager asked when you would arrive and I said 10 a.m. and he replied “But it is already midday!” I told him it must be the transportation.” Thanks Wilson for covering for us. First lesson of the day: Leave at least two hours for public transport. And know where you are going before you walk out of the house in the morning. Check.
TYOM: So, our meeting with TYOM was awesome. HELP International began working with TYOM back in 2008 when Jackie Skinner (my roommate) was a Country Director for HELP. TYOM was about 6 months into its life as an organization, and they have an incredible story. Founded by Laker Wilson, an 18 year old university student at the time, TYOM has a mission to educate and sensitize the youth of Uganda to the dangers and issues of HIV/AIDS. They believe the key to Uganda’s future resides with the youth, and that is their responsibility to spread a positive message. They seek to mobilize their communities, based from Lugazi and encourage the youth to be hard-working, productive and sustainable members of their communities. They have an incredibly insightful awareness of the issues of not only Uganda, but of youth in general. It is official that I will be learning far from these people than I will leave behind. Wilson is so eager to partner with us, it is so flattering. And yet, he is 22 years old and already the president of an organization that has contacts all throughout Uganda, and tremendous support from the locals. We talked about projects, issues and just got to know each other. He has been so helpful in helping us to find housing, as well as just helping to familiarize us with Lugazi, and Uganda in general. I finally got a cell phone, purchased from shed of a shop in an alley for $60,000 shillings, approx. $30 USD. It’s no Iphone, in fact it’s a Nokia with the old-school Nokia ring that I haven’t heard since about seventh grade. Cell phones in Uganda are…funny. A lot of people have them because they are relatively inexpensive, but, airtime (purchased on cards individually) is expensive and a lot of people can’t afford minutes. Incoming calls though are free, so they will call you, let it ring, and then hang up and expect you to call them back. Everyone asks for our phone numbers, even little kids in villages. They must like to have a Mzungu’s number in their contacts and they call randomly at all hours. After one partner meeting, Nicole got a call with a man we had just met. He was just calling to say hello, oh, and have Nicole say hi to every member of his family. So funny. Oh, and when your phone rings, you answer it. No matter where you are. Packed into a taxi? Answer your phone. In the middle of a meeting? Answer it. None of this ignoring calls business or not having your phone on you at all times, the person calling does not understand why you would have anything better to do besides answer your phone, after all why else would you have one?
Anyway, after spending the afternoon with Wilson in Lugazi, we finally headed back to Mugembe (village just past Jinja) to Kimi’s. Beans and rice for dinner with the children, bucket shower, bed (in a mosquito net, of course).
 Wilson, me & Nicole in front of The Youth Outreach Mission in Lugazi.
View of Lugazi from the office of The Youth Outreach Mission.