Monday, February 26, 2007

rafting on the nile

uganda's main tourism attraction in terms of people and dollars is the wildlife and landscape and safari sort of thing. but there is also a bit of new zealand-esque adventure sport scene centered around jinja, the source of the white nile on lake victoria. last weekend was our first foray into this scene, and definitely a memorable one. jinja is only an hour and a half from kampala, but we hadn't been there yet even though there is a well-reviewed mexican restaurant there (none in kampala).

we did a one-day trip with nalubale rafting company and i would recommend them again, for sure. the trip is 29 km and goes over some 12 rapids, equal parts class 3, 4 and 5, and at least one class 6 that we have to portage around because it's not legal for commercial groups to run class 6. for good reason.

in terms of whitewater, one of the nile's defining characteristics is how safe it is. it's really deep so rocks generally aren't a problem, and it's dam-fed so the water level never really fluctuates seasonally. no crocs, hippos or sketchy parasites, either. that's all hard to remember when the raft flips and you're being tossed around underwater, feeling like you're at the whim of the river. we wear helmets though, and as long as you don't panic and can hold our breath for 5 seconds, the life jackets do their job of getting you back to the surface.

we had two rafts with 6 folks and a guide or two in each. the guides were canadian and just as you would expect career river rafting guides to be. they quoted south park and team america. there were also a few ugandans in the entourage in river kayaks and a raft fit with oars. these were the safety boats, and these guys had unreal upper bodies. i felt safe. midway through the trip i asked our guide, who had seven years experience guiding, what the gnarliest injury one of his clients had had. he said, "you mean besides dying?" oh.

the not-so-fun part of the trip was before we had even left the bay where we put in to the river. we were practicing our paddling and doing some capsizing and rescues and stuff. so it was the very first time that i was in the water and learning to get back in to the boat by grabbing the line that runs around the gunnel (if you call it that on an inflatable raft) and hoisting yourself up like getting out of a pool while someone pulls the shoulders of your life jacket. anyway, i went in the boat, but my wedding ring did not. i didn't tell paige because i didn't want to make the trip sad for her. but we're somewhat over it now, and i like to think that my ring will be found by a hobbit and make some kind of journey that changes the course of the events of our time.

when we left MN for africa, i finished the insurance paperwork for our wedding and engagement rings in the MSP business office just before we boarded our flight. between my two knee surgeries (among other things medical) and now this, i'm definitely beating the house at insurance. just my little way of sticking it to the man.

back to rafting, paige and i each exited the raft 3 times and only one of those times wasn't entirely fun. the last time i went under i was really glad that i had been under a couple times before because it was deep and it felt like a long time. but i just hung out knowing that life jackets float and it would do its job. one kayaker documented the trip on video and we will have a dvd of the action. we stopped mid-day for an excellent lunch at a somewhat posh lodge and i think paige and i will definitely go back there for a little vacation. watching some of the ugandan guys running class 5+ in river kayaks was awesome. river kayaking had never appealed to me until seeing that. they were doing all sorts of rodeo moves, too, that looked like a lot of fun.

there is probably more that i'm not thinking of, but for sure a good time was had by all. that all included me and paige, seth who is here for some months, chris who is about to do his PhD vive voce, lindsey who will soon be leaving us, emily who we may convince to stay, and simon who is on the lake vitoria tour researching the world bank for his PhD.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

carleton in the embassy

i was at the embassy today for a meeting at usaid. being in the embassy is a crazy experience because as soon as you pass thru security you are in the u.s. no joke. familiar things everywhere – the soap dispenser in the bathrooms, the library with a wall poster of mlk, the standard office furniture. i got to my meeting 30 minutes early, so i had time to kill. i’m a punctual person by habit, a habit that can’t be broken by the standard ugandan habit of being late to everything, and i never know how long it’s going to take to get thru the multiple layers of security. supposedly the u.s. embassy in uganda was also on the list of targets when the dar and nairobi embassies got bombed some years back; the embassy here was relocated and is now a fortress on the hill. you need an escort o get thru the final layer of security, but interestingly enough the security guards and marines didn’t mind me wandering around in the embassy waiting for my escort. i found a cool (literally cool – the embassy is one of the only climate-controlled buildings in all of uganda) hallway with lots of art pieces from the embassy’s permanent collection. my wandering eventually took me to an offshoot hallway dedicated to u.s. colleges. there were four wall-sized maps of the u.s. (south, northeast, midwest, northwest) showing all of the cads (whatever that is) colleges/universities in those areas. also on the wall was a poster board advertising specific colleges. looking at the seven colleges that made the selective board i was thinking to myself how cool it would be if carleton was there. to my pride, sure enough there was carleton front and center. there i was standing in the middle of the u.s. embassy in kampala unexpectedly staring at a picture of the skinner memorial chapel in autumn. if you know carleton, you know the picture. of all the colleges in the u.s. seven (seven!) had posters hanging in the embassy and carleton was one of them. i’ll brag about that.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

the 1st annual 7HC

we talk all big about posting 100 times in 7 months, then we disappear. sorry 'bout that. no excuses except that i got consumed with planning the 7even hills classic (7HC) ultimate tournament and didn't feel too guilty about not blogging since phil's been holding to his promise of posting 1 picture a day for 31 days (see if you haven't been following phil's photo site, you should. enough said.

i haven't been too public about the 7HC other than my one post way back when talking about the fact that i was planning a tournament. my trend toward the DL was purposeful so that if the tournament was a total disaster i could save face in the fact that no one from home really knew about it so wouldn't ask about it. my fear of doom was fed by my friends lindsey and kristy who recently held their "playing for awareness" sports tournament, which in their words, was a complete disaster. teams recruiting ringer players, showing up 3 hours late, commandeering a pitch and refusing to leave until they got their way, etc. the grand prize was a bull (yep, a bull) that no one won because the tournament ended in near fisticuffs. uganda is a totally different world and this horror story definitely heightened my stress level and potential for meltdown leading up to the 7HC in fear of the disaster that awaited me.

my thought is that linds and kristy took one for the team by using up all the bad tournament karma clearing the way for a successful 7HC. i owe them one big 'cos i got lucky and the 7HC (feb 10-11) was a hit.

if you're not interested in how to host an ultimate tournament in a developing country, stop reading here. if you are, read on.

no teams, no tournament. how to recruit teams? i knew that i could create 3 teams from the players who regularly attend our sunday afternoon pick-up games. 45 players = 3 teams of 15 players. the crucial task was generating other teams to create a tournament worthwhile to run. the nairobi team backed out on me because i chose the only weekend in a 3 month span that they could not attend. bummer, there went the "international" tournament i was hoping for.

like any other ultimate tournament, i set a bid deadline (jan 31). 150,000/= per team before the deadline, 225,000/= per team after the deadline with the idea being if i could get a team to pay, i could get them locked into showing up for the tournament. classic africa is for people to say they'll be there, then not be. the peace corps paid and committed early, so did a team of youngsters from ISU. i had a 6th team all the way up 'til 2 days before the tournament. i had the format all set, games scheduled, everything trusting the captain's word that they'd be there. i should've known better - they hadn't paid. no biggie going from 6 teams to 5 as far as formats, but still. it was the principle of it all.

i highly highly recommend requiring pre-registration and payment. if nothing else, if the team doesn't show up at least you have their money. the headache caused by scrambling last minute is made up for by having more cash to put toward your budget.

in the end we had 5 teams with about 15 players each = 75 players. big ultimate tournament by africa standards. my goal was to have a competitive tournament with spirited teams. the underdogs (team white) were a mish-mash of young'uns who'd never played before and some ringers from the KUFC crowd - they didn't win a game, but increased their points scored throughout the weekend from 4, 5, 6, 7, to 9. it's always fun cheering for the underdogs and the kids were a great addition to the tournament. the three KUFC teams - chapati rollers (blue), kabakas (red), karoli superstars (yellow) - could not have been more even; there was only a 4 point differential in their 3 round-robin games on saturday. i was super happy about that.

i was smart enough to know from the beginning that i wasn't going to be able to make a tournament happen on my own. i know what an ultimate tournament should look like and how it should be run, but i don't know how to do that in uganda. ugandans do. we put together a planning committee that included veteran ultimate players, resourceful mzungus, and committed, locally knowledgable ugandans. it was a good combination of talents and seemed to work out. i did my best to not micromanage - some people will say i did well, others will surely disagree.

having never organized a tournament before, specifically never having organized a tournament in uganda, i didn't know what to expect as far as expenses. queenie, the past organizer, gave me everything he had, but (me having a propensity toward detailed budgets) it didn't give me enough of a picture of anything. that's always how it happens though - you never truly know until you've been thru it yourself.

the total tournament cost was 1.5M/= ($850), which included fields, jerseys, championship shirts, discs, lunch, fruit, water, transport to/from fields, tournament party, and maintenance staff. teams paid 150,000/= ($85) to play and individuals paid 10,000/= ($6). late fees jumped to 225,000/= and 15,000/= respectively. seems like a pretty good deal to pay $6 and get a jersey, lunch 2 days, fruit, water, a ride to/from the tournament, a party, and a chance at a championship polo shirt. even so, $6 is still a big deal to the average ugandan. many of the players struggled with the tournament fee and were graciously assisted by teammates who could afford it. we purposely set the entry fee low so that everyone could play. ultimate is a welcoming sport, everyone should be welcome. problem with that strategy was that expenses equaled $850 and income equaled $590, which included donations and some merchandise sales. ouch.

sponsorship is always tricky for ultimate since ultimate isn't a "mainstream" sport. add in the africa factor and ultimate becomes even more obscure and sponsorship even trickier. we had no luck with out-of-the-blue contacts, but had enough success thru personal connections. one player is the parent of an ISU student so got free fields at the ISU campus; another player sweet talked rwenzori water into donating 20 cases of water; another player got his friend to donate complimentary passes for his club as the party venue; i was able to get donated discs from my fellow UPA board members.

what you really need though is money. it's the same thing in development work. people want to donate money to your organization to do HIV/AIDS work, but what your organization really needs is unrestricted funds to hire staff, pay rent, buy health insurance...operating funds. thank goodness there were several KUFC players willing to contribute cash to the tournament to help me get it off the ground.

uganda, like all of africa, is notorious for tardiness. nothing starts on time. the classic ugandan phrase in response to being late: "it is okay, i am on my way coming." on my way coming could mean anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours, you never know. for example, saturday lunch was scheduled to arrive at 11:30, actual arrival time was closer to 2:00. combine this affinity for tardiness with "frisbee time" and you have yourself a disaster in the making.

there were a few strategies i used to offset this malady. first, we provided transport to/from the fields. ISU (international school uganda) is outside the city, so is a difficult place to get to for most ugandans anyway because it's expensive transport. yes, i was concerned about people being able to afford the transport, but more importantly i was concerned about people getting there on time. transport left the meeting point at 8am sharp on saturday morning. if you weren't there, you didn't get a ride. players had the incentive to be there because they had already paid to play and if they missed the ride, they missed the tournament. this strategy worked okay - phil still had to make a run back to town to pick up stragglers. second, the first 4 teams to show up played in the first round, the 5th team got a first round bye. third, i padded the schedule with lunchtime full well knowing that we'd get started late. smart move. 'cos lunch arrived late, we ended up switching lunch with the 3rd round, but it all worked itself out in the end. i was really proud of the fact that we ended saturday's round-robin (5 rounds) only 45 minutes later than scheduled.

i used the UPA's formats manual to make the 6 team format. when the 6th team bailed, i handed the formats task off to phil. creating as many games as possible for 5 teams in 2 days requires more creativity than the formats manual gave me and formats have never really been my thing (power pools, what?), so i was happy to delegate to phil. he decided on saturday round-robin and a sunday championship bracket that included a pre-semis. imo, good format for 5 teams.

games were 1 hour 10 minutes to 13 points. players here are used to 20 minute games, so 1:10 was plenty o' time. i decided on a simple cap since learning the rules has been a struggle enough and any sort of complicated cap would have been a nightmare. at one hour 10 minutes finish the point in play. game is over at the end of that point unless the score is tied. if the score is tied, play one more point to determine winner. even so, we had a cap issue. the karoli superstars (team yellow) were up 10-9 against the chapati rollers (blue team) when the cap horn went. yellow doesn't know why game isn't over at horn. blue scores point making it 10-10. blue scores double game point to win 11-10. yellow accuses me of cheating by not stopping the game at the horn so that my husband's team (blue) can win. yeah, we had a discussion about cap after that.

the only disappointing part of the tournament for me was the overall level of spirt and maturity on the field. ultimate is a self-refereed sport governed by the spirt of the game (SOTG). yet, game one on saturday between karoli superstars and the kabakas nearly imploded due to overly aggressive fouls, yelling, pouting, whining, threats, players walking off the field. it was ugly. i was disheartened especially since on the adjoining field i had just been watching a really spirited game between the chapati rollers and the peace corps (team grey). i put myself in the thick of it laying down the law about what is and is not allowed in ultimate, but that's not what you do in ultimate. disagreements are arbitrated among players, not by an outsider even if that outsider is the coach, TD, whoever. that's what's so special about ultimate.

i had a rude awakening really. i had talked about spirit of the game and personal responsibility and all that, but obviously not enough. i don't know if it's because there are a few "problem" players or because it's hard to switch to ultimate from sports like rugby and soccer or because it's impossible to envision a sport with no refs when you've never seen it in action or that being able to self-referee requires a certain maturity that many of the players don't have yet. that last argument doesn't really hold water, though, since the youngest players at the tournament - the underdogs - had some of the best spirit. whatever it was, i had failed to teach spirit of the game. of course, most of the games this weekend were super spirited - i'd even venture to say a majority of them. but, the one bad apple definitely ruined the bunch for me and reminded me that i have a lot of work to do on teaching the "culture" of ultimate in uganda.

in the end, the kabakas won in the finals 10-7 over the chapati rollers in an exciting, spirited game. they got their championship polo shirts, i got doused in water, and smiles all around. everyone's asking for another tournament of this magnitude soon, but that's why i made it an "annual" tournament because there's no way i could do this more than once a year...maybe in 6 months we'll have a hat tournament.

if you find your way to east africa next february time, come to kampala and play in the 2nd annual 7HC - it's guaranteed to be bigger and just as good as the 1st annual 7HC.

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