Thursday, October 26, 2006

uno to uganda

uno's spent the afternoon alternating between rubbing his face on my laptop screen and walking across its keyboard, and in doing so has effectively reminded me that i have yet to blog about him making his way to africa. this is uno's minnesota-to-uganda story, sort of like a rags-to-riches story but not really...

we'd debated back and forth for months on whether or not to bring uno to uganda, until i finally woke up one morning and knew there wasn't any other option than to have him here...with me...with us. uno's part of the family. for the cat people out there, you know what i'm talking about. (trish? chris?)

the hoop-jumping involved in making uno a real africat was extensive. if you're thinking of doing the same and want to get your cat into uganda, you'll need the following:
(1) veterinary import permit from the uganda ministry of agriculuture, animal industry and fisheries. write a letter to the commissioner on livestock health and entomology requesting permission to bring a cat in from the u.s. and a corresponding import permit; be sure to include breed, age, sex, color, name, vaccination status, and microchip # (if you don't have one, you should!). the commissioner's name is dr. wesonga wanderema, and the best way to get him is +256 (0)41 320376. (note: the ministry of ag is inconveniently located in entebbe, but dr. wesonga's pretty nice about arranging for delivery of the import permit to kampala.)
(2) current rabies vaccine, plus a rabies vaccination certificate signed by your veterinarian and certified by a USDA veterinarian
(3) blood test results of an approved laboratory indicating the neutralizing antibody titres achieved post-rabies vaccination
(4) clinical examination 48 hours prior to departure from the u.s.
(5) international veterinary health certificate completed by your vet and certified by a USDA vet
i also suggest bringing a current health record (showing all current vaccinations and internal/external parasite treatment) and duplicates of every document 1-5. remember, nothing in uganda is valid unless it's signed and stamped so don't hold back on that detail. considering my batting average for being turned away at the door for missing a minor detail (see this post and this) i went overboard on the details. there was no way my cat was going into quarantine because some document wasn't properly stamped.

there are all kinds of companies specializing in international pet relocation that cater to the career expats and are uber expensive ($thousands). doing it all myself cost $24 USDA services, $75 rabies titer, $60 pre-departure exam, $150 flight. i recommend the do-it-yourself route, but if you have the money to spend (or your employer's paying it for you) then more power to you.

uno and i flew on northwest/klm. uno made the weight cut-off for cabin carry-on for northwest (6.6 kilos), but didn't come close to klm's weight limit (4.5 kilos), which meant it was luggage check for him. i wasn't so sure i was comfortable with that, but decided i had the conviction and stubbornness to make anyone's life hell if they messed with my baby. so, with uno's adaptability and my fierce mother's instinct, i decided we could do it.

there's strict regulations on kennel make, shape, and size for animals that are checked as luggage. but, if you buy a kennel that's "airline approved" and fits your pet comfortably, you'll be fine. they inspect the kennel at the airport, but it's prefunctory and i imagine they'll approve most anything you can buy at petsmart. use this nifty guide to figure out the right kennel size for you and yours.

northwest has its "PriorityPet" program, of which the best feature is the hand-delivered confirmation to the owner that your pet has been safely loaded onto the plane. i took this feature seriously. i must have asked the steward 5 times if uno was on the plane before he finally brought me my confirmation note. i was able to relax MSP-AMS knowing that uno was safe on the plane, but switched quickly to panic mode once i landed at schiphol. my connection in amsterdam was supposed to be 1 hour, but i didn't de-plane until 20 min before my next flight (departure gate conveniently located on the opposite side of schiphol). i made it to the gate with enough time (delayed flight), but refused to board the plane until i saw uno with my own eyes get on the plane too. luckily the klm attendants have sympathies to match their looks and strikingly blue suits. they got on their walkie talkies, tracked uno down, and got a truck driver to promise he'd get uno to the plane on time. i waited and waited and waited. the gate area was empty and i had the unpleasant task of thinking about my options if uno didn't make the flight. thankfully, he arrived in the nick of time, i waited until they shut the luggage hold, then we were off to EBB. (i'd decided if he didn't arrive, i wasn't leaving. can you imagine me and uno stranded at schiphol airport? that would've been a sight.)

somehow when i arrived in entebbe, i was one of the last people to go thru immigration. i had all my documents ready (see list 1-5 above) and wanted to show them to someone, instead i just waited. uno got through immigration long before me and sat in baggage claim crying loud enough for the entire airport to hear (entebbe airport isn't all that big). people in the immigration line kept turning to me saying, "isn't that your cat?" waiting in that line tested my patience more than anything before as my heart broke every time he cried. but, then even worse...he stopped crying. for a l-o-n-g 20 minutes i had to rationalize that he'd been okay without food and water for 24 hours, that he'd just decided to stop meowing 'cos it wasn't getting him anywhere. finally, i got thru immigration, made it to his kennel, and he was good - i guess he was at the end of his patience, too.

we weren't allowed to leave the airport for a while because they were trying to track down the state veterinarian who would certify all my documents and legally allow us into the country. while waiting i let uno out of his kennel to stretch, explore, relax. he soon had an audience of 5 ugandan airport staff shocked by this crazy strange animal. "is that a dog?" no. "what is it?" it's a cat. "a cat?!? but, it's so big!" they wanted to pet him, pick him up, give him water, walk him around the airport by his leash. welcome to uganda, uno! eventually the airport workers gave up on getting the vet to the airport at such a late hour (10ish pm) and said we could just go on thru customs and go home. i was in shock. after all my work of getting all the documents, having them filled out in blue (not black!) ink and copiously stamped, and no one was even going to look at them?! uganda never ceases to astound.

our friend peter picked us up at the airport with his 6-year old daughter. similar to the airport workers, neither of them could get over that uno was a cat. he hardly made a peep the whole ride home, just sat on my lap, paws on the windowsill curiously looking out the window at his new habitat. not more than 5 minutes after walking in the door it was as if the last 24 hours had never happened. thank god for an adaptable cat with a short-term memory.

pets are a decidely expat thing in uganda since not too many ugandans have the money (or time) to add another stomach to the household. so, having a cat in uganda isn't cheap. the basic expenses:
- 5 kg bag o' litter = $12.
grocery store ordering and shipment schedules are pretty erratic here. one month they'll have a huge quantity of a particular item (e.g. litter), then once it sells out they won't stock it again for months. i'm waiting for another supply of litter to come into the country...i'm hoping it shows up soon otherwise i'm going to be borrowing sand from luc & majo next door.
- litter box = $28.
$28 for a small plastic bin that's no different than any other small plastic bin except that it has a fancy tag that says "litter box." nope, didn't buy it. i went and found the equivalent for $1.50. most anything plastic, electronic, or manufactured has to be imported, and since the expats are the ones interested, the prices balloon out of realistic proportions fast.
- 500g bag o' food = $6.
i found a brand that sells 1 kilo for $6, but then uno didn't eat for 3 days 'cos little did i know that he has a taste for the high-quality, high-cost stuff. i've since mixed the cheap and expensive, but he spends hours picking out the good stuff. crafty.
101paige 101africa 101ht
no matter the expenses, though, it's worth it. for those of you who know us, you know how much uno means to us. for those of you who don't know us, you can check out the "uno anthology" - it'll give you a pretty good idea of uno and the bowens. uganda feels like home already, but now that the family (me, phil, uno) is back together it's even more so.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006


so i'm back in the states now for a couple months playing ultimate with sub zero. jumping right in, five days after i got back i was out in santa cruz for the labor day tornament where we lost to seattle sockeye in semis. i've been bouncing around a little, but now i'm settled in and even got the cat back from CY and TY, who were generously taking care of him. thanks!

a coffee shop with free wireless is right across the street from my apt, and this morning i finally installed skype, which is a free program that allows you to make phone calls online. it's 100% free to talk to other computer skype users online, and costs something like 2.1 cents a minute to call land land lines or mobiles. not so bad.
so i fired it up and called paige, and the sound quality was perfect and it really couldn't have been easier. the pace of technology in the last ten years has been ridiculous. wasn't too long ago that i was psyched to get long distance for under 25 cents a minute. the world is getting so small and accessable.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

taxes on foreign-earned income

one of the biggest benefits of international work is no u.s. taxes, or at least no taxes on the first $80,000 of income. it took me a while to figure it all out, but i think i've got it straight now. if you're interested in the nuts & bolts, read on.**

the best reference is "tax guide for u.s. citizens & resident aliens living abroad." it's long and written in legalese, but it's got all the fine print you'll need to make sure that you don't owe thousands of dollars in back-taxes when you return to the states.

to qualify for exclusions on your foreign-earned income, your tax home must be in a foreign country. according to the IRS, "your tax home is the general area of your main place of business, employment, or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home." if you work abroad, your tax home is whatever country you live in, so your tax home is in a foreign country, and you qualify. but, wait. it's not that simple.

to exclude your foreign-earned income, you either have to satisfy the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test.

(1) bona fide residence test: you meet the bona fide residence test if you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year. this doesn't mean you just live in a country for a year's time. rather, you have to establish residence. i.e. you have a residence visa. this isn't me, and i imagine it's not most people working in international aid. so, on to test #2.

(2) physical presence test: you meet the physical presence test if you are physically present in a foreign country or countries 330 full days during a period of 12 consecutive months. the days do not have to be consecutive, nor do the 12 months have to start/end in january. the rules regulating how you count the 330 days, how you can overlap the 12 month intervals, etc are complicated, so definitely consult someone more qualified than me to make sure you don't get screwed.

i don't satisfy either test, yet, but i will eventually satisfy the physical presence test. staying out of the u.s. 330 days a year means that i will save thousands of dollars in taxes. yowza.

now that i know i can exclude my income, does that mean i keep paying taxes, then recover them when i file in april? no. if you can reasonably be expected to exclude wages earned abroad under either the foreign-earned income exclusion or the foreign housing exclusion (doesn't pertain to me, so i don't know anything about this exclusion), then your employer does not need to withhould u.s. income tax from those wages. beware, though, your employer can't simply stop withholding taxes. to legally withhold taxes, you need to complete a form 673. don't give your completed form 673 to the IRS, give it directly to your employer. once your employer receives the form 673, they can stop withholding your federal taxes.

finally, even though you've qualified to exclude your foreign-earned income, you still have to file a tax return. just accompany your 1040 or 1040EZ with form 2555 or form 2555EZ, respectively.

re: state taxes. if you don't live in any state, you are not a resident of any state, so you don't owe state taxes to anyone. 101paige 101ht 101iph

**disclaimer: this is not legal advice. this is what i've learned first-hand, and by no means am i a tax attorney. if you use this information without doing your own research, you do so at your own risk.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

dial 1-800-collect, Uganda-style

The digital world took Africa by storm. 10 years ago no one in Africa had a phone if they lived outside the city and made less than $10,000/year, which is pretty much 95% of the people in Africa. Enter digital technology. People don't have running water or electricity, but they have cell phones. Cellular technology let governments off the hook - now they didn't need to invest the loads of money necessary to build landline infrastructure (telephone poles, wires, etc). Instead, get a few satellites and towers around and everyone can enjoy the telecommunication revolution. Crazy thing is that for most Africans a cell phone is their first phone ever. Contrast that to the US. I remember when the first person got a cell phone at happened my senior year, 2000. She stuck out like a sore thumb - people thought she was a total poser. Who was she, all Miss Snotty Rich Girl walking around campus with a cell phone? 6 years changes a lot - I don't know too many Americans who are my contemporaries (late 20s) who own landlines, and all the Africans I know (even those who make $100/month) have cell phones.

So, anyway...

Buying a cell phone in Uganda is very different than in the US. In the US, we are locked into the plans offered by cellular companies and the phones that they attach to those plans. We buy the plan, then the phone comes with it. In Uganda, you can buy any phone anywhere. Then, you buy a SIM card, which gives you the phone number. A SIM card in Uganda is 7,000/= (approx $4), in Tanzania you can get a SIM card for $1. Then, you buy an airtime card and load minutes onto your phone. Basically, you put the pieces of the cell phone – physical handset, phone number (SIM card), and airtime – together yourself.

You can buy airtime cards virtually anywhere in the city...stores, petrol stations, street-side kiosks. They come in increments of 5,000/=, 10,000/=, 20,000/=, and 40,000/=. Maybe they go higher than that, but I haven't seen it yet. It's 1,000/= per minute to call Uganda to the States. Inter-Uganda calls are closer to...maybe 200/= per minute? You only pay airtime to call out from your phone. To receive calls it's free. And to send SMS (text) messages it's virtually nothing. So people spend all their time SMSing each other. I don't mind that trend actually 'cos then when you need information from someone, but don't want to talk to them or waste minutes going through the little niceties (Hi. How are you? I was wondering...) or whatever, you can just text them. Also, since it's cheap to SMS and free to receive calls, people without minutes on their phone text you asking you to call them. No money on their part and they still get to talk to you. It's Uganda's version of "dial 1-800-collect." 101paige 101africa 101ht

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

how to make phone call

when paige was here in march, i was in sweden and norway. i needed a phone there, and when i was setting up international calling on our account, i noticed that our phones’ GSM frequencies weren’t available in east africa. paige’s phone didn’t work here or in tanzania, so that in fact turned out to be true.

when we moved here, it didn’t occur to me to try out our phones, so it wasn’t until after paige had bought a local phone that i decided to turn on my phone to give it a try. actually, i think i was just turning it on to check somebody’s contact info that i had stored and saw that i had full bars of coverage and thought to try making a call. pressed the speed dial key for mom’s studio, and sure enough the phone rang. cool. mom not in today, driving around lake superior.

i knew the phone was locked to cingular but i decided to try a local sim card in it just in case… no go. i tried placing a call and got the “phone restricted” message on the screen. so now it was time to figure out how to unlock the phone. the only reason i knew that cell phones are locked in the first place was because on eBay the auctions make a big deal out of a phone being unlocked. A+++++!!!!! Motorola Razr **UNLOCKED** (not Anna Kournikova, Manolo Blahnik, ipod) anyway, that kind of thing. so after what should have been about a minute and a half of google time but was actually 45 minutes internet café time, i found a site where you enter your phone’s 15-digit IMEI# and it spits out a code to type in that removes all its restrictions.
the site gives you seven lines of codes. apparently you’re best off using the 7th one. i used the first one the first time but i could only receive calls and could neither send nor receive texts. then used the 7th and all was good.
press the # key
press the * key three times to get p
press the * key four times for w
press the * key two times for +
then you enter the code they give you followed by + and the number of the line of code you used (in our case number 7)
press the # key
paige’s unlock code looked like this #pw+106514321302201+7#
press send.

so now we’re both using our phones from home and we’ll keep the extra phone to give to friends who come to visit. (so come visit) 101phil 101ht 101africa

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