Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa

i've been lethargic in my reading lately. i think it has a lot to do with phil being home. i read a lot more when he's gone, which explains why i have a new book review since i read a lot when he was in scandanavia last month.

abyssinian chronicles is one of the few (only?) books written by a ugandan about uganda. uganda is the lesser known sister of the e. african trio - kenya, tanzania, uganda. kenya and tanzania get much more attention in the popular press because of "better" tourism, stronger economy (kenya), or famous islands (tanzania). uganda is known for idi amin and maybe its gorillas. to find a novel set in uganda is rare, especially one that's not all about amin (last king of scotland) or gorillas (gorillas in the mist...sort of uganda and not really a novel, but you get my point).

i really enjoyed abyssinian chronicles. the story was good, but even more fun was reading a book that was set right out my backdoor - literally. minneapolis isn't a hotspot as a setting for novels and neither is kampala for that matter, so any books that are set in either place feel very personal. as if i'm one of a very few who are able to connect directly with the book having lived in that neighborhood, having driven on that road, having shopped in that market. that's how it was with abyssinian chronicles.

isegawa's prose is often reminescent of gabriel garcia marquez - i guess i'm not the only one who thinks that considering the back of the book jacket says "like an african one hundred years of solitude" - with its flowery magical descriptions of everyday events. the beginning of the book dragged for me as it was more the uber-detailed story of a young boy's life than about uganda, but by the middle i was engrossed. i liked reading fiction about the 1980s guerrilla insurgency and later the onset of HIV/AIDS (two seminal events in modern ugandan history) in familiar places like masaka. i could connect to the events on a more personal level, identifying with the places and the characters.

i felt like isegawa sometimes got caught up in his overly analogous, metaphorical language, which left me wondering what he was really talking about for sentences on end, but in the end his accurate portrayal of life in uganda (kampala, village and the in-between) leaves this on the top of my recommended-reading-if-you're-traveling-to-uganda list.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

first-time party hosts

we've been together close to 7 years, living together for 3 1/2 and we've never lived in a place where we could truly throw a party. we do now, so yesterday we threw a going-away party for our friends chris and lindsey.

new year's eve 2003-2004 i tried to throw a party at our apartment in mpls. 6 guests - 2 didn't show and the other 4 came 5 minutes before midnight. i'd made food and snacks, bought drinks, cleaned and decorated the house. it was a huge disappointment for me and definitely made me "once biten, twice shy." the night wasn't a total bust luckily, we salvaged it by hanging out with my brother and sister and extras, but i certainly wasn't going to jump back into hosting any parties anytime soon.

my only past successful excursions into playing hostess came at the cabin. there was a stretch during our last 2 years in mpls where we regularly had friends to the cabin for long weekends - it's easy to entertain at a place that has built-in entertainment. i'll be excited to reinstate the weekends at the cabin once we're back in mn.

new year's '03-'04 was in the back of my mind yesterday as we waited for guests to show up. the first hour ticked by with no one. argh - not again! alas, history wasn't going to repeat itself and the party turned out to be a huge hit. all told we had something like 35 people, the first ones arriving at 1ish in the afternoon, the last ones leaving at 1ish at night. i really think it's all about the location. our patio is perfect for chatting, the garden is great for kids and games, the main room in the house is a good conversation starter with its dramatic ceiling and expansive view of the city.

hosting a party in africa is the way to go, i'm telling you. you have a cleaner to clean the house before, a husband to do all the grocery shopping, a cook to cook an amazing spread of food, a cleaner to clean the house after. none of which will break the bank. all i did was invite people and enjoy the party. i know, i have such a tough life.


introducing ttaano

the latest addition to the anderson bowen household is a tiny black and white cutie in the form of a 6-week old kitten that we've dubbed ttaano (pronounced ta-no) - luganda for 5. over the years there've been stray cats and dogs between uno and ttaano which accounted for 2, 3, and 4. yes, we're very creative with our naming scheme.

driving up mbuya hill on monday we passed a potentially sleeping, potentially dead kitten lying on the side of the road. phil was unanimously elected as the one to investigate since i wouldn't do so well finding a mangled kitten on the side of the road. lucky for all of us, ttaano was curled in a ball sleeping and responded with furtive, well-bellied meows to phil's tsk tsks. little did we know that those first meows were an indication of ttaano's persistent propensity for talking. so unlike quiet, observant uno. we're hoping ttaano grows out of his chatty cathy phase as he grows bigger.

the uno / ttaano introduction was drawn out over the first week - first to not stress uno, second to make sure ttaano didn't have any crazy infectious disease. uno is tolerant but cautious and is the one to run away when ttaano tries to get too much affection rubbing uno's belly. once uno figures out that he's 10 times bigger than ttaano, i'm hoping that he relaxes back to his regular laid-back, content self.

we're not commiting ourselves to being a two-cat household, yet. right now it's a waiting game to see how uno adapts. i anticipate though that the longer we wait, the harder it'll be to send ttaano away.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

last king of scotland - the movie

last king of scotland premiered in uganda right around the time seth arrived in town...about 5 weeks ago. it was a big deal - forest whittaker was here, there was a red carpet at garden city. we didn't have enough connections - although we do know the bbc correspondent - to get us to the premiere, but i wasn't going to miss the chance to see the film. this is the first movie about uganda filmed in uganda, and i'm in uganda. i had to see it.

i am proud and grateful that the movie was filmed in uganda because years down the road i can watch it again and see uganda as it is. uganda scenery, uganda people, uganda idiosyncracies that are so familiar. i wish it had been a movie with a more uplifting plot, but as seth pointed out there are probably 100 countries that have never been a hollywood filming location. so, i'm happy i at least got something because it's true - some of the scenes, especially in the beginning, are very quintessential uganda.

knowing only the peripheral history of amin (this movie compels me to learn more), i cannot comment much on the in/accuracy of his portrayal. even so, i think the movie does a good job of tracing amin's trajectory from beloved savior to quirky paternalistic leader to sadistic despot. although dr. nicholas garrigan is a completely fictional character, he is a good stand-in for illustrating how ugandans were caught up in and affected by amin's transformation over his 8 years of power. in the beginning, amin brought nicholas into his inner circle, impressed him with his charm and magnetism. eventually, amin drew a line between those on his side and those against, taking care of his own. he terrorized the country, but sheltered nicholas from the bloodshed. by the end, however, very few were sheltered and all were in danger, including his former most trusted personal advisor.

the end of the movie is intense and at turns made me cringe and at others made me want to cry, not because of the torture suffered by nicholas but because of the atrocities suffered by uganda under amin. most understated line of the film: "there is too much hatred. our country is drowning in it."

i appreciated the movie for forcing me to think more closely about uganda's history and politics. the other night at dinner, our visiting friend erin asked my opinion of museveni. i wasn't able to say much other than that i felt he missed his chance to be a leader among african leaders when he rewrote the constitution to authorize himself to seek another term as president. otherwise, i am pretty uninformed. i am starkly reminded of nicholas and his naivete when he off-handedly says to sarah, "right, obote. he was the guy here before, and now it's what's his name? oh right, amin." i have a colleague who grew up in the congo and now devotes her professional career to working in africa. i asked her about her reactions to the film. she said that she felt it was a good portrayal of how westerners unknowningly affect local situations negatively because they fail to do their pre-homework.

prior to discovering npr, i was essentially tuned out of the political scene in the u.s. once i became an npr convert, however, i at least could talk the talk and form my own informed opinions. here, in uganda, i get all of my news and current events from bbc world. bbc world is good and there is a bbc africa segment, but overall the programming is not uganda specific and i continue to be somewhat unaware politically. i don't want to be another oblivious dr. nicholas garrigan, so i am hereby committing myself to investing more time into staying up-to-date. first step, read the local newspapers (there are two: one pro-museveni, one not-so-pro-museveni) more regularly.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

ultimate, post-7HC

sunday pickup was fun for me tonight for the first time in a good 1.5 months. following the tournament (see 7HC), maybe i was a little burned out. i'm struggling with the constant restart - this is a forehand, this is a stack, this is a cut - that comes from having new players every week. i would love to coach a core group of 15 players. that core of 15 would be a-mazing; we have some serious athletes with serious skill playing with us and i daydream about the possibilities of ultimate greatness... but, in reality, i have yet to find a suitable method of separating the 15 from the rest while still supporting the remaining players to learn and have fun.

i'm excited that we've built our club up to 45+ players, but i've been discouraged in not feeling like i've made any progress in skills-building, spirit-teaching, strategy-coaching. then, tonight comes along and my motivation is rejuvenated. no different than in the u.s., we're in need of fields. our former home (kampala rugby club) is no longer available (rugby drama stirred up by emma being traded from the rhinos to the pirates; the kampala rugby club pitch is controlled by a high-up member of the rhinos hierarchy, who's now feeling stiffed by emma...drama), so for the past two weeks we've been homeless. tonight we shared a pitch with a volleyball tournament, no room for a full field but enough to play a box game and mini. because we were hard to find, for the first hour of training i was blessed with 10 players and i was actually able to teach something (the buttonhook cut) and run a great drill (flygirl). we then played a series of 4-minute 3 v. 3 games in the box where 7 completed throws in a row counted as one point. everyone loved it. next, as more players trickled in, we played a series of 3-minute 5 v. 5 make-it-take-it games on a 40 x 25 yard field with 15 yard endzones. again, everyone loved it. success for one night.

next weekend is centex - the perennial start to the paige/phil coaching season. i'm feeling very nostalgic for syzygy, so it was good timing to have a rewarding coaching experience tonight. sometimes i feel like i'm pushing against the river, but tonight i did no pushing.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

today's answer is employment

i recently wrote about the influx of people looking for jobs now that we've advertised the location of our offices. i may have unintentionally sounded frustrated...seeming to say, "please, stop - no more!" then, yesterday i was reminded of the unique position i am in to make a difference. we talk a lot about sustainability in development work - there is a lot of money now to do x, y, and z but what happens when the project funding ends in 1, 2, 3 years? i'm not convinced a lot of the time that all of the money and investment dropped into development produces results. strategies may make positive change in the short-term, but how do we make long-lasting change and truly create a world free of poverty, death from preventable disease, and abject despair?

you can argue (and i have) about what entry point is the best for solving the development conundrum, whether it's health, education, economic, environmental. obviously i've made my choice, but i don't deny that all are necessary and you can't have one without the other. for example, the longer a girl stays in school, the more likely she is to delay having sex, which increases her age at first birth, decreases the total number of children she will have, which then decreases her risk for maternal death and decreases the risk of her children dying before 5 years. likewise, the older she is before sex, the less likely she is to practice risky sexual behavior, which decreases her risk of HIV/AIDS. all because she stayed in school. plus, now that she has an education, she can find a more stable, more skilled job, earn more money, and have the resources to send her own children to school. the cycle continues.

i work in public health treating communities, but today i am convinced that the best thing you can do for an individual person is to give them a job. employ someone, pay him, and enable him to help himself. income is money to feed his family, send his kids to school, buy a suitable home, go to the doctor when sick. the psychology of dependence that is created thru give-aways compels me to shy away from blatant charity. employment, on the other hand, allows a person to be independent and build pride in his work and himself.

i am proud to say that personally phil and i employ three people - robert, mary, and sam. it probably seems indulgent from a western-perspective to have so many staff. maybe it is - really, we probably don't need all the help we have. we don't see it as self-indulgent, though. yes, we're lucky but the really lucky ones are robert, mary, and sam who have full-time, well-paid jobs working for (we like to think) nice employers.

i wish i could hire everyone that comes knocking on our door, but i can't. we hardly have enough work to keep our trio occupied. we don't need our house cleaned 2x a week (1x per a week is plenty), i don't need someone to drive me around town (i am perfectly capable of driving myself). but, robert is married with three girls, sam is married with three boys, and mary is raising more than 6 kids - some her own, some left behind by her brother who was killed last fall in a road accident. without work from us, what would they do? they'd piecemeal a livelihood together and they'd survive, but it'd be much harder.

i just said they're really lucky and we're just lucky...our luck came in finding such great people to hire. mary came to us through a reference from a friend, both robert and sam took their own initiatives. driving up mbuya hill some months ago on a sightseeing trip, we stopped to admire the view. robert walked right up to our car and handed us his resume. we didn't have any jobs at the time, but were impressed by his courage and remembered him when we did have a job. i met sam within the first weeks we were in the country when i was renting a "special hire" car most days for work. sam drove me a couple of times, the last time giving me his phone number and saying he'd like a job with an NGO if i ever had one to give. when i did, i called him up. we used to have a cook, too. we don't employ barbara anymore, but that's because we helped pay for her to go to cuba where she is studying at university on a 6-year scholarship sponsored jointly by the cuban and ugandan governments.

sam surprised me the other day when he refused to let me pay him. i wouldn't take no for an answer (i was stunned, in fact), so prodded him until he told me he didn't want to be paid until he had his new bank account ready because he wanted to deposit the money directly into the bank. i pay him $145 per month and he pays $60 per term for his son's school fees, and he didn't want to be paid without an open bank account because he didn't want the money in his pockets where it could be spent inadvertently. our short conversation solidified my conclusion that i'd hired the right guy.

phil and i have decided to take our commitment to our staff one step further and have agreed with robert that we will pay his daughter's school fees. kate is 5 years old and just old enough to start kindergarten next term. i am a huge proponent of on-time and consistent schooling, as evidenced by my interpretation of the education-health-employment cycle. so many kids in uganda start school late or are forced to take 2-3 years off here or there due to lack of resources to pay for school fees and uniforms and supplies or because a parent dies from HIV/AIDS or because the family needs that child at home to work. i don't want that inconsistency and insecurity to plague kate in her education.

sam tells me that he doesn't like universal primary education (UPE - president museveni's plan for free primary education for all ugandan children) because the quality of education is low: classrooms have 50+ students for one teacher, the school buildings are run-down, the resources just aren't available. plus, even though the education is supposedly free, you still have to buy the uniform for the child to attend class. robert and i agreed that he should choose the school that he thinks is best for kate and that, although we will be giving him the money for the school fees and uniform, he should be the one to pay the school and purchase the supplies, not us. i want to leave the autonomy and control in his hands. we're just the enablers.

a few days ago, a co-worker from headquarters who was in country told me that her favorite thing to do while abroad is to hire people. she is so right - hiring people is far and away the best thing i've done while living here.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007


following the tradition of NGOs in africa, we recently installed road signs pointing the way to our offices. added visibility is good for the organization. an unforseen but expected consequence, however, is that the signs bring people knocking at the door looking for a job. robert, our guard/gardener, tells me that in the days since the signs went up he has "too many!" visitors asking for jobs.

when we first moved in, pre-signs, several people stopped by with credentials (resumes, recommendations, employment history) looking for jobs as cleaners, cooks, gardeners. one woman visited with her small daughter asking for school fees. the new mzungus were in the neighborhood and everyone knows that we employ. now post-signs, everyone knows that NGOs employ and they've redoubled their attempts to find gainful employment.

they're even looking for a job at 7:45am on a saturday morning. no joke. the painfully high unemployment here compels people to be excruciatingly persistant and dedicated so that they are the ones that get lucky this time. but, then when i'm hiring for professional positions, i spend months recruiting trying to find qualified people to no avail. it's a dichotomy that i'm grappling with now as more and more people come knocking for jobs i don't have and no one shows for those jobs that i do.

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uno teaches me a lesson

uno's in high heaven here. for the first time since he was 7 months old he gets to go outside and he loves it. our new house in mbuya has an enourmous yard ("garden" in uganda-speak) with lots of vegetation and animal life to explore and - to our comfort - comes replete with a solid, high wall. so far uno hasn't discovered an escape route, although we know it's there evidenced by the stray cat that wanders into the yard some nights. the rule is that when the sun goes down, uno comes in. he abides by the rule pretty well and often will find his own way into the house just as the sun is setting. but, when the sun is high, his days are full of sprinting at phil's camera, lounging on the patio, climbing trees, rubbing his face on the scratchy asphalt, eating the papyrus, and...hunting...

i love all of his new found freedom, except the hunting. i'm still struggling with his transformation from my sweet, cuddly uno cat to my stealthy, ruthless hunter cat. i was proud of his cockroach catches, i tolerated his running tally of tailless geckos, but i'm not so good with his recent habit of preying on moles. moles are rodents. i don't like rodents. i especially don't like rodents when they're being deposited at the foot of my bed dead. yuck.

it's phil's job to recognize uno's triumphant trot-trot-trot and jingling collar bell as he returns to the house prey-in-mouth. it's also phil's job to get uno to drop his catch and return the poor creature outside. now that phil's gone (he's in scandanavia shooting pics), i'm not so keen on taking over his job responsibilities. so, phil's first day gone, uno got sidelined from the outside.

i knew it was going to be rough, but i was determined to stick it out. he went from happy, affectionate cat trying to coax me to caving in to a crying, insistent cat begging me to a quiet, reserved cat guilting me. i thought i had won the test of wills when seth and i left for sunday ultimate, so i (naively) left the door open and the gate closed. the gate has chicken wire the length of it so that uno can see outside but he can't go outside. or so i thought. he somehow squeezed, contorted, and pushed his way thru the one spot he could fit himself. freedom!

i got home from practice and found no uno; i knew immediately that uno had stuck one to me saying to himself, "beware if you do this to your kids someday." touche, i say, lesson learned. if kids want to do something badly enough, they're going to do it. if you tell them no with no explanation why not and cut them off cold turkey, they're still going to do it. simple as that. i'm going to write a book called: all i really need to know i learned from my cat, uno.


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 www.philsgoodphoto.blogspot.com). 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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Sunday, January 21, 2007

beware british air

not more than 48 hours after i extolled the virtues of british airways am i back to say "stay away!"

the oneworld alliance includes american airlines and british airways, and as an american aadvantage frequent flyer i can accrue aadvantage miles while flying british...or so i thought. it's a total scam. an itinerary that should've given me 20,000 miles (EBB to LHR to DEN) gave me 2,014. i should've been close to having a free contiguous-48 ticket, instead i'm left with zilch.

if you're an AA member flying BA, be aware of these caveats:
**british airways flights to/from the u.s. are not valid for aadvantage mile accrual or redemption (read: knock off 10k worth of miles).
**discount economy class tickets (read: any ticket priced within reason...mine was $2k and "discount") only qualify for 25% mileage accrual.

compare these measly 2,014 miles to the EBB-AMS-MSP itinerary i flew with northwest/KLM in september thru which i earned 16,214 miles. i know who i'm going to be flying from now on.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

a day in london

i had 11 hours in london today en route from DIA to EBB. unlike my 20+ hour layover a week ago in the other direction, this time i was in london during daylight hours and rather than waste my time sitting in heathrow i spent a day on the town in central london. without a map, i was somewhat limited but as travel would have it i happened upon all kinds of fun sights that i probably would not have chosen had i planned. i purchased ½ price theater tickets in the airport, so at least i had a neighborhood (westminster) as a destination. the tube is as easy as can be, so i had no problems getting around the city. i killed time in the crazy theater district around the leicester (pronounced “lester”) square tube station, got lucky to find the national portrait gallery which was in the midst of its photographic portrait prize 2006 exhibition (highly recommended!), saw evita at the adelphi theater, and finished off the day by ducking into the national gallery to see the manet to picasso exhibit where i got to see such classics as van gogh’s sunflowers. not such a bad 11 hours, huh?

my theater options were limited to those matinees showing on a thursday afternoon, which included mary poppins, billy elliot, and evita. i’m a sucker for musical theater and not really all that discerning, so i was happy seeing anything. i like getting caught up in the romanticism and dramatic extravagance of musical theater. i liked evita, but i wasn’t blown away by it. maybe because i knew all the songs by heart (i own the soundtrack from madonna’s hollywood version) and no one can replace antonio banderas (although his stage replacement also had good looks to match a good singing voice). maybe because it didn’t add much beyond the songs, which made it more like a visual version of the soundtrack. or maybe because for the first time in all the musicals i’ve ever been to (and i’ve been to a lot) it didn’t end on a grand sing-and-dance finale. of course, my lackluster response could also be attributed to my 4-hour sleep the night before on the plane from DIA, so i wouldn’t not go to evita just because of me.

before this trip, i dreaded the british airways flight thru london because it required long layovers on both ends. now, after seeing the benefits of a full-night sleep in a bed on the “going to” and the day on the town on the “coming from,” i might choose this itinerary home more often.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

christmas 2006, part 2: the rest of the story

t&e arrived in uganda just before christmas as our first visitors from home. i prepared, i planned, i looked forward to their visit. as to be expected not all of the visit went as planned, but as my grandpa used to say “if everything went right, we’d never have any stories.” so, this is “the rest of the story” from christmas 2006…

our time in kampala with t&e was great. our mold escapade had just unfolded, so we were all graciously put up in luc and majo’s house next door who were on holiday with the kids in rwanda. t&e had the master bedroom, we were in the back suite, and we spent our socializing time with uno in our apartment – it was an ideal set-up. phil and i were happy to show off kampala; the places, the stories, the idiosyncrasies we’d learned after 6 months of living. you don’t realize what’s fallen into the background of recognition until you are with someone from home of your ilk, your family with whom you can share it. having visitors is an interesting cross-over of two lives. the one there and the one here momentarily overlap. it’s easier to be here when you don’t think about there, but then again it’s tons of fun to share here with there. that was new for us here and something i really enjoyed.

we hit our favorite kampala hot spots – nakasero market, the old matatu taxi park, the bugolobi indian restaurant, café pap (awful name, good coffee), the ba’hai temple (the only one in africa). i recommend all of them…if you’re looking for a quite, green-space reprieve from the dust, traffic jams, and boda craziness, go to the ba’hai temple. don’t forget to bring your binocs – it’s great for bird-watching and a picnic.

t&e came to us overland from kenya where they’d spent a week exploring on their own. we didn’t know when they’d arrive in kampala and i didn’t know if tait had received my hurried, last-minute email with directions to our apartment. they’re some of the more experienced travelers i know, so i didn’t need to worry about them but i did anyway. family will do that. i definitely did not need to worry about them adapting to africa, though, considering their travel track record, and i certainly did not. i had enough to eat up my allocated “worry time” making sure our planned trip went as planned. in my life planning leads to expectations; expectations very rarely live up to reality thereby often leading to disappointment. this is a personality trait i’m working on adapting so it doesn’t affect my life so much. anyway…

t&e decided in aug/sep that they would be visiting us over christmas. i like their system – they swap every other year’s christmas between being in the u.s. with family and traveling. we got lucky this year to be their chosen destination outside the u.s. not knowing what they’d want to do, we spent time in the fall scoping out tourist destinations in uganda to uncover some of the lesser known, more primo spots. then, in early dec tait emailed saying they wanted to see the gorillas. great, gorillas! oh no, gorillas! phil and i had easily decided that the gorillas were on our must-do list, so “great, gorillas!” but, i knew that gorilla permits were virtually impossible to come by last-minute during the christmas season considering permits are normally booked 6-12 months in advance, so “oh no, gorillas!”

i scrambled to get tickets, going to the uganda wildlife authority where they looked at me like i was crazy and calling all the tour companies in town where they talked to me like i was crazy. i responded as non-crazy as possible and kept calling, emailing, pestering until i finally found someone who said “sure, we can do that.” maybe i should’ve suspected something fishy about the only tour company left with gorilla permits 2 weeks before christmas? but every time i questioned, they came back with excellent customer service, so what was i to do but trust? the real crunch-time in the suspicion/trust tug-o-war was when i sent our tour guide to kigali on a bus with $1600 cash to purchase the only remaining 4 gorilla permits in all of east africa over christmas. the evening of the day he was supposed to pick the permits i got a call from rwanda saying no one showed up and if the permits weren’t picked by the following day, they would be forced to give them to someone else. i hung up and called our tour guide immediately, but couldn’t get thru to him for…2 days. can you imagine what was going thru my mind? i imagine you can imagine. luckily our imaginations most often land at the worst-case-scenario and in reality nothing bad came out of the snafu and our tour guide showed up in kampala a few days later with 4 rwandan gorilla permits in hand. whew. phil told me i was getting too involved as a middle-man in the trip planning. he had a point, but it’s hard for a control freak like me to let go sometimes.

FYI: if you purchase gorilla permits from a tour company, you do not need to book a tour with that company. i didn’t know that initially; i thought you could only do DIY if you purchased directly thru the uwa or rwanda office of tourism. nope, you can DIY. regardless of what’d i’d know, though, we still would’ve rented a car + driver since we’d decided that elsie (our landcruiser) wasn’t big enough for 4 people and gear and a 12+ hour drive. knees in chests on a bumpy road isn’t so comfortable.

the benefit of having a tour guide is that he removes the questions of travel – how do we get a car across the border, where will we stay, how do we get to the park? funny thing is our tour guide didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. it makes me laugh when i think about it. no matter though, we figured it all out. we made it thru uganda and rwanda, saw the gorillas, spent time on lake bunyonyi, hiked in lake mburo national park. we did it all and enjoyed it all….can’t ask for much more, really.

we used to always tell the syzygy kids that there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake, it’s what you decide to do with it that matters. i’m still learning to apply said mantra to my own life. phil chastises me for my coulda/woulda/shoulda mentality. it does no good but create regret over the past…apply the experience to change future behavior the way you want. he’s right, of course (but don’t tell him i said that). and, so is my grandpa – the events gone wrong are the ones we talk about for years.

i suspect that t&e, phil, and i will talk about this for years…

- driving 10 km in 3 hours around lake bunyonyi on one of the worst, but most scenic roads in uganda. coming around the corner to find a petrol tanker nearly on its side in the rain, muck and mud leaning on the uphill side of a one-lane road that hugged a steep drop into the valley below. how to pass? fishtail and gun it uphill in the mud while being pushed by a group of industrious teenage boys as the edge is so close on one side you can’t see it and the tanker is so close on the other you can kiss it (if you’re into that sort of thing.)

- racing to the border at cyanika to make it across before it closed (no crossing, no gorillas the next morning) only to learn we can’t get our van across. the sun’s setting and we’re stuck at a border with no vehicle to make it the rest of the way. ah, travel. we load our earthly belongings onto our backs, walk across the dead space between countries, and climb into a rattling, shaking rwandan matatu. we speed thru the dark rattling along on the best road i’ve been on in months (rwanda has real roads!) watching the colorful display of people filing past on the traditional christmas eve processional. no question we were in a new country. as simple as a line on a map and so much changes.

- staying at the overland camp at lake bunyonyi with the intent of enjoying a day of quiet r&r in a scenic locale. it was scenic and relaxing, but not at all quiet. our r&r happened to coincide with an all-out, all-day party replete with music, dancing, and shouting into microphones in typical “ugandan party” style. enough cacophony to disrupt the whole lake. tait, phil, and i opted for a walk up and around the hills. bird-watching, flowers, views, villagers, a chance to chat. make lemonade out of lemons, right?

(for more trip stories, see phil’s post.)

i wanted t&e’s visit to be perfect, but travel isn’t about perfection. travel is about the adventure. i know that, t&e know that. at a certain point, i was smart enough to remember that axiom and actually apply it to our trip which made all the difference ‘cos then i was able to enjoy rather than worry. i’ve traveled a lot in my time (latin america, europe, new zealand, asia), but after 6 months living in uganda i’m learning one fundamental difference between living and traveling. when you travel, everything contributes to the experience – the good, the bad, the ugly. you experience for 2 weeks, and then go home stocked with pictures, adventures, and stories galore. no matter how things turn out, it’s good. living is different. you don’t leave to go home…you’re already there.

i had many expectations wrapped up in this trip, but now no regrets. sure, it didn’t all go as planned, but big deal. i spent 5 days with family in a beautiful place talking, laughing, experiencing, adventuring. that satisfies my christmas 2006 wish list.

**footnote: i wrote this blog by hand on my flight from entebbe to heathrow, which is something i do a lot more of now that i live without reliable electricity. transcribing it from paper to computer happened while sitting in the very place that phil and i killed 9 hours on a layover en route to uganda for the first time a long/short 6 months ago.

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queen's speech

our friend chris – stalwart ultimate player – has been doing PhD research on tourism in bwindi impenetrable forest for the past few years. the other night he and his girlfriend lindsey (our first guests to the new house!) came over to swap christmas pictures. the conversation evolved into a history lesson on the u.k. taught by chris the englishman and attended by two americans (me and phil) and a canadian (lindsey). i finally learned the difference between the u.k., great britain, and england. who knew?

in the london tube station this morning on my way to heathrow i saw an advertisement that said "it as christmas as stockings, stuffing and the queen's speech." i'd never heard of the queen's speech until i met chris. funny enough for us, chris and his bwindi friends staged their own queen's speech this christmas season. check it out at youtube. it's worth it. chris is the tall lanky guy wearing the mask. he makes for good queen.


a night in london

that title was going to be "homeless in london" or "a night in heathrow," but thanks to modern technology and a helpful husband, it's neither. en route to denver for the upa annual board meeting, i'm holed up with a 23 hour layover in london - go british airways! i tried to book a hotel ahead of time, but couldn't find anything under $80. unacceptable. alas, i landed in london with no idea where to stay tonight. the hotel reservations people at heathrow were no help (120 pounds for a hotel room, are you kidding me?!) and i consigned myself to sleeping on the floor somewhere in the airport (a nice policeman promised he wouldn't kick me out in the middle of the night when he did his sweep for homeless bums).

enter modern tech. to procrastinate on the inevitability of an uncomfortable night's sleep, i decided to check my email. lucky me - phil had gone to kampala's premiere bookstore (aristoc), took a look at lonely planet london, and emailed me info for a reasonably priced hotel not so far from heathrow. he's a rockstar, i'm telling you. 1.5 hours, a tube ride, and a short walk later and i'm set up in a room with a bed. yes.

two pluses in london's favor as compared to kampala: (1) an iffy wireless connection thru the hotel is loads faster than our internet connection at home which costs $118/month, (2) you can get by completely on credit cards.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

christmas day gorillas

christmas 2006, part 1…

parc nacional des volcans is the place to see gorillas in rwanda. rwanda, uganda, and the democratic republic of congo form the trifecta of gorilla hot spots as the only places left in the world to see mountain gorillas in the wild. knowing no international borders, the gorillas move freely among the 3 bordering countries. of course, each country has its pros and cons for gorilla tracking – we chose rwanda because that’s who still had gorilla permits last-minute during the busy christmas tourist season. pro for us.

tracking the gorillas isn’t an experience that comes cheaply ($375/person), but is an experience that is beyond worth any money you pay. i had my doubts on the cost:benefit ratio beforehand, but those doubts were completely erased as soon as i set foot on the trail and realized the unique, once-in-a-lifetime trip on which i was embarking. surrounded by misty volcanoes on your way to see gorillas? who can complain?

scheduled ranger orientation begins on the dot at 7am at the park headquarters. parc nacional des volcans is home to 5 habituated gorilla families, each of which welcome 8 visitors total per day (plus accompanying trackers, ranger guides, and guards). doing the simple math that means 40 visitors convene at the ranger center at 7am to be briefed and assigned to a particular family. you can imagine the scene – mzungus galore geared up with hiking sticks and boots and packs antsy to get hiking. but i can’t because we weren’t there. it’s somewhat comical, really…a tour guide who overslept his alarm, who didn’t know where the ranger station was, who took us up the mountain before turning around to go back down. we arrived at the ranger station by the skin of our teeth scrambling in at 7:30. just in time to register, get a quick rundown, and glom onto the last remaining group with 4 open trekking spots to be filled by us – me, phil, my brother tait, and my sister-in-law estela. i am sure i would’ve enjoyed the stories and information shared by the rangers during the briefing session (we haven’t met a ranger yet who didn’t dazzle with his breadth and depth of knowledge), but looking back on it i’m grateful that we missed it because in my mind our group of 8 was the only group in the mountains that day to visit the gorillas.

the parc is big and includes the string of virunga volcanoes, 7 volcanoes all told. the volcanoes are often obscured by mist and are (according to lonely planet) “the best place in africa to track rare mountain gorillas”….thus, gorillas in the mist. i like to think that our bad luck at getting lost and being late led to our good luck of getting to see the susa family. living on the furthest volcano (karisimbi), they are the most remote, the most difficult to reach, and the largest of all the families in the rwanda/drc/uganda gorilla triangle with 38 family members including 4 silverbacks, 3 babies, and a set of twins. talk about WOW.

some people hike 30 minutes to find the gorillas. roundtrip, we hiked 9 ½ hours. our trek took us thru farmland into bamboo forests up the mountain to mossy jungle and eventually to the family’s nesting place the night before. the trackers we followed cut the path with machetes as we scrambled thru mud, nettles, and all sorts of unknown brush. having overlooked the off-chance that we could be hiking from 9am to 6:30pm, none of us thought to bring food. starving half way up the mountain, i opted to eat a favorite gorilla snack – water celery. i wouldn’t have known what to eat, but when a ranger hacked off a stalk with his machete and offered it to me, i happily put it in my stomach.

we found the susa family at 3280m (about 10,000ft). the first sighting was when we crested one side of a ravine to find them on the other side. gazes of equal curiosity passed from one side to the other before they ambled up the embankment and out of sight. a gorilla/human disparity became quickly apparent as what took them 30 seconds to climb took us 10 minutes. we had been following their path thru the forest for much of the hike; no chance of us taking their path up the ravine, though. our upper body strengthen doesn’t hold one iota to a gorilla’s. when we rejoined them they were lounging, eating, playing, eating, and (oh yeah) eating in a clearing. technically hikers are only allowed 1 hour with the gorillas, but we had a generous hour – from the ravine encounter until we started our return hike was close to 1 hour 20 minutes. to be sure, we made the most of every minute.

some of our gorilla highlights…

- being surrounded by an untold number of gorillas. gorillas in front, behind, above, all around. we learned later that we saw close to 30 individual gorillas.
- looking into their eyes and seeing understanding. red, deep, soulful eyes.
- seeing a silverback papa and baby playing in a tree.
- watching a baby travel along on mama’s back. she gripped with all fours for most of the trip, but then sat straight up (mom’s still walking) to grab a veggie snack to eat on the move.
- laughing at an over-hungry, overambitious teenager fall out of a tree.

by far the biggest highlight of our hour+ with the gorillas was sharing their walking path. sharing a path means that at some point there is invariably going to be a person between where a gorilla is and where he wants to go. they may not mind us being around, but they surely notice when we’re in their way. this happened twice for us.

the second time i was last in line with only the ranger separating me from a fair-size adult female. as i calmly (outside calm, inside not-so-calm) continued walking i stole a glance over my shoulder. there she was raised on her back legs slapping her belly with her hands to intimidate me. she didn’t have to slap very hard, i was intimidated. (in case you’re wondering, females slap their stomachs, males beat their chests…a necessary distinction, i imagine). this particular close encounter put estela tumbling on the ground to get out of the way of the overly-close gorillas. a silverback, the twins plus mama, and several other family members continued in file and walked less than 10 feet away.

the first time phil was last in line and there was no ranger behind him. we had just climbed the ravine and we were walking down the path to the clearing to join the gorillas. our line of 10 humans was joined by several gorillas. most of the others took the higher road, but one remained…right behind phil. we did as told and followed the golden human/gorilla rule: walk, don’t run. again, i peeked behind me. only this time i saw a huge male gorilla so close on phil’s heels that phil later said he felt the gorilla’s head nudge his butt as if to say “c’mon, let’s get going already!” the gorilla momentarily raised an arm – i thought he was going to swipe phil off the mountain and out of the way in his impatience, but no such thing. he followed in our footsteps until finally there was a spot for us to step off the trail and the gorilla brushed past us. i could’ve reached out and touched him. that close.

our time spent with the gorillas was timeless. sometimes i wonder if the memory of an event is more valued than the event itself. do we ever fully appreciate an experience as it happens or is it only when we look back afterwards that events gain significance thru our memories? in this case i don’t care because i was fully aware how unique life was for my 80 minutes with the gorillas.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

sick building syndrome

you may recall my dismay at our chronic sickness over the last month and half and my corresponding excitement when i felt we were finally on our road to recovery after a successful visit to the international hospital kampala. sorry to disappoint, but it wasn’t as smooth of a road to recovery as i had anticipated. we visited the IHK twice, which included blood tests and chest x-rays. both times we walked away with antibiotics and penicillins and the assurance/confidence that we would be healthy soon. it wasn’t until about a week after we started the second round of drugs and the sickness was status quo that we started to suspect something fishy.

around the time phil got home from the states in early november, i had issues with flooding in our apartment. turns out that the water pipes broke in the vacant upstairs apartment. being empty, no one noticed the overflowing water until it started running from our ceiling. this happened twice because the solution to the first flooding was to turn off my water. (gotta love the short-term, stop-gap solution.) that lasted oh about a week before i ran out of water, complained, had my water turned back on, and within 24 hours the apartment was flooded again. lucky for phil this happened the day he arrived from the u.s.

we mopped up the floors, the maintenance staff finally fixed the water (turns out the water pipes were mislabeled), and didn’t think too much about it all except that it was another “adventure” to add to our african experience. then a week later, we found mold in phil’s closet. we bleached it and didn’t think too much about it. then we found mold all over the house on our houseplants, baskets, cupboards. we bleached it and didn’t think too much about it. then we were sick for 6+ weeks and didn’t get better. that’s when we thought about it.

i made the big mistake of researching mold on the internet. diagnosing your disease on the internet is always a bad idea – invariably you connect your symptoms to some combination of leukemia, black lung, or brain tumors. within 30 minutes i was in full-onset panic mode as i had diagnosed us with fungal exposure to mold or mycotoxicosis (systemic mold infection). some signs of mycotoxicosis are…
-respiratory distress, coughing, sneezing, sinusitis
-asthmatic signs: wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing
-chronic fatigue
-rash or hives
sound familiar? yep, we've been in this symptomatic loop since early november. of course, the list of possible mycotoxicosis symptoms is much more exhaustive and people suffering from mycotoxicosis usually show at least 8 of the symptoms, including very commonly lose of balance. we didn’t meet the 8-symptom threshold nor did we lose our balance, so no full-blown mycotoxicosis for us. not wanting to get to the full-blown stage, though, the night i had my internet-induced mycotoxicosis panic attack we moved into our neighbor’s house and the following day we met with a real estate agent to begin our new house hunt. i wasn’t going to waste any more time not being healthy. i don’t care if i overreacted, i was getting us out of here. (in my overreactive defense, since sleeping outside our apartment both of us have stopped coughing til choking and have cleared up breathing and sinuses.)

it’s now been just over a week since our sick building syndrome saga began. we have a house lined up and are hoping to move in before i head back to the states next week for a quick business trip. our exposure to the mold was relatively short (2 months compared to years for some people unaware of the mold in their homes), so no long-term health worries. the house is an upgrade from an already super nice apartment. the biggest upgrade is that for the first time we’ll be living in a house…with a garden, patio, garage, view…it’s going to be great. added bonus: we have an extra bedroom for all our visitors. double bonus: no mold.

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happy 2007

the big party in town for new year’s eve was at the sheraton hotel on nakasero hill. 2000 people, maybe? open stage concert with all the big names in ugandan music – peter miles, raggedy, chameleon – and the requisite gyrating skimpily clad fit female dancers. the women were often joined by male dancers doing their choreographed moves. the guys were professionals, but most everything they did on stage our friends do regularly in dance clubs around town. not to say the professionals were bad, but that our friends our good. ugandan men are born naturals on the dance floor.

the party and the music were good, but the fireworks were the best attraction of the whole night. cities in the u.s. put on a good show for the 4th of july and americans dutifully ooh and aah. spectacular pyrotechnic display met with a subdued, reposed-on-the-picnic-blanket reaction. in kampala, it’s a semi-spectacular display greeted with jumping, screaming, dancing, cheering, laughing, whistling, and all out excitement. i’ve never seen a fireworks display anything like it. phil and i joined in and by the end of it my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much at the spectacle unfolding all around us. all fireworks should be that fun.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

tourney in february

the group i coach on sundays forms the kampala ultimate frisbee club (KUFC). last wednesday a small organizing committee met to begin planning a tournament in kampala. goal is to have 5-6 teams from uganda plus the nairobi team. any others willing to make the trip?

i have a lot of experience in ultimate, but this is my first time in the tournament director role, so i'm learning as i go. i'm big into delegation because (1) i don't know the standards for african ultimate tournaments as well as my ugandan counterparts, and (2) there's no way i could do all the organizing myself. i'm hoping that delegation is the first right step of many i take as a tournament director. so far, the tasks i've delegated: sponsorship, liaison officer (a.k.a. visiting team host), advertisement, tourney set-up (including fields mgmt), jerseys, format, registration, treasurer, medical, food, saturday night party, team recruitment, score/timekeepers, prizes. did i miss anything?

if you have any lessons learned, suggestions, advice, please share via comments. i've been using the upa's ultimate organizer's resource manual, but it's targeted toward leagues not tournaments. question: how do you set a reasonable tourney team entry fee? what do you do with players who show up day-of without a team?

details of the tournament...
dates: feb 10-11, 2006
location: international school uganda (entebbe road, kampala)
contact: kampala (dot) ultimate (at) gmail

we're looking for a good name for the tournament. any suggestions?

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an american christmas in kampala

the u.s. ambassador - steven a browning - hosted his annual christmas open house for american citizens on friday night (dec 15th). we went with no expectations except to not know anyone. i should've known better. not more than 10 yeards into the gate and i'd already seen a large handful of people i work with plus those that overlap into our ultimate community. kampala is a very small world and i'm struggling with the nonexistant division between my work life and personal life, but that's a topic for another time. back to the ambassador's christmas party...

security was present but not strict. entry required a u.s. passport or embassy badge, but if you made the metal detector beep no one stopped you. somewhat refreshing considering the suffocating flavor of international u.s. security these days. despite all the people, food, and drinks being in the expansive yard, we made a beeline for the house wanting to see how the ambassador and his family lived. we walked into the house and we could've easily been walking into any upperclass home in america...just like that and we were no longer in africa. we decided we'd wander thru the house until someone stopped us. nobody did, so we kept wandering. some observations of note: (1) the ambassador is texan, as evidenced by his "have a merry texan christmas!" tree ornament, (2) the candlesticks in the china cabinet aren't real silver, (3) the christmas cookie spread rivaled any i've seen.

it's a week before christmas and friday night was the first and only time it's felt like christmas to me. we ate christmas cookies, there was an american style christmas tree, santa claus made a visit, and we sang christmas carols. subtract out those couple hours of christmassy socializing, and i'd say it was still the middle of july. living on the equator means there are no seasons to track the passage of time - to me we've been here for a summer and the christmas season is still months away. the air needs to cool, the leaves need to change colors and drop, the snow needs to come before it's christmas. i thought i would really miss christmas living here, but it's hard to when there's none of the traditional signs of christmas, like snow. what's christmas without snow? if it's christmas, i should be knitting by the fire at the cabin chatting with my mom and sister watching the snow fall outside getting ready for our annual anderson family christmas hockey game on the lake. it's not christmas when i can walk outside my door to sunny skies, 75 degree weather, and sit by our pool sunbathing and reading a book. not that that isn't nice (because it is), it's just that it's not christmas.

ugandans say that christmas is a big holiday here and i believe them. uganda is a heavily christian country, so a big christmas is logical. what's interesting to me is the influence of westernized christmas chintz on uganda's holiday season. the street peddlers on kampala road sell fake christmas trees with garlands, retail store employees dress up in red velvet santa costumes, music kiosks play metallic-sounding versions of traditional christmas carols. christmas is coming earlier and earlier in the u.s., for sure by thanksgiving time. i was surprised to see the same in kampala. the first christmas retail influx i remember seeing here was the end of october. october?! i was hoping to see some unique ugandan christmas traditions, but so far i've seen more of the same from home and the stuff i have seen doesn't fit at all - christmas tree ornaments with fake snow in uganda? doesn't make sense.

christmas is a big holiday for my family and, although it's been easy leading up to the holiday, i know it's going to be hard to be away from them on the actual day. good thing that my brother tait and sister-in-law estela are coming to visit us in a week. plan is to go to rwanda to see the gorillas. if you can't be at home, the next best thing is to be with the gorillas on christmas day.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

an apple a day

phil and i have been sick for the better part of the last month - phlegmy coughs, sinus congestion, fevers. major respiratory breakdown, really. phil was feverish when he first came home from the states, then my hacking, choking coughs took center stage for a while, then phil regained the sicky limelight with his chest-rattling cough. all of that to say it's been a month of ill health in the anderson bowen household.

neither one of us is much of a drug-taker (except for the ubiquitous ibu during ultimate season) living by the i'm-young-and-healthy-i'll-get-better-soon philosophy. our philosophy suffered this time around...being sick for a month isn't normal. so, last week i instigated and got us to the surgery. you'll remember the surgery from phil's 9-stitch hand injury in august. positive experience then, so we assumed positive experience now. oh boy, were we wrong.

dr. stockley, a brit, is the main figurehead of the surgery. everyone knows him in kampala, an easily recognized face at the local pub and a regular contributer to "the eye," kampala's monthly chamber of commerce-esque publication. we went to see him in all good faith in a time of need expecting greatness, or at least competency, and walked away thoroughly disappointed and, at least for me, disgusted. four words: rude, arrogant, unconcerned, uninformed.

the first 3 expats i complained to following our doc stock visit said, "let me guess, bilharzia?" bilharzia must be his communicable disease of choice these days. you get bilharzia (aka schistosomiasis) thru contact with contaminated freshwater. we know this. that's why we don't swim in freshwater in uganda. phil got sick in the states before coming home. there isn't bilharzia in the u.s. yet, doc stock ordered a full blood test to diagnose bilharzia and discharged phil saying "if it's not bilharzia, then it's just something you're going to have to get over with time." huh? you told him that his airways are so constricted that he has the lung capacity of a 55-year-old, but that doesn't matter because he has bilharzia? i don't think so.

after talking around town some, i learned that general consensus is "don't go to an expat doc if you're sick." no level of scrutiny is directed their way because it's assumed they're good - they're european or american or whatever, they must be good. right? wrong. the longer they're here the more time they have to slip, to stagnate. besides, expat patients will continue to come to their clinics regardless of quality of care simply because they're an expat provider. following our visit to the surgery, i could not have been more convinced by these theories. (of course, none of this applies to providers on short rotations in the country. they maintain the high-level of professionalism and technical know-how required for successful practice anywhere. case in point, the swedish doc that stitched up phil's hand.)

phil suffered a few more days, before i decided enough is enough and got us to the international hospital kampala (an "international" hospital primarily staffed by ugandans) with a specialist recommendation from a friend.
1st reaction: they have specialists!
2nd reaction: wow, nice facilities. helipad included.
3rd reaction: IHK is where it's at for kampala healthcare. no more the surgery for us.

we didn't wait more than 10 minutes to see dr. olok, a ugandan ENT specialist on staff. he did all the things dr. stockley didn't - asked questions, listened to answers, examined thoroughly, diagnosed, prescribed drugs, cared, established doctor-patient rapport. i was impressed. final diagnosis: sinus infection, chest/lung infection, not bilharzia. we walked away drugs in hand, $40.55 poorer to cover the consultation/meds x2, and (finally...hopefully) on our roads to recovery.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

lunch for two = 85 cents

there's two levels for cost of living in uganda, the expat cost and the ugandan cost. if you're an expat living the expat lifestyle, it ain't cheap. kampala has it all - movie theater, haute cuisine ethnic-specialty restaurants, clubs, pubs, shops, technology - and it can all be yours if you're willing to pay the (hefty) price. an illustrative short list:
dinner for two at the local sushi restaurant = $60
ikea poang chair = $335 (retail $79 in the u.s.)
parmesan cheese = $8.90 for 200 g
box of muesli = $6.65
petrol = $1.32 per liter = $4.99 per gallon
2-bdrm apt = $750-$2500

these prices are unfathomable when compared to the outrageously low cost of living for a local ugandan whose day-to-day expenses could include:
matatu ride into town = $0.25
newspaper = $0.55
500 ml coca cola = $0.45
fresh avocado = $0.05
branch of bananas (not just a bunch, but the whole "fist") = $6
of course, you have to look at these prices with a grain of salt that is an excruciatingly high unemployment rate coupled with an average daily wage of approximately $3.50. also to consider is that this "grain of salt" effectively prices 95% of ugandans out of the expat market.

if you put an expat salary with the ugandan cost of living, you can seriously live cheap. phil and i live somewhere in between. we can't survive on matooke every meal (a typical ugandan will eat 1 kilo of matooke/bananas a day) and admittedly enjoy our semi-regular cappuccinos. we're not willing to spend $6.65 on subpar muesli, though, and make our own granola as an alternative. when we splurge on sushi for a friend's birthday, we counterbalance with lunch for two from the local restaurant next door for $0.85. rice and beans and chapati for 85 cents. you can't beat that.

as international staff, my employer pays for most everything: flight to/from, rent, utilities, car, phone. no major monthly expenses, 85 cent lunches, and we'd be doing unbelievably well on saving for a down payment on a house when we moved back to the states if it weren't for all our travels and tourism, which ain't cheap either. for example...
round-trip ticket u.s. to uganda = $1950 (we bought two)
permits to track gorillas in rwanda = $375 per person (we just bought two)
but, when your best friend gets married and your sister has her first baby, how can you not fly home? and, when you live in uganda, the pearl of africa of all places, how can you not travel?

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

the pantomime

an annual christmas tradition in kampala is the pantomime (the "panto"). it's a play, musical, theatrical experience staged 6 times over 5 days in early december. as the stagebill for this year's pantomime says: "for those of you new to panto, it represents an integral part of british culture, requiring certain very specific elements. the hero (the principal boy) must be played by a woman; the leading older woman's part must be played by a husky man (the dame); there must be at least one animal (in this production we have two - a dog and a gorilla); and the audience must participate at every opportunity. yes, this chaos has been carefully designed. it is also traditional for pantomimes to be based on well-known children's stories."

we went with open minds and a sense of humor, as recommeneded, to this year's panto, "tintin goes bananas - what's happened to all the matooke?" the panto is traditionally directed toward the kids both in the cast and in the audience, but no matter. we were sucked into the atmosphere like everyone else; booing and hissing when provoked, cheering when urged. imo snowy stole the show, and big hits of the production were cleverly rewritten lyrics to popularly recognized disney/broadway songs. my favorite was a kampala-centric version of "part of your world" from the little mermaid. no chance that i'll remember any of the lyrics except the one that replaced "what would i give if i could live out of these waters" with "what would i give if i could live in bugolobi." bugolobi's got it going on and the rest of kampala knows it. the 24/7 electricity doesn't hurt our public image, of course.
101paige 101africa
the panto was staged at the national theater, which supports a good theatrical scene in kampala. the kampala amateur dramatics society produces most of the shows (most recently fiddler on the roof) and attracts quality talent. for example, the musical director orchestrated a tony award-winning broadway musical before coming to kampala and being the one responsible for the good music and clever lyrics in the panto. kampala's like that. the year-round predictibly good weather, high quality of life, and active social/cultural scene attract good people.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

we live in a zoo

my 2-year old niece maggie goes to the como zoo with marmee (grandma) to see all the animals that live with aunt paige in africa. i'm sure she's got this picture in her head of aunt paige and uncle phil living in a house full of animals running around - lions and tigers and bears, oh my! but, it's true - we live in a zoo. in murchison alone we saw elephants, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos (en route), water buffalo, waterbuck, african duiker, warthogs, colobus monkeys, and baboons. oh my!

we sleep in a zoo, too. on phil's trip back from the states he brought our trusty 2-person marmot tent, sleeping pads, and sleeping bag so we can camp here. our first campsite in murchison we slept with the warthogs. who knew that they eat from their knees. they seem to be pretty fearless and unbothered by anything that's not grass or a tree that'll give 'em a good scratch. the second night we camped at the top of the falls. if you ever make it to murchison, i highly recommend doing this - it was one of my favorite things we did all weekend. there's no one else there, the campsite is right next to the nile, and you have the falls to yourself. except for the hippos, of course. we didn't sleep more than 10 yards from the river where there was a pool of 4 hippos. they popped up and down to check us out when we first arrived and gave their recognizable territorial call, but we didn't bother them so they didn't bother us. the night before our campsite had been visited by hungry hippos as evidenced by their footprints in the morning mud, but this night they stayed in the water. or, at least we didn't see any tracks in the morning...
101paige 101africa
the hippos were by far the most abundant wildlife we saw in murchison. not surprising considering there's an estimated 4,000 hippos in the park. at the end of a morning hike along the falls, we found a small bay protected from the churning water that gathered foam and attracted hippos. we all hung out for a while - phil taking pictures, me watching phil and the hippos, the hippos watching us. despite their outwardly placid personalities, hippos can be aggressive. as close as we were, we planned a simple escape route (a scurry up a steep grade seemingly too technical to be climbed by an angry hippo). no aggression from our hippo friends, though, just watchful eyes.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

paige's reappearance

you may have wondered where i've gone. first, shortly after my last post (november 4th) phil came home. that's enough explanation in and of itself, but immediately following his homecoming i landed myself in a 2-week long workshop (10 hours 6 days a week). then, not wanting to create excuses i swear, the fact of the matter is life here is becoming...everyday. i hate to admit it, but i'm starting to forget (overlook?) what's new and interesting and unusual because it's starting to be the day-to-day. i want to keep blogging on a regular basis, i really do. both as a record for myself and as a way to stay connected with friends and family back home. it's going to take work, though. my goal is to post 1x per week. hold me to it. if i slack, i'm sorry. 101paige 101africa


Saturday, November 04, 2006

mugole eats enswa

5 days straight in ssembabule and all i ate was a rotating menu of matooke, posho, beans and cabbage. sometimes there was meat and once there were potatoes. matooke is boiled green plantains, posho is the same as ugali and is a hardened maize flour mixture. matooke and posho are so common in the standard ugandan diet that together they're known as "food." i like matooke, i like posho, i like potatoes, but by week's end my stomach was begging for something not so starchy, not so carbohydrate-y.
101paige 101africa
lucky for me the menu was broken up with something fresh. ants. yep, ants. big old fatties at that. in luganda they're enswa; in english they're white ants. the "white" comes from the color of their wings, which get pulled off before they're fried. they're abundant during the rainy season coming out after it rains and being attracted to light. the CHW trainees wanted me to shine my car's headlights on the anthill to entice more to come out, but they were able to catch aplenty without my help. hundreds and hundreds of them that they ate plain as a snack and used as a garnish atop their matooke and posho.

i've never been a shy eater, so to the delight of my new friends i gave the ants a go. i scooped up a handful and tossed 'em back. laughter, cheers, and shouts of "mugole is eating enswa!" ensued. (mugole, pronounced moo-go-lay, is my luganda name. it means bride.) my simple act of ant-eating helped me fit in more than i expected and the next night the women invited me to join them on their trip to the market.

if you're wondering, the goodness of fried food doesn't exlude ants. enswa is actually pretty tasty, if you can get over the crunchy sensation of eating ants that is.

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geography lessons

i was in the field all week for community health worker training. the mihv field site in ssembabule has a dormitory, so the 30+ villagers that we trained got to spend a whole week as residents with us. for most, that's a really big deal - food, tea, water, mosquito nets, and time to ask the muzungu anything. each night after training, we stayed up late by the paraffin lantern talking. them asking the questions, me answering. a sample of some of their questions...
101paige 101africa
what is a credit card? how does it work?
no one had seen a credit card before, so we started with the basics. i got out my amex and started with my name, the signature, the number. then moved on to what happens when i give my credit card to a store clerk.

do americans farm? where do americans get food?
all they know about america is new york city - skyscrapers, pavement, crowded population. no land for farming there. when i told them about the bread basket in the midwest, the fruits/vegetable industry in california, and the cattle in texas, they were impressed.

how much is bride price in america?
phil didn't get any goats or cattle for you as a wife? blasphemy!

where do you bury people?
again, new york city and its lack of space.

do you drink coke in america?

why do americans talk on such big phones?
they've never seen landline phones (no telecommunications in rural africa until the mobile technology revolution), which are huge compared to cell phones. they see landline phones being used in movies and think that americans must be really rich to have such big phones.

sylvester "stallion" gets shot and falls off cliffs, but he never dies. why not?
easy explanation - movies aren't real, which was news to them. sad to think that hollywood is perceived as reality.

where do you get firewood in america?
new york city really throws these guys for a loop. in their minds, the u.s. has no space, no forests, no wild animals. i explained that we don't need firewood because we cook on gas/electric stoves. bukenya replied, "how smart!" clearly impressed that we'd figured out a way to use electricity to cook food and that we even had electricity in the first place.

do you have load shedding?
in uganda, electricity is rationed around the country through what's known as "load shedding." basically that means while one part of the country has power another part doesn't...everyone gets electricity some of the time, no one gets it all of the time (unless you live in bugolobi close to the president's daughter, like us). the power outage in new york city in 2003 was a disaster making headline news for weeks and and costing nyc over 1/2 billion dollars in lost revenue. power outages in kampala and all of uganda are everyday happenings. i cannot begin to calculate (but i'm sure some expert has) the amount of potential revenue lost by uganda because of its power crisis.

if americans do not dig and do not own cows, how are they so rich?

how do fly-over highways work?
it took me a while to figure out they were asking about overpasses found in big cities. my physics is somewhat rusty, so i just stuck with the basics again.

hanging in our field office are 3 maps – the world, uganda, and the united states. each night's q&a centered around the maps and in-depth geography lessons. some of their geography-related questions included...
- where does bill gates live?
- if england is so small, how come they are so powerful?
- why are some countries pink while others are green, yellow, orange?
- what continent is madagascar part of?
- where else in the world are there black people?
- why do black people and white people look different?
- what color are asians?
- (they saw north america and south america on the map and asked...) president bush is president of all of this?

only a handful of the villagers had ever been to kampala, and most have never been outside ssembabule district. imagine your whole world being 2,000 square km with no electricity, no running water, no mass communication except the radio.

each night we all gathered around the one radio to listen to the evening news. i didn't understand any of it of course, but they did their best to keep me up to speed. i was impressed with their english (average education level was 4th grade), and they got a kick out of my accent and really enjoyed practicing their english with me. in turn they taught me more luganda.

the biggest treat of the whole week was firing up the generator wednesday and thursday nights to show videos on the old tv/vcr. we only had random videos to show - a malaria video, a family planning animated video, a uganda MTV recording. but, no one cared. people were just excited to have something, anything to watch. it wasn't what they watched, it was the fact they were watching.

it's hard to grasp what life is like without electricity until you live without. i'm not talking about going on a camping trip and sleeping when the sun sets, waking when it rises, getting by with your coleman lantern and petzl headlamp. that's idyllic, romantic even...but when the trip's over you go home to your lights, stove, hot water, television - your electricity. think about life without electricity. james, one of the trainees, came into the office while we were hooking up the generator for the movies. he didn't say a word, just sat down in front of the tv and waited. it took us a long time to get everything working, but he didn't complain. he just patiently waited. watching him watch a blank tv was when i realized how novel and special and lucky it is to have electricity. the movie eventually started and james watched all the movies all night without saying a word except thank you when it was over.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

grand theft auto

in uganda car license plate numbers essentially replace VIN numbers for permanent car identification. for example, all offical records of our landcruiser refer to UAD 592H. not only is the license number on the plate but it's also etched into every removable piece of glass on the car. until tonight, i didn't know why. i'd heard about people's mirrors being stolen, but didn't think too much about it until last weekend when my driver side mirror was stolen while i was shopping in nakasero. then tonight on my way to dinner at the local sushi restaurant i got stuck in a traffic jam at the garden city roundabout. i am in the car surrounded by lots of other people in their cars, and some guy casually walks up and steals my passenger side mirror, too. while i am sitting right there in the car! i had enough time to yell "you f#%&er!" but that was it. turns out people etch all the glass on their car with the license plate number to prevent theft. go figure. i plan to etch away once i buy new mirrors.
101paige 101africa
another revelation is that the taxi drivers keep their cars on empty only partially because they don't have money to pay for gas. the bigger reason is to protect themselves against losing a bunch of gas to the gas siphoners making good business in the city.

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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.
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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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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

driving independence

every time i get into my car, i'm reminded that i really live here. i've never lived in a foreign country long enough to own a car before. now i do, and i do. i'm no longer intimidated by the traffic or the drivers or the lefthand-side-of-the-road driving. in fact, i rather enjoy all that. understanding it all and knowing where i fit in makes me feel at home.

driving in kampala is kind of like playing a game of frogger. everyone's got a sense of self-preservation (excluding matatu, bus, and semi drivers), the potholes are always negotiable if you go slow enough, and drivers are accomodating to a certain degree. the traffic jams are horrific (it took a friend 2 hours to go 10 km the other day), but when you're in the thick of it you're also in the thick of living in kampala. i like that. 101africa 101paige

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i respect you coach

moving to uganda i expected to take some time off from ultimate - both as a player and as a coach. as it turns out i've done neither, and happily so.

coaching in uganda and coaching in the states are the two extremes. there i coached one of the best college women's teams in the country. each year we have a small incoming class of rookies (4-5) who learn the game fast because they're surrounded by returners (15), who are a core group of really smart, really experienced players. in nothing flat, we have a team of 20+ women who play the game like savvy veterans. here, the number of returners is 3-4 and the number of rookies is 30+. with such a skewed ratio of returners:rookies, there isn't anything flat about the learning curve here. add into the mix that each week we have at least 2-3 players who have never seen the game or thrown a frisbee, and you start to see the challenges of coaching ultimate in uganda.

i have to admit though, it's really fun. there's something about teaching people a game you love, especially when they're eager to learn. i love to teach, i love ultimate...i guess it's a natural fit to really enjoy coaching here. a new twist to the coaching scene that i'm not used to from home is being called "coach." it's my name on the field, off the field. the best part about it is they call phil coach, too. so when they ask me about how phil's doing and how his season is going (they're all rooting for sub zero at nationals this coming weekend), they say "hey coach, how's coach doing?" ha! always makes me laugh. my favorite coach story is emma yelling "i respect you coach!" over and over an entire night's worth of a party. i call this my i-respect-you-coach picture; it's of me and emma at said party.

the team's come a long way in the last 1-2 months. i'm really proud of them. just to name a few accomplishments over the last few weeks:

- we now play on a regulation size field. no more skinny fields with 10 yard endzones.

- people actually stand on the line or behind it for the pull. big difference from the 15 yards into the field standard that everyone used to be perfectly comfortable with. plus, the need for yelling cross field has been virtually eliminated now that most players accept the concept of raising an arm to indicate readiness to pull/receive the pull.

- players are learning a stack offense and the corresponding defensive strategies including a force and downfield defensive positioning. okay, we're still working on this one, but at least the concept is starting to catch on. in sunday's scrimmage, there were multiple people yelling "get into the stack!" whenever there was someone clogging a cutting lane. wow. that's a pretty big accomplishment for a team whose idea of cutting was to hang out in space, stationary, yelling for the disc.

- i've introduced weekly hour-long rules tutorials that everyone is really gung-ho about. i thought they'd be bored but au contraire. i suggested a week off to let the rules sink in, but nope. no break for them, they wanted to keep learning! the first week we discussed the field, pull, traveling, and stalling; the second week was fouls and picks (considering 50% of the players are current/former rugby players the fouls discussion was in high-demand by the non-ruggers). the rules tutorials come right on the heals of the upa's release of the proposed 11th edition rules, but i'm teaching the 10th edition here. first, it was easier to get 10th edition rulebooks for everyone. second, only a draft of the 11th edition is out so far so who knows what'll make it thru membership scrutiny and what won't. third, the final 11th edition rules aren't slated to come out for a while yet and we really needed to cover the rules here asap; for example, even though most of these guys have been playing ultimate for 5+ years not a one of them could answer the question: what's the pull?
(two weeks ago we talked about strips. a "strip" is no longer a call in the draft 11th edition rules - strips are now treated like fouls. i guess no harm done though since they all got a kick out of yelling at someone to strip.)
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- we are now meeting 1/2 - 1 hour earlier than when i first arrived so everyone can get in quality throwing (30 min) before we drill (45-60 min), which still leaves us a full hour to play a real scrimmage. everyone's really getting into the drills...so far we've done santa cruz, box drill (aka cornell), 3-person marking drill, a stack throwing/cutting drill (with/without d), flygirl (syzygys, you know what i'm talking about), straight-on drill, straight-on drill with angled modification. a lot of drills in a short amount of time, but they want more...yesterday a group of us went to a beach on lake victoria for the eid holiday. throwing, running around, flutterguts, then it wasn't long before emma asked, "coach, can we do a drill?"

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

life is life no matter where you are

you'd think that moving to africa would be a whole new world, and it is on a certain level. there's new sights, new sounds, new people, new culture. but, really it's all the same. no matter where you are you need a place to live, a way to make money, friends to care about, hobbies to entertain yourself, food in your tummy. here, there, wherever, the basic needs don't change. i think that's what's most surprised me about africa...that it's not really different. life is life here, just like anywhere else.101paige 101africa

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Friday, October 13, 2006

you are welcome our visitors

i visited an orphanage just outside kampala today that serves children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. the public health term for AIDS orphans is "orphans and vulnerable children" (OVC). OVC encompasses children orphaned by other causes, too - famine, conflict, accident/injury - but in its most common application it refers to children who lost one or both of their parents to AIDS.
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the orphanage is run by new hope for africa, a local community-based organization. it serves over 300 children in the community feeding them breakfast (porridge made from maize flour and water) and lunch (dried porridge from breakfast + potatoes and meat), teaching them for free (a big deal since it costs money to go to school here, even public school), taking them to the hospital when they are sick and paying for their medical bills, and giving those without a home a place to live.

i visited the site because i am considering partnering with new hope for africa on an OVC project funded by PEPFAR (the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief), which is a huge pot of money set aside by president bush to fight AIDS worldwide. this is me admitting that bush has done at least 1 thing right over the last 6 years.

anyway, the field visit. i was impressed from the word go. annet (the director of new hope for africa) is a real go-getter. she has single-handedly built this orphanage from the ground up, almost all with her own money. the site now includes bamboo classrooms for grades pre-school through 6th, a soon-to-be-finished medical center that currently doubles as rudimentary dorms for the homeless kids, latrines, electricity, a small soccer pitch, chicken coops, and pig pens.

i met all of the children, from the little little ones (3-4 years old) to the big'uns (early teens), as i went from classroom to classroom. (classroom is used here to refer to a group of children in school, don't let it be confused with a physical structure. in fact, the physical classrooms were simple temporary structures made from bamboo and corrugated tin, each grade level only separated by a woven stand of bamboo.) the school is divided according to grade level rather than age since a direct course of education is often broken up in uganda by poverty, illness, the death of a parent. it's not uncommon to find a 10-year-old in 2nd grade because he missed several years of schooling somewhere along the line. every class i met today greeted me by standing up and reciting "you are welcome our visitors." i responded in my broken luganda, which got many laughs, then quizzed them on what they were learning that day by peeking at the chalkboard. mathematics for money, multiplication of reciprocals, roles of mothers and fathers in the family, influence of arabs on east africa. not surprisingly, they all scrambled to show off their new knowledge to the visiting mzungu. i taught them a new congratulatory clap i learned from one of the frisbee guys, and soon i was greeted by the same clapping pattern in each new classroom i entered.

annet and i brainstormed all the ways to join forces between new hope for africa and "minnesota" (the colloquial name for MIHV). finish construction of the medical center, drill a borehole for water, supply the clinic with medical supplies and equipment (xray, ultrasound), build dormitories and permanent classrooms, get school supplies (textbooks, desks, notebooks, pens...computers). on the public health side, provide immunizations, voluntary counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS, vocational training, education on prevention of HIV and healthy living for those living with HIV/AIDS, nutrition retreats for caretakers, training for AIDS counselors. plus, we had grand plans of creating a long-term voluntary medical service that included a clinic manager, physicians, nurses, dentists. our dream list just kept going and going. there is something very rejuvenating about dreaming.

it was inspiring to see what annet was able to accomplish when she believed in something, and today gave me a much needed reminder of why i am where i am doing what i do.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

the bureaucratic headache

i'd allowed myself to be lulled into complacency, ignorance, acceptance. i was spoiled. for over a month i have not had to deal with any government agency (other than the ministry of health) directly for any kind of service. then, today i was thrown back into the deep end. today i had to apply for my work permit - without one i cannot legally stay in uganda, so i knew i had to bite the bullet. my accountant/field administrator/go-to-guy (michael) has been working on my work permit for over a month now. finally, after 10 trips to immigration by him, multiple application forms completed and documents gathered by me, we thought we had everything we needed. little did we know. what was missing? my criminal record. that's right, my criminal record.

my day then became the following: immigration office to NGO board to u.s. embassy to office to u.s. embassy to NGO board to photocopier to NGO board to immigration office. a 30-minute process turned into a 5+ hour wild goose chase all over kampala.

an application for a work permit requires any number of things, including: 2 passport-sized photos (of course!), CV, academic qualifications, appointment letter, income tax clearance, annual report, audits, proof of failure to employ a ugandan...oh yeah, and a criminal record. but, the most mundane requirement is a file folder. yep, you have to supply your own file folder so the immigration office can file your application. not surprisingly a little cottage industry has developed right outside the immigration offices selling file folders. women sitting on mats on the ground selling stacks and stacks of file folders.

we get our file folder, but still no criminal record. how do you get a criminal record in uganda? simple. you write up a statement on company letterhead that says "i, (insert your name), swear under oath that i have no criminal record." then the consul at the u.s. embassy puts you under oath (contrary to the movies there is no bible), watches you sign the document, and attaches a cover sheet notarizing the statement with the seal of the u.s. embassy. no looking up of a record, no nothing, they just take you on your good word. of course it has to be stamped...uganda is really big on stamps.

criminal record in hand, we naively return thinking we've done it all when we're blindsided by the assistant secretary to the NGO board, who had randomly sent us off to get the criminal record in the first place.

her: i need photocopies of all these documents for my files.
me: why didn't you tell us that when we were here before?
her: i am telling you now.
me: but, if you'd told us before, we could've come with the photocopies already.
her: hmm...well... how did you know you'd have the right documents? i couldn't tell you before.
me: but, you saw all the documents we had and you said they were all fine except the one we were missing. so you could've told us before.
her: well, i am telling you now.

ooohhh, i was irked. but what could we do but go photocopy? lucky for us there was a photocopy machine close by that had paper and power. the power is key 'cos (1) photocopiers need power (duh), and (2) there's hardly ever power. so, we got uber lucky. granted the photocopier only copied one page at a time (and we had something like 50 pages of documents), but at least it copied.

finally, we have it all. they accept the documents, they will work on my permit, they'll get back to and then...the real kicker...the immigration office keeps my passport. blech.

a dutch friend commiserated with me tonight, saying "opening a bank account, buying a car, getting a TIN (personal tax ID), getting a work permit, paying taxes." my list exactly. multiple hoops to jump through, lots of waiting, and overkill on the documentation. beware of doing government business in uganda.

i don't mean to whine or to sound bitter, but i really did start to question people's motivations today. what is the point if when we finally get and do everything we're told, you simply toss the file aside without looking at it while saying "fine, come back in a week." michael decided that it was worker dissatisfaction. i might agree with him. where is the motivation, where is the supervision to keep these workers going enthusiastically when they're holed up in cement offices with cracking paint, broken wooden desks, missing filing cabinets, no electricity? all they do all day is stamp, stamp, stamp and deal with disgruntled customers. the government top to bottom is plagued by lack of funds, corruption, and nepotism. what is this one worker going to do to change that?
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the bright spot of the day is that michael got to go to america. yep, he stepped on u.s. soil at the embassy. i said "welcome to america," and he asked "is this what america looks like?"

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i have a gecko on my arm and cockroaches in my kitchen

one of the perks of living in africa: when it rains all the little creatures come out to play. okay, so the geckos are around all the time (on the walls, on the ceilings), but after yesterday's afternoon downpour i was plagued by more cockroaches than i could count. and, they were gi-normous. the evening started out inocuously enough. i was laying on the couch watching the gilmore girls when i felt something whisk my arm. figured it was uno. nope. it was a gecko...on my arm. i'm sure i made some sort of girlish sound (more surprise than fear) before swiping it onto the floor. where was uno? asleep on my desk chair. he managed to lift his head to look at the gecko, then he complacently fell back asleep. my trust in my cat's hunting skills were momentarily diminished. then, i went to the kitchen for a glass of water, and what did i find? not less than 5 cockroaches scurrying around like they owned the place. yuck. no doubt, lots of girlish sounds (ok, screams) came out of me as i chased them around trying to kill them. there's just something about cockroaches that really bugs me. double yuck.
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i've heard many cat owners talk about finding a dead mouse or dead bird on their back porch that has been placed there as a "gift" by their dutiful hunter-cats. well, my faith in uno as a hunter was restored this morning when i woke up to find 2 huge dead cockroaches laying next to my bed with uno standing proudly next to them. yep, i'm going to encourage a repeat of that behavior.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

favorite, least favorite

a friend asked me today what my favorite and least favorite things were about living in uganda. my response...
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favorite: working in a position that actually matters both within the organization and within the community.

least favorite: the culture of dependence created by the international aid community.

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africa is different: FP in uganda

i attended an all-day workshop today hosted by the ministry of health and family health international (FHI) re: community reproductive health worker (CReHW) provision of family planning methods in uganda. in 2004, FHI partnered with the ministry and save the children to conduct research on a pilot program in nakasongola district that trained CReHWs in community-based distribution (CBD) of depo-provera. what does this mean? it means that women and men who lived in the community and who didn't necessarily have any medical background were recruited by save the children to work as CReHWs, and as such underwent a 21-day training on STDs, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, and family planning. once trained the CReHWs worked within the community educating men and women on the above topics, providing basic family planning methods (pills, condoms), and referring clients to local health facilities for reproductive health services. (sound familiar? yes, it is very similar to MIHV's family planning community health worker program described in this post.)

the idea of CReHWs isn't novel (community health workers are used all over in public health, both stateside and overseas). what is novel is the addition of another, separate 21-day training exclusively on community-based distribution of depo-provera. if you don't know what depo-provera (aka DMPA or NET-EN) is, it's an injectable contraceptive containing progestin, which is one of the hormones found in combined oral contraceptives (the pill), and prevents pregnancy using pretty much the same mechanism as the pill. in a nutshell, a CBD program for depo means that we are training non-medical providers to provide an injection. i highly doubt that would fly in the U.S. as far as i know, there is a very strict regiment in the U.S. that regulates who in the medical hierarchy can give injections. but, here it's different. there has been CBD of depo in bangladesh since the 1970s, it's been available in parts of latin america since the 1990s, and it's been in africa (specifically uganda) since 2004.

why is africa different?

at first glance, one might question the medical wherewithal of allowing a non-medically trained individual to give injections. but, as research shows, these paraprofessionals actually achieve comparable outcomes to the medical professionals in numbers of satisfied clients, percentages of clients who experience side effects associated with the DMPA, and percentages of clients who suffer from injection site problems (e.g. abscess, infection). to be honest, when it comes down to it, you have to be creative in the delivery of care and services when you live in a country whose health infrastructure is at times non-existant. no, i cannot imagine my neighbor walking into my house in the U.S. and giving me an injection, but i also cannot imagine having to walk 25 km to get to the nearest clinic or doctor or nurse.

in my earlier post i talked about "why family planning," but i didn't put family planning specifically into the context of uganda. so, what's the picture in uganda?

- the infant mortality rate (IMR) in uganda is 97. IMR is conventionally defined as the number of deaths <1 year of age in a defined time period per 1,000 live-births during the same time period. as reference, the IMR in the U.S. is about 6 (i say "about" because the IMR fluctuates based on region, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc).

- the maternal mortality rate (MMR) is 506, which means that 506 women die due to complications of pregnancy and/or delivery for every 100,000 live-births. again, as reference, the MMR in the U.S. is 9.8 (it drops to 7.5 for white women and spikes to 22 for black women...but, that's a topic for another time).
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- the total fertility rate (TFR) in uganda is 6.9. in other words, the average ugandan woman gives birth to 7 children in her lifetime. at today's workshop a man from nakasongola district shared that he and his wife opted for family planning because they'd had trouble spacing their children...they had 5 children in 6 years.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

the rechargeable mosquito-hitting swatter

the section of kampala road (surprisingly enough, the main road through kampala) between the round-about up to garden city and the jinja road round-about is lined with street hawkers selling all kinds of random stuff. you can usually tell what the latest shipment into the city is because every hawker for 100 yards is trying to sell you the same thing. when we first got here it was padlocks, then it was mini-pillows, then came the multi-colored felt cowboy hats, and today it was the rechargeable mosquito-hitting swatters. no kidding. exact wording on the package: the rechargeable mosquito-hitting swatters. you got to see it to believe it. 101paige 101africa

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Friday, September 15, 2006

a treatise on family planning

(i haven't been writing nearly as much as i'd like about my job here. this is my effort to change that. if you're not interested in public health, no need to read further. if you are interested in public health, sorry i haven't been more descriptive about what it is i actually do here.)

the organization i work for - minnesota international health volunteers (MIHV) - is a U.S.-based NGO/PVO (non-governmental organization/private voluntary organization) that works in community-based maternal and child health, both in the U.S. and in Uganda. our expertise is in community health education, mobilization, training, participatory research, and monitoring and evaluation. everything we do involves partnering with the communities in which we work to positively influence behavior change.

health is influenced by 4 factors: access (to health services/medical care), genetics, environment, behavior; but the factors don't enjoy equal influence. their proportional influence on health status more-or-less breaks down as follows: access 10%, genetics 10%, environment 20%, behavior 50%. when it comes to dollars spent, the proportions reverse. most of the healthcare dollars in the U.S. are targeted toward improving access to care (think public health insurance programs, universal healthcare, "free" emergency care), and very little is targeted toward modifying behavior to achieve desired health results or to prevent poor health outcomes.*

take the following health outcome: maternal mortality (public health lexicon: # of women who die due to complications during pregnancy or in the immediate post-delivery period). causes of maternal mortality can either be direct or indirect. in the developing world, direct causes of maternal mortality primarly include hemorrhage, sepsis, eclampsia (hypertensive disorder of pregnancy), complications of unsafe abortion, obstructed or prolonged labor. many illnesses are aggravated by pregnancy, such as anemia, hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria, STIs; maternal deaths attributed to complications of these pre-existing illnesses are qualified as indirect.**

if you approach the problem of high maternal mortality from the "access" perspective, you might consider building a maternal health hospital that has highly-qualified and -trained health professionals, well-stocked supplies, and modern technology so that when a pregnant woman is in trouble, she can get to the hospital and get the necessary care she needs to both save herself and her baby. on the other hand, if you try to reduce high maternal mortality from the "behavior" angle, you might examine what behavior puts the pregnant woman at risk in the first place. then, you ask: is this "risky" behavior something that can be changed positively in order to prevent the complication from ever occuring?

most poor health outcomes can be prevented, that's the basic premise of public health. but, what about pregnancy can be prevented in order to minimize the risk for the mother? certain types of pregnancy qualify as "high-risk." if you're from the developed world, you're probably thinking ectopic pregnancy, multiple birth, prematurity. but, if you live in the developing world high-risk pregnancy is a whole different bag o' tricks. young mothers, women with inadequate nutrition status (e.g. stunted growth, poor pre-pregnancy weight, anemia), high parity (public health lexicon: number of births) mothers, very old mothers, women with closely spaced or unwanted pregnancies. each of these scenarios increases a woman's risk of dying due to pregnancy and/or delivery. but, each of these scenarios is also preventable.

thanks to modern contraception, all women can make the choice when, how many, how often, and when to stop having children. when: a teenager decides she wants to wait to have children until she is old enough to be a mom. how many: a mother who already has 3 children decides 3 is all she wants. how often: a mother with a 1-year old decides she wants to wait another 2 years before her next child. when to stop: an older woman wants to be sexually active but decides she does not want any more children. each of these women's choices reduces their chance of a high-risk pregnancy and increases their chance of being healthy throughout pregnancy/delivery and their baby's chance of surviving to 5 years old.

but, what if you live hours from modern development? what if you are illiterate? what if your religion prevents you from using modern contraception? what if your culture values loads of offspring because it proves the man's virility and strength, upholds the woman's role as caretaker, and assures there will be someone to take care of you in your old age? what if infant mortality is so high in your community that you feel you must have many children to compensate for all your children that will die before their 5th birthday? what if your culture prizes boys over girls, and a woman is not worthy unless she bares a boy? what if you don't know that the decision to have children is yours alone?

enter public health organizations like MIHV.

almost 50% of my salary in uganda is funded through a grant MIHV received from the FlexFund, which is a funding arm of USAID specifically directed at community-based family planning and reproductive health projects. our FlexFund family planning project aims to increase contraceptive use among women of reproductive age, but as you can see from the list of barriers noted above, increased contraceptive use isn't exactly straightforward. to increase contraceptive prevalence rates (public health lexicon: number of women using contraception), we are...
(1) educating community members (both women and men***) on the benefits of family planning for women, families, children, and communities to stimulate demand for family planning
(2) expanding service delivery by training community health workers to visit women and families in their homes to educate on family planning, provide selected family planning methods (condoms, pills), and refer women to local health facilities to receive other modern family planning methods (injectables, IUDs, implants)
(3) training health facility workes and private practitioners in proper counseling techniques to assure that women choose the family planning method appropriate for them
(4) assisting health facilities in managing their family planning logistics (public health lexicon: supplies) to enable them to meet generated demand for family planning.

our strategy is that by increasing awareness and demand, improving the supply chain, and sensitizing (public health lexicon: educate, dispel myth, calm fears, introduce new ideas) the community, we help to create a supportive environment for family planning, thus increasing the liklihood that a woman and her partner will choose to plan their family.

as you can imagine, family planning is a sensitive topic. we could not possibly be successful if we simply walked into the community and said "this is what we think, this is what you're going to do, and this is why you're going to do it." i started this blog by saying that MIHV partners with the communities in which we work on every project we undertake. public health-ers are not in it for personal benefit, profit gain, or to climb the corporate ladder. what good does it do me to help someone live longer and healthier (except make me feel good about what i do)? but, it makes all the difference in the world to that woman or that child or that family, that she lives longer and lives healthier. MIHV partners with communities because they are the ones who will make the change, who know what change they are willing to make, who will benefit from the change made. they're the experts. we just support them in exercising their expertise.

my first term in grad school, i wrote a brief paper on margaret sanger for beth virnig's class. margaret sanger is known as the mother of modern family planning. she was the first one to bring family planning to the global table as she advocated for a woman's right to choose when, how many, how often, when to stop. of course, as a daughter of a very liberal, independent woman who has been inculcated with women's rights since i was born, i looked at margaret sanger as the harbinger of women's lib and the fore-mother of roe v. wade. beth called me out quickly saying, "yes, all true, but this is a course in public health. what is the public health significance of margaret sanger and her work?" of course! margaret sanger in the 1920s, the pill in the 60s...the beginning of the decrease in maternal mortality through the increase of family planning. in the 1st world, family planning translated to more women in the workforce, a stimulated economy. in the 3rd world it translates to less poverty.
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*credit to lynn blewett's health systems course, u of mn school of public health

**credit to ian greaves' working in global health course, u of mn school of public health

***almost everything i have written re: family planning is about the woman. however, family planning is not just about the woman. public health-ers working in family planning are very, very specific about that. successful family planning involves both partners in a relationship. in the case of this blog, however, it's just been easier to write about the woman (i.e. easier to say "she" instead of "s/he" or some other PC version of saying "she and he"). i apologize for my blatant bias.

disclaimer: all views expressed are mine and mine alone. in no way do i speak for or on behalf of MIHV in this forum.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

5 gallons in 11 days

when you buy all the water that you drink (no drinking the tap water here!) and you're the only person drinking it, it's really easy to track how much you drink in how much time. so, that's what i did.

we buy our water in 5 gallon jugs and have created our own little culligan water cooler with the help of a small igloo-like water jug (think the type the NFLers use to dump the gatorade on top of the coach's head after a big win, but smaller). i bought a 5-galloner a week ago sunday, and today it's all gone. that's 5 gallons or 640 fluid ounces (1 gallon:128 fluid ounces) in 11 days, which means approximately 58 ounces/day. assuming 6-8 ounces of water in a regular-sized glass (i used 7 ounces in my calculations), i'm drinking about 8 1/4 glasses of water a day. hello, hydration!

i always thought the recommended 8 glasses of water per day sounded like a crazy lot of water, but then again maybe not. granted, i've been drinking like a fish because of the heat the last few weeks, so maybe the 8 1/4 glasses isn't my true baseline value? 101paige 101africa

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

no chickens on the matatus

the matatu is the east african version of public transport - a minivan converted into a mini-bus. unlike tanzania & kenya, the matatus in uganda aren't overcrammed with people. rather, the drivers and conductors here (mostly) stick to the 14 passenger limit, which imo is a nice feature.

i took a matatu to the rugby game yesterday. when the matatu stopped to pick us up, the man i was waiting with nicely allowed me to get in first. then, he turned around to pick up the chicken sitting at his feet behind him. he stepped up into the matatu and the conductor said "no, you cannot come with us with that" pointing disdainfully at the chicken. the man was left on the side of the road holding his squawking, flapping chicken by its feet. i was saddened to the point of tears. with the little money he had this man was trying to either get the chicken home to feed his family or he was trying to get it to market to sell it to feed his family, and he wasn't allowed on the bus. i almost got out of the matatu thinking, if he can't get on the bus, i'm not going to get on the bus either. instead, i mutely watched as someone with little discriminated against someone with even less. i felt sad...both at the situation and at my inability to do anything about it. 101paige 101africa

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

uganda v. morocco

the uganda national rugby team (the cranes) played morocco today in a world cup 2007 qualifier match. they played at the kampala rugby club, which is where we used to play frisbee until we got kicked off so that the pitch could recuperate enough for the big game. the women (the lady cranes) played first versus kenya drawing about 1/100th of the crowd that came for the men's match. typical. granted theirs wasn't a world cup qualifier, so i shouldn't be too bitter and i didn't actually make it the women's game myself, so really, i am not entitled to my bitterness. but, this is years of build-up, so the bitterness still rears its ugly head.

the crowd covered two sides of bleachers, plus all other space around the field lined 3-4 people deep. it was a good scene - music, dancers, beer, cheering, singing. we sat with the womens team, who got into it louder than anyone.

i knew nothing about rugby (i learned lots from my friend, a former princeton womens rugger, during the game) and was sad that my friend and frisbee teammate, emma, was injured and not playing. regardless, i was quickly swept in. the last seconds of the game, uganda down by 2 fighting to get the ball down across the tri-line, and i was screaming as loud as the rest of them. sadly, it wasn't meant to be...uganda 3, morocco 5. the prediction was uganda 3, morocco 36.

i started learning the ugandan national anthem. kind of hard not to since it was sung multiple, multiple times. here's the lyrics:

oh uganda! may god uphold thee
we lay our future in thy hand
united, free
for liberty
together we'll always stand

oh uganda! the land of freedom
our love and labour we give
and with neighbors all
at our country's call
in peace and friendship we'll live

oh uganda! the land that feeds us
by sun and fertile soil grown
for our own dear land
we'll always stand:
the pearl of africa's crown
101paige 101africa

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

my Africa goggles

Some things I’ve stopped noticing after living in Africa for a while, such as (listed in no particular order):

  • “The parade of Africa,” a.k.a. the steady stream of people walking, riding, sitting, selling along every road in Uganda.
  • All of the guns. They look like toy wooden rifles, but don’t be fooled. They’re real and they work, mostly. Security guards have them, security guards are everywhere, therefore guns are everywhere. It’s not unusual to find the guard outside the shop he’s guarding, sleeping curled up with his gun.
  • Everyone is black (subtracting out the white development workers and the Indian businessmen, that is). A little different than MN.
  • The size, weight, and awkwardness of the various items women carry on their heads. They do it with such seeming ease that you forget that, sure enough, that woman is carrying 5 gallons of water…in a jerrican…on her head.

Things I haven’t stopped noticing, yet:

  • The potholes
  • The smells
  • The pollution (esp. air)

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field guide to east african birds

If you're living in East Africa, hands-down the birding book to get is the Helm Field Guides Series, Birds of East Africa by Terry Stevenson & John Fanshawe. It covers Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi...in-depth. Beware it's size, which makes it somewhat cumbersome to take along while traipsing through the forest. But don’t worry, its usefulness (i.e. good illustrations and accurate distribution maps of every bird imaginable in East Africa) quickly outweighs its heft.

Our trusty copy of the field guide has already served me well. With it I’ve now correctly identified the following birds from the last few weeks: the two woodland kingfishers playing in our pool, the black-and-white-casqued hornbills (misidentified earlier as trumpeter hornbills; as it turns out trumpeters aren't found in uganda) and great blue turacos on my recent drive to Masaka, and the crested (?) guineafowl and flock of 10 crested cranes I saw smack in the middle of Kampala city. 101paige 101africa 101ht

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Monday, September 04, 2006

marriage, the cultural handrail

an excerpt from our wedding (fyi, yesterday was our 3 month anniversary):

"...there's no denying the fact that marriage ranks right up there with birth and death as one of the three biggies in the human safari. It's the only one, though, that we'll celebrate with a conscious awareness. Very few of you remember your arrival and even fewer will attend your own funeral. You pick a society, any society: Zuni, Nudembo , Pennsylvania Dutch. What's the one thing that they all have in common? Marriage. It's like a cultural handrail; it links folks to the past and guides them to the future."

(some of you may recognize this more accurately as an excerpt from a monologue by chris stevens, the clergyman and radio DJ of northern exposure fame)

i went to masaka with astrid on saturday to attend sister's daughter's wedding. no doubt - marriage is the cultural handrail. sure, we may be 1/2 way round the world, but the bride's still in white. it was a fun day - granted i was a little overwhelmed by all the sherbet green worn by the 11 bridesmaids, but i was relieved that astrid talked us out of having to sit in the "honorary" seats up front and eventually my butt did regain feeling after having gone numb from sitting in hard church pews for 3.5 hours (2 hour ceremony + 1.5 hour delay). and, since the entire ceremony was in luganda, i had lots of time to think about my own wedding...

one of the things i just cannot get over when remembering our wedding is knowing that everyone was there because of us. so many of our loved ones, all of these amazing people...in one place...because of us. when else will that ever happen? this realization caught me by surprise during the ceremony. it gave me momentary stage fright, then i started to cry, then sethG saved me because he started talking about accepting money to get us to take our clothes off on stage. which reminds me, phil & i realized later that neither one of us remember anything from the first minutes of the ceremony. nothing, nothing at'all. the excitement, adrenaline, thrill wiped away all cognition except the feeling of being here doing this together. 101paige

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

drama in the field

i was in the field the last 2 days (left 6:30am monday, back at 10pm tuesday, worked 29 hours in 2 days...exhausting) doing my regular supervisory visits of the field staff and program activities. MIHV works with a local drama troupe to stage drama shows educating community members on particular health messages. the jury (in my opinion) is still out on whether these drama shows produce results, but people do come en masse. sister and i went to a show yesterday staged in an extremely remote section of ssembabule district and 150-200 people showed up. even if i question the chosen method of message delivery, i have to admit all is not lost if we're talking to that many people.

me, sister, and the actors sat in the middle of a dusty field (ostensibly a soccer pitch with it's rickety goal posts) as the troupe drummed & danced calling in the village members. people streamed onto the field from all corners...out of the banana fields, from the roads, from their homes...and they just kept coming. maybe the mzungu was an additional attraction to the drumming? to my dismay, i was the guest of honor, so i was placed right in the middle of the crowd next to the village chairman. no blending into the background there.

ever been in a place where you knew with 100% confidence that there was no one within 50km that looked like you? that was me yesterday. the sole white person sitting among a sea of black. no wonder the little kids on the side of the road jump up & down, point, and yell with excitement "mzungu! how are you?" when we drive by.

ps. i just checked out the wikipedia definition of mzungu. uncannily similar to my statement above. huh. 101paige 101africa 101iph

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

english as a second language

english is the official language of uganda, but not really. english is only spoken between two ugandans when there is a native english speaker (read: ex-pat) close by, and the english that is spoken could be a foreign language as far as i can tell. first, it's british english. second, the accent's so strong, who knows what's going on sometimes.

good old colonialism really did a number on uganda. like most of colonial africa, they did not create "uganda, the nation" along ethnic lines. rather, the colonists created an arbritrary nation according to their conveniences. consequently, uganda encompasses many unrelated ethnic groups, and has borders that cut across many other related ethnic groups. end result: uganda is an ethnic mix with its divisions strongly marked linguistically.

they say in uganda that you can go 15 kilometers in any direction and you'll find a different language spoken than where you are now. as one bantu near fort portal said, "i am bantu and he is bantu. i can hear his language, but i cannot speak his language."

peace corps volunteers have it easy. they can't get far on their bicycles, so chances are they won't pass outside the 15 km radius. so, they get their 3 months of intensive language instruction and off they go. for those of us who travel more around the country (e.g. MIHV's programs are in 3 separate districts - 2 in the southwest, 1 in the far northwest), the language barrier is a bit more challenging. if you assume 2 languages per district, then at minimum i'll encounter 6 languages just in my work-related travel. it makes me feel as if learning a local language is useless...at least 5/6 of the people i encounter won't know what i'm saying. but, i'm so used to being able to communicate (i've done all of my 3rd world travel in latin america and speak spanish fluently), that i'm going to try anyway.

i've picked up some luganda words (thank you, how are you, okay, goodbye, sir, madam)...just enough to make people laugh with appreciation when i speak. funny thing is i still haven't figured out how to say hello. i guess hello is a complicated exchange of greetings based on time of day, how long it's been since you saw each other, your relationship, etc etc etc. huh? maybe i'll be in over my head, but what the hell. you only live in uganda once. so, i'm going to start taking 1-on-1 luganda lessons. i'll let you know when i figure out "hello." 101paige 101africa

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

who's who in global health

supposedly grad school is the place to network, find a job. i networked pretty well, yet somehow i made it through grad school without any idea of the big players on the international public health scene. sure, there was a guest lecturer in my "working in global health" course who had a lot of suggestions on how to find a job internationally, but he never actually said who there was to work for.

so, if you want to work in global health, here's some of the organizations to check out (beware, this is a community of acronyms). i guarantee you this list isn't exhaustive and i admit it reflects my current bias by being heavily weighted toward NGO/non-profit, but it is a place to start. if you don't mind religious affiliations, there's also
sorry, but i didn't take the time to list them by areas of interest (e.g. family planning/reproductive health (FP/RH), malaria, integrated management of childhood illness (IMCI), HIV/AIDS, nutrition, maternal & child health, environmental health), but you'll figure it out pretty quickly once you look at their websites.

fyi: if you want to do international health work without living overseas, it'll be challenging to find a job outside of new york or DC. i got lucky by finding MIHV in minneapolis. there's also a few in seattle and san francisco. 101paige 101iph

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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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(thanks go to trish for reminding me that this topic is still interesting to those at home)

a week into living here, the caretaker knocked on our door asking us if we wanted a cleaning lady. we said no. we were aware it was standard practice for ex-pats to have servants, but we hadn't warmed to the idea ourselves. neither of us felt comfortable having a servant...servants are for the rich & hauty, white colonials. not for us. but, then we were asked again. and again. it felt like everyday someone was asking us if we'd hired househelp (the african term), yet. it quickly became that we felt more uncomfortable not hiring help. it was as if everyone was staring at the new couple in town, saying "who do they think they are not hiring help?"

employing househelp is almost an inescapable part of life in uganda, as evidenced by the steady stream of questioning upon our arrival here. domestic work, as a cook, housecleaner, gardener, nanny, is an essential part of the ugandan economy and one of the few areas of employment available to many ugandans. the payscale is not high according to western standards, but it's a living here. we pay less than $20/week for all the cooking and cleaning we need. $20 is less than a dinner for 2 at a restaurant in the states, and we ate out at least 1x a week at home. remove the dinner out a week on our end, add in a week's salary to support a family on their end, and we have a good deal.

after some weeks of procrastinating, we decided it was more beneficial to hire someone and be a good employer, than it was malevolent to have servants. so, we forayed into the househelp world by hiring margaret for a month. we had no clue where to start, but margaret's a go-getter, so she just took control and taught us how it's done. she cooked, she cleaned, she shopped, and, after her month was up, we were sold.

thankfully we found barbara and her sister, sarah, to replace margaret. barbara, our cook, came to us on a recommendation from seth & leila. sarah, our housecleaner, came to us on a recommendation from barbara. barbara comes 3x a week, sarah 2x a week. they're a-maz-ing.

we bought several cookbooks for barbara (pasta, the food & cooking of mexico, vegetarian gourmet, 50 great curries of india, cooking for 2). each monday we pick out the menu for that week from the various cookbooks, she goes shopping to buy whatever ingredients are needed, and we eat well for the rest of the week. everything is freshly homemade: pasta, tomato sauce, tortillas, bagels, passionfruit juice. samples of our meals...
  • tortelli with pumpkin stuffing
  • chicken fajitas
  • chicken & cashew nuts in black curry spices
this week she brought her own cookbook that has an entire section dedicated to breads. she told me to pick out whatever bread i wanted. i did. that night for dinner we had fresh baguettes with our homemade chicken noodle soup. yummy. :)

sarah does an impeccable job and makes our apartment spotless, which is especially impressive considering the red dust that covers everything here. the two of them together add a liveliness to the apartment that i'm really going to appreciate now that phil's gone. talking, laughing, radio-playing...activity.

trish had a great suggestion about getting barbara to teach me how to make some traditional african foods. i hadn't thought of that, but it's brilliant. slight problem is that there aren't too many ugandan foods that anybody would be excited about eating at home (e.g. steamed/boiled plantain banana mash, aka matooke). there are some tasty items, though, so not all is lost. plus, maybe she can teach me some luganda along the way. 101paige 101africa

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

fort portal & kibale forest n.p.

phil & i just returned from a weekend trip to fort portal. fort portal's one of the centers of activity on the western border of uganda. from there you can get to several really good national parks (kibale forest, semliki), semliki wildlife reserve, bigodi wetland sanctuary, the crater lakes region, and the rwenzori mountains. the fort portal area is beautiful, and the drive alone from kampala to fort portal makes the trip worthwhile - the drive takes you through wetlands, bedrock outcroppings, open savannah, hills, canopies of trees.

it's a 4.5 hour drive west of kampala on 1 of the nicest roads i've seen yet in uganda. okay, so the first 30 km outside of kampala are pretty sketch (i.e. paved, but not really paved because the pavement is crumbling away yet people still drive on it like it's paved), but then once you hit mityana the roads are so civilized you'll have to blink twice to convince yourself that you're not in the states. paved, no potholes, wide enough shoulders, white lines, yellow dotted lines, barriers on the sharp turns. thank goodness, otherwise the drive to fort portal would be excruciatingly long considering it takes an hour to drive 40km on the normal poor-quality roads that are characteristic of "up-country" (aka "anywhere that is not kampala") uganda.

we decided to spend most of our time at kibale forest national park, which is 40km from fort portal. we'd read that kibale was the place to see primates and they weren't kidding. in 3 days we saw chimpanzees, olive baboons, black & white colubus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and (we think) red colubus monkeys. in other words, kibale forest national park = primate heaven.

we stayed at kanyanchu rest camp in kibale, which is home to the kanyanchu chimp troop. we set out at 8 o'clock in the morning with a ranger guide (elson) and 3 other visitors to track the troop through the forest. the guides know where the chimps slept the night before, so they usually have an idea where to start in the mornings to find them. the UWA (uganda wildlife authority) regulates how many people can be in the forest tracking the chimps at a time, so it was just the 6 of us plus a PhD researcher and her UWA escort that tracked this particular group on this morning. (there was another group of 6 somewhere on the other side of the forest, presumably.) it took only about 30 minutes of hiking before we heard the typical, well-known pant-hooting of the chimps. they are loud, no question about it. after another 5 minutes or so we saw our first chimp. he was sitting high in a fig tree eating his breakfast...he looked at us so patiently from his high perch. seeing the chimps in the morning meant that initially we got to see them eating in the trees, then eventually they all came down to the ground to rest and socialize. watching them come down from the trees and walk casually by was one of the highlights. another highlight was watching the process of 9 chimps walking in single file through the forest. we spent an hour following them, sitting and watching, and getting surprisingly close. wow.

the chimps at kanyanchu have been habituated to human contact meaning that researchers and UWA rangers have spent a lot of time getting the chimps comfortable around humans, not so that they can become in-the-wild zoo exhibits, but so they can be relaxed while there are researchers and tourists around them. the chimps at kibale and the gorillas at bwindi have done a lot for the tourist industry in uganda, thus a lot for ugandans, since tourism brings in dollars and dollars equate to development, education, health, you name it.

kanyanchu is a beautiful place to stay. our first night there we got lucky enough to stay in the treehouse. the treehouse overlooks "elephant wallow" where elephants come to water during the wet season. we didn't see any elephants, but we did see their footprints. think dinosaur, then you get an idea of how big these footprints were. even without the elephants, though, the wallow was a beautiful site from high in the treehouse. the treehouse was really secluded from the rest of the camp, but interestingly in africa the further you get away from people & civilization the louder it gets at night, not the quieter. the sun goes down and the insects, frogs, birds, animals start up.

our 2nd day in the fort portal area we went to the amabere caves. the caves are nice (nothing compared to some of the caves in the u.s., like kartchner caverns in arizona) with a refreshing waterfall, but even nicer was the hike we took with our guide, edward, around the crater lakes. it was a 2.5 hour hike up into the hills and gave us great views of everything around. i highly recommend doing the hike, then staying at the guesthouse on the premises. 2 people stay for 50,000/=, which includes 2-bedrooms, hot showever, sitting room, breakfast, and a wrap-around porch that overlooks the valleys and the rwenzoris in the distance. what a place!

fyi: phil just put together a photo gallery of our 2nd month in africa with a lot of photos from the fort portal/kibale forest n.p. trip. 101paige 101africa

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

conservation through public health

earlier this week, i met the founder and ceo of a very cool uganda-based NGO: conservation through public health. they work in bwindi impenetrable forest national park promoting conservation and public health by improving primary health care to people and animals in and around protected areas in africa (their mission). (and, their vision) to control disease transmission where wildlife, people and their animals meet while cultivating a winning attitude to wildlife conservation and public health in local communities. how cool is that? their programming is targeted toward the mountain gorilla population, as it intersects with the local community in bwindi. they welcome volunteers, so if anyone's interested... 101paige 101iph 101africa

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Friday, August 18, 2006

career advice from npr

if you look at the "career path" of my 20s, you might say that it's zig-zagged somewhat. people tend to look at me quizzically when i give them the run-down: history undergrad to litigation/communication consulting to law to pre-vet to public health grad school to hospital admin to global public health/development work. and, how exactly did you get from point a to point b? valid question. that's a story for another time, but for now i can say undoubtedly (and with some pride) that i have embraced the opportunity to explore my career options.

i listened to an npr podcast of all things considered today. it was an interview with robert sapolsky, a neuroscientist at stanford (and the author of a primate's memoir). he was talking about how it's human nature to fall into routine as you age, and how the older you get the less likely you are to try something new. for example, your life-long musical tastes are determined between ages 14-21; by the time you're 35 the music library of your life is for all intents and purposes set. more to topic, he said that those who stay in one profession for a long time and gain eminence in that profession are the least likely to explore new things. of course, it's not a bad thing to be eminent in your field - you're well respected, you're extremely knowledgeable about a particular subject however narrow or broad - but, you are less likely to get your belly button pierced after age 23 or try sushi for the first time after age 40ish. his suggestion: to stay open-minded and open to adventure, keep your professional life dynamic. i guess (unknowingly), i've taken his advice to heart.

i recently received an email from an old colleague who talked about viewing jobs as projects. some last for a year, some for 2, some for more. then, you find another project. i like that approach - it makes us all project managers, and validates my career trajectory thus far. i always considered her a valuable mentor when we worked together, so i was lucky to hear from her again after 5 years and receive some more straightforward advice.

my dad, another of my favorite professional mentors, always tells me to build on what i know. if there's a common link connecting your "projects," you'll create a collection of experiences and skills to draw on in any new environment. no question that's been true with me. i know it's not so obvious, but trust me - there's a common link. 101paige 101iph

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Again, another book not about Africa. A good one, though.

I've never read any Ian McEwan books before. A synopsis of his book First Love, Last Rites: "Taut, brooding, and densely atmospheric, these stories show us the ways in which murder can arise out of boredom, perversity can result from adolescent curiosity, and sheer evil might be the solution to unbearable loneliness." Yeah, I'm not going to read that. Atonement, on the other hand, was nothing like that.

Atonement is the story of a younger sister, an older sister, and a boy as told in three parts: the first set in pre-WWII England, the second set in northern France during the retreat of the British army to Dunkirk, the third set in London right before the 1940 bombing raids. The plot centers on a falsely accused crime and how that crime affected the lives of those involved. More broadly, though, it's about how people have the ability to shape their memories of events in an attempt to create more palatable outcomes and avoid the discomfort associated with what really happened, and how writing is a method for that attempt.

The last 2+ pages make the book and are a dead-on description of living with a past you cannot change. 101paige 101reviews

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

monkey-birds & more

they don’t eat plantains or bananas, but they sound like monkeys and they fly. so, what are they? they’re monkey-birds! or at least that’s what phil & i call them. no kidding – they're birds that sound like monkeys…one guidebook even says: “the eastern grey plantain-eater makes a chimplike hooting that featured in the soundtrack to tarzan movies.” okay, so they’re not actually monkey-birds, technically they’re eastern or western grey plantain-eaters. (i’m not sure if they’re eastern or western; according to the guide book they’re eastern, but according to google they’re western.) their monkey calls are common all over kampala, and today we finally saw a pair. they perched in the big tree across the way from our office/apartment and just hooted away. they’re not all that spectacular compared to the more flashy eastern african birds, although they do have a cool, blunt beak reminiscent of grosbeaks and a long banded tail, but so far they’re my faves. if for no other reason, they make me laugh. a lot.

on our hike in mbira forest reserve last weekend, we saw a trumpeter hornbill. he was huge and had a hornbill that was even huger. good thing we had our binoculars from jim & val. :)

i’ve never done any birding and am miserable at using binoculars, but that’s going to change. it has to when i’m living in uganda, one of the prime spots for birding in the world. if anyone has any suggestions on good birding books, let me know. (kk?) so far we've been scraping by with the bird section of a wildlife book. definitely inadequate.

despite our lack of quality birding books, however, i haven't had any difficulty identifying uganda’s two best-known birds: the marabou stork and the grey crested crane. this pair reminds me of the turkey and the bald eagle. the first is somewhat awkward and unsightly, the second majestic and striking. the first was almost our national bird, the second actually is. it’s the same with the marabou stork and the crested crane. i don’t know if the stork was ever considered for uganda’s national bird, but for how common and recognizable it is, it sure could’ve been. storks are everywhere…most likely perched on some high, precarious spot, despite their large, ungainly size. if not there, then they’re on the garbage heap rummaging for scraps. honestly, i have no idea why anyone ever wanted one of these guys delivering their babies – i can only assume (hope) that it was some other stork.

the crested cranes on the other hand are bea-u-ti-ful. and, not surprisingly, they are the ugandan national bird - you can see them prominently featured on the ugandan flag, the ugandan crest, and just about everything ugandan for that matter. rightfully so...truly, they're elegant. i saw a pair in a papyrus marsh on the drive to ssembabule when i was here in march. i want to see more, especially now that i have the binocs. supposedly a crested crane pair will “dance” together as they bob their heads, bow, toss sticks, and leap into the air, sometimes even enticing the rest of the 60+ flock of cranes to join in the dance. crazy birds. :) 101paige 101africa

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

no running water an hour in any direction, and i'm thinking about ultimate

hands down one of the hardest things to leave behind when moving to africa was coaching syzygy. here's a team that models everything i ever wanted in a team, a team that included me in its successes and its failures as one of its own. so, why did i choose to walk away from them? i guess i don't look at it as a choice, but as something i had to do. leaving syzygy had nothing to do with them and everything to do with my need to contribute to the “greater good,” to be involved with global public health, living and working abroad, and my need to have a worthy cause to finally get me to stop playing ultimate, if not for good, at least for a little while.

over the years, ultimate has come to define who i am. i play ultimate, i coach ultimate, i live ultimate. i am a part of the community and i love the community. but, i have not completed a fall club season in 4 years. each year i come back from a knee injury (read: surgery) to work my ass off, only to be met with another knee injury (read: surgery) before the season is over. this cycle of love & injury took its toll on me – i lay awake at night agonizing over the things i have yet to accomplish as a player wondering if i’ll be strong & confident & healthy enough to try again.

earlier i wrote about my first sunday pick-up game in kampala and talked about the pseudo-celebrity that comes with playing elite-level ultimate. i was excited to play ultimate in uganda because i could play exclusively for the fun of playing…no ego, no reputation, no nothing…just playing ultimate. but, suddenly here i was ½-way around the world being awarded some kind of credibility and authority that i hadn’t earned. initially, my ego was inflated, of course. then, i paused to react internally. wait a second, what happened to me just playing ultimate for the fun of it?

i wanted to play ultimate like syzygy plays ultimate. when the current syzygy kids talk about syzygy, they don’t talk about how good they are (which they are) or how much they know about the game (which they do) or how much they win (which they do a lot). they talk about how proud and lucky and happy they are to be a part of this team. a team that is more than a team…it’s a family. they play to be a part of that family.

so much of playing has become wrapped up in the ego of it for me. my need to play with the best, to be the best, to be a part of the elite-elite. but when i look back over my 10 years of playing, the most personally gratifying experiences have been those when i was intimately involved in the growth of a team, when i could contribute (physically, emotionally, strategically…however…) and be valued for those contributions. that’s why coaching was so rewarding – i was never judged on my ability to perform on the field; my ego had no place in the dynamic. ahhh, ego-free ultimate…how liberating!

when i first started playing pick-up here i thought that the games were organized by ex-pats. i was wrong and happily so. in fact, 6 years ago a couple of ugandan rugby players got together and started playing ultimate. maybe they learned about it from ex-pats? maybe there were other ultimate games/clubs going on in the city? i don’t know. i haven’t learned all of the history and dynamics, yet. what i do know is that this core group feels ownership of their game and their club. the core is a group of very, very cool guys. athletes. they understand what it means to be teammates, friends. to work hard to accomplish goals. jordan, a rwandan who lives in kampala, said he was originally skeptical of the game. he’d watched from the sidelines and didn’t really understand the whole allure. then he played…and he’s played every sunday for the last 5 years. he said it was addictive and he never wanted to stop playing. he talked about how his friends are all ultimate players. i think it’s a story that you’ll hear anywhere – the unifying effects of ultimate. there’s just something special about the game…maybe that’s why i’ve never been able to walk away…

since graduating from college i’ve lived in 3 different american cities and the source of my friendships in each have been the same – ultimate & work. moving to africa has been no different. i thought it would be, but as it turns out it’s exactly the same. i know a handful of people through work and 3x that many through ultimate. in my earlier post, i also mentioned wishing that an anthropologist would conduct an academic study of the ultimate community – the social structure, hierarchies, etc. i’m no anthropologist, but i’ve taken a stab at the study anyway. among my ultimate friends, 75% (not scientifically supported, but i’d bet i’m not too far off) are married/long-term committed to other ultimate players. i admit my sample’s probably skewed since most of my ultimate friends play seriously, which is to say during season we spend on average 12-15 hours a week practicing, strategizing, and thinking about ultimate. up that number if it’s a tournament weekend, or if you’re a coach/captain. it’s pretty hard to sustain a serious relationship with that much time away from home, family, kids (on top of work, of course), if your partner doesn’t also play. okay, so maybe this huge time and emotional commitment causes ultimate players to be drawn to ultimate players. but, i think it’s more than that. the common culture, competitiveness, camaraderie? what it is i don’t know, but i’m seeing its effects in africa as i listen to these ugandan guys talk about the game and the friends they’ve made playing and how they wouldn’t miss a sunday pick-up game in 5 years. 101paige 101ultimate 101africa

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Friday, July 28, 2006

nakasero, the department store

around the nakasero market is a pretty good shopping district. i don't mean a shopping district like chicago's magnificent mile or new york's meat packing district, but rather the place where ugandans go to shop in the city. narrow streets, even narrower alleyways, all lined with little mom&pop shops. it's like walking through a department store, but on a grander scale. picture sears - bed & bath, kitchen, mens, womens, kids, shoes, jewelry, auto, hardware. now picture the same thing, but instead of floors of a department store, you have streets in a city. the nakasero shopping district is divided up into distinct sections of shops that span several blocks, all dedicated to selling the exact same item. floor tiles or water faucets or cell phones or extension cords or shoes or watches. whatever the item is, there are umpteen shops within a 10 yard radius that are selling it. nakasero as the sears roebuck of uganda.

i don't understand the economics of how a shopowner survives in this kind of commercial set-up. if everyone's selling the same thing, how can there possibly be enough customers for everyone to be able to sell enough to break even each month? phil keeps saying that you often find home depot and menards right next to each other in the states. true. i'm sure there's millions of dollars invested into choosing the right retail location for stores on that scale, so there must be some science to it. but, i don't know...i'm still not convinced. my theory is that shoppers develop long-standing, generations-long relationships with shopowners. the relationship becomes more important than the item bought or sold.

last weekend, phil & i went to nakasero to buy fabric. the curtains in our apartment were atrocious - dull color, horrible pattern, way too long yet not wide enough - so we were out to buy african batik fabric to make new curtains. brightly colored, loudly patterned. we'd gotten vague directions on how to find the nakasero fabric district, which consisted of "get to the market, go down an alleyway, pass the tile section and the electronics section, then it'll be 1 of the streets around there." we followed the directions and sure enough, there was the fabric district. a couple of streets dedicated exclusively to selling fabric. floor-to-ceiling fabric everywhere, plus all the tailors you could need to sew that fabric for you. 1 alley was a line of sewing machines set up against the store's outside wall, each with a tailor - man, woman, young, old - sewing away.

the same friend who'd given us the directions told us that vendors would start the price for 6 yards of batik fabric at 25,000/=, but that 18,000/= was the reasonable price. phil & i pick out our 3 pieces of 6 yard apiece batik, ask the price. she says 25,000/=. i say 18,000/=. she says sold. we walk out with 18 yards of fabric for $30.

we opted for a tailor closer to home and found one in the bugolobi market right across the street from our apartment. we go into his 1-room shop armed with our fabric and curtain patterns (as designed by us) and he says, "i am francis. we specialize in making only curtains. only curtains." i guess we came to the right place. a day later we had our curtains and they make all the difference in the world for making the apartment more homey. tomorrow we're planning on going back to nakasero to buy more fabric - there's still some windows that need curtains. i imagine that we'll also be going back to francis. 101paige 101africa

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A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert M. Sapolsky

1 of the best books i've read in a while. as annbarry says, "hi-larious," but also touching & insightful.

this is the story of a wildlife biologist living in the field with his troop of baboons in kenya. but, sapolsky gives us more than that. the chapters switch from stories of the baboons - their personalities, habits, and his relationships with them - to his travels across east africa and various encounters with various africans. it's a coming-of-age story for a scientist, a baboon troop, and a kid in love with africa. so far, it's one of the better, more accurate accounts i've read about living in east africa. sapolsky isn't judgmental, just honest. okay, maybe he's a little judgmental, but i (mostly) agreed with his judgements so they didn't bother me.

the baboons take on lives of their own as characters in sapolsky's memoir and by the middle of the book i was laughing out loud at their adolescent, human-like antics as i recounted stories of their serengeti adventures to phil. the baboons alone make this book good. add to them a little travelogue, some scientific analysis, a bit of cultural anthropology, and a mix of colonial critique, self-reflection, and liberalism and this book is really good. ok, and i admit, the TB intrigued the public healther in me.101paige 101reviews

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book reviews by paige

i've always loved reading, but when i moved to seattle a year ago i became a crazy avid reader. probably 'cos phil wasn't around and i had lots of time to read at night after work. i found an awesome bookstore in seattle - queen anne books (top of queen anne hill on q.a. avenue, shares a building with an equally awesome coffee shop, el diablo) - and went on a book-reading kick. i'd go there weekly to buy a couple of books, have some coffee, pound out my masters thesis. it was also the location of 1 of phil & my best wedding-planning sprees. definitely a place i miss no longer living in seattle.

the staff at queen anne books is amazing...well read, good suggestions - when i asked for recommendations for books on africa, they emailed me a list of 20 books (fiction, nonfiction, memoir...you name it). of the ones i've read, they've all been worthwhile.

anyway, after all this reading i got the notion of writing reviews. i've never written reviews before, so bear (bare?) with me. but, i figure, why not? maybe this will give you ideas of what and what not to read, insight on the literature of africa, or just be entertaining to hear me ramble about the books i read. so, there's a couple of reviews backdated in the blog - you can find them by clicking on the "reviews" category button to the right.

as i read more, i'll write more reviews. 1o1paige 101reviews

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

punctured tires

i came across an excerpt in a great book (thank you to ann barry!) that sums up everything about a subject to which i don’t feel like i’ve given proper justice. although the scene is somewhat different – blown tire in the african bush versus the uganda revenue authority in kampala – the gist is the same. rather than reinvent the wheel and attempt to be as eloquent, i thought it'd be easier just to excerpt it here. so, this is the story when interacting with any kind of service provider in Uganda...

driving out of the lodge through thorn bushes, i get my third puncture of the week. this is always a misery. first you go to the guy who repairs punctures. instead of being on the job at the lodge's gas station, he is back in the staff quarters somewhere, sleeping. head back there, go through the same interchange with the twenty different people you run into, namely first exchanging news with each about the health of their parents and my then reiterating that, no, actually i can't give you my hiking shoes, as i need them. tire repair guy is located, and after ninety minutes of easily distracted labor, he has fixed the puncture. he gives me a stub, which i take to the cashier at the other end of the lodge, who fills out a note saying "1 puncture, 40 shillings," which the other man signs, which allows me to pay the cashier - all a procedure to keep the mechanic from repairing things under the table and pocketing the money. the cashier goes on a search for scrap paper to calculate that i get 10 shillings back from my 50 shilling note, and i'm ready for the next step: taking the tire to the other end of camp, to find the man who operates the air hose. he, naturally, is drunk in the bar at 11:00am and, with some effort, explains that he would be happy to fill the tire, but his brother has the key to the shed in which the hose is kept, and he is on leave this week. bad luck. i express profound regret at the apparent need for me to now live in the lodge's gas station for the next week, and the man, seeing his cue, says maybe, just maybe, he could find another key, buy why don't i sell him my watch at the good american price? we settle for his receiving a button that says "Hollywood Bowl," and, satisfied, he turns his prodigious energies toward filling my tire, completing the task in a mere half hour. the man with the pressure gauge to determine whether the tire is filled properly is found easily, and quickly does the job, making me feel as if there might be some hope. the tire is underfilled, however. fed up, i decide to go with that, rather than track down Bwana Airhose again, he no doubt back at the bar trying to flog his Hollywood Bowl button for a drink.

-in A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky 101paige 101africa

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Monday, July 24, 2006

a decade of birthdays

today's my 28th birthday.

i made a list of where i've been on my birthdays over the last 10 years...check it out...

19th birthday: brooks range, arctic national wildlife refuge, alaska
20th: paris
21st: dominican republic
22nd: waterworld, boise, ID
23rd: 6 flags great america, chicagoland, IL
24th: san francisco, 1/2 way thru 3-month all-north-america roadtrip with JWY
25th: fox lake, MN
26th: minnesota zoo
27th: san francisco zoo
28th: kampala, uganda

for a while there phil & i were on a waterpark/amusement park kick, then we switched over to the zoos. now, we're in africa.

i anticipate that 28's going to be a pretty good year. 101paige


the landcruiser

we finally got our new car!! it's a 1990 2-door manual diesel toyota landcruiser. it's pretty cute. it's a great combination of being a tough 4x4 africa car, yet small enough to make sense driving in the city.

we drove it home from the sunday pick-up game last night. no major mishaps, but considering you're driving on the wrong side of the ride, learning a new clutch, avoiding potholes the size of canyons...all at night with no street lights and not all the cars with all their headlights/taillights, it was a small miracle that we made it home okay. whew.

it's going to be really nice having a car after a month in the country without one. (soon it'll have a MIHV logo sticker on the door...or maybe a custom-made MIHV tire cover for the spare on the back?) 101paige 101africa

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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 Carleton...it 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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Thursday, July 20, 2006

happy birthday, mom!

it's my mom's birthday today, so this is a shout out to her. i've always thought i was special 'cos my mom's birthday is july 20 and my birthday is july 24, which made me a late birthday present for her 28 years ago. she and i have celebrated our birthdays together for years...so i'm kind of sad to not be with her today...but, mom, i hope you know that i'm not that far away. half way around the world suddenly becomes a lot smaller when you can just pick up the cell phone and call. 101paige


Monday, July 17, 2006

my first flavor of African bureaucracy

For my first 2 weeks in Kampala I have spent almost all of my working-time figuring out the logistics associated with starting a HQ office in Uganda’s capital. MIHV has been working in the field in Uganda for about 15 years, yet we’ve never had a formal HQ office in Kampala. One of my main tasks is to be MIHV’s official representative in the capital. I’m talking about establishing an office from the ground up – buying the office furniture & supplies, installing a reliable source of electricity, buying a car, buying a cell phone, renting a postal box so mail can be delivered, opening a bank account. All of this seems mundane and straightforward, but throw these tasks into the context of Africa and suddenly everything changes. 2 ½ weeks of solid work later and I’m still trying to accomplish some of these tasks. The reasons? Multiple.

First, there’s Africa time. Everything takes just a little bit longer – okay, sometimes even hours or days longer. Maybe it’s the lack of computers, electricity, money. Maybe it’s the slower pace of life and laid back attitude toward time. Whatever it is, always bring a book. That’s my first lesson learned. I already knew it, but now I know it even better.

Second, there’s the bureaucracy. No one ever telling you everything you need the first time you ask. Too many handwritten ledgers. Money paid here, there, who knows for what. Sit and wait. Talk to another man that’s on a power-kick because he’s in a government position stamping some random document that somehow lends credibility and validity to a meaningless piece of paper. Sit and wait. Repeat process. Again.

Case in point #1: it took 4 trips to the bank before I finally had a list of all necessary documents needed to open a bank account.

Case in point #2: my adventures navigating the government system. Last Friday, I spent the afternoon at Uganda’s Company Registrar’s Office trying to “certify” some MIHV business documents. I had already been there the day before and was crossing my fingers that this time I had everything I needed. I got to the registrar, he directed me to a bank downtown where I paid 45,000/= (about $25) to the Uganda Revenue Authority, got a receipt, returned to the registrar, he told me to come back in 3 ½ hours and maybe he’d be able to finish up the process. So far, I have spent the day before plus 3 hours trying to get a man to stamp some pieces of paper. I told him I was fine just sitting and waiting until he felt he had the time to address my concerns. Our conversation…

What do you have to do to certify these documents? You just stamp them and sign your name, correct?

(grunts) Yes.

Are you sure you can’t do that now while I sit here and wait?

Do you see all of these papers that I have to deal with? (points to a haphazardly stacked, disorganized pile of papers, reports, files)

That’s fine…I’ll wait. (I continue sitting directly in front of his desk watching him work)

(Gruffly removes reports from the top of the stack and randomly opens pages to stamp. Stamp, stamp, stamp. Sign, sign, sign. No rhyme or reason. Every once in a while shouts someone’s name to retrieve more reports for him to stamp.)

30 minutes later...after some conversation about his home village, his family, and MIHV’s field sites…

I can take care of your documents now. (Flips through the pages of the documents, stamps wherever he feels necessary, scribbles a signature, hands me the “certified” papers.)

Thank you.

Case in point #3: Phil & I went to Entebbe airport to get our lost luggage, spent 4 hours in an empty airport trying to jump through all the necessary hoops to get to the other side of security (go over here, go over there, stand in line, patiently wait while an “official” man meticulously catalogs names in a handwritten ledger, receive a random laminated visitors pass, then go through security the wrong way anyway to get to baggage claim), and still walked away with 1 less bag than we checked at MSP.

The most amazing thing about it all, though, is I’m learning to be patient. Anyone who knows me well knows that “patient” is definitely not part of my demeanor. I don’t know…they say that Africa can change a person…maybe it’s already working on me. 101africa 101paige

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Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

(Ok, so not all of the books I’m reading are about Africa…)

If you’re looking for the same formulaic plot as The Da Vinci Code, look no further than Angels & Demons. The back cover of the book claims: “discover the world of The Da Vinci Code with the book that started it all.” More accurately it should read: “discover the world of Dan Brown as he writes the same book over and over again.”

Sure Angels & Demons is entertaining to read, but the number of plot twists is sickening and Dan Brown’s ability to leave you hanging at the end of his 1-page chapters is excruciatingly annoying. I’d rather feel compelled to continue reading because I’m actually intrigued by how the plot is unfolding, rather than feel forced to continue by an author who seems incapable of ­­­­writing more than 2 pages of text before jumping to the next plot twist and entirely capable of compartmentalizing his novel into a multitude of short, vacuous chapters (hello…page 62 is already chapter 20). And the number of flashbacks – argh! There were at least 3 characters – Langdon, Maximillian Kohler, Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca, Vittoria Vetra – who had some pivotal experience around age 10-12 that continued to influence them in adulthood and who had to flashback to said experience at some point in the Angels & Demons narrative. It definitely got old.

Angles & Demons introduces Robert Langdon as the crime-solving, world-religion-saving Harvard symbologist. I wasn’t really taken by Langdon or the uncanny number of times he survived near-death experiences. Sure, his ability to solve puzzles is admirable, but being a puzzle-solver will only get a man so far. Plus, his relationship with Vittoria Vetra seemed somewhat canned.

The good friend who recommended Angels & Demons to me said that, according to her sister who is a professional art curator, it is more artistically and historically accurate than The Da Vinci Code. Not knowing anything about art history, I’ll have to give it that. In my opinion, if you’ve read one Dan Brown novel, you’ve read them all. Pick whichever one strikes you as the most interesting, read it, and then be done with Dan Brown. 101paige 101reviews

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Monday, July 03, 2006

ultimate Uganda

When Phil & I told people we were moving to Africa, invariably their first reaction was: there isn’t much Ultimate in Uganda, huh? A reaction only topped in frequency by people saying to Phil: not too much snow for skiing in Uganda, huh? Well, yesterday I played Ultimate in Uganda. So, still no snow, but there is Ultimate.

For those who are interested, there’s a pick-up game every Sunday night 5-7pm on the rugby pitch behind the Game at Lugogo Mall. The pitch is tucked back behind all of the soccer fields. People show up around 5 to start throwing and the game usually gets started around 5:45 or 6 with people trickling in all the way until 7. Don’t worry about footwear – cleats, running shoes, and barefoot all qualify. Even though we had the space to set up a regulation size field, we played on a field that was probably 50 yards x 30 yards with 10 yard endzones. I guess it’s a Ugandan Ultimate tradition to play with 10 yard endzones regardless of field size or space.

Last night we had 21 people playing. Can you believe it? 21 people…we don’t even get that many players to organized summer practices for some club teams in the States. I went expecting all ex-pats, but was happy to see that more than half of those playing were actually Ugandans: 1 teenage girl (so cool!), 1 player from the Ugandan national rugby team, 2 12-year-old boys, 3 former basketball players, plus a couple of obvious athletes who’ve found their way to the game some way or another. Throws were good, field organization somewhat chaotic, and athletic ability pretty high. The dump and the force aren’t really known strategies, but it isn’t an amoeba offense. By the end of the game I’d felt like I’d played Ultimate and felt good about it.

I went to the game somewhat sheepishly because when I spoke to Queenie (the guy who organizes the games) on the phone he mentioned that I shouldn’t worry about skill level or how much I’d played because the game was welcome to all levels of experience. I was afraid of showing up to the game as that all-too-well-known pompous college/club player that acts as the know-it-all at Tuesday pick-up and tries to show everyone “how it’s really done.” So, I tried to find something non-Ultimate-y to wear…do I not own any athletic clothes that don’t shout Ultimate? In the end I settled on my Flo (Edmonton/Calgary…Kier help me out here…women’s team) jersey – it doesn’t actually say Ultimate or frisbee or team or anything on it, so I thought it was a safe bet. Not totally safe, as it turned out.

There were 2 ex-pat college players at the game, one plays at Davidson and the other at University College London. They were entertaining and obviously in the beginning stages of their Ultimate obsessions talking about the most competitive games they’d ever watched – Columbus college nationals and Paganello finals, respectively – and all the cool tournaments they’d played in. You know that habit of 1-upping each other that newly introduced Ultimate players have? Yep, it was like that.

Anyway, I was standing on the sidelines with the Davidson kid and he said it looked like I’d been playing for a while. Following is our conversation, as best I can remember it…

Your husband plays, too?
Yes, but he’s at home tonight recuperating from the last couple of days.
Who does he play for?
That’s…a…­nationals team. (mouth agape)
Do you play for a club team too?
I played for Riot last season.
Seattle Riot? (mouth even further agape)
Have I seen you on UltiVillage? (uttered in a whisper of amazement)
Maybe, I don’t know.
Where’d your husband go to college?
(speechless) Where’d you go to college?
(eyes wide) Wow.

The psuedo-celebrity that happens in the ultimate community has always been funny to me. We play in this really small community and your "status" is based on what team you play for, where you went to college, the tournaments you've won. I'd love for some anthropology scholar to do research on the ultimate community...investigate the social structure, hierarchies, status levels, mating circles... 101paige 101ultimate

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

kampala on foot

Like I said last night, today’s task was to buy a cell phone, which involved a 45 minute walk across town to the Lugogo shopping mall. Lugogo Mall has

  • 1 Shoprite (equivalent to a cross between Walgreen’s & Safeway),
  • 1 Game (equivalent to Wal-Mart),
  • 4 Ugandan cell phone companies: MTN, CelTel, Uganda Telecom, Simba Telecom,
  • 2 branches of major banks: Barclay’s, Standard Chartered, and
  • 1 Banana Boat (one of Kampala’s only classic, artsy-touristy stores).

Needless to say, it’s a gathering place for ex-pats. We didn’t buy anything other than the cell phone, but at least we now know where to go if we ever need anything.

Today reminded me a lot of one of the first days I lived in Chicago. It was (probably) the first Saturday that I lived there – I still didn’t know a soul in the city and still heavily relied on my trusty map to get me around. It was the day of the annual Air & Water Show and I’d heard that the best place to see the planes was at North Beach. I still hadn’t reached my love affair stage with public transportation – I was only months out of college having lived in small town Minnesota my whole life…public transportation, huh? – so I decided to hoof it to North Beach. I lived more or less at the Addison & Damen intersection at the time. If you know anything about Chicago geography you know that it’s a hike from there to North Beach. It took me a good 1 ½-2 hours to get there, my feet hurt, and I missed the air show, but in the end I learned more about the city and its layout and its character in an afternoon than I could’ve expected. The same happened today. After the Lugogo Mall, Phil & I decided to seek out a satellite radio (we can’t live long without our NPR). Little did we know that we were heading out on a wild goose chase that would take us all afternoon and all over the city. We walked and walked and walked, got a ride from a nice woman who told us we now have a Ugandan family, and I don’t think once talked to someone who actually knew what a satellite radio is. But, by the time we got home, we had essentially circumnavigated the city and had learned more about the city, its layout, and its character today than we could've expected when we woke up this morning.

I think it sunk in today that we’re actually here…in Africa. It’s unfamiliar with unfamiliar faces. That’s why our new friends Majo & Luc came into our lives just at the right time. They’re a young thirtysomething Belgian couple with a 1-year old daughter who live across the way from us in the same complex. They invited us over for drinks and we stayed chatting for over 3 hours. They were super helpful with tons of suggestions on how to get things done – buying a car, hooking up the internet, getting electricity – and really friendly. It felt good to be social and to know there are people who have the answers to all the questions we have. 101paige 101africa

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

our first day

Our first day in Kampala is just about done – for all intents and purposes, even though it's only 9 o'clock-ish, the day is done. Being on the equator, the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm pretty much year round. It’s 9:15pm and it’s black outside. We’re coming from the northern part of the world where the sun is rising early (5:30ish) and setting late (9:30ish) because it’s just days after the summer solstice. Subtract the extra sunlight and subtract electricity (we moved into our apartment today on the 24-hour electricity hiatus that happens every other day here) and suddenly our days are done at 9 o’clock. I’m not complaining, though – it’s kind of apropos to read the 25-year HIV/AIDS commemorative issue of the American Journal of Public Health by candlelight in Africa. Plus, Phil & I agreed that when we finally got to Africa we were going to live on Africa-time. After the whirlwind of activity that has been our lives for the last 6 months – get engaged, accept job offer in Africa, move from Seattle to Mpls, go to Africa for a month, coach Syzygy, get married, move to Africa – we’re ready to welcome a more relaxed lifestyle. Which isn’t to say the last 6 months haven’t been absolutely amazing (we wouldn’t change a thing!), it’s just that we’re ready for a break.

We started cleaning out our apartment and packing for Africa Monday, June 12, the week after our wedding, and we left for Africa the morning of Monday, June 26. Exactly 14 days of packing, preparing, storing, moving, packing, cleaning out…non-stop. 6 trips to the Goodwill plus a bunch of donated furniture to the woman who moved into our apartment. A 5x10 storage unit in downtown Mpls – organized, but packed to capacity. Yet, we were awake for 28 hours straight by the time we boarded our plane at MSP.

There’s a 70-pound limit on all checked luggage – soon to be changed to 50 pounds by British Airways, maybe other airlines to follow? We checked 8 bags at MSP, 3 of which scraped by the 70-pound limit by about 2-3 pounds each. We didn’t weigh anything before going to the airport, so there’s no question we got lucky. Granted our luggage luck has since run out considering not a one of the 8 bags we checked made its way to Kampala. Who knows if any of it’ll show up? Our lives are in those bags, but oh well, there’s nothing in there that’s not irreplaceable. Thank goodness. So far it’s been a minor inconvenience – we’ve been wearing the same clothes for 2 ½ days now – which could become bigger if we have to start from scratch, but we were kind of looking forward to a less materialistic lifestyle here anyway. So, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise?

Anyway, throughout the whole luggage adventure in Entebbe (Uganda’s airport city, about 40 km from Kampala), I looked over at Phil and we both laughed and smiled. Here we were having lost all of our material possessions and it didn’t matter because we were together and we were smiling. I knew then (as I know day after day) that I married the right man.

Total door-to-door travel time Minneapolis to Kampala was 40 hours. A number that could be decreased if you subtract our 12 hour layover in London Heathrow, and a number that could have been much worse if it wasn’t for our Club World business class seats on our British Airways flight Chicago O’Hare to Heathrow. Wow – business class is definitely all it is cracked up to be…fully reclining seats, food cooked by a chef, personal televisions, etc. We were much happier people because of it when we landed in London.

Our apartment is pretty amazing – a 2 bedroom, 2 bath first-floor flat in a "compound" in the Kampala neighborhood, Bugolobi. I say compound 'cos there’s a swimming pool, garden/park space, resident German Shephard, 3 small apartment buildings and 3-4 houses...all in the same complex. When you walk through the entrance gate it’s obvious that you’re in a mini ex-pat community. It’s somewhat of a haven from the “real” Africa outside, but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe after a while we’ll appreciate having a quieter, more American/European environment to escape to? Or, maybe we’ll resent the separation we feel from the Africans living around us?

As far as conveniently located, though, the apartment is awesome. All within 100 yards of our apartment: internet café, grocery store, market, restaurant/bar showing the World Cup games.

Tomorrow’s task: buy a cell phone. 101paige 101africa

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

35 hours of travel

I'm at DFW en route from EBB to AMS to MSP to DFW to AUS...33 ½ hours of travel since I left the hotel in Kampala and I still have 1 ½ hours to go before I see Phil and the team in Austin. It’s been way too long away from him and them...101paige


We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

Being an undergraduate history major and on my way to Africa, I should have known more about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But, admittedly and probably like many of my fellow Americans, I was naïve, unaware, and protected from world news in 1994, which pre-dated my introduction to NPR in 2000.

This book is a gripping journalistic account of the 1994 genocide. It makes the genocide real in a way that is personal, uncomfortable, and shocking. Gourevitch explores the historical roots of the ethnic tensions in Rwanda shedding light on the many layers of colonial involvement in developing that tension. Like much of journalistic investigative reporting, the book intermittently gets bogged down in the locations, the characters, the dates. But, considering the magnitude of the events that occurred in Rwanda from the 1960s until the early 1990s, I couldn’t fault Gourevitch for his attention to detail.

12 years later I feel that most people are at least aware that there was a genocide in Rwanda, maybe in great part because of Don Cheadle and Hotel Rwanda. But, 12 years ago, the majority of the world looked the other way as 800,000 Tutsis were killed in the span of 3 months. Gourevitch’s account is a must-read for anyone interested in how such a tragedy could happen. 101paige 101reviews

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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux

Being the first Africa book I read and considering I was reading it as I landed in Africa for the fist time, you can understand why I consider this one of the more influential books in my Africa experience.

Theroux’s overland safari takes us all the way down Eastern Africa “from Cairo to Capetown.” He passes through Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa. His accounts of the various landscapes, people, and cultures of these countries are intriguing and definitely gave me a good idea of where I was going. However, his cynicism and jaded attitude struck me the most. He overly romanticizes the Peace Corps and excessively berates any other foreign aid workers. After an extended rant about aid workers who naively think they can positively contribute to development in Africa and a concurrent discussion on the negative dependence created within African governments by the outside hand of foreign aid, he arrogantly suggests that his offer to teach university students for 1 week in Malawi is valuable and should be received with open arms. His contradictory and hypocritical approach lends a “holier than thou” tint to his writings. I was happy to see that he recognized his own hypocrisy and admits that his offer to teach was more to assuage his fear of aging (he was celebrating his 60th birthday) than to truly help those in need.

Despite this, I appreciated Theroux’s hard criticism of 3rd world development and its various actors. I will be considering his opinions and developing my own on this topic for quite some time, I am sure. 101paige 101reviews

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inheriting our cities

(...still at Schiphol...)

Addis Ababa is one of the few (the only?) capital cities in Africa not built by the colonizers, whether it be the French, the Belgians, the Germans, the British (the list goes on and on). Yeshi, an Ethiopian woman who I met in Dar es Salaam, was outwardly proud of this and emphasized that Ethiopia was never colonized by anyone.

As Yeshi said, “We did not inherit our city.”

An American I know here commented the other night on Ugandan politics. Her claim: Uganda cannot function with a democracy as we know it in the States because the level of education is too low and poor people are swayed to “sell” their votes in exchange for money or other needed commodities. African governments are notorious for suffering from corruption and nepotism, yet I disagree with the notion that democracy is impossible in Uganda. Yes, Museveni changed the constitution so that he could run again in the Feb 23 elections – he’s been President since 1986 – but a level of democratic government still exists 30 years after independence. I think people forget that the US did not have democracy figured out when we gained our own independence from Britain. Instead they see the end result (200+ years later) and don’t understand why the governments of the developing world cannot reach a similar level of sophistication in 1/10th the time. 30 years after American independence, neither women nor blacks could vote, and people had to pass a literacy exam to vote. Left on our own, we had the luxury (sans meddling by foreign influentials) to figure it out. We made lots of mistakes on the way, but the government we developed was our own. On the contrary, Africa has never been left alone and has been constantly under foreign scrutiny, involvement, and influence. Uganda’s government is a post-colonial, post-dictatorship government. 101africa 101paige


reflections, first impressions

I’ve got 5 hours to kill in Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport...on my way home from 1 month in Africa (2 weeks in Dar, 2 weeks in Uganda).

Reflections, first impressions, lessons learned:

(1) My name’s hard to pronounce.

For a native English speaker, my name’s about as easy as it gets…Paige. Simple, straightforward, albeit unique. But, for non-native English speakers, my name poses some significant pronunciation problems. I suppose the ‘i’ throws people, so in Uganda I’m Peggy. I’m somewhat used to that (although I’m not terribly fond of the name), since I was also called Peggy when I lived in Chile. But, thankfully, I eventually acquired a nice nickname from all my travels in Latin America…Lucero. Given to me by an orphan in the Dominican Republic. It means “morning star” and my Dominican friends would often call me Lucero de la madrugada. I think it was the blonde hair. Anyway, now in Africa, I’m back to Peggy. Sometimes, they shorten it to Peg, but the worst is when it becomes Pig. Sorry, but that’s just not going to work.

I try to explain that it’s pronounced just like a page in a book, but then they spell my name without the ‘i.’ I dislike the inaccurate spelling even more than I dislike the inaccurate pronunciation, so I guess I’ll choose the lesser of the two evils.

It’ll be easier once Phil’s with me in Uganda because then I’ll always have someone around who pronounces (and writes) my name correctly. Hopefully by virtue of repetition and constantly hearing Phil call me Paige instead of Peggy, Peg, or Pig, people will catch on.

(2) My trip was an interesting combination of the “real Africa rarely visited by muzungus” and the “privileged Africa rarely visited by Africans.”

Muzungu means ‘white person’ and is a fairly universal term across all of Eastern Africa. Driving down the street little kids and adults alike will simply point straight at me and simply say “muzungu.” Sometimes it’s said in an accusatory tone, but more often it’s simply made as an observation.

Both when I visited Kibeha District (3 hour drive from Dar es Salaam) and Ssembabule District (3 hour drive from Kampala), I entered a world rarely visited by white outsiders. This isn’t to say that white people are non-existent here because that would be misleading. There are lots of ex-pats all over Africa working for NGOs, relief agencies, international development organizations, but Kibeha, Tanzania and Ssembabule, Uganda are not tourist attractions and do not fall on the map of most people visiting Eastern Africa for 3-4 weeks. Each is extremely isolated. Ssembabule does not have a single paved road, has no running water, and the town just received electricity this past year. However, the majority of the district remains without electricity. Two significant developments of the industrial, modern age (electricity, running water) have yet to reach this corner of Africa 100 years later. (Interestingly, although industrialization skipped over Ssembabule, the cell phone industry did not. It’s a modern marvel – thanks to satellite – that people who live in the remote bush of Africa and who have never had a telephone can now talk to anyone, anywhere.)

Combine these isolated environments with the high-end lifestyle we led while in Kampala. We stayed at a modest, but comparatively upscale hotel (Hotel Africana) and did the rounds at the classy restaurants each night, of which there are plenty. Kampala is definitely not lacking in tasty ethnic restaurants: Khaza Khazana (Indian), Krua Thai (Thai), Kyoto (Japanese), Arirang (Korean), Feng Feng (Chinese). Plus there’s the Pavement Tandoori, which isn’t quite as high-end, but has equally if not better Indian food than Khaza Khazana. Anyway, back to the point. These restaurants are moderate according to Western standards ($25-30 for 2 people), but when you consider that the average annual income in Uganda is only $325 they immediately become extravagant. I felt uncomfortable and sheepish going to these fancy restaurants night after night, restaurants completely separated from the reality of Africa.

We spent our days moving around town going from one NGO to another, moving within these circles of ex-pats working for the greater good of Uganda yet completely removed from the reality of Uganda. Kampala is an interesting juxtaposition of poverty and development – the streets on which Ugandans live are unpaved, obstacle courses of potholes, gullies, and dust…the streets on which NGOs have their offices are paved, lined with trees, clean, and quiet. The separation is astonishing. I understand the need for quality office space (high-speed internet, working toilet, clean working environment) and will most likely have something very similar. And I understand that these NGOs who are trying to change the status quo in Uganda will do so more successfully if they are able to get things done on a daily basis. Yet, the separation between the people they serve and themselves is distinct.

I’ve never traveled like this before. Typically, I get by on a minimal amount of money a day, often eating food from street vendors and usually living with a family in their home. I suppose that’s the difference between traveling on your own dime and traveling for work. Even so, I still felt uncomfortable knowing that our driver Kizito earns about $100-150/month and each night he dropped us off at a restaurant where we spent $30 for 1 meal. I asked him what he thought of that on our drive to the airport…

“For the muzungus that come here, they need different food than us. For us, we’re accustomed to the local food – we like it. I can get a good meal for 5,000 shillings (approx $3). I like to eat fish and eggplants…that’s what I make for myself when I cook dinner.”

(3) Africa is an NGO world.

Drive around Kampala and everywhere you turn there is another NGO – Save Africa, Save the Children, Save the World. You name the problem and there’s an NGO there to solve it. Entire Kampala streets and neighborhoods are consumed by signposts announcing the numerous offices of the numerous NGOs.

50% of the national Ugandan budget comes from foreign investment. Uganda, like the rest of Africa, relies heavily on the private sector (i.e. NGOs). I’m torn on my opinion of foreign aid and its role in development. On one hand, there is great need in Africa for poverty reduction, education, health promotion, emergency relief and NGOs get stuff done. On the other hand, NGOs remove the responsibility for social, economic development from the government and create a dependence structure between the NGO and the local government. On top of that, the objectives and political motives of the powerful few who control the donor money (USAID, DFID, CIDA, etc) dictate the development goals adopted by the African nations. (A good example of this is the Mexico City Agreement that must be signed by all grantees receiving money from USAID to carry out family planning/reproductive health programming. The Mexico City Agreement bans any grantee from promoting, providing, or educating on abortion.) As a public healther working in international aid/development, I obviously believe in the ability of NGOs to make the world a better place and to give people a chance for a better life. Yet, I struggle with the dependence on foreign aid, and the ambiguous delineation of authority and responsibility among NGOs, foreign donors, and local governments that the current structure of international development creates. 101paige 101africa 101iph

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

poor Americans

Conversation with Kizito on my drive to the EBB airport tonight...

There are no poor people in America.
But, there are!
If there are poor people in America, then why do the American people give so much money to us?
It is not the American people that give you so much money, it is the American government.
But, if there are poor people in America, then why does the American government give so much money to Uganda? Why doesn’t it give the money to its own poor people in its own country? Why does it come to countries like Uganda and why does it spend so much in places like Iraq, if there are poor people in America?

(Kizito makes a good point. The role of the US government in the development of the 3rd world is unbelievable. Because our president opposes abortion, USAID is obligated to.)

Do you like all the NGOs in Uganda?
Me? I like the NGOs. They’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people in Uganda.

When asked about the Uganda government…

People in government have money. The rest of us have no money. There’s so much unemployment here, but if you know someone then you can get a job. There are a lot of people here who have a lot of education, a diploma, but they can’t get a job because they don’t know the right people. But, if you know someone, then you can get a job. The people in government know people and have all the money.

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