Sunday, December 18, 2011

Camp Build and VHT training

campbuilduganda.blogspot.com

Last week I was a counselor for Camp BUILD. It was a great time, but tiring. I had (obviously) the best group of kids out of the whole camp, and we rocked it. I was also in charge of a personal project session, which was held for an hour or two each of the 5 days of camp. By the end of my session, 15 kids had worked together to build 6 functional trebuchets (or some variation thereof), which we then used in a final culmination presentation to the camp by chucking water balloons at them. I also was in charge of a critical thinking challenge each day, where each group would try and come up with the answer to a riddle that I provided each morning in a central location. I didn't realize how much competition there would be for them, which was both a nice and nasty surprise, depending on the circumstance. Anyway, all and all, it was great.

After the Camp, I went directly to VHT training in Bushenyi, Uganda. I had never been to the west part of the country, except for once, and I was struck at just how beautiful it really is. Early mornings when the fog is still hanging in between the hills, and the sun is producing mellow orange and red signs of its approach...such a scene easily held me captive on the first morning I was there. Subsequent mornings it found me waiting for it again. Simply wonderful.

The training itself was a bit challenging. It was designed to be a TOT (training of trainers) for the Peace Corps Volunteers, but also a training of VHTs in the district. Getting us to be interactive with the community and learn alongside of them is a great idea. Unfortunately, we don't speak their language, and they don't speak ours.

After a couple days of non-stop Runyokore lectures, it was pretty obvious that what we were going to get out of this training was not going to come from the mouths of the speakers. We all dug our heads into the reading materials we had been given, and started talking about the good and bad about VHTs in Uganda.

VHT means village health team. Basically the idea is that for people who aren't able to reach a health center, or for others who simply don't want to but might infact be neglecting the health of themselves or their family members, they will have an opportunity to talk to a VHT member within their own village. The VHT would be in charge of census-esque reports, encouraging proper maintenance of latrines, washing stations, antenatal care, and sleeping under mosquito nets (to name a few). The VHT is a volunteer position; selected by the community as a responsible and reliable person. Every quarter, the VHTs will be held responsible for turning in reports on the household into a summary for the parish level. It will then be put to the subcounty health officer (LCIII's office), and finally the District (the District Health Officer, or DHO).

Look, that's great. I mean, its a FANTASTIC idea. It's creative, it solves a lot of problems that certainly exist, and it encourages the community to take responsibility for themselves. The idea is there.

Unfortunately, the idea is expensive. The materials that VHTs require to do their reporting and turn in each quarter (for each of their 20-50 houses, depending on their catchment area) isn't cheap. The books cost around 18,000-20,000 shillings for each VHT. Each district having more than 100 VHTs...it becomes too big of a burden very quickly for the district to foot the bill for it.

If the district did try and pay for it at one time, you would never know it these days. In yet another case of how NGOs and Foreign Aid have "helped," in almost every instance of a VHT training or refresher course, the classroom materials and record books were printed at the cost of some fancy named organization. They carry out a training, buy a ton of books and pass them out along with their t-shirts, they high five themselves, and go. 3 months later...the community has been taught that they are going to be receiving these materials, but they don't really know from where it came from. The government expects the community to get these materials, and remembers that they did it last time; no need for them to foot a bill if they don't have. What falls through the cracks? Everything. Thus, because NGOs and short-sighted foreign aid organizations want a winnable victory in a week long VHT training...they are in essence damning the whole sustainability of it in that process. At best, they stick around, and continue giving trainings and materials; even then, all that is being produced is a harder dependency on the great white people. And each time, the foreign aid dependence is increased. Each time, they need us more than they did before. (I was explaining this to an NGO very recently, to one of its members. When I got to my conclusion that so many times a company focusing on Aid actually increases the dependency of the country, instead of decreasing it, he smiled and said "yes, of course!" Do you want our company to fail?")

And there it is. Organizations playing both sides of the fence, wanting to help but wanting to keep helping for hundreds of years. Good aid foundations stay open because they can still find a reason for their assistance DESPITE their work, not because of it. Not because they personally ensure that the community will be dependent on them. A good organization SHOULD close, SHOULD have an end date, SHOULD hold the community responsible to keep the things they are teaching/giving in a way that they never have to give it again. Until organizations realize that, they will be one of the leading causes to the overall poverty and lack of production within Uganda. And they will continue to cut the legs out of people like me, who are trying to organize people and teach them how to really help themselves.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pictures

Posting some pictures on Flickr today; I'm in KLA so I have fast internet. They are pictures of the well, under construction. I would not be able to take pictures of the well under construction these days....because the well is Finished! I drank my first glass of water from it (but not straight from it) just yesterday.

Site is going well. I am super busy lately. Traveling every freeking place. I am presenting to the U.S. Embassy tomorrow about community health in the village and the kinds of things that Volunteers are doing on the ground level. In less than a week, I'll be at Camp Build as a counselor. Directly after that, I'll be in a week-long training of trainers workshop on VHT's, to prepare me for a refresher course for LCI's, Volunteers, and health centers on Village Health Teams. I will be the leader for Eastern Uganda.

Like I said, I'm super busy. It's awesome. It's stressful, and traveling around in itself in Uganda isn't exactly a piece of cake...but I can honestly same I'm happy. I'm not sitting around asking myself if I'm integrated, because I no longer think in those terms. For now, the "us" and "them" doesn't exist. So, for now, I am enjoying it.

Thank you all so much for your emails. I guess my last blog, and perhaps the lack of blogs that I've written, have given the impression that I'm going through a rough patch. I promise to all that I truly am doing well. To be honest, the only real thing that is nagging at me constantly is figuring out what I'm going to be doing AFTER Uganda, not during it.

More soon,
Bod

Friday, November 11, 2011

All for a silly water pump

I’d like to say that my lack of communication has been because I’ve been super busy. Mostly, it’s because the projects that I’ve been hoping were being “finished up” are just NOW being “finished up.” I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to be finished up into the new year. Many days I feel like the mud has seeped up to my shins. Somedays the mud is loose enough to let me spin my wheels, other days it halts me before I even start. The worst part of all of it is knowing that if I really really wanted to, I could push myself above all of it, go around everyone that is currently involved, and sprint to the finish on my own accord. But that would be doing things for me, not for the people who are supposed to benefit from the projects.

Below is the story of the Water Pump:

The process to complete the borehole project within the Primary School has been very enlightening (for lack of a better term). I at first wanted to skirt the whole issue of the District Office, because I thought that it would be a momental waste of time. I was a bit ignorant of the fact that doing something within a public school and not telling the government about it wasn’t exactly, well, allowed. I also realized, much to my surprise, that our budget wasn’t as padded as I thought it might have been. 2.7 million shillings seems like such an outrageous amount of money to me, living in the villages here and buying only food and clothes for myself; it goes much quicker when you are trying to build a well, where all the parts have to be shipped, all the material has to be transported, and all the skilled labor has to be brought from the big towns.

Luckily, after realizing that we had to keep the district up to date with our progress on the well, I also quickly realized that they weren’t actually interested in doing anything to actively help in our mission. They simply want to know the goings on, my guess being so that when the project is finally completed they can swoop in. No big deal. But I also just realized that there are some real resources inside of the district. In all fairness, without them, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the project.

The first thing we did with the district is appeal to them to let us use their water pump for the well. Now that the Rainy season is in full swing, the well was holding around 10-13 feet of standing water. We need to get that water out before we could start building our well wall from the bottom up. This was something we were promised very early on, and one of the few things I actually felt like I could be confident about getting from Ngora. Such a rookie, was I.

Going through the Water Engineer, I ran around and around and around and called, called, called, to get him. I went to his office, met his technical committee, waited outside his house. After what seemed like an eternity, and literally took several months for me to stop being stubborn and give up this approach, I went to the C.A.O (Chief Administrative Officer), his boss. This was much more efficient. Kind of.

The C.A.O. signed a letter that I had written to recommend the use of Ngora’s water pump be lent to the primary school. As he was signing, he looked up and asked me if Ngora had a water pump. This was not a good sign.

Because the districts have recently split (by recently, and I didn’t even mean it sarcastically, I mean July 2010), Ngora has only a fraction of the supplies a normal district should have; this includes supplies needed to build/fix boreholes.
To fix the problem, I hinted that maybe with his help, the CAO could write to the CAO of Kumi and ask for the pump to be borrowed for a short period of time. Alright, he says, we’ll draft up a letter and send it to Kumi. Great. Later that day, I walk back up to the CAO with a letter that I’ve written in the CAO’s name with the District Office’s Header (I’m learning). He smiles at me, signs it, and offers to take it to Kumi for me. I say this would be great! He tells me that he will wait for a response from the CAO of Kumi, after which he will contact me and let me know what the “way forward” will be.

The next day, I go to Kumi in the morning. Because I’m able to speak Ateso, I get to know the secretaries of the CAO. They get a kick out of it that I can speak better than the CAO who has been there twice as long as me. (CAO’s are appointed officials, thus it is no surprise that they come from the president’s region of the country. People from the Southwest not only don’t speak Ateso, but their language isn’t even related at all. All of the other workers within the district, generally, are handpicked from within the region of the district itself.) The CAO isn’t in. Won’t be all day.

The next day, I’m again there in the morning. This time, because I’m back, they can see that my presence is going to become a common thing unless I get this thing done. The CAO still isn’t there, but they send me to one of the 3 ACAO’s to try and get the ball rolling on the issue. I’m extremely thankful. After waiting for 2 hours outside of the ACAO’s office to talk to me, the CAO actually shows up. I see him walk into his office. I decide to wait outside of his office, instead. When I go in and talk to him, I have a copy of the sheet that CAO of Ngora signed regarding the water pump (still learning). The original hasn’t yet made it. The CAO sends me to the District Engineer’s Office, across town, with his own transportation. District Engineer isn’t there. I sneak the number from the driver, and find out that, yeah, he’s around, but there is a problem. Their water pump is spoiled. Oh, but he has another one. Nope, that one is spoiled as well. Alright. There is another one in a different sector of the district, and he will check on it. An hour later, while I’m still sitting inside of the district in Kumi, he says that this pump is also spoiled. He offers an NGO within Kumi that might could help me. Alright. I start walking. About 15 minutes later, the District Engineer calls me. He says that I should go to the WATER Engineer’s office (apparently a different person). Yeah, I say, that’d be great…but aren’t the pumps spoiled? Yes, but he wants you to go to his office for “the way forward.” Alright, what the hell. I’ll be there in a minute.

A mile later, I’m in the office. The Water Engineer sits me down and asks what I need. I laugh. A water pump, just a water pump for 3 days. He says that, well, all of our pumps our spoiled. He does have, however, an EMERGENCY water pump…but he doesn’t much like giving it out to people. (this is my signal to offer a bribe). I smile. He smiles. I mention that it seems that the CAO isn’t even aware that this pump exists; perhaps he would be ok with giving over one of his pumps to Ngora, given that Kumi seems to have 4 and yet can’t keep good care of them. He laughs. Okay, you can use the pump, because you are my friend.

The next morning, I get the pump (I needed a car to transport the water pump, since I came on Public Transport, this wasn’t possible the day I was given permission for it.) He tells me that, by the way, the pump hose has some holes. Might be a problem, he says. There is no gas inside of the pump…but he says it works, and we can’t test it before we take it. Still a rookie, I am.

We get it back to Ngora, put new oil in it, and fill it with gas. The hose pump has holes. Can’t suction water out with a hose with holes. We patch the holes. Still nothing. The hired engineer is fed up. He threatens to leave, because we don’t have the proper equipment to do the job. After 4 more hours of trying to get the stupid pump to work, the hired engineer leaves. Less than an hour later, he’s back, with a new pump and hose on his piki in tow. He realized that there was a pump less than 8 kilometers away from the school; he is using it for his other project, just down the road. The pump already has oil, all it needs is gas. Works perfectly. REALLLLLLLLLY, mr. engineer? COULDN’T we have been told that about 3 months ago, 4 weeks ago, 3 days ago, yesterday, this morning, 4 hours previous?
This is the story of the water pump. Now multiply the complexity and sillyness of this story by infinity and take it to the depths of forever. Now you are getting a picture of me trying to do things in Uganda.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mother Nature pulls out her little black dress

In the past few weeks, there has been an unexplainable growth in the number of times when I've wished I had my camera close at hand. Mother Nature has been showing off a bit, here in Ngora, Uganda

About 4 days ago, I saw a Monitor Lizard while (biking) to Kumi, the other day. This guy was a good 3.5-4 feet in length...and he knew he could scare the crap out of me if he felt like it. I blame it on watching too many documentaries on Komodo Dragons from Indonesia. He waddled (please don't tell him I said he "waddled") off the road, but stopped on the side to stare me down, sending out is split tongue in odd directions. I was convinced by his confidence and made every motion to give him his space, nearly crashing in the process.

2 days prior, I was presented with a 3-scorpion, furiously trying in vain to escape his prison in the form of my pancake mixing bowl. I quickly noted that, for said scorpion to arrive inside of the bowl...it must have fallen from a height above it. Which means my rafters. Hm.

On my way, the same day, to meet up with my four legged friends (the piglets, who are my new wrestling partners), I nearly stepped on the biggest damned snake I've ever seen. He was a solid 4 feet, and a full fist in girth. Scared me half to death! I went back quickly (only because the parish chef saw me jump, and I had to get back my street cred) with a stick and machete to try and kill it. Unfortunately, I found it again...but fortunately, my dangerous front was convincing enough for him to bolt into the impenetrable bush, just behind the piglet's quarters. He's waiting for me. Oh, and don't worry; Ugandan's say they know exactly what kind of snake it is, after describing it to them...VERY poisonous. I am not going to say it was a Black Mamba, because that would make the story nearly unbelievable...but damned if it doesn't look just like one, from google images.

Not for the first time, but perhaps for the longest running, the sun has been seriously beating down on me in the day. Every day seems to be another endurance test in which I know I'm going to lose. Pride alone keeps me biking to town and to the village areas...exhaustion and lack of fluids keeps me in bed every day after lunch for my siesta. (This is not all a bad thing; I use the sun for a lot of stuff. It powers my radio, filters my water ( href="http://www.sodis.ch/index_EN">so-dis), dehydrates my fruit, and by the end of the week will be boiling my water for eggs, soup, etc. fair trade.)

Night-time has been even more awing, if you'll believe it. The rain beating down on my tin roof cancels out any noise even plausible. Such a noise goes past the usual soothing effect; it prevents any conscious thought, any chance of sleep...anything at all, really. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of its power is the horror-filled thunder and lightning. Living in a house that was built in Uganda...by Ugandans...is precarious enough. Having said house shaking like a naked girl caught in a snow storm is enough for me to have moved my bed as far away as the walls as possible. Three houses in my village alone have had walls fall already. The roads used to be bad; now they are all single-track mountain bike courses that remind you just how quick erosion can be, when she really puts her mind to it that is.

Today, I finally made it to the shore of Lake Kyoga, the body of water on the southern edge of Ngora. Absolutely gorgeous landscape, with canoe ferries (dug out trees, mostly) to take you across to the other side, to Pallisa. Can not WAIT to get to know those boatmen, in hopes of acquiring one of their crafts for a day on the water. Also hoping to make the lake travel part of a backroads bike travel trip, possibly all the way to Jinja (I'm thinking that would be around 100km?)

I'm starting to understand why these Ugandans don't enjoy, or understand, the idea of camping. Whenever I talk about the urge to go and put up my netted hammock for the night, they just laugh and shake their heads at me. But they live in nature; they experience it daily; more importantly, they are constantly at it's mercy. Volunteering to give Mother Nature more chances than are already present to mess with you? Not likely. Want to see nature, stars, wildlife? How can you not! Just look around, kid.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Uganda in a whole. new. light.

Something unspeakable has happened to me; so terrible that I refused to even admit it's possibility at first. It has taken me 2 weeks, but I'm finally ready to admit the truth of the situation.

Biking around the village, walking around town, traveling hours upon hours upon hours on public transportation...it's all changed dramatically. I have lost a companion, a counterpart...I have lost a integral part of my being since being in Uganda. I have lost my sunglasses.

I step up to my door, every morning, with wide bright eyes, ready to take on the day. Even after 2 weeks of absence, I reach for my sunglasses atop their usual resting place, on my head, behind my neck. Then I search for the handmade croakies around my neck...all in vain. They are gone. All is lost.

Seriously, it's killing me. These glasses were not only the barrier between me and the harsh, cruel world of Uganda, but they were also the polarization lens for my camera. They were the bug stoppers on the night bike rides. It was the item that said "I'm awake, I promise, but continue on with your meeting in a language I can't understand." I wore them more often than underwear, and cleaned them about 20x more. They not only experienced Uganda; they were with me on my way to work in Chapel Hill, they left the hill with me on an amtrak to NYC, and they came back with me while on a bike back home. They experienced Bald Head Island, 4th of July's, and it was through them that I saw no less than 3 "THE DAYS" in Spring at UNC (2nd warm day of UNC, when the girls...well, they looked nice.) They were dropped thousands of times, but hold no grudge.

I know you're suffering much in Uganda, now, my old friend. You are probably being hawked at a price extremely un-befitting of your status, to a person completely unwilling to appreciate you in the way that you should be. Although you have been lost, remember that you are not forgotten. Never will I stop looking for you, and if I do find the culprit and reason for our so sudden divorce, rest assured his punishment will come with great vengeance and, yes, furious anger.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What a Weekend!!

With as much stuff that happens in this country that gets me agitated, I try and keep at least one or two things in the distance that I know are going to be a blast. Lights at the end of the tunnel, and all that. Ideally, the good days are spread out so that I can continue to look forward to things, but also don't get too disillusioned about where I'm living. This weekend didn't follow that rule at all!

Firstly, I traveled to Jinja to compete in the Annual Nile River Rafting Race. I also competed in this the last year with Peace Corps, finishing 4th (although two rafts in front of us cheated). This year, we said, we'd come more prepared. Either way I knew I'd have a blast; Nile River, good friends, and motivation to work my muscles to a point of total failure in less than 30 minutes? Right up my alley.

After we finished our race, we were pretty sure we'd at least get on the podium; the race was done solely as a timed competition, and there were 3 heats (18 or 19 boats total). We had pretty good rhythm throughout the race and despite hitting a pretty bad eddy which slowed us down, I was feeling pretty confident. At the awards ceremony, we found that not only had we won (we beat the 2nd place team by over a minute, with a time of 22:37), but we'd also set a new course record in the history of the race itself. What a great feeling! We'd accomplished our goal, and done it in the proper way.

During the Jinja trip, less selfishly positive things happened as well. Another company in the Jinja area approached me (which is a nice change of power) to start supplying them hammocks. I also started talking to a South African lady who happened to be the Sales Director of a major magazine published throughout Uganda, and she asked me to write up the NPHC story and send her some pictures to put it in her next issue. Wow! If I can get the kids to write it, and have it be solely their names on the issue, without any mention of silly me or Peace Corps, can you imagine how proud they would be? Great to be able to positively reinforce such great kids, and supporting them in something that they have done on their own.

Today, about 5 minutes ago (just in time for it to still be considered part of my amazing weekend, 7 minutes before midnight), I got an email being told that my Appropriate Projects Latrine Funding (http://appropriateprojects.com/node/703) had just gotten fully funded. Appropriate Projects did pre-fund my project for the health center...but still. It's complete! Also, I'm eligible (and preferred by the company) to re-apply for another grant, given that it's actually needed and can be used in a sustainable way to decrease the need for it's kind of support in the future. Awesome!

Riding the wave into the weekday, tomorrow. Fully expecting for my Apex-turned-high-plateau to start crumbling down back to sea level (or lower)...but also continuing with faith that weekends like this will keep arising, even if they're sporadic at best.

Bring on Monday!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Great Way to Help

Awhile back, I wrote a blog talking about how foreign aid in this country was causing problems, not fixing them. This is a common recurrence in my writing, as it is in other Peace Corps Volunteers.

In response, many people challenged me to take the extra step and give examples of ways to support Uganda in a sustainable way that will reduce the need for future aid.

One way you can do this is through supporting projects in which people of Uganda have taken it upon themselves to change their own future. One such project, I am extremely proud to say, was made through a friend of mine in Peace Corps, David Szaronos. You can check out the company that he helped start here: http://avemariabeadco.drupalgardens.com

Take a few minutes to look through the website. Read a couple of the ladies' letters to (you), the supporter. If you like their product, then figure out a way to find some beads near you, or challenge them to figure out a way to get some beads to you.

One thing you'll notice: David isn't on the website at all. The website wasn't made for his vanity, and he has no need to attach himself to it. Thus, another step is taken towards the women (and boy) taking charge of their project, their product, their lives.

I Call BS (Devil's Advocate)

When I get back home, noone is going to recognize me. I'm going to bake my own cakes, dry my clothes on a clothesline, and shower no more than twice a week. It's all I need! I'm going to take public transportation, I'll never leave my plate unclean, and I'm going to greet everyone on my street, everyday. It's how it should be! Man, it's going to be great!!

I have heard segments of this paragraph (this paragraph can continue on into infinity, as you could easily imagine its concept) nearly every time I get together with fellow PCV's. The same thing, except (ironically) even MORE flamboyant promises of change in character come from shorties (short-term volunteers) that I commonly meet when in Jinja. I smile, nod, and consider the differences I'll make in my American life when I return to it. Sometimes I'm even the one saying these things, I'll admit; I'll be extremely confident in my own future alterations of self. Yeah. I'm all talk.

Can I live with no electricity, no computer, no running water? Can I live without daily portions of cheese, red meat, and a microbrew? Will I manage? Absolutely. Proven that. But when I go back in June, and then go back again at the end of 2012, you can bet your sweet butt you'll be able to find me at Spanky's. I'll be the guy eating a double patty, rare pimento cheese burger with the latest dark beer on tap in front of me. There will be another glass, filled with water (shot from a magic gun) and ICE on my side. I will be watching ESPN on a flat screen and perusing internet from the wi-fi connection.

There are certainly many attributes of my daily life in Uganda that I'd love to carry over when I eventually move back. But to think that it is as simple as doing as while I'm here...that would be to underestimate if not ignore a number of factors. Culture and the norms that it produces are powerful forces, and they carry more weight than one might care to believe. Putting a clothesline out in your backyard in Uganda is nothing more nor less than a necessity; there is no other way. Doing it in the suburbs is going to raise a few eyebrows. People will associate you as a "kind" of person, based on this. The kinds of people who take public transportation in Uganda are simply not the same kind of people who take public transportation in America. Anybody been in a Greyhound station in a major city? Yeah. It's a different scenario completely; to not recognize that is to not fully appreciate the exceptional situation we are all currently in.

I think someone would respond to me with something like, "what I am going home with is a new perspective about how life is lived in other parts of the world." This is a big part of why most of us are here; but I have to ask what good a perspective is if we're not going to come away any different because of it. It isn't like we didn't already know, or couldn't have somehow easily discovered the current situation of people in parts of the world like Uganda. All you'd have to do is read one of the thousands of other Peace Corps blogs that are being produced, and you'd have a pretty good picture. We wouldn't have the personal stories, we wouldn't have the fine details that would make these perspectives as powerful, fair enough. But when I'm back in America, sitting on my couch with A/C on, what good is that?

Before everyone goes crazy, I don't mean to say that all of us will simply revert back to our old selves, taking things for granted and driving our 8 mpg klunkers, although I do think that will be true of more than just a small portion of us. I only mean for us to appreciate the culture with which we've been placed in. It is through this culture that we have learned to live in such a low impact way, and yet still in a way that we feel comfortable, healthy, and happy. To assign these changes as changes to our own character, however, is at best premature.

We don't have reasonable capabilities of the many luxuries that we were accustomed to in the U.S., but that doesn't mean we won't want them when we're back. It doesn't mean we can't once again become set into the exact same person we were before we left. It really doesn't mean anything at all. Right now, we're all following the norms of our society, just like we did in America. Breaking norms is a lot harder. Especially when you don't have a 2-year get out of dodge guarantee.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Letting Go

Yes, yes, I've always had the hope that the harmack company (as a specific example in a more general sense) would be as sustainable as possible, and would eventually be taken over completely by Ugandan's who I've been leading. I constantly worried that I was doing too much, having too much input. Indeed, at the beginning, if it wasn't my idea that we were following, then necessarily it was an idea that I all but implanted in one of the kid's mind. But now its changed. Students have become the leaders. More and more, little by little, I've been relinquishing my influence over the company. It's really great; it is seriously ideal; its a little sad.

Finding work is arguably the most common struggle for any Peace Corps Volunteer. (Besides the food, time management, language barrier...)Add this to the fact that when you put a philosophy major in a health center, he doesn't exactly have a lot planned out for him. Sorry, I don't want to stick a needle in the baby's head. Having such a successful project like the NPHC, and then realizing (by your design) that you are no longer running it, or even really needed...Kind of feels like catching a monster bass in a catch & release pond. Time to start all over, with knowledge that in all likelihood you aren't going to find anything better.

I almost stopped there, but that isn't really my style and it wouldn't be fair. I really am proud of the company, and having less responsibilities has allowed me to develop a small team to work on the RD & D department of the NPHC. We're working on new styled harnesses (THANK YOU RICK & MEL!!), new designs, and on improving the netted hammock design. It is a blast. I'm also trying to teach them about email (NgoraParishHarmackCompany@gmail.com) and websites, along with excel (budget) and all the intricacies of small business. And, real soon, I will have co-facilitated the repair of a newly donated & transported (and transported again) sewing machine for the group.

As it has come, I've realized that maybe the NPHC isn't actually going to be my Peace Corps service. I haven't quite finished a year on service, after all; I've got a whole nother year coming up. That is a bit daunting, I'll admit; but hey, could be fun.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The full Ugandan experience

It is the PMI (President's Malaria Initiative)'s goal to try and reduce malaria in sub-saharan Africa by 50% in 5 years. No, really, we are hoping to actually accomplish that. Even though, when my health center did a survey about malaria in the community of 86 women, only 18 knew that it was contracted through malaria carrying mosquitoes. Anyway, I have to admit to being my own worst enemy in this quest. I found out after 3 days and nights of debilitating sickness that I had been infected with Malaria.

I had never had the disease before, obviously, and therefore had never developed the antibodies and relative immunity to the disease that Ugandan's have from a lifetime of exposure. That said, I have to admit that it was probably the worst I've ever felt from an illness. For me there was no throwing up or diarrhea, only headache and fever. But the headache was literally blinding, and the fever recorded at times reaching 104. I remember walking to the parish to say hello, and wondering which foot I was moving, while staring down at them. I lost the ability completely to look outside myself and see how people might be looking at me; I walked out of my house with no shirt, and boxers on after a year of never stepping outside without long pants and ( 90% of the time) a long sleeve button down. I was pretty out of it. At night I'd pile on blankets, wearing jeans, jackets, and a toboggan on my head, and I'd still be shivering.

My poor parish, they were so worried about me that I wished I could pull a Willy Wonka, do a tumble roll and put my hands up in the air and exclaim hooray for them. I actually tried, once Orelia (the cutest 3 year old girl you'll ever know) started crying because she heard that "her" opolot (she calls me "opolotka", meaning literally "My opolot") was sick. Instead, I stayed in bed, grumbled to and back the parish house to supervise the hammocks being made. I even skipped meals. Skipping meals is a cardinal sin in Uganda, and you can guarantee it will cause you some attention. By attention, I mean that everyone AND their mother will come and bang on your door until you drag yourself out of bed and thank THEM for greeting you.


Alright. I certainly never intended to contract the highest killing illness in Uganda (and Sub-Saharan Africa on the whole). I didn't want it, and I never did anything intentionally to get it. That being said, I have to admit that I am pretty happy about experiencing it. These Ugandans deal with malaria to a point of absurdity. I've had it once, and it's enough, but it is good to know what others go through 4 or 5 times a month.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to fix a tire, Ugandan style.

This is the morning I had, going to a bike shop to get my tube patched for my bike. Repairmen in general have a very good mix of Incredible Mr. Fox and McGuiver inside of them. They have all kinds of clever tricks, some which work, others that don't at all, to fix whatever item you bring in. This is no different, and perhaps especially so, for bicycle repairman of Uganda.

These steps below took around 75 minutes to get through. Future Ugandan Bicycle Repairmen, pay attention closely. This is the way to do it.

Step 1: Go get some maize. Corn on the cob is going to come in very handy later.

Step 2: Wait for silly muzung with the "feminine" hair to come down and speak about his problems with his broken Ateso

Step 3: Laugh heartily, while continuing to eat your maize and show your pearly whites. Those that are left, that is.

Step 4: Tell silly muzung to sit down. Tell him it is going to cost (exorbitant price here), then smile your best "i'm an honest man" smile.

Step 5: get the tube out of the tire as haphazardly as possible, ideally causing another problem in order to fix, thereby being able to double the (exorbitant) price.

Step 6: Finish your maize, lay it beside you.

Step 7: Pause to talk about the Muzung's bike, make jokes about him in Ateso that you are positive he can't understand. Laugh heartily.

Step 8: Make sure there isn't a kernel left in the maize.

Step 9: Blow up the tube using something only slightly resembling a bicycle pump. Put the tube to your mouth, so that you can hear if there are leaks. (not a mistake.)

Step 10: Put the tube inside a bucket of "black black" water, checking for bubbles

Step 11: Talk about how much money mzungus have. Smile.

Step 12: Find the hole.

Step 13: Pick back up your corn on the cob, and use it as an abrasive to scratch up the surface of the tube, thereby making the glue stick better. Do this for no less than 10 minutes. (do NOT throw away your corn on the cob after this. You can use it for a week, at least. Anything less would be, well, wasteful.) (side note: you should have seen the corn on the cob that was finally thrown away, after my guess of a weeks use.)

Step 14: Glue on patch, quickly put the tube back into the tire, pump up the tire with one hand, put your hand out for money.

Step 15: Leave IMMEDIATELY after muzungu bikes away; no need to be there when he's back in 15 minutes for the same problem. On the same tube.

When I arrive back, said 15 minutes later, the workers understand that Opolot is madder than a wet hornet. Having just spent over an hour and 1000 shillings (ok, it's only 40 cents, but still.) on this, only to be back where I started...yeah. Another worker comes over, pushing others aside (his legs are there, but seem to have no use; they are dangling below him, turning 270 degrees in either direction. He walks over with his hands). This is clearly the man I should have asked for the first time; everyone gathers around to watch him work. 15 minutes later, I have a tube that is in all likelihood stronger than when I bought it brand new. I take note of this man, and make sure that I'll be able to find him the next time. He even told me not to pay. "No problem. I get money from other man. He no good. Nice Day." I shake his hand (you'll never see an arm more rippling with muscles), and bike away with new appreciation for Ugandan's adaptability, for my amazing bicycle, and most of all, for corn on the cob.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hammocks Galore

The latest on the Hammock Situation.

Our struggles right now with regard to the NPHC consist mostly of being able to stay afloat against a rising tide of orders. Every day we get emails, texts, or phone calls asking for more hammocks. Right now, thankfully, we are only supplying to 3 companies, of which only two have ordered large numbers. They are all in Jinja, and they are a matter of meters between each other. It is absolutely saturating the market of that community, true enough. We didn't think about that.

Our staff fluctuates more than my music preferences (currently on a mix of Avett Brothers and Kanye West's newest album). There are two standouts, two dependables that are unbelievably vital to the whole operation, in both a sense of completion of tasks but also in a sense of sustainability. There are lots of others that are helping, lots more who "want to join" but don't want to actually do anything, and tons more who want to sign up but would take over the business completely. This needs to be a one for all and all for one kind of deal, where everyone is learning. I am not quite ready to settle for anything less.

These two kids are the bees knees. After this next trip, I'm going to try and give them the challenge of each, separately, starting their own mock NPHC business from the ground up. They will have the same budget that we started with originally (200 thousand shillings each), which we have now been able to make in profits. They are going to have to go back to buying in small amounts, unless they find a way to get a loan in order to buy rolls (which go at 80 thousand in Mbale, which is a round trip 14 thousand shilling journey). They will create their own budget, make their own designs, and work off of their own problem solving skills. They will have to figure out how to pay out the workers that they find and organize. I am still, for the time being, taking hold of the sales portion of the business. I realize that this is a fault, and I'm working on it. Small steps.

Please forgive me, people who I have promised hammocks to in the US. Neither the NPHC nor I have forgotten about you, but you have to understand that I value solid businesses in Uganda and the local Uganda communities orders over your own. I hope this doesn't turn you away from our business; we are trying to make sure that this thing is sustainable, and if we can make it so that this Ugandan company doesn't have to depend on the charitable purchase of Opolot's friends, then that would absolutely be ideal. For those that I have promised hammocks, worry not; we'll get there. And your hammocks will be sick.

Expansion of the company is imminent. The more hammocks that we sell (we are going to break our 100th sell this weekend) the more scraps we have, thus giving us more opportunity to use the scraps in creative ways. I am so excited about this portion of the business, each day I wake up with new ideas in which to use all of these cool scrap pieces.

The machine is here, with all its bells and whistles. We have purchased a second stand for it, bearings, and several other parts that I can't even remember the name of in order to get it in working condition. I'm really hoping that by the end of this week we'll have a working sewing machine in our hands. What a rush that would be for our kids, to see something that THEY have bought with the profits that THEY have made. I'm so proud!

After an increase in the order from one of the companies in Jinja, and an All Volunteer Conference looming, we currently have 24 hammocks at the shops, waiting to be completed. Considering that we've only sold 80 total thus far, that is a big. number. The kids are flying around, and because of our fervor we are working so much faster and yet so much slower. Every mistake sends us backwards...and when you've got 14 year olds as managers, mistakes are inevitable. But, geez, the things these kids are learning. Its something that I will never forget.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Rant.

My mind is nearly always caught up with the idea of foreign aid, of my role in my community, and of the things that I can do that will reduce the need for people like me to be here in the future. It paralyzes me at times, motivates me at others, but either way seemingly omnipresent.

Unfortunately, thinking of things in this light is also, in some ways, dehumanizing. When I find people doing me a favor, although I'll say thank you immediately, I will in my mind be on full alert. Why is this person helping me? How far am I away from my home? Should I talk to him or pass by? Where is my cell phone? How much money am I holding right now? Is anyone else around? The furthest thing from my mind is the exact feeling I'd want to have: I wonder how I can pay this person back.

These fears, as is the case with most all fears of the human mind, are not completely unfounded. The overwhelming majority of acts done to me in this country hold only the facade of altruism and in fact are done in search of a bigger greater favor on my part. There have certainly been uncountable times when I've struck up conversations or done/had done a favor, and ended up having to explain that I'm a volunteer, I don't have money. Yes, I'm hungry too. No, I can't give you my passport or get you to America. Look, I see that you are in pain, but I can't do anything for you. No, actually, I'm not a doctor.

And so, what is there to do? I have trained myself (more appropriately put, been trained by Uganda) to control my smiles and cries in such a way that people in the community know me, will feel comfortable with me, can come and talk to me, laugh with me, joke with/at me...but if they come asking for undeserved favors, they will be met with malevolence. I've told kids, mothers, fathers, and even grandparents that they have bad manners. I've made kids cry, scream bloody murder because Opolot is chasing after them. Ok, chasing the kids is kind of fun...but telling a jaja that she has bad manners is pretty terrifying.

Once again, unfortunately, I think that this is really the only realistic way to prevent the community seeing me as an ATM, not to mention to prevent me going absolutely insane. There exists no room to do such a favor for one person with the skin color that I have. It would spread faster than a brush fire. Its happened. And yes, this is the fault of generations upon generations upon generations of "foreign aid," as well as the community.

(Note: There is not a single day that I do not want to empty my pockets, my house, and give the shirt off my back to these people in my community. Not a second goes by that I don't think about how great I could make these people's days by giving them t-shirts, some pencils, an egg, money for some yoghurt. I am no different than any other person who wants to help this country. But, and this is the important part, I SEE that giving them that handout is, while thought to be a selfless act, is absolutely without question the EXACT OPPOSITE. If I wanted to feel good everyday, then hell yeah, I'd give out everything. I'd hardly eat food, saving every dime to give away to these people. I'd feel great. It would be AWESOME. But it is the people that would suffer. These people have been given crutches, and after enough years, they find themselves using crutches as replacements for legs. It absolutely sucks to rip those crutches away from them, and watch them using their legs for the first time. But that is foreign aid done properly. And that's what I'm here for. If I were here for myself, I'd be giving them handouts everyday. For those of you reading this that do give money towards foreign aid, please please make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and that the money is not going towards the perpetuation of an NGO in a country where they don't belong, but rather towards ENDING THE NEED for what you are donating.

Bottom line: The hardest thing about being in this country is a direct result of all the "assistance" that has been given to it. We, and therefore I, am my own worst enemy here.)

Sorry. Soapbox. Anyway, along the way I've found that this feeling as formed into a desensitization and an inability to appreciate a gift that is just a gift. More generally, a showing of mutual understanding and respect for another, and nothing else. Something so intrinsic is, of course, quite rare, but that doesn't mean that it never happens. When it does, I miss it as such. I figure it is some kind of Long-con, designed to bite me once I've let down my defenses. The respect is given, but not received.

Since this realization, I have sat down with 5 people of my community with whom my respect cannot be higher. It is amazing that after only a year I have 5 people like this. I barely have 5 in America. Anyway, I talked to them (some in english, others in Ateso because they couldn't understand me otherwise) and let them know how much their support and continual care means to me. A couple were awkward, some misunderstood what I was trying to say...but I think they mostly got my point. "Look, because of the world that Uganda is right now, I can't appreciate you in the way I wish I could. Even so, I just want you to know that I see you (couldn't help the Avatar reference), I recognize your help with me, and I also see all the things you are doing for your community and your country." Something like that.

I'm trying to deal with being someone who loves giving out praise, doing favors, etc., in a country where doing so has serious repercussions. I'm confident that I'll never figure it out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Absolutely

Can we, the NPHC, make 21 hammocks within a week?(Finished today)

Can I, Matt Boddie, lead a group of girls on an hour session talking about gender roles? And then do it 3 more times, back to back to back? (Next week, in South West Uganda)

Can Ngora be given torrential downpours that, with a tin roof and no ceiling, make it impossible for me to hear myself to think? (Usually helps me go to bed. This time it kept me from sleeping at all.)

Can I save up enough money on the "volunteer" money that we make in this country to travel to Nairobi, Mombasa, Lamu, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, and back for Christmas and New Years?

Can I have already been here for a year?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cross it off!

Hierarchic minded volunteers in Uganda always like to say that you aren't REALLY a volunteer until you perform a #3.

For those not well versed in numerology, #3 is a culmination of simultaneous events. While in the "throws" of an abusive, diarrhetic #2, you find that you have to also expel waste threw your other end. The result is a yoga move you don't hear about; having both ends of your body faced in a direction so as not to make your bad day just a little bit messier.

In honesty, I didn't believe I was this flexible. I doubt myself no more.

Less than a week 'til a year in Uganda, and I've finally crossed the barrier of becoming a real volunteer.

Hoorah?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I hate blogs with numbered lists.

It feels really pretentious, as if this list is completely exhasutive of whatever is being talked about. I hate them more, though, because they are incredibly uncreative. But whatever. I just want everyone to know that, as I do this, well...I'm not happy about it.

Time. It's been blowing by. The only thing that compares to the speed in which time is moving in my life is from my freshman year of college. And, I fear, time was moving quickly for much different reasons back then.

In any case, I've learned a lot with my time here.
1) Spiders may hunt and kill other small animals, but that doesn't mean it's good to let them live inside your house. They bite too.

2) A room is a room is a room. You can be in Uganda or Haiti or Washington D.C., but if you're sitting on your computer staring at a wall, well, don't expect to be blown away.

3) Books are a dangerous ally in the place of isolation. Dangerous because, in time, you find that the books are taking the place of your human relationships. And you might not mind very much.

4) Kindles suck. Books are infinitely better.

5) If you want something to get done, bad, and it shows....you'll end up paying 5 times as much and will get a fifth of the community participation. Do it slow, let it grow, and act like you'd be fine if it never happened. If it doesn't, then your finger isn't on the pulse of the community, because they didn't want it. If they don't want it, it isn't going to exist.

6) Sometimes, in the act of being "Ugandan," you can lose sight of your mission here. I am not an Atesot, I will never be. It's awesome that I wash my own clothes and can cook my own meals, but if doing that costs 3/4 of every day, then what have I really done as a volunteer besides build my own capacity? I am not here for me. That will happen, and in more abundance, if I focus on my community and ditch the "independent man" pride thing.


I've learned how to say hello, how are you, and thank you for cooking in 5 different languages (other than english). I can wash my own clothes in buckets, cook an upside down pineapple cake from a sigiri, I can hand-sew a bowtie. I enjoy my alone time, as always, but have learned not to romanticize it as much as had in the past; being alone is inevitable, so one should also appreciate the time spent with others. I have learned to teach kids, and they have taught me what controls them. I have learned how to dress right in Uganda, and have learned when I'm able to disregard those rules. I've learned that when you're my color, the first price is rarely the right price, and that if you're persistent, you are paying less than most Ugandans.

I'm no longer worried about being able to pay back all of the things my community has taught me. Ok, that's not true; it's a constant sting in my brain that continues to nag me on an hourly basis. But I've realized that, for the most part, that's not what the community is looking for when they help me. Me helping them is listening to them; me empowering them is letting them be prideful in their own way of life. And it's a pretty sweet life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Series of Events

I haven't written a good blog post in quite some time. This won't be one either. In the lack of quality, however, I hope to at least attempt catch up the masses on some notable goings-on of my last couple of months. I hope, most of all, this will make me feel like writing a blog is less daunting (think about not checking your voicemail for a week...and then not checking it because you know it will take forever to catch back up. something like that). Thanks for all the emails, some of which were of the abusive nature, getting me back on the horse. I will work hard to start this back up.

JICA vs. Peace Corps Baseball Game

What a blast it was to get together with fellow peace corps volunteers and challenge the JICA (Japanese version of Peace Corps) of Uganda to a friendly match of softball. It was enlightening on a couple of different levels, as well.

I heard the first hand the story that has apparently been circulated quite thoroughly in America about the Ugandan Little League team that was denied visas and therefore entrance into the Little League World Series. This was something they had earned through competition of other countries trying to qualify, and would have been the first African country to play in the tournament in the 65+ years of the competition’s duration. That’s absurd.

I also got to hear a lot from the Japanese volunteers about their struggles and frustrations with the country that we all now call home. They could have been spoken from any Peace Corps volunteer, and have been spoken by me at some point or another. Lack of time management, using the excuse TIU (this is Uganda) instead of taking responsibility, and the unbelievable amounts of resources that go to waste in this country. I hear you, JICA. I hear you.

Sesse Island Weekend Retreat

A couple of guys in my group organized a get together in the islands just south of Kampala, within Lake Victoria. The trip was perfect for what it was intended for: relaxation, stress relief, and spreading ideas and concepts to the other members of our group on what is working/not working in our communities. It is amazing how successful and important these seemingly selfish retreats can be for the benefit of my community. If for no other reason than outlining exactly “What I’m doing,” talking to the group can shine light on things that I have abandoned, forgotten, or perhaps put too much emphasis on.

Jinja NRE/Relax River Camp Business Meetings

The Ngora Parish Harmack Company has officially started supplying two companies within Jinja harmacks for their purchase to travelers in the area. Both of the companies’ main attraction is rafting the Nile River, as well as a relaxed and comfortable place to rest your bones before and after. Prices of each company range from 120-125 dollars for rafting. We have officially sold 13 hammocks to one company, and have additional orders of 10 and 21 hammocks “Whenever you can get them here.” This is great. Like, it’s really great.

The company is learning how to expand its business. It is learning about buying supplies in bulk (versus the cost/time/effort to find where you can buy them), profit margin, appropriate payout, and quality control. The problem used to be getting people interested in joining the company; the problem is now having a stick big enough to keep wannabe staff away. Kidding. Kind of. I have continued to step back from my responsibilities from the company; but if I’m being honest, I’m still doing too much. But I know that, and it’s the biggest step towards fixing it.

I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in
I am lost…I am hopeless
It isn’t my fault
It takes forever to find a way out

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again
I can believe I’m in the same place
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it is there.
I still fall in…it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kids

Kids. Perhaps it has been due too many movies of protagonistic kids who come from broken homes, bad neighborhoods, or distant lands with little opportunity and who end up changing their community, their country, and becoming an inspiration to all those around them. It is also, perhaps, due to my respect for them, seeing these children walking to school, sans-shoes, 6 kilometers from their home, to sit all day without food or water. It is definitely due my idealistic nature and utopian hopes of empowering these youth and giving them proper skills to see the opportunities that are so (SO) abundant in this country.

For whatever reason, though, I had lost sight of the fact that these kids are just kids. They are selfish, egocentric, jealous, lazy, opportunistic, cruel, unforgiving, generalizing, and irresponsible. Just because they have different house chores, different scales of what a good and bad day is, and other different qualities of live to what an American kid goes through...that doesn't mean they aren't still as "kid-like" as the average pre-pubescent brat in middle class America.

Also, as in America, there are going to be some kids that simply "don't want to". Although I'd love to work with them in my projects, although I'd love to empower them and have them take charge of their own destiny...if these kids don't want to, then it simply isn't going to be possible. I don't mind working to encourage them; I realize that it's my job to remain diligent in not counting out any of these children. But, at a certain point, is it right for me to sacrifice time with kids who are driven, who come to ME, who don't except "ok" for the kids who don't give a darn one way or another? If there is any lesson that would be important for those kids, wouldn't it be that, especially in the world that they were born into, if they don't actively seek out the help that exists (in plenty) in this community, in this country, then it's simply not going to be there for them? It sucks, but there is not going to be someone to hold their hand through this world. They have to grow up quick. To ignore that is, to me, to be unrealistic and possibly the worst kind of teacher of all.

So here it is, kids of Ngora: I am here. I have ideas. I can be a change agent for you, and I can give you information on almost anything you want to know about. If you come to me, I promise you with my full heart that I'll work as hard as I can to insure we accomplish our goals. The door is right there. But if you don't turn the knob, then there's not much I can do. And I'm going to stop feeling bad about it. Help me. Help you.

Class is open.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

For (Cheap! Ugandan Made! Towards a good Cause!) Hammock Inquiries...

... Email the company at NgoraParishHarmackCompany@gmail.com. Give them an idea of what you are looking for, and ask about costs and all of that. I am trying to teach my kids to work on their writing skills, and this email is one of the avenues that we are using to learn. Anything you want to ask for is fine; anything that gives my kids the chance, or mandates, their use of creativity and problem solving skills, all the better.

Thanks,
Matt

Through the looking glass

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks or so in a blur of travel. Planned trips, holidays, and good friend coming to visit converged into a blitz of moving around that I hadn’t expected would be so…tiring. I also learned a lot from it, though.

1. Life here is crazy. I commonly give up reassurances of safety without thinking, mostly because there is no feasible alternative. Also because I’m more confident about my own ability to control my own safety. Drivers don’t speed when I’m in the car anymore, because I won’t let them. When a boda is coming upon me at a speed unwise, I jack out my arm in their direction, then at the last moment swerve my bike to the opposite side, thereby creating more space and also giving him all that I can. They all hate this, of course, and that’s fine. “Opolot, erai ijo stubborn” No problem. I’m not getting clipped by you anymore while I’m riding to Kumi, so it’s all good.

2. Moving with a man who isn’t used to Uganda, I’ve realized how dirty my life is. Dust is everywhere. I have no idea what my skin color actually is anymore. My house has over 15 geckos and lizards in it at any given time, and 3 times as many spiders. I invite the openly; THEY don’t have the disease that is the biggest killer in Uganda inside of them, and more, they kill the things that do; mosquitos with malaria.


3. Seeing other Peace Corps Volunteers sites, I’m struck by how different everyone’s experience is in country. Some people have house girls/boys that come every day to mop, wash clothes, cook food, and clean the house. As a result, they spend more time doing the things they came here to do, and I’m left thinking that they are actually less selfish that I am; I am washing my own clothes and cooking (a little bit) because it’s something I was hoping to learn how to do, as a way of growing. For other people, their focus is solely on Uganda, and they don’t want to be bogged down by menial tasks that will take them away from that. I hadn’t thought about it like that until then.

4. I was also struck by a realization when a PCV was reading to a group of us a small biography he had written for a Ugandan friend of his. He is attempting to have his friend accepted into a 3 week seminar that takes the Ugandan to America and has him visit congressman and entrepreneurs in the country. Amidst reading the nomination, you could tell that he was fighting back the tears of emotion. He was unbelievably proud of this man, and filled with such a respect for him. It’s the kind of feeling that at some level seems strange; when you have such a level of respect for a man, it is odd to think that your word could help him. It would seem more appropriate to be the other way around. Anyway, I found all of the Peace Corps Volunteers looking at the man reading with knowing eyes, with expressions that said “yeah, I know how you feel. There’s a friend that I’ve got at my site (home), too, that I feel the same way about.” It’s a cool feeling, and it’s good to know this country has those leaders in more places.


5. I’ve become extremely condescending and critical in my nature towards “shorties”, or short term volunteers, and it isn’t always fair. These people for the most part mean well, and the only way they are going to learn the effects of what 95% of the foreign aid that comes into this country actually DOES for this country is if they come and see it for themselves. Even still, they annoy me like crazy with their disrespecting clothing, pretentious diction when speaking to Ugandans, and general beliefs about coming here for 3 weeks in their summer to “fix” Uganda. Give me a break, kid. Oh, and just because you didn't actually SAY that, if you are thinking it in even a subconscious way that Uganda needs to be fixed, you are worse than I'm describing. Come with an open mind, prepare to take notes, and expect to have your mind blown. Or don't come.

6. I love my home. Being away from it for more than a couple of days really starts to bother me. It isn’t altogether a good thing; getting breaks away from site are important, to be able to look at what needs to be done in a more rounded, less tunnel-visioned light. Coming back home to Orelia (the parish chef’s 2.5 year old daughter) running up to me saying “welcome back” in the local language and hugging my knees…it doesn’t get much better than that.

Perspective

When the sun rises, I go to work,

When the sun goes down, I take my rest,

I dig the well from which I drink

I farm the soil that yields my food.

I share creation. Kings can do no more.

In response to my own mind becoming more and more pessimistic, I’ve tried to tone down my efforts of bigger picture accomplishments, and focus more on the here and now. I try not to think about 15 months from now, or 6 months from now, or about next week’s goals. It’s not that those goals have gone, nor does it mean that I’m not conscious of them, but focusing too much on accomplishment and tally sheets is simply not feasible in this culture. It’s not what I’m here for; it can’t be. It can’t be simply because it is not what the community is wanting, not what they’re asking for. And if they don’t want it, it simply won’t be done. Period.

That is pretty disheartening at times. Forget disheartening, it downright pisses me off sometimes. There are things that I could teach these people that could really make a change in this country; I believe that with whole heartedness. Some of them even recognize it to be true, but their resolve remains unchanged; it is a dream that they simply don’t share. Development, I’ll say. People have different reactions. For the older, more wiser people in the community, they’ll remain silent. In their hearts, they’ll ask me why. Why develop? Why work harder on something, with the chance that it will succeed or fail, than remaining the status quo and be sure to survive? Their parents did it this way, their parents parents. When something good enough comes to change our world, it will be shipped to us (old versions) for free, and other people will call it charity. The kids here are a bit different. They all play the part of being interested in wanting to become “modern,” they say all the right words, talk about sustainability, development, and gender equality. In the end they are exactly like their parents, just ignorant of what they are saying and what it entails.

So what’s my play? Is it my job to be acting as a fundamental element of change for these people? Is it even possible for me to do that? I hate it, but I see their point. If I was born into their world, I would be a huge proponent of staying exactly the way I am. I’m laughed at 20 times a day because of my weird notions, because I don’t believe in witchcraft (which is APALLING to these people, even the catholic priests), because I’m harvesting water from my roof even though I have a tap, because I’m trying to dehydrate fruit even though I have money to buy things year-round, regardless the price. Laughed AT; this is something that I’ve become used to, and have developed thick skin for; it is even a source of pride for me these days. Thus for me, it doesn’t matter; I’m already an outsider, I have the freedom to do as I please because it’s what is already expected of me. I get a free pass. But for these kids, being the oddity is the equal to death. They are in the circle; the culture of monotony has engaged it’s talons into them. For these parents, being innovative means you’re desperate, dumb, and disrespectful of the way “things are always done.”

Bottom line, I am starting to believe that my role is to be the person that people laugh at. Laugh at me all day long. For every 100 people that come, speak pretentious insults about my ignorance under their breath in a language that they THINK I don’t understand, there are 30 that are inspired. 29 are inspired not because of the idea, but because I’m white, and what’s more, a white American. But that 1 comes to me with a demeanor that neither reveres me nor dismisses me, challenges me on the feasibility of my idea, gives credit at times and is critical at others, and walks away with something to think about, with something that maybe worth his time. And that’s the person I get the number of, that I be sure to go and meet his family, drink his tea, and offer insights about the difference of our cultures, countries, politics, etc. That’s the person I came here for. It’s also the person I came to learn from.

And so the days continue.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June?

First of all, Happy Father's Day Papa! I could write novels and novels about how thankful I am for the way you raised me, for showing me the kind of person a man should be, and for guiding me in my progression into becoming one myself. I won't; but I could. Love you Papa.

June has been interesting. I have to look at my watch every day, and each time I do, I gaze with astonishment at the date which presents itself. The 19th? Already? It is pure craziness to think that 3 weeks from now my family will be traveling to celebrate my Grandmother's B-day and the 4th of July (in order of importance?). When I came to this blog, I realized that my last post was actually in May, which confuses me again. How is it possible, that first cricket game was 3 weeks ago? Time is playing tricks on me; events are all partitioned in my head as having occurred less than or equal to 24 hours prior. My day by day calendar continues to be filled, seemingly on its own, and at times is the only way I can actually prove to myself that I'm actually doing...anything...in this country. Time is thus at a standstill, yet moving faster than ever in my life. As if on one of those treadmills on the airport, where the slowest motion forward carries you past all those around you.

On paper, and on my sanity-keeping day by day calendar, this month has been a phenomenal success. I've received 1.2 million shillings from Appropriate Projects for the building of a latrine that is now nearly finished; I've received 2.7 million shillings from Heather Kloer's Class (Thank you St. Thomas More!!!!) for a borehole project that well commence in less than 24 hours; I've started and slowly reduced my responsibilities over the NPHC (Ngora Parish Harmack Company), who have set up an email, webpage, and sold over 40 hammocks to Ugandans, Volunteers, Embassy Workers, and Toursists of the country, not to mention learned valuable lessons about entrepreneurship, ICT, creativity, and problem solving skills. I've traveled around the country, played tennis in KLA (and won, of course; I'm Matt Boddie) and set up future matches. I've talked on a radio for 3 hours to a listening audience of over 100,000 people about healthy living and proper nutrition. Hell, after writing this paragraph, I am almost convinced that it's been nothing less than the best month yet in Uganda.

In a way, though, it's the beginning of a new chapter; I find myself facing more and more of a blank slate. These projects have been successful in-so-far as they've been the culmination of work since me stepping foot in Teso Sub-Region, Uganda. They have been successful in that I have kept my Peace Corps word of honor to encourage sustainability, to lead from the back of the room, and continually remove responsibility from my own hands onto others, who will learn from their experience and be able to carry it on long after I leave. I do believe in this, not just because the Peace Corps wants me to, and I'm incredibly proud of my boys and girls and men and women who have taken on the responsibilities of these roles. But, it also means, necessarily, that my responsibilities and positions are decreasing at the same slow but sure speed.

Only just now, writing this, do I realize that this doesn't have to be a bitter-sweet experience. I've been weighed down quite heavily by the stress of the two grants coming in, and it has been compounded by the expanding NPHC and all of the orders that have come in since it's inception (damn you, di caprio, you made me look up that word to make sure it actually meant "beginning"). It's just, well, it means another episode of trying ideas, giving up on others, hanging on to those that succeed, and finding the people in this country who actually want the help, not the handouts. It means re-entering myself into the unknown, after finding a place in relative comfort. It means being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I love this place.

Here's why.

Through my continued service in Eastern Uganda, I am able to see the remnants of discrimination against Indian inhabitants of Uganda who were so openly berated in the times of the reign of Idi Amin. Over 2 decades later, and I still hear Ugandans talk about the local Indian shopkeepers in offensive ways, with bad looks, biased reviews, and generally derogatory comments about their appearance, and even their smell. As a result, but also supporting the continuation of such abuse, the local Indian residents have remained completely inactive in society, never going so far as to even try to learn the local language or travel outside for events or gatherings.

Being a foreigner, but also generally accepted and even revered in most parts of my community, I was in the odd position of natural intermediary between the two communities. The Indians liked seeing me, feeling that we shared a common bond of being a person in a distant land much different than their own, and felt more comfortable and more trusting in talking to. The Ugandan's like me because I'm white, because I dance in the streets, bring in revenue to their shops and teach them cool things about America.

One day I was talking to one Indian Shopkeeper in particular, who owns a hardware store in Ngora. We became acquainted randomly (is there any other way to become acquainted?) and instantly found a liking for one another. After a few months, there wasn't much I didn't feel comfortable talking to him about. In fact, I actually talked to him for relationship advice. One day I decided to ask him about his relationship with Ugandans, to which he responded with a sad, seemingly wounded smile of resignation. He doesn't know their language, doesn't like their attitude, and, if speaking frankly, he puts his hands up "I don't trust them." But he mentioned that he would very much like to become more acquainted with at least his immediate community, if for no other reason, to have more fun in this country while he's working. I can understand that completely.

The next day he came up to me and talked to me with great excitement. He said that he got to thinking about our conversation, and asked if I couldn't do him a favor. He took me to a nearby carpenter, who was in the midst of making some odd shaped, three foot wooden dowels. The Indian shopkeeper (I don't even know his name, I just realized) showed them to me as if he were Bob Barker, showing me a brand new car. I didn't get it. Frustrated, he screams at me, "Cricket! I want to play cricket!"

This wonderful man decided he wanted to integrate with his staff and the community at large through sharing his passion (it couldn't be described as anything less; talk to the man for 5 minutes, and you'd understand. Or just watch him bowl, once) of cricket. We started it last Sunday, after the equipment had been made to the shopkeeper's approval. We went to a nearby field, flanked by community onlookers wanting to come and see what the American and Indian were up to. We started playing. Ok, we'd play, and then stop and he'd explain why what I did was illegal, or ignoble, or just terrible in general. 15 minutes later, A man (Ugandan) came and announced that he knew the game, and wanted to bowl (to throw). Yeah, he knew it; I couldn't touch a single ball he threw. I left an hour and a half later, to a cheering crowd of people enjoying a game. I couldn't help laughing, throughout the entirety of it, just from looking at the look of pure joy from the shopkeeper. We all know how rewarding it can be to teach something that you have such a passion for to willing participants, and to see them also enjoy it. I daresay that now, so too does this shopkeeper.

We play everyday, barring bad weather, and sometimes even through it. Other Indians in the community are starting to perk up their ears, although it seems that right now the competition between the Indians themselves is preventing them to play together. I don't think this will last long; another man who owns a market always calls me over after each days event. "how's the arm?" he asks, knowing that I'm not using to throwing in such a way. (Think of fastpitch softball player, but reverse the spin of the arm, releasing at the top but with a straight arm. It's harder than you think.)

I love the fact that these people are able to do the things that I've come here trying to do. It gives me so much pride to live in this community, and it reinforces the fact that I want to ingrain in every American I talk to: These people can take care of themselves. They can fix their own problems. And hell yeah, I'll be there every chance I get to watch it happen.

Hoorah



http://appropriateprojects.com/node/703

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day in Reflection

Yesterday, 5th of May, 2011
By the Numbers

Number of hours the Bishop was late: 1.5
Number of hours the Jubilee was late: 2.5
Duration in hours of the Jubilee: 5
Number of couples married: 48
Number of people confirmed: 71
Attendance: ~2000
Number of white people: 2

The Ngora Parish is celebrating it's 100 year anniversary in quite a drawn out fashion. The event itself will take place on May 1st, 2012; it will be the third consecutive year that the event will have been celebrated. To the thousands of people who attended yesterday, it was, well, it was a chance to dress up and be apart of a crowd.

It's no secret to those close to me that I'm less than excited about having big events in the parish. Events means people, which means among other things people eating food, which means cooking in the stand-up shelter located directly adjacent to my house in large quantities, at absurd times of the day/night/time that should never be named because normal people SLEEP. This proximity of food preparation also means that old ladies will be eating off my veranda, spilling beans and posho all over my previously well sweeped concrete, and preventing my entrance/exit of my home without 10 or 11 Yogas & Biai Bos.

Lack of privacy is not a surprise here, but every time an event happens, it's like the microscope over top of me clicks from 5 to 100 multiplication. It's not all a bad thing; sometimes it's quite fun knowing when you say "yoga kere" you'll automatically get an overly enthusiastic "yoga noi!!!" from 200 people you don't know. It also, in some ways, makes it a bit easier on me and mental sanity with regard to showing respect to the community. Not dissimilar to school or dating, if you make the right impression on the moments you know they'll remember, on the key points on the right stage, they will look the other way at less public, conspicuous times. I bathe about twice a week these days for lack of water, and wash my clothes at best twice a month...but make no mistake that at 6:30am I walked out of my room in pressed gray slacks, an immaculate SOLID white button down (dangerous) and a "smartly" tied tie with a cleanly shaven smiling face to greet all the visitors seemingly camping on my front step.

The highlight of any event, especially with white skin which grants instant access to all the high status places, is the food that comes with. Chicken, pork, goat, irish potatoes, dirty rice w/ bull's meat, deep fried bananas, everything is there and slopped on a plate to be eaten. As long as you feel confident handling it with your hands, you can even go for the greens with peanut butter sauce. I was in such a brown-nosing mood yesterday that not only did I offer to say grace at said meal (Knowing that the Parish Priest would do it, but also knowing that in front of the Bishop he'd love that I offered, being HIS muzungu), but I even baked a cake for the occasion, from which both the cake and strawberry flavored pink icing were made from scratch, without even an oven. Opolot "betty crocker" Matthius. Nevermind that it took me two tries, or that my shoes were sporting red strawberry extract from a mishap which occurred that morning, while trying my hand at making icing.

Speaking in generalities, yesterday was like most of my days here in Uganda. I play the game when I have to, bend it to my own advantage when I can for later on, and try and remember the humor in things as much as I can. On a good day I find that in hindsight, probably without realizing it, I've shown something from my culture that I can be fairly proud of. By his own decree, for example, the Bishop of Soroti ate "from the kitchen of a man" for the first time in his life. The gender equality lesson might not have been entirely welcomed, but at worst, it was bitter-sweet.


I have received a lot of response, to my surprise, from my last post. I apologize if it was a bit too graphic in nature, to an extent. My matatu experience is pretty tame to other stories I could tell, especially ones that have happened to other volunteers even in my class. It is my goal through this blog that people get to experience a small bit of Uganda, as I am, but keep in mind that I'd never write anything to intentionally offend anyone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

(De) sensitization

One of the great buzz words of the country of Uganda is sensitization. What is the first step of any project? Sensitizing the community at large, of course. How do we fix the HIV problem in the village? Let’s sensitize people about ways to prevent it! Just like How are you Muzungu, I’m Fine, and Byeeeee come standard with every Ugandan kid’s vocabulary, so too do community empowerment, gender equality, and sensitization for Ugandan adults.
Amongst all of my active sensitizing in my past 6 months at site, I hadn’t realized the equal and opposite action also being put on me. Children wearing rags and no shoes no longer shock me. I’m fully expectant that 85% of the cars I see in a week will have a cutely abbreviated NGO name printed on the door, with a “donated by” written just below it. I certainly don’t expect these vehicles, anymore, to stop and give me a lift. Many of the things I’ve been desensitized of are very similar to not having a tv. You don’t really miss it, and don’t really notice it until your situation changes.
The other day I was on a matatu towards Soroti (Ateso’s most well known town, approximately 45 minutes NW of Ngora). I picked up the taxi in Mukura, where I was shuffled in and followed by an elderly lady. Quite obviously, she was sick and disoriented, and it was only with a fireman’s carry-esque effort from me ad her daughter that she was even able to fit into the taxi to the driver’s satisfaction (think a highschool dance couple, but remove the room for the father, son, and holy spirit). About 20 minutes in, I realized that this jaja (grandmother) was a bit more seriously sick than I had at first realized. Some people don’t “look like” something, but rather take on a look of their own, or “have a look.” The difference is small enough to be interchangeable in normal talk, but in this case the dichotomy was shown quite clear to me and everyone else in the car. She had a look, completely transcendent of any language, sex, race, or age barrier (all of which were present to me) that said, with the clarity of sincerity, that this was more than a sickness. I found myself holding her hand, stubbornly resisting the bodily urge to revel in how great of a picture it would be. In fact the entire time on this trip, I was struggling against kitsch-like ideals of quality and oneness of the world. The jaja didn’t have this struggle, or at least her look didn’t mention it.
When the daughter saw my hand holder her mother (or grandmother), she started to well up. Proof of something bad can be verified when people who’d normally never give you the time of day decide to help you. More proof is that everyone is willing to help, probably because everyone knows there is not actually anything that one can do. I clasped an ice cold, wrinkled old hand that wasn’t concerned with the courtesy of grasping back, and instantly the daughter knew her mom was not coming back from Soroti.
We made the stops for people just like normal, despite my proclamation of a need to “get to the damned hospital, now.”
Quietly the matatu driver drove past our designated stop in Soroti and to the referral hospital. When we finally arrived, everyone but the jaja started moving. She still had the look, and that was as good as she could offer to us. We carried her out of the matatu without changing her seated position, where three other men easily carried her into the hospital. The taxi driver didn’t look back, wanted to continue, but the conductor (assistant who collects the money) was helping carry the elderly lady. I decided not to wait; I was close enough to where I wanted to be in Soroti, and sitting in the matatu in the hospital was the last place I felt like sitting.
5-10 minutes later, I was sitting under a mango tree, drinking yogurt from a bag and straw with 3 other PCV friends. Putting aside kitsch-manufactured feelings of shock or remorse, there really wasn’t anything that was bothering me. I even wished the driver of the matatu a nice day with my best friendly smile. Obviously I was upset, but mostly just because I wasn’t upset at all.
A couple of times in the drive the jaja nodded off. She didn’t lose the look. At these points I made sure I was holding her hand, finding it somehow important that if she did die en route to the hospital, at least I would be holding her hand. Once she was taken from my grip out fo the matatu, however, the burden slipped away immediately. Responsibility fulfilled-I was a good person and able to continue on in my day.
I’ve been trying to sensitize Uganda about solar dehydrators, hammocks, proper methods for hand washing, re-usable menstrual pads…and simultaneously Uganda has been desensitizing me of everyday life. Every Ugandan in that matatu knew exactly what was happening to the jaja, even the ones who made the taxi stop 200 meters in front of the hospital so that they could get out and continue on with their day without a long walk. For me, I wasn’t going to actively abandon the jaja, or pretend she wasn’t hurting, but I also wasn’t even considering willing to do anything grossly out of my comfort zone for her. Equal and opposite? Sorry Newton, but it feels a little lopsided.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Annoying

We've been put to standfast, meaning that I can't leave site until after these demonstrations fizz out. The demonstrations seem to be getting more intense and wider spread each time they occur; currently they are being held every Monday and Thursday. As far as my safety, one need not worry. I live in a village's village, far away from all that crazy stuff.

Hammock making is causing me and everybody in the parish to act like chickens with our heads cut off. Life should return back to normal this week, and then I will be hosting daily sit-ins at the district to get this wahoo water engineer over to work on the well. I came up with many words before I settled with wahoo.

Power comes in 2 hour intervals, usually from 7-9 at night, then stays off until the next day. Sorry for all of those who are trying to reach me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The fan has started spinning...

But as of yet, the proverbial material to hit it hasn't quite reached. Not for lack of effort, though.

Readers Digest version is that Uganda's leaders (led by Besigye, the runner up in the elections for the past 15 years) have been struggling against the Ugandan Police to hold demonstrations surrounding the rising fuel prices in the country. The walk to work campaign produced arrests and tear gas on Monday, and today rubber bullets were also used, specifically on Besigye himself, who broke (but probably won't lose, apparently) his middle finger off of one. We will pray that this is the apex of the excitement, and that only falling action and resolutions will come from this. I'll keep everyone updated. As of yet, we are on Alert but not officially on Standfast, with regard to Peace Corps.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lets Talk About Sex, Baby

Last Saturday I talked to a group of around 75 students of a nearby teachers' college about sex. We started off ominously enough, with me quoting a sex talk from Varsity Blues "Penis penis penis, Vagina vagina vagina." Although we didn't end up having anyone give alternative names for the male organ, I certainly was given some real doozey questions.

Most of these kids have already been taught a lot about sexual health, but they haven't really been able to ask anybody questions about it. In a land that is extremely conservative (I never see women wear anything besides skirts that go at least half way past the shin) and very non-pda (in 8 months I haven't seen a single heterosexual couple holding hands once in country), it's tough for these kids to get their answers. The questions, given that they are the ages of 20-23 and are living in a boarding style housing with their peers, are quite explicit, obviously incriminating of their current extra curricular activities.

After I gave them a couple of warm up exercises, I opened the floor to questioning. I spent about 30 minutes giving a small talk, and it then took a little over 2 hours to answer (most) of the questions given. The questions were extremely specific, and 90% of them I wouldn't feel comfortable posting them online. I will say that I dispelled many myths about apparent "safe days" of sex, about virgin women, and about the healing effects of coca-cola.

The coolest thing about this is that I would never have been able to give this talk had I been gently forced to do it by another volunteer in Rakai, Uganda. After completing it there, I realized how easy it was to do, and what an opportunity it was for the boys who came to talk and air out these issues. It also is a great bonding experience for me, and it was amazing to see what these kids would admit in front of their peers. One kid admitted, with serious worry, that his undersized penis wouldn't be able to satisfy women. Luckily, Jon Lesica had taught me a phrase that I said immediately: It's not the wand. It's the magician

Anyway, the talk was such a success (in pay-it-forward fashion, I gently forced another nearby volunteer to talk to the girls) that now I am going to combine the two classes this Saturday to have a talk about gender issues. Well, I think that's what it will be about. I'm basically going to talk about the differences most commonly found in gender roles of America/Uganda, and then I'm going to give both the girls and the boys a chance to ask 3 questions, no rules attached, to their peers of the opposite sex. I know it's only April, but I'm expecting fireworks.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Akim is Over

Sorry for the lack of posts. Internet has been unbelievably shotty ever since rainy season started. This, combined with the fact that I have to rely on the parish priest's desktop to get to the www makes my ability to communicate to the outside world quite difficult.

There has been an uproar of response sent my way from my last post, which I greatly appreciate. Most of the response has been positive, some negative, but the best were ones which challenged me to give examples of how to solve the problem that I have outlined. I have done some research and come up with a couple of different organizations who seem to be doing foreign aid in the correct way; through the goal of eradicating the need for the aid itself. www.Kiva.org, and www.appropriateprojects.com are two extremely good examples, and I will continue to post any other company's that I've seen doing good things around where I live.

As far as site goes: It's all happening! I am stuck trying to figure out what to write about exactly, because it's been so long since my last post substantive about happenings here in Ngora. We set up a weather station at my favorite primary school, continued communication to America with my 4th grade class, I've started teaching the teachers geography (they didn't like that the students were starting to know more than them, so now I'm backing off and teaching the teachers and letting them tell it to their kids), The tree seeds donated by trees4thefuture have been potted and the water well has been dug, fenced, and started to be used for construction (in the meantime, we are trying to appeal to the district for a borehole, checking the water, and trying to put in place a solid water committee to look after the well's maintenance). I am starting to build boomerangs out of scrap wood for kids here, in a continued effort on learning of geography (where is Australia? What is Australia?) and also a way for them to more easily hunt down the mangoes that are ripening on the trees. The biggest project right now is the Hammock business that has been started up; put your name on the list now, and you could be the first person state-side to own your very own, locally designed, high quality, unbreakable rip-stop hammock. All funds are going towards the continued education of the members of the group. More to come on this.

I was able to keep fairly updated on the NCAA tournament, although looking back I'm not sure why I made the effort. I heard that the final was possibly the ugliest national championship game in televised history, so it makes me feel a bit better that I wasn't able to see it. UNC made it further than Dook did, and lost only when they faced the best freshman money could buy...so I'll take that and look forward to next year's domination (granted that Barnes does in fact decide to stick around).

Thank you all for the packages that keep coming in. There was one in particular, which consisted of a pound of velveeta cheese, two thick crusted pizza crusts, tomato sauce...I could go on...which was not only beneficial to me, but to the entire parish.

Until next time,
Opolot

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear Donators to Uganda,

"Be sure you give the poor the aid they need the most. There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve." --Thoreau

I know that your intent is admirable, and in some extremely rare and isolated cases, I believe that your money actually produces the results that you have intended to bring about. Without question, there is a lot of good things that money can do for this country, if it is done correctly. The other 95% of the time, however, your contribution's most significant impact on this country, and from all accounts, this continent, is the creation of a begging culture. Receiving foreign aid is no longer a blessing, but an expectation; no longer an increase of livelihood, but a necessity for life. By trying with an honest effort to relieve the hardship of others, we have created permanent conditions of disparity.

If I have ever thought about quitting service with Peace Corps and ET'ing (Early Terminating), it is because I fear continuing the mentality that has been laid down, hardened, and paved into the streets of this country. Perhaps in vain, I spend an average of 1-2 hours each day turning around and approaching the child or group of children that greet me with a "you get for me also a soda/chips/bike/money." No, kid, you are NOT going to receive a shilling from me. You have not earned it.

I hide away from projects that I may have spurred when recognition is given, fearful that my community will attribute all progress in my 2 years to my presence within it. It wouldn't be at all true, and it would be a shame. Every project that I have been apart of in Uganda has had people in it that are motivated, are capable, and have DONE the grunt work, details, and the logistics. It is not fear that they recognize my true amount of impact in this community, but rather that they unfairly augment it, and scratch out the work of many to a conclusion of it being a result of a visiting Imusugun. When I do fear that I'm getting too involved in the process, and too many people in the community are calling it "my" project, I back off. I stop work altogether, and see who steps up and picks up my slack. Then I give him/her the credit they deserve, and give them my expectation of having them lead the rest of the way.

Please, for the good of the country of which you think you are trying to help, make sure your money is going towards ending the need for your donations. The idea of foreign aid should always be to lessen the need for foreign aid down the road; not to set up permanent shop, giving handouts to those who don't deserve it and begin feeling entitled to it. If your donation simply creates another step from which to fall from, or another broken borehole which nobody has taken ownership of, or reinforces to a kid to believe that only through others will he/she be able to succeed in life...please. Keep your money.

I would be happy to give advice, if you would like to donate money to Uganda, on ways to ensure that it goes towards the goals you would like to see completed. M.h.boddie@gmail.com

Paul Theroux, former Peace Corps Volunteer (he was kicked out, great story) and world traveler, wrote about his overland journey from Cairo to Capetown. He explains my feelings better and more thoroughly. Below is a quote from his book on this very adventure, called Dark Star Safari:

"The conceit among donors is that the poor or the sick or the hungry will take anything hey are given. But even the poor can be particular, and the sick have priorities, and the famine victim has a traditional diet. The Germans had built houses that did not resemble any others in Harar, did not allow for the safety of the animals, and had the wrong proportions. So they were rejected by the lepers, who chose to live more securely, with greater privacy, and--as they must have seen it-- more dignity in their mud huts by the road. The German buildings, more expensive and new by badly maintained, were the only real slum in Harar.
"