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


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.


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'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.