Monday, January 30, 2012

On the Up and Up

How wrong I was to assume that I would have trouble coming back to Uganda to work after such a nice trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar for the holiday season. Not only did I not have trouble getting back to work; I found my mind more focused and my moral more set on doing the things that I've been talking about for so long.

I have been lucky enough to have been chosen among my peers as being a director for the next installment of Camp Build, a Boys Leadership Camp within Uganda. This one is a regional camp being held in the North, in Gulu, which is about 5 hours or so away from my site. It is certainly a big undertaking, and it is something that will become more and more time consuming up through its' week long commencement in the last days of April.

The other huge event in my life right now is the Centenary Jubilee Celebration within Ngora Parish. Ngora Parish, my site, is celebrating 100 years of Catholic faith 96 days from now, on May 5th (I know this because I've created a countdown out of plywood to help keep people reminded about its approach). There are buildings going up, a grotto is being constructed, schools are being renovated, all in the name of the celebration. It is quite an exciting time. I myself am chairman of two sub-committees for the planning core; publicity and sports.

We have already applied for a grant to have an educational 13 kilometer foot race, where every kilometer will host a sign depicting and explaining an important health aspect relevant to the citizens of Ngora for keeping themselves and others strong and healthy. At the end of the race the participants will be given an exam where they will answer questions in relation to the posters they passed, and they will receive a minute deduction in time for every answer they get correct. We are hopeful that the winner of the race will be congratulated by the President of Uganda himself.

We are also working on the organization on a 42 team District Wide football tournament, both as a measure to get the youth involved in the gathering and also to use that time as an opportunity to spread healthy life practices amongst the young adults.

On top of all of this, and certainly the biggest reason I've been having such a nice return to Uganda after my trip, is because of the ever approaching moment when my parents touch-down into Uganda. I am such a lucky person to have parents that are not only willing to put up with a 20-something hour plane ride to a 3rd world country in the midst of fairly regular political upheaval, riding all over in a car that would never be authorized to travel in America on roads that only mountain bikers would enjoy...but they are even willing to pay for it! Seriously, I am so absolutely thankful for my parents' support in this whole process of my service abroad; in no way shape or form could it have been possible without them. Them being able to come and experience the life that I now live is such a huge reward for me; it hasn't even happened yet and I feel as though I'll be eternally grateful for it.

There is also much promise in an NGO that just recently come to meet the community and to see their work at Okoboi Primary School. Shashamane Sunrise has been giving support to the school for renovating the roof and walls, making it actually habitable again (kids have been learning under trees for many years, now). I am blessed to have such a willing NGO that is also so willing to listen to the people who live in Ngora, and will co-operate them to give them the help that they actually need. I am very hopeful that my communication with them will lead to the development of one of the best schools in the country, and an example of how NGOs SHOULD be acting within a place like Uganda.

No, it hasn't all been fantastic, either. The borehole of Okoboi that Mrs. Kloer and her class were so instrumental in helping make is not being properly treated by the youth who are coming to use it. Ironically, if they break it, they will have to go back to traveling 2.5KM further to get their water...and also to bring it back. The water committee has been very good about raising money in case the borehole does break, which is certainly one aspect of being proactive...but another is making sure people don't break the damn thing. The Ass. Parish Priest and I have been on the rampage since we've seen kids jumping up and down on the pump rod, and trying to make sure that the community knows what will happen if they don't take care of it. Namely, the Priest and I will be taking the parts away and keeping them locked up in the house, and they can go back to having a hole with water.

Thats it for now. Power has been down for over a week, and internet has been even crappier than I'm sorry that my normal communication hasn't been there. I promise you that I am well, happy, and secure. For those that are reading this blog but aren't updating me on their lives...step it up! I would love to hear from you.

Much love,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Coast of Tanzania, within sound of waves breaking and within sight of the ship-laden horizon, sitting down on last-legged chairs and a patio quality plastic table with 4 other people who, after our travels, have become some of the best friends I have. In front of us lies the fruit of our good fortune and bargaining skills…but certainly could never described as labor. Snapper, Flounder, Scallops, Blue Crab, Octopus, Squid. Homemade lime & chili sauce. With no utensils, or plates (and without asking for either) we begin our feast. The romanticism was no doubt made all the greater by the fact that it has been over a year for most of us since we’ve had food of any kind from the sea. Made greater, also, by the 3 continuous days of speed bumps, broken trains, baliwood blaring from bus speakers for which it took to get there.

The fish market of Dar Es Salaam not only made it worthwhile, it became one of the parts of the whole of our Dar experience which transformed our trip, and even made us question what our real vacation destination was. In the beginning, it was Zanzibar or bust; Dar was meant only as a pit-stop. For me, the shorter we were to be in Dar, the better. Now our only regret was not to have flown(as some of us surely had in our minds, 22 hours into the final 29 hour bus ride into Dar), but rather to the other volunteers who would fly. Missing Dar Es Salaam, looking back, would have been devastating.

To have found not only respite but perhaps our greatest enjoyment of the trip in the largest city in TZ was as surprising as it was welcome; having been used to the capital city of Uganda, we expected chaos, organized in ways only a true veteran might understand. On the contrary, within 24 hours of our 3 days in Dar we found ourselves getting a feel for the layout and taking risks that we would never have done in Kampala. The city is fundamentally different insofar as there were signs of proactive effort towards making the city livable. Bodas were outlawed within the city, the taxi parks were outside the city centers. Sidewalks were large, streets were well marked. It gave the city something I’ve seen in only in the likes of Soroti, in Uganda: a sense of style.

And then, after handfuls of experiences like the one above in Dar, we traveled to Zanzibar. The food was fantastic, if perhaps a bit priced towards those who came from across the world to enjoy it. The water was pristine, and whether you were in the snorkeling renowned blue lagoon or just walking with your toes in the water, you couldn’t help but be mesmorized by the bustling of life all around you. It was the first time the sea ever made my life feel mundane; there is so much going on there, every minute of every hour of every day.

To be fair, it wasn’t just the town itself that gave us the amazing heartening feeling. After all, it was Christmas. We arrived on Christmas Eve, after what was on paper quite a miserable traveling of well over 50 hours cumulative spent on various buses. Dar was our first real stop for us to brush the dirt out of our hair, sleep in a bed, and get food other than peanut butter and cookies. Papa Boddie provided for us an amazing Christmas Eve celebration, on speaker phone over 11,000 kilometers away, telling us the story of “Night Before Christmas.” Smiles got an amazing email, signaling not only his acceptance but also significant amount of scholarship into UCLA business school. We found local ice cream shops, baller Lebanese mez plates, were given fish by locals who were appreciative of our extreme appreciation of their food. It was one of those unable to plan, elusively perfect series of days that will never be understood, only appreciated. It will be impossible to speak of it without a smile.

Zanzibar was a lesser victory of vacation in my eyes. I expected it to be amazing, to be awe-inspiring, to have jaw dropping views of “utopia.” Don’t get me wrong; I was not disappointed in any of these expectations. It was truly wonderful. But being surprised by Dar, by how easily it accommodated us, awed us, and made us even fearful of leaving it for a place like Zanzibar because we simply couldn’t imagine how it could get any better…that is pretty amazing. Looking back, it will be Dar which I talk about with excited breath and stumbling, ever-changing versions of everything from which we found there. Unfairly, though, it will most likely be “Zanzibar” for which the title of the trip will remain in my mind. Some things get all the glory.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year!!

I'm back in Uganda after my trip to Tanzania for the holidays. Hope that everyone has had as amazing of a holiday season as I have been having. I will write more soon, when I get back to site and can somehow control my thoughts into something coherent (or, at least, on the level of coherency that I can expect to muster). Zanzibar is certainly worth the hype, I'll say that.