Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mr President, could you pass me the grape jelly?

My cousin and I joined the Peace Corps at about the same time, unbeknownst to each other. Each of us had a desire to experience life in another country and to contribute in our own unique special way towards changing the world.

President Bush has been in the news recently on his tour through Africa. He stopped over in Ghana where my cousin is serving as a PCV and she had the pleasure of meeting him and having supper with him. I put on my flickr account a picture from the Ghana paper. That’s her sitting between George W. Bush and Condolezza Rice. How does one get such a seating assignment??

Power Outage

They’ve been replacing the power lines around my village for the past 2 weeks. The power has been off during the weekdays and on during the weekends. It’s really affected the local economy and well being but you don’t hear people complaining about it (but maybe that’s because I don’t understand 90% of what’s being said around me). The fact is that the power goes off and on so often that it’s just a way of life. Frustrating but normal. I can always tell if the power is off during the day because the metal workers who make the gates and barred house windows aren’t welding, they’re hammering or painting instead. The power was off for 4 days straight one week and 3 days straight last week. Those businesses who have generators burn those with fuel that is at $5.80 a gallon right now (no joke). And yet, I don’t hear anybody complain. It’s just how it is here. People aren’t as reliant on power. Life goes on.

“Hey man, nice, uh… outfit!”

That was the greeting I received from Jacob when I walked in wearing my blue Colts hat and my brand new Colts jersey with “Dunn” across the back. It was an outfit, I admit. It looked like I was going to a tailgate party for the pre-game celebration in the RCA dome parking lot. I admit it. I looked like a tool, but I’m in Africa, who cares? Nobody else would think anything of it. At least that’s what I thought. Until…

I was having breakfast at Sky Blue. My normal breakfast of poached eggs, toast and African coffee (instant coffee with boiled milk and not water). It’s $0.10 cheaper to have poached eggs rather than fried or scrambled for some reason. As I’m sitting there enjoying my meal in the warming morning sun, not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR mini-vans pulled up and unloaded 30 Americans who looked like college students. (Granted if they were Ugandans there would have been closer to 80 of them in those same 4 vehicles.) There I was in my ‘outfit’, looking like quite the Colts fan. Not that I’m ashamed of the Colts, but everything has it’s limits and by American standards I knew that I had crossed the line from a fan to a fanatic. I tried ditching the hat to tone it down a notch but I feel like the damage was already done. Of all the days to see a group of Americans…

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's a bit long, but it's good...

So here was my day yesterday. Not that it was so interesting or so funny or so different than other days here, but it just all happened on one day and it was particularly funny to me:

I was told by my organization that I had to attend a meeting at the District Council Hall at 8am. There was a letter about an OVC committee meeting for organizations from all over the district. I asked what time I should REALLY be there and they told me 9. I arrived a bit late, about 9:05, hoping that I wasn't the last person there. To my utter astonishment I wasn't the last one, but rather the first one. Even the organizers of the event hadn't arrived. I found a seat and waited. I waited some more. I waited and waited and waited. Finally at 10am I called my organization to ask them "what's up"? They told me to leave because they needed someone to go to Mbarara to pick up messages. So I left.

I traveled to Mbarara and started to pick the things they had sent me for. First I had to pay the electricity bill. No problems. Then I had to go to a book store to buy a number of Christian books for our kids. I went to the first book store and couldn't find any of the items on my list. I went to the next book store and again came up empty. I asked the lady about the books and she referred me back to the first book store. I then decided to look for a bookstore which I heard had the books called "Focus Bookstore". I asked a small group of people, "I'm looking for Focus Bookstore. Do you know where it is?"

"It's called what?"





"FOCUS! I can't say it any differently! Fo-cus! FO-CUS!"


"It's called Focus Bookstore. Focus Bookshop. Something. It used to be next to the Pelican Hotel but it has moved."

"Oh, you're looking for Pelican Hotel?"

"No! I'm looking for a bookstore called Focus!"

"It's called what?"

"Argh!!! Never mind!"

I walked around all afternoon and I never did find the books. Every book store referred me to every other one. I decided to leave Mbarara and let someone else worry about the books. I went to the edge of town to catch a taxi, but I didn't stop there. Those taxi drivers are clever. They know that people go to the edge of town to catch a taxi, so they pick them up there and then go BACK into town to pick up other passengers, sometimes doing this for hours before they actually leave.

Well, I'm more clever than they are. I went to the edge of town and then walked an additional 1km to make SURE that they were leaving town when they reached me. A minibus came. I got in the front seat. THEY PROCEEDED TO TURN AROUND AND GO BACK INTO TOWN!!! I tried to jump out but the conductor grabbed my door and wouldn't let me out. "Muzungu! 2 minutes! 2 minutes and we'll leave. I promise." Yeah right. "I'm timing you," I told him. "2 minutes turns into an hour here!" So we went a short distance back into town, then sat for 10 minutes, a few people got out, we drove up a ways and then... turned around AGAIN to go back into town! We left 30 minutes later. Could have been worse. Ah, Uganda!

Mr Maxwell

When I was a kid I always looked forward to going to church. Not because of the flannel board stories of Daniel and the lions den; it was because Mr Maxwell always had gum for me. If I remember right, it was called Mormon gum and it was these 2 little chickletts in this small, yellow cardboard box. I wouldn’t even greet Mr Maxwell, I would just run up to him and ask for gum, and every time, he gave me some. If he didn’t have Mormon gum, then he’d give me Wrigley’s. It was the best part of church as far as my 5 year old mind was concerned.

Well, now that I’m older, I’ve decided that I want to be Mr Maxwell. I want to provide gum to the 5 year old kids of Uganda.

That was my first mistake. I started keeping candy at my place, and because I live around a number of other houses there are always kids around. I started giving candy to these little kids. Then more kids came. And more. Before I knew it, all of the kids in the neighborhood were lining up outside my door every morning with their grubby hands sretched out saying “Give me sweetie!” Not hello, not good morning. Just Give me sweetie, as if I was the candy welfare man who had bottomless pockets of sweets to hand out. Slowly I’ve been trying to wean the kids off of thinking that I’m the candy man, but it’s taken time. Each time they come to my door in droves, I open the door and show them the empty bag of candy. Sounds kind of cruel, I know, but I’m telling you, droves of kids were showing up at my door, knocking at all hours, waking me up and saying, “Mpa (give me) sweetie!” Apparently even my generosity has it’s limits when gauged against my sanity.

Spaceship Landing

I thought I had talked about this before, but I guess I hadn’t. A couple of weeks ago I saw some construction going on at the Primary School located near my house. It looked like they were building a guard house at the entrance by the road. Unusual, I thought, because it was the holidays and generally they don’t build unless there’s money and they wouldn’t have collected money until the school year had begun.

A week or so went by and I was going home one evening when I noticed the most peculiar sight. There was a light on at the ‘guard house’. The primary school doesn’t have electricity and the guard house is a good 100 meters from the school anyway. Upon a closer look I saw a satellite dish and solar panels on the structure. It also looked like there were 2 ATM monitors glowing on the building. I froze. Asked myself if I had traveled through a wormhole to the US somehow, the got closer for a better look.

They weren’t ATM monitors but the screens were computer monitors and the men there were on the internet. Internet? What the…? I must be in another country.

I stood there and gawked for at least 10 minutes (seriously) trying to comprehend what was going on. Finally I had enough. I asked the men, one of which was Indian, what this was all about. He explained to me that the government of India had donated this to Uganda. It is free public internet for anyone who wishes to use it. There were 2 monitors behind the Plexiglas, the keyboards and touch pad were secured into the wall. There was even an outdoor light and it was all powered by solar power and a battery. There were 4 of these donated to Uganda and we got one.

“Free internet?” I asked.

“Yeah. Free internet.”

“And who pays for it?”

“The government of India pays for the internet services and for any upkeep needed. If there are any problems then the school has the number to call and a technician from Kampala will come to work on it and the bill will go to India.”

Unbelievable. Really, it’s like a well for the village, but instead of providing water they provide communication. Email, news, internet, etc. It also has some children’s programs to teach them math, kids wikipedia, typing, etc. It’s really amazing, I only wish I had thought of it.

“They’ll lock it up.” I told him. “They’ll charge people to use it. They’ll do something funny with me, mark my words. Not while I’m here, I’ll make sure of it, but I’m telling you, I have my suspicions.”

Sure enough, a week later I noticed that the head teacher for the school had an energy saver (florescent) light bulb in his home and the one for the internet shack was missing. Nobody in my village uses energy saver bulbs except for me. Nobody. And he suddenly has one at the same time that the one for the new internet place disappears? Ah, Uganda. I’m not accusing anyone, I’m just observing things.

So, we’ll see how it pans out, but it seems like a great idea. To visit their website, check out http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com

The Kenya Effect

A few prices of things have gone up here. I noticed that the prices of baked goods has gone up. After inquiring I was told that wheat prices has increased from 2,500 Ush to 4,500 Ush, almost doubled. The landlocked country of Uganda continues to suffer the effects of the election in Kenya.

Republican Article

Here’s the latest article I sent to the Rushville Republican. It’s adapted from a former blog entry on a school visit I made earlier this year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ultimate Frisbee, Fund Raising, and a WHOLE Bunch of Pictures

I spent the past 2 weeks in and around Kampala for a workshop/vacation. Taking pictures mostly but also wearing myself out playing Ultimate Frisbee. (Please check out my recent pictures of Kampala on my flickr.com badge on the right. They’re some of the best pictures I’ve taken while serving as a PCV.) The Peace Corps put together 2 teams to compete in a 6 team tourney. We played last year and were only able to beat the high school kids, several of which were playing for the first time. This year we set out to do a little better.

Didn’t really happen. We fielded 2 teams this year instead of one. We beat the high school kids again and we were able to beat the other PC team, but other than a late game ralley where we trailed 8-7, we really weren’t in any of the games, but it was still a ton of fun. It’s the only time of the year that I can let loose my competitive side. In Kampala they meet weekly and scrimmage/practice in a sort of a league, so the Ugandans and ex-pats who play are very good! Very good! We played 5 games the first day. Five games of sprinting around, covering people, like you would in football or soccer is very tiring, but as my friend Przemek said, “It’s a good tired.”

Rotary to Fund Raise

I just received word that the Rushville Rotary is preparing to begin fundraising for the Compassion project I’m working with. They are trying to raise $5,000 by selling raffle tickets. We still need to raise a little over $8,000 for the building project and I would like to be able to raise some extra money for income generating projects or purchase land/home building materials for some of our poorest families. I’ll try to get information on the raffle and post it soon.

Picture Time

I don’t want to write a whole lot. I really want you to just scroll through my pictures. I put up just under 100 and if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then you’ve got a lot of reading to do!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

COS Confrence and a visit from a friend

We had our COS Conference this past week. COS stands for Close Of Service. it's nice because we stay in a $100 a night hotel. Sort of the Peace Corps way of rewarding us for making it to the end. Basically it’s a series of meetings getting us prepared to finish our time here. We go over everything from what to expect after Peace Corps to getting paid once we return home (we receive around $6,000 for what’s called re-adjustment allowance), to getting cash in lieu of our plane ticket home so that we can travel around. There was a panel of 5 ex-pats, 4 of which were RPCVs who talked about what it was like when they returned and what they’ve done since the Peace Corps. It was interesting and very helpful to hear about their experiences and expectations. I remember that one of them said that she just felt like after her Peace Corps experience that she would be able to transition immediately into an international development position but what she found that she was competing against people with 15 years of the same experience and that she had to start at the bottom and work her way up.

A Visiting Friend

My good friend Leslie Whitehead just happened to be in Kampala recently. She came with a group to do some short term mission work and just happened to chose Kampala to do it in. Leslie is a college friend whom I haven’t seen in several years so it was great to see her again. How she found out about this particular mission trip is also interesting. She was telling me that she was looking for a short term mission trip to do in Africa dealing with orphans. She put that exact criteria into a search, entered the dates she wanted to come and came up with a short list of mission trips already in the works. From there it was just a matter of picking the country and which trip to do. The group she came with was from all over: Australia, Canada and all over the US. They all basically met in London for the first time before flying to Uganda. They all came with a woman named Sherry who resides in California. Sherry first visited Uganda a few years ago. She and her husband immediately fell in love with the people and the place. She has since gone on to open her own orphanage in Kampala. But it’s far from your typical orphanage.

Orphanages here tend to be crowded compounds with wall to wall beds and kids of all ages. Sherry decided to do something different and in her own style. She found 8 children in need of help, 4 boys and 4 girls between the ages of 6 and 10 I’d say. She rents a nice home on 1 acre of land where these kids have a nice big yard to play in. Three ‘moms’ rotate in and out in shifts to take care of these kids. There is also a night watchman and a maintenance man. It’s a beautiful compound and a beautiful house. The kids each have their own things ranging from bicycles to umbrellas. They have nice clothes to wear that aren’t thread bare like so many of the children around and they are home schooled by the ‘moms’. Sherry has such a heart for these kids and they’re so loved and cared for. All 4 of the little girls had hair extensions (a popular thing here) and their ears pierced and the kids were so well mannered. It’s just a very different and refreshing way of tackling the problem of poverty and need.

Culture Shock

I don’t get culture shock here any more. Most of the romantic feelings of being in Africa have long since gone, but I did get a taste of something new this past week. Leslie’s group and I went to KPC, Kampala Pentecostal Church. It’s located downtown Kampala. From the moment I walked in I sensed that I wasn’t in Uganda any more. I’m so used to churches in the village. On stage was a full band warming up for worship. The patrons there weren’t dressed in the traditional Ugandan dresses and suits that I was accustomed to. The girls were actually wearing pants instead of skirts which is a little taboo in my area, but much more common in Kampala, and the church was filled with young people in their 20’s. I just couldn’t believe that this was in Uganda. I was sure I had found a wormhole back to the US. I didn’t know the worship music, but it was performed so well and it resembled ‘worship’ that I was more accustomed to with people really offering up worship to God, again something I’m not used to.

PCV Uganda Projects

There are a couple Peace Corps Volunteers in my group that are seeking funds through the Peace Corps Partnership program. A young, married couple here are trying to get a Borehole (well) constructed for a village that will service 350 men, women and children. Another project is for a tree nursery at a local primary school with the intention of teaching the students career skills in agriculture, art, and business aiding the local environment and improving the academic performance and experience of the student with a school income. Please take some time to consider helping these friends of mine with their Peace Corps projects as well as helping these Ugandan villages in their development.



Demons Hit School

Here's an interesting article from the local news paper about demons invading a primary school. You may have to subscribe to the New Vision to view it.