Every scientist needs to relax and my favourite way is by playing online games. Grand Theft Auto 5, Starcraft 2 and lots of others. I play not only video games but also gamble a little - poker or casino it depends on my mood. I usually play at All Slots Casino because they have the best slots games and I love slots. As for poker - well Pokerstars are the best but I also like 888Poker

Friday, July 1, 2011

Weereba Uganda

So we’ve been getting terribly nostalgic about leaving Uganda. Some good-byes end up being painless as they become drowned in last-minute activities. Some drag out, with endlessly repeating farewells. But we’ve managed to be crossing off to-do things while spending a little time with every friend we’ve made, even taking time before the boat to Jinja this morning to gather the school for a photo next to the newly minted garden sign.

Every soul we’ve said goodbye to has remarked at how soon we are leaving. And it does, in fact, feel very abrupt. We spent the core of our time working on the fence, which required both our leadership and daily labor. Our absorption with that project, which was just enough, meant that our experience here was a lot less social than that of previous EDGE trips. Instead of walking to Lingira camp to interact, learn and talk, we were in field sweating. The obvious conclusion we’ve made about balancing people and physical work, is that we need more people traveling. Even if Sam and I had only worked on socially-based projects, we would have been too few, (and also too male) to have anything resonate well. So next year, EDGElings, we need more guys and gals to carry on the work.

But, nonetheless, we’ve a lot to be proud of, as I’ve said before. We installed locking gates and cemented under them. It’s a goat and cattle-free reserve of garden. And we brought resources, brought together the right people, and left a plan for its future.

Maybe the most heartfelt part of a largely frustrating and tiresome project was after vandalized our own concrete under the gate with our initials. By morning, some students had connected our names with the phrase God bless you. I think I spent most of the trip assuming that people just wondered why these bleachy-skinned folk wanted to build a fence there. But, that moment was the first time I felt the unsolicited gratitude of our target group. EDGE, through Sam and myself, delivered a very well executed, practical development project. And the nature of the project ensures some measure of success that can never be guaranteed with an educational/sensitization/empowerment (or “people”) project. I’m happy to report back that, as we suspected, EDGE 2010-2011 has been a success, following two preceding stellar years. It’s tough for someone who helped research or plan the banquet or maybe only staff a booth to claim any part of the work that a mere 2.5 of us did during this month. But, all of the relationships and efforts that span across this year, leading to the hanging of the sign for LLHSS Student Garden this morning make it clear to me that every member of the EDGE family has a worthy stake in this victory. I wish more of us had been able to travel, but I appreciate you all the same. [ We will be sending out invites for a celebratory social in the next few weeks for those of you around Madison. Can’t wait to see my favs peoples. ]

Anecdote/Plan Update

Papa O had a serious jag going on this year where he would reiterate that “water… is necessary for life.” It was always a pleasure to hear and eventually film! But, we’ve taken up that spirit of his and will be diving headfirst into the Nile tomorrow, as she bids us. It will be fantastically thrilling. My white water experience has been in an Old Town canoe on the Peshtigo River, needless to say, a mild but good sporting experience. It sounds like it’s pretty normal to get pulled under water for 10 seconds after being ejected from the cabin. So after our five hour bath, we will take a shuttle to Kampala and stay at our preferred hostel. Then picking up the shirts for the year and going to Entebbe to leave this heavy sun for now.

As so many have asked us to, it’s hard not to want to come back. I will miss the folk here. Honey, the most lovely and needy dog ever, who tracked us everywhere, followed us to the boat and watched us board before turning to jog back to SHIM alone. The scene was BEGGING for a sequel. But, only time, chance, and finance will tell us about that. What I have promised to people, is my sincere wish to see them again next year, or sometime. But also, that I will make sure that we will have a new crop of travelers who will carry on our work, whether I make it back again or not. If I can’t relive the experience, I will be certain to vicariously relive it through them.

So, I think this will be the last travel blog, which means I will be signing off as the overbearing voice on this platform. Thanks for reading, to those of you good friends who’ve kept us in your thoughts long enough to read the last post. I know I’m going to love unloading the months worth of stories and lessons I’ve come to have. So, please, invite yourself to pick Sam and I over about our travels.

We’re soon off to our farewell dinner at the only Chinese place in town, which we will attend in our traditional East African shirts.

See you soon, farmers,

Monday, June 27, 2011


So we’ve reached the apex of any and all hardships during the trip. We’re set to depart for the island one last time in two hours, bearing the necessary materials to christen “Lingira Growing Hope Student Garden”. After today, we have only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on the EDGE Project worksite. Friday morning we will leave for Jinja, in order to pamper ourselves with some rafting on the Nile, Saturday. Then Sunday morning we will move to Kampala briefly, then on to Entebbe International Airport, to Rome, to D.C., to Chicago, and finally Madison on the evening of the fourth.

It’s a great feeling, being able to witness the silhouette of the garden. We can say we completed our primary objective for the trip. We can credibly talk to people about our goals and expectations, as well as revel in the beginning of a hopefully long lasting project. We met again with Garden Robert and had a pleasant ride to his home and his first school garden. He is as excited as anyone to dig in to the project and make it happen. What remains is finding those on the island whom we can delegate to and expect reasonable progress. The space is currently riddled with stumps, a termite mound and rocks and until it has been cleared and tilled, agriculture expertise will be useless. So, we plan to name Teacher Zac/Zadoc, who has plenty of need to busied and many unused engineering skills to oversee this. He is basically the perfect fit for the job and we’ve loved having his help on the fence already. It seems like we have Madame Violet, the agriculture teacher, ready to break ground (J) on her end, and as always, Teacher Fred can’t wait to help. We have many reasons to expect that we will come back to a handsome vegetable gift basket next year. Well done to EDGE and all of her supporters!

On the boat over, yesterday, we made a list of 20 to 25 things we have to do this week. The highlights will be framing out visits to the island for our good friend, Rose, at WORI. That is both with the school and Lingira Camp. (She will certainly be among our most-missed people in two weeks time.) Throughout our last three days, we will be walking with our brains open to the idle resources that we can help people access, through research this year. For future agriculture projects, we’ve asked Julius to direct us to what he is unable to research himself, which will help keep the agriculture team busy. Sam and I will write the book on Lingira for those researching this year and our goal is to have a short list of directions and needs that we can narrow into eventual projects. We are planning dinner and fishing with our friend Emma from Koya camp. I had envisioned doing several overnights with people here, but the amount of time we committed to working on the fence made it near impossible to accommodate those visits. We have letters to write, crafts to pick up, and even some people we have yet to meet. In fact, every day will be largely filled with something.

It seems as though Sam (svmatthews.blogspot.com) is covering AGYA’s visit quite thoroughly, so you are welcome to expand my brief account there. But Abraham and the 8 kids he brought were the best guests we could have hoped for. Their premise is cultural exposure and enrichment, mostly through hip-hop related arts. They did very much of that, drawing both Sam and I into rehearsing with the groups and performing in Saturday’s showcase of dance, rapping, poetry, and graffiti. While walking about the island with them, we came across and awful fact. The Ugandan government quietly released data showing that 60% of adults in the islands, and 80% on Lingira are HIV positive. Oddly, as past travelers know well, the culture on the island is very, very prudent, despite the facts showing a lot of promiscuity. Abraham took the issue up and did an hour long AIDS and sexual education talk with the kids. When he first introduced that figure, kids laughed. No one talks about it and no one is in anyway sensitized about AIDS. The school, SHIM and the larger community were not very comfortable, but still compliant. So thanks them and to Ja’blesse [Abra] for that.
Side note: One of the guys from AGYA does design work. And there’s a fair possibility that we come home with the year’s t-shirts. If I were some who was planning on having one, and I am, I would be VERY excited for them.

It almost feels hard to be leaving now. Building a fence and working for six hours a day through the heat was stressful and weighty. But, now, work here has become very tolerable, if not enjoyable. We’ve made so many friends and it seems each person is shocked that we’re already leaving. We’ve been almost useless for actually talking and engaging with people. And just now are we able to be of good use to individuals. But we have contacts for all of the most important folk and really hope to maintain good contact year-round so that we can assist them as they need.

My next and finalish travel post could very well be from home. But I will make sure to draw some thorough conclusions and parting thoughts from this next week to share then.

Paul Star

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It’s been just over a week since we left Jinja with supplies for the fence and without Karla. We planned to leave the port with our pilot, Geoffrey, around 2PM with our supplies. True to the continent’s form, we didn’t leave until around 6:30. Because of astronomical alignments, we were soon under the starry night sky of Lake Victoria, carrying the elemental components of what we hope will be a community-changing garden. Walking the path back to SHIM after unloading the cargo felt more strenuous than ever, but also carried a feeling of accomplishment. The fence represents our greatest contribution to the island this time around and will be a feat in itself.

Yet, as we now approach the latter stage of erecting the fence, Sam and I have been wondering more and more what will happen to the earth inside of it. In fact, I’ve come to see it as more of a gamble on our part; we’ve spent an incredible amount of money for the supplies and invested days of work and travel only to create the possibility of gardening. While a necessary step in the process, a fence does nothing to see that the school or community will really seize the opportunity that it will provide. And after living here for three weeks, I could see our target group tilling a corner to plant some cassava, maize and potatoes and leaving the rest idle. Maintaining and investing in a growing space is quite far from the current priorities of most people, even though they may support the idea with fervor. However, what we know to be absolutely true is that is within the best interest of the school, the kids, and the community to open themselves to the idea of a fruitful and busy garden and we will do our utmost to guide them there. The most basic of the tasks in that line is talking to the Headmaster about starting to budget for the garden. To date, the school has only been able to contribute sand and stone for concrete and ten hoes. After school administration agrees to find $300 to cover costs of tools, seedlings and some labor during planting season, we are hopeful that their priorities will then overlap with the success of the garden. Long term, the garden will be saving the school money and ideally generating some revenue, here and there, but the seven months until then will likely render that a lost point for now. It’s been proven time and again that projects comprised of unmatched mzungu money are riskier and we hope to drive home in our remaining time here that we will cover startup costs, but the remaining costs and its imperative success are the responsibility of the school.

On the subject of startup costs, it’s time to introduce our secret weapon… Robert Bagyata. If I had to capture him in one sentence, I would tell you that he is a man who has learned the art of making his dreams public and real. He came for a day this past Saturday to craft the ideal direction for the school’s garden space. While, Sam and I have been hopeful that half of the area might be tilled this summer and maybe progressively more in the following years, Robert drew up a plan that filled every square foot with purpose. Suddenly the massive termite mound that we’ve been shying from and cursing will just have to be removed… to make way for the passion fruit trellis of course. A few small trees that we’ve been discouraging people from harming will also come down; stepping aside for papaya trees, banana plants and moringa. He’s a very likeable, but more importantly, a smart guy. He brings the expertise that no one at the school, and maybe one person on the island could challenge. We had drafted several goals for the garden and ways to attach people to it, only to find that Robert had listed the same and more. He works within the goal of making the garden a community asset.

Next to a fence, we find him to be the best investment we can make in regards to the project. Anyway, we’ve begun hanging the chain link. Things are well and if they keep going this way we will have a lot to feel good about. I suppose I can try to talk about something other than this project now.

I’m learning a lot about people, both good and bad things. Most of what pulls at my curiosity are the intergenerational interactions I see daily. The whole of the island is based upon patriarchal respect, by his wife and children. Seeing this enforced is awkward and painful for me, especially when it so often seems that only the most minor infringements are the ones penalized. Whereas parenting groups and psychologists in the US are busy debating the merits of spanking children, it’s been common to see kids boxed around the head while being verbally debased. Just studying that exchange between youth and authority helps to explain so much of the other negative social interactions that we see and hear about here. Rape, animal abuse, and environmental exhaustion all seem acceptable when you look at them from the eyes of someone who struggled to survive a childhood of socially endorsed abuse. So many people we encounter here have come to understand the value of a human, of themselves, as a far too lowly a being.

The ultimate stimulus for my digression here, which Sam likely also covered on his blog, was the seven strokes of a cane that we saw. Class was interrupted to gather all students and faculty, some 150 people, to watch their classmate who was found with a stolen book, some love letters (contraband), and as having taunted a teacher, be caned. First was his own mother, who took the liberty of striking her son twice, once extra, as he lay in the dirt. Next were four teachers, one of which felt the rump of the 15 year old, while smiling, to ensure his stroke fell well. And the headmaster brought the seventh. The highest authority at the school, again smiling, reiterated the crimes of the boy, before asking him to tell everyone that he wished to be hit again. The boy did, but not loud enough to stop his headmaster from asking him to stand up and tell his classmates that he wished to be hit again. Most troubling for me was how unsympathetic and spectator-like the rest of the students were. It was all normal. The school day resumed.

I questioned how the people that I was getting to know and work with here (after crossing the globe) could have so little respect for a human. The basic feeling from that moment was a sharp division between what we are trying to do here and what they deserve. But, after thinking for a couple of days, I can conclude two things: I am thankful to my parents for not spanking me and that that episode is why we are here. It expresses how far behind this place is on the development curve. Pre-karla leaving, we had been joking about Lingira being the worst-case scenario for a group doing development work and that if anyone can find a way to fix it, they could fix any place. Ultimately, eradication of things like abuse will come from being more connected to first the mainland, and second, the world. But, even things like the garden can be a small step towards improving that. We just need to start getting people to care for something, one person at a time, if necessary. To make this a home when it hasn’t been. Make them care for their home, their family, and their future.

[By the way Sam and I are competing to see who can draft the longer blog, if you couldn’t tell]

We have a group of ten people visiting SHIM for the afternoon, as well as the Smith’s and Julius back for the day. It’s a grand juxtaposition compared to the four or five of us who’ve been here for the last week and half. The largely vacant building has left us time to get to know each other well. Sam and I have been each other’s only confidants for a good two weeks and have concluded that if we made it through all of the frustrations of trying to work here without schism, that the fall with EDGE will be smooth as fresh black top that we’re totally going to be biking on.

Oryagi, primarily SHIM’s boatman, has functioned well as a lubricator of conversation and action. He’s got a habit of showing up at pinch points in our project to see it through, but more importantly, he’s ensured that I have one solid laugh everyday. He might be quiet for 90% of the day, quietly doing his or anybody’s work, but his laugh and smile erupt at some point, over nothing, much to our pleasure. Last night as Sam and I tried to connect to home with watching Lord of the Rings, we had trouble hearing as he did the most remarkable thing I’ve witnessed yet. He laughed and joked over the Bible, of all things, for a good half hour, belly laughs. I’ve seen many people love that book, but never anyone enjoy it so much as he did. Sam and I had no idea what he went on about, but laughed along anyhow.

I’ve stopped enjoying the inevitable presence of dirt in my diet, under my nails, and in my bed. I think I can speak for Sam in saying that we wholly accepted our bad hygiene. When we do bathe, it’s all undone by 11AM the next day. If we do scrub our hands clean, they’re only minutes from more grime. It was always a lost battle. But, I can start to feel that first shower at home. When I really wash out my cuts, clean behind my ears, and finish by donning a smart shirt. This country has saturated me and my body. Though the dirt will leave easily, the life I’ve lived here will only leech out slowly, I expect.

We’ve got a lot of exciting things happening here and can’t wait to check them off before our fast-approaching return.

Be merry and do good work.


Monday, June 13, 2011

I just work here...

So ends our brief respite in Jinja, on the mainland. We parted with Karla a couple of hours ago, she will make her way back to Entebbe airport on her way home today, but not without having had a phenomenal impact on our trip. As planned, her third trip here not only helped Sam and I get to our work site, but also dine an amazing job of connecting us to all of the important faces, places and history that we are working with. Along the way, she showed us the rules of the game and was a great reference for the work we will be doing the rest of the trip. Thanks Jaja Karla.

Yesterday was a day of leisurely productivity; we hung out at a café for most of the day while people came to have meetings with us. First up was Robert. He teaches in the Jinja area during the week, but was also the driving force behind the implementation of six secondary school gardens around the country. The remarkable part about his work is his belief in nutritional organic gardening. Schools that are lucky enough to have space to grow often use it just to grow maize for “gut puddy.” Bringing in Robert to work with the garden would help to ensure that the produce is diverse, introducing tomatoes, onions, peppers, cabbage, eggplant and more. He also emphasizes these gardens being a community resource, using a variety of different techniques that help people to grow in areas normally too small or having poor soil. And best of all, he is Ugandan; implying that he knows the climate, and people will be comfortable working with him. The sustainability equation should be a ¾ of an acre fence, plus 5 daylong visits from Robert to download information, yields a garden with invested leaders, students and community members. So for anyone who is interested in supporting our project, we estimate it will be around $1200 for the fence (after finding a cheaper source!) and another $350 for Robert’s contribution. Our funds will cover the materials while we are here. But, any support we get will remove constraints on other initiatives we would like to begin.

If anyone would like to support the garden/fence project, contact former director of EDGE and good friend, Alisha David at adavid2@wisc.edu. Thanks Leesh.

So, following Robert, we had a meeting with another fantastic Robert; Uncle Robbie/ Wafula, VP of Shim. It was a good heart to heart, and though he is spread thin with his microfinance and schoolwork, he remains very invested in us and remains, very much so, one of the original EDGE boys. He was/is concerned about our group losing steam and power, as he has seen the traveling group shrink drastically. But, he also seems to believe that we continue to have great potential as a group and definitely believes that there is need for us on Lingira. It’s been a struggle so far to really get a feel for where we might take our direction next year. And one of his closing points (which aligns with our ambitions,) was to get down on the ground level with people. It’s been very, very easy to do work at SHIM and the secondary school and not every really get down to peoples homes. We’re going to go there though and start talking with people and get the beat of the community. To find the stationary resources in the community.

We were also able to briefly visit Richard Wafula, an island native who is going to automobile mechanics school in Jinja. He’s a sort of model kid from the island, as past travelers know. He attended through secondary school on Lingira, from one of the first graduating classes from the secondary school and continues to cultivate his future here. Bright kid with a good smile who has made the most of himself. 10 minutes after reaching his school it began to downpour. So it was a pleasant extra 20 minutes that we had with him.

Abraham, head of the small Kampala NGO, AGYA, will be visiting in two weekends and bringing along about seven kids from his project. His work involves getting boys to apply themselves creatively and expressively, instead of falling into less constructive activities. By his estimates, around 600 kids make it to his programs now and again, with about 80 regulars. He came out last year and struck a good chord with the boys and he is anxious to share with them again, as well as expose the kids he brings to the island. Not many get off the island and the atmosphere for most of the boys seems to direct them from school, on to football after school, with some girl chasing in there. Hopefully, Abraham will help to show them, or encourage them to be more comfortable with more thoughtful and expressive mediums.

The last thing we were able to (begin to) straighten out was Rose from WORI (Womens’ Rights Initiative) to come to the island. They work to coach a community elected group on Human, Civil, and Sexual rights, so that they may disseminate this knowledge through the community, while serving as an intermediary in cases of violations. Though there is a police post on the island, family and cultural values rule above law most of the time. That includes parental encouragement of daughters using their sexuality to pay secondary school fees among MANY other unacceptable things. So, though we may expect Rose’s work to eventually fade, we hope that it will help tip the scales just a little further towards bringing the community around.

In the end, a lot of what we are doing this time around will be building connections to island with people who can serve as experts in their work and as compatriots highly worthy of emulation. It is becoming more likely that this will remain a component of what we do with the island.

It’s to the hardware now, then back to the island. We have many postholes dug already, but we will have many hours of work ahead of us this week. Once that’s done, we’ll probably throw back a warm soda before working on biting off a big chunk to work down over the next year.

Miss you all. Sam and I have posted several photos on facebook, so check those out if you like. Thanks for the well wishing and support.

Talk soon,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


We’re most of the way through our second full day on Lingira, as of this draft being written. The last few days have been leisurely and largely peaceful. The heat of the sun slows the pace of every action and thought, as well as mandates the afternoon nap that will follow my writing this. Elise snuck in a letter for each traveler, and told me how she’d wondered at times “what have I gotten myself into.” When you reach the shores after the 90 minute boat ride, everything that I have so far known in 2-D, now towers in front of me. I mean, of course, the mountain, the trees, but also the problems. The conversations I had all along about how to solve Lingira have become entirely inadequate. The mass of people that inhabit the island are good hearted, but the lack of social infrastructure looms over every proposal we’ve ever proposed. Most people not affiliated with the school have few agendas, other than don’t rock the boat (courtesy of Andy.) We had talked ourselves into pretty deep holes over the problems plaguing the island and been left with no productive outlet.

We’ve dropped the plan for the pump; it will be expensive enough to finish the fence. And by this, I mean three sides of the school. The side facing the mountain will be a difficult, but free pass for any livestock who dare it. I’ve focused all, or most, of my negative energy on the goats, sheep, chicken, ducks, turkey, and cattle that freely walk through the heart of the school yard, littering it with manure and stopping the growth of any trees. These kids’ parents work to pay for their schooling, which should not include the feed for the livestock of the neighborhood. In absolute ignorance of the absurd cost of this project, Sam and I, along with Tony, employee at the clinic in Lingira Camp, spent several hours clearing the brush where the fence will lie and digging the holes where the posts will be. It will be around $110 for 20m sections of chain link to fence the 175m that needs to be closed. [So step 1. Do that math. Step 2. Mail us a donation to help get the fence built.] Every secondary school kid at Lingira Living Hope does three years of agriculture classes. So far, not a single one has spent a moment with the soil while taking these classes. If the initiative to plant there has ever been taken, it was surely raised in very short order. In the US, we can afford to be ignorant of how to cultivate hearty, organic food. But, so many here don’t even know their need for more knowledge about growing. There is so, so, much that can be learned from a garden laboratory. Uniquely the garden space lies on the main path that follows the island, which means the visibility of its productivity would get the rest of the community asking, “what are they doing that I’m not?” There is plenty out there to make sure this answer would never be ammonia spray or voodoo. For now, I am asking, what it does to people who see cultivation attempts been erased in one swoop after 15 cattle roam across the half finished fence. If I saw this futility, my interest and hope would never hold. We will have the fence finished and the garden tilled. (*students helped to clear the main garden area after classes one day. With 60 or so kids it was done in 30 minutes.)

I guess we’ve gotten good news on many other fronts. The girls are practicing soccer with Madame Jane. Only they play netball as those tournaments approach. The grain mill is okay. The secondary school is now government accredited and will receive more funding. The islands are now part of a smaller province, shortening the chain for corruption to steal the vital shillings these people need. The primary school teachers are all very invested in the school, despite the challenging community and shoddy lodgings, to great effect.

In order to be formally introduced [7 times] to the community, we three attended Sunday Mass. Per local custom, we arrived late and stayed the remaining three hours of church. It was a very full blend of theater, town hall meeting, and preaching. After the vibrant performance of the secondary school kids, the best part was learning that we have a very blessing-worthy reputation here. The “edge team” was the recipient of many shoutouts and thanks. Good thing I was already tapping my hands on the wooden pews during the songs, because they seem to have rather high expectations, needing many a knock-on-wood’s. We’ve reall ymet far too many to remember by now, and I hope no one else plays the card that Justice did today by up and asking if I remembered his name. He was disappointed in me the minute that I started with an “Rrrr” for a guess. I won’t forget it again I guess…

We’ve yet to tour the whole island. We’ve seen the grain mill. It is in working order, but lacking an operator. We’ve heard that Fred and the Head Master are working on this. If nothing else, there is an eighth of an acre on the lakeshore, next to it that would serve as a cool place to camp out. EDGE Real Estate Development Group is still a flEDGEling enterprise, but very viable if you ask me. (*tour has been completed as of editing this.)

We are mostly in good health with a few bothers. The inevitable “over-bronzing” of the skin never ceases, Karla has awful bites that trouble her gait. Sam is fine now that he has one of Andy’s guitars. I lost a toenail on the football pitch. And we’ve got plenty of blisters to garnish our soft hands.

We will leave Saturday to deliver Karla to the mainland for her return. She undoubtedly deserves an early return, but she will be missed. She’s done a fair job of teaching us when it pays to be boorish and when to lay low. Most importantly, we’ve hit a decent balance of personalities and skills amongst the three of us. The EDGE team will lose much of its rapport with women here, by little fault of us EDGE boys. But, let us remember the fall of Gandalf in Moria; the party became leaderless and fractured, but each did redouble his personal efforts towards accomplishing the ultimate end of Sauron. Anyway, Sam and I are stuck with each other, willingly or not, until next spring, so we might as well find how to best combine now. We would also kill to be able to watch those movies right now. [On the subject of media,] photogenicity is abundant in Uganda. At least I know it’s not the photographer making these shots so beautiful…

I’ve written too much and it’s only half of the story. Thanks for sticking with me until now. And I wasn’t kidding about the donations. It’s like $1500 for the whole fence and I’m probably going to ask you for money for projects another time anyway.

Miss you all,


Thursday, June 2, 2011


After the hours we’ve spent driving in the last few days, it seems that my brain is still trying to correct for the endless sloshing and bouncing that the Ugandan highway system is. (This is amplified when you ride in the crowded taxis, which seat 13 at minimum.) Sam, Karla, and I have just returned to our lodgings at Backpackers in Kampala. Though having a shower and hot coffee nearby is quite a treat, it’s psychologically tough to be back in the dusty and burned garbage atmosphere. I had be nearly accustomed to the city before our mini holiday to Masaka Town to check out Suubi Centre. I’ve often backed the driftless region of Wisconsin as the most beautiful countryside about, but seeing some of the valleys and especially the towns in that area may have made me a convert. Maybe the neatest part was finally seeing where my favorite bean, beverage, sustaining elixir comes from. (Family especially should know I mean coffee). It’s a very profitable crop in Uganda and it was great to see first hand the people who cultivate the plants, how they dry them, and what it does, or doesn’t bring them.

Suubi is, by all counts, what every development worker does or should aspire to. They’ve been around for 5 years now in the small village of Lubanda, near Masaka. Australian, Helen Brown, who some how manages to be equally charismatic amongst Ugandans and Mzungu’s, partnered with a brilliant native of the village, David. While David has worked with the community to run projects year-round, Helen and her organization, HUG (hug.org.au), have raised substantial funds in Australia for the projects at Suubi. They’ve established a community center, training hall, demonstration garden, housing for volunteers, a kitchen and are just finishing a full service medical clinic. Most integral to their success has been the long-term goal of HUG phasing out their support leaving a sustainable organization to provide services, training, and much more to thousands. Every project is wholly run by David or another Suubi employee, ensuring that every step Suubi takes brings skills, money, experience, or community back into Lubanda. It was humbling and inspiring to visit, with our work in mind. We now have a much better idea of what it would take to do for Lingira what we wish to do.

As we three Mzungu’s got further and further from the city, the eyes that watched us only showed more and more awe. By the time that we visited the garden that Suubi set up at Bright Light Primary, kids were just walking out of their classrooms during class to wander around our posse. Things sort of escalated and Sam and I started playing impromptu football (more so just trudging through the foot high grass without the ball.) The pinnacle of this moment was both of us slipping on some very slick mud, meeting the laughter of the 150 kids as we returned to our feet. It’s charming to feel so special amidst their attention, but then I remember that we’re really anything but special people. Though, it’s also reassuring when I/we get a chance to make friends and really get to know Ugandans that we meet. (Shout out to you David and Ishmael.)

I’d left my journal in a car a couple of days ago and actually just got back. It has a bunch of notes about things associated with the garden project. It’s good to have those back as we’ve been doing more planning and theorizing about our stay there. I had worried at different points that the work we would actually do with the garden would not be extensive enough, but when the footnote about the monkeys, which can eat and climb anything and are fearless, my worries were over. The only way to definitively stop their assaults would be to also fence over the top forming essentially a batting cage. We aren’t doing that. It’s likely going to be Acacia branches, very spiky, to act as a sort of barbed wire. We’ll try to use everything we learned at the Suubi demonstration garden after accomplishing the fence.

We move closer to that, starting tomorrow. Provided the road doesn’t fall through with the crowds celebrating Martyr’s Day, we will be going to Jinja in the morning and the island the following morning. Exciting stuff all around. Missing home too much. Adjusting well enough.


Note: I can't post a single photo because of the internet. Apologies.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sea legs

We are here with all of our bags and in good health. All in all, it was more than a day’s worth of travel from the time we left the Lunds' home, hence the three hours of nap that followed our activities since landing. We met Fr. Vincent, a family friend, at the airport, along with his nephew Joseph who will be driving us on Tuesday. After a lively drive from Entebbe to our hostel in Kampala, we left for a late lunch with them. The meal was a good lesson in African Time, the phenomena of things being done in an almost untimely manner, but more so just at a rate that reflects the different prioritization of the people here. So, we spent two hours at the restaurant before visiting a sort of hospice center founded by an African cardinal and followed by the Ugandan national cathedral. And here we are at the hostel with vital signs and little more.

Wrench in our plans (but maybe not): We found out during our layover in DC that SHIM can’t have us until Friday, leaving five days from now to fill with activities. So the plans I described in my last post are essentially flipping. We will spend tomorrow exploring Kampala on foot and meeting with Abraham, who visited the island in the past to coach boys on being “all around” men instead of aspiring to patriarchal ideals. He might yet return with us to the island. Tuesday, we’ll go out to visit a couple of the children of interest, seeing the fourth, Pauline on Wednesday in Masaka. We hope to then spend a couple days nearby at the formidable community development organization, Suubi Centre. They do things in line with the ideals of EDGE, but seem to have really made things click with the community. My hope is that our visit there could be a helpful resource on how to handle the problems that Lingira shares with this community. Friday, we will make our way to the port city of Jinja and on to Lingira. The only real consequence of this audible is that Karla, who is leaving earlier, will have less time on the island.

Maybe they just have a killer marketing department, but my experience with Ethiopia Air was culturally intriguing. Though not very populous, Ethiopians have a unique language and alphabet and national pride. The mountains surrounding the Addis Ababa airport have definitely put the hilly nation among my places of interest when it comes time to plan another international trip.

I’m still very much in the “feeling out” stage of learning about Ugandan culture, but here’s what I’ve found most pertinent to its profile:

They like talking, touching, and having genuine exchanges, no matter the occasion. There’s a very real interest in people and their story, in having every experience be human. It’s a sort of commitment to serving each other that I don’t think is often found at home, okay maybe Minnesconsin has it, but it is pretty special nonetheless.

So, if you are doing development work and need discouragement, a drive around Kampala is what you need. Despite the seemingly resilient spirit of Ugandans, the city is a mess, through and through. Most people do their best to occupy one of five corporately created niches to an unproductive end. There is a handful of brand names that saturate the roadside reflecting the livelihoods of people who sell cell phone minutes, coke, or Bic razors. Accepting cultural differences and economic challenges, it is still frustrating to see how the path prescribed for many people in this city requires no skills, only a contract with a corporate supplier.

I’m happy to actually be here and actually be doing things instead of just theorizing about the possibilities, though to everyone at home, I miss you already. I think we’re all excited to make this trip as worthwhile as it could ever be. I’m loving the people, the smells, the avocado trees, and will continue to smile in the sunshine until it inevitably burns me. This caps off my first night in Africa and I’ll go to bed tired and contented.

Until later,