Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gulu and Hoima

Just getting ready for the week and the mentor meeting on Friday. Got our approval from the UNCST. It feels like a dream. Also we should have the pictures up soon, so be on the look out. Cheers!

Rev was pushing to get home for some reason, so we squeezed two school visits in and headed home. The children and the school staff were very helpful. They gave us some more tests as a parting gift. The people at the hotel seemed sad that we were leaving. It was fun to meet people so quickly. The trip home was relatively uneventful except that I was worried that Rev was going to loose his bumper because it was coming loose. We also bought a ton of mangoes, more than we can possibly eat for 2,000 shillings (less than a dollar). I thought we were buying like five, but it was more like fifty.

Sunday we were free to roam around Gulu on our own. It was fun to do a lot of walking after spending so much time in the car. Not much going on in Gulu, however. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

I got to meet two of the mentors in the area and interview them. They both went very well. Gulu is definitely different from the rest of the country. People just want to get on with their lives so badly and live peacefully and healthy. P.S. also met someone named Simba. I thought that was fun.

I woke up with the sun, around 6:45. The restaurant for breakfast was still locked. No such thing as a 6:00 am continental breakfast here. We went for a meeting with another organization that works with HIV positive people in Hoima. SAS is looking to partner with them as well. We got lost looking for the office, but we were only lost for roughly 45 minutes. That just doesn’t seem like a very long time to me anymore.

The meeting went well, and it seems like they might be interested in partnering with SAS in the future. We continued on our way to Gulu via Masindi eating mangoes like apples and stopping to take pictures of the baboons and the Nile River as we crossed over. Rev was a good sport to stop from time to time to let us be tourists.

We crossed the path of a rat, which is supposed to be bad luck. We had a good laugh about superstitions as I explained how people in America sometimes derive meaning out of what is probably a coincidental experience. I told him about the time Summer Brooke saw a hawk snatch a squirrel in Marion Square in Charleston, which she interpreted as an omen that Auburn would beat LSU in football that year (she predicted correctly).

Gulu itself feels sort of like a town out of an old Western movie. It is the last town before people cross the border into Sudan, and has been plagued by guerilla war for a while. It is just now safe enough for children to go back to school. The hotel was nice although it didn’t have power. Again, it isn’t something that bothers me anymore. They ran a generator at night at least. On the other hand we all had to share a double bed, which was rather trying. Poor Nicole, who is the tallest among us, had the biggest challenge.

We made it to Hoima without a hitch. Along the way we saw lots of Ankole cows, which I love. Their horns arc and sway so gracefully as they graze. We arrived at Meeting Point first which is an organization that SAS collaborates with in Hoima. Meeting Point is a networking organization for HIV positive people. SAS tries to employ HIV positive people as mentors to teach in the classroom in an effort to empower people living with HIV.

We went to observe two schools in Hoima. One was an Islamic school, which was interesting. One of the teachers told me that there is an Arabic word for AIDS. I didn’t know that. The Islamic religion in Uganda is something that I haven’t had much exposure to, and doesn’t often come up in the context of HIV spread, so it was nice to visit a school and talk with some of the teachers.

At Meeting Point we got a chance to talk with some of the mentors that were around. It was good to see some of the same ones from last summer. They’re really a great collection of people. When we got in the car to go check in the hotel, the car wouldn’t start. The lights had gotten left on after driving through the fog into Hoima. I was just thankful that we made it into town before we started having car troubles. At least we were able to get a jump easily and deal with it.

The hotel didn’t have water for the day/night that we stayed there, so we had to use jerry cans and wash basins to get clean. I’ve gotten really good at washing in a wash basin.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tests Complete

Doing some last minute things before we leave tomorrow. We won’t be back until Tuesday evening, which means that we’ll be out of touch till Wednesday or so. I’m really excited! Especially for Gulu. We are supposed to get there on Sunday, which I hope will give us time to see the city and maybe the surrounding areas before we meet with mentors and schools.

I’m really proud of myself today. I walked to town and saw three people that I knew along the way on the street. Augustine, who’s house we went to a few weeks back for a birthday party, a SAS clinic employee, and Andrew, the youngest of Dr. Muhumuza’s siblings. I found him stranded o the side of the road in the middle of a driving lesson because the car over heated. Since I was walking I couldn’t be of much use except to lighten the mood and make jokes. He told me that he had been trying to get in touch with me. He said that he had heard that I had lost a lot of weight. =? I’m not sure who is discussing my weight to Andrew, but I think it is Rachel, another one of the ten siblings. I guess it is a compliment, in a way, after not seeing someone for a year. Either way it makes for a great story in the classroom when I’m teaching about beauty and weight. Here it is desirable to be on the thicker side.

We’ve been generating the statistics for the tests. Not sure what to make of it yet, but I’ll let you all know when we’re finished.

Today I met a deaf student on the matatu. Talk about really peaking my interest. I watched him negotiate the situation so cleverly, asking the conductor where the taxi was going, tell him where he needed to get off, and then explaining that he only had 500 shillings even though the fair is supposed to be 1,000 shillings. Obviously we didn’t speak, but we wrote notes to each other back and forth in my notebook. I’m always impressed with the acceptance and incorporation of people with disabilities here in Uganda. It just simply isn’t a big deal. I think part of it is because it is so common to have a disability of some sort, that you just aren’t special because you have one; however, people who are disability free have so much more patience because they are accustomed to interacting with all kinds of people. There is just a much more integrated community here, whether it’s age, or disability. Maybe gender is an exception. There is some segregation socially by gender, but it isn’t any more than any other place that I’ve been or lived.

We met at the Foundation to make plans for traveling with Rev and Beatrice, the older sister to Dr. Muhumuza. Looks like we are going push on straight from Hoima to Gulu without a break in between. Rev is going to drive us all around which should be interesting. I always love getting to meet with Beatrice. She is stately to say the least, commands respect when she enters the room, always dressed trendy, but still true to the African fashion, is a member of parliament to the dismay of many men. Isn’t thwarted when they try to poison her food, and enjoys well landscaped gardens. I admire her as a multidimensional woman.

Lastly, from there we dropped by SAS clinic where the Foundation used to be housed to catch up with our acquaintances there. One of our friends, Florence, got married this year and is now eight months pregnant. I don’t feel like I’ve changed that much in a year, so it is weird to see people again and they’re totally different (and enormously pregnant). She was giving us a hard time, the way that many people do, because we are getting rather old to still be unmarried according to Ugandan standards. Especially Meagan and Nicole, not me so much. They also know that Americans wait longer to get married and have less kids, so they think it is funny to make jokes and watch us squirm and blush. Its ok, I joke right back about having large numbers of children (which is a changing trend between the younger and older generations of Ugandans. Younger Ugandan women want fewer children than before. Like four instead of twelve. This is often a source of unspoken tension between younger and older generations of Ugandan women and ripe for making jokes). This is about how the conversation goes:

Pregnant Florence: “So Ginger, when are you getting married.”
Ginger: “I don’t know. Not soon.”
Pregnant Florence: “Maybe I should anoint you.”
Ginger (grimace): “No way. “
(Everyone laughs)
Ginger: “But I think by the time I come back next year, you should be having another. I want lots of nieces and nephews.”
Florence (grimace): “No. I taking a break after this one.”
(Everyone laughs)

We finally finished entering tests! But we’ve discovered that are likely more waiting for us in Hoima and Gulu! In my mind I keep thinking, “Please stop sending us data. I’m begging you.” What a luxury, right? Anyway, Moses helped us with the last of the tests, numbering somewhere around 2,400. Meagan wins the bet, although we still haven’t settled on what she wins exactly.

Moses also got some good news today. He got accepted to a language program in Germany. This means that he can get a visa to go there as a student and live with Sonja. It’s really fun cheering on their relationship. He was so excited that he couldn’t do anything but sit there an smile. So much so that he was getting late for his German class, so we pushed him out the door. Good thing he has us Americans making him keep time.

That night we relaxed and watched a bootleg movie. One of my favorite things to do. It was the best-worst movie ever, so bad that it was comical. I won’t tell you which one it is, but if you’re in need of a laugh let me know and I’ll recommend it to you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Week 4 Pictures

We've posted the pictures from week, and we have some videos! We have made plans to travel at the end of the week. Very exciting - Hoima then Gulu.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Barn Burning Weekend

Happy Father’s Day! We went to church today. It was only two hours instead of four this time, but that was partially because we got delayed two hours by the rain. There was a guest pastor from Nigera who was pretty entertaining. We dropped by Mary’s house because we knew that she would be expecting us on Sunday even though we hadn’t discussed it. I’m starting to feel like I have to drop by and see her the way that I feel like have to make sure that I call my mother at least once every week.

She made us stay for lunch. Meagan and I agree that we are starting to acquire a taste for something called ghee, which is along the lines of fermented butter added to beans. Needless to say it has a strong flavor that is reminiscent of blue cheese. She has finally learned to give us what she calls “baby sized” portions of food for lunch. It is the first time that I haven’t walked away painfully full.

Afterwards we went out into the yard to take a photograph. It was like taking a family photo. Largely because we had to take at least 20 photographs to make sure that everyone looked normal with their eyes open in the picture and so that everyone would have a picture on their personal camera. Her children Julius, Judith, and Julian are in the pictures with us (Mary as well). I really enjoy feeling connected to another family here. Especially this morning I was feeling a little homesick, enough to curl up with bo bear (yes he’s here with me) while I was writing up my field notes.

We had a “barn burning” day as Nicole calls it. We entered so many tests, somewhere around 750. We’re up to 2000 students entered, 64,000 data points, and we probably have one more full day of work before we’re done. I’m getting excited in a nerdy way about generating the statistics. I can already see some of the trends (some good, some not so good) having spent so much time with the data.

Having some more issues with the database and the student tests. We actually have so much data that it is difficult for my computer to process all of the information. Never in a million years would I think that I didn’t have enough computer power to deal with the data collection and analysis portions of our evaluation.

Nicole and I went to dinner with one of our friends from the coffee shop and his girlfriend, Frank and Ruby. We went outside of the city which is always a nice change. It was actually really beautiful because the sun was going down over the hills lighting up the crops of sweet potatoes and corn. Stocks of hand made bricks here and there between the hills. The heat of the day finally lifting while the woker’s dust settles. It’s enough to make anyone feel romantic, even me.

Given the ambience, I plucked up the courage to ask Nicole if she liked Africa. She said yes. It was a relief knowing that she had been working up to this trip for several years now.

Oh man, what a day. We went to the UNCST. I dropped off all the paperwork (for the second time). The secretary said that we should have approval by Monday or Tuesday, which I know means Thursday or Friday. So here’s hoping.

Meagan did an observation at a school while our test was being administrated. I think we will post it in picasa, or somewhere so you can actually see what we’ve been working on for three years. It was encouraging to me at least.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prepping and Planning

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Prepping and planning all day long. We have set some tentative dates for traveling to Hoima and to Gulu with Reverend. And it is all going to be the week before we meet with the mentors (July 1) in Kampala to give them the results from these tests. Mmmmmmk. So we are going to have to really push to get the statistics generated. Yikes! That is also the same week as my birthday.

Today Meagan told me that she is ready for my birthday. That’s funny because I am too. And it is hard to describe what it is about the day that is so exhausting. Everything takes such a long time. For example we took pictures to go with the paper work that we have to resubmit to the UNCST (because they don’t have them on file), and we got the express ones that are supposed to take 15 minutes, but we waited for 30. I always have to budget twice as much time as I think it should take.

However, I’m really looking forward to traveling, and I think it’s going to be a great experience.

Today we entered data into the database like crazy all day long. We are up to student number 745 (approximately 23,000 data points), and it looks like we are only about 1/3 of the way through. We’ve decided to take bets on how many we think there are. I’m at 2500. Meagan is 2300. Nicole is 2800. When we reach the 1000 mark we decided that we are allowed to adjust the bets. We haven’t decided exactly what the winner gets, but I think it is going to be a massage and a half day alone at the house.

Did another observation at a primary school with four first grade classes. I learn a lot of Luganda this way. I feel like I need to be sitting in the first grade classroom all the time. It’s hard to do observations in the younger classrooms because our presence causes such a disturbance, but it is really cute the way they steal glances at us and then turn back to giggle with their friends.

Been in communication with my favorite person at UNCST. They say that they can give us temporary approval to start our research so long as we resubmit the paper work to the president’s office. Honestly, it feels a little like a trap, but we’ll continue to follow along.

We cooked tacos today and hosted Joan for her birthday. Her kids came along too, and it was good to see them again. I hadn’t seen them in two summers. I think they had a good time – Louis the oldest one said that he wanted to come back next Saturday.

Other than that we started catching up and getting ready for the week. Got a lot to do. Got a lot to do. Only five more working weeks.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fruitful Weekend

We took a taxi from the taxi park today, which was a huge accomplishment for me and Meagan. Look back a pictures from previous years and you’ll understand why. Moses hosted us at his home in Kygera outside of the city. It was so nice to get out of the city for a while and breathe the fresh air. He even cooked lunch for us. It was delicious.

We tested our focus group questions with a group of high school students that Moses works with. It went really well all around even though it was raining and even though people kept coming in to join the conversation. We had Moses lead the discussion while we simply observed and answered questions as necessary. I think my accent is getting better because I spent several minutes answering a question about the transmission of HIV from other primate species to humans. They said that they could understand everything that I said. Yay, for having acquired good African English.

Coming back we got super lost in the rain. I guess every day has its ups and downs. The funniest part of getting lost was that I was giving Nicole advice on how to get back to a familiar place by walking up the hill to the main road, but it turns out that we were on the wrong hill. The suggestion doesn’t help if you are on the wrong hill.

Nicole in particular had a trying day with lots of new experiences. First time to the taxi park, first time out of the city, a chicken got in her purse while we were at lunch, the boda that she and Meagan were on broke down while on the way back, lost in the rain, but she tolerated all of it well which is a good sign for the remainder of our time here. I suspect more trails are to come.

Luckily…and this was a huge relief….Gerald had fixed the water to our apartment and we had running water in the bathrooms, so we could all take hot baths and wash away the coldness of the rain and the weariness from the day. We stayed in an drank tea and reflected on the day. Tomorrow Joan is coming over with her kids, and we are throwing a small party for her for her birthday. I got excited and bought Roald Dahl books as presents for the children too. I’m looking forward to giving all the gifts, but now I’ve started to read the books and I’m hoping that I can finish them before giving them to the kids. I forgot how much I enjoyed his books as a child.

We decided to try and make tacos. I hope they go over well.

Today we attempted to go see our contact person at the UNCST. I say attempted because we never ended up getting in touch with that person which is to be expected. But the fact that we even made it there is an accomplishment because we got all the way downtown to the building and learned that their office had moved to another location which was within walking distance of us. The cosmic joke of our battle with the UNCST continues…We stopped at a place that I like and got a banana split at 11:00am to recharge and then try to find the new office in Ntinda.

We took the taxi back home, and walked to the office. We actually found it with minimal trouble. When we got there our contact person was gone already at noon on Friday. Not a surprise. Luckily, we did get her contact information, which is what I was after anyway.

We got home and there was no water. And we have a reservoir tank, but for some reason the connection is bad. I asked Gerald, who acts as the grounds keeper and maintenance man. We had another “Let me do some technology” moment. Gerald ran a hose up to the tank and created a siphon. I filled the Jerry cans and carried them back to the house. I really needed to bathe before we went out for the evening, so it was worth it to me even though it was a lot of work. It is amazing when you don’t have running water how much work it takes just to live and do house hold chores like bathing, washing clothes (which are already being washed by hand), cooking and washing dishes, flushing toilets, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, you get the idea. In short it gets old fast, and if all I had to do was maintain a house that wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s hard to wrangle with the UNCST all over town and then come home and tote water around.

Anyway, small vent, we met up with some of our friends for the evening and went to a birthday party. It was a lot of fun and we danced and celebrated and caught up with people that we haven’t seen since last year.

Big day planned for today. We sat and came up with a work plan and timeline now that we have a better idea of what is happening and how long things are going to take. On Saturday we planned to meet with a group of high school students to test out our questions for our focus groups. We picked up some scissors which I’m really excited about because it seems like no one uses them here. They are a really great tool, and something you don’t realize that you’re going to miss until you don’t have them. I spotted some sheep skin slippers at the craft store that I’m eyeing since I wore a hole through the soles of the other ones that I used to have.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Flu, Banana Bread, UNCST prep

We are also working on getting the pictures up from this week, so be on the look out.

Meagan is feeling way better, which is good because I’m hitting the three week mark where I’m needing some space. I went to Mulago hospital after talking to Dr. Bagenda and Dr. Muhumuza who both suggested that we should go down to my favorite place, UNCST (Uganda National Council for Science and Technology) to check on the status of our IRB approval (imagine a grimace on mine and Meagan’s face). The UNCST is the equivalent of going to the Mississippi DMV. It’s horrible, and I have to mentally prepare at least two days in advance before I go so that I exercise enough patience while I’m there. I’ll let you know how it goes (or doesn’t go most likely) on Friday.

So I went to the hospital to print things in prep for going to the UNCST, make copies, and hang out at the coffee shop. In one short sentence that sounds kind of weird to want to hang out at the hospital, but Mulago is a complex of buildings used for clinical practice, research, and teaching. One of the facilities does research primarily on HIV and mother to child transmission, which accounts for roughly 10% of the new cases in Uganda each year. This is such a sad statistic because it is largely preventable, but issues like poverty and access to medication are large contributors. They are large contributors to the HIV epidemic in general. Anyway, what I love about this research facility in general is that they recognize the social factors that contribute to HIV and have allowed women with whom they conduct research to open a coffee shop and a souvenir shop. All the profits go to those women, so I like to be a conscious consumer and spend my money there.

Lot’s of commotion today. Grace’s “house girl” (housekeeper) “ran away” (she quit and left without telling anyone), so Grace brought her 18 month old to the house. She was full of energy the whole day. Moses came over to help us with the tests. We made a significant dent today. I think we only have like 300 more to grade and then we have to enter them into the database. Meagan was still sick, which makes me nervous because we have been sharing the big bed, so I called a friend to take her to the doctor.Luckily, we can see the doctor for free, and we happened across Dr. Grace when we got to the SAS clinic. She wrote Meagan a prescription, I also got a refill for anti-malarials, and we were on our way in no time. Hopefully it will help.

For good news, the banana bread pan has been located. It got moved to the other house that the Muhumuza’s use when they come to Uganda. I’m not sure why it got moved, but it’s good to know that it’s around somewhere. I don’t know that we could find another one.

Meagan has caught a cold, so she stayed home in bed today. We picked her up some medicine and then headed out in the city. Nicole went to one of the schools by herself today, which was a success. I think she is starting to get the hand of it. I went to another school where they are trying to start the program for a teachers meeting. I got to see the children’s books that SAS is developing, which was one of our suggestions from the previous summer. It’s always good to know that our ideas are turning out to be useful.

We dropped by 1000 Cups afterward and saw Joan. Her birthday is coming up, so we decided to have her and her kids over on her Birthday. I wonder what we’ll make for them? Last year, we made cheese burgers for our friends which was a big hit, but we’ll have to cook something for the kids that they’ll like.

I made spaghetti and tomato sauce for everyone tonight. It went over well. I’m getting really good at manipulating the stove, which can be pretty tricky since only one pot has handles, and it’s a gas stove, but there’s no pilot lights. It doesn’t want to stay on all the time, and sometimes the grates slide off.

Also our banana bread pan is missing! We can’t find it, although I can’t imagine that someone would want to take it since it is such an oddly shaped pan and very few people have ovens. I’m sure it got put somewhere.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Week Gone by Already

A Week Gone by Already
Today we went to church with Mary and then had lunch afterwards. I have to say I’m all churched out. The service lasted for four hours with singing, dancing, and two sermons. I felt guilty after two and a half hours because I had to sit down for a while. Otherwise I enjoyed the service, and I could tell that Mary was pleased with our attendance.

Lunch was wonderful as usual, and we even managed to eat two whole plates of food between the three of us and ask for seconds. Her daughter Julian came with her new infant. He was really cute and happy. We all took turns passing him around. We didn’t get home till 6:30, which made for a long day. Amazingly, I’m the last one up. Nicole and Meagan have already gone to bed. It’s Meagan’s turn to not feel well. Tomorrow we’ll jump right back into the work week. The various stacks of tests are taunting us.

We went with Moses to watch his kids play football. He runs a nonprofit for children from the slums to play football (soccer). He does well with them, and often times they end up getting scholarships to go to school that they would not get otherwise. The name of their team is Sparta after the German team. Nicole stayed behind because she still wasn’t feeling good. It was a shame too because I think she would have liked it, but there is nothing worse than not feeling well and being stuck in a place. The team remembered us from last year, and they won.

There was also a Ugandan game, so we watched that. Uganda also won, so everyone was in high spirits

To day was a public holiday for Martyr’s Day. It gave us a chance to start tackling the stacks of tests that are now all over the table. Meagan and I had Nicole laughing. The dialogue went like this. Meagan, “What is this a stack of?” Ginger, “Things that stack well.” And that is how our analysis is beginning. Nicole was good enough to help us grade tests for three hours and we still only made a minimal dent. We also learned that we don’t have all the tests from all the districts, and Mary wants to administer the test to the new school that we visited on Wednesday. We are going to have to figure out a way to off load some of this burden. The only problem is that we can tell that the tests were not always administered correctly, so we are hesitant to also have people grading them on top. Surely there is a solution somewhere in there.

We went out to try and catch up with some of our friends for the evening, but it ended up being a short night. I wasn’t feel that great, and neither was Nicole, so we decided to come back early.

I had scrambled eggs with cheese this morning. Purchasing cheese while we were in Amsterdam was a great investment because the cheese here is just so bad.

We had another day at the Foundation. This time we met with Echiba. I always really like interacting with him because he always is enthusiastic about the Foundation. We went with him to a new school where they are trying to start the program. Did some more catching up and planning for the summer. I think things are pretty well established now that we have had roughly two days of catching up and planning.

Today we went to our pizza place. It was a lot of fun to go back, and we ate entirely too much food. We went home because it was coming to almost three in the afternoon, and everyone was getting tired. Even though we are jumping right back in, I forget how taxing it can be just to try and get one or two things done in a day. It was nice to come home and spend the rest of the afternoon reading and writing. I feel like I’m writing all the time, but it still isn’t enough. The electricity has been flickering more this year, which makes it more difficult.

Whew… our first real day of work. Everyone seemed excited and ready to get going. We stopped by Mary’s first. She was so happy to see us. It is funny how it is all coming back. Getting around and negotiating. It was nice to give her apricot preserves as a gift. I hope she likes them. The most exciting news is that mary has a new boyfriend and is planning to get remarried within the year. I would love to be able to attend, and admittedly the wheels are already turning on how this might be a possibility. I’ll just have to see.

Meagan and Nicole continued with Mary while I split off and met with Rev at SAS. It was good to catch up and make plans for the summer. A lot of things have happened since we’ve been gone. The good/bad news is that we had some tests that SAS was supposed to administer in Feb, and it was much more successful than we expected. Now we have over 1,000 tests to grade and enter into a database. Thank goodness we know that Moses will be able to help us like he did last year, and he already knows what he is doing.

After getting the test home, which are now stacked all around the living room, I rejoined Meagan, Nicole, and Mary at a school where the program is just getting started. It is a huge school by our standards. I sat in on the 3rd grade class, and there was roughly three hundred students in the room.

We walked all the way home so that we could talk about the day, and when we got home we had Ugandan gin and homemade juice and watched Seinfeld in celebration of a successful day.

Another slow day. Starting to get really restless. Our friend Pharouk dropped by to catch up. Some of his family lives in Britain so he has this really weird accent that is a mix of British and African English.

Today was a slow day and I’m anxious to be getting things done. I know that it takes time to get things moving. We walked to town, dropped by the post office, and then stopped at our favorite Indian restaurant. We shared one plate between the three of us and it was enough. I noticed that when we walked by city square, no one was sitting in the park except for police men. That was sad to me. Even for someone like me who has spent minimal amounts of time in Kampala, I have memories associated with that place, and now it is unusable.

Nicole took her first boda ride, which is always a big deal. At first she was a little nervous, but then I think she really enjoyed it.

Friday, June 3, 2011


We have the pictures posted from this past week under my picasa picture albums instead of Meagan's. Hope you enjoy them. Look for a blog post soon. Click on the link that says my pictures and they will be under week 1.