Thursday, July 21, 2011


We should be leaving in an hour. Wanted to drop a quick message. Check back and I'll write more after I get home about our trip and the last couple of days.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Week 7

Right now Meagan is sitting at the kitchen table writing her next blog entry on the Mac and Ginger is sitting to my right hand writing her notes for the day and both of us have our feet stretched out on the wooden coffee table. I’m sitting with my laptop in my lap, listening to Dave Matthews Band. We spend a lot of time sitting together, independently writing up our notes, occasionally stopping to verify someone’s name or a quote with the others.

I’m not sure what I’m going to miss the most about my time here, especially since I’m feeling homesick lately. I will probably need time back home to process everything. Physical distance and the distance of time help me see what I cannot when near. But I know I will miss living with Ginger and Meagan. We’ve spent so much time sitting, working together, in grad school and now here, and we are all entering times in our lives that are pulling us to different parts of the US. Meagan will be in New Orleans and Ginger will be in Oregon and from this point on in our careers research will largely be done alone. Just sitting and working with two women who I adore on a person level and implicitly trust on a professional level is something I’m trying to appreciate while I can.

I’m a bit maudlin today as we also reported our recommendations back to the foundation and I think it went quite well. We were able to document how Ginger and Meagan’s recommendations from last year have been implemented and have helped. The curriculum has become more gender balanced and inclusive of children who already are HIV+, for whom HIV education focused solely on prevention is not helpful. There are also drafts of children’s books now which were recommended from the first summer and countless other small ideas that came from their evaluation. I had a few small ideas to contribute too so who knows if they will be helpful in the coming years.

As Reverend Obed asked us about our personal sense of satisfaction beyond our professional input, I think we all got a little emotional talking about getting to be part of this organization. We are naturally critical by training and in the day to day we do focus on the weaknesses of SAS we want improved, but when you step back, it is rather inspirational. But enough sap; little less conversation, little more action!

We are also preparing for a trip to the West, which will serve as a treat to ourselves for working all summer without pay. We are going to Kabale, then Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where we will do a nature hike, then to Mhagahinga National Park where we will climb up Mt. Sabyinyo. Its peak is the international border for the DR of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda so we will be in three counties at once atop it. After that we go to Lake Bunyonyi and will probably be exhausted and manage little more than the dug-out canoe ride to the island our hotel is on. We get back Monday evening, have two days packed with work, then leave Thursday at 11:30 pm.

I’ll try to write before I leave about the trip and be sure to check out the absurd number of pictures we will upload 

The last few days have been jam packed with focus groups, observations, and interviews. It’s also been interesting politically. Last Friday South Sudan became a country and Monday the taxi drivers held a strike to protest unfair fees. There were still taxis out because the President agreed to meet the Taxi Union officials early in the strike, but the fewer taxis made prices go up and made boda boda fees almost double.

Monday I had the longest matatu ride of my life, figuratively and literally. It took me 2 hours to travel a few miles. I got on a matatu and it took forever to leave, then proceeded to stop at every possible point to pick up more passengers, sometimes passing the point and reversing back, only to eventually take off again without success. Then traffic jams made things worst and because I was in the front seat I was squished, sharing a row with three others instead of the usual two. Then the conductor thought it would be a good idea to over charge me. I had a 10,000 shilling bill and he gave me 5000 back when I should have gotten 8000 back.

Now 1000 shillings is less than 50 cents, but it is more about the principle than the price. The conductors think they can overcharge white people because we don’t know better and because they assume we are all rich and can afford it. That day I had had enough though and seeing the correct change available in his hand as he avoided my gaze spurred me to action. I got off the taxi and walked right in front of the man, demanding my balance. He gave me a 1000 bill and still refused to look at me as he called the names of the stops the taxi was about to go, attracting new customers. So I took a step back, blocking entrance to the van. That got him looking at me. I said balance and he put another 500 shillings in his hand for me to take, but didn’t extend it. To get the little gold coin I would have to step closer, allowing patrons on. I looked at his hand and then put mine across the door way, more obviously blocking entrance and said “balance sebo (sir)” in a patient, even tone. He made a smacking, tisking sound with his mouth, a common expression of disgust or disapproval here, and gave me another little gold coin.

By this point he was charging me 3000 for a 2000 ride and had tried to charge me 5000. I was happy with the situation and walked away knowing I had still been overcharged but not wanting to escalate matters further. When I told Ginger and Meagan about it they laughed, saying I was becoming a real Ugandan.

Earlier in the week the store owners shut their stores in protest and the electricity has been cutting out more than usual, the fruit of some tension between the government and the power companies. The newspapers are full of articles about the weakening shilling and the rising power of the dollar. After a focus group a mentor told us that most of the expensive apartments are sold in dollars, not shillings. Our neighbor told us her place was $650 US last year but rose to $800 this year and since our place is furnished it goes for $900 US a month! We also had to pull US dollars for our trip because the national parks take dollars if you are not a Ugandan.

It is odd to think about how much the US dollar impacts things here and how the citizens are holding their government responsible. Part of me thinks, what can the President do to control global markets? However a Kenyan doctor I interviewed that worked I humanitarian aid said in her home the price of fuel goes down when the global crude oil rate goes down. She said in Uganda it never goes down once it has risen. As the fuel price rises, so does the cost of food.

Only the well-off farmers also handle their own transportation. Instead middle men traders buy the food for low prices using the cost of gas as an excuse for why they can’t pay more. Transporting traders, not farmers, set the price. The doctor said few farmers are trained in keeping track of their inputs to get a profit and so they accept the traders’ prices. Earlier this summer I spoke with a sociologist who also farmed. He carefully kept track of things, but still only got 2 million shillings out of his crop after investing 3 million into it. He is a Ph.D., so it isn’t only about education and tracking. Many farmers are going under and that combined with the unpredictable weather in which season are shifting means crops are spoiling.

The humanitarian monitoring measures say there is a food shortage and that food prices are higher than ever recorded, though the UN recording only started in 1990. As a result people have been shifting to food that is filling but less nutritional en mass over the last two months. Basically it is a horrible situation, but opportune for me. Because I can see how this plays out on the ground. That said, all the people I’ve been trying to talk to are out of town because of this situation too, but I’m managing where I can. I was talking to a lady about it on the matatu today. You never know when you will find a helpful insight!

Well this is not everything I wanted to write about but the power is out and I’ve run out of juice. I’ll catch you on the flip side!

Holliday on the way

Today was recommendation day. It went surprisingly well, and all of our suggestions were well received. We also spent a lot of time talking about how things have changed over the past three years. I think they were impressed that we have learned to like matoke and use public menas to get around. Most whites are tucked away in their cars with their spaghetti. We will have a few loose ends to tie up when we get back from our trip, but by and large we are finished working. It is nice, and I’m really looking forward to the trip out west.

We uploaded all of the pictures from this week. Some of them are of letters that we received from students. Most of them are what you would expect, but some are extremely sad. Some of them asked us for help. It is hard to know what to do, but I think we will at least leave a letter for the class.

I’ve spent the entire day transcribing a focus group and there’s still 25 minutes to go out of an hour and 15 minutes. It is so slow and tedious. The fact that it was held under a mango tree doesn’t help either.

Moses helped though, and I’m really starting to enjoy his company. Things are moving forward in arranging his studies in Germany, and he is asking us a lot of questions about traveling and living in a Western country. We told him to try the moving sidewalks. I think he’ll be impressed by them.

We had two focus groups today, and I got asked hard questions again. One that keeps coming up is “Where does HIV come from?” Sometimes I wonder how children fit these types of diseases into their world view and what it would be like to grow up in a world where disease and premature death was common.

Eritrean day! We went over to Rose’s house and had lunch and coffee. For roughly three hours we had lunch and coffee. It was delicious though, and I didn’t even mind watching the wedding video of the wedding that we ourselves attended. Then Rose was nice enough to take us to a shop where we could buy the spices necessary to cook Eritrean food. I need someone to volunteer to taste it for me in the U.S. including the njarra. We’ll see how it goes. I was so tired by the end of the day. I’m feeling better, but I still have a lot of sleep to catch up on it seems like.

Feeling better but still not well. We spent the whole morning at home writing and entering tests. At least the power is holding out for us today. We made a plan to go out with Rose tomorrow. I’m excited about our Eritrean day. We decided against going to Jinja which makes me sad, but I’m just not feeling well enough. Plus I find myself wanting to spend time with people rather than see places. Our trip out west is going to be enough scenery.

Still have a cold. Nicole has been really great in helping me get along. I feel bad that she can hear my sniffling in the night since it is my week to move back into the room with the king size bed. At least she is so far away from me that I can stretch my arms all the way out and still nto touch her.

What a frustrating day, and so much time lost. We met with Seith, who is going to be our guide, but we had to make a deposit on our trip. The only issue is the city wide protest that is going on. Everyone has closed down their shops and I couldn’t draw out any money. I had a really American moment getting frustrated that I couldn’t pull money out of the ATM when I wanted to. I tried three different ones. Two of them had errors messages when I left them (I think I might of broken them), until the third one finally worked.

Other than that we’ve been going to the Foundation everyday this week. I think it has been extremely helpful in showing them what we have been doing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The last full work week

7/4/11 – 7/8/11
Happy 4th of July! We decided to just work because it isn’t that exciting to celebrate the holiday here and it isn’t worth going to the embassy across town. At least I don’t think so. I do like America though, mainly because as precarious as the situation seems in America, it is always less so than it is here in Uganda. There have been several days of protest here in the city, and I’m hoping things hold together long enough for us to conclude our trip. I’m not really concerned about running into trouble outside of the city because most of the issues revolve around the strength of the US dollar versus the strength of the Ugandan shilling and inflation of fuel prices. Since people in the village don’t really rely on fossil fuels, it doesn’t really concern them the way it does in the city.

I’m afraid that I don’t have that much to write about because we are scrambling to get as much done as possible this week. We finally got all the data entered at student number 3335. That’s a lot! Now we have the luxury of deciding on how to limit the data collection for the post test that will occur in December. We had our first focus group on Wednesday, and it went incredibly well. We had a lot of good discussion from the students about their concerns surrounding HIV/AIDS, prevention, and management. The group was mostly girls, so we ended up getting several questions about mother to child transmission. It is hard to keep the adults from jumping in and giving their two cents! Meagan did a school observation, and the students all wrote letters for us. A lot of them are really cute and filled with pictures, but some are really sad and pleas for help. We were thinking that we would leave a letter for them if anyone would like to add anything. I think it would be nice for them to know that people are thinking about them.

Lastly we put down a deposit on our trip to the West. Look out Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest, Mgahinga National Forrest, and Lake Bunyonyi! We are supposed to do a nature walk in Bwindi that has several species of butterflies and birds indigenous specifically to the Albertine Rift Valley. Then we will hike to the top of a dead volcano in Mgahinga that stands at the border point between Rwanda and the Congo. Lastly, we will stay in a geodome on an island in Lake Bunyonyi that you get to by dugout canoe. I’m not sure what a geodome is exactly, but it sounds fun. I’m so excited to celebrate the conclusion of our project (for now) with Meagan and Nicole.

I’ll probably make one more post before we leave town on Thursday. We have one more focus group, descriptive statistics for the remaining tests, a couple school observations, and then a meeting with the Foundation to give our initial recommendations. We also have to start catching up with our friends and saying goodbye. I’m not looking forward to it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


So this is probably the longest entry that I’ve made for any one day, but its because it was probably the best day that I’ve had. I’m really going to be sad when we leave.

Today I overheard Annette, the lady who washes our clothes, telling Gerald the gardener, that we weren’t going to be coming back. He didn’t understand at first. He said, “yes, they go away and then come back after some months for June and July.” She said no and explained it again. The day started off emotional. Meagan and I left the house with every intention to finish writing and get caught up in preparation for next week. I think we are going to be super busy next week. Anyway, so we walked to Mulago hospital, and took a different route. We got a little lost, but a long the way we heard people singing as they were planting their crops for the season. It was lovely to walk beneath the banana trees listening to hymns and catch glimpses of the city between the leaves. Meagan and I spent the time reflecting back on this summer and the past summer, talking about things that we would have done differently and things that went surprisingly well, our development as researchers, and our development as anthropologists. A running analogy that we have been using is the act of blowing on a dandelion in hopes that some seeds will settle and grow. We have more dandelions than we know what to do with. I told her, “Now I know why they’re considered weeds.” But as always, we concluded that the experience has been positive, and that we still have a lot to learn (seeing as how we can still get lost and still need to ask for directions in a place that we are fairly familiar with).

We got to Mulago and the cafĂ© was closed. Damn. So we took a boda to 1000 Cups, again took the wrong direction. This time we knew where we were and decided to walk the remainder of the way. As we walked we heard music coming from one of the schools where the Foundation has implemented the program, and we peeked around the corner to see what was going on. A construction worker (who had nothing to do with what was going on) saw us and coaxed us into going up around the fence to see, and we happened to come upon a group of traditional dancers and musicians practicing for an event. The director then spotted us and coaxed us to come to the front to watch the performance. We were so embarrassed and I’m sure it was clearly visible, but we managed to breathe and sit in chairs while they performed traditional dances and songs using traditional instruments from different tribes in Uganda. They were incredible dancers, drummers, musicians, singers. It is hard to convey because you could tell that they were actually enjoying what they were doing, and it wasn’t just a dance or a song. It was truly an artistic expression of an emotion and an experience and a culture.

Given that Meagan and I were already feeling sentimental, we burst into tears, increasing my level of embarrassment to astronomical levels. We couldn’t even look at each other. I don’t think that they could see us crying from the distance, thank God. Afterwards, we spent time talking with the musicians and dancers. We explained who we were. We even happened to have the children’s books that the Foundation has been working on per our suggestion. They wanted to take them away to read, but we had to explain that they were originals, and we didn’t have any copies to leave with them. They suggested that we hold an event so that they could come and perform for us. I’m certainly inclined, but they also said it would be ok if we come and watch them rehearse again during the week. You can count on that. It is an experience that you dream about when you are studying, and then while you’re in the midst of it you think to yourself, “I really am an anthropologist. I really can do this…well.”

Then we decided to continue to 1000 Cups. It was coming to 11:00, we left at 8:30 and still hadn’t accomplished anything that we had intended to do. Since we were on a roll of whimsical endeavors, we stopped in a dress shop, and spent another period of time since Meagan decided that she wanted to have a dress made. We picked some nice fabric and designed a dress. Then when we walked up we saw some our friends Frank, Ruby, and Joan. We got a smoothie and socialized. We also had to explain to Joan that we were leaving soon and that we weren’t coming back. She said, “but you come back in June.” We had to tell her that we weren’t coming back next June.

By the time that we were through, it was time to go home because Grace was preparing lunch for us - my favorite dish that she makes, Thai chicken for my birthday. Also avocados and gooseberries. I still hadn’t accomplished anything workwise, so I sat down to do a little writing. Got distracted again with phone calls from home, and then I needed to take a shower. Meagan and I switched rooms, and we made pizza. We’ve been making our own sauce, using pita bread for crust, and putting goat cheese and olives on top. I’m starting to like it better than any other kind.

We then went to join our friends for the evening. We got stuck in a jam on a matatu, and I had everyone laughing because I could understand some of the Luganda that was going on. I’ve been trying to learn a new word everyday. Today was “Banange!” which doesn’t really have a direct translation, but is something along the lines of “Oh my God!” Ladies use it a lot when they are gossiping and talking about the prices of things. They wanted to me to speak a bunch, but I’m just not there yet. I’m only just beginning to understand, which is an accomplishment in of itself to me. I’m really excited about how much easier it is getting to understand what is going on, even if I don’t understand every word.

We met with a good group of our friends to talk and dance and laugh. Our Ugandan friends like to make jokes about how white people dance. They say that the white people are always dancing to the next song. I thought that was pretty funny. They make these jokes because they are often surprised that we can at least keep up with them dance wise. I did do my impression of what they were talking about, dancing to the next song that is, and they were rolling laughing. I’ve also started doing impressions of them in my best Ugandan accent, which they love equally as well.

Mentor meeting went well, and we got a lot of good feedback from them as well. It was nice to see a lot of them again. Many familiar faces.

We have been talking about taking a trip out west, so we spent the day discussing and planning this trip. For me traveling (I guess it’s pretty obvious by now) is one of the best gifts, and planning those trips is a close second.

We also did some shopping, ate pizza, met some British missionaries who were working with orphan children. All around a great birthday.

More writing and trying to crank out the statistical results for our pretest to hand back to the Foundation on Friday. Meagan has spent a number of hours combing through and fixing errors that we’ve caught. All in all it has gone pretty well, and its exciting to start seeing certain trends emerge from the numbers. None of the trends are that surprising, but it is reaffirming to see those trends emerging in the numbers. It also means that we have been doing good work so far in past summers, before I was confident about what I was doing.

I have finally gotten all of my field notes written up, and I feel like I need to add some things that I forgot on our trip…so here is our trip to Hoima and Gulu revisited…
…except my visit to the UNCST. I don’t really want to revisit that.

By now, maybe you have seen the videos that we took at one of the schools that we went to. We spent a long time sitting and talking with the administration there. They were very good and warm people. Sometimes the Acholi get described as fierce and belligerent, and as with anyone I’m sure that’s true in the appropriate context, but everyone we’ve met has been warm and welcoming. This particular school was fortunate because they had an administrator who was also a nurse. That means she could provide counseling to many of the students for their health needs, but she was explaining some of the challenges that their school faces. Namely that many of the students are orphans, but still live in their homes with their remaining brothers and sisters. These “child-run households” mean that older children manage the home while the younger children are able to go to school if they are lucky. The head teacher said, “we have become the parents of the parentless.” The administration doesn’t know how to provide for these children. I wouldn’t presume to know the best way either, but its clear that the needs, despite the fact that the town is swamped with NGOs, are not being met.

I think that I’m still trying to process the experience, and I keep thinking about a speech that I made at a fundraiser for the Foundation in October. I spent my time trying to translate my experience into terms that were understandable to the audience, and why a program that offers education, counseling, and guidance is important. I said, “I’m appealing to you as parents, or as grandparents as the case may be, to support a program that in turn supports children in a place where an entire generation of parents has been lost.” (or something very close to that). At the time I was drawing on an experience that I had in a school where the majority of the students were refugees from the Congo or the northern part of Uganda. I still believe the statement to be true, but now that I have been to Gulu, it feels even more true, if that is possible.

The local tribe in this area are the Acholi. Their language is totally different from Luganda. I don’t think that it is even in the same Bantu language group that includes most of the languages in East Africa. Anyway I felt like I was at square one in terms of accent and phrasing. All of my Luganda words useless, which made it a little more challenging to get around seeing as how the map in our travel guide was wrong. It had two roundabouts on the map when there was only one in the city.

Later when we were discussing what was so eerie about Gulu I kept thinking about the one roundabout with the sculptures of the children in the middle reading books. There were many children going to school, but there were very few parents visibly caring for the multitude of children. I think Nicole articulated it best when she said, “it was obvious that people were missing.”

I woke up with the sun before the alarm. When the alarm started going off, I stopped it and replaced it with my own alarm noises for Meagan and Nicole’s enjoyment. They laughed at it, and at least it is more pleasant than some electronic buzzing irritating you out of sleep. I really don’t like alarms incase you didn’t notice.

On the way to Masindi, we saw a troop of baboons. That’s were Nicole’s thumb picture was taken. Past Masindi we went through small town after small town, each with its own set of speed bumps. We crossed over the Nile at a place called Karuma Falls, which also is surrounded by a forest conservation area. That is where we fed the baboons from our car. Later we read in our travel guide an explicit statement to not feed baboons because it makes them aggressive and they end up biting people. We aren’t very good tourists.

In the car we asked Rev what it was like to live here in the 70s and 80s. He told us that where we were driving, it was not possible to travel there in that time because it was controlled by rebel groups. It is hard to think of a place has only been passable for about twenty years. I forgot how beautiful the landscape is in the country side on the way to Hoima.

As we were about to leave for lunch after the mentor meeting. Rev realized that the car was dead because he had left the lights on. Seeing as how we would have to walk into town anyway to find someone to help us, we walked in to town to get lunch first. Luckily we packed peanuts in our bag to snack on along the way because it was almost 3:00 pm, and we hadn’t had a meal since that morning at 6:00 am. We’ve gotten much better about preparing for things that are likely going to happen. We stopped in a tiny restaurant, and the people were extremely nice to us. I wonder if they had ever served white people before. Not because the service was unusual or anything by Ugandan standards, but because the restaurant was so small, it only two tables in it. One inside, one outside. The man running the restaurant helped Rev get a jump.

At the hotel, I finally finished the book Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Anne Kidd Taylor. It is about relationships between older mothers and daughters. I really recommend it if you fall into one of those categories. Meagan, Nicole, and I have been passing around books, so I passed in on to Meagan. She asked if it was good and I said “yes, it almost made me cry.” Meagan goes, “ok, so then I probably will cry.” Rev sat in on the conversation, and also thought it was funny.