There Sally Goes….

December 7, 2007

Reflections on this summer

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 2:38 am

I had to submit a post-internship one-pager at the conclusion of my internship. I thought it a good conclusion (but a temporary one, to be sure!) to my summer blog:

Post-Internship Reflections
8 October 2007

My summer in Uganda was a summer of contradictions: between what I expected and what I did not; between being amazingly surprised by humanity, and feeling overwhelmingly disappointed by it; between having one of the easiest, most natural experiences of my life, and being constantly challenged and often frustrated. The whole experience was the most outstanding experience of my life (so far, anyway).

Some of what I expected:
• To learn more about Uganda’s post-conflict situation, to be emotionally and intellectually moved, challenged, and surprised, and to see travel in a standard-issue Land Rover or Landcruiser a lot.
• To be rocked by the stories of human strength, weakness, and endurance.
• To work hard and learn.
• To feel futile, effective, productive, and irrelevant all at the same time.
• To miss flush toilets and electricity.

Some of what I did not:
• To spend so much time in front of the computer.
• To have faster internet—in a town/refugee camp in northern Uganda with a population of about 600 that lacks any real infrastructure—than I do in Seattle, one of the most wired places on the planet.
• To forge such incredible friendships, but to constantly run into the walls erected from nationality, hierarchy, ethnicity, urban/rural/regional differences, skin color, and gender.
• To be so ashamed and angry with NGOs (at least to the degree I was—I’m not naive), and to be so proud of us too.
• The widespread obsession of vintage 1970s country western music.

I am not a good enough writer to capture all that I felt, saw, learned, and did this summer. But I can say that I came, having visited the country once, and left feeling that I had seen so much—back roads, inroads, growth, change, countryside, and people—that I felt a part of it all, but also that I had only barely arrived when it was time to leave.

Working for Mercy Corps this summer was, as I said, the most outstanding experience of my life. I would, of course love to do it again, and for the rest of my life. But it is hard to have a life here, in the US, with family and changes, and roots and relationships, and consider leaving it all to do this thing—this thing that I have such contradictions inside myself about. I have learned that, for me, direct service delivery is not my calling, no matter how much I enjoyed it and felt useful doing it. But, evaluation, process planning, program design, and policy change are. There are so many things I want to change—from how environmentally wasteful NGOs are (how many hundreds of thousands of bottles do we throw away and burn so we can drink clean, convenient water?), to how food aid is dispersed and funded (the circle of aid from the US to projects in Uganda, though the currency never makes it there, but goes directly to US suppliers, banks, and businesses), to how agencies work (or don’t) together. How can I “do my time” and “pay my dues” while really educating myself on the systems that support this global industry of development. Figure out how we can actually learn from our mistakes, fix broken systems, break cycles, and not only serve but enable people to have the lives they want? What choices do I have to make, and time do I have to pay to I understand enough and have the “cred” enough to become a policy maker, and help get to the root of things—eliminate the tunnel vision and elongate the program planning and budgetary horizon so programs, plans, and agendas, think long-term? And, how can I do all of this without being absent from the life of my new nephew, sacrificing my relationships, having to give away my dog, and miss growing older with my parents, and being near my friends as they marry and have children?

I have been back in the US for four weeks, now, and I am obsessed with these questions, pushing and pulling them in my mind, and trying to force my path to emerge. (But it isn’t.) Mercy Corps, I have you to thank for this! (Thank you.)

August 25, 2007

Only one week to go….

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 4:17 pm

25 August 2007

Hike to Kalongo Rock

Just got back from a hike to Kalongo Rock in Kalongo, a town about 1 hour northeast of Pader. There were great views of the mountains that I had driven through and by during the week in Kitgum, and I definitely felt the homesick heart strings pull from the Sierra Nevada! Also, while from below the mountains looked more like sporadic formations jutting independently from the earth, from above there was more order, and they looked like ranges. We could see into the neighboring districts of Kitgum, Kaabong, and Kotido, and up into Sudan. It was great. Plus, it was a nice payoff of all my running, as I really enjoyed myself and didn’t feel too taxed, as compared to my three male co-hikers. 😉

atopkalongorock-25august2007.jpg pasttherockintokitgumandsudan.jpg

On the way, I heard a story that I learned when I first came and then forgot: Wi Munu Pecek (spelling varies) is a resettlement site in which we work. It also translates to, “The White Man’s Head Cannot Be Cooked.” Now, as grisly as that may sound, particularly in context of the LRA’s cooking of many of its victims, and the resulting horror show activities they unleashed before, during, and after, I am of course wary of the name. However, it really means something more along the lines of, “You Can’t Fool That White Man, He Does Not Forget!” The story goes that the tax collectors, under English colonial authority, used to come by the villages to tax all the residents. The villagers, not understanding a) why they had to be taxed, and b) what this far off “government” did with their little money, understandably would run and hide when they saw this cat coming. Now, the tax collector was not white (as if colonialists would actually get their hands dirty and face the fact they were taking money from those who had none). However, the tax collector represented this so-called “government,” and because the government had absolutely no relevance in the life of the villagers except on tax collection days, they thought that “government” was something for only the white men. Well, ultimately the tax collector wised up to their little scheme, and he started catching the villagers and imposing the tax upon them. One of these poor suckers, at his surprise and dismay at the fact that not only would the white man’s government not give up in their quest to take the village’s money, but that it also got smart and tricked them into paying the taxes, named the village itself, out of embarrassment or anger I don’t know, after the tricky white man’s government.

 

24 August 2007
Pader

I was awakened at approximately 5.30 this morning to the sound of laughter. But when I was awakened again at 6.20, I realized that what I’d thought was laughter, was actually weeping. So, I woke up this morning to the sound of soulful, hysterical, Biblical, hair-tearing mourning. Someone who lives in the compound of otlums next to our compound died.

Death is a part of life everywhere, but no more so than in an environment where one out of every 10 children under five dies, and your country ranks in the top 10 spots for maternal mortality. However, this morning, when I woke up to guttural sobs filling my room before the sun could, I thought of Valter. Valter was a sweet, cheerful, caring man who worked for COOPI, and he was the first person I met in Pader on my second night here. He let me stumble brutally through my long-lost Italian, and always had a smile on his face. Three weeks ago, when my colleague Roger left for his R&R and I was doing my what-should-I-do-if-I-get-really-sick-while-I’m-here-alone planning, I told my country director that if I get malaria or something, I’ll just call Valter and he will know what to do and take care of me. Two days later, he died of malaria. He had been sick for two weeks with fever and fatigue, but he didn’t think it was malaria, as we’d told him to go to Kampala, and a previous checkup had cleared him. He died of something preventable and treatable, though fast-acting and devastating, just like hundreds of thousands of Africans (particularly children) do each year. I waited to discuss it here until after his compatriots had mourned him, and until it was appropriate, but then I just never got to it, as I didn’t want to make his death about me and my experience here. It wasn’t until this morning that I decided to. This morning, women were screaming and moaning, to a degree that illustrates the phrase, “beside themselves,” as you could just see the emotional selves torn from the physical selves, simply overcome with grief.

I have seen otherworldly processions and funerals in Italy and Guatemala, and I have heard more stories of death here than I ever needed to. This war in northern Uganda, as most tragic conflicts like it, has unleashed unbelievable (literally, unfathomable) horrors onto the people who live here. But, even in peace, death tears you apart. I wonder when it became inappropriate to grieve like this, this, rip-your-hair-out and throw-yourself-on-the coffin type of heart-wrenching, public, and probably healthier catharsis. I hate funerals in the US, mostly because I always feel so zipped up, so formal, and unable to really express what I’m feeling. What are funerals for, then? If you’re not going to have a balls-out celebrate-life party, then you should be able to freely express your misery, as far as I’m concerned.

Regardless, the sounds I woke up to this morning made me so thankful that I get to go home and see my family and friends soon.

With only a few weeks left, I have been jotting down every day the thoughts I’ve been having all summer that have yet to make it to my blog. I can’t believe I leave so soon! Anyway, over the course of this week I tried to capture all that was going on, as well as reflections on the last 11 weeks of my life and my observations of Uganda. So, be prepared for one long post.

 

22 August
Kitgum

Uganda has an interesting music obsession. Most of the time, most Ugandans I’ve met prefer local music (when in the south, Buganda, and in the north, Acholi, which are my two experiences) to anything by 50-cent, Beyonce, or Justin Timberlake. They take pride in their music and at parties would much prefer to dance to it than sell out to American or European artists. However, there is one thing that is constant from Kitgum to Lira to Pader to Kampala to Jinja to Gulu, that you hear wafting from radios inside otlums (huts), or blaring from bars or shops: country music.

And I’m not talking Toby Keith or Garth Brooks country, I’m talking old school, back road, country western music that verges on folk: Guthrie, Cash, Parton, Wynette, Rogers, Parsons. The other musical theme across northern Uganda is local gospel music, but I don’t know any of those artists, though I could sing you several bars if you asked (I won’t, though).

So, inspired by my friend Caroline’s gut-breakingly hysterical (and, as it happens, also solidly researched and insightful) music review blog, Burgernoodle, here are the top five songs heard blaring around northern Uganda, either from stores and restaurants, or from radios guys carry around with them:

5. Shania Twain
4. Kenny Rogers
3. Jerry Lee Lewis
2. Mary Black, “Only a Woman’s Heart” (no, I am not making this up)
1. *Tie* Johnny Cash, Don Williams

I have to say, though, breaking from the country at an unexpected #6 is (I think) 98 Degrees, or it could be Backstreet Boys. And, don’t despair, Lionel Richie and Vandross make it into the top ten, as does a mélange of best-of 1980s adult and semi-religious contemporary. (Sorry, no Hasselhoff, though.)

 

21 August
Kitgum

The Traveller’s Inn Bar and Lodge is a decent guesthouse, and for a mere 20,000 shillings, it’s a bargain. Room was clean, bed was okay, bathroom was private, and there was plumbing, though the shower did not work. I did, however, get my own pet frog for a couple days, as he hid out behind my shower bucket pretending to think I didn’t see him there.

Also, it was no problem abiding by the eight rules that were posted in the room, particularly numbers 4 (“Dangerous arms are not allowed in the room”) and 6 (“Strictly do not leave used condom on the floors, Plastic bucket in the room is put as a provisional means for them please comply”). Check and check!

20 August
Kitgum

Today began a three-day trip in Kitgum with David and Freddy to do research support for a multi-year assistance program (MYAP) proposal that Mercy Corps is working on for 2008. It would be 5 years, 14 million USD, and it would seriously expand MC programs here.

So, David, a WatSan guy (whose sister lives in Portland) and Freddy, an Agric guy, and I headed to Kitgum District to do interviews and focus groups about producer groups in each potential target sub-county. We first interviewed the camp commander in each site, then did a focus group with one producer group to learn more about their function, processes, and how they work with the government. Mostly, we also want to find out if the groups exist in order to get aid, or if the groups exist independently (or at least in combination), to gauge their sustainability. What I mean by producer group is typically a farming group, but sometimes is a savings circle or some other group. And traditionally in Uganda, people have worked in groups, whether it be to make all the land cultivation more manageable or for traditional araya araya savings/loan circles. Before the war many of these farmer groups existed, so they can tackle land tillage and cultivation en masse instead of everyone trying to individually do their own land (which is a big job, and usually manual one as well).

Anyway, it was a long four days: three on Monday (in Pader district), one on Tuesday (in Kitgum), two on Wednesday, and three today. The third site today couldn’t mobilize the producer group, though, which was good because we were hustling to get back before 5pm. It was cool to see more of the area, though, particularly the eastern parts of Kitgum and Pader districts, where karamojong cattle rustlers (they have ambushed and killed several people, and launched attacks on cars as well) wreak havoc on the people resettling, and beautiful rock formations and mountains sprout from the ground. Really beautiful. On the first day in Kitgum, though, we only got one group done because of the travel time, and the time it took to orient ourselves and plan. After checking into the hotel, we headed to our first site in Kitgum-Matidi sub-county. It is not far from Kitgum Town, so we expected people to be pretty used to NGO vehicles, unfamiliar faces, etc. The only sub-county we were concerned about at all was Orom, as there have been security issues there recently (though it’s been about 3 months since anything serious) and the road conditions can be sketchy.

Anyway, the maps of the roads and sites are, as expected, inadequate for competent navigation, and you have to stop and ask directions. David, who is originally from Gulu but grew up in Kampala, got out to ask to young women on bicycles directions to the TRS we were looking for. One of the women began to answer him, and was beginning to point out which way to go, when I saw the girl behind her, who had seemed skittish since we stopped, start backing away. Suddenly, the woman threw down her bike, screamed, clapped her hand over her mouth, screamed again, and took off running. This scream was not a shout or a holler, but a I-am-on-the-cusp-of-being-murdered-right-here-with-my-baby, blood-curdling, scream of horror. At this, the woman who had been talking to David threw her bike down and starting booking down the street. David turned, looked up the road, and also started running behind them. Freddy and I, wondering what the hell could be happening, turned and saw a truck coming up the road. There was a man in green that appeared to be mounted on the back of the cab, like the person on the top of a tank, with—what is that, a gun? I turn, and yell for Moses, the driver, to just go, and we begin opening the door for David to jump in. David’s face is scared, and we are confused (because this doesn’t seem like something bad should be happening; but is that how bad things happen?). We get to David, and as he jumps in the car, I turn to see the truck has already reached us. And I look up, and I see—-cows. Four cows. Skinny cows! And a man with a staff in his hand, holding onto the top of the cab for stability. And we turn, and we see the women in the bush, peering at us from rows of maize and thatch. David calls to them, and we all get out of the car, and the women whose scream was the beginning of this short, strange interchange, came out, sweating, crying, and scared. The other woman, who was initially more comfortable with us, just stood at the edge of the bush, hesitant. We all apologize for scaring them (though I think they scared us just as badly), and Freddy and David laugh. It turns out that the woman thought David was a totong (spelling is just a guess here), which roughly means, “the one who cuts off people’s heads.” Apparently, some people of the Buganda tribe in the south decapitate people in order to use their heads in a ritual to bring good fortune and wealth, and the heads are buried under construction sites. David said that many buildings in Kampala have this! The Buganda tribe, incidentally, controls a lot of Kampala. (Note: I am using the word “tribe” here, for ease of explanation, but I have not really heard it described that way by Ugandans, only mizungus. So, I’m not sure if they really consider themselves a tribe, or a people, or what.) They do, though, have a kingdom still in Kampala, and it was the Buganda king who gave over so much of his land to the English, and in the history of the north-south tension and violence of the 1970s through today, I’m sure this colonial instrumentalist element planted the seed for much of the discord. Anyway, David and Freddy explained that often rebels capitalized on these stories and rumors to inspire their abductees and child soldiers to hate the army and the south, and that perhaps these women were abductees who had heard these stories. Or, perhaps there is something going on right now, and there are rumors about the south. At any rate, these women were scared, like no fright I have ever seen in person. And I was amazed at how calm I was. I’d like to think that if it was “real” I would have been just as calm. It felt pretty real, though. With just over a week left as of today, I hope that is as close as I come to actual violence, though.

Lalekan, the site we went to in Orom sub-county is approximately 35km to Sudan! Apparently people just walk across the border to collect firewood every day.

35-kilometers-to-sudan.jpg namokora-sub-county-kitgum-district-blog.jpg

 

18 August
Sally the Big White Monkey

When I was in Kampala working on my degree project in March, I was constantly called mizungu, which from some etymological development emerged to describe non-Ugandans/Africans. At first I was told it referred to whites, as in Americans and Europeans, but I have come to realize that it really means anyone not distinctly African. Even a guy I know who is light skinned (but African) gets called it up here. However, up here across the north, they say a derivative—mono (this may be spelled munu, as in Wi Munu Pecek, but the pronunciations are slightly different, and it sounds like moh-no). To give you an idea, I hear the word mono probably about 50 times a day, if not more. “Mono, bye-bye!” “Mono, I am fine how are you!” “Mono? Mono? Mono? Monomonomonomonomono…..!” I feel like friggin Angelina Jolie being tracked by voracious paparazzi. (Side note: I wonder if celebrities realize that when they do “good” things in Africa, that they’re not the only ones this happens to here.)

The fun thing about the word mono, is that in Spanish, mono means, “monkey.” Here, that is especially fitting because that’s exactly what I feel like: a big, white monkey. “Mono, are you doing exercise?” (Look at the big white monkey running—and not even from anything!) “Mono, I am fine, how are you, bye-bye!” (Get a load of the big white monkey trying to speak Luo. Why do you think she keeps saying “sheep sheep” instead of “hello, how are you?”) “Mono, where are you going?” (Where do you think that big white monkey woman learned how to ride a bike?”)

As I try to learn Luo (primarily Acholi and Lango dialects), I especially feel like a big white monkey. As I’ve said before, my learning Luo is constant entertainment for all those I inflict my recently learned words upon. Acholi is really hard to learn (for me, anyway), as it has a throat-based, back-of-the-tongue pronunciation for certain letters that is unlike any Romance languages, that’s for sure. And, there are slight changes in cadence that change the word for sheep into the word for the standard greeting that is a combination of hello and thank you. Anyway, my 41 Luo words, and primarily my use of them, is a source of endless hilarity for the people upon which I inflict them. At the same time, though, people are so impressed that I am “learning the language” (their words, though not entirely accurate) that I feel immense shame on behalf of every other non-Ugandan in Uganda that hasn’t taken the time to get beyond “apoyo” and “e” (hello/thank you and yes, respectively).

Another reason I am a constant spectacle is my attempt at getting back in shape, and the presence of two convenient running/biking routes, has made me a constant presence on either the morning firewood commute, or part of the afternoon after-school circuit. This is also a constant source of entertainment for those around me. What kills me about my running, is that the kids love to run with me. There is one boy, Akwot, who waits for me every afternoon so he can run with me. This alone compels me to run every afternoon, because when I don’t, I feel like I have let him down or something. At the same time, though, these kids are so skinny—Akwot has absolutely no calories to spare, and he is also barefoot of course—that I feel so guilty for letting them continue to burn off what small amount of nutrition he got that day. The most humbling experience I have had so far (okay, there have been too many humbling experiences to have one superlative, but this is close) is when I was running back from the bridge that is just past the Town Council boundary (I’m technically not supposed to leave the boundaries after 5pm…oops!), and there are often many men passing me on bikes, and women walking with huge loads on their heads. They also think it’s so fun that I am plodding along past them, though many of them see me so regularly now that we’ve gotten kind of a rapport going. Anyway, one day I was running back and I passed three women—two with huge loads of firewood on their heads, and one with a large basket filled with maize and a large pot balanced on hers. The firewood these women carry are branches, usually about five feet long with 3- to 5-inch diameters, and they are usually carrying between 7 and 12 pieces—a heavy, cumbersome load, that can’t be comfortable. So, I’d passed these women, and I was just thinking if my puny neck muscles could even deal with that load, and if my sensitive scalp could take more than five minutes of that task, when I suddenly realized, about two minutes later, that I could feel someone behind me. One of the women with the firewood was laughing—because she had decided to try to catch up with me. And she did! I turned around, clapped and cheered, and was totally awestruck. She was laughing and thought it was so funny, and all I could think of was, Holy shit. These women are so tough.

womanwithfirewood.jpg

 

16 August 2007
Cool Things about Uganda; and, God Delivers Hairdressers

Ugandans drive like maniacs. The matatu van-taxi transportation drivers zoom around, stuffed like a clown car, on roads that 4WDs can barely handle, looking like a Toon car with balloon wheels from Roger Rabbit. NGOs are little better (the UN and NRC are the WORST DRIVERS EVER), as I’ve nearly been run off the road and killed while riding my bike, running, or even walking through town. One thing, though, is that they are extremely conscientious and thoughtful about passing, and they do this with ingenious use of the turn signal. Turn signals are used in the standard way, to turn right or left; however, they are also used to communicate to the drivers behind and in front of you about the opportunity or desire to pass (or, as they say here, overtake) another car. For example: If there is a car behind you, but you see an oncoming car up ahead, you turn on your right turn signal to let the car behind you know that it is not a good time to overtake. Once it’s clear, you turn on your left turn signal to let them know they can go right ahead and leave you in their dust. In addition, if you are behind someone going slower than you’d like (usually a big truck loaded with people and jerry cans to a distressingly top-heavy degree), you put on your right-hand turn signal to communicate to them, “Excuse me, I’d like to overtake you now.” Have the time they ignore you, but the other half, they obligingly pull over, or they put on either their right or left turn signals in response. Pretty cool.

On my drive to/from Kampala (now over a month ago!), I loved just looking out the window as the vegetation changed to become more tropical, as women’s hair got longer (people in the north where it short a lot more, while people in the south seem to be more into braids, etc; maybe this will come more with peace and stability—the beauty trade), the number of cars on the road increased, etc. The best thing about the drive and my subsequent drives to Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, and across the north, is the names of all the businesses: Smiles Cost Bookshop, Tropical Drug Stop, Good Time Grocery. Uganda is a very Christian country (primarily Catholic, but, like much of Africa—or the whole world, really—born again evangelical as well), and this is reflected more in the names of shops and hotels—God Protects this, God Provides that—than in the number or size of churches. So, again, with a top five: My top five favorite God-inspired business monikers.

5. God Provides A. Guesthouse (I think the A is an initial or something, not a creative use of punctuation and syntax)
4. God Forgives Hotel & Bar (so, drink up?)
3. God’s Gift Pork Joint
2. God Loves Drugs Shop (again, not making this up)
And, you guessed it:
1. God Delivers Hairdressers (Salon and vocational training center)

Uganda is also fun because, like most post-colonial states in Africa, there are many Anglicisms that are a holdover from the colonial years in addition to the requisite “-tre” “-our” and “-ise” suffixes. In addition to overtake rather than pass, but you should hoot the horn if you see a kid in the street. If you want to put something in the trunk you put it in the boot, and to check on the engine, you have to open the bonnet. If you have a flat tire, it is a puncture, and rather than turning right, you branch right. You drive on the left side of the road (well, in theory, if the roads here allowed orderly driving as such) and on the right side of the car. One thing there is not, however, is British autos. No Rovers here, folks, only Toyota Toyota Toyota. And all the bikes are Chinese bikes (and made for Chinese riders, too—my knees are not exactly accommodated, which may also help my image as the big white monkey), and except for the overly expensive food aid straight from Los Angeles ports (don’t even get me started), most of the food comes from China too, or perhaps Ethiopia or Egypt, so that Mandarin and Arabic characters are the supplemental modes d’emploi rather than French or Spanish, giving British-style tea biscuits a whole new look. Almost everything ships via Dubai (which also has apparently the most expensive warehouse space on earth, making efficient logistics a costly endeavor), and US products are being effectively shut out of the import market, except for the expat NGO and government workers who keep the over-priced imports of Kellogg’s, Nestle, Pringles, and other goods stocked in both large and small grocery stores (though not in Pader).
Finally, there are amazing ways to say things here, and though I will post a list shortly, my favorite one has to be the use of the word fireworks. For example: Oh, I saw that the car was broken again, and I knew that when the owner saw it there would be fireworks!

August 16, 2007

As we scurry for more funding, Care turns down some of theirs

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 8:37 am

This week marks phase two of our proposal development for a $14 million contract for a food aid and distribution contract. Not only will this be a great opportunity for learning more about large-scale food distribution systems and another perspective on program design. This is a great opportunity to become a more integrated part (and hopefully force for good) of the larger food security and long-term development and stability of northern Uganda. And, as the US farm bill passed again, almost entirely unscathed by the so-called “reform” it originally touted, our program is also an opportunity (or possible opportunity) for continued subsidies to large US farming conglomerates as I visited with farmers this week who struggle to produce cassava, groundnut, cowpea, beans, sesame, millet, and soy.

Ruined sim sim in Wang Lobo Olyelo WiDyel–HusbandandWifeFarmers-FielddoingWell

Naturally, this makes my sometimes overly cynical skin crawl as I learn more about the politics of food distribution here in Uganda, organizational and community winners and losers, donor-driven chaos and dependency, and ruined markets, as well as hoped-for increased child nutrition and a jump-start for the food economy.

Well, I woke up this morning to someone else being totally over the US exclusion and exploitation of developing-country farmers: Care, one of the largest international NGOs, turned down $45 million in funding from the US Government!

Care’s decision is interesting on many levels, but I will only point out the two related ones that make me especially proud for them: First, way to go Care for trying to change a system that is too big for its own good (though I am sure there are other motivating factors behind Care’s decision of which I am unaware, and other ways in which they maybe suck too, I think this is a great first step) and trying to actually do what you think is best rather than what the money will pay for. More importantly, however, is that Care is finally wielding the only power that NGOs may really have in forcing large donors like the US to pause and really examine what their policies actually do on the ground, rather than simply on the PowerPoint slides in front of them in DC offices: Saying No.

August 7, 2007

Unintended Consequences

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 7:20 am

7 August 2007

Last week, as I mentioned, we monitored the progress of the bore-hole drilling in several communities, which is approximately 3 weeks behind schedule. The roads here are pretty bumpy and slow on a good day, and though most of July and parts of August are dry, it has been unseasonably wet, and many of the roads are so bad that only a little rain brings destruction. Rehabilitating these roads is part of Mercy Corps’ cash-for-work program. The primary function of the road rehab is to enable refugees to access their land so they can begin cultivating and increasing their food security and nutrition, as their land has been vacant for 5-20 years, but this also provides a quick income injection into the communities as well. Many of the rehabbed or created roads have, to be sure, facilitated the access and cultivation of land, and improved movement and decreased travel time between mother camps, transitional resettlement sites, and original home areas. In addition, the roads also allow MC, other NGOs, and the government to send larger vehicles in order to distribute goods, work on infrastructure development, etc. However, the roads are constructed and shaped by hand, with only densely packed dirt and occasional culverts to divert runoff. So, last week, on our way to Okol, we came upon the drilling truck we hired, stuck in the mud. It had been there for approximately 3 hours; and, in the process, completely destroyed the road that Mercy Corps itself had “rehabilitated” a month earlier. Lesson Learned: Sending a too-heavy truck to do the bore-hole drilling destroys the road that was earlier cleared through a cash-for-work program. OFDA money (aka your tax dollars), via Mercy Corps, funded the clearing, the destroying, and the bore-hole drilling. Would pessimists say that is net zero?

 

In other “development” news…

 

In totalitarian government-situations, such as Zimbabwe and Eritrea, people are desperate to sneak out of the country to join family elsewhere. The very organizations (UN OHCHR, UNHCR, etc.) sent to provide aid and coordination in such scenarios have at times been, shall we say, entrepreneurial? Such cases have occurred in Kosovo, Eritrea, Iraq I’m sure, etc. Someone I know has a very personal example of a refugee paying a UN OHCHR staffer nearly 3000USD to be hidden across the border in a UN vehicle.

 

And, apparently this week, the UN letterhead is gracing a few too many visa applications.

 

Northern Uganda is in a transitional state—from acute emergency (conflict), to chronic emergency (presently), to development context (over the next year and onward, if peace holds). In emergency contexts, when there is no (or seemingly) time to delay, and many responses are quite reactive rather than thoughtful or thought-through, and often massive reconstruction is undertaken without deliberate consultation from communities or in accordance with international minimum standards, as occurred and reoccurred in the reconstruction from the 2004 tsunami. Many unintended consequences to this intended “relief” occur, and they have been for the past decade or more here. For example, food and non-food items have been distributed in the larger-population “mother camps” for the past several years. However, as the crisis transitions to a development context, food distributions are decreasing in mother camps, and they are not being implemented in the transitional sites, as it is assumed that people have begun farming, etc., which would be a reasonable, if optimistic, assumption. However, because everyone knows there is free food in the mother camps, people walk (often 5-10km or more) to the central camps where they used to live, in order to supplement their diets, creating a semi-permanent state of dependency, and a system of commuting for food rather than cultivating it.

Finally, NGOs are often cited as actors in an international development system that creates “empty states,” by providing or supporting private social-service structures, thereby allowing the government to continue under funding those education, health, infrastructure, and community services (Yes, so shockingly different from the United States, isn’t it?). Though clearly a holdover from the neoliberal policies of shock therapy and economic “development” that the US and Breton Woods organizations obliged upon debtor countries in the 1980s, it being continued full-force today, as lenders and donors are loathe to send their money to corrupt or potentially corrupt governments, and more than eager to ignorantly send money to the sweet starving child on their children. So instead, they send them to NGOs who are held to be more “accountable.” Aha. So, the organization here in Pader who removed the signs that designated certain bore holes as having been drilled by another organization in order to put in their own so they could show the donors “their” work and pocket the money is “accountability,” is it? Or, the piles and PILES of plastic water bottles that either fill landfills or, even better, are burned, because delicate NGO workers don’t want to trouble with filtered water? Or, in a town that is—at most—3km long, everyone drives EVERYWHERE. Have to go to an NGO 200m away? Drive. Lunchtime? Drive. Meeting at WFP? Drive. Why use bikes that have no carbon emissions when you can use a Toyota Landcruiser or Land Rover and approximately 2 litres of petro in five minutes, speeding by at 50km/h (over the speed limit for populated areas), spitting up dust in the face of everyone walking or on bikes in your wake? How is that for environmental standards (and general conscientious driving skills)? And, in post-conflict states such as Uganda, often all this conflict mitigation, post-war reconstruction, and development work feeds into new violence and problems. Wow, such a surprise from donor countries whose legacies include killing off all American Indians with smallpox, virtually causing the malaria epidemic across the African continent, and the provision of small and large arms used in conflicts in Uganda, DR Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Angola, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, . . .

 

Also this week I visited five sites monitoring one of our food security, water and sanitation, environmental health, and livelihoods program. See below for proof positive of your tax dollars at work too!

 thejerrycansarewinning.jpg

 

August 2, 2007

Murchison Falls Safari, more of the field, and only one month left!

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 6:57 am

31 July (but really posted 2 August)

I wish I could say it’s been so busy a two weeks that I haven’t even had time to post. However, though it has been a full two weeks, it is only due to a dereliction of my e-duties, and have so much to say that I haven’t taken the necessary time to collect my thoughts and edit the photos. That, and I was reading two great books—Dirt Music and The Known World (the latter of which I am still reading currently). I highly recommend Dirt Music, particularly because I love the idea of it having a soundtrack. (That’s right, a book with a soundtrack. How is that not awesome?)

 

So, apologies. However, it is fitting that I write today (not only because I was just guilted via blog comment by my mother), but because tomorrow I am going out again on a sim sim distribution, but this time to a community that has actually been caught eating rather than planting the seeds (they claim to be hungry, imagine that), and brings me to what I’m up to now: monitoring and evaluation, and a mid-term report of one of the programs.

 

First on to the travel + leisure: July 20-22 I went to Murchison Falls with Roger, who I work with, Annie and Carmen from IMC, Rosalie from ASB, and Sebastian, who is interning for the UN this summer.
Group at the Falls, sans Annie

It was great to get a weekend away, see some more of Uganda, and get to see some animals! Though I have to say I have been a bit spoiled by my 1996 trip to Botswana, it was really amazing to see giraffe, hippo, a ton of crocs, lots of impala, steenbok, hartebeest, buffalo, and too many birds to name. I was ashamed that I didn’t even have a proper animal guide (though my Uganda book had some), and I could feel my grandmother Jackie shaking her head at my lack of adequate birding preparation. I didn’t even bring binoculars! It turned out okay, though, as the only thing I really missed seeing was the shoebill stork, an apparently very rare bird that hangs out along the Nile. The drive into the park was magical, as we saw a lot of giraffe and a few elephants, and it wasn’t even the official “game drive.” We didn’t have enough tents to camp, so we stayed in the Uganda Wildlife Authority student centre. Definitely one of the most basic hostels I have ever stayed in, it was worth every one of the 10,000 shillings I paid (approx 6USD). We had dinner and drinks at Paraa Lodge, though, which made us feel like we were really on vacation. (My first gin and tonic of the summer—just divine.) Saturday we woke up early for a game drive, and we saw two male lions, lots of giraffe, and the early morning sun rising over the grasslands was awesome, and I was transported to the safari I took with my family. On our drive in the previous day, the first big animal we saw was a lone giraffe, and though we saw many more, there was one particular bit the next day was an other/past world experience. Like I said, I feel spoiled by Botswana; however, on our game drive on Saturday morning, as we came around a bend, there were probably 80 giraffe scattered along the horizon. Like sailboats they were almost all pointed in the same direction, with their long necks like masts in the wind. Taller than most of the trees here, it was truly a seen out of Jurassic Park or something. It took my breath away. Murchison Falls is apparently one of the only (if not the only) places to see giraffe in Uganda.

Drive into Murchison Falls National Park The first giraffe Elephant Giraffes or sailboats? Jurassic Park Giraffes Giraffes Crocs! Hippos by our boat on the Nile

 

After a super-quick ferry across the Nile (basically just a means to get cars across) and a tasty little lunch at Red Chilli, the more lively and equipped (and budget as well, just as pretty a view as it’s expensive, across-the-river neighbor, Paraa), we headed down for an afternoon boat trip on the Nile to see all the water-based animal activity. After a ton of fat hippos and more crocs than I’ve ever seen at one time, five of us hopped out of the boat for a hike to the falls. “Discovered” by Sir Stanley Baker and his wife, Florence, in 1864, Murchison Falls was believed to be the source of the Nile (for about 1 day, sorry Sir Baker), and according to my guide is the most powerful water source on the planet, causing the rocks to actually shake with the pressure. (I didn’t really feel it shake, but I definitely was not at all tempted to put even a toe in the lapping water, for fear of just being swept to my liquification.) Named after Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (Impey? Is that the root for wimpey?), a founder of the Royal Geological Society in London, the falls are of course not the source of the Nile, rather it is Lake Victoria at Jinja (the site of my rafting trip in March).

 

Anyway, as we hiked along a really nice trail (not too hard, very pretty, lots of cool bugs), I could just imagine poor Baker’s excitement at the possibility of discovering basically the holy grail of African exploration. I could also feel pity for the resource-greedy itch (or perhaps I’m just projecting here) of nineteenth century colonialists, because the path of his ultimately disappointing trek is generously sprinkled with a blanket of pyrite or some other fool’s-gold-looking mineral and quartz-like formations. Can’t you just imagine all the thoughts of glory, grandeur, and resource extraction & exploitation that flooded his mind (or maybe he was an altruistic explorer)? The falls were awesome. Not as tall or as majestic as say, Niagara or Victoria falls, but the force of water was pretty noteworthy. We also met the assistant to one of the ICC prosecutors and Hague ambassador to Uganda for the Juba peace talks, and though she (the ambassador) seemed nice enough (and was wearing more diamonds on a hike than I’m used to, I have to say), the prosecutor guy was pretty dismissive of all that “local” peacebuilding going on. Roger was talking up (a bit to his disinterest I have to say—sorry, Roger) the proposal that Michaela and I did, and I just added, “Yeah, trying to support all the work the Northern Uganda Peace Forum is already doing.” You know, my post about the community and civil society members who basically negotiate in the bush with LRA and their families, and, I think it can safely be said, without whom there might be no peace process? Well, to which he dismissed, “There are just so many different ‘peace forums.’” I wanted say, yeah, and there are just “so many” Ugandans who’ve actually even heard of the ICC, dude. [Disclaimer: I support multilateral peacekeeping initiatives, and I do think it annoying that the US basically chooses to disregard the ICC so that our administration won’t itself be charged with war crimes; however, I do not support self-aggrandizement and self-congratulatory notions of single-handed responsibility for all the attempted good in the world. Please. I don’t think more prosecutors in the world is the solution to finding more peace, but maybe that’s just me.]

On Monday, Roger, George, and I drove to a few different sites to check out bore-hole drilling, progress on several latrines, and other projects. We watched a big drilling machine go down 50 meters to drill a bore-hole in a TRS community called Okol.

Bore-hole drilling

Boys watching the drilling in Okol

These wells, operated by hand pumps or in some cases solar power, bring clean water to communities (as long as they’re properly constructed and protected from animal and human contamination). Needless to say, the drilling, with the eardrum-busting noise and the spraying mud is quite a spectacle. I felt like I was in Texas or Alaska or something, waiting for sweet crude to come shooting from the hole. The one sad thing about the drilling is that it drove the music group from the primary school from their idyllic practice spot underneath a nearby tree.

Music practice

Update from 1 August (Happy birthday, Erin!):

Went on a sim sim distribution that ended up with us being stuck in the mud and nearly turning the car over. I was wearing sandals, and the mud was like cement/glue/cow patty. Needless to say, I enjoyed every minute of it, especially when I was bitten by the Ugandan equivalent of a fire ant. (It wasn’t that bad, actually, I just enjoy complaining about it.) I was with the country director, Zoe, and it was an exercise in everything that could go wrong going wrong, but at least I, yet again, provided entertainment upon my return with mud in my toes. George, the deputy program manager, said now you have a real story from the field to take home with you. Yeah, a good story and probably some mud-borne parasite that will take up residence in my bowels via the soles of my feet. But, it was a day not entirely wasted, as I got to chat with Zoe about job stuff, and I got to see a road being built through a cash-for-work program of ours, as we had to go pick up another staff member since we diverted another truck to go pick up the staff member of ours that we left behind. (“Cash” for work: 6 hours of back-breaking labor, at times with babies strapped to backs, for a buck fifty–photo to come.)

I only have one month left in Uganda! I can’t believe it. Though I’m excited to see everyone, I am of course just getting the hang of things, getting to know people, and learning some actual language, and really getting into my projects and now feel I must rush. But, in an effort to chronicle my time here more mindfully, I’m going to try to include just a Pader Town Council photo or two to capture life as I see it every day. People burn all their trash here, obviously, as there aren’t too many rivers to throw it in, and there are clearly no waste management systems to handle the primarily NGO and government-produced rubbish. Often the air is full of the smell of burning plastic (bye-bye, ozone layer, hello climate change) from all the plastic bottles used every day. (Our filter is STILL broken, so I, too, contribute usually 3-4 one-litre bottles to the trash every day. Multiply that by every person here.) Anyway, on Sunday, after the Catholic mass that occurs under the tree next to our compound, a little boy (about 5) was carefully tending a brush/trash fire for about 45 minutes, and every few minutes someone would walk through the billowing smoke carrying a pile of bananas or a jerry can full of water on their head. It was really magical, if you could get past the carcinogenic inhalations.

Boy burning–scene from Pader

July 17, 2007

12-17 July 2007

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 5:16 pm

17 July • Tuesday

 

Today I went to the field again, this time to observe/help with the sim sim (sesame) seed distribution to three camps in Patongo sub-county of Pader District, as well as start my info gathering/. Long day, the sim sim truck got stuck in the mud, but I got to see a part of Pader I hadn’t before, though we got back past security hours, so I’m exhausted. Oh, and, the power just now went out. Lots of posts, lots of pictures (me helping with the truck loading today, and some from the past several days), and lots of missing everyone!

Loading the truck with sim simSim Sim Distribution in Olyelo Widyel

 

 

15-16 July • Sunday, Monday

 

The past few days were much lonelier than all the rest. Not only does most of the staff leave on the weekends, but the agriculture team was in Lira for a training for all of last week, and the WatSan (water and sanitation) team was in Kitgum for a training. Michaela left on Monday, so my return to Pader on Wednesday was a sola journey. I also think that because I am now gone nearly a month, I am hitting that first real wave of homesickness.

 

However, I have a lot to keep myself busy! The third quarter project report is due at the end of the month, so I am trying to gather information on how the activities for the OFDA grant are proceeding, in addition to laying the groundwork for my monitoring and evaluation work. Mercy Corps had a consultant out in April to institute an M&E system, but it is not clear how much it has taken off, or how consistent are the implementation of the reporting and data-gathering mechanisms; it is also unclear how much the staff has bought in to the necessity or protocol of the reporting. I am looking forward to having a staff workshop and information session as to what they think of the M&E system, why the do/don’t use it, if they do/do not see it as an important or necessary tool, and shadow them out to the field to just sort of watch them do their work in general (not in any supervisory capacity, just so I can get to know the program better and how it works). I will also be leading a mid-term review of one of the other food security projects here for a private donor, and that will intersect a lot with the other M&E work. Finally I am working on some background research for a concept paper for a potential NGO consortium for Pader District, which is in perfect follow-up to my previous thesis work for my MAIS degree.

 

Ah, my thesis. I oscillate between feeling like it is the bane of my existence, and a really awesome opportunity to explore some other issues a bit deeper. Until now I have been focusing on issues of NGO coordination/collaboration, looking at common standards, information sharing, partnerships, and recently consortia. However, I am feeling that it is almost too abstract still—even spending time witnessing the collaboration here—to do a 30-50 page paper rather than a 100-page case study as a result of years or more in the field, though I am open to suggestions. However, the group discussions that Michaela, Mark (agric team/translator/all-round nice guy), and I had in several communities in preparation and assessment for the conflict proposal we wrote, resulted in a commonly held view that there is a lack of adequate/factual/access to information in the transitional resettlement sites. So much of the work of the last few years has been so camp-centric (such as food and non-food distributions, hygiene education, and health outreach), that it is unclear how comprehensively these services reach the transitional sites (and ultimately the original home sites). In addition, many people remarked on the unavailability of nearby health centers, or the under/non-staffing of those that were nearby, or that malaria is their number-one health issue but no one has distributed nets, etc. So, for the past two weeks I have really been rethinking my focus, and as a result of these experiences, and also partially as a result of my own interest in vulnerable populations and HIV/AIDS, as well as my ongoing involvement with information, information systems, and technology throughout grad school coursework, (plus a desire to add a bit more of the health side of things to my experience in Pader), I am thinking of reorienting my thesis research to health information systems and access to health information in transitional resettlement sites. I will probably focus on reproductive health (inc HIV/AIDS and STI info) or child nutrition or something (lots of swollen bellies in a lot of the kids I see), but before I get too invested in my own very thinly supported assumptions, I have to start talking to all the orgs doing health work here, and I plan to do some interviews and focus groups in communities. (I wish I could do a full-blown household survey, but I don’t think there is time for that due to my actual obligations for my internship.)

 

Lastly on Sunday, after a homesick day that was peppered with anxiety about finding a job when I return to the States (to stay in Seattle or to not stay in Seattle, to go abroad immediately or to wait another year, that is the question!), I was in a pretty sullen mood. That quickly changed, however, when I went with Roger (the head of office for MC Pader) to meet up with some people to play ultimate. The “some people” included a guy from UNHCR and the head of office from World Vision, and approximately 40 kids. Not only was it clear that ultimate Frisbee is not my primary athletic strength and that I am out of shape, but that playing with a whole bunch of kids (ranging in age from about 8 to 13) is the best panacea for self-pity. I had so much fun! I can’t wait until next week. As the only girl playing ultimate, though, I have to say I was disappointed by the gender segregation: When a little crew of girls showed up, they were immediately ushered to play netball (variant of basketball) by an expat that shall not be named. Whether that is by their preference or otherwise, I have yet to know. The group of girls dispersed after only 10 minutes or so, though, so who knows what that’s about. Rest assured that I will investigate next week. Also, I will be sure to bring my camera next time.

 

Putting my own mini-drama about thesis and jobs was again put in perspective this morning (Monday), when I spoke to Ken, one of the MC drivers, about his weekend. He said it was “good, but not very,” and when I asked why it was not very, he said it was due to the fact that the government had bulldozed his house to make way for a road on Sunday! Due to the bit of research I did a couple weeks ago regarding land conflict and government land reforms, people are supposed to be compensated when this happens, but of course rarely are. Ken said that the engineer claimed that the road “had been on the books since 1957.” What? In 1957 the English still ruled the joint, and all those plans, etc., were supposed to have been redrawn. In addition, his mother has lived there for the past 14 years. They gave no warning, nothing. Luckily his sister was there to remove all their belongings within 30 minutes, but for people who were not at home (like at church, or in other villages visiting relatives as people do on the weekend—many families are quite spread out due to the war, employment availability, etc.) they just came home and found their houses—and everything they owned—destroyed. Poor Ken’s mother came back from such a visit and just found that her house was gone. Luckily she had some airtime (cell phone minutes) and called Ken to find out where they were staying. Ken not only has three children of his own and pays rent for his wife and children in Lira (1.5 hours away from Pader), but now will have to support his mother and sister in Lira in another house as well. He said that although they bought the house and land, they don’t have a title. He also said they bulldozed people’s houses that are titled! Apparently when the engineer started up again this morning a mob of people severely beat him. That may provoke a response from the government (bad sign) or just lead to another engineer to do the work. Either way, though, there is no recourse, no justice for Ken. When I was talking to him you can see how broken he feels for his family. And there is nothing—not even a formality to give closure—that he can do.

 

Sorry for the monotony of words with no pictures. I am waiting on some photos from Roger to post of me in the field, and I will be out again in the field tomorrow, so I’ll take a picture or two then. In the meantime, here is a photo of one of the cool bugs around and the latrine (one of three, and where many of them hang out, naturally.) I am working hard to appreciate them so that when there are bigger and scarier ones, I am calm and Zen about my fellow living beings. However last night when a moth—each of whose wings were the size of my palms—flew by my head I thought it was a bat and screamed. How embarrassingly city mouse was that? I’ve also posted a picture of the compound courtyard (with the latrines at my back and the front door thro

 

In addition, I added some photos to the below post—of Michaela, me, a local sub-county government officer, the chair of the Pader Peace Forum, Santo San, and the tall one is Rwot Oywak Ywakamier II (paramount Acholi chief from Pajule sub-county), and a photo going over the Nile on the drive to/from Kampala. I’m going to pass on posting blurry pictures of baboons, as I expect to have better ones from my trip to Murchison Falls (game reserve/national park) this weekend!

Pretty green bug (mantis?)Latrinestickbug-blog.jpg

July 11, 2007

Conflict, to Kampala, and back again

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 6:22 pm

11 July • Wednesday

 

Tonight the stars in Pader are magnificent. So many of the nights have either been overcast, rainy, or I’ve been up too late working in front of my computer to notice, or the moon has been too bright. But tonight, on my first night back to Pader (I was in Kampala for four days), the stars are just a blanket over the sky. It is now that I wish I could suddenly have my dad with me—or pop onto my shoulder like a little devil/angel—to tell me this and that about what we’re looking at. Up there is antares, and there is venus next to the whozitswhatsit, and look at spica etc. When we were in Botswana, every night he would get so excited about the Southern Cross. Wake up, see lions, cheetah (very fast!), impala, lion cubs, giraffe, make dinner, sit around the camp fire, and oh my gosh, would you look at that Southern Cross! Wake up, see a dawn of red-breasted quillea, more lions, maybe cubs, see something get killed like a nature show brought to life, but without fail: oh my gosh, would you look at that Southern Cross! The best part is, is I was just as excited to see it. Something you only see on maps that then you get to see in real life! But now, without him here, I just look at the sky and think, look at all of that amazingness up there. Too bad Dad’s not here to tell me what I’m looking at.

 

So, what I did, when I kept looking up at this cute kite-shaped constellation and thinking how much I liked it, I Googled and found Your Sky to find out what I was looking at. Turns out, it’s Libra—my sign! Although on closer inspection of the star map that is apparently a duplicate of what I see above me, there are several cute little kite shapes, so who knows if it’s actually Libra. But I’m sticking to it.

Happy Birthday Dad!

On Sunday Michaela—the traveling Conflict Mitigation and Management consultant based out of Mercy Corps’ Boston office—and I drove to Kampala. Seven hours of sink-hole ridden asphalt (after the first two hours of dirt to Lira) that made me miss the rain-eroded, muddy, ravine-scarred dirt roads of Pader District. And getting stuck behind a truck overflowing with [you place your favorite item here: bananas, charcoal, tall grasses, banana leaves, timber, people]—so that all trucks have that inverted-trapezoidal-cartoon-truck appearance that may actually have blow-up balloon tires judging by how they bounce through those sink holes—is even more fun. And trust me, there are definitely no emission standards here; I might has well have actually wrapped my lips around the exhaust pipe.

Anyway, we drove to Kampala. And the drive was really great aside from the emphysema/asphyxia. Pader District is the second-most northern district (it was actually carved out of the most northern district, Kitgum, in 2001), so the drive to Kampala, though not the actual length of the country down to Rwanda, is pretty close. And the change in countryside, people, everything was fun to watch. Although Pader is quite green and verdant, compared to say, NEVADA, I already forgot how much more jungly Kampala is, and particularly the areas just north of it. You really do get that rainforest feeling with the big banana leaves and big trees. And the best part was there was one place along the drive where there was clearly a Uganda National Forest pine planting effort about 30 years ago, because there was a stretch where if you just looked straight ahead, you could be driving to Lake Tahoe. (It definitely made me feel pain for a second over all the fun summer activities I’m not doing so I can do this.)

Kampala was great. I was only supposed to be there for two nights, but I have to say I was not that upset when the car that was taken down to be serviced wasn’t done until Tuesday. I felt this way for several reasons: First, it was nice to be able to be part of the final thrust of the USAID proposal on conflict that I’ve been working on with Michaela until late at night for the past two weeks. I learned SO much, got to put multiple (at least three) of the skills I learned in graduate school to the test (thanks, Mary Kay Gugerty, Andy Gordon, and Stephen Bezruchka, among others!), and was part of it start to finish (assuming that it will be submitted within the next three hours—it’s due at midnight Uganda time). Second, I got to have Ethiopian food, Italian, and a tilapia-salad sandwich instead of my usual options: smoked meat, fresh meat, goat, rice, beans, sweet potato, or miscellaneous bitter greens. Third—and most important—I got to take three real showers (read: not in/from a bucket—one of them warmish and one of them hot!) and sit down to go to the toilet. It was a dream. Oh, and on the way and back I got to drive over the Nile and see baboons and spider monkeys too.

The conflict proposal was fascinating. We did a speedy assessment, focus groups in three communities, talked to a paramount chief in Pajule sub-county, spoke with multiple local government people (the district offices don’t even have power, btw, though some have individual generators), had a staff team meeting to get their take on the situation Michaela’s first day here, got to go to Gulu and meet the USAID advisor there and talk to a cool grad student from Denmark doing land conflict research (Hi, Kasper!), and generally information gathered like crazy all over Pader District. After several a-has, and subsequent oh-sh*ts, we are actually proposing something real and needed and helpful, I think. Pretty awesome. The team meeting with the staff was especially cool, since they all had so much to say about types of community-, clan-, or family-based conflict, and mitigation mechanisms. It was great to see them all so engaged and excited to talk about something outside of what they do every day.

Now, after drafting my scope of work for the rest of the summer (I have only 7 weeks left!) with Zoe, the Uganda country director, I am on to the next phase of the summer and out of writing-back-to-back-proposals mode. Now I actually have to start and finish some things of my own.

 

Obligatory African Sunset PhotoBridge over the Nile at Karuma Falls–The Road goes southish while the river goes northishThe NileSally, MIchaela, LC3, rwot, Santo San (of the Pader Peace Forum)

 

June 28, 2007

Now, on to conflict mitigation

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 2:43 pm

27 June • Wednesday

Will be offline for a bit, I think. A woman came today from the conflict management team in Cambridge (via Sudan, actually) to do some work here, and I think I will be pretty swamped for the next several days. The plus side is I think I’ll finally get out to other organizations, government offices, and communities to do some interviewing, etc., to put my qualitative research skills and PRA to use! Plus, we’ll get to go to Gulu, a couple hours south, which is a much bigger town, which will be a nice break.

And, my bags came!! They’re a little bit worn out, I think, but they came up on the plane yesterday. What a great surprise! I feel so lux now, with a razor and everything.

More time in the field

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 2:42 pm

26 June • Tuesday

We went back out to the field today. It was fantastic—saw three other TRSs, met with a lot of farmers and community leaders, and I learned about 12 more Acholi and Lango words (which, combined with a third dialect, all make up the Luo language). I have not loaded those photos on my computer yet, though, and I am battling a brutal cold/flu at the moment, so I will discuss today later. However, the drama of the day is that a whole community’s plots of cassava are being eaten by termites. There were few termites before they fled their land, but in the five years of displacement since, the termite mounds have grown—some taller than I!

My eagerness to learn how to speak bad Luo is a major source of entertainment for people, though.

June 27, 2007

In the field

Filed under: My Ugandan Summer • 2007 — starryi @ 9:27 am

23 June • Saturday

Today we went out “to the field.” It’s funny how in the States, the goings-on in any other country is “the field,” while in Kampala, Pader is “in the field,” and in Pader, the sites where the actual programs are occurring is “the field.” In the case of most of the programs I looked at today, “the field” is actually a field, where model farmers, schools, and producer groups are planting seeds and tubers provided by Mercy Corps. I learned more about cassava, sorghum, ground nut, dry-land rice, mango, citrus, pine, and pineapple crops than I ever knew! We also drove through one of the “mother camps,” which, at times housed 25,000 people. It’s gone way down since people have started moving out to transitional sites, and moved back home; however, these camps, though large and difficult (there are some camps in Uganda that do house upwards of 50,000 people), are nothing like (at least that I know of) like those that say you’ve seen in the movies. These camps aren’t surrounded by chain link fences, and guards—although maybe they were previously, I don’t know—but they are overcrowded with houses quite close together, and far from peoples’ original homes. Bitek and Alfred, two of the national agricultural staff, and Kenneth, who drove, took Nate and me to three specific TRSs, and through several larger UNHCR camp sites, and through much of Pader district.

Since I my cognitive understanding of the captioning process is less than average, I will tell you what the below photos are here instead:

Sign in Lalo Palwo (a “mother camp”) for hygiene (in English, which most people don’t speak of course); a cash-for-work road to open up access to returnees’ land; Timbosco, a model farmer, standing in the nursery he manages in Obolokome (a transitional resettlement site); Obolokome; Nate untaping a grafted citrus with an audience; pineapple sucker that will be replanted; a group of women in Wang Lobo (also a TRS) that let me practice my few Luo words with them and taught me about some of the crops.

Remember to pick up the feces

Cash-for-Work Road (OFDA-funded)     Timbosco, model farmer, in the nursery

Obolokome-Transitional Resettlement Site   Nate’s audience

Pineapple sucker

Women who helped me with my Lango and plant names

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