Before I dwell in the trials and tribulations of my last week in Uganda, I wish to reflect briefly on a few African proverbs I came to know throughout my time on the continent. These proverbs shaped the way I viewed and continue to view my trip to the Pearl of Africa. Although I could probably write a book on the hard time I had in Africa and the immense challenges I faced, what good would this book do? And for every page of that book, I could write at least 3 to 4 pages on the lessons I've learned, the awe-inspiring people I met, and the amazing journey I had.
"To get lost is to learn the way" - African Proverb
This lesson was the first and hardest lesson I had to learn; however, even if I had read this quote before embarking on my trip, I assure you the only way I would have learned it is the way that I did. To be in a place, a place that feels almost like the exact opposite of the one that you lived in for your whole life, that is truly a challenge. I found myself confused by people's behavior and focused on the small details that made Africa feel like an alien planet rather than a foreign country. In reality, what I was experiencing was a culture shock. A completely new set of ideals, norms, and beliefs that I needed to adapt to. The only way to truly immerse myself in their culture was to lose my way, and in losing my way, and in losing my careless judgements, I found my way to a happy and enjoyable time during my stay in Africa. There was a quote often used while I stayed in Uganda, used by every native that observed my encountering of an uncomfortable situation, "Welcome to Africa." I eventually adopted this phrase and when I faced hardships I would normally fear, I simply shrugged and chalked it up to being part of the experience.
"Traveling is Learning" - Kenyan Proverb
What an important lesson I learned, and one I wish to pass on to all of you. I have enjoyed sharing my stories with all of you, but my charge to you reading this right now, don't simply live these experiences vicariously. Go. Travel. Live. Learn. I used to think, it takes a certain type of person to go to Africa. Well, I still believe living in Africa as a foreigner takes a very special type of person, but to visit the continent, anyone can do that. Trust me, I'm living proof. Book your trip today! Go, see Africa. See the world!
"Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases." - Swahili Proverb
One thing I learned is that having all the money in the world, or having none of it, it's all irrelevant. We are all gifted with a brain, and what we choose to put in that brain and how often we chose to learn, that's our choice. There is a whole world of information out there. No one can know everything, but there is no excuse to ever stop learning. Challenge yourself, challenge your way of thinking, it will only help you.
"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now." - African Proverb
I stumbled upon this while reading, "Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and how there is a Better Way for Africa" by Dambisa Moyo. (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN DEVELOPMENT). Moyo puts forth a controversial thesis in this book of hers, one I first rejected. (If anyone is interested in reading Dead Aid, I would be happy to share my copy) However, this proverb pertains to even more than just her thesis. I am 20 years old, and while many of you may think that is still young, I know that in these 20 years I had potential to achieve more than I have. I could wallow in this, or realize that I still have the rest of my life to achieve my goals. And this is my last challenge for all of you, regret nothing from your past, look towards the future and realize the whole rest of your life is waiting--make a difference.
Monday I awoke early in the morning to prepare for the final journey back to the village to complete my last week of internship. I stumbled out of bed and realized something felt different. Pain and nausea forced me back into bed where I spent the remainder of the day. I self-diagnosed myself with a mild E coli Infection (a common sickness while traveling), ingested the Cipro prescribed preventively by my travel doctor, and slept most of the day away determined to feel better by Tuesday.
Tuesday morning felt more like Monday as I quickly packed for my four-day week in the Village of Sitabaale. Bruhan, my internship coordinator was still at the Nakivale Refugee Camp working on a special project for TASAAGA, so Maureen escorted me back to the village of Sitabaale. We left in the morning around 10 am and picked up a taxi to Kampala. Determined to show you all what Kampala looks like, I was able to snap some brief pictures while walking. They are not the best quality and can't truly depict the craziness of Kampala, but I hope they are enjoyable nonetheless.
(Pictured Above: Kampala: Uganda's Capital City. The last two pictures are inside the Taxi Park)
Instead of taking the normal taxi to the city of Kiwenda (neighboring Sitabaale), Maureen and I took a taxi to the city of Gayza with plans to venture to the nearby village of Chicoco (not sure of spelling) in the Wakiso District of Uganda. This village is where Maureen and Jessica (Mama Africa) grew up and where their family still resides. The taxi ride was shorter than the normal ride to Kiwenda and we exited onto the main road running through Gayza.
(Pictured Above: Gayza)
We bought airtime at a local shop and then found a Boda Boda that would take us to the village. I expected a 5 minute ride like the ride from Kiwenda to Sitabaale is; however, the ride from Gayza to Chicoco was the longest Boda Boda ride I took in Uganda lasting around 25 minutes. I decided to be brave and snap some photos while we headed toward the village.
(Pictured Above: The long road to the village)
We arrived at the humble home where Maureen and Jessica were raised made from mud bricks and mud. I was pleased to meet their mother and some of Maureen's nieces and nephews who are staying with their grandmother through infancy. Along the way we stopped to get some sweets so I could give the children I saw some sweets as they expected me to. I handed the candy to the 3 kids staying in the house and Maureen and her mother caught up on recent life events. We went outside and sat on the house's ledge. Maureen's mother fed me a mango and offered me some tea. I took some photos of Maureen with her mother and taught Maureen how to take photos of me so I could get one with her mom as well. Then I went over, met her neighbors, and the rest of her family including her grandmothers, her aunts, uncles, and cousins.
(Pictured Above: Maureen's Family and Me)
We eventually left the Village and headed to Sitabaale. Unaware of how close the villages were together, I was surprised our Boda Boda ride only lasted about 8 minutes. Excited to be back in Sitabaale and to start work on the field portion of the internship, I dropped my stuff off in the studio and began looking through the women's applications I would use tomorrow to verify their information yet again. It was already late afternoon, so I closed the file and opened "Dead Aid" which I ended up finishing. Night approached and I headed back to the studio to prepare for bed. Never did I expect to find one of my biggest struggles waiting for me back in my bed.
I unwound the bed net and began inspecting it for any insects as I always do before I drape it over the bed. I noticed one black bug caught in the upper part, and soon one turned to two which turned to four which turned to 10 which turned to too many to count. I realized soon after, what I first thought to be ticks were actually the infamous bugs from the children's rhyme, "Goodnight, don't let the bed bugs bite." I quickly exited the room and waited in the other part of the studio as I contacted Bruhan to explain the situation. They replaced the mattress and I slept without a net, but the room, covered in carpet, was already too infested. I woke up the following morning with 8 bites on my arms. I chalked it up to the African experience.
I met Nassif and we headed to visit the women to verify their application information. I took pictures of each of the women and will explain below each picture their current or intended business. I have not included their names for anonymity.
(Pictured Above: GROWW Loan Recipient #1)
As you can see in the picture, while we verified her information, this woman was still very hard at work preparing Cassava. She currently owns a food stall / restaurant and is interested in rearing pigs and chickens so that she can sell them and use them to cook.
(Pictured Above: GROWW Loan Recipient #2)
This woman currently owns a Bar in the Village of Sitabaale and is hoping to use her loan to expand the beverages she offers. She was very charismatic and funny.
(Pictured Above: GROWW Loan Recipient #3)
Sisters with Recipient #2, this woman owns a produce stand right outside of her sister's bar. She is selling bananas, tomatoes, cassava, and sweet potatoes in this picture. She hopes to expand her business through her loan.
(Pictured Above: GROWW Loan Recipient #4)
This is the only woman I was able to interview without the translator. Her English was incredible and her business is booming. She owns this small drug shop after she received training in pharmacology. She hopes to expand the drugs she can offer the village which is not only helpful for business, but helpful for the health of those in the village. An honorable goal with her loan.
(Pictured Above: GROWW Loan Recipient #5)
The only recipient without a current business, this woman is hoping to continue the business her Husband ran before he passed away. This would include going and buying Fish and Sugar Cane and selling it to the villagers.
After we completed the applications, we ate lunch and Christine and I headed to the neighboring village of Mairye. We met with some families and continued the outreach for the ICT Project. After reaching Mairye, Christine and I mistakingly made the long journey to the Great Lakes Brand Manufacturing plant where Christine's favorite snacks, "Gorillo Maize Snacks" are manufactured. After walking for over an hour from the village to the plant, they almost did not let us in to buy the snacks. After finally getting in, they took our phones, camera, and journals so we would not be tempted to take any pictures. We walked to the back of the plant and bought a bag of 12 packs of these snacks for around $1. Then we found a Boda Boda and rode back to the village of Sitabaale.
When we returned, Christine forced me to try these Gorillo snacks which reminded me of Cheetos that were chicken flavored. (If you have had Chicken Ramen, it is similar to that flavor) I actually enjoyed them and so did Christine's adorable child, Elvis.
(Pictured Above: Elvis and Christine enjoying their snacks, isn't he adorable?)
Wednesday came to an end when we lost power around 7 pm and everyone headed to bed. Unaware of the state of my mattress and the room itself, I fell asleep around midnight and awoke around 2 in the morning with over 30 new bites. I decided I would be unable to stay in that bed for the remainder of the night and sat in the outer part of the room until 7 am when I left to head to the Youth Center.
Determined that I would be unable to stay there one more night and positive I needed to wash all of my clothing in boiling water before I could return to the states, I packed the essentials, trashed the rest, and headed to the Youth Center where I asked Nassif to escort me back to Entebbe. He agreed, packed a bag, and we headed back towards Entebbe. In the city of Kampala, I observed violence for the first time. In a building visible from the street I was standing on, I watched their government drop tear gas bombs on citizens protesting the heightened tax forced on them. While I am unaware of the full story, I was horrified to see a right we have in America being taken away here in this country.
We reached the house in Entebbe, I made piles of my clothing that needed washed in boiling water, jumped the in the shower, and showered until I was convinced the bed bugs were gone. All of my clothing that went along and my backpack were washed in boiling water to make sure I did not bring the bed bugs back with me.
Friday and Saturday
Slightly less interesting, I spent most of my time in Entebbe shopping for the remainder of my souvenirs. I found a lot of great gifts and will post some pictures of those a little later. Then I headed to the internet cafe to check in for my flight and packed everything carefully as to insure all of my souvenirs reached the states in one piece.
Around 7 pm on Saturday I was astonished to find that Bruhan had surprised me by arranging for a Taxi to pick me up at the house and take me to the Airport. I loaded my bags in the taxi, hugged my "African Family," and left the compound for the last time. Leaving Uganda was hard, and I know in my heart I will be back there sometime soon, but I grew very found of the country. A couple weeks prior, I was begging to come home, as I left I was begging to stay just a few more days.
My Flight Back
My flight back was long and sleepless. I planned to sleep around 8 hours of the journey but ended up only taking a nap for about an hour. So when I finally reached Philly, I was overwhelmed to be back home. I found my family waiting for me in the arrivals terminal with a change of clothing and trashbags to contain all of my clothing until it could be washed when I got home. After I changed, I hugged them all, and we headed back to my house.
I will keep this short, because I have already written a lot. This trip truly changed my life and the way I think about almost everything. When I was about halfway through my trip, a young boy challenged me for this trip to be more than a "story I tell my friends." And that has been a promise I made to him and to myself. I am still in the early planning stages; however, I believe my girlfriend, Megan, and I will be working very hard over the next years to establish our own nonprofit organization that will work with donors, churches, and other nonprofits, to provide students in the secondary and university level with scholarships and maybe loans so they are able to finish or attend school. One quote I saw in Uganda on the back of a bus inspired me to embark on this challenge, "Education is a birthright." How true is that? So in the future, I am sure I will be reaching out to all of you yet again, and I hope to find the same support I found when I embarked on this journey. Less than $1000 is enough to send a student to university to complete a degree. There is no reason every student who wants to go to school, should not be able to fulfill this dream of theirs.
I thank you all for your support and your help through this adventure of mine. When I first started this trip, it was about me and my dreams to see Africa and my dreams to help. Very early on in this trip, it shifted and it was about the citizens of Africa, and their hopes and dreams to break free from poverty. We are all capable of helping, we just need to find a way.a
Greetings again, family and friends, from the Pearl of Africa. J I sincerely appreciate all of the overwhelming support I got through comments and messages on my last blog post. I hope this post is as well received and thank each and everyone of you following me on this amazing journey. It is crazy to believe, as I post this, that this is my last Sunday in Africa (on this trip at least) and that in 7 short days I will be returning to the United States to resume my daily life. I refuse to allow this trip to be just a story I tell my friends about, and feel compelled and inspired to continue my work with this great nation and great continent. I have many great ideas and plans already buzzing around my head for future involvement with both this nation and in specific this terrific organization, TASAAGA.
A quick note before I begin to describe this week’s adventures, blessings, and struggles. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Bruhan had charged me with the task of completing a training manual for the organization to use to teach the women. Since I am only here for three weeks of internship, he asked that I complete this task this week, and therefore, I remained in Entebbe this week to utilize the internet cafes around town to complete this project. I will explain further in depth exactly what I did and what I observed while working, but I wanted to be clear that my week was more administrative work and less field work unlike last week.
After waking up at 6:30 am, I showered, dressed, and immediately began packing for my week in Sitabaale. Bruhan informed me that we would leave at 7:30 am, so I made sure to be ready by 7:15. I left my bag in the room and headed out to the living room where Bruhan and his family were watching some television. I joined them and awaited breakfast and our eventual departure. Bruhan asked me how the manual was coming and I explained that I had just begun and would be able to probably finish by the end of the week. He explained that until the manual was finished the GROWW project was momentarily at a halt, and therefore the manual should be my top priority. I agreed and we determined the best thing for me was if I remained in the city so I would have access to internet if I needed to do research.
I ate a chapati and drank my tea, and then unpacked my bag that I had packed just an hour ago. I repacked just the essentials: my laptop, the charger, and earbuds so I could listen to music while I worked. Then I began my walk towards Entebbetown and the Cyberlink Café. On the previous Saturday, Bruhan showed me how to get to the café in town which features the strongest and fastest internet connection. The walk is essentially a straight walk down the main road until I reach the top of the hill in town. Although I have no facts to back my hypothesis up, I would guess that the walk is about 1 and a half to 2 miles each way considering it takes me between 30-45 minutes to get there and to get back. The majority of the pictures featured throughout this post are buildings or landmarks I see along the way.
I finally reached my destination, walked into the café, and walked straight to the back where they allow patrons to use their own laptops. Simplicity on their side, the back room features a desk with two chairs, an extension chord to plug into, and two network Ethernet cables. I quickly unpacked my bag and plugged the Ethernet cable in, when one of the employees informed me there was no power in the café and the computers and internet were being powered by a generator. Understanding that power goes out almost everyday in Uganda, I shook my head and continued to assemble my laptop. She then informed me that this meant that there was no power to the outlet I normally plug into, and I would need to either utilize my battery or find another café. Optimistic that the power would come back on in a couple minutes as it normally does at the Entebbe House, I agreed to use the 45% battery-life of my laptop until the power resumed.
I originally planned the manual to be divided into 4 sections: Basic Business Skills, Management and Entrepreneurship, Economics, and Basic Accounting Principles. I had completed the Economics section since I had notes from both of my Economics classes saved on my laptop. Therefore, I began to work on the Basic Business section and after 2 hours, my laptop was clinging to life at 5% with no hope of the power being restored anytime soon. Desperate to continue, I walked back down the hill to another internet café Bruhan had pointed out to me.
I set up shop there and began working again. After two hours there, my laptop had reached 98% and suddenly the entire café went dark. This café, cheaper and of a lower quality, had no back-up generator and therefore when the power went out, so did the internet. I packed my bag back up, paid the employee (2000 USH for two hours…about 35 cents an hour) and struggled back up the hill in the broiling heat to the original café. The power had still not returned there; however, with the generator, I was able to use their internet for an additional two hours to finish the entire first section. I paid the employee (3,000 USH for two hours…about 50 cents per hour) and slowly walked back to the Entebbe house to relax until the next day.
Feeling as though I relived Monday, I will save you the time and explain essentially the same thing happened. The first café had no power, and I eventually had to return to the second café to charge up. The second café, while slightly closer to the house, has incredibly slow internet which I would compare to that of the dial-up speeds we used to experience in the early 2000’s. So, as soon as my laptop charged up, I returned to the first café. It was there in the afternoon that I realized the entire 20 pages of the manual I had already composed were too complicated and would be above that of what most the women would need to know. Determined to design this class as something the women would both enjoy and take a lot away from, I scrapped the original idea and turned to a more interactive and useful course of training. My new idea would focus on a simplified version of the Business Plan and would force the women to learn all of the important concepts through hands on learning while also aiding them in writing a plan for their business, something most if not all of them broke into business lacking.
Excited that I found something I believe will help the women, I wrote the entire first section in the remaining two hours at the café. Understanding the urgency of finishing this manual, I saved some websites on my computer so I could continue working offline when I returned to the house. Instead of walking the entire way home, I was picked up by a Boda Boda about halfway and rode the remainder of the way home. Having never been on any type of motorbike or motorcycle before this trip, I am attempting to maximize my Boda Boda experience while here.
Bruhan had returned home from Sitabaale and I showed him what I had finished on the manual. He liked the idea and urged me to continue in this direction. He explained it would not be too complicated for the women and when it was translated to Luganda, the women would understand it perfectly well. We ate dinner and relaxed until I was startled by a creature the size of a baby mouse running across the floor. Acquainted with Lizards, Spiders, Caterpillars, Mosquitos, and even Wasps, I was not prepared to face the large insect crawling towards me. I instantly sucked my feet up onto the chair and fearfully inquired what this creature was. Bruhan launched into action explaining this large cockroach was the only other thing besides caterpillars that he feared. He swiftly grabbed a magazine, threw it on the large bug, and squashed it. Relieved that it was dead, we all returned to normalcy until not even 2 hours later a second cockroach came crawling along the exact same path. Yuck.
Wednesday and Thursday
I have lumped these days together as they were similar. I woke up. Ate Chapati. Drank tea. Walked to the café. Worked on the manual. Walked home. And relaxed until bed. Thursday night, my hard work paid off and I finished the manual and the accompanying participants training guide. The overall finished product is one that I am proud of. The women will not only learn important skills like goal setting, planning, organizing, company ownership, price setting, market analytics, and mission and vision setting, they will also complete in their time in the program, their very own “Business Plan” custom tailored to their business. I hope this will help the women to set a clear path for their future and keep them on track to achieving their hopes and dreams for their businesses.
Bruhan, having travelled to the Refugee Camp for the remainder of the week, and Mama Africa, having left to visit her sister, left Maureen, Maggie and I to survive on our own for a bit. Interested in what school life was like here, I asked Maureen and Maggie many questions about high school, college, and the struggles they face. Maureen, having finished Senior 6, the top level of High School, desperately expressed her desire to attend college. However, with school fees for college being high relative to the average income, and no government assistance or loans, she is unable to do so at the time. Maggie, still finishing the Senior Level, hopes to go to the university to become a nurse. Making education opportunities more accessible and affordable for these girls and many young scholars like them is one of the projects I plan to look into when I get back to the states.
With the manual finished, I decided to sleep in a bit and take an adventure to the Entebbe Craft Village to do some souvenir shopping. After an hour of looking around one of the shops, I left with gifts for some of the family members I hoped to find some for and a promise to the women that I would come back tomorrow to finish shopping. The craft village, comprised of multiple shops, features entrepreneurs who travel all over to buy crafts from women in remote villages and then resell them to tourists looking for the perfect souvenirs. The biggest challenge with the craft shops is that none of the items have prices and all of the prices are hence negotiable. After a while, negotiating every price gets exhausting so I limited myself to just one hour of shopping on Friday. I then proceeded right up the street to the Café to Facetime back home with Anna (my Twin) and Megan (my Girlfriend).
I returned to the Entebbe house and later in the evening we walked back towards Entebbetown where I got some “chips” (a.k.a. Fries J ) to remind me of home. Then for dinner (around 9 pm) Maureen and Maggie made Uganda Porridge which I am quite fond of. I asked Maureen to teach me how to make if before I leave so that I can make it when I get home.
I woke up late again, and returned to the craft village to continue shopping. After over two hours of exhaustion, I finally found gifts for everyone on my shopping list and quite a few souvenirs for myself. Many of the shop owners began getting aggressive and overly pushy with their selling tactics so I quickly left the village and headed back to the café to again Facetime Anna and Meg. Then, I slowly walked back to the house to find Mama Africa and Baby Africa had returned from their trip. I joined them in the living room and watched some Asian show called “Gu Family Book” with them for a couple episodes. We had Irish potatoes for dinner which is essentially regular white potatoes with some tasty broth. One of my favorite dishes here in Uganda.
Overall, I have had a great time this week just working on the training manual. While I truly enjoy field work, I am a Man of practicality and know that my dream job will involve more office work then field work. As long as I know that what I am doing is going to help someone and I feel as though I am making a difference, I know I will be happy doing whatever I end up doing. The frequent power outages here have made me truly appreciate the American Infrastructure and I will not take electricity for granted anymore. I can truly say to each and everyone of you that this trip has already proven to be the hardest thing I have faced in my life, but most certainly one of the most rewarding. I am already making plans to return to Uganda and hope that God will make that dream of mine come true. I look forward to my last week of this trip and know that when I get back to the states I will have much more to write.
Patrick Maxwell., a.k.a. Mzungu.
Greetings Friends and Family from Entebbe, Uganda. Since I have been in Africa for over a week now there is much to write and yet so much more that even words can not describe. Before I delve into the details of my first week in Africa, allow me to thank each and every person who has made this trip possible through their contributions and their moral support. In particular, a special thanks to my family and girlfriend who urged me to keep my head up high while I faced terrible homesickness during this challenging transition. Now about this life-changing adventure.
A Rocky Start…
My trip to Entebbe began first at Philadelphia International Airport. I said my goodbyes and strolled in to the Delta Departures Terminal where I checked my bag and printed my itinerary. My flight was to leave 4 hours later from Philadelphia to Detroit, a connection then 2 hours later from Detroit to Amsterdam, and 4 hours later a flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe, Uganda. The inbound flight from Detroit ended up being about 20 minutes late so I expected a slight delay, but was confident I would still make my connection. We boarded the plane at 2:45 pm to leave at 3:00 pm and headed to the runway around 3:15; however, then the captain got word there was bad weather surrounding Detroit so we would be rerouted. The reroute would come in 20 minutes later, but then another call that they would need to double check the reroute and gas calculations. 45 minutes later the engines shut off and the captain explained the weather was worse and unless there would be a change we would head back and return to the airport to wait since federal regulation mandates they can’t hold passengers in excess of 2 hours. As time passed, it became apparent I would miss my connection. Then we received news we would head back to the airport and more news would be given there. A line formed as this was a connection flight for the majority of the passengers and everyone switched to a more direct flight. The agent kept me on the same flight, switched my connection to Amsterdam to a later flight, but assured me that I would still leave from Amsterdam on the same flight to Entebbe.
5 hours after the original departure time, we took off from the airport and arrived in Detroit 1 minute after the scheduled departure time of my connection to Amsterdam. Blindly optimistic, I grabbed my carry on bag and ran to the gate the flight was scheduled to depart from, and to my surprise, the flight was delayed 5 minutes. I quickly boarded, took my seat, and settled in for the 6 hour and 50 minute flight. We arrived slightly early, so I took in a bit of the airport before following the signs to the transfers terminal. After a 15 minute walk, I reached Transfer T9 where I attempted to use the machine to check in and print my boarding pass; however, it instructed me to check with an attendant for assistance. I walked to the desk and explained the problem and the kind woman informed me she could not be of assistance and I would need to head to T5, a 10 minute walk back the way I came. Having only 20 minutes until boarding began, I frantically rushed to the transfer desk and waited 10 minutes in line to explain my issue. The woman pulled some strings, explained the agent that adjusted my flight messed something up in the system and reprinted my boarding pass. I darted to the terminal in time for boarding, went back through security, and finally boarded the last plane to my final destination.
7 and a half hours later I arrived in Entebbe at 10:05 pm our time (3:05pm back home). I exited the plane, went through a health check where they scanned me for Ebola, went through customs, paid $50 USD to enter the country, and headed to the baggage claim. After a while of looking at the same baggage I spotted a lady holding a poster which explained that my luggage, among other people’s, had not made it on this flight. I headed to the office for lost baggage, filed a claim, and was assured I could pick my luggage up the following day when the flight landed. I clung to my carry on, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and headed out into the night to find my contact, Bruhan. After some searching through the crowd huddled by the arrivals door, I spotted “Patrick Maxwell” written on a piece of copy paper held in the air. I eagerly walked over to officially begin my adventure.
My First Night in Africa…
After a short drive from the airport, I exited the car and studied the place I would call home on the weekends for the next month. The house, guarded by a tall concrete wall, barbed wire, and an iron gate looked welcoming yet modest. I entered behind Bruhan and was greeted by Bruhan’s wife Jessica, a.k.a. Mama Africa, their toddler son, Africa, and the two girls staying with the family, Margaret and Maureen. The girls carried my stuff to my new room and I took a seat on the couch. Still not exactly used to the time zone difference, I chatted with the family and watched a variety of African Television Shows as well as the American Reality Show, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” Bruhan explained that in the morning we would venture to the Village of Sitabaale where I would complete my internship and stay for the majority of my time in Africa. Eventually feeling sleepy and ready for bed, I headed to my room to get acquainted with the new area. A room used to house volunteers and guests, the room has 3 sets of bunk beds. They gave me one of the bottom beds and I prepared to settle in for the night. I laid in bed and tucked the bed night around the perimeter of the bed to keep unwanted mosquitos away. I shut my eyes exhausted from the 24 hours of travel and drifted off to sleep.
(Pictured Above: My room in Entebbe with my Backpack)
Journey to Sitabaale…
I awoke, showered, and prepared for the exciting voyage ahead. We exited the compound and walked toward the dirt road busy with cars, taxis, and boda bodas. Bruhan signaled for a taxi and one pulled to the shoulder for us to board. **It is important to note to all my friends in America that a Taxi here in Uganda is nothing like that of a Taxi you’d get in New York City, for example. Here, a taxi is a large van with 4 rows of seats. Each row of seats has two seats with a third seat that folds down; however, the conductor of each cab shoves up to 4 people in each row to maximize their profit. A typical taxi ride for me, depending on length, ranges from 500-3,500 UGX which is around $0.16-1.12.** We boarded the taxi and headed to the last row. We made frequent stops along the way and about an hour later reached the outskirts of Kampala, the capital city. Suddenly, rain began to pour down from the sky and the dirt roads became flooded. Traffic halted, and we waited an hour to exit the taxi in search of a taxi that would get us closer to the Taxi Park. For those of you who watched Red Nose Day and saw Jack Black’s report from Uganda, the majority of his time was spent in this Taxi Park and poverty is evident all across the capital city.
(Pictured Above: Sitabaale Village, from the highest hill looking over the village)
We walked around the taxi park in search of the taxi that would take us to the city neighboring Sitabaale Village. After finding the right one, we climbed inside. For those who know me well know how much I despise being hot and sweaty…well, when the taxi isn’t moving it was essentially a pressure cooker under the hot sun. We eventually began our journey and about an hour or so later we arrived at the road that leads to the village. Here, we climbed onto a Boda Boda (a motorbike commonly used in Uganda as a means of travel) and began our final 5-10 minute ride to the TASAAGA Youth Information Center. I was given a brief tour of the village and met some of the people I would be working with during my stay. Then we departed from the village and journeyed back to Entebbe where I would remain until Monday Morning.
(Pictured Above: Sitabaale Village, the view from my room. This is one side of TASAAGA's school.)
Journey to Kimi Island…
Kimi, an improvised Island about two hours by boat away from the coast of Entebbe is where TASAAGA’s newest project, their Medical Clinic is just beginning. They have most recently been working to finish construction and soon hope to open to treat and cure many illnesses plaguing the island. Bruhan, eager to show those who donated towards this project the immense progress that has been made, asked me to accompany him and photograph the building. We took a taxi to a side road, and a small private taxi to the coast. From there we walked to the shore and prepared to board the boats; however, with a lack of docks and boats that actually reach the shore, the only way to get onto the boat is through the water. In order to keep people dry, a group of men and some women work as carriers to transport the people through the water to the boat. Unaware of how, I was confused when a man told me to turn around, stuck his head in between my legs, and hoisted me onto his shoulders. He trudged through the murky water to the boat and I jumped into large wooden ship already full of some passengers and cargo. This process continued until there was no space left. Then we pulled up the anchor and the engine began to carry us toward Kimi Island. Only a short distance from the shore the engine failed and we waited nearly an hour for someone to come and repair the engine so we could complete our voyage.
(Pictured Above: Kimi Island)
Having left late we arrived at Kimi Island with the news that no boats would depart from the island back to Entebbe until the following morning. By this time, I had learned to just accept what comes and think of it all as an adventure. We booked hotel rooms on the island for less than a dollar and headed to take photos of the clinic before the sun set. Then Bruhan showed me the entirety of the island and we discussed the future of the island and other projects. My concern was the state of sanity on the island. Toward the end of the island there were piles and piles of trash littered across large fields. Overall the island was very dirty with garbage thrown all over. Bruhan and I discussed possible solutions for this and eventually resigned to sleep for the night.
(Pictured Above: Kimi Island)
The journey back from Kimi was one of the worst and most terrifying experiences I have yet to experience. The waves in the morning were terribly rough and there were times I found myself truly believing the boat was about to capsize. Eventually as the sun rose, the waves calmed, and we reached the shore. I returned to the compound in Entebbe and packed for the trip to Sitabaale where I would stay until Saturday Morning.
(Pictured Above: Me with some of the Kids on Kimi Island :) They are adorable, aren't they?)
Back in Sitabaale…
We returned to the village of Sitabaale and this time Bruhan found me a key to the room I would be living in for the next 3 weeks. They decided to let me stay in the space used as a studio for the children. I am sleeping in the actual recording booth and there is a computer and some equipment in the other room. Then we headed back to the youth center to discuss the beginning of my internships. During my stay here I am actually working on 2 large projects with many tasks underneath each. (More on that to follow…)
(Pictured Above: The House in which I stay in while at the Village)
(Pictured Above: My Room and Bed in the Studio where I stay while in Sitabaale)
I spent some time acquainting myself with Nassif and Christine, the two main volunteers at the Youth Center, and then began my internship assignments. The village has a charm to it that can almost make you forget the impoverishment surrounding you. In the Village and across Uganda, I’m known mostly as “Mzungu” meaning “white.” Although back in the states this may come across as very insulting, this is a different culture and something of complete normalcy. All of the kids shout to me as I pass and continue to shout until I wave to them.
(Pictured Above: TASAAGA's Youth Information Center)
GROWW Microfinance Project…
The original project I set out to complete, the GROWW Microfinance project, is at a opportune place for me. We are just starting a brand new round of loans to the women so I have gone through all of the applications and chosen 5 women to get the first round of loans. After choosing these applications, I went to visit the women with a translator and went through their profile information to double check the accuracy. On Monday, I will return to the women’s businesses and homes to review their applications for accuracy as well. After this is done, Bruhan and I will review their information and decide whether we will approve their loans and if so for what amount.
(Pictured Above: A Dirt Road in Sitabaale Village)
In addition to working with the women in the field, Bruhan has charged me with the task of designing and writing a training manual for Basic Business Skills for the women to use during the education process. 4 of the women I spoke with on Friday already have business; however, they are looking to expand into other fields of their business or are hopeful to simply expand their current business. The last woman had a business but no longer owns one. She is interested in starting a new business. Their businesses include Animal Rearing, a Hotel, a Restaurant, a Food Stall, and a Drug Shop. I am excited to see how these women can grow and utilize their loan towards a more sustainable future for them and their families.
(Pictured Above: A House on the Outskirts of the Village)
Agriculture Information and Communication Technology Project…
The second project I will be working on while in Sitabaale is at the beginning stage; however, I expect this project will truly help to boost the economy of the village. Since many of the youth and villagers are interested in farming and agriculture, there is a need for centralized information on updates like when to plant, weather forecasts, epidemics, and basic crop and animal husbandry skills. Since the project is in the initial stage, we are currently completing outreach to survey the farmers to find the needs they need met in the center we are attempting to create. After completing this base level field research, we will formulate a project plan and submit a grant proposal to an organization in the United Kingdom interested in helping. During our second day of outreach, we visited the lady pictured below. She quickly grabbed my hand and spouted off a long line in Lugandan while looking intently at me. I looked to the translators who were all cracking up. One of them translated to me and explained this elderly woman had just asked me to marry her and take her back to the states. What a crazy day!
(Pictured Above: The Woman who proposed to me during Outreach... LOL)
As of now, we hope to help the farmers to better understand Agriculture overall and for that to lead to higher yields in turn a higher level of economic activity in this small village. We have completed a little less than half of the outreach and I hope that we can finish this by the end of next week so that my final week can be spent helping with the grant proposal. Overall, this microeconomic development project appears to be overwhelmingly promising and something the village desperately needs.
(Pictured Above: Us completing our first round of outreach. The Woman was the farmer we were surveying and those around her were her family. In the far left most chair is William, next to him with the Red Hair, Christine, then Me and on the far right of the photo Denis, my translator for that day)
My Blessings and My Struggles…
Overall, this trip has already taught me how blessed and fortunate, yet ungrateful I am back home in the united states. As aforementioned, I went through a terrible bout of homesickness and even considered coming home early. I clung to my rationale for coming over in the first place and the homesickness has eased as each day has passed. Many things we take as a given: a meal on the table, water to drink, internet access, electricity, running water, toilets that you can sit on, the ability to read and write, and so much more are things that sometimes I am without while here. I am blessed with a health family, the ability to sleep without a bed net or the fear of catching numbers of diseases spread through daily tasks. This trip has taught me this to not take anything for granted and nothing is a given. And even after just this one week, I feel called to one day soon return to this land with even more people and even more money to help these that are blessed, just not in the same way.
Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering what it like to live in Africa. And I must say the only way to truly know is to do it yourself. But for those of you unable to do so, I will give you a taste of some of the more outrageous experiences I have had throughout this first week. First, I must warn those wanting to travel here, bugs and spiders are a given. If you don’t like them, don’t look up. Most spiders I have seen are the typical Daddy-Long-Leggers we have back home and therefore not harmful. However, I’ve been told most spiders won’t even bite and if they do it is not poisonous or deadly. Other bugs I have had experiences with include strange dragon flies, flies, large black wasps (which also don’t sting), mosquitos, and the worst experience on Friday night (06/05/15) when I found a caterpillar crawling up my ribs. It’s furry body pricked the underside of my forearm which unusually led to a rash. No worries though, I applied Vaseline and the burning and rash has subsided. (AKA I’m good, don’t worry about it J) Besides bugs, I was surprised to find on my second day in the house that a small lizard had crawled into the room. Unsure if this was normal and slightly terrified I woke up Maureen who attempted to escort it out. It ended up locked in the closet. They are harmless and actually eat the mosquitos so many value them as helpers in the house. While staying in Sitabaale I had upwards of 4 of them staying in the room at a time.
(Pictured Above: The Lizards that I commonly see in the rooms I stay in)
The food here is extremely different. I have some pictures posted below to show you, but there is a wide variety in the foods we eat. A typical meal in the village is Posho (a porridge like substance made of corn flour and boiling water) and either beans or the fish like substance depicted below. Not being a fish eater and unable to believe they eat food with eyes, I normally stick to rice with the broth. There is also a dish here called Matoke which is made from cooked Green Bananas either mashed or served with a sauce. This is one of the dishes I like to eat. In addition, I have found a liking for a tortilla like bread which I can’t remember the name of. In the village I find myself eating one to two meals a day (there are 3 available, it is just a tough adjustment on my stomach and the heat has diminished my appetite). In Entebbe, there is the opportunity for me to get some Western Food like Burgers, Fries, Chicken, and even KFC. I went to KFC Saturday night and gorged on a fried Chicken sandwich with Fries. It was almost like back home and that also helps with the home sickness. I am drinking a ton of water every day along with Pepsi or Fanta Orange Soda to stay hydrated in this intense heat. Cold water comes in 1.5 Liter containers for only around $0.50 each.
(Pictured Above: Matoke, made from Green Bananas with some type of thick sauce)
(Pictured Above: The Fish that comes in a ton of the meals)
Some other drastic differences to note, when you pass someone you say “Bye” not “Hi” which I found to be bewildering at first. Also most of the Police Officers are Equipped with large machine guns which can be startling. These officers are stationed in front of major buildings, malls, supermarkets, airports, etc. to search individuals before they are granted entrance. Also, it is not considered rude or disrespectful to assume that because I am white I have a lot of money and therefore I have received countless requests for money. It pains me when it comes from the very small children and I can’t help them.
End of the Week Reflection and Thoughts…
I can’t believe so much of my trip is over, yet I know so much is left. There is still plenty to learn and so many more experiences ahead of me. Although I would rate this as the hardest experience of my life, it is certainly one of the best as well and there are still 2 weeks left. I hope to post again next weekend and then will post my last blog post after arriving back in the United States. As I mentioned previously, I know that I will find myself back in Uganda with this amazing organization. In the meantime, I will be working with Bruhan and the others back in the States to hopefully find more ways in which we can sustain and support TASAAGA toward helping Africa into this bright future we all have imagined for it. Again I thank everyone who has helped me to get here and everyone who has realized how much these people need. I appreciate all prayers and ask for prayers to be sent to my colleague Betty Ross who has already served this great country with 6 months and is heading back in the upcoming weekend. God Bless everyone that has the strength to be here for that long and especially her as she plans to head back here in a couple months for a whole year of work with her organization. If you are interested in supporting Betty with her year here please reach out to me and when I am Stateside I will pass along her information.
Thank You for Reading and God Bless,
"You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment"
This saying, "You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment," was the advice I found in my fortune cookie the day I decided I would begin embarking on the five-month process of fundraising and planning for my 3-week internship in Entebbe, Uganda. I was unsure of whether or not to pursue the opportunity and took this small token as a sign that this internship was possible, if I had the motivation to see it through.
For those of you unaware, in five short days I will travel for over 24 hours to Entebbe, Uganda in Africa to complete a three-week Microfinance internship with Tokamalirawo AIDS Support And Action Group Awareness (TASAAGA). During my time aborad, I will serve as a Microfinance Field Officer joining many other volunteers and project employees on the GROWW Microfinance Project (Growing Resources, Opportunities, and Wealth for Women). This project is dedicated to alleviating poverty the widowed and single-mothers face while attempting to provide for their families. (Link to TASAAGA's GROWW Project Website: http://www.tasaaga.org/?pg=content&i=50&pgid=Projects)
Simply explained, Microfinance is the act of lending a small amount of money (around $55 USD) to a borrower who then learns basic business skills and begins a small business. Through starting their business, the borrower works to repay the loan on a repayment schedule and ultimately create a steady income stream for themselves and their family. (More about Microfinance: http://www.kiva.org/about/microfinance)
During my time in Uganda I will stay in the City of Entebbe during the weekends and live in the village of Sitabaale during the week. Sitabaale is the village in which TASAAGA has built their school for Orphans (the school in which I will be staying, actually). Bruhan (pictured above leading a business course for the GROWW project) hails from the village of Sitabaale and will serve as my internship coordinator. One of the founding members of TASAAGA, Bruhan allows the interns to stay with him in his home during the weekends. While I stay in the village, I will have no access to Wireless internet so communication will be only when necessary. My plan is to post on Friday or Saturday of every week accounting for the week's worth of experiences.
While my initial intent behind my trip to Entebbe was the internship and the experience offered through this program, my secondary motivation is to complete some entry level research in order to further complete and defend an honors thesis. While I have not decided on a topic, my focus for this trip will be analyzing the GROWW program, specifically looking at their education program. I am hoping to find a way to better enhance the women's understanding of business and work towards making them more "business literate" in order to ameliorate their earning potential. Additionally, I will consider the way in which developing infrastructure in the village, ergo increasing the opportunities offered to the women, will help to enhance their chances of creating sustainable business for the future.
My vision, although naïvely unachievable, is a world without poverty. Utilizing this opportunity to take one step in that direction gives me great joy. However, it is imperative to note at this point that without the support of everyone that contributed towards covering the expenses I faced and will face during my trip there is no way it would be possible. I look forward to this soon-to-be life-altering experience and count my blessings that very soon I will have the chance to make this potential urge into a life-altering accomplishment.