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,