Jul
23

It’s my last day in Kisiizi. “To do” list in full force. Oh yeah, and work. Saying goodbyes, taking care of business, packing, pictures, and a summer’s worth of memories all coming to a cacophonous convergence. Oh yeah, and work. Why does life have to be so hard? I am so excited to go to Egypt and see me Julie and come home to friends and family and finishing school and FOOTBALL! I will also, to my great surprise, miss this place.

Jul
22

I flew tonight.  150 above a waterfall.  On a zipline.  Awesome.

There’s a waterfall here.  They used to throw gay people and single pregnant women off of it.  T.I.A.

The waterfall drops about 100 feet into a shallow, rocky pool.  The water is dark brown…even the water coming off the waterfall.

A munzungu and some locals installed 3 heavy wires going over the waterfall about a year ago.  The wires are about 150 feet above the bottom of the waterfall.  They put a trolly mechanism on it to roll down the wire.  We wore a harness and had carabiners to attach us to the trolly and to the wire.  Off we went.

Over the waterfall.

Ok, I was petrified.  I’m not a big fan of heights.  I was shaking as they strapped me in.  Luckily, I have gotten pretty good at convincing myself to do things that I don’t want to do by telling myself, “If you don’t do it, you might regret it!”  So I did it.

They finished securing me.  I stepped up to the end of the platform.  I froze.  I started thinking.  All the possible bad scenarios started playing in my mind’s eye.  Before they got too bad I made myself jump.

It was terrifying…for about 10 feet.  Then I realized how safe and secure and bolted in I was.  So instead of being scared, I just enjoyed the trip.

I glided slowly over the waterfall.  It wasn’t even scary.  It was oddly relaxing.  I wad kind of sad when I got to the other end safely.  I may or may not have started shaking again.  Ok, I started shaking again.  But I wasn’t dead.  Double-awesome!

The locals are amazed that munzungus will pay to do this.  They are going to make a lot of money off of us aimless wanderers.  I wouldn’t mind aimlessly wandering over the waterfall again.

Video link to follow once it is posted on YouTube.

Jul
22

It rained.  This was probably only the third time since I’ve been in Africa (not counting 2 minute drip-drips).  As a result I was discouraged from running and our rugby game was cancelled.  I try to not feel guilty about not running but it’s become such a part of my schedule that I can’t help it.  I’m actually kinda stoked to go back to ‘merica and start running seeing as how it’s over 5000 feet higher in elevation here.  My lungs will siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!

I’m finishing up my second-to-last deliverable this morning.  It is a  report laying out why I think my construction design changes should be implemented.  I’m feeling good about it but hesitant as to whether any of my ideas will be implemented or are even possible.  *cross fingers*  I have my last few construction site visits this afternoon.  I will complete my final report of my findings and suggestions when I get home.  So close!

Oh, and I might be Superman later today.  J.S.N. happens.

Jul
21

I can’t believe that I only have a few more days left in Uganda!  I’ve been finishing up most of the deliverable the past couple days (leaving a few to work on when I get home) and I am heading out to do more site visits Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday will be a final work day but with packing, last minute things, and goodbyes dominating the day.

I think I have produced some pretty good stuff for the Nyaka Grannies Construction Project.  Whether or not much of it is used remains to be seen.  As is expected, people are resistent to changing how things are currently done.  This is common and no source of surprise or discouragement.

Through conversations with folks I have addressed concerns and tried to explain why these changes can create more positive social good.  I want to change the designs of the houses to save money to incorporate gutters because the grannies have to walk a million years to fetch it.  I want to hold contractors accountable for their work and have a clear construction schedule.  I want to interview each grannie before and after receiving benefits in order to analyze how we are helping, what more we could be doing, and to tell stories to people for fundraising purposes.

I am working on a presentation now of why I think these things should be implemented, addressing any issues that have brought up to me.  My intention was to get these balls rolling earlier and spend the last part of the project figuring out the best way to integrate my ideas with local ideas and capabilities.  Now I just hope that I can plant some ideas of new ways to do things which, in the future, could make a difference for the grannies.

I am optimistic about my project.  I did not have the amount of impact I was hoping for.  This is not uncommon, I feel, for an International Public Service Project.  I do think, though, that my work will help things improve in the future and ultimately help improve the lives of the grannies and the orphans they care for.

Jul
19

*this blog was written on July 18*

As Cory came to visit Kisiizi to escape the big city and live up the rural life for the weekend, we had a nice relaxing Sunday Funday in the country.

To start off I cooked up some eggsntaters which weren’t the worst in the world despite the lack of margarine, non-stick pans, and a consistent stove.  I called Marius who brought the motorized transport over to us so that I could take Cory up to see the Kutamba School.  Of course we had to ride 15 minutes in the wrong direction first to get petrol.  T.I.A.

We got up to Kutamba School and I showed Cory around.  I definitely did NOT take a spill on the way up the hill.  Never happened.  Nor is my elbow scraped up.  Nor is my knee sore.  None of those things happened because Joe said, “NO!”  Anyways, I gave Cory a tour of the school and we looked around.  We went to the second building up the hill decided to play with the toy Cory had brought.

In his bag Cory had a baseball mit and a ball with the big man himself, President William Jefferson Clinton on it.  We tossed the ball around a bit remembering home and reminiscing about the glory days.  The Boss was playing in the background.  Ok, he wasn’t really but he should have been.  Uganda and Jersey aren’t entirely different except for the whole Uganda actually having flora thing.

When we were done, Cory stashed the mit and ball in the kid’s play field so that some lucky kid could find them.  We hope that they’ll figure out what to do with them, and that some other ‘merican brings a mit so they have a whole set.  We’re counting on the fact that the mit looks enoug like a hand that the kids will work it out.

On the way home we stopped at the top of the waterfall and checked out the workings there.  Some of the water at the top is actually diverted off go to a generator which creates electricity for Kisiizi (at least I think that I understood the set-up there correctly).  In order to follow the water from the top of the waterfall to the whosemiwhatsit we had to go through the Bat Cave which was awesome!  They had cut out a bunch of rock to make a path and poured concrete on either side so that we could barely squeeze through.  The top was overhung by vines blocking out the sun so it was pretty dark.  Luckily I had my utility belt in case anything went wrong.  It’s a shame more people don’t wear capes.  I mean, I don’t want to look a fool but you, dear readers, probably should just to amuse me.

When we got back we decided to hike up the mountain behind the guest house.  Nathanial got home in time to go with.  It’s a pretty easy walk up 800 feet of elevation in half an hour.  I never thought I’d say that.  The view, of course, was incredible looking down on Kisiizi and out at the mountains for miles.  We sat up there for a solid half hour just chatting and enjoying the scenery.  It actually worked out pretty neat as I realized that I hiked that mountain the first and last Sunday that I spent in Kisiizi.  It’s the little things that amuse me.

Our evening was pretty uneventful.  It was a nice relaxing weekend and I had a great time with Cory!  He heads out at 6am to get back to Kigali.  I can’t believe that I will be in Egypt this time next week.  I can’t wait to leave but I know when the time comes that I will leave Kisiizi with mixed emotions.

Jul
18

*this blog was written on July 17*

Saturday we got up, packed our stuff, and headed out to find Cory a bus ticket home.  We had decided to just spend the weekend in Kisiizi relaxing.  Queen Elizabeth National Park was no longer an option at this point.  So it goes.

We walked the mile back to the Kampala Coach bus station.  The only bus that came through Kabale was at 9am.  Sucky.  We preceeded to walk all over Kabale to other bus lines trying to find other options.  We, of course, even ended up walking most of the way back to the hostel trying to find one such bus office.  No such luck.  Figures.

I started calling people I knew in order to explore all the options of getting Cory home.  This included multiple ridiculous circular phone calls where no one would answer a direct question or give any semblance of a straight answer.  T.I.A.  Cory, meanwhile, just laughed at me.  I am not one for patience.  That’s why I didn’t become a doctor.  Another occupation I never want:  tour planner in Africa.

We finally figured everything out and headed to the matatu park.  It was 10:20 am at this point.  The driver said he was leaving at 11:30.  When travelling in Africa, always assume that people will tell you what you want to hear.  Never assume that it will have anything to do with reality.  We walked around a bit then got back to the matatu at 11:20.  We sat in it for over 2 hours before it moved.  It pulled across the street and sat for another half hour.  Finally it took off on the 1.5 hour trip to Kisiizi.  This took 2.5 hours because we stopped every few miles to pick people/things up and drop people/things off.  T.I.A.

We finally got back to Kisiizi around 4:30 and after relaxing not stuck in a small space packed with people went for a walk.  We ran into my friend the boda boda driver James.  He had been trying to get Nathanial and I to come to his bar a couple miles away for a while, so off Cory and I went on a spontaneous trip to see where the night took us.

We were, of course, the hit of the party.  Everyone wanted to meet the munzungus.  We had a few beers and chatted with folks.  James took us for a walk down the road where we saw his new house being built.  He even showed us his farm and taught us some about different plants here in Uganda.  His son, James Jr. came along and was the cutest damn baby ever.  At first he was scared of us, but he warmed up pretty quickly.  Adorable.

When we got back to the bar, James’ wife had prepared dinner for us.  We ate and had another beer and chatted with more folks as they came and went.  At 9pm James gave us a slightly scary/exhilarating boda ride back to the guest house.  As fun as riding with Stephen at twilight was, riding with James and Cory after dark was AWESOME!

I’m really not doing justice to the awesome Ugandan evening we enjoyed.  It was unlike any night that I have spent here in my 8 weeks and was one of the best I’ve experienced.  The people here were so welcoming and thankful for our being here and happy to see us.  It was really sweet and fun and we were totally spoiled.  Thank you so much James for trully making me feel like a local!

Jul
18

*this blog was written on July 16*

Stephen, Jenna, Danni, and I left at 4:30 to go meet up with Cory.  He was taking the bus from Kigali to Kampala but getting off in some town where we were picking him up.  We wanted to get to Nyaka as early as possible because we were planning on getting up early to get to Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Things didn’t work out as we had planned.

We got to the intersection not 15 seconds before Cory’s bus.  It didn’t stop.  We chased it down and I hopped on board to see if he was on there.  He wasn’t.  My mind told me not to call out his name because that’s just weird and embarrassing.  I did anyways.  Luckily there was another ‘merican on there who he had been chatting with.  Unluckily she said he had got off in Kabale.  Crap.

It was about 6:30 at this point and the sun was going down.  We were 2.5 hours from Kabale.  Cory was there.  Phones weren’t working.  Stephen wasn’t into driving all that way then another 4 to Nyaka.  I wasn’t about to leave Cory in Kabale.  So I got in a matatu and sent Stephen, Jenna, and Danni on their way back to Nyaka School.

The ride there was awful.  The matatu was packed, cramped, and took forever.  The whole time I was thinking about how I am possibly going to find Cory when I get to Kabale.  Will he still be at the bus stop?  How long will he wait before he finds a place to stay for the night?  Where else might he wander to?  If it was me in that situation, what time would I decide that it was time to find a place to crash for the night?

In Mhunga we stopped.  We were 30 minutes from Kabale.  We sat there for 20 before someone told me that the matatu was broken down and that I should pay him and get in his taxi.  A nice lady next to me yelled at him and said, “No, you pay matatu driver and we pay you in Kabale!”  She was def looking out for me and I really appreciated it.

7 of us and the driver AND the nice lady’s baby piled into something between a Toyota Corolla and a smart car.  After I had put my bags in the trunk they kept opening it to move stuff around and put more in.  Every time they did this I jumped out to check on my bag.  Well, I didn’t jump out because the handle was broken off.  Instead I threw a tantrum till someone let me out.  It was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere Uganda.  The last thing I needed at that moment was to get my bag stolen too.  This amused the Ugandans, and they chuckled, “Munzungu doesn’t want his bag stolen!”  Damn right I didn’t!

I got to Kabale and after shooing off the army of boda boda drivers who swarmed me when I climbed out of the car rushed off to the bus office.  Is that a munzungu sitting in there reading?!  It is!  And it’s Cory!

Turns out he had, after wandering down the road for 5+ miles looking for the place we were supposed to meet, come back and found an internet cafe.  I e-mailed him before I got on the matatu from Danni’s phone (which THANKFULLY had internet on it!) and so he knew to wait for me there.

We headed off on the mile walk to Backpacker’s Hostel Kabale and were able to get a room for the night.  *WHEW!*  We then rushed to the restaurant next door to grab dinner.  They were still serving!  Hooray!  He ordered a vegetarian pizza so I did the same just to make it easier.  Oh, and some chips (fries) to start because I was starving!

We drank beers.  The chips came out and were demolished.  We drank more beer.  An hour and a half into the wait (which is actually a typical time to wait for food in Uganda) the waiter brought the check.  Weird.  He then preceeded to loom over the table for about 20 minutes until finally coming to ask us to pay.

“Ugh, we’re not paying till we get our food.”

“Oh, did no one tell you?  We can not make the pizzas.”

“Well is the kitchen still open?”

“No, but I can make you an egg dish.”

“Figures.  No thanks.”

We drank our dinner.  It wasn’t Guinness but it was all we had.  I still had some crisps (chips) and some whiskey and coke in my bag so that’s what we had.  We didn’t exactly miss dinner at that point.

It wasn’t how the day was planned.  It didn’t turn out great.  But I still had a really fun Friday evening.  We hung out, talked, and watched some TV.  We laughed.  A lot.  This is Africa.  Damn do I miss home, but my IPSP experience just wouldn’t be as memorable if there weren’t so many of these ridiculous stories.  And these ridiculous stories wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if I didn’t have good friends to share them with and laugh about them.

Jul
18

*this blog was written on July 16*

Sometimes people suck.

Today we went on several construction site visits.  They were all run by the same contractor.  They were all wrong.  I completely filled the “notes” section of the contractor evaluation (that I made as part of my project) with things he was doing wrong.  Substandard materials.  Improper site preparation.  Bad building practices.  Shoddy work.  This is so discouraging.

On the second to last sight we found out that the workers had made the mukaaka help carry building materials to the site, clear the land (which required a lot of digging by hand), and cook for them including buying the food herself.  On the last site it was basically the same story.

All day I was prepared to dismiss it as the contractor just doing it the way he has always done it / how it is typically done here and not knowing that he was going outside of our parameters.  Now it is hard to conceive of any way that he could defend these practices.

I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of someone taking advantage of and readily maltreating an 80-some year old woman (or anyone for that matter).  It is inexcusable.  This experience has strengthened my resolve to ensure that we set up guidelines and expectations for all contractors and hold them strictly accountable to those expectations.  Only when there is a clear method for checking their work and clear financial punishments for straying from our expectations can’t we expect a high level of performance from our contractors.

Jul
16

I can’t believe I only have a week left here in Kisiizi.  Well, just over a week.  I leave Kisiizi a week from Saturday and fly out on Sunday for Egypt.  I’m finishing up the project and happy with how it turned out, but now I’m getting to the can’t wait to get to Egypt then back home mode.

Stephen showed up tonight and we’re going to be doing some mukaaka visits tomorrow.  Meetings kept happening and he had to move our plans back.  We’re going to get as much done tomorrow as we can then figure out the rest next week.  T.I.A.  I feel like I’ve been using that a lot lately.

Around 4pm tomorrow Stephen, Jenna, Danni, and i head out to pick Cory up then we’re off to Kambooga (Nyaka School).  Saturday we’re going on Safari.  Stephen knows his way around Queen Elizabeth National Park pretty well and will talk to some of the park guides to figure out where to go.  We’re doing it on the cheap, staying at the Nyaka Guest House for free and only having to pay for park entrance and gas.  Awesome.

I’m stoked to see the Biggs man, to check out the aminals, and to be doing it on the cheap.  I can’t decided what kind of aminal I want to see most.  You, dear readers, should decide for me.

What aminal does Adam want to see most this weekend?

a) Lion

b) Rhinoceros

c) Elephant

d) Hippopotamus

e) Cory Biggs

The answer would be b) rhinoceros, but there aren’t any in Queen Elizabeth.  In this case Cory, second place is not the first loser.  You’re only second to rhinoceroses because they remind me of an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco that i designed a set for in college.  You have nothing to fear though, rhinos can’t even bottle toss.  They’re just awesome.  If you had a horn on your forehead you would totally beat them out.  Work on that.

If anyone else has other ideas for awesome aminals that I want to see I’m up for suggestions.  Send me a self abused stamped antelope.  Do antelopes eat cantaloupes or would that be like cannibalism?  Or…cantaloupism?  Anyways, they probably should.  Cory, work on that too.

Jul
14

Busy week.  Not really.  As is want to happen, things didn’t work out how they were planned and as a result I’ve been mostly sitting at home Monday, Tuesay, and Wednesday.  I’ve got a few more things to finish up for my project before I leave but I’d rather be out in the field checking the progress of construction on grannies’ houses.  So it goes.  Oh wait, that’s what Billy Pilgrim would say.  T.I.A. is more accurate here.  It’s not like I’m in Tralfamadore.

The bombs set off Sunday night in Kampala during the World Cup final caused quite a stir…for everyone outside of Uganda.  People here barely seemed to notice.  I guess that’s what decades of authoritarian rule by a variety of cruel dictators does.  It sounds like they were perpetrated by Somali jihadists angry that the Ugandan army is trying to keep the peace there.  People are awesome.

There were actually pictures in the newspapers here of the dead still slumped over in their chairs.  It took me a minute to comprehend what I was seeing.  Gross.  My friend Julie was in Kampala but wasn’t near the explosions.  When more bombs were found in subsequent days she headed to London.  She advised Nathanial and I to do the same but we’re 8 hours away.  I don’t, however, plan on going back to Kampala before I leave.

Jenna and Danni from Baltimore showed up on Monday and have been here this week volunteering at the Kutamba School.  I went up to the school with them yesterday and taught math for the morning then did one grannie visit on the way home.  The headmaster and math teacher were away at a meeting so there were two classes left without teachers.  The teachers were quite happy to see us and put us to work.  I’m still amazed, though, that they could have unattended classes.  Kids here are so happy just to have the opportunity to go to school that they behave well there.  Amazing.

We learned how to add time.  I had to do all of the math in my head and double check myself lest I make a dumb mistake in front of the kids.  It took some time.  I think all of the students enjoyed our hour.

I would rather be subtracting time so that I can get to Egypt and see me Julie sooner.  Oh yeah, I’m going to Egypt for a week with my sweet lady Julie (not the same as Kampala Julie from school) before heading home.  Did I mention that?  I leave July 25 so it’s not too pharaoh off!

Nathanial left for Nyaka Tuesday afternoon for a few days.  Hair today, gone tomorrow!  (he shaves his head)

That’s all I got.  Consider yourself off the hook for reading my incongruous ramblings.