Monday, March 30, 2009

Hangin' on the Corner Slangin' Cane...

[Luke, Monday afternoon]

We have now arrived in Lira, just got some lunch. This is like first-first impression, seriously we've been here for less than an hour. We're waiting for a driver to take us to where we will be staying. Could be five minutes, more likely to be five hours. We have no way to know. It was a long hard drive, but we made it. So far nothing too shocking, very rural. Lots of jungle, lots of mudhuts, lots of monkeys. The landscape on the way here was very beautiful. We crossed the Nile, which was pretty cool. We would post pictures, but the word is if the soldiers on the bridge see a camera they stop you and you have to pay your way out. I guess, cameras must be pretty dangerous. After we crossed the Nile, things started getting progressively less and less beautiful. Now we're in Lira, and it hasn't bucked the trend. So anyway we go to our temporary home for the next couple days in the house of this NGO here in Lira. Hopefully we make a good enough impression that they want to hang out sometime in the next five months. Word is there's not a lot of other options for ex-pat company. Not a lot of options for much of anything from what I can tell. If you're looking to purchase a live chicken however, this is the place to come. Just wander down the street, and chances are you'll run into somebody with one (a LIVE chicken, if you're still following) thrown over his shoulder. Just, you-know looking for a buyer. The thing I don't get, is why aren't these chickens putting up more of a fight. They're hanging upside down by a string around their feet. They have to know that something real bad's about to go down. They're cool with it though.

Kampala was really great, MUBS was really great. We met some great people and made some forreal friends. Yesterday our buddy who's been keeping us above water this whole week, Rodney, took us to Sunday Lunch at his family's house. It was really fun, we met his Mom and his sister and her friend. It was just all around really an awesome day. Thanks Rodney.

We learned how to cut and peel sugarcane with our teeth. The major form of candy here = raw sugar cane. You just gnar it up and spit it out. It's certainly more of an activity than candy is back home. Speaking of which. Vicki gave me a bunch of candy before I left Eugene, including Jelly Beans. Of all the random stuff I brought, these are the item which has garnered the most interest from my new Ugandan friends. They love them. I guess they are pretty awesome as far as candy is concerned. So by the way, rather than buy candy in the candy shop, you buy it from the kid on the corner who's hustle is serving cane.



We spent some time at the nicest resort in the land, it was a nice resort. Unfortunately we were so busy running around that I didn't get the chance see, much less swim in, the "biggest swimming pool in East Africa." Same thing for monkey's island. Kind of a bummer. Oh, and of course my bank card/ only credit card apparently just doesn't work in Africa. Which has been a pleasant surprise. Good thing Pat's still works. In the land of gypsies, Bank of America is king.

(Lake Victoria, Speke Resort)

Anyhoo, different landscape. Hopefully the people are as great here as they were down in Kampala. I've been in Lira for all of like an hour and I'm already plotting what to do when we leave. The chance exists that we haven't actually gotten into town yet, cause I heard once upon a time in Eugene that the office of these people (where we currently are) is outside of town. Maybe town will be a little more town-like than what we've seen. I don't have much hope though.

What did we get ourselves into?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Uganda 1, Me 0

[Luke, Thursday afternoon]

Last night I had the single most terrifying food experience of my life. It took a little bit, but I have now been bested by the local food. I saw that my opponent was more powerful than I, and I laid my sword down and supplicated in defeat.

Our friend from the business school, Mr. Rodney, said he wanted to take us out to dinner for a special Ugandan treat, that probably should have been a red flag. So far all the Ugandan food has been pretty good, so I was ready for whatever he had to throw at me. He said it was called molokoni** and the women in the room looked up at us and tittered, that probably should have been a red flag. He then described it in English, which included extensive pointing at our feet. Ro-digga speaks better English than I do, so that definitely should have been a red flag. Whatever though- we're brave, we're open minded.

He picks us up around 8 or something and takes us to Wandegare Wondegeya (think Spanish, juan-de-guerr), which is the kind of skeezy district where we got Rolex before (food, like a breakfast burrito- if you didn't read that post). Red flag. Then we proceeded to venture much further into the depths of the neighborhood. Red flag. Then we rounded a corner and came to a dark, unlit alley, which of course was where we were headed. Big Red flag. We came out into an open area that was cut off from the street on all sides and totally unlit (actually a plus as it later turned out), with little bars and restaurants all facing in.

He goes and talks to the proprietress, and continues to explain what he wants for an uncomfortably long time. We sit down and a lady comes by with a jug of water, soap, and a big pan to wash our hands. This is pretty abnormal, but nice. Rodney says it’s because we eat it with our hands. Small red flag. Dinner arrives:




Its broth, with a mysterious object in it. Suddenly I'm so glad that there is very little light. It is a cow's hoof, boiled. It smells like a cow's hoof, a cow who isn't too far removed from the barnyard (BTW explaining to Rodney what a barnyard is in American English was great. When he connected the dots of our explanation, and looked down at his bowl, the look in his eyes was priceless). It tasted about the same. It wasn't exactly meat per se, more like bones, joints and cartilage. I'm picking mine up, turning it over in my hands then dropping it again, just absolutely flummoxed as to how to approach this thing. He then says the best part is at the very end when you suck the marrow from the bone. Um, ok- We'll worry about that when we get there.

Pat's digging into his like a caveman, our buddy's digging into his. I was able to get down like three quick bites. It was really chewy, kind of beefy, barnyardy flavor. After each bite it made the top of my mouth feel like sticky/slick, kind of like after you eat really something really fatty like french onion soup or au jus. That was it. It was just more than I could handle, the texture and the smell got me. I informed our friend that he was a better man than I, that he was king and I was merely a pawn in his territory, and I threw in the towel. I am not ashamed of myself. I am no less of a man for being bested. There is no shame in falling to a superior foe. Fall down 7 times stand up 8, to quote the ad campaign.

So I said eff it and got a Rolex. Never in my life has breakfast-for-dinner tasted so good.


Oh and by the way... Who should wake up this morning feeling sick? One Mr. Patrick Philips, Field Director, MAPLE Microdevelopment. HA!

Oh and also, so you don't get the wrong idea: All the other Ugandan food I've had has been good. 100% no-questions-asked edible and enjoyable. Lots of rice, beans and plantains. Yams, cassava, potatoes, various meats (btw: the mystery meat from the other day was goat, a delicacy), and veggies that I'm not allowed to touch although I've been eating a bit at a time to get the ol' immune system going. Good, normal food more or less the same as everywhere else I've been on the planet. I've enjoyed 99% of it, so don't come away thinking Ugandans eat weird, gross things. They don't. I'm just saying in my experience and opinion, Ugandans eat one weird, gross thing.

Alternatively, called "chi-guerr-e" = Luganda for "foot." I can't say I wasn't forewarned.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Adjustments

We've been here in Kampala now for about a week. By now you've heard all about our various successes (and less about our failures, natch) meeting with people and getting our little fledgling organization off the ground. That whole aspect of the trip is going reasonably well.

But there's a completely different process also happening (and I can only speak for myself here). The one where I go from being totally overwhelmed, shocked at the things I see and just being generally at a loss to process life here. To be honest, when we landed, I really wasn't sure how I was going to survive six months here. Not survive, really, but settle in and enjoy the time here. It was just too hectic, too different. Too damn hot.

(some. other. business.)

(going. on. here.)

But here I am a week later, and things seem relatively normal. Still very unsettled, given that we haven't gotten to Lira yet and are living in a hostel, but I don't have that overwhelmed feeling of "what the hell have we gotten ourselves into?" mixed with "six months of this, are you effing serious?" I'm adjusting to the heat, meaning that I'm sweating all the time, but I'm not especially worried about keeling over.

There are moments when I really just feel like while these people may be dealing with some things that I may not have ever considered before landing here, they're also just people. Doing the same things people do. Like worrying about homework. Bitching about their jobs and kids. Try to figure out what to do for dinner. Swearing at the dude who just cut you off in traffic. When you get down to it, just another day in the big city.

(if you've seen one business meeting, you've seen 'em all)


Not to say there aren't plenty of things that totally catch me off guard. Baby steps, after all. For example, this is a relatively common sight in Kampala, suggesting that (a) the credit crisis hasn't yet affected construction around here and (b) neither has osha.


(shout out to the papa bear)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It rained today, and for once I was glad.

Everything's good around here. We're at the business school just kickin' it. Pat's doing some work revising our project proposal, so that means I'm doing nothing. As per usual. We've been meeting with execs from microfinance institutions in Kampala all week, which is absolutely awesome, We managed to get linked up with someone who is as entrenched in this stuff as you can be and is interested in working with us on a research paper using data from project. The stars really aligned for us on this one.

So the meetings have been an interesting thing. We are ALWAYS, no matter where, the worst dressed people in the room. By a wide margin, coat and tie vs flipflops. It was pretty uncomfortable at first, but we're getting over it. I guess people realize that 1) We're here to do field work out in the sticks up north and 2) our little white bodies aren't built for this climate.

So anyway, I am for the first time seeing how one could enjoy working in the greater finance field. I actually see how this degree could help me to get where I want, which is a nice change in pace. I am actually meeting people and thinking, his job would be cool. Rather than: wow, that must be really boring after the first few months. Plus fools be droppin terms like "discounted cash flows" and "capital expenditures," and I feel smart for being in the club.

Anyway, we're getting used to the heat now. We're starting to get a handle on life in Kampala (through a window, of course). We basically skipped the entire conference we were supposed to go to this week. Really there's no basically about it; we're not at the resort where its being held, we haven't registered and we have no intention of getting yammered at about stoves. The plan is to show up on the last day and post up by the pool, maybe shake a couple hands. These microfinance meetings have been much more relevant anyway, so tings is good mon.

The funny thing about all of this, is our project is turning out to be kinda similar to the main project I was working on at the bank. Plus we're getting into behavioral economics, which was the main focus of my psychology research at school (no brain scanning here, though). This time though, I actually enjoy it.

We're gonna need a bigger boda

[Luke, Tuesday afternoon]
I think I just figured out how to post via email from an ipod touch
but I'm not really sure how it works, so hopefully this is legit.
We've been jetting around town a lot lately, going to meetings and
such. It's going well.

The best way to get from A to B in this city is by boda-boda, which is
a motorcycle taxi. The best way for one person to get around, that is.
When there's too people, like in our situation for example, it gets a
liiitle bit sketchy. Three grown-ass men on a 100cc bike that probably
hasn't seen the business end of a wrench in my lifetime, weaving in
and out of traffic. It's like disneyland. Except no safety features.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My job > Your job

So here we are, another day down. I can't speak for the big man Pat, but I'm having an absolute blast in Kampala. We have the best hosts a person could possibly ask for. Actually this whole trip (Boston and Italy included) has really been amazing in that I've had locals showing me the real scene. I have never really felt sketched out since I've been here, and I know that if anything were to go wrong we have one of the best problem solvers in the game in our corner from the business school.

So we're having lunch the other day with like a who's who of the business school in East Africa. It comes up that there's an event on Friday night, do we want to come? Ofcoursewedo, what is it? It was a beauty pageant. We went to an African beauty pageant. I can honestly say it was in the top few most coolest cultural experiences of my life. But it wasn't just any beauty pageant, it was to crown miss MUBS (that the name of the business school). I cannot even begin to imagine this going down with the women from my business school. They have a whole active club and movement (holla back ladies?) for something like equality between women and men in business. If you were to even suggest something like this, you'd be chased out of town with pitchforks and torches.

So anyway, I guess it's like the biggest event of the year that the school puts on, and lots of the biggest pop stars in Uganda performed there (I'm told, I certainly have no clue who these people are). I guess what I'm trying to say here is that it was a pretty big deal. The winner won a car. Now that I've set the scene, enter Luke and Pat. VIP passes, front and center, right behind the dean. Just red carpet all the way, like this whole experience with the university has been. So it's a beauty pageant more or less like you'd expect (reggaeton and gangsta rap though). The musical acts for the most part were not that different from home. A lot of usher-like guys, a destiny's child like group, a lot of reggaeton-ish stuff. Except the first act: a guy in whitewashed and fully shredded out jeans, a muscleman shirt, a tasseled white leather jacket and a cowboy hat. Playing guitar and singing Phil Collins, Kenny Rogers and Michael Jackson in his best American country-music voice. It was absolutely the strangest, possibly-unintentionally hilarious-est thing I've ever seen. Oh, and he danced. If it wasn't strange yet, now it's like 5 alarm fire. It was like this popping & locking/ Elvis shake dance. Moving in ways that I've never seen a body move. Really nutty. Then he took off the jacket and things really got started.

So the miss MUBS was a great time, by far the most fun I've had yet. Plus we got a personal shout-out from the emcee. Like we're Mike Tyson or something (probably a bad choice of celebrity). I guess I should explain that we're talking with this school about doing a joint venture between our universities. So they're making us feel welcome, big time.

Afterward, our homebwa took us out on the town. He wanted to show us the nightlife of Kampala, so we bar hopped around town till like 4am. Oh, and there's no open container laws here, so it was like get a beer at every third bar and just take it with you in between. Also a great time, its such a cool thing to have people to take you around to see real life in a new city. We hit up the Rolex's, which are kinda sorta like breakfast burritos (my old nemesis breakfast-for-dinner strikes again).

Great night, great time, great people.

We were taking a little tour around the grounds of the hostel/campsite we're staying at, called The Red Chilli. In my periphery I see some sort of creature. I was wearing sunglasses, which means I wasn't wearing normal glasses which means I had no clue what this thing was. Is that a cat? No, too big. Is that a dog? No, too sitting up like a human. What could it be? And with a tail like that?....



A MONKEY! Just chillin, minding his business, examining his sweater. We go to investigate and there's a whole family (troop I believe, for the biologists in the audience), like probably 10. Even little baby ones, still too dumb to climb on their own too. All just hanging out in the garden like they pay rent here or something, not givin a - . Our friend was just like "yea they're monkeys, no big deal." They come they go, they're visitors here just like you. Except they don't pay rent. Silly little monkeys.


Posting is hard so we've been writing them up offline then posting when we can. As such, all references to time are close to meaningless.

"Rebels in the north, Women in the bars, cars in the showrooms and money in the banks. Uganda has everything in its place and in abundance."

(Pretend this is Pat on Friday Morning)

It has been a surreal couple of days. I'm not sure what Luke has already posted, because the internet (it's a series of tubes, BTW) in these parts is a little skittish (as in, we have free wifi at the place where we're staying, but it's super slow and drops everything), but we landed Wednesday morning, and by Thursday night we were having drinks with a business school bigwig in the Kampala Casino with the rest of the big ballers. What??

Yeah, for serious. So in the course of meetings his "friends," we have tentative appointments with some serious folk. The well-connected, executive types (one of whom kindly supplied the title to this post). Most of them were probably just being friendly, but they all seemed to have varying degrees of relevance to microfinance, so we'll just see what develops. We did meet at least one legit microfinance exec last night, so we'll keep our fingers crossed on that one.
Superficial reactions after 48 hours in Africa? In some ways it reminds me of Mexico, but really this place (Kampala? Uganda? Africa?) is just a completely different animal. Kampala is chaos, as far as I can tell, but in a relatively good-natured way. The trees in the city are this incredible shade of deep green that I've never really seen before. The dirt is actually red. All the people are black (like i said, superficial). I know it might not sound like much, but believe me. I wish I could post some pictures, but I think the blog is going to be pretty text-intensive for a while here, until we find a more reliable internet connection.

Quick reflection: like the few other developing countries I've spent any time in, one of the most striking things here is the contrast between (and proximity of) the well-off and everyone else. The most obvious difference, though, is that while the well-off seem to live roughly the same lifestyle the world over (clean clothes, nice cars, imported booze), the poverty at the bottom here seems to be more extreme than in Latin America by an order of magnitude. And that's even before we head "up country," where everything is supposedly even more intense. We did get to spend the better part of Wednesday just wandering around Kampala with our friend/tour guide, which was, all in all, a much more normal experience than yesterday night.

Apart from the big baller schmoozing yesterday, we also spent a good part of the day at the business school, where we met with a Professor who specializes in mircofinance research. He is really focused on publishing now, and we tossed around the idea of using some of our research as the basis for a joint paper. We'll see, but he sounded open to the idea. Basically, we want to identify best practices in microfinance, based on case studies from Northern Uganda. More on this story as it develops.



As it stands now (Friday morning), we have a bunch of meetings scheduled for next week. We are also supposed to attend a Clean Air conference all week out at an extravagant resort a little ways out of town, so we may be doing a lot driving in and out of the city. Luckily, traffic isn't that bad here. Oh wait, traffic is awful. Hopefully it's not too far.

Luke and I are surviving here. The business school people have been incredibly helpful. We've been moving pretty fast, but next week could be really big as far as identifying partners for MAPLE and setting up the connections for when we get up to Lira. We had been thinking that next week would be relaxing playtime after some pretty hectic weeks, but based on yesterday, that won't be the case. Not that I'm complaining.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I don't know if you heard, but Africa is pretty hot

First day in Kampala is done. It was a little intense. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I don’t think it was this.

It’s not so much that I wasn’t ready for it, in a lot of ways I was surprised by how normal it seemed. From a safe distance that is. Out a car window, the stretch of villages really looked strikingly similar to the Domincan Republic. I was all ready to be Mr. Anthropologist and declare that we’re all just the same, really. But then we got into Kampala. Kampala was not just like the Dominican. It was soooo busy; just people people everywhere. That plus the omnipresent boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) (Note the proper use of the vocab) and the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the damn street, makes everything a bit more challenging.

We were met at the airport by our lovely tour guide. She is from Kampala and shows white folk like us how to survive in this country without paying $100 for an unmatched pair of socks. Plus she’s going to show us the “real” Kampala, secret underground clubs and stuff maybe… So far, she’s been the only thing that gave us the confidence to venture outside of our little beds, so anybody coming through Kampala should look her up. I’m making her a website for her tour guide business, so when that happens I might throw up a link.

After we got our ish straightened out and settled at the hotel Red Chili we went and wandered around with our tour guide. We went and got some (I’m told) traditional Ugandan food: posho (like cornbread), mystery meat (smart-ish money says beef), sweet potato, motoke (mashed plantain), rice, and ground-nut sauce. Preeeetty, preeeeeeetty, pretty good. I’m still kickin around several hours and one meal later, so at least so far everything’s coming up spades in terms of the old roulette wheel of chance. Oh and there was some coleslaw too, but I only ate like half a shred of that. Easing into that cold bath.

So then we walked around Kampala and took some taxis. It was really crowded and the weird experience of walking in the dirt in the middle of the city. The taxi’s are interesting: Up to 15 people crammed into a van, picking up more as the trip goes along. One guy drives and guy number two leans out the window to recruit passengers. I think they’re more like busses than taxis (as in fixed route), but for all I know they could be space ships.

BTW we dropped 30,000 shillings today, like it weren’t nothing. We ball like that. Pat has a 50,000 many 50,000 dollarbills in his wallet. Don’t try to do the foreign exchange math in your head, just trust me: ballin outa control. Double BTW, dropping a G for a bottle of water is a strange little can of worms.

Tomorrow we start to meet with people from the business school here in Kampala. That will be fascinating. Stoves are neat, but I’m all about the paper (currency) if you feel me (understand the concepts to which I refer). On a tangentially related note, they speak English here. Sort of. Every sign is written in English, and the radio is in English, but I’m pretty sure that of all the languages I overheard being spoken today, English was among the less common. I’m on a streak of tangents here, so bear with me (this is the rambling that anyone who emails with me a lot knows about). The ads and billboards are awesome from the perspective of a Marketing 101 near drop out. They’re utterly clear and uncomplicated, and they pull no punches.

“Thirsty? Try refreshing Club Beer. You’ll be glad you did.” “Enjoy the clean taste of Something Brand vegetable oil.” “The vitamins and fats in X brand ice yogurt help kids grow strong.”

Nobody’s trying to trick you with double entendres or naked chicks, its just straight up: action verb, product name, and why. It almost makes me think that those who practice marketing aren’t all soulless monsters (just kidding (not really) ).


Pics are going to be a thing of the past for a while, the internet is slow like that of my parents house circa childhood. And that was slow. They lived in the country. Or, bush, as it’s called in other parts of the world.

Impression of Africa on day one: hot, crowded and intense, confusing currencies, shades of green like I’ve only seen in a box of crayons.

And finally: thanks to our Italian hosts. We learned a lot, we enjoyed our time in your country, we apologize again for putting you on blast all over the internets. We’ll see where things end up in the future.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ciao babee

And that about does it for Italy. I still can't believe we (read: Luke) got this side-trip to work. We've eaten some delicious treats, learned a LOT about fire and just generally gotten the five-star treatment. Tonight we finish off with some non-verbal observation training (meaning a behind the scenes look at the kitchen in a local restaurant).

(Just this little Villa where we've been staying)

Nathaniel has been just an excellent host Between the remedial science lessons (some of us only studied fluffy social sciences in college) and a window into the inner gossip of Tortona, he's kept us entertained at every moment. And take my word, this gossip is racy stuff.

But just like that, we're leaving. And this is where things get a little weird, folks. Among the helpful bits of advice we got from some of the field teams: bring a case of syringes. Hopefully we will write this one up as an abundance of caution, but if something happens and there aren't any clean syringes around, there's a chance they'll just re-use an old one. We're trying to avoid that, clearly.

(Excuse me, this one seems to be a little dirty. Can I get a clean one? Thanks)

The master plan is to arrive in Kampala Wednesday morning. For the rest of the week, we'll just be trying to get our bearings in the big city. We've been telling each other that Italy was only the warm-up, but still we just have no idea what is about to happen. Our big goal for the week is to do some A+ networking at Makerere University Business School, hopefully getting a crash-course in applied microfinance of Uganda. We've read the books, but as to how it actually is on the ground, we're clueless. Needless to say, we're stoked. If it's anything like our combustion education here, we'll be "experts" before you know it.

Then next week, it's off to the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air conference at a resort on the banks of Lake Victoria. In addition to learning about cooking stoves, we will be enjoying the only equestrian center in Uganda and the largest swimming pool in East Africa (Seriously, what? How is this my life?). And of course, more networking.

Oh yeah, we are going to be spending the majority of St. Patrick's Day in Heathrow. Too bad I gave up drinking after college. Maybe I'll have just one, since they named the day after me. They drink Guiness in England, right?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tribalism

We are, at heart, still children of the Northwest.

(Blazer's Edge)

Oregon > Southern California

Friday, March 13, 2009

And we're back...

Venice was sorta cool, but overrun with tourists and generally not that sweet. And there's something I'd like to get off my chest right quick.


Venice, built on top of over a hundred islands, seems to emerge out of mystical fogs, drifting on quiet waters. Appearing just as it did long ago to traders and travelers on merchant ships approaching from distant lands, she still continues to enchant vacationers and honeymooners arriving by boat today. She speaks to the heart of lovers and dreamers, business tycoons and vendors, that nothing new can rival her ancient splendour, that her store of hidden treasures and mysteries can never be exhausted. The anticipation of new discoveries belongs to long-time residents and visitors alike as they motor or paddle out to her veiled silhouette on the sea.**
At least that's the story. But look at the guys steering those boats. Know what they say?

They say gimme them hamburgers. Nothing screams romance like a corporate marketing stunt. Well done, Venice. Although maybe it's appropriate, since Venice felt about as sincere as Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland. The magic is gone, people. Maybe the Hamburglar took that too.

Actually the word on the street is that most of the real Venetians moved to the mainland already. Between the rising prices and the rising sea level, the only people left on the islands are there mostly to prey on tourists. I'll admit, though, that cruising around on the canals was pretty cool.


It's Friday night here. We have just a few more days here, then get on a plane for Uganda on Tuesday morning. Other than Venice, the whirlwind tour of Italy was a lot of fun. In an ideal world, we would have spent a few weeks on bikes poking around Tuscany, drinking wine and just taking it slow. That is just going to have to wait for another trip though.

** Totally ripped off from some hokey website. Whatever. They lie, I plagiarize. In the end, who is the bigger crook?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How you say, this little bird? that makes the flowers? And says bzzzzz, bzzzzz?

:(Pat's mad photojournalism skills.)

We have finished our little tour of Italy and are back in Tortona now, approximately 850 stairs later. It was a great four days, lots of fun and saw some amazing sights. We spent the last two nights in Florence, which is an amazing city. All the churches and history were really something to take in. If nothing else, we put in a lot of miles of aimless wandering.

(The tower and dome are in the center of the photo)

We climbed to the top of the tower next to the Duomo Santa Maria, 415 steps. The view was great, all the clay roofs and foothills with the Alps in the distance. Really a great experience. That would have been enough to hold us on the great view/ lots of stairs front, but we got more this morning. I woke up this morning and said I was down to do anything that didn't require too much walking, so we decided we just go see the Duomo ( means church in Italian?) and call it good. We were trying to go into the main chapel to take a look around, and ended up in the wrong line. Another 400+ steps to the top of the dome, the view was still great the second time. On the way to the top, the stairs curve around beneath the ceiling on the inside to show an amazing view of the painting on the ceiling (fresco?). All in all, Florence was a great city. My favorite in Italy so far.
(view of the dome from the tower)

We took a day trip to Siena, which is this little medieval town in the hills. It was amazing, really one of the coolest places I've ever been. It was all walled in, with this big open piazza at the foot of a castle. The sun was warm, and there were tons of people just sprawled out on the bricks just kickin it. We followed their cue. It was strange to imagine that people have been just laying in that spot doing nothing like we were looking at the castle at their feet for like hundreds of years. And that with all our ipods and gadgets and whatnot, it's still the same deal.

(square in Siena)

(duomo in Siena)

We have been talking a bit about how much everything is just more or less the same between here and home. Lots of little- but very noticeable- differences, but basically still the same game. The question is, is Africa just going to be like bam. wow. different? Because their society doesn't come from the same western European origins, it will be just a whole new thing? (I guess given imperialism and all, it sort of does in a lot of ways) We kinda don't think so, people are people right? Who's knows. As they say: in communist Russia, road forks you. If you dig the pop culture reference.

I'm pretty sure there's going to be a lot a lot a lot more people crammed in to the living spaces, and obviously more poverty, but cities are cities. I'm really interested to see what life is like in the villages, where people aren't in the same life of everyone else of "wake up- go to work- come home- go to sleep- wake up". Where people hunt and gather instead of balance spreadsheets and swing hammers. One thing you can be sure of is that we're going to be good little anthropologists and get to the bottom of this for sure though.

We made some new friends at our hostel. We argued with a socialist about the evils of money; I'm pretty sure he put a juju on me for spreading the evils of capitalismo to ze poor Africans.

(Socialism: Less fun in real life)

We also met some Japanese guys and taught them to play Go Fish and dominoes. We spent the evening drinking, cursing, playing cards, and just generally confirming stereotypes about Americans. I learned to count to six in Japanese, I'm pretty sure they learned five of the six most offensive things that can be said in the English language. All in all, an informative evening of lessons for both sides.

Now we're in Tortona for another week or so of intensive light-ish-on-fire lessons. Then Afrique. At some point in these next days, a module of our training is to go into a commerical kitchen (we got homies, don'tworryaboutit) and learn to cook authentic Italian food from the cooks without sharing a common language. It's a hard life.

BTW, as far as pictures go you should wait for Pat to post if you want to anything of particular quality. My photojournalism skills are like my regularjounalism skills: juvenile, unclear, and C+ at best.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I used to kinda hate Italian food

We have been in Italy for about a week now maybe, I'm not really sure. Not having a watch, calendar or job is making it hard to remember where and when I am, all the timezone changes don't help either. Think about that while you watch the clock at your desk waiting for your lunch break.

We have gotten set up in Tortona as our homebase. It's a great little town where everyone knows everyone else and their business. Our new friend Nathaniel is hosting us and being our tour guide introducing us to all his friends, which is just great. Incomparable as a way to learn the real culture. We've been eating great food and drinking great wine of course. All in all things are great.

We went down to Genova on the riviera on Saturday for dinner, about an hour drive south. We had dinner and drinks in a bar on the water, then walked around on the seashore for a good long while. It took me a long time to remember the last time I saw the ocean (thanksgiving in Santa Booboo) -does this not count because it's a sea? In the car all the way back to Tortona I discussed/argued about economics with Bepe the Physicist (you know, like Joe the Plumber), which was fun of course.

We are now on day two of our tour of Italy. We got into Venice yesterday afternoon, briefly got hopelessly lost in these canals, then got some dinner. All in all a good day. We wandered around last night for a while, went to the big plaza you see on postcards (Santo Marco?). We saw the water where it shouldn't be because the city is sinking. Apparently, the water's rising too, so things are not looking good for this city.


It's an intersting city, but really touristy and kind of themepark-ish. I think we're going to head out pretty quick and go someplace where people are normal and not trying to sell us trinkets. Florence and Sienna are next, word is they're more like real cities.

As Pat described, this stove project is going well. It's all very promising, we've sketched the outline of what could prove to be a fruitful partnership. Assuming the particulars work out, it gives us another angle for our work to keep us busier and more forward looking. In an ideal world, it also creates the possibility of not getting real jobs come September. Real meaning 'boring and crappy', not 'one in which you are paid.' Anything we do after maple would have to include the latter for sheezy.


But yea, going back to the title of the post. I have never been Italian cuisine's biggest proponant, too much starch. I'm digging it now though, its less pasta based then the Italian food you find in America. I'm getting cheese on top of cheese, which I fully support.

All in all, the quality and pace of life here is great. We take about eight coffee breaks a day where we meet up with the dude who owns the bookstore next door, then we all walk to one of the million little coffee shops and drink some massively tasty cappucinos. Way better then drinking cup after cup of Starbucks and eating yo cheese sandwiches at your desk.


(Either my spelling is perfect or the spell checker isn't working. I assume it's the latter, so get off my back yo.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Jump Off


Well, it's time. We're both all packed and ready to go, now we're just kinda hanging out at the house waiting for the signal. It feels like just another day to me, probably at some point here I'm going to completely flip out. Or maybe I'm just ice.

I averted my first small-major crisis. I called my bank to tell them I'd be in Africa so don't freak out if there are weird charges. Imagine my surprise when they then told me that my one and only piece of plastic was set to expire the next day because some visa holding house had been hacked. "So do you want to come by and pick up a new card at your convenience?" Probably that's not an option. My bank is local, local to another time zone. So thanks to some helpful people at the bank, my dear old dad, and the good people at FedEx; crisis averted. No big deal.

Next up on the menu is getting from Heathrow to Gatwick without completely screwing the whole thing up.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Titles are hard. Me in Boston Now?



The journey has officially begun. I'm in Boston and Pat is unemployed, so it's too late to back out even if we wanted to. Being that I'm going to Africa, I packed for Africa. Being that I'm in Boston in winter, its cold. Very cold. It's been a while since I've been someplace that gets cold like this when I haven't had a snowboard strapped to my feet. That's one thing you can say for Oregon. It's cool though that I'm going to go through such climate extremes within a month, and if you factor in the monsoon rains in Oregon the last week, that's another one. I imagine there will be nights where I'm too hot to sleep and surrounded by bugs wanting to eat my blood when I would give anything for a handful of this snow and ice.

Thanks to everybody who came out to see me off or sent me their wishes the last few nights. You all mean the world to me, and it was the best sendoff I could ask for. My night in Portland particularly, was everything a person could hope for. Thanks to David and Julia for the hobo bag-on-a-stick full of supplies; unfortunately due to the lack of space, I had to leave the bag of rocks behind. Thanks to Joel for making us the roll-up chess/etc. board. Thanks to Mari for throwing a great party and for everything. Thanks to our parents for everything and for supporting us in this crazy endeavor.

It is finally starting to sink in what's going on here. I've been rushing around so much that I haven't really had time to think about it. For the first time I really thought about what it's going to be like getting off that plane in Entebbe, getting that first smell of the air. All's I can say is it better not be cold.