Sunday, March 22, 2009

"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.

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