Showing posts from November, 2009

That's Dooty Baby

We did our second big trash cleanup in town on Saturday. It was pretty awesome really. It got off to a rocky start, and looked like the 10 of us might be cleaning up trash on our own. By like 9am we were sitting in the shade in the center of town plotting our excuses to ditch out. I've gotten pretty extreme double takes before, but the 10 of us sitting in the shade of the clock tower at the town center in matching t-shirts got something on a different level entirely. I think the rough equivalent at home would be if you saw a fleet of porpoises in matching funny hats juggling flaming chainsaws in Times Square. It might attract a little crowd.

At the 11th hour, my bulletproof excuse proved unnecessary, Brad called with good news. He was at CRO- Child Restoration Outreach, the organization for streetkids. He says he wrangled some manpower, so we should head over there. Manpower wasn't quite the right term I guess, probably kidpower would have been better. I walked into the compou…

Karamojourney- part 2

So after the buildup I pretty much was ready for anything when I got to Karomoja. It's probably the only time where a monkey riding an elephant wouldn't have caused me to significantly reassess my situation.

We stayed two nights in Moroto, the major "town" in the region. It had the feeling of being basically the last outcropping of civilization on the edge of the earth. The only cars were military or NGO, and all looked like they could survive a bomb blast- to be accurate, most looked like they just had survived a bomb blast. It was the kind of place that makes you realize what SUV's were invented for, since the main road into town had a mile or two long stretch of "bumps" easily the size of volkswagons.

On the way up there, we arranged for a friend of a friend of a friend to meet us at the buspark. It was a complete shot in the dark affair, we had no idea if this person was going to rob us, take us to his own or just flat our not exist. It was pretty muc…

Basin and Range

For all you non-geologists out there, that means that crossing Nevada is a whole lot of boring flat stretches, maybe 20-30 miles wide, broken up by some pretty steep hills. On the whole, that is less boring than just the flat (here's looking at you kansas), but possibly more annoying.

And here's the reason why. Not only did the mountains severely impact my ability to learn about the horrors of Obamacare ("git your guvment paws off my medicare." confusing, I know. That's why I wanted to listen), but I guess that Thursday also happened to be the trip to the last big rodeo in the sky for all the cows in Eastern Nevada.

I figured this out, based on three clues and my excellent skills of deduction:

(1) There was a mysterious wet, brown streak down the right hand side of my lane, even though I was driving through a desert.

(2) When we went through the mountains, the massive trucks slowed to maybe 20 mph, much slower than would have been necessary for most cargo.

(3) Wh…

Happy Thanksgiving Y'all

How big is our thanksgiving turkey?

Big enough to ride.

Karamojourney up North

This was definitely a weekend to remember. I heard some crazy mind blowing stories, I reevaluated my perspective on life a little bit, and I spent seven hours staring out the window of a bus debating whether to quit my job. Needless to say, I did more than just sit by the pool and drink margaritas. It was basically a “go to the hardest, scariest place you can think of” type weekend.

Together with two of my roommates I trekked up to Karamoja, a region in rural northeast Uganda. Talk to any Ugandan and they’ll give you their assessment of Karamoja, generally it falls under the category of super unsafe and crazy to even think about going up there. On the other hand, almost no one has been up there, and those who have say that it gets a bad rap. Upon leaving I assumed it would be something in between, particularly since they said something similar (though much less emphatically) about Lira. A few tidbits, mostly if not exclusively hearsay, to get to know to get a basic idea of where our he…

Arches National Park

I think it's official, the coldest night of the trip was in Arches. Despite waking up to a massive blizzard in Colorado, somehow I was much colder here. I think it was related to my choice of campsite. I had the option of "protected site" or "spectacular view;" I went for the latter. I'm pretty sure the ground was frozen beneath my tent, which would explain the cold, I guess.

Other than that, Arches was pretty nice. Although I have to say, I'm not sure how I feel about being able to tour parks by motorized wheelchair. It's nice that a lot of people can visit the parks, I guess, but it isn't very rugged. And it means that a night of camping will run you $30. That is just outrageous, if you ask me.

Pretty cool scenery though. Pretty cool, indeed.

Kansas (empty silence)

Really not too much to say about Kansas, so I'll let someone else handle it:
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

Extra credit if you can ID the passage without Google.

My Punk Ass Landlord

How about this for a strange little story that kind of changes my perspective on everything:

First the backstory: I don't like my landlord, he's kind of a punkass. Everyone hates their landlord and thinks theirs is the worst ever, but this one is on another level from home. He is allegedly the richest man in the district (vaugely like a state), and allegedly gets personal phone calls from the president. He is very fat, in a country where being fat is a major statement of wealth. Everytime I see him he tries to renegotiate the terms and fanangle us out of more money, contract be damned. The last time I paid rent he said he was tired of dealing with us and that he'd just evict us that night unless I paid him more money on top (I didn't). During the months it took to get him to sign the contract and my organization to clear the funds to pay the rent, he would just randomly show up at our house unannouced at like 7 am ready to do business and demanding money. I had thought…

Bourbon, Tent, Snow

Given Luke's latest post, I thought it would be fun to contrast his camping experience with mine last night. Yesterday I finally left the plains behind, and crossed into the Rockies. First stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, which for those who don't know, consists of an expanse of sand dunes, tucked away against the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. Pretty striking landscape, given that I'm used to seeing dunes on the Oregon Coast.

(Not much sign of ocean around here though)

I got here in the early afternoon, wandered around on the dunes for a bit, and couldn't help but notice some ominous looking clouds on the horizon. Sure enough, I found out that there might be some snow headed my way overnight. Nothing too serious though, or at least that was the story. I took a big nip of an Extra Special Super Select Bourbon I picked up in Kentucky to give me strength for what would inevitably be a cold, windy night at around 8,000 ft, and tucked myself in to b…

Waragi, tent, stars

(What a view, huh?)

We went for a quick work/camping trip last night, Africa style. We cruised to Tororo, the next town over to talk to an organization doing basically the same thing as us. It was kind of a uniquely African thing all around, to start with we drove 2 hours to pop in at their office because despite two weeks of looking we couldn't find any way to get in contact with them. No phone number, no website, nothing.

We hopped in a matatu and set off. A little cramped, a little slow, but business as usual. After a brief stint of wandering around lost in an unknown town, we found our bearings and strolled into the office. "Hi! Remember us? We're white, can we have a minute of your time?" Done and done.

We had a nice little meeting in the morning, and set an appointment next week to trek out into the sticks in the village and visit a bunch of their projects and clients. We had an afternoon to kill, so we decided to check out Tororo Rock, a volcanic formation loomin…

Redneck Fish Fry

If those words don't get you just a little bit excited, then you and I have have very different priorities in this life. Picture the scene. I pulled into a campsite in western Kentucky as the sun was going down, and see a few RVs huddled together. In the middle was a circle of rednecks, complete with camouflage hunting jackets, bud heavies in koozies and a seriously large campfire. As I pitched my tent, listening to the guttural, hacking hoohaw laughter, I started to wonder if I hadn't made a mistake.

Then one of the guys came over. He wanted to invite me to sit around the campfire once I finished setting up camp. "Come and be neighborly," he said with a laugh, "if'n you don't mind a bunch 'er fellers settin' aroun' and gittin' lit."

Cue one of the more entertaining nights in a while, and definitely the most culturally foreign experience I've had since getting back from Africa. It started innocently enough, just beer and chatter, a…

Another day in the Village

As I think I mentioned, we went back to Veronica's village the other day. Since I no longer have a camera of my own (thanks Kenya), here are a few pictures my roommate Joel took. His blog is The White Nile, and its on the Our Peeps list on the far right. Give his blog a look, it's pretty hilarious.
Not a lot to say, I think the pictures speak for themselves in this instance.

Look at me, I am Good! (Part 2)

In the past few months several new people have joined the team living in the house here in Mbale. Among them, Joel and Brad really hit the ground running. Before they arrived, I had spent months talking about how we should organize a neighborhood trash pickup. Within a week, they had taken on the project and developed a far reaching framework bringing in the local government and community groups for a monthly neighborhood trash cleanup.

They worked through countless ludicrus frustrations, for example one meeting with the Mbale Industrial Division Municipal Council: They waited an hour before a single councilman showed up. After an hour and a half of waiting, they finally managed to get the meeting underway. Ten minutes later the group had reached a consensus: another planning meeting with the same group of people in 3 weeks- the day of the proposed trash cleanup they were meeting to plan. It took them weeks of no-show meetings and gallons of waragi, but eventually they got the project …

Two Things:

1. I like listening to country music when I'm driving. Without even considering the just awful alternative on the radio (except for you, NPR, and your cousin, the local-affiliate music show), Country and/or Western is storytelling music and, because of that, it helps to pass the time. Plus, driving along these back roads, slapping the steering wheel and singing along about beer drinking, sexy tractors and wrong-doing women, it just feels right (my mustache is coming in quite nicely, by the way. I'll fit in in no time).

(near London, KY)

2. On a related note, I had figured that my favorite little country sweetheart came out with a new album while I was in Africa, because of all that trouble with Kanye. That's about all I knew though. Then the other day, while I'm driving through Coal Country, West Virginia, home of all your favorite mountaintop-removing, stream-poisoning, State-Supreme-Court-Seat-Buying coal executives, this song comes on. The thing is, even though it was…

Day of Rest

Russellville, KY- I decided yesterday was as good a day as any to lay off the driving for a bit, and explore. I woke up in the Daniel Boone National Forest, whipped up a delicious breakfast of instant oatmeal and bananas, then went for a nice little hike. All in all, not a bad way to start the day.

(Just missed me...)

Then I drove to various streams, waterfalls, natural arches and lookouts within a thirty mile radius of where I slept. All told, maybe one hour of driving time. A nice little break.

And because I got to my campsite early enough, I had time to gather wood for my first campfire of the trip. Nature's TV, as some grizzly through-hiker on the Long Trail once told me, laughing as I tried not to breath through my nose. He's right though, it does pass the time.

(Look Ma, no paper)

Since I just crossed into the Central Time Zone and gained an hour, I'm rewarding myself by sitting on a couch, charging my various electronic devices and enjoying some speedy, free wireless at …

Look at me, I am Good! (Part 1)

I have at all costs resisted talking about my work here in Africa in any way shape or form. I guess one could take this as an admission that I don't actually do any work at all. The truth is that I actually work reasonably hard- certainly not as hard as if I were in the US getting paid, but harder than my neighbors or any of the government people we interact with. There are a couple reasons I don't talk much about the work: (1) I think it's unprofessional (and I'm nothing if not a consummate professional and model worker bee at all times) and (2) the nature of community work and working in Africa in general is that its incredibly frustrating and seemingly pointless on a day to day basis. Nothing works as planned and everything reverts to chaos, especially when working with the community. I could easily fill pages and pages with bitching about broken appointments and the minutia of my day, but that would be neither fun to read nor to write- so what's the point.


Hijack that Wireless

Williamson, WV- I'm parked real sketchy-like on Main Street, stealing wireless from might be a "Mountaineer" shop, but is more likely just a proud fella from the Mountaineer State.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. There isn't much signal where I've been, but every now and then I get a bunch of messages through on my cellie. So thanks everyone. I feel very loved, even though I spent my birthday freezing in a tent, thanks to unseasonably cold weather (overnight low of 20 degrees, or -7 for those of you on the other system). So cold in fact, that I had to get into my sleeping bag at 7pm.

First time in what, 25 years that I was in bed by 7 on my birthday. Oh well. I'm still having a great time. Jumping the border into Kentucky in a view minutes...

For those that are interested, my progress so far is below:

View East Coast Exodus in a larger map

That Pretty Much Sums it Up

There is what's outside:

(Berkshires, looking north)

And the boundary of my personal bubble:

(Noble Steed)

And the contents of said bubble:

(Already starting to smell like feet)

For to where is de grave Jim Morrison?

I was talking with Former Field Director Filips the other day and an interesting story came up that I had forgot about from Paris:

I was on my last day in town, my travel companion / older brother has already flown out. It's my first full day alone in 8 months, and my first time doing anything without Pat right by my side. I hadn't really been in a real city for more than a few weeks in months. And of course I speak maybe four words of French- if you count menu items. Needless to say I was a little out of my element.

I was staying in a backpackers hostel in Paris, hanging around and generally impressing people with my Africa stories. At some point this weird, sketchy long greasy hair skeetchball Euro finds his way into the conversation. He says some generally unintelligible things, and one by one people make their excuses and go to bed. Fast forward to the next day and I'm out and about in a botanical garden zen-ing out and absorbing my last dose of order beating out chaos. …

Overheard in (Upstate) New York

(Why taking the Interstate is overrated)
Grizzled Old Guy #1: You know how God created all men differently? Well, there's something I've noticed.

Grizzled Old Guy #2: Oh yeah? What's that?

Grizzled Old Guy #1: Well, he made some of us good-lookin ... and he gave the rest of you hair. Haw Haw Haw. (Removes hat to rub his shiny head). See that? That's a bald guy joke.

--Griff's Southside Deli

Pre-Departure Checklist

Maybe it's just because of the season, but all the dislike I used to have for Boston has been replaced by fond memories of fallen leaves and pumpkin coffee. Fall in New England really is a special time.

(near Inman Square, Cambridge)

I have spent the last six weeks trying to see this place with a fresh pair of eyes, which I think has been reasonably successful. Actually, I think Boston overall isn't a bad place, except during the winter. Then it really is just not for me. In fact, I'm gonna let you all in on a little secret, and if you New Englanders want to call me weak, first think about this: God taught me how to sweat so I could keep cool in tropical climates (that's science). Not to mention, by living in the frigid North, you are effectively questioning God's plan. And questioning the Big Man like that just isn't smart, people. Not smart.

(God also gave me these two opposable thumbs so I can draw faces in gourds)

Theology aside, it has been a fun six weeks in …

Coconuts and Palm Trees Baby

I am back in scenic Kampala after a little impromptu holiday in Zanzibar. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I must have prayed to the right false idol or something because my stars aligned and I got the amazing opportunity to tag along with one of my roommates and her mom on their beach vacation. The whole thing was pretty whirlwind actually, within a day I went from petty jealousy to self loathing guilt for falling into such a crazy princess vacation. No crazy tales of misfortune and mistaken identity really (although the passport control lady called me a terrorist and threatened to put me back on the plane I came from), it was pretty much an effortless and disaster free vacation. A welcome change, I suppose.

I flew out from Entebbe in Uganda on Thursday for my first intra-Africa flight. I’m not sure if I’m glad or kind of bummed but it was pretty normal. I can’t say I wasn’t halfway expecting chickens in the aisle, I certainly fully expected it to leave two hours late. But, it …