Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Matooke Christmas

(Not our tree, but you get the idea)

Christmas is now past and New Year’s is right around the corner. When I decided to stay in Uganda for Christmas I knew that it would be nothing if not memorable. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but a wanted to take the chance to experience as close as I could to a traditional Ugandan Christmas. I don’t know whether I got that or not, but it was definitely a Christmas I’ll remember for a long time.

The lead up to Christmas I covered in the last couple posts, the important part is basically that the week leading up to Christmas was awesome and the week before that was pretty awful. I woke up on the 23rd to an email in my inbox from my Dad, which is always great. He was letting me know that I got a little visit from Santa (luckily my Pops had my forwarding address), and my family decided to all chip in and finance me to screw around in Africa for a few more months. How could the day get any better? Candy, that’s how. An hour or so later my roommates came home from the post office with a package from my Mom. Packages from Mom = American candy, American candy makes my week/month/year.

My friend Eddie and then hopped in a matatu to head out to the village to see his Mom and wish her a Happy Christmas, and meet with some village community groups we may start working with soon. The village is always really interesting and fun, and Eddie’s village always means eating his Mom’s amazing cooking until I’m way beyond stuffed. The village meetings went great; hanging out with Eddie’s family was great. Up to this point, it was a really really great day. But as is often the case around here, just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any better, they got a lot worse.

On the matatu ride home, Eddie took a dramatic turn and became really sick. He was shivering and had a fever and was passing out all over the place. It was really shocking, within maybe 30 minutes he went from normal and playing around to too weak to even take a shower. We canceled our plan for the night, which was to go to a Christmas benefit concert to support my roommates’ young women’s empowerment project. I took him to the hospital, where we were told he needed to be admitted and put on an IV immediately. So, we spent the next two nights in the hospital. It was pretty scary, both his condition and the hospital itself. There is something tragically ironic about sitting on the mosquito net-less hospital bed next to your friend who’s being treated for malaria and watching a steady stream of bugs pour in through the open window. Although it was kind of cool to lay in bed and watch the fireflies circle over my head. Four IVs later, he was released in time for Christmas breakfast.
(I reallly need a camera)

From there things got more normal. My roommate Rachel took it upon herself to bring an American Christmas to Africa, so we had reasonably close approximations of all the necessities. We had a nice little tree, stockings, and some decorations, very homey. We then all exchanged little gifts we bought at the local market, I bought gifts for my 5 roommates at a total cost of like $10. I myself hauled in a sweet secondhand Mauritius t-shirt, some cheap Chinese sunglasses, whiskey, rockin’ local sandals, and a nice collection of candy. Plus, during the course of my shopping I found a season of The Simpsons on dvd after nine months of looking. The Simpsons for me is like home in a box, I probably watched it at least a few times a week my entire life from when I graduated from Disney movies until I left for Africa. It is really extremely comforting and utterly utterly awesome to sit together with my roommates in a rain storm and watch these old episodes that we all know line for line. Oh plus Rachel brought Champagne home from Kampala, so we day-faded with Mimosas. Not too bad.

Christmas lunch is the big thing around here, and we got a zillion invitations to go have dinner with people we barely knew. I don’t know what memo we missed, but we definitely didn’t grasp the cultural nuances of what a Ugandan Christmas entails. Over the course of the morning we got like three random people telling us that they had thought we would be coming to their house for Christmas and had already gone to all these lengths to prepare it just for us, even though they apparently forgot to extend the invitation or something. Our neighbor who I had never even met told us they had bought a turkey just for us and invited their entire family. It was kind of hectic (the mimosas certainly didn’t help), but we made it through. We had lunch with the family who we share our compound with, which I think was the right thing to do because our lives are very interwoven and they are like family at this point. The food was bomb, the company was great, and we learned that Paul (the very unassuming Dad of the family) has a very surprising life story that I never would have pegged him for. I’m not going to blast his private life over the internet, but suffice it to say witchcraft, religious moments of clarity and multiple wives were involved. Wow.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My life such as it is

It's been a busy couple weeks with very little time around the ol' computer, so I've kind of continued the downward spiral on blogging. Beyond simply being busy, I have noticed that lately my mental capacities seem to be in decline, and I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of my time staring at walls. I had heard that this is normal (not the wall staring but the mental decline), considering this is the first time I've spent a full year away from structured learning since I learned to count. My experience may be a bit exacerbated by the fact that at the same time I have been forced to go cold turkey on a pretty crippling case of Internet Inspired ADD. When I arrived here, it took the epitome of effort to do only 2 or 3 things at once. Thankfully, with a lot of dedicated noneffort and hard nonwork, I made it to the other side.

I can now comfortably say that I could hold my own with the best of them in a do-nothing contest. Sit in the shade and eat sweet fruits? Done. Stare at a wall pondering the best way to fry an egg for 45 minutes? Way ahead of you. Trace little circles on the desktop with the cursor? Cancel all my appointments for the afternoon. In short, its basically my Dad's worst nightmare and I'm unlearning 18 years of indoctrination to "go out there and be somebody." Instead I think I'd rather just take it slow and lazy. If anybody hears of a job opening for a surf instructor or tiki-bar manager (it would have to be no experience necessary) send it my way. Graduate school, probably someday. For now I'm cool to just be.

Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, I'll also stand by my skills on the open market at plopping down in a random 3rd world country with a few thousand dollars and a small handful of phone numbers and setting-up a functioning NGO in several months. I came here to nothing with very moderate prospects, by the time of my departure we will have had 14 employees from 6 universities and 3 countries through the project, conducted innumerable trainings and one day seminars, and obtained a solid inside-out understanding of development and microfinance in practice in Africa.

*By the way, the conversation I just had at this moment:*
My roommate: Have you written a resume with your Uganda work on it yet?
Me: Nope. That's what I'm supposed to be doing right now.
Roommate: But instead you're sitting on the couch with a tshirt-turban on your head writing a blogpost about how lazy you are?
Me: Yup.

I guess a quick update on my situation is in order. On the 31st of this month my term as Field Director of this organization comes to an end. After the initial 6 month stint that ended in September, I signed on for another stretch which was great. Despite a heap of reservations, I won't be accepting the offer for another 3-6 months on the job. This is not because I don't like the work or the organization, but because I think it's just time for me to move on to a new challenge. Part of me knew it was time to leave Uganda the first time I successfully took a matatu from one place I'd never been to another place I'd never been for the proper price without any significant disasters. So come January first I'm out of here and going to hit the road. The plan is to essentially go the next few months with as little planning as possible. I'm still piecing together my travel plans, but right now I'm thinking I'll head mostly South. First on the list is Malawi because I've heard its really cheap- even by Africa standards. I have this little idea bouncing around in my head of walking/canoeing across a significant portion of the country, since its 1) really small and 2) bordered along one full side by a tropical Lake. And they say Malawi has some of the best freshwater scuba diving in the world. To get to Malawi I'll have to go south through Tanzania, maybe stopping in Zambia for a bit. Then on to Mozambique to hit the pristine beaches and switch my mango eating to coconuts. Finally, since I'm going to be in Southern Africa I'm going to do my best to cash in on the lifelong dream of sharkdiving (You here me calling Noah?). Other than those, I'm just going to be taking it as it comes. If anybody wants to quit whatever they're doing and join me for a week or whatever, I love travel buddies.

So that's my life in a nutshell. It's Christmas, it's easily 80 degrees in the shade, and I have not a care in the world (aside from feeding myself) (and the hiv). I hope everyone at home wherever they are is having a great holiday with the people they care about. And lastly, finally, of course, Happy Hanukkah Dad (and anyone else of the Jewish persuasion).

Friday, December 25, 2009

Kampala at its Best and Rafting the Nile

The last week has been nice and busy and really fun, one of the best I've had here. My friend from college Erin has been doing PeaceCorps in Kenya for the last year or so and came to visit last week. Before this organization was anything, it was me and Erin and a few others sitting around in coffee shops and talking about microfinance, so it was cool to have her here to see what she contributed to creating. We then went to Kampala for a meeting with the business school to talk about getting interns, which was very successful and promising. It was a good meeting, one of the great (though somewhat rare) instances where I feel like a real adult who is actually accomplishing something of note and not just eating mangoes in the shade. We made our pitch, they seemed to buy into it, everyone was happy.

Since we had the whole team together in Kampala for the first time, I took them for a night out in Kampala to meet The Doctor. We are lucky any time we are fortunate enough to get some of his time, because he's quite the Big Fish around the Kampala scene. We are relying on him to get our paperwork through the wheels of bureaucracy to become a recognized NGO because as you may have heard it can be a bit tricky to get the government in developing countries to do anything other than stare at the walls. It is invaluable to have someone who knows how to expedite things and talk to the right people, so it's always good to catch up with our main man and advisor when we're in Kampala. We went for a nice little night out in the casino, as always. And as always it was a lot of fun and we gladhanded with some good contacts. I don't know that everyone was ready for the experience that is a night out with him, but it was a ton of fun. Of course we had to hit the club after, cause what else do you do on a Wednesday night when you have an important meeting early the next morning. Afterward we went and saw some movie about the apocalypse and destruction of the major cities of the earth by every natural disaster possible. It was pretty much the most surreal experience of my life. Then we went and hung out at the mall. It was just like America! All in all, a successful Kampala trip.

But that's the boring part. We went to Jinja for a weekend of whitewater rafting on the headwaters of the mighty Nile river. It was absolutely amazing. I have been rafting on a number of different rivers in the US, and in the Dominican Republic, but this was by far the coolest. First of all it was really warm, so getting flipped was no big deal (I guess bilharzia is still there so maybe it was. On the plus side, I guess now I probably have it so I can swim wherever I want from here on out). Secondly it is enormous, really hard to fathom just how big it is in comparison to your average river. Because of this it had huge huge rapids that made it really wild, at one point we went perpendicular over this rapid easily like 8 feet high. Then we flipped. But the best part is that its uncommonly deep, so it's actually pretty safe despite all the power because there aren't really any rocks to hit. Hells Ya. The rafting companies on the Nile are very professional and legit, with a team of kayakers circling around to pick us up out of the water every time we flipped because the water was moving so fast it would probably take you to Egypt by the time you can blink. We also hit the club in Jinja (so I'm told). Awesome weekend. Thanks for visiting us Erin.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The nice thing about San Francisco...

is that it's pretty close to Santa Barbara.

And Santa Barbara, my friends, is very nice. Especially when my former home is getting buried in snow.

(A few years old, but you get the idea)

Enjoy the winter, suckers. I'm gonna go fly a kite with my big bro.

Friday, December 11, 2009

This whole gay thing

I've been getting all kinds of articles emailed to me about the anti-gay bill Uganda is talking about. Obviously it's extreme and obviously I think it's wrong. I'm not going to make some political statement, because I think it's kind of a trite argument to make- We're good and right, they're wrong and backwards I think is the basic premise. Maybe Pat will write about it since he needs something other than watching the Pacific Northwest rain to fill his time, and talking politics is probably more up his alley anyway. Anyway, to kind of understand where this thing is coming from you have to understand that society as a whole takes a different stance on homosexuality. The following is taken from the 3rd most read daily newspaper in Uganda, the Red Pepper:

"We have Homos in Cabinet"
-Top Bumshafter Ssebagala Reveals Who Plays Side B

The homos in Uganda have gone on rampage and are now making daring claims that some of their members are cabinet ministers. Ssebagala a top self confessed homo leader who stays in Uganda and in America called Sunday Pepper last night with hair-raising claims that at least four members of the current cabinet are homos.
He sounded furious and abused editors of the Red Pepper for publishing names of homosexuals in Uganda.

He said that the tabloid should stop tampering with the bum shafters because some of them are highly placed in government and have capacity to hit back. “You see, you are not really dealing with people that you can pillory and harass at will and they go away. We are not going anywhere!

“But if your research were as good as you would have Ugandans believe, then you would know that there are many more male and female gays in positions of responsibility in Uganda, and yes, some have served in government and cabinet over the years. Many are married to women and have children so we have to respect their privacy since we understand that they marry to keep their true feelings secret,” he said
Later when Ssebaggala was pressed, he in his fury gave out several names of people in cabinet and parliament whom he claims are homos.

For legal considerations we have decided to withhold the names of these ‘honourable’ members.
Our independent investigations had also zeroed on some members of the August house who are believed to be top homos.“I know some of these people even got money for campaigns from gay organizations abroad,” our source told us last night.


Just another daily reminder that Africa is not California.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

African time is there

I am beginning to worry about my employability when I get back home. It's possible that I may have picked up some habits that won't transfer well to the corporate world. A little window into my life these days:

My phone clock is the only watch I own. The other night one of my roommates picked up my phone to check the time. He was a little perturbed to find that apparently my watch is 45 minutes slow. "How do you function and do things on time," he asked. I guess I just hadn't noticed.

Apparently he thought this issue warranted further consideration because the next morning we had the following conversation:

Brad: "Remember a few days ago when we both set our alarms for like 5am for that basketball game, but I ended up having to wake you up?"
Me: "Yea, I set my alarm for the same time as yours but it didn't go off for some reason..."
Brad: "That's because your clock is 45 minutes slow you idiot."
Me: " I don't know, I guess these things happen."
Brad: "That was two weeks ago."

Ooops. Pole sana brotha.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Home again, home again

I always thought this might be true, but it's a tough statement to back up.

(The Sisters, as seen from Mt. Bachelor)

And yet, having had the good fortune of being able to travel a bit in my young life, I'm starting to get more and more confident in my suspicions.

(The Woods, outside my Parents' Front Door)

So I'm just gonna go right out there and say it.

(Some certain Lake, in some certain Crater)

If you wanted to make a list of the best places in the world, Oregon has to be near the top. Call me a homer if you want to, but it's true.

(The Coast, south of Lincoln City)

Luke, I'm not telling you to hurry back. Stay as long as you can, I'll take good care of your car while you're gone. But when you do decide it's time to come back, and you're sitting in the airport reminiscing about all the great times you had in Africa, barGAINing, handling human waste and eating any little creature that crawls within your grasp, just remember this:

(20% chance of rain)

There are worse places you could be coming back to.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Malaria Dreams, Come to Life

Why yes, that is a 40-foot statue of Babe the Blue Ox. I'm sorry if you've been driving for hours and thought that you might be having a malaria-flashback hallucination, but that's how we get the tourists to stop.

(Notice the little boy appreciating Babe's "virility")

Anyhoo, now that we've got you here, wouldn't you like to buy some Authentic Redwood Carvings(c), made from local, sustainably-harvested cedar? No? You're sure? Well you go ahead and have yourself a nice day. Drive safe now.

(Already can't decide if the Ox was real, or was a result of all the acid he took in the 60s)

What a strange country.