ACF and My Last Week

As the end to my hopskotch volunteering, Erik found me some work with his team at ACF International.  Erik works in food security and last Friday I helped for a few hours since they needed to sort through an excel sheet of some 1,500 names to find conflicting reports.  This week, though, I got to do my ILF expertise: data entry!  The food security program gives unconditional funds to a number of beneficiaries in villages to ensure that they can provide for themselves.  On Monday I had an overview with Cresencia, a woman from Erik’s team, and four surveyors.  We went over the questionnaire and I made some changes to the main document while the surveyors translated everything into Luo.

Tuesday was my free day.  I spent a lot of time at home working on homework and gave dumplings a second try (turned out okay!) and then went out with a bunch of friends to PanAfric for Erik’s birthday dinner.  Food was delayed (like, two hours delayed) but it was great hanging out with everyone and I got see Martin and Annett’s place (they have little houses for all of their animals in the compound – too cute).  Got home and crashed soon after.

For the rest of the week I’ve been spending mornings (and a little bit of the afternoons) upstairs at the ACF office entering data from the questionnaires.  It’s interesting because I’ve never been an advocate of handing out money to people.  I’m still not fully convinced that it’s a sustainable program or that it helps any more than other methods that might promote more ownership.  That said, it’s been interesting to see how the money is spent.  Almost without fail, the beneficiaries are spending money on life essentials: food, health and education mostly, sometimes shelter.  On Wednesday I also took the position of native-English-speaker and edited some case studies written by German- and Luo-speakers to make sure they sounded good to donors.

Friday afternoon I spent relaxing and packing.  I threw all of my clothes and books and stuff together, and I hung out in the compound a bit.  I also ran around town a little getting soda for Alison’s farewell party.  The party was a lot of fun, I tried to dance a bit but that – as expected – was piecemeal at best.  But I got to hang out with a lot of people one last time and it was a lot of fun.  However, as the party wound down we realized there was a party crasher in our midsts.  Soon thereafter, Alison lost her phone and when I called it it was turned off.  So, we patted down the stranger and kept him inside – until a bad coincidence in which I was the last one outside and I turned away and then heard the gate shutting.  I ran outside and heard footsteps across the field, but couldn’t figure out how to give chase.  In the end, it was a really frustrating end to the evening, and I feel really bad for Alison.  Hopefully she can find the numbers to her Kampala friends and use my phone while we’re there together.

I’m spending the night at the ILF house tonight, and then I’ll finish packing in the morning.  Kampala, here I come!


Two Weeks

This post is about last week and next week, hence the title, but it also just so happens that in exactly two weeks (and three hours) I will be saying so long (and apwoyo) to Uganda.

In the passed week, I have bounced around sufficiently, and in a number of ways.  I spent two days working at International Lifeline Fund, three days working at Erikatten Buds Nursery School, and two days not working at all.  One day I actually, are you ready? consumed a bit of alcohol.  Altogether I spent three nights sleeping over at Ama and Alison’s place.  I also had the house to myself for a few days with both Nadja and Monica out to pick up significant others.  In more recent days I have met said significant others and played badminton.  It was a very up-and-down week of being really homesick and down and really social and distracted.  I was also really glad to be finding some work where I didn’t simply sit for four hours.

More recently, Lira is pretty much drained of water.  On Monday night I noticed the kitchen sink had no pressure, but thought maybe it was just something weird.  Tuesday morning we realized the kitchen and washroom had no water but the rest of the house did, so we figured the pipe burst or something.  Little did we know, the whole town was messed up.  At the nursery school we were getting water directly from the tap of the tank.  Junior Quarters (where the nursery, ACF, Erik’s house, and Ama & Alison’s house are) was completely out.  It was supposed to get fixed last night, but we’re all still waiting and conserving.

Next week will be my last week in Lira.  It’s very, very bittersweet.  I wish there was a way to go home without leaving Lira, but I’m pretty sure it would take a few natural disasters to make that happen.  This weekend I’m thinking about making a solo trip to Murchison Falls, but it could very well turn into a solo trip to wherever I get lost to, so I’m trying to get everything in order.  Next week I’ll hopefully be working with ACF International for a few days and checking in with NACWOLA one more time.  I’ll probably roll into Kampala on Saturday and spend a few days with friends before making my way to Entebbe.  I’ll check back in with more formulated plans and maybe some more pictures!


Typed the morning of Wednesday the 22nd of July.

This Friday, to round out my week of bouncing around town for work, I went to a small nursery school run out of a Swedish woman named Erika’s home. I spent the day helping five children between ages 3 and 5 with geography, mathematics, and English and monitored playtime as well. It was really interesting because it was such a small atmosphere and the students were really getting attention to help them learn. I helped children find different cities on a map of Uganda, made sure they counted, added, and subtracted straws correctly, and made sure they copied down the right letters. Now, I haven’t been to a regular school in Uganda yet, which is a real shame because i know it would be a very interesting sight.

Just from footing passed a small school on my way to the matatu from George’s place and passed St. Anne’s on my way to NACWOLA I’ve heard the drone of hundreds of children reciting numbers and reading words off the board.  Some of my friends refer to it as “chanting class.” Rote learning can really only take you so far.  Since they are paid by salary and there is little accountability, there are a lot of cases of teachers not even attending class.  There are still many schools that are basically a teacher sitting under a tree talking to students with no materials or curricula.  Being in a small school with adequate attention being given to students was really nice.

I went back to the school yesterday to help out some more.  The power and water were both out (water is apparently out in all or most of Lira town, so we’re all rationing and Erik borrowed a bunch from us last night) but we were able to still do some math and some English.  I’ll probably go back at least one more day before my time here is up.  Here are a few pictures from my two days at school:

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Work! And a little worry.

In the days since the World Cup, there’s been a lot of confusion and hearsay. I heard confirmations that a bomb was deactivated in an area in southeast Kampala. Also heard unconfirmed reports of a bomb being deactivated at a petrol station. I know a lot of expats in Kampala are (understandably) worried and are trying to get out of there. Lira has been quiet, but most of us have an ear to the south and an eye on the news. My basic plan of action is to avoid Kampala until it’s time to leave, and then figure out exactly how safe Kampala and Entebbe will be.

In the meantime, things are maintaining regularity here.  Still no work.  Hope was actually really angry about not having funding yet, and when she found out just how soon I’d be leaving she was even more unhappy.  I ended up asking around and nudged myself into possibilities.  Yesterday I seconded myself to International Lifelife Fund and helped Alison with data entry.  It was nice to have a longer workday with actual work and also be able to hang out with her and Ama.

ILF has a sort of two-pronged program, and I was helping the environmental department which sells fuel efficient stoves to people (the other is sanitation with wells).  The stoves, called okelo kuc, are portable and use less charcoal and take less time to cook.  The environmental department oversees stove distribution and do surveys.  When I was in Gulu I ran into ILF doing pricing surveys, asking people in Gulu town how much they would pay for them.  Yesterday, I did some data entry including information for potential vendors of stoves and a small stack of the aforementioned pricing surveys.  If you want to learn more about the stoves, there’s a bit on their website.

Yesterday there was also some torrential downpour – it reminded me a lot of the occasional insta-storm back home.  I ended up moving with Alison and Ama and watched a movie before Alison and I double-teamed a pasta and bruschetta (she led, I followed) before watching another movie and then I proceeded to crash there.

Today I’m probably doing some more data entry, and tomorrow I’ll be shifting to another volunteer opportunity where I’ll help a woman who is running a really small nursery school.  The last half of this week is proving more beneficial than the first half of my 2 month stay in Lira.  Plus, I’m always on call from Lisa for when the UNOHCHR goes into the field.  Supposedly, funding will come through next week for NACWOLA, but I don’t know if I believe that or if programs will start right away.  I think I’ll be bouncing back and forth for a bit – but I’m glad to be productive!


Sunday night, I was with Lisa and Ilaria when we got a text from Susan, who was in Kampala, that there were two explosions at clubs during the World Cup. From there we called everyone we could to make sure people were alright, but we knew very little and couldn’t get ahold of everyone.

Over the next 24 hours, it’s sunk in more and more. In the morning I found out that more than 50 people had been killed, and I got confirmation of what Lisa had speculated the night before – that al Shabaab had done it in retaliation for the AU troops in Somalia. It wasn’t until the early evening that Monica told me the restaurant hit was Ethiopian Village, her favorite restaurant and a place I probably would’ve visited before leaving. It was a while later that I found out that the one American killed, Nate Henn, was a former IC intern and was close to a lot of my friends. That’s also when I found out Tony had been with him. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I found out that Brian and Susan had been at a bar just 500 meters away from the rugby club.

The attack gradually sunk in more and more as the day went by. With internet only marginally working and running out of time on our phones, it was all I could do to make sure my parents and Kim knew I was okay.

It’s an eerie feeling, being here – even in far away Lira. I mean, when 9/11 hit I was thousands of miles away and had never been east of Missouri. I knew people who were in England during 7/7 and in Moscow during the train bombing earlier this year. For me, I had been in Kampala just seven days before, in the same area. If I had found myself in Kampala during the World Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had found myself close to one of the two places hit. It’s surreal to know and think these things when you’re just a few hours away and know people who were directly affected. I’m glad I’m safe and everyone I know is safe, but my thoughts are with all of those who weren’t so lucky.

For those that are worried, I’m safe in Lira – a small, northern town that’s presumably not an attractive target to foreign militants concerned with mass gatherings. I’ll be remaining up north for the next few weeks, but will inevitably be in Kampala for at least a couple of days before my departure. For now, all is well in Lira town.

A Busy Weekend.

This last weekend was perhaps one of the best times I’ve had here, and it ended on one of the worst and saddest possible notes. A full post on Sunday night’s events will go up soon. Most of this is a post typed up as an e-mail draft throughout the weekend, my opinion of the weekend’s end has definitely shifted due to recent events.

Friday night started poorly, as my laptop charger literally exploded on me, and I started a four-day, $60 effort to get it fixed. I went to Brian and Susan’s house for a barbecue where I helped Brian with the cooking a little bit (and by “helped with cooking” I mean we used plates to fan the heck out of the coals) and hung out with them and Lisa and Alison. Some other guests were there but they generally weren’t that cool. I also got to meet Lisa’s friend Ilaria who came up from Kampala. All in all it was a lot of fun getting a chance just to hang out with friends.

I spent Saturday with Lisa, Ilaria, and Alison, and we met an American named Ben who was sharing the Sankofa balcony with us. Alison had tracked down her favorite local spirit – a brand of vodka that comes in a plastic bag. Needless to say, bags were being emptied into fantas all day (I naturally sipped at virgin cokes). Eventually, we ended up back at Lisa’s place drinking the night away while playing a new card game called shithead. It was a lot of fun, but I’m definitely not good at it (or at thinking proper) and was the four-time gracious loser.

Sunday was a nice adventure as I spent the day walking around town with Lisa and Ilaria before going with Alison back to Lisa’s and hanging out. We spent a lot of time talking about the whole process of going home and about development in general; it was really nice to talk to people and really get an idea of what people were thinking, even if my perspective was very different from their 12-18 month stays in-country. We went to dinner at Whiskers (and I’ve officially been to all 5 restaurants!) and watched the World Cup match there. All in all the weekend was a lot of fun and I’m glad I got to hang out with a great group of people and really got to talk about all sorts of things.

As the night wound down Lisa, Ilaria, and I quickly got news of the bombings in Kampala and tried to get ahold of as many people as possible. While Lisa and Ilaria made a few calls, I got ahold of Morris and George, but couldn’t get ahold of Tony. Brian and Susan had been the ones that informed us, so we knew that they were safe.

School’s In For Summer

Typed on the 7th of July

Tuesday marked the beginning of the second five-week session of summer school at ASU.  For the first time since driver’s ed, I’m taking summer school!  Going into this summer, I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to pull off overseas adventures and interning with fast-paced classes.  The main motivator behind signing up was to clear the field for this fall semester’s schedule.  So, I’m fulfilling my internship but also taking a class on the history of exploration and imperialism and another on the culture of teaching.

The history one is looking a bit intimidating, like all history courses. Lots of reading, lots of papers.  In the five weeks of class I am to read four books and write five papers.  I got some heads up on the reading and have been chipping away at book #1, and on the first day of class I actually started and finished my first paper (due next week).  I’ve never been very good at keeping up with online classes during the actual school year, so I was hoping that the environment here would be more accommodating for it, but regardless I resolved to get started quickly and do everything as soon as possible.

The education class is pretty up in the air.  Like most education classes, it seems like a breeze.  It shouldn’t be too intensive, but the number of assignments is a lot bigger, albeit probably made up of easier work.  I’m just hoping to stay on the ball and get everything done and out of the way.  I have a few days to decide if anything is too much and I can kick a class off, but as of right now I don’t intend on doing so.  Ideally, I’ll get these out of the way and free up an already busy schedule this fall.  We’ll see how it goes!

Back in Lira

So, all of my posts from Adventure Week have been posted, many with pictures!  I’m back and settled in Lira for now.  Things at work are unfortunately right where I left them – with nothing to do.  The passed week was a really busy whirlwind, but I really enjoyed it despite several parts of it going wrong.  All told, I spent 7 days in 5 cities in 2 countries.  I spent way more money than I anticipated and the trip lasted moved one or two days later than it meant to. I also got to meet up with all three of my friends in Kampala, got to meet Jacob and see the IC office in Gulu, visited two genocide memorials in Kigali, hung out with Alison in two cities, met a group of cool Americans, saw fireworks.  I also rode in two company cars, one private hire taxi, four buses, about a dozen matatus and two dozen bodas, along with two dugout canoes and a speedboat.  I spent four nights in hotels, two on buses, and one in a friend’s room.

For the visually inclined, here’s a map of my travel!  As a caption I decided to sum up my trip via links to older blog posts, which is completely unnecessary.  This is much more for me to put things in order, but you can enjoy the map if you’d like!

A ( behind the H) – Lira town, Uganda. Started Adventure Week with a ride in the ACF car with Maxwell.

B – Gulu town, Uganda.  Hung out in a cafe and met Jacob the first night, and visited the IC office and had lunch with Alison.

C (behind the G) – Kampala, Uganda.  Literally sat in a bus station for three hours, and then was off again.

D – Katuna, Kabale District, Uganda & Gatuna, Rwanda.  Spent a long time going through immigration.

E – Kigali, Rwanda.  The first day was mostly going to banks and checking into a hotel. The second day was a national holiday, but the third I turned into an intense memorial day.

F – Lake Bunyonyi & Kabale town, Kabale district, Uganda.  After a boda-bus-boda-speedboat connection, I spent a day at Lake Bunyonyi canoeing and lounging about.

G – Kampala, Uganda.  Spent a little over 24 hours in the capital meeting friends and celebrating the 4th of July.


Typed on the evening of the 5th back home in Lira.

Yesterday was a busy, busy day.  I tried to see everyone I could, which resulted in saying hi to George when I woke up before flying across the city to Nando’s, a food court I had never visited while in the city before.  After having a bite to eat, I walked to Garden City – a big shopping mall, and called Tony on my way to meet up.  Wandered a little bit before meeting up with Tony for a drink.  Tony is one of the Rough Cut boys from Invisible Children, and I hadn’t seen him since he came to ASU as a part of the Legacy Tour last fall, so it was really nice to catch up.

From there I got a call from Alison, who also happened to be in the city, and Tony and I went to a cafe next to Nakumatt to meet her and her friends (a group of girls from Jefferson University who were staying with the same mutual friend as Alison).  From there I made my way back across town to Wandegeya and met up with Morris for a bit.  All in all a very back-and-forth day but I’m so glad I got to see everyone – the only people I didn’t get to see were the NACWOLA group in Nsambya but I will do that before I leave!

In the evening I joined up with Alison, Ross (her friend in Kampala), Tina, Anne, Shari (Jefferson group), and a girl named Kristin from Minnesota (all staying with Ross) and made our way to the American Recreation Association for the 4th of July party.  We laid a blanket out on the lawn and saw some local tribal drummers which was pretty cool.  After that we grabbed a bite to eat – and that was small boiled hot dogs which was a little disappointing.  Regardless, I still had three hotdogs and my fair share of soda.  Then there was a presentation by a crew of children, presumably of expats.  Not only did they do the Virginia Reel (a variation of the square dance, apparently) and sing “God Bless America,” but they also recited their oath and their code.  It was surreal.  The fact that the oath included a praise to “our lord and savior” didn’t help.  It seemed really out of place.  Afterwards they brought out the expected giant American flag cake, which turned out to be less than savory according to Anne but I didn’t have any. That said, I had a lot of fun hanging out with the girls (Ross inexplicably vanished and then would return with a drink and then vanish again) and getting to know everyone.  Kristin was doing a data study on (i think) meningitis.  The girls from Jefferson were working on a project (Rotary-funded!) to bring motorcycle ambulances to a small village in the country.  And after some so-so performances, a group of local dancers and drummers came out and put on a really good show.  My camera was dying I was able to get a few gems:

Finally, the big show!  At 8 o’clock (which seemed early to me but it was definitely dark enough) the fireworks started firing.  I was pleasantly surprised at how long the show lasted and how big some of the firework displays were.  I used up my camera in the final minutes of the show:

My friends, enamored by fireworks!

The gals: Shari, Tina, Kristin, Alison, Anne

The Lake

Typed on the 4th of July at Nando’s in Kampala.

Friday night I rolled into Kabale later than anticipated.  Because of the lateness, things got a little expensive: I took a boda across and out of town and then up and around some mountains (cold, cold wind!) before getting to Rutinda, the lakeside area.  I got to the Byoona Amagara dock and called the hotel at which I had reserved a room.  Due to the late hour I had to pay for a speedboat to come get me, which sucked and ended up almost doubling my bill :(

But!  The ride to the island was so, so neat.  It was a cold night (most nights are cold since it’s so high up) but I could see so, so many stars in the sky and I could make out the shapes of different islands as we skipped by on the water. It was really a neat sight.  That night I just settled into my room (a big dormitory of 12 beds, but I was the only visitor in the room) and tried to use my computer for a bit (no electricity) before going to bed.  But I woke up to quite the view: This lake (and specifically this hotel) had been recommended by too many people for me to resist it.  Heidi said it was the one place I had to go. Alison said it was her favorite spot in the country.  Erik just came back and said it was really nice.  So, I made it.  After failing to communicate with the outside world (computer died, phone was out of airtime, and the hotel’s internet sucked), I hired a canoe and threw caution to the wind.  I knew that A. I had not canoed since like five or six years ago in Durango, 2. I had not brought sunscreen and the sun might kill me on the lake, and III. The winds had caused some movement in the water that I might not handle.  That said, I spent a little bit of time rowing in circles and corkscrews before trying to paddle my way around.  Here are some pictures of one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in a long time:

I finally set my sights on a particular goal: Akampene Island.  Looking at the map, it was about 1.5km for a straight and narrow pilot, and I definitely was not one.  Plus, once I started really getting the hang of things and making some headway, I emerged from the cover of Bwama Island (the biggest island on the lake) and got stalled by winds and waves.  I struggled for a good two hours to get as close to the island as possible and got this picture before letting the current take me eastward.  This is Akampene Island.

Punishment Island, with its one tree.

It blends in with the background a little, but it’s just a patch of grass with one tree on it.  It was where the locals sent the unmarried pregnant girls.  It’s got one tree and looks to be a pretty lonely punishment. Just halfway out, I was getting pretty sunburned.  I ended up wrapping my washcloth around whichever arm was more in the sun as I rowed, and as I moved into my fifth hour on the water I booked it to the hotel.  As I arrived a group of four were getting lunch while I checked out.  After resting a bit, I grabbed all of my bags and headed right back out on the water where one of the hotel staff and I rowed back to Rutinda.

At the dock I met a TON of people arriving for the weekend, I guess I missed a very packed hotel!  Headed back to Kabale and walked around town a bit.  I tried to find a bus, but the soonest one to Kampala originating in Kabale wasn’t for until 11pm (5 hours away) so I decided to flag down a bus from Rwanda.  Grabbed a quick bite to eat before standing by the junction and I found a guy who called a Kampala-bound bus driver and made sure there was a seat.  In the end, I left 4 hours earlier and saved 5000 shillings so it was a victory.  Ill-planned, though, I arrived in Kampala at 5 in the morning and snuck into George’s place and, back in the city, took a nap until sunrise.