The Modern City

On the bus ride up country yesterday, I read a comment in The Daily Monitor about Gulu municipality’s efforts to claim city status. Gulu town itself is about 150,000 people, but some on the municipal council are trying to incorporate nearby communities to bring the population closer to the 500,000 threshold to achieve city status. The change would give the town more space but also access to more resources. The short comment in the Monitor noted that:

Gulu Mayor George Labeha… has ordered the demolition of grass-thatched housing in Layibi and Laroo divisions as the municipality works towards gaining city status. “Not all residents will be affected, we are targeting areas such as Cereleno, Industrial Area and Limo Sub-ward.” Of course the decision did not go well with some residents, who argue that grass-thatched huts are part of their culture, and development will not force them to abandon them. They added that some of them cannot afford to buy iron sheets.

On the way into town, I saw decent-sized parts of town that are still comprised of grass-thatched huts. The notion that they would have to be destroyed before Gulu could claim city status is a difficult one to accept. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I haven’t seen many (any?) traditional huts in Kampala, despite seeing plenty of informal settlements like shacks and shipping containers. I don’t know how other African cities are, but it sends the message that, in a city, you can have modern poverty, but can’t have homes that are seen to contradict what most think of as “modern.”

Replica of an Acholi house at the Uganda Museum.

Replica of an Acholi house at the Uganda Museum.

It reminded me of my friend Camille’s talk on slum tourism in South Africa (I live-tweeted pieces of it). During the question-and-answer segment after her talk, someone asked how depictions of townships as authentic Africa influenced African perceptions. She responded that, when asked where “the real Africa” was, whites often referenced the townships while blacks pointed to the rural homelands. From what I’ve seen in Kampala and Kigali and Cairo, cities can be African, but this news from Gulu seems to say that one aspect of being African is not compatible with being a city.

That’s not to say that housing that isn’t a hut isn’t African, just that these houses are also African, and all types of housing should be acceptable for a city such as Gulu. I hope that the municipality can find a way to develop into a city, if that’s what is wanted, without shedding the grass-thatched housing elements of the town.


Security Questions

Brief anecdote from what promises to be a summer filled with anecdotes.

I had a long layover in Cairo yesterday, and spent some of it wandering the city. Upon arrival back at the airport, I picked up some souvenirs and proceeded to the security line. I tried to ask one security officer if there were containers to put things from my pockets for the scanner, and he said just to take it through the metal detector with me. I did, and the metal detector sounded, and nobody cared.

Then when I went to retrieve my backpack, a different officer asked me if there was money in it. “…..No?” I responded. Then he opened one pocket and asked me again. Then he asked if there was money in my pockets. Long silence followed by an awkward conversation about whether I had “twenty dollars” or “twenty hundred dollars” ended with him pulling a pack of pop tarts out of my bag. “Is this hash?” He asked. “No.” I said flatly. Another long silence. Then he let me through.

Bribery averted?

Turn Signals

I recently moved across the country, driving from Arizona to Connecticut with a dog in my back seat and my wife and the cats in the next car. At some point in the drive, somewhere along the I-40 between a Taco Bell in Amarillo, Texas, and a hotel room with no air conditioning in Clinton, Oklahome, a semi-truck passed another semi in front of me. Truck A had succeeded in passing truck B, with me in tow, but the driver was having trouble telling if he was far enough ahead to change back into the right lane. His turn signal was flickering, but he wasn’t confident enough to move. After a while, trucker B turned his lights off for a couple of seconds, signaling the all-clear. After changing lanes without incident, trucker A turned on his emergency lights for a moment as a sign of gratitude.

You don’t always get that much cooperation on the road, maybe a high beam or two, but the whole thing seemed like a norm for the truckers. Struggling turn signal, “may I?” Lights out, “all good.” Lane change. Flash a “thank you.” It reminded me of one of the weirder things I saw in Uganda.

Uganda’s roads rarely have lanes, but colonialism still says drive on the left. Whether you’re on the newly paved (and wonderful!) highways or on a pothole-riddled street, cars will be driving with turn signals constantly flickering left and right. It took me a while to get it, and I still might be missing something, but the conversation that I tried to decipher came to this: if there were cars behind you and you were going too slow, it was your job to let them know if they could pass you. A right turn signal would indicate that there was oncoming traffic, and that they should wait a little longer. A left turn signal was the go-ahead to pass.

It was a fascinating thing to see if you had no idea what was going on, because the truck in front of you would constantly be signaling in every direction while going straight on a highway across the country. I don’t know how it arose or if it occurs in other countries, but I’d love to know. If you know more about this, or about other communicating-while-driving customs, I’d love to hear about it.

There and Back Again

This is a short post about my trip to DC this weekend, highlighting museums and meals with friends. To see why I was going to DC, click here.

I’m home from an extended weekend in DC. It has been truly one of the most amazing weekends spent with some great, great new friends – if not family. The Resolve invited me and a small group of advocates to Washington for a mixed bag of great events. What was supposed to be the pinnacle of the itinerary was the mother of all reasons to go to DC – an invitation to the White House.

The Allen Lee, my home for the weekend

The Office of Public Engagement was holding a Community Leaders Briefing – part of an ongoing series – and this one was specific to foreign policy, particularly related to conflict and development. And so I went to DC, and was received in open arms by the Resolve crew.

Upon arriving, I checked into the shadiest building ever, in a pretty area central to everything (Foggy Bottom). From there I wandered the Mall and had lunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill (which is older than the Civil War, what?!) and visited the Museum of National History before meeting up with Adam for dinner at a tall and narrow restaurant called Matchbox. It was really nice to catch up and chat, and I got to see what DC calls Chinatown.

The next day was a long and thorough walk through the permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The exhibit is huge and well worth the three and a half hours I spent there, and I also perused the other exhibits before heading for lunch at the USDA. From there I trekked across town to the Resolve office, where I met old friends and made new ones. It was great to see everyone a day early and hang out in the office. I was able to finally put faces to names and voices and also got to chat with some great people. From there I left for a rendezvous with Caitlin, a fellow advocate that was – like me – flying in with little to do. We went to a cafe near Dupont and hung out for a while before departing.

Friday was the big day at the White House, which I’ll write about later. After that I wandered the Mall with a few people before we headed to Busboys & Poets, a cafe/book shop that had slam poetry that night. It was my first slam, or whatever

WTC antenna, with 9/12 headlines in the background

you want to call it, and it was a lot of fun. Saturday we went to a workshop in East Market hosted by Citizens for Global Solutions which was pretty neat. During the lunch break I wandered the market with a few friends and ended up doused by a rain cloud. After the workshop I ended up wandering with some friends to pick up flowers, go to a coffee shop, and then a wonderful BBQ at the house of one of Resolve’s staff.

The very last day, I wandered with Caitlin past a few memorials before dashing through the rain for brunch back at Old Ebbitt. It was the weirdest meal ever, with french toast stuffed with ham and wrapped in bacon and drizzled in syrup. So, if I die of a cardiac arrest anytime soon, that’s why. From there, we walked a bit before saying final goodbyes and I went to the Newseum, which is a really neat museum whose facade has the first amendment in giant letters. Running short on time until my flight, I made a quick tour through today’s front pages and saw a piece of the Berlin Wall, a fallen statue of Lenin, and the antenna from the World Trade Center. The whole museum was really interesting and had some great exhibits on lots of things, from terrorism through the ages to natural disasters like Katrina. I ended up rushing off through a sculpture garden on my way to the airport, where….

I waited forever for the train to the airport, checked in and went through security and got to my gate with 40 minutes to spare. Grabbed lunch and sat, and then saw the plane arrive. As we got really close to departure time, I got word that it wouldn’t be leaving for Newark for another 75 minutes because of storms there – and I’d miss my connecting flight. So I went through the long process of trying to get a plane, then had to go back to the ticketing counter and ended up having to go back through security and ended up on a tiny regional plane. It was the first time I ever set foot on a tarmac, and I took a bus across the runway to a small plane and boarded it and read on a 20 minute flight to Philadelphia before rushing to my next plane to Phoenix. Made it home and slept, and here I am now. Trip: over’d.

Leaving Uganda

Typed in three steps: outlined in Lira, typed in Kampala, and finalized in Entebbe on the 4th.  Finally posted – from Phoenix!

On Friday I said goodbye to a lot of Lira friends.  On Sunday I met up with the rest of them in Kampala and said goodbye as well.  Over the last couple of days I’ve been saying final farewells to all of my Kampala friends and I’ll be on my way back the U.S. late tonight.  I’m really excited to go home, but I know I’m going to miss this.

I’m incredibly excited to go home.  It was my first time on a solo trip and my first attempt to live abroad, and it’s been an experience I’ll never forget.  I made myself a tiny little short-lived life here, and I’m sad to let it go.  I’ve been aching for home, but I always knew I’d get there.  I have no idea if or when I’ll be back in Lira or in Uganda, so it’s definitely a weird feeling.

My internship was, essentially, a failed attempt.  But, in these last weeks I’ve managed to do some tangible work and I think everything has turned out okay.  Beyond work, though, I met a lot of great people who I won’t soon forget, and I really enjoy the atmosphere that Lira has, from the streets and the restaurants to the busy market and the relaxing compounds.  Here’s a breakdown of everything that has popped into my head about leaving this country, sometimes with explanations and anecdotes.  Excuse the length, as I’ve been thinking about this post for the last two weeks.  Enjoy.

Continue reading

Greetings from Entebbe

Yesterday after dropping Alison at the airport and finding my hostel, I relaxed for a little bit in my room before heading out into town.  Went to the Botanical Gardens and wandered around a lot, enjoyed the gardens, and read by the lake.  I also met a few Ugandans that were really nice and one girl even showed me around parts of the Gardens.  After that I roamed around until I made it to a Chinese restaurant where I had a hearty lunch before heading back to the hostel for a nap.  After resting for a good half-hour I started counting my money and budgeting my trip (bank card wasn’t working on Tuesday in Kampala, so I was worried something had gone wrong).  Suddenly I got a call from Ben – his friends were staying at the same hostel and he saw my name on the register!  So, I hung out on the patio with Ben and two of his friends for a few hours.  Around 8 we all split up as his private hire arrived and his friends went out for dinner.  After some work on my paper I called it a night and got some much-needed rest.  Today, I meandered town and had a small breakfast.  Finally got my bank card to work (thank you Stanbic Bank!) and went into town to buy a few small things, and now I’m relaxing at the hostel watching the news.

Entebbe is a pretty decent little town.  It’s quite small, and has a couple of nice restaurants and a pretty compact little town area.  The bus park reflects what people use the town for – it’s half matatus heading to Kampala and half private hires heading to the airport.  From several parts of the area you can see Lake Victoria, including a really nice view from the Botanical Gardens, which run alongside part of its coast.  The road to the airport is pretty quick, and apparently you can see the plane from the ’76 hostage incident at the old terminal on the way to the airport.  I’ll be in town for a couple more hours and then taking a private hire out to the airport to begin my 26 hour journey back to Phoenix.

Murchison Weekend

Typed on the afternoon of the 26th of June at the house.  Sorry this post is out of chronological order and still lacks pictures – should be rectified in a few days.

I got back from a two-day, one-night trip to Murchison Falls National Park last night.  This post will be half-positive and half-negative, so bear with me.

Saturday morning I went into town and met Moses, the guy from whom I was going to hire a Rav4 for the weekend. He had just had some fine-tuning work done to it and it was ready to go, but getting paperwork filled out took a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I was behind schedule and didn’t get out of town until around 10.  That said, I enjoyed the drive a lot.  I hadn’t been in the driver’s seat of a car in two months, and a right-hand drive car in ever.  The road from Lira to Kamdini is pretty ugly, and I had to ensure a few heavily speed bumped roads, and there were chunks where there just wasn’t any pavement at all.  It was still nice to drive, though, and I brought along a burned CD to keep me busy.  Just passed Kamdini, I took the turnoff before Karuma and found myself on a really nice, wide and paved road soaring westward.  I finally made it to a village called Purongo and turned down a dirt path through some villages on my way into the park.  Finally made it to the gate around 1.30, a bit behind schedule but in high spirits.

Spirits were a bit dampened by the cost of entry.  Not sure how, but I mixed up the numbers in my head and was thoroughly surprised at the gate.  But I was soon driving through the park and spotting tons of gazelles and some giraffes and warthogs too.  I got some basic directions from the guard and I slowly made my way towards Paraa (where most of the accommodations are).  After a lot of sightseeing and no Paraa, though, I started to convince myself that I had missed the junction and was on my way back out to the gate at Pakwach.  This was exacerbated when I asked for directions from a lost couple who were coming from said gate.  Turned around and headed back whence I came, with the other car following.  After a while, we were informed we were headed in the wrong direction (which means I had originally been heading in the right direction) so we turned around again!

This is where things got bad. As I was driving here, things went awry.  My front right tire stopped steering completely.  I swerved hard to the right, and then skidded to the left across the road and ended up against a bank of dirt.  Somehow, I kept my cool and tried to steer it forwards, but realized something was definitely wrong.  I called every number in the park that I had while I climbed under the car and realized that the drive shaft was clear off the wheel.  I finally reached a mechanic who said he’d call me back while I managed to affix the shaft back onto the wheel, but there was a nut missing and I knew it wouldn’t last.  I continued forwards, and after a few meters it popped right off again.  For the next two hours I would be under the car at least a dozen times, and this is including a good 45-minute ceasefire during which the car worked and I played spot-the-junction-or-you’ll-end-up-in-Pakwach.  I informed Moses of the problem and told him I’d keep him updated, and in the meantime I never heard from the mechanic ever.  Eventually, I found the junction and realized that, had I not stopped to ask for directions, I would have found it in another ten minutes or so.  Slowly rolled into Paraa and sat at the Nile for a bit while waiting for the ferry.

A good chunk of the day had been wasted with a broken car, but I was glad I wasn’t 100% stranded. But I was angry about the circumstances and slowly realizing I had no idea if I would get back to Lira.  But, I made it over the river and to Red Chili Rest Camp, the only inexpensive and probably the coolest hangout/accommodation place in the park.  I knew it was booked, but was hoping I could fenagle a tent or something.  I ended up secretly sleeping in the car in the parking lot for free, which is comparable to a $5 camping fee and a whole lot better than all of the $140 rooms at the other lodges.  Before going to bed I hung around the campfire and met some pretty cool people.  There was a guitar and a group of Brits sang a lot of great songs and it was really fun.  A few of them even improvised blues songs!  Oh, and on our way back to our respective camp sites we saw three hippos in the camp site. It was totally freaky being that close to those things since, you know, they could kill me.  It was a nice way to end the evening.

The next morning I went out on an early drive to the Falls. It took about an hour and 7 quick-fixes to make it there, but it was a really cool sight, so I’m glad I made it out there. I’m also glad that on the way back to Red Chili a bus stopped to help me with my car troubles and I got some international support. A bunch of Ugandans and expats tried to help and eventually we got some rope and tied the drive shaft in place. From then on I was able to drive, albeit with some hesitancy. From there I grabbed a small lunch and made my way north to the Pakwach gate while keeping an eye out for animals. Got to see some more giraffes and antelope, and one faraway elephant! Then I made my way home with my roped up car and called it a trip.

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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.

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.


Typed on the 2nd of July at Bourbon Coffee Shop (with the internet down).

So, today was a day that I had been anticipating for, well for a few years now. I had in mind two goals, two places I wanted to go. First was the Kigali Memorial Center, the city’s memorial of the 1994 genocide and an exhibit about other genocides in history. It was really interesting and really informative, which is what I expected. The exhibits were split into Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide and addressed issues like ethnic divisions and justice after the war. Here are some pictures from the memorial.

But the thing that loomed ahead was the memorial I had wanted to see since I first read about the incident a couple of years ago. The church in Nyamata.  In early April of 1994, when the genocide first began after the President’s plane was shot down, thousands of Tutsis fled to the church in Nyamata.  They were safe for a couple of days before the Interahamwe militia broke down the gates and lobbed grenades at the church before using guns and machetes to kill those inside.  I’ve heard figures of up to 10,000 victims.  It’s something difficult to imagine, and seeing the memorial was something that really struck a chord.

So after a half hour matatu-ride and a short trip on a bicycle, I got to the church. It was a simply brick building with a serene lawn, with everything draped in purple and white flags. I walked in and immediately was taken aback by the pews. Each pew in the church was covered in piles of clothes – the clothes of the victims. The clothes were also scattered all over the floor throughout the church.

From here I went into the vault immediately under the church. Here there was a three-tier shelf that laid it all out for me. The very bottom was a casket draped in white cloth. Above that was a shelf with row after row of skulls. In the center were some bracelets and identification cards (each of which said “Tutsi” on it). The top tier, just about at eye level, was a pile of bones – femurs to scapulas to ribs, laid bare. I knew the memorial was displayed like this, but I was still a little on the defensive, and when I saw that someone had scribbled a name onto one of the skulls I got weepy. After reflecting for a bit I got out of the church.

After walking out of the church I faced the most daunting task – the mass grave behind the church. First, there was a grave for an Italian humanitarian worker beside the church – she had warned about the impending genocide and called on people to intervene before she was killed. Behind the church were two large slabs of stone marking the grave. Each one had a staircase that led underground to the tombs. Inside were stacks of caskets (each with the bodies of far more than one victim), shelves lined with hundreds of skulls and bones, and dozens of purple and white flags. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but you at least know what you’ll see.

Needless to say, it’s a powerful statement, seeing these reminders of the genocide.  It is such a different idea of remembrance that we have at home, and it’s such a different way of addressing an issue like this. It definitely brings out emotion, and if you’re like me it just makes you think that the event this church represents isn’t a solitary event. This happened all over the country in 1994, and things like it have happened around the globe in the passed century. Seeing the memorial was something I had to do, and I think it’s something that will stick with me for a long, long time.