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I was drafted into the Ng’onge Clan, my clan name is Jemba.
Perhaps the following scrawl can take your mind off work for a few minutes.
If you are feeling ambitious and would like to empower an orphan to become an entrepreneur, follow the link below for more information on a project i’ve started.
Orphans Project Link:
Thanks to the following people for contributing in a variety of ways.
Friday Night Crew
Welcome to Masaka, Uganda
Working at Kitovu Mobile Aids Organization
If you have an interest in medicine, social work, microfinance, or sustainable development you’d be quite useful here in Masaka, Uganda working for Kitovu Mobile Aids Organization. The final-year med students would actually spend most of their time at Kitovu Hospital, the parent organization, where 10 students from London are lodging/drinking right now. The less career-defined individuals would be most beneficial at the hospital’s outreach unit – Kitovu Mobile Aids Organization – where I am now. http://www.kitovumobile.org/
Every morning at Kitovu Mobile the majority of staff load up in a secondhand, Japanese-made, SUV with a tea-crate, light snack and the days materials before driving off to a village usually one hour away. Depending on the department you are in your destination and objective for the day will vary but fall under the overriding mission, “To improve the quality of life of people affected by HIV and AIDS through working with communities in the areas of Prevention; Care and Support and Capacity building.”
For my orientation week I spent everyday “out in the field” cruising down exotic paths into remote villages to provide AIDS medication and psychosocial support to orphans, vulnerable children and people affected with HIV and AIDS. For a suburbanite from Jersey this was quite awesome. Since pulling out my mac powerbook and exemplifying my computer literacy i’ve been quarantined in an office.
One of my first assignments was to analyze the data results from a socio-economic survey of 80 households living in Kasaali Sub-County. Kitovu Mobile has decided to implement several projects in this sub-county and needs the data to guide their efforts. To compare this data to the “struggling” Manhattanites, the average annual income in Kasaali Sub-County is $105 primarily generated from crop production and animal rearing. Households have, on average, 2.1 acres of land, 6.8 children and occupy a semi-permanent structure (mud-brick walls, grass-thatched roof). An average of 2 children from each household have dropped out of school mainly because their parents fell ill, could no longer work and therefore could not raise funds for tuition. I was quite happy to compile a 30+ page report on this sub-county which previously was outsourced to pricy consultants. I am going to try and develop some in-house excel/SPSS talent so they can continue to pump out these reports at low cost.
The high prevalence of HIV & AIDS (12%) in Kasaali Sub-County can cause these families to fall apart. If the household head dies, the better outcomes for the remaining family members are to seek refuge with extended family, seek casual labor in town, sell their land to buy food, or a combination of all three. Some fall into stealing, sexual exploitation, and a life of abuse and neglect.
My biggest interest and core responsibility is to come up with ways to boost the income generation of each household. The most common methods I’ve seen fall into one general model: micro-lending of agricultural inputs to boost crop production. This can be very successful in that it can boost household income enough to pay for school fees, medical expenses, and food requirements. Then at least the family is moving forward, albeit unhurriedly. Coming from the Tri-state area, however, these communities seem ancient and micro-solutons seem too small-scale. I can’t help but think aggressive foreign investment is the quickest way out of poverty. However, coca-cola is slurped in every square inch of Uganda yet poverty persists.
I wanted to have abroad experience (primarily research based) in an emerging market because I though it could be leveraged into a career down the road. Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) was the most impressive of the 150+ relevant search results under “volunteer abroad energy.” Essentially they do two main things: set you up with a local organization to work for and find you a local family to live with while you work. They work in three countries: South America, India and Africa. After reviewing my resume they decided that I would find Masaka, Uganda most fitting. Four weeks from my google search I landed in Entebbe, Uganda at 10pm on Friday, March 9th. The next morning FSD drove me to Kampala to pick up supplies and then drove to Masaka to move in with my host family. I had three days of language training before showing up to work at 8:00 am Thursday morning. FSD is intentionally dormant beyond this point to ensure an authentic experience for the worker. However, they do provide a plethora of third party services including grant money for implementing projects.
I’ve recently started sleeping through the 4:30am rooster crow; the 5:30 and 6:30 are a stretch. I didn’t know that roosters crow approximately every hour at dawn and dusk until I took up residence at Jjuuko farms. By the 7:30 crow I am walking to work having eaten fresh pineapple, bread, 1 Malaria tablet, 1 multi-vitamin, wearing slacks, a dress shirt, SPF 100 and a pair of Nike cross-fits. It is 30 minutes to work and another 10 to town. My pre-Africa pace could half this time but I can’t shower at work and I am not greeted with air conditioning. My pace is specifically engineered for punctuality and sweat reduction—my grandmother would greatly enjoy it.
Mr. and Mrs Jjuuko have six children, seven including me, and 9 including two girls who are staying with us until their father returns from surgery. I am beginning to think they will be with us for a long time. From oldest to youngest: AbduRazak (22), Merriam (21), AbduRashiid (17), Amira (15), Feruz (11), and Fazirat (10), Catherine (9) and Isabelle (5). We often step out to the family farm to play. I pick up as many of the little ones as I can and run as fast as I can until they all fall off or I fall over. All these children live under one roof with up to three in a bedroom yet I have witnessed zero fights. If I had to guess, I would say it is because competition is not as ingrained in the youth here as it is in the USA. I now feel as though I wasted hours of my youth fighting with my brothers when I could have been building cooperative relationships. Movies are the most common bond between us.
You can buy a movie in town for $0.60. They are downloaded off the internet and stacked high in stores downtown. I have had to conform to their preferred TV genre which I have yet to identify. I just know it differs form mine because the several flicks I have tried to make permanent features during the 7:30 pm tea time/movie time slot including true blood and dexter have all been short lived. Walking Dead is one we all agree on. Its about zombies.
During my orientation week I rotated among the various departments. The first day I went to Kulisizu sub-county with the Counseling and Training Department accompanied by Rose, Rose, and Pros (like cross but with a P. And the letter R in Uganda is pronounced as if R and L are one concurrent sound. Try to say race and lace at the same time; whatever shape you tongue makes to achieve the R/L sound is what you’ll use to properly pronounce all three of these names and many more. Sometimes I have to de-Americanize the hard R sound from my vocabulary to communicate clearly). Rose, Rose, Pros were meeting with approximately 100 local leaders from churches, schools, NGOs and local government officials to discuss several projects evolving in their sub-county.
This is how most Kitovu Mobile undertakings begin – mobilizing community leaders from a specific area to inform them that Kitovu Mobile will be operating in their area and would like to form cooperative relationships and identify individuals and organizations that can provide assistance and continued support when they eventually phase-out. I figured this out from the bits and pieces of the statements said during the meeting that were translated to me by Rose. The only direct involvement that I had that day was at the beginning of the meeting when I stood up, faced the audience and said, “moli motya bannyabo ne bassebo, mugyebale, nze chris, nva America.”
The second day of orientation I went out with the Homebased Care department. We drove to Bakakata, about an hour away, equiped with two large wooden chests containing anti-retroviral treatment for HIV & AIDS treatment and a number of other medications to treat related symptoms. Around 100 people showed up to refill their supplies that day. The female beneficiaries respectively kneeled down in a beautiful, vibrantly colored, traditional dress before calmly stating their symptoms and handing me their empty pill bottles. I counted so many pills that day that my hands were white with powder.
The third day of my orientation was spent far out in the village with the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Department. The tertiary roads we took to get there could have been mistaken for dried out streambeds with bottomless streaks of erosion. Few enough cars pass this way allowing vegetation to act like those giant, cylindrical mops found in old, drive-through car cleaners that spin against the side of your car as you pass. I was traveling with the orphans department to meet with one of the orphan groups sponsored by Kitovu Mobile.
This group of orphans is one of many groups of orphans that have graduated from the Kitovu Mobile Farm School. Each group meets once a month to discuss personal issues, receive counseling, and save money in a communal fund used for micro-lending among the group. The particular group I met with were children of Rwanda refugee’s who crossed over to Uganda during the civil war. Most of their parents died of AIDS and Malaria.
It was very clear by this point that Kitovu Mobile does amazing work and I am very lucky to be a part of their organization. To have a positive impact on so many needy people with such limited resources exemplifies the brilliance of the organization and the dedication and talent of its staff. I ended up being placed in the OVC department.
Adrenaline junkies can add the Pine Ridge Motorcar Rally to their bucket list. This network worthy event is not yet recognized by any tourist book or featured on a facebook page, or any webpage, or in the minds of many locals I asked for directions. I traveled there by boda boda with Beth, a girl from Australia interning for another organization, with little expectations for such an unadvertised event. To my surprise, parked cars and motorbikes spewed out from the edge of a bustling audience. The total number of people in attendance could pack a football field and were spread around the track as if Tiger, sorry Mcllroy, were approaching the tee box. I bought a face mask to shield the dust for $0.40 upon entering.
The reddish brown, dirt packed track features two lanes that intertwine like distorted Audi signs. To enter the inner enclosures you simply wait for the cars to pass and then scramble across. There are designated and undesignated areas for this. The difference is a man with a whistle encouraging hustle. It wasn’t that hard because the cars are released in pairs about every minute, each racing in their respective lane.
A waste-high, barbed wire fence supported by wooden posts separates the drivers and spectators. Where there is no barbed wire fence, drivers and spectators are separated by spectators.
There is one spectator spot where, I quote from an audience member, “there is much blood here,” that makes the constant abuse from the sun and dirt completely worth it.
The two lanes parallel for about a 100-yard straightaway creating an island of space in the middle. Spectators fill this narrow strip of space, one foot sliding into the track with the other resting on the upper bank. The straightaway ends with a sharp turn to the right. Like in the movies, cars will hit the breaks leading into the turn, rotating the car sideways before slamming the gas and veering off around the bend (Youtube Fast and Furious 1/2/3/4 or 5, but don’t rent them). Occasionally, this “controlled slide” becomes uncontrollable and the cars severely overshoot the turn. You can stand right next to the point where the cars occasionally overshoot—assuming they don’t gracefully transition from the sliding forward to the accelerating around the corner. You can stand here waiting for the cars to approach before running out the way at the very last second just incase the car veers out of control—some remain standing there simply for the rush. I’ll admit it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done but it was 100% awesome the 5 times I did it.
Not So Fun
I am 100% better now, but blood tests confirmed Malaria and a bacterial infection. I woke up Sunday morning with a stomachache and slight nausea. I had spent the previous day swimming at one of the hotel resorts so I thought it was from swallowing too much pool water or eating the westernized food they were serving; either way I figured I would wait it out. I stood up to use the bathroom around 3:00 pm when suddenly I felt like fainting and vomiting. Sweat started pouring out of my face and I lost the strength in my legs and arms. I stumbled into the living room and told my host family that I need to go to the hospital. I felt like a big baby because I knew it was Malaria and these tough Ugandan’s get it three times a year. I sat down in their living room complaining that I couldn’t walk or move my legs. Then I vomited 4 times into my bucket shower (A shower in Uganda is a bucket filled with hot water, I have my own bucket – it has multiple uses, i clean my clothes in it for example).
Of the 24 hours I spent in hospital, I went through three IVs, three syringes administered through the drip tube, and one painful injection in my left buttocks. I was released with three difference medications, Artemether + Lumefantrine (for malaria), Paracin (for pain), and Taxim-o (for bacteria). The total hospital bill was $62.00. All in all, the staff were very friendly and did their job well. Although it did take them 4 attempts to get an IV needle into a vein on the top of my right hand. I have big juicy veins according to many nurses so I was very surprised. Each time they missed, they would push the needle in further hoping that would work. After the third attempt, one of the nurses accidently stabbed the other with the needle. The nurse yanked her hand back with the needle sticking out of her right thumb. Good thing I don’t have HIV. I was extremely relieved on the 4th attempt when I saw blood come out of the drip tube.
My host brother, AbduRashid, spent the entire night with me in hospital. This is characteristic of the compassion Ugandans show for family when they fall ill. He arrived at hospital with me, then went home and came back with food, thermos, blanket, and DVDs. He slept in a chair that night with his head and crossed arms down on a table in front of him. Then in the morning, he went out and got breakfast for us. He stayed the entire next day until about 8 pm when I was finally released. We spent most of that day watching DVDs on my computer.
Sorry Sara Cozolino, I have descended back to a level of savagery I didn’t think was possible after my vegan days in California. At first I remained true to my vegetarian compromises, I would take beans over meat and nuts over fish. The problem is that they don’t have the grand accommodations of protein-alternatives you find at Whole Foods at my local street market. I lost about 10-15 pounds in my first month; exactly the kind of poundage that Amy’s All-American Vegetarian Burgers puts on me. Fish came first, then chicken, then beef. Soon I’ll be throwing back fried grasshopper and ants like the locals.
People aren’t prissy here about food. When you ask for fish, that’s what you get. The tail, skin, head, bones and fish smell are all part of the meal. In fact, chances are the fish was caught hours before it arrived on your plate, partially because of food storage issues but also due to the local nature of Uganda cuisine. The first chicken I ate here came from my backyard. It was beheaded, de-feathered, and boiled the same evening I ate it. Chickens here are big, strong and wild. They can run, jump, and hop. They look healthy too. People own chickens to provide food and supplemental income; you can trace the sale of a chicken back to a specific need provided to a family. These are some of the reasons I feel no regret chowing down animals here. The animals I eat were born not too far away, grew up in a grass field eating fresh maize, and purchased alive before being butchered by my host sister with a big knife. There is something more self-respecting about that than chomping down a big-mac.
I generally feel safe here but I have a lot of reasons not to. There is a lot of crime in Masaka, specifically in the Nyendo district where a lot of street children are. People kill over land here. People also kill over motorbikes. I am not allowed out past 8pm without a driver generally. When I go out at night, Henry, a person I work with, picks me up from my house in his car and then drops me off later that night. I don’t go out at night a lot here, perhaps twice a week. Most of the time this will entail a few games of pool at one of the local bars or poker night at a tourist hotspot. If I am really feeling it, I’ll head to Club Ambiance. For a town with a lot of mud houses there is a New York worthy club here. It fills up at night with Uganda’s amazing dancers. I am usually the only white person in the building. In fact, I am the only white person I have ever seen at this club, or most other local bars I have been to. I can attribute this to the authenticity of my program which has allowed me to make some great local friends to go out with. Most whites come in groups and it prohibits their exposure to local experiences. You always see them at the one or two “nice” restaurants in town but they disappear back to their hotels around 9pm.
Rafting on the Nile River
I took a weekend trip to Jinja with some Americans from Northeastern University who were doing a ‘global experiential learning’ program with my organization. The smart guy in front is me.
Try and keep your eye on the black helmet, that is me.
Explorer River Campsite: looking over the Nile.
Masaali Motorcar Rally
I couldn’t resist attending another one of these Ugandan motorcar rallies. I went with Justine and Shibba from work.
Dating is a fairly absent concept the further you get from urban centers in Uganda. Similar to NYC, I think one of the reasons for this is that men cannot afford it. I haven’t looked into the history of dating but I imagine the establishment of it was greatly spurred by the birth of disposable income: the income remaining after all other mandatory expenditures are incurred; fresh-out-of-college i-bankers’ receipts will best explain the concept and power of disposable income.
In Uganda, in places where the 1-3 dollars a young, single person makes after a days work is spent on food, shelter, clothing, and medical expenditures you can imagine that the conditions have not allowed for the whole 5pm-5am social industry. Culturally, the norm here is early, family-approved marriages with many children expected shortly thereafter to help with the family farm and housework.
This is all changing in larger cities like Kampala, and even moderately sized ones like Masaka, where more modernity, education, and wealth have created a generation of independent people with the time and money to float around a bit before tying the knot.
Being one of those people, I took Betty to a concert at the Maria Flo Hotel this weekend. She is overly religious and makes me take my shoes off before entering her humble abode. She works in the lab at Kitovu Mobile analyzing infected blood samples of HIV and Aids clients. She is relatively light skinned for a Ugandan girl, which makes her about the same color as my extremely dark brown eyes.
The admission fee for the concert was $4.oo; about the most you can spend on an outing in Masaka. We rented two plastic chairs at $0.40/ea, bought two sodas at $0.60/ea, and one pack of semi-sweetened crackers also at $0.40/ea. They didn’t offer anything else to eat. Given that American sporting arenas and concert venues have predisposed me to an insatiable appetite for an array of diabetic delights upon entrance, I bitterly bought three more packs of crackers after finishing the first.
One attendee must have been drinking the local Jin here. Overly intoxicated, this individual began smashing chairs and beers in the audience. The crowd rose from their chairs to examine the commotion. From where I was sitting I saw a police baton hover above the crowd – briefly pausing – before descending on this feral individual several times. After a few minutes of struggling he was carried out and forgotten. Joseph, my friend who was renting chairs that night, would have to visit him in jail the next day in pursuit of payment for the chairs and crates of beer he smashed.
The crowd often cheered. Betty would begin translating the hype to me but would get cut off by another roar. Maybe it was the crackers, maybe it was because I was cold and I left my jacket in New Jersey, but every song I heard that night sounded exactly the same to me and I didn’t like the first one. The dancing, as expected in Uganda, was freaky and top-notch.
Growing up in Uganda
Milk, at the local level, is milked at small family farms, driven by motorbike to town in plastic containers and then boiled in very large pots before being sold off to local restaurants and hotels. I visited my co-worker, Gorette, in the hospital last week because her son of 2 ½ years had recently fallen back into one of these large pots of boiling milk.
According to Gorette he was tugging on something with another child when it gave way causing him to fall backwards. The boy said he managed to pull himself out of the milk, but not after incurring severe burns. I’ve never seen anything like it, not after 10 years on the first aid squad or 24 years watching HBO; his condition is very bad.
The hospital ward that the boy was in had 19 beds and 17 patients. He was not hard to spot because he was the only child in a full body cast extending from his neck to his ankles. He was trying to sleep but was interrupted by short and subtle convulsions every minute or so.
Patients’ family members were outside the ward cooking over small burners and washing clothes in buckets and laying them out on the grass to dry. This was 1 of 5 wards the doctor was overseeing. He came by with two nurses, examined the color of the boys skin inside the eyelids and lips, mumbled something, and then went onto the next patient. Unused mosquito nets tied in knots hung from the ceiling over a few beds. A few IVs hung from old, metal stands.
The woman who was selling the milk that burnt the child came to the hospital with 20,000 shillings (USA $8.00) to contribute to the hospital bill. Gorette, my co-worker, the mother of this child, told her to get lost until the condition and future of the child is better known, at which point she expects the women to pay the full estimated hospital bill of 1,500,000 shillings (USA $600). Apparently the milk-woman had been told many times by the neighbors to cover her milk pots specifically for the danger they presented to children who play in the area. According to the neighbors this woman went on to sell the milk that morning that the child had fallen into – blood, skin and all. I haven’t had milk-tea since.
When someone falls sick in Uganda, or is suffering from a severe trauma, they will often reach out to their extended family and friends to contribute to the treatment cost. This is not surprising considering Gorette’s bill is roughly equal to her annual salary. The same applies if someone needs money for school. I’ve been editing essays of co-workers applying for international scholarships and they often write about how much they have had to hustle extended family members just to get through high school. To their advantage, or disadvantage, many of their fathers have had children with multiple women. This means they have a fair number of extended family members to call upon for help. One of my favorite co-workers called Kiymboa says he has, “Around 50 brothers and sisters, but I am not exactly sure these days.”
I gave Gorette $100,000 shillings (USA $40.00) so she could transport the child to Kampala and seek better treatment. Gorette and many of my co-workers believed the boy would have died had he stayed in a government hospital. I couldn’t help but relate to this boy; if there were pots of boiling milk lying around the playing area of my brothers and I, my parents would have 4 less college tuitions to pay.
I visited the boy today in the new facility. His bandages had been removed and he was lying silently in the darkness of his elevated blanket. He had a tube down his nose to eat from, as the milk that entered his mouth had burnt him bad enough that he couldn’t eat through it. His skin was pink where the blood was coming back, white where the blood was not coming back, and a few other colors where I don’t really know what was happening. The doctor says he will survive. He won’t look good in a bathing suit.
Since beginning here 3 months ago at least 7 of my co-workers have fallen sick with Malaria, 2 have gotten in serious motor vehicle accidents (both of which caused by drunk boda boda drivers), and at least 5 have attended a burial for a family member. This represents approximately 15% of the staff here at Kitovu Mobile. Therefore, statistically speaking, after 2 years every staff member can expect to fall victim to one of the above. Fortunately, I got Malaria, thrice, so I think I am covered until I get back to the USA, at which point I can worry about diabetes and obesity.
BODA BODA: motorbike taxi
Every tourist in Uganda is fascinated with these cheap, Chinese exportations. The term boda boda originated from “border-to-border” drivers that would transport people and possessions across the desolate space between Tanzania and Kenya via bicycle. With this catchy phrasing and the help of cheap motorbikes, boda boda drivers have evolved to become the primary mode of transportation around cities. They are remarkably convenient, fun, and dangerous.
Kampala, the biggest city in Uganda, is the best boda theme park. I was there just last weekend when a boda driver pulled up perpendicular behind a matatu (taxi-van) at one of the many crowded intersections lacking traffic lights. Gridlocked in this position, the boda had nowhere to go when the matutu started backing up for some reason. The driver and passenger knocked as hard as they could on the back window but were forced to evacuate the bike to avoid getting crushed. I was close enough to help lift the bike up without leaving the one I was on – we quickly sped off to another intersection of equal chaos. Boda drivers usually position themselves at “boda stages” around town. I know all the boda drivers at the stage closest to my house. I walk passed them everyday on my way to work and sometimes catch a ride when I’m running late. The boda drivers at my stage are always polite but their limited English keeps conversation brief. It costs me USA $0.40 to get to work, $0.50 if it is raining, $0.60 if they let me drive.
I haven’t actually boda boda’d myself yet, but I know it has been done for the right price. Gordon, my co-worker, did let me drive his dingy little moped one day. I told him, “I’m good with a bicycle.” I overshot my U-turn and drove it off the side of the road into a 4-foot drainage ditch. I haven’t driven anything since.
How are your investments doing?
Given positive feedback from other departments at Kitovu Mobile regarding my, “Empowering Orphans to Become Entrepreneurs Project,” it will be assisted with a value addition investment made by donors in Germany to maximize the impact on the orphan beneficiaries. How does this help the project? If you recall, the farming tools provided by the project enable the orphans to sell quality, organic produce. Even though this can be a life changer, economically speaking raw produce is low on the value chain. If a value addition investment such as a coffee grinder, juice processor, or sugarcane processor is collectively owned by the orphans, (like a co-op) it will enable them to raise the value of their produce and sell to a larger market at a higher price. This week I’ll be in the field examining how a recent maize mill investment benefited a similar group of orphans. We will also be initiating an economic survey to determine the best opportunities within the sub-county I plan on operating in. Thank you greatly to all those who contributed! I’ll be sending out an official report to donors shortly.
Separate to the orphans project, I have been given a team to carry out a unique assignment for the Director of my organization. I’ll be headed out to remote villages with a translator and a discussion group leader to talk to local political and tribal leaders as well as 500+ HIV clients including: pre and post-antiretroviral patients, orphans and vulnerable children, and other people affected by the impacts of HIV and AIDS. The goal of my team is to write a comprehensive report by July 13 which encapsulates the dynamic needs of HIV and AIDS clients and provides recommendations for changes Kitovu Mobile should undergo in its next 5-year Strategic Plan. The current Strategic Plan, detailing all missions, goals, objectives, and activities of the organization, comes to an end this December.
Since writing the last strategic plan five years ago many things have changed. One change is that the Uganda government would like patients currently being treated through NGOs to be referred to government (public) facilities and clinics. The reason patients haven’t always gone to these facilities and the reason so many HIV and AIDS NGOs exist in Uganda is because historically the government clinics have been largely inadequate and undersupplied. One aspect of our project will be to figure out what needs to be done in order for Kitovu Mobiles patients to feel as though the quality of care provided at public clinics will be equal to our services. The transition will take over 5 years so we will have to figure out how to create parallels between our services and the governments and figure out how to eventually merge them into one efficient system.
- If anyone knows anything about consultant jobs in Africa regarding economic development please let me know.