Homeward Bound

This evening I’ll take a plane out of Africa for the first time in 11 months.  Sound like a long time?  It feels like a long time.  And yet I immediately think of a story told by a development old-timer who did Peace Corps in the early 80s in Niger.  His posting was rural but not inaccessible – a fellow volunteer, on the other hand, had been placed in the north, in an area where there were no roads, only open grasslands that one could venture across with the appropriate vehicle and, presumably, a local guide.  This other volunteer, probably younger than I am now, was dropped off by such a vehicle and left there for two years until the same vehicle reappeared on the horizon to announce the end of his stay.  Now perhaps this story has gained some flare over time but, regardless, two years in rural Niger without any sort of access to the outside world or the multitudes of comforts I take for granted in Kampala – now that’s tough to wrap my head around.  Does it make this experience seem inadequate or any less real?  No, but it does make me appreciate both the rapid, albeit limited / inequitable, development of the last 30 years and the resulting relative ease of doing business as a development professional in Africa.

My thoughts on going home?  First to family and friends I’ve gone too long without seeing.  And second, perhaps oddly, to the anonymity of being an American in America.  You’ll all know where I’ve been these last 11 months, but, when I walk down the streets of D.C. tomorrow morning nobody else will have any idea that I’ve been abroad, that I’ve been living a life that some consider blog-worthy.  What’s the appeal?  In some sense the anonymity allows me to lower my guard – to know that I can walk down the street without catching a disproportionate number of eyes.  To enter a gas station, café or pizza shop and receive the customary service – be it with a smile or otherwise – as if there is nothing out of the ordinary about my presence.  Third, the cold.  I’ve recently caught myself wearing flannel shirts and hoodies and then checking the weather to learn it’s 70* – I’m actually a bit nervous.  Fourth, home cooked food and VT beer.

I can already anticipate seeing the beggars in the subways; their reminding me that I need not travel so far to find poverty, and me recalling that I’ve still never answered the question as to why I choose to venture abroad nonetheless.

I have a vivid image of driving home along the long open stretches of route 89 through New Hampshire – a nice rural road by any standards – a superhighway without comparison in the context of east Africa.

I promise I won’t complain about unloading the dishwasher this winter.

In going home I just might go an entire day without hearing a rooster crow.  I work on the 5th floor of an office building in one of the nicer business / NGO districts of Kampala and I’d say with some confidence that there hasn’t been a single day in the last 300 without the sounds of chickens mixed with traffic.

In all likelihood I’ll go an entire week, or even four, without experiencing a power outage.  “Power outage” isn’t even a term here.  We now come into the office every morning and ask, hopefully, if power “is there today?”  That’s a lie – most days the answer is made obvious by the presence or absence of a series of cheap petrol generators spewing a low rumble and noxious fumes on the small balcony of each office.  Why?  The continued aftermath of a government that emptied the treasury on a reelection campaign and the purchase of antiquated fighter jets.  I’m ready to come home and reconnect with a place I love, and a place where such stories are simply not normal.

That said, am I ready to be done with Uganda?  Not quite.  Come January I suspect I’ll be ready to return.  But I am certainly ready to come home now, if only for a month.  Perhaps check back in 2012.

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Family Visit

Mom, Dad, Mike and cousin Alice, recently came to visit for a two week tour of Uganda and Rwanda.  It was great to see the family and introduce them to this place that’s now become familiar to me.  Two weeks of vacation wasn’t half bad either.  Here’s the highlights reel – after two consecutive red-eye flights they were pretty content to take it easy in Kampala for the first day.  Mike and Alice crashed in my new apartment and Mom and Dad were just up the road in a hotel.  For anyone wondering, there isn’t a ton to occupy a tourist’s time in Kampala.  The next morning we started out at the big Gaddafi Mosque and then ventured into the depths of downtown.  I guess I wanted them to get a sense of the chaos of the city, but I might have gone a little overboard with a walk past the old taxi park (image here).  But we survived and made it up to the big craft market, which mom proceeded to devastate.  My haggling skills, which I’d like to think have improved in the last year, were simply no match for the mzungu family premium.  Ethiopian dinner was a first for the family – dinner sans utensils was amusing.

Our first of many long drives was up to Murchinson Falls, probably the most prominent national park in Uganda.  Vacation in Uganda, we came to learn, involves a lot of early morning wakeups.  That said, the pre-sunrise departures were well worth it:

Three elephants

Leopard in a tree

After two days in the park we loaded up for a long haul – all told we spent 11 hours traveling from Murchinson to Kibale NP, of which a luxurious 20 miles were paved.  We stopped ever so briefly at URDT to stretch our legs and have a look around.  We made it to Ndali Lodge at dusk – the lodge is beautiful and set above two of the region’s crater lakes but felt, I thought, a bit like traveling back in time to visit an old colonial estate.  The following morning was chimpanzee time.  I did the chimp trekking last year but didn’t have a camera with me at the time.  We saw this guy in a tree for a while but learned that on the overcast mornings, such as that one, the chimps spend more time high in the trees.  Eventually he did swing down out of the trees and took off – seeing these animals move through the dense forest is a pretty awesome sight.

Chimp in a tree

Sunday (yes, just at the end of week one) we headed to Kamwenge.  I showed off my old apartment, checked out an installed and full BOB rainwater bag, toured the market, and then joined my friend Frank and his family for dinner at their house.  It was a pretty incredible experience for my family.  So often there’s no good way (but plenty of bad ways) for tourists to see how people really live and this was a chance to not just see how my friend’s family lives, but actually get to know them even if only for an evening.  After sharing three chickens and some rather poignant stories we headed across the street to the bar to shoot some pool, a national pastime.  The following morning we were back on the road headed to Lake Bunyonyi.  Booyna Amagara is a backpackers paradise on an island in the middle of this beautiful lake, and, as a plus, they also have some great thatched geodomes for a nicer campy experience.  We were all ready to sit and relax for a day or two and did just that – I have to admit that if the stress of learning to play bridge was the hardest part of the day then that’s a win.

Next stop, northern Rwanda for gorilla trekking.  I felt a different vibe almost immediately upon crossing the border – Rwanda is crowded, people fill the rural roads and barely bother to step aside for passing cars.  The lodge bragged about a fireplace in each room and big comforters – being (moderately) cold has become a refreshing experience.

Gorillas.  We first walked through terraced farm fields for maybe 45 minutes, I was feeling the altitude (I like to think).  We then entered the forest and followed a series of small paths to nowhere and then proceeded to bushwhack for another 30 minutes before finding the trackers with the group.  As we approached we saw one through the undergrowth, and then two more directly on the path, and then, as if on cue, this group of 14 gorillas assembled in a small clearing and posed for us for nearly an hour straight.  I think I took more photos in that one hour than in my previous year in Uganda combined.


Silverback with baby / fluffball

That evening we continued on to Kigali – between the size of the country and the incredible road network crossing Rwanda from north to south is probably no more than an easy five hours.  The following morning we ate breakfast at the Hotel des Milles Collines, of Hotel Rwanda fame, and then managed to walk all of downtown Kigali in under an hour.  Kigali is small, orderly, clean and growing.  That afternoon we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  The memorial is very well designed and informative but I really wasn’t moved as I had expected I might be.  I guess for me, especially being there for just a few days, it’s still nearly impossible to internalize that the genocide actually did take place on those streets and in my lifetime.  While there are now dozens of books on Rwanda, we read A Thousand Hills and I would say it’s definitely worth reading before a visit.  It’s probably a better book about Rwanda than any written on Uganda.  That Saturday evening we flew back to Uganda – a 33 minute flight rather than a 12 hour drive – and spent the night in an airport hotel.  The following morning it poured rain, a rarity in June, as I dropped the family at the airport and headed back to Kampala.  And then I slept.

Family on safari

It was a blast and although not someplace they would have otherwise visited I think the family enjoyed the experience.  More visitors are welcomed..

Life / Work Update

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind.  I recently applied to transition from my current position on the Rainwater Storage Device evaluation in Kamwenge to a new IPA project in Kampala.  The project is a little different than the traditional line of work for IPA, namely rigorous impact evaluations, instead we plan to work with NGOs to support and improve upon their Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) systems.  Two weeks ago I got the new job, last weekend was spent looking for an apartment in Kampala, and the past four days were spent running around Kamwenge putting things in order before my departure.  Yesterday I packed up my life and hitched a ride with a government truck headed into Kampala.

And with that I said goodbye to Kamwenge.  While this is a transition I wanted, and am very excited for, it was oddly strange to leave.  Many of the things I loved about Kamwenge in the first six months lost their glow in the spring (eg: doing my laundry by hand on Sunday mornings went from a refreshing chance for some mental housekeeping to a monotonous chore).  At first the pace of work kept me preoccupied but this spring, with a more regular work schedule, I definitely hit the doldrums from time to time.  I had all the time in the world to read and cook and play soccer.  If I had decided to I could have set myself to studying the local language or volunteering in one of the nearby schools.  I never did either of those things; partly because I wound up not being there for much of the last three months, but mostly because I wasn’t comfortable initiating a commitment I couldn’t keep.  In the end I had three good friends in Kamwenge.  They are all guys who are young, smart, and eager to succeed and I’ll miss seeing them around town and learning from them.  While most of the town recognized me as the mzungu who lived “up at Balaam’s place”, to them I was still just that, another mzungu.  And after another year in Kamwenge, or even three, I’m not sure that would have changed.

One thing sank in this spring: in being the only outsider in a community it’s easy to forget that there was another before me and there will be an endless stream of others that follow.  For the first several months last summer I was frequently called Stuart around town.  Each time I corrected them, No, Stuart was a Canadian man and he left Kamwenge several months ago. Frequently I also had to explain that not only were we not brothers, I had in fact never met the man.  Similarly I imagine that anyone who shows up in town this summer will hear my name from time to time.  We outsiders operate much like a revolving door, turning over in time with the projects we come to implement.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to live and work in a rural setting.  I don’t think I would have been content if my first position had been in a developing capital.  That said, I am ready to live in Kampala, ready to have colleagues in an office and share an apartment with a roommate, ready to have the regular amenities of a city (supermarkets with perishable items, sandwich shops, tennis courts, live music, decent internet, etc.), and the daily interaction with other expats.

Professionally, I’m excited for the new challenge.  The M&E project is still very much an abstract idea: NGOs often want or need to evaluate the impact their projects have on beneficiaries.  IPA does really great impact evaluations but the methods we employ are sometimes simply not feasible for certain NGOs and are not appropriate for certain types of projects (eg: first pilots).  That said, excluding a long and expensive RCT style evaluation, what is the best method for NGOs that want to evaluate their projects?  What data should they collect?  And, ideally, how should they interpret and use the data they collect?  We don’t know all the answers to these questions and therein lies the challenge of this new initiative.  Personally the appeal of the project is this idea that we can help bridge the gap between rigorous evaluations and actionable M&E work.  Hopefully the partnerships that we form and the systems we propose will build upon current best practices and help NGOs better understand their current projects and use this knowledge to implement better projects in the future.

Quick Trip to Juba

Easter in Uganda is a four day holiday and Kampala quickly purges itself of expats who head in various directions for the long weekend.  Matt Lowes and I decided on north.  Juba is the capital of the soon to be independent country of South Sudan.  Neither of us knew/know much about South Sudan so we emailed a couple folks who have recently worked there.  Here’s a taste of their responses:

“You’re probably looking at a near 24 hour journey by bus.”

“In any case, do not walk at night! The odds you’ll get mugged while walking at night are near 100%.”

“There is nothing to see.  [My other friend] risks his life climbing around on the Jebel [nearby mountain] because he is so bored..”

“You should drink beer by the Nile. Visiting Rejaf is fun too. And don’t forget to sweat. Lots.”

With that we were sold.  Wednesday we visited the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) office in Kampala and were very impressed by how simply and efficiently they processed visas.  Thursday afternoon we purchased bus tickets from a rickety picnic table under a umbrella in the bus park and promised to return that night for a 10pm departure.  By 7am, after eight glorious hours of rocking out to blaring Ugandan hip-hop (yep, all night long), we reached the border, stood in some lines, ate an overpriced rolex, drank some tea, and tried to take in what seemed like dozens of languages being spoken all around us.  We finally made it to Juba by around 2pm and I distinctly remember saying to Matt, “Hey, lets go find an ATM, grab some water, and then head to the hotel to rest for a bit.”  Fateful words.  We took bodas across town to one ATM, and then the next, and then the third and final ATM in Juba, no luck.  Plus, it was Good Friday and so everyone assured us, oh, don’t worry, the banks will reopen on Tuesday…  Finally we headed back to the hotel with no Sudanese Pounds and some thinking to do.  We decided it was as simple as calling our parents (yeah, that’s our first response) to have them call the banks and to enable our ATM cards to work in Sudan.  The reply from my mother was priceless and at least a little bit surprising: “You clearly didn’t do your research before going to Juba!  American ATM cards do not work in Sudan, period.”  Whoops.  Unfortunately that wasn’t a piece of advice shared by any of our informal trip advisers/detractors.

We took stock of our supply of Ugandan Shillings and calculated that we could now afford only a two night stay, instead of three, and probably no souvenirs (not that any were readily available).  That settled, we crashed in our cramped, overpriced, air-conditioned, pre-fabricated room at the Sunflower Inn for a few solid hours.  We reemerged in the evening and headed to Juba Town to wander around and get some dinner.  Mzungus on foot is apparently a pretty rare sight because people frequently asked us what we were looking for or if they could help us.  All in all nearly everyone we bumped into was very friendly and ready to give some guidance to two wanderers.  The food was great – fool, a flatbread called Kisra that is essentially a thinner version of the Ethiopian injera, lentils, and beef in sauce.  Every restaurant, no matter how small, had an array of fans which were much appreciated even at 8pm.  At this point we had fed ourselves and were content with this small victory and called it quits for the day.

Saturday we walked across town to see what we could see.  Highlights include an exchange with a woman at the market:

How much is that pineapple?

Seven Pounds [$3].

Seven Pounds?!

Yes, it comes from Kampala.

Oh, we came from Kampala just yesterday.


Where are you from?


We met more Ugandans, Kenyans and Somalis than we did Sudanese.  Boda drivers, restaurant owners, women in the market, transporters – everyone sees South Sudan as the best place to make money now.  No one we spoke with plans to stay for too long but everyone insists that if you have some capital or business connections, now is the time to work in Juba.  They also discussed that the Sudanese are none too pleased with this arrangement but in reality these foreign arbitrageurs are needed because they are the only people with enough capital to start businesses and engage in international trade.  On a more tender note, multiple very articulate foreigners raised the issue that thirty years of war, a generation of war, has bred a culture that they, as outsiders, find difficult to understand.  One exasperated restaurateur, a Somali who grew up in the Netherlands and worked in hotels in the UK before coming to Juba to open his own shop, seemed resigned when he said “for them, what’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right.”  It’s impossible to pass judgment on these sorts of attitudes during such a brief visit but it was an interesting sentiment.

Just as we were warned, Juba is a sprawling hot dusty city with wide roads – some paved, some in progress – positioned in the first stage of a massive construction boom.  Interesting sights include: many empty small plots of land with thatched fences being constructed to demarcate boundaries; a recently constructed and very clean market area at the foot of Jebel mountain with large stores on solid concrete slabs; a slew of UN and GOSS ministries along the main paved road leading towards Juba Town; some really great grilled chicken restaurants; the requisite third-world-capital Chinese restaurant; and finally, a sign of the growing pains of development, two large plots of land adjacent to the current Juba University, scattered with the razed remains of hundreds if not thousands of temporary homes.  The government has recently moved to reclaim the land to rebuild the university and, as one boda driver put it, life for the former inhabitants “it is very hard these days.”

Sunday morning we hitched a ride to the bus park in the back of some NGO truck for our 6am bus headed south.  We saw the sun rise over the Nile as we headed out of town and made it back across the border with about $15 in our pockets.  All in all it was a fascinating if brief experience.  Matt’s Arabic was a big hit but you can certainly get by in English.  Wiki-travel should update their page with a large bold warning regarding money access, but I imagine / hope that will change soon.  As I said before I went, I wasn’t expecting to see much but I don’t know when the next time we’ll get a chance to see the birth of a new country and that wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to pass up.  And for a souvenir I have a copy of The Citizen, South Sudan’s daily newspaper, from April 23rd, 2011.

And we’re back…

Ok, to be honest I’ve been back since January 11th but have been slacking.  A couple general updates:

Break:  home was nice.  Very nice.  Odds are if you’re reading this I saw you and therefore I don’t need to write anything more about home.

Cairo:  on the way back I stopped for 3 days in Cairo to work out of the IPA office there.  And by work I hope you know I mean: visiting the pyramids (they’re big), the museum (mummies literally stacked on top of mummies), the mosques (lots of them with some very interesting architecture that was largely lost on me), the markets (hilarious interchange with a spice vendor), and then spending the remaining hours of each day taking tea at street-side cafes.  I went primarily to visit IPA colleagues and Midd roommates Matt Groh and Matt Lowes.  I have to admit I had no idea just how famous the two are in Egypt: at one point we met up with two students from the current Middlebury study abroad program and they insisted on taking a photo as evidence that they had met The Matts.

Work:  with the baseline survey complete the next phase of work for my project is preparing for the introduction of the rainwater storage device to the study area.  The final product that Relief International decided to go with was manufactured in China and is now packed in a shipping container and somewhere in the Indian Ocean headed our way.  Unfortunately for this and every other development project of 2011, February is going to be a slow month.  The Presidential election (see below) has some people nervous but for the most part NGOs are inclined to sit this one out to avoid their projects becoming politicized or seemingly so.  In preparation for the intervention I have been analyzing the data from the survey, assigning villages to treatment or control groups, and  designing the protocols for each treatment.  The idea is that, for example, certain villages will get one marketing strategy and other villages will get either another marketing strategy or none at all.  Furthermore, within each villages we’re going to be holding public lotteries as a means to distribute discount vouchers that are worth varying amounts; so some households will win the chance to purchase the product at a much lower costs than others.  The administration of these treatments must follow some very strict protocols to ensure that we have 100% participation and everyone has an equal and fair chance of winning.  In addition I now have time to write a manual for future IPAers on how to use the Pendragon Forms software to program electronic surveys, and let me tell you it’s an exhilarating read, email me for a pre-release copy…

Life:  work has slowed down considerably, which is a welcomed relief.  Surveys are widely acknowledged to be backbreaking work and the hardest part of the IPA gig.  I’ve reclaimed my evening hours and am back to playing soccer and reading and cooking a lot more.  Cooking has been assisted by two luxury items that found their way into my suitcase: a cast iron skillet and Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”.  Each added about 10lbs. to my luggage but were well worth the weight.  Also, I know Bittman has done a “How to Cook Everything, Vegetarian”, now I just wish he would write the “How to Cook Everything, on a Stove”.  Quasi successful dinners to date include homemade pastas and an Indian chicken dish I was really excited about until I discovered that I could only get vanilla yogurt, but at that point I was committed and went ahead to chef up a delicious if slightly sweet bird.  I’ve also managed to accumulate a respectable pile of real books (vs. Kindle books) next to my bed.  These pair quite well with the new hammock that now hangs on my front porch.  I’m just finishing up “How to be Idle” which is an hour by hour account of the idyllic day of the idler.  The author has essentially scoured the history books in support of his strongest love: being lazy.  It’s a great read for a sunny evening in the hammock – now if you were to attempt to read it during your commute to work, eh, it might not be as enjoyable.

The Election:  February 18th is the big day.  In December I posted about some stories in the newspapers that seemed to foretell some coming strife.  Now it seems as though the outcome, with Museveni well in the lead, is such a sure thing there will hardly be anything to protest.  Doesn’t mean I believe it’s all free and fair, but it does mean that I think it will be largely stable and peaceful.

There are two very telling slogans from the Museveni campaign.  First, “Pakalast” which literally means “Until the end”; and second “Stability and Unity”, perhaps implying that the opposition would introduce the opposite?  I actually just missed the chance to see Museveni at a rally here in Kamwenge but I passed by in a taxi on my initial return to town (I didn’t think it’d be wise to try to get past the metal detector with my cast iron skillet and the rest of my luggage).  I could not believe the size of the crowd.  Yellow t-shirts filling a soccer field to capacity (and let me tell you, Ugandan’s have a different idea of capacity) with plenty of very visible security forces.  The message from the people to the president is clear: we love you, please give us a hospital, or a road, or more money in general.  The message from the president to the people was equally clear: if you vote for me in sufficient numbers I will give you all those things and more.

The mindset is fascinating; because Museveni is so likely to win he can essentially strong-arm the populace into a landslide victory by implicitly promising to reward those districts that give him the greatest margins.  Whereas in the US the incumbent might work harder to please (or buy, whatever) a swing state from the previous election, here they seem more apt to punished these troublemakers for their insolence.

Other news: there’s been the referendum in Sudan that turned out not to be a “Ticking time bomb” as Mrs. Clinton had prophesized.  Southern leaders have claimed they reached the 60% participation rate needed to legitimize the vote and the 51% vote for succession was never going to be an issue.  More interesting right now is the situation in Cote D’Ivoire with the president elect holed up in a hotel surrounded by blue helmets (UN) and the grumbling incumbent trying to seize money from the banks to pay his soldiers to keep him alive and viable.  That’s a fascinating situation because African regional leaders have taken the lead on negotiating for a transition without the overt assistance of major western powers.  The UN stance has been to recognize the legitimacy of the opposition’s victory but to defer diplomatic and military intervention to African Union leadership.  I think that’s a step in the right direction.  Oh and then there’s that other part of Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, etc., but I haven’t really got a clue as to what goes on up there.

For another day.

10 day forecast

I wrapped up the baseline survey last week.  3,240 is my new favorite number.  At the end of each day when I would receive the data onto my computer a little summary statistic would pop up with the number of completed surveys.  There were definitely a few days when I thought we would never see that number but sure enough we got there on December 1st.  I’ve since been back in Kampala writing reports for the donor and beginning some preliminary analysis of the data.  None of those results can be shared here but it is interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing (what a tease, I know).

The 10 day forecast calls for mostly sunny hovering around 75* through Thursday the 16th and then 35* in Boston on the 17th.  I’ll be headed back to the States for three weeks so this is likely the last post for about a month.  I trust that when I return I will be back in the blogging mood, especially in the lead up to the election in February as the international media storms the scene and things get interesting.

There are already some fascinating developments in the buildup to the Presidential election in February.  It looks like some people are trying to take a page out of the Kenyan history books and the government is getting nervous for sure.  The Electoral Commission recently said it would pull from the ballot any candidate that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the EC (appointed by Museveni); NRM in Parliament just strong-armed a bill that makes it a crime to criticize the EC in a manner than might incite violence; reports this morning suggest the government is arming youth militias in northern districts; and old timers around the breakfast table in Kamwenge keep referring euphemistically to the need for an “Option B” if the opposition candidates want any sort of seat at the table.  Also out today, a couple of those WikiLeaks documents quote American embassy officials calling Museveni “autocratic” which comes as a surprise to nobody except perhaps the man himself.

I nearly wrote a paper last spring about the potential dangers of the precedent set by the power sharing agreements thrown together in Kenya and Zimbabwe following election violence in those countries.  At the time I made a few friends hear me out, but now that I have a captive audience, here goes: before the era of rapid international communication (think telegraphs), if a revolutionary in a far flung land wanted to start some trouble it could take weeks or even months for the international community, or perhaps a colonizing power, to catch word of the struggle and weeks more for them to respond with words of condemnation or any sort of military might.  Since then the lag time between uprising and reaction has shrank from a matter of months to a couple of minutes.  Today where trouble is brewing somebody will have a camera and CNN will buy the reel and over the 5 o’clock news the civilized people of the world will be forced to witness blood on the streets of some faraway place.  And before you know it the State Dept will be on the ground doing everything in it’s power so that people can watch the 5 o’clock news without being exposed to such horrors.  It’s pretty hard to argue in favor of letting an ugly fight run its course, but by interfering as we now seem inclined to do we set the precedent that we will continue to do so in the future.  Opposition parties and evening waning incumbents could potentially use this as a strategy to gain / keep a seat at the table of power.  So “Option B” calls for a three prong approach: 1st, campaign and vote; 2nd, protest to the international community that the results as deeply flawed; and 3rd, when 1 and 2 fail, take to the streets and cause a stir.

I can’t say whether I think power sharing agreements are good or bad, but I definitely don’t believe they are something to celebrate.  Especially when you consider the type of government you get for the bargain: in both Kenya and Zimbabwe the unified governments have failed to cooperate in even the slightest manner.  So ending the violence is good, but not if it actually just provides incentives for violence in other places when they want attention from the international community.  This stuff is very interesting to me, and I will certainly continue to post about it, but it might have to move to some anonymous blog site to keep my mother from worrying too much.  On that note, I don’t think things will get too bad here in February and I believe it will be largely confined to Kampala and some isolated incidences in the north.

And finally, check this out, the 10 day forecast from Weather.com only shows the next 9 days?  I guess in these lean times everyone has to make budget cuts somewhere…

Ahhh, Cape Cod in August

It’s a long standing family tradition to cram up to 22 of our craziest closest relatives into a house on the outer Cape for a week or two every August.  Fairly normal, I’d say.  A newer and perhaps odder tradition has sprung out of the desire to uphold the former at all costs.  So, don’t tell my boss, but apparently I made an appearance in Truro, MA over the weekend and provided piggy back rides for the whole family.  I believe that’s about 15 years in a row now.  Thanks gang.

Flat Brian with Cousins

A couple photos

Finally, a couple photos from Kamwenge.

First – the town from the best vantage point I could find:

The main road that passes through Kamwenge - running from Mbarara to Fort Portal.

Next – my house.  I’m looking to sublet the second bedroom, let me know if you know of anyone looking for a place – seriously.  And it’s looking better day by day:

The house that is becoming home.

The product of today’s arts and crafts session.  So Mom, is this why you usually buy from professionals?  And that’s my completely barren living room in the background.

My first attempt at a lamp shade. Binding wire and scraps of wax cloth (kangas) left over from curtains. I'm giving myself a B- for the effort, with room for improvement.

Much more scenic – sunset over the mostly invisible mountains.  They are hidden in the haze / dust during the day in the dry season.

Sunset over the Rwenzori Mountains that divide this part of Uganda from DRC - they're big and not too far away - hopefully headed there at some point soon.

A week in Kamwenge

I’ve officially moved to Kamwenge.  I got out here Tuesday afternoon and moved in to my house on Wednesday.  To say the house is complete would be a stretch.  The kitchen has a sink but no real counters or shelves to speak of.   Appliances are another story altogether.  That first night I just threw the mattress on the floor and collapsed; the bed came on day two.   Hoping to get table and chairs and shelves by Tuesday – right now all my earthly possessions are piled in a corner of the room on one long straw mat.  By now all the rooms have been painted and I’ve mopped all the floors two or three times.  Dust is part of life around here during the dry season.  Anyhow the place is starting to look more like a house and less like a construction site.  Yes I have running water and yes I have electricity.  However I’m yet to see both functioning at the same time.  Tonight there’s water but no electricity – personally I would vote for water during the day and electricity at night but I haven’t found anyone taking requests.
This morning I set to cleaning up around the house, which most definitely still resembles a construction site.  Using a hoe to move dirt and picking up garbage is not exactly new to me – but seeing a mzungu do such things is a grand novelty around here and at one point I had amassed quite an audience.   “You know how to dig?!”  I’m sure I’ll get more of the same tomorrow while doing my laundry.
This afternoon I finally found the produce market in town – for a while there I was really confused as to where it was all coming from – and after a long evening of soccer I was too wiped to walk back in to town and had to “settle” for a dinner of tomato, avocado, passion fruit, pineapple, and some half decent rolls.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about what’s been keeping me busy – but only if the power comes back, because otherwise this is nearly the end of two extended life batteries…


A collection of observations, thoughts and experienced going back to 2010.