Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eye-Opening Insights

Today I went with Katie to “work” at the internet café, Flavours. We started talking about NGOs/non-profit/charity type stuff and she gave me some very interesting information that I never really thought about before. I guess she knows this woman who has helped start up a few non-profits and she has a blog. Apparently many people ask her how to go about starting their own, searching for any tips she may have to help aid them in their endeavors. One of her blog posts (that Katie showed me) talks about just this with the main theme of “just don’t do it.” The main point of it is to bring attention to all of the realities of starting your own org such as, it’s WAY more work than you will ever imagine and you’d better be ready to be dirt broke for AT LEAST the first few years of operation (in addition to start-up time). These are all things I’m aware of so I wasn’t too shocked upon hearing this. However there were some things that made a lot of sense that I definitely hadn’t given much thought to in the past.

One of these thought-inducing items was the pure number of non-profit organizations (both registered and unregistered) that exist. In the US alone there are over 1.5 million! That’s right, MILLION. So if you’re going to start your own you’d better be sure there’s not something out there already doing exactly what you want to be doing or you know how to make your organization stand out from all the rest. If not the reality is you are more than likely going to fail within the first few years. Pretty awesome odds, huh? While this realization was a little sad to hear it is also very positive. I had no idea there were so many different do-good organizations just in the United States. With a number like this it seems likely that finding one that helps in the type of way I would like to isn’t going to be so hard as to make me try to start my own. So if anyone has any ideas or names they’d like to throw out at me, I’m all ears. :D

Another element brought to my attention was how important it is to teach viable skills rather than providing goods (not that providing goods is bad, but still – just keep reading). A very good example of this that really drove the familiar point home was TOMS shoes. Now I am a huge fan of TOMS and their charitable mission and will more than likely always advocate for them. HOWEVER, it is not uncommon for goods, such as shoes, to be given to those in need and the next week the same individuals who were ‘helped’ are again without. I’ll tell a little hear-say story to demonstrate this point. There was a woman who went to some country (I can’t remember which) where she observed many children without proper shoes for the frigid temperatures. After countless requests for help donations were made to buy some of the children shoes; soon after TOMS Shoes provided additional assistance. The next week however, the same children who received shoes were back to wearing their flip-flops and other unsuitable footwear (or none) because their new shoes were sold to buy food. Case in point, hand outs are great but when a greater necessity such as food is needed, things like shoes don’t mean much. I just thought this was really interesting and a good thing to be aware of.

Also, in case you hadn’t already guessed or noticed, I will be using this blog as a form of personal journal as well – so you’ll get to learn about all of my deepest, most secret thoughts and opinions – and you don’t even have to snoop!! Haha, ok not quite, but you get where I’m going with this I hope. Happy ‘spying’!

Adjusting, Adjusting 1, 2, 3 . . .

Day 1

My first day (Sunday) in Jinja started with rain, lots of rain … pouring rain actually. It was like I was back in Oregon, weird. Apparently when it rains hard things shut down for a while because everything gets so muddy. The day pretty much consisted of hanging around the house and watching Alias and How I Met Your Mother on DVD. When I think about it it’s pretty ironic that I’m already watching more TV here than I have the whole past year, haha. Katie had to go help teach the business class for a few hours and once she got back we prepared/ate dinner then hung out some more before bed. Not too exciting but definitely a nice way to ease into things :D. This week I’m pretty much going to be taking it easy and just trying to get used to things around here, which is fine with me. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the week has in store.

Oh right, the house! I do not live in a hut (as you may have guessed from the TV watching). We have electricity and running water. AND, from what I gather, a woman who does our laundry. So I’m guessing by the end of this thing I’m going to be pretty darn spoiled. . . Katie and I share a room, each with our own bunk bed and mosquito net. We have a living room, dining room, kitchen, toilet, and wash/shower room. Oh yes, and there are nice little random paintings on the wall in various areas of the house. Our house is in a walled compound with 3 or so other homes and a big green gate. We have two guard dogs, Smokey and Charcoal, who are cute and friendly but definitely do their duty at night. [side note- pretty much everything here has a working purpose. This means that dogs are primarily used for protection, and the concept of having them as pets is quite out of the ordinary. The result of this is most people being afraid of them.]

PICTURES: 1) Kitchen 2) Bedroom 3&4) Living Room 5&6) View from Kitchen window 7) Dining Room

Now that I’m thinking about it I should probably introduce people to you so when I throw out names you’ll know who I’m talking about. I live with Lori, who is Fount of Mercy’s international director. She’s been living here for 2 years now and overseas everything over on this end. She has a dog named Muffin who is pretty cute and apparently being spayed in an hour long procedure on a table in the front yard tomorrow (Thursday). Wow, that sounds . . . awesome. Katie is the other intern. She’s originally from the mid-west and has been here for several months already. Lucky for me she pretty much has the lay of the land and can show me the ropes on most things. Tara, the Vocational Programs Director, lives next door to us with her husband, Grace, and two children Edith and Timmy.

Day 2

Today Katie didn’t have to work so she took me down to Main Street (yes, they have a main street) to see what it’s like and help me get out money, a SIM card for my phone, and a few other things. Most of the roads here are dirt and depending on where you are at there may be residential houses or little shops set up on the side of the road. Once you get to Main Street, it is easily recognizable as the center of town. There are buildings after buildings lining the street, just as you would see in the US. The main difference however, is the look of the buildings – practically all have large porches/awnings and very open doorways (though this isn’t true for all). Probably the biggest difference, aside from the dirt road, is the sidewalks. Most of the time there is one, but it’s usually cracking or in pieces, looking like chunks of ice floating on the arctic waters – except it’s all a shade of brown and not cold or wet, usually.

I had an interesting time finding an ATM that my bank card would work in after discovering that Barclay’s was out of money. But have no fear; I was able to find one on about the 3rd or 4th try. After getting out money, well before actually- but order’s not important, Katie took me to MNT (one of their cell providers) to get a SIM card and airtime for my phone. Along the way I was shown where the FOM office is and a few good cafes nearby. The office is right next to a café called Sources, where we stopped to enjoy a nice meat pie, called a Samosa. After that it was on to the supermarket to pick up some groceries.

There are two types of places to get food here, supermarkets, like what you picture in your mind when thinking of small, privately owned local grocery stores and (what I guess you would call) the market, which is like a giant farmer’s market. It is here that you will get all of your produce among an assortment of other things ranging from cooking utensils to shoes to metal work. Most of the prices here are set by bartering (which I have yet to do and am a bit nervous about), so the price they give is not necessarily what you have to pay. Katie showed me the woman she always goes to when buying produce, telling me that she always gives her a fair price. I hope I can remember what she looks like and how to find her so I can go to her too. After getting our groceries we headed home and hung out for the rest of the day.

Day 3

Day three started out with a day debriefing by Tara. I was told Julius, FOM’s newest employee and Uganda local, was going to take me into ‘town’ again today to help me get the rest of my errands taken care of and then I could watch his and Katie’s second attempt to make soap. I had met Julius very briefly the previous day at the market, just saying hello. But today we got to spend some quality time together which I enjoyed a lot. He’s really nice and easily to get along with. Also he’s my age so I thought it was pretty easy to relate to each other (but perhaps that was just on my end). He helped me to get my internet modem (just a little stick you stick in the computer) as well as a step-down, which is a wattage converter for electronics. Thank goodness he was with me to help me get a good price on things because I didn’t (and still don’t, to be completely honest) have a clue.

We also went to have keys made. This was really interesting to me because unlike key copying services in the United States where molds are used, replications here are done my hand. Basic keys are already made but the locksmith measures and then eyeballs with extreme precision where the grooves and chunks are in the key and either saws it out or files it down. It is quite a timely process, I’d say we waited a good 45 minutes to an hour for 4 keys (it could have been longer but I got distracted by a cute little boy and girl who I started a waving/smiling relationship with).

Along the way Julius ran into a few of his friends, one of whom joked ‘you need to learn basic greetings so we don’t talk about you,’ and I quite agree. I’m not sure when my language lessons will start but it will be interesting for sure. After the keys we headed to pick up some supplies from the supermarket and market for soap. Once we had gathered up all of our needed items it was time to head home and time for my first experience on a Boda-Boda.

Bodas are essentially motorcycle taxis. This isn’t really that big of a deal, except for girls are supposed to ride side saddle, which unnerved me a little bit. I mean, I don’t have that great of balance to begin with so I could only imagine the disasters that awaited me. Tara had told me earlier that morning not to ride one if I wasn’t ready. But by the end of the day I was feeling pretty bold and decided to give it a try. Not so bold however, to ride it alone, so Julius rode in with me sandwiching me in the middle. It turned out to be not so scary as I originally anticipated and was actually quite fun. I think this was a good way to go about my first Boda ride.

After we got back to the house we had lunch and I observed Katie and Julius’s soap adventure. I learned it was their second attempt as their first never hardened. Here’s hoping it works this time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A brief blurry-eyed introduction

John was the name of the man sent to pick me up at the Entebbe airport. He was really nice and friendly and put up with all of the questions I asked him. Though it was dark out I was able to catch a glimpse of Ugandan nightlife as we traveled to Jinja, passing through the capital, Kampala, in the process.

On the plane Tom had told me that I would probably be a little distressed when I first experienced the driving – he was right. As in most British settlements, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, however staying there is really more of a suggestion than a rule. Trucks, cars, motorcycles, and bikes alike will take up both lanes in one direction until on-coming traffic is spotted. But even then they might still take up the whole road. This results in the oncoming traffic to drive on the side of the road to avoid a collision. Needless to say, it makes transportation very interesting. But I would like to point out when driving in Uganda it is size that matters, meaning that it’s pretty much big trucks that can do whatever they like and everyone else has to work around it. This just goes down the line leaving pedestrians dead last.

The thing that jumped out at me the most were all of the people I saw just walking around on the side of the road late at night in the dark . . . most in dark clothing. My first thought was ‘thank goodness I’m not driving, I’d be scared if all of a sudden I saw people on the side of the road and then running across it in the middle of the night!’ And as time went by 12:00, 12:30, 1:00am, people didn’t seem to disappear but instead gained in numbers. But then again it was a Saturday night so I guess being out late isn’t too unusual. We passed a lot of clubs, bumping bass alerting us of our imminent approach. To me, the club buildings reminded me of gas stations, except without the pumps and completely covered overhead. Basically they had one whole side open, like a huge open porch with a small area in back that could be considered “inside”.

Another exciting event was finding out the road was blocked because two huge trucks had broken down right in the middle of it. Apparently this is quite common, lucky for us there was a side road we could take to get around it. Also, John told me (from what I understand) that not too long ago a truck carrying gasoline broke down/spilled/tipped over or something along those lines and there was a free-for-all of people trying to gather up as much as they could. I find that easy to picture and can imagine it was much more civil than it would have been in the US – but that’s just my opinion.

The last thing I thought was slightly exciting on the trip home was the police check points. We had to stop at two. The first we went right on through but the second took a little longer. The guard decided to hassle John a little bit, asking if he’d been through before as he shines a flashlight through the back windows – “yes”. Have you been through here before? – “Yeah, like four hours ago.” Have you been through in the last 30 minutes? – “No.” The guard looks through the windows some more. After a snide remark we were on our way again and soon arrived at Plot 33 Lubogo Road.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Where Uganda, Africa?

6:12am PST- Portland, Oregon

In an attempt to really jump start my travel documentation, I’ve decided to take full advantage of my multiple 3 hour layovers across the globe to share with you the incredibly interesting and noteworthy things and events I see, in true Sarah story telling style (if you don’t get the joke, keep reading my posts over the next few months and you’ll understand ;D).

First let me start off by saying, I am amazing. Who fits 6 months worth of clothes/toiletries in one duffel bag and a backpack??? Oh right, it’s me…not to toot my own horn or anything… And while this is quite an impressive feat it unfortunately is going to make hauling around my checked duffel should or when the time comes not so much fun.

Earlier this week I was skyping with my old college roommates from good ol’ C1. They let me in on a little joke they had come up with and I thought I’d share it with you. I, being of supersonic hearing and mental quickness (this, in case you are unaware, is a complete lie- sadly), eagerly awaited to hear this great joke they had come up with. They tell it and what I hear is “Where are you going? Africa?” Apparently my blank stare gave away the fact that I either heard them wrong or completely missed the joke. Honestly you could say it was a bit of both. Really they had said “Where Uganda, Africa?” but it sounds like “where are you going, Africa?” I’m sure you all got the joke right away, but as usual it took me a little while to comprehend. But rest assured, once I understood I had a nice little laugh – fully appreciating how cleaver my friends can be.

It just occurred to me that I should probably plug my computer in now so I have battery power left when I get to Europe, Africa, etc. Hmm, it has also just dawned on me that I didn’t bring an outlet adapter so as of now I have no way of charging my computer once I leave the United States . . . awesome. Well, I’ll let you know how that one plays out…

The start of my trip has been dappled with surprises so far. First, on the drive to the airport I witnessed a lightning storm parallel to that of the mid-west – something I’ve NEVER seen on the Oregon Coast/Portland metropolitan area. In addition to seeing the sky light up with Technicolor bolts and flashes I also experienced my very first radio emergency message that wasn’t a test! Talk about exciting! . . . and I guess it really is a good thing the quarter sized hail and funnel clouds ended up being a bust . . . Then, after arriving at the airport I went to check my duffle and print my boarding passes and to my surprise they didn’t make me pay a baggage fee! Score!

Well I’m guessing there won’t be too much more excitement between now and when I board the plane. Oh who am I kidding? There are tons of people, foreign and local, and I’m a nosy person who likes to stare, of course I’m going to see more interesting things! However, I’ll try to remember them till the next stop because I’m going to go get myself a snack now. Interesting, I know. Don’t you just love the play-by-plays?

Later- Newark, New Jersey

Things of interest- One married couple sporting matching T-shirts with the words “I love my wife” and “I love my husband.” Perhaps somebody needs reminding . . . ? I sat next to a guy from Washington (state) who was starting a semester abroad in Brussels and an Italian guy on his way home from visiting his girlfriend in the states for 25 days (his words, not mine). Yeah, not too exciting here, I think that was it.

After that- Brussels, Belgium

Walked forever to find the right terminal I was supposed to be in, finally found it then waited in mild confusion with a growing group of others as to why it was nearing time for boarding and our gate was still blocked off. During this time I met a guy from Uganda named Tom, who apparently has been doing a lot of research/school/work regarding the peace corp and conflict management stuff. Anyway, he was pretty nice and full of useful knowledge about things.

On the plane I sat next to some girl from Hawaii who was going to do a term abroad in Kigali, Rwanda.

Even later- Kigali, Rwanda

My flight was continuing straight on to Entebbe, Uganda- my final flight destination, so I just hung out on the plane for an hour while it was being cleaned/reboarded. I talked to Tom a bit more then met the girl who would be sitting next to me on the last leg of my flight. She was a Canadian who had been working in Kigali for the last 9 months. It was pretty interesting to hear some of the stuff she had to say.

About 11:00 pm Uganda time (10 hours ahead of PSD)- Entebbe, Uganda

Finally made it!!! I got through customs pretty quick and found my bag traveling around on the conveyor belt within seconds. After a quick word with Tom I went out in search of someone holding a sign with my name . . .

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Earlier today I thought my awkward adventure with Benny and the sewing machine repair shop was over. Apparently I was wrong...
This afternoon I got out my machine to start stitching up some suits. I was just about to put the foot peddle on the ground when I noticed something different on the back of it . . .

'hmm, i don't remember writing being on here before,' I thought as i figuratively scratched my head.

After a much closer examination I discovered the big ol' Assyrian inventor/repairman had left me a choice phrase of inspiration to stay with me always. Or at least as long as I have this particular peddle. This is what it said:

7 - 7 - 11

Wow, never would I have thought that he would keep creeping into my life after fixing my machine a month ago. Well played Benny, well played . . .

After a brief bit of pondering I made a very interesting conclusion. Benny is, I'm starting to piece together, supposed to be to me what Charles Muntz is to Carl and Ellie on UP. Except instead of using the tagline "Adventure is out there!" Benny has chosen the simple, yet effective, 'INVENT!' The main difference being Charles Muntz was idolized by the kids whereas Benny, though nice, is just a tad bit creepy and makes me slightly uncomfortable.

Because this was such a monumental realization I had to document it. Ok that's a lie, really I had to document my findings because I couldn't believe my creepy sewing machine story was still wasn't finished a month later. . .

Just look at the pictures: