Saturday, May 31, 2008

Meanwhile, back in Alameda...


I'm not sure I should bother to come home. Betrayal, indeed!
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Staff photo

I commandeered the camera for my personal use yesterday, as you can see. I wanted to get a picture of the staff before Fred left. He's being transferred to another branch, starting next week. What a blessing he has been.

From left to right, Susy, Fred, a woman whose name I never got (!), Sissy, me (duh), Allen and Justine. You also don't get to see George who's taking the photo.

Friday, May 30, 2008


The first week I came to MCDT, Justine, my supervisor, and Olivia, her supervisor, were looking at pictures of borrowers they were preparing to post to the Kiva website. They called me over to look at one person in particular, standing in the middle of a group of five, and said, “You must meet Ruth!” They told me she was the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit and a real survivor. They told me how she is living with AIDS and lost her husband to the disease 10 years ago. They told me how she as at least 5 businesses. I didn’t know quite what that meant until I went to visit her earlier this week.

Justine and I walked down the hill from the MCDT office to Kamwokya, the slum area where MCDT gave out its first loans. Walking through the narrow alleyways and jumping over a few gutters, we reached Ruth’s home. We went into the most cluttered house I’ve seen here in Uganda, but it was cluttered for a reason: everything would be used for some business purpose or another.

There was very little light in the house because huge bags of charcoal were stacked up around the outside (business #1). Inside, a woman sat on a stool waiting for Ruth to return to finish braiding her hair (business #2); next to that stood an ironing board with an iron heated with charcoal for Ruth’s laundry business (business #3). In the inner room, even darker than the first, with just a little light coming through a gap in the corrugated metal roof, Justine and I sat on a small sofa while Ruth sat on a mat she had woven and brought out other mats she had made and sells (business #4). She could have brought down one of three kerosene lanterns she keeps on top of a wooden breakfront that she rents out to people (business #5). In the lower right hand cabinet we could see several phones that she has used as pay phones, but the person she had employed to help her with that was unavailable. She was waiting to find someone to do that so she could start the payphone business again (business #6). To our right was a stack of baskets she had woven that she not only sells, but also rents out to people who are making a formal presentation to bridal families (business #7).

After a short visit, we went outside again to see Ruth’s grocery (business #8). Immediately to the right of the grocery is a small hut which is Ruth’s pub (business #9). We went into the pub, which is about 8’ X 10’ or thereabouts, where Ruth displayed her wares. (I asked if she had any waragi, or local brew, an alcohol made from sugar cane. She held up a bottle. Then she pulled out a plastic packet of vodka and said, “Mazungu waragi.” Yes, indeed.)

This first picture shows Ruth standing at the entrance to her pub with the grocery to her right, your left. You can also see some of the charcoal she sells at her (note: bare) feet.

This second picture was taken inside the pub. These are not all alcoholic beverages. The bottles in front are Krest, a carbonated drink that announces it is "bitter lemon," and that's exactly what it is. Not to my taste, being an American sweet tooth, but popular in these parts, and bottled by Coca-cola.

As we left, Justine told me about some of Ruth’s struggle to make sure she pays her loans on time. She gave me this story as an example. Ruth travels out to the country to see to each shipment of charcoal, wanting to make sure to get good chunks rather than charcoal dust. One time, one of the coals was still burning and the whole shipment of charcoal burned before she even got it home. Because MCDT offers group guaranteed loans, Ruth could have said she simply couldn’t pay that week and depended on the other group members to pay for her. Instead, she got sugar cane on credit, chopped them into bite-sized pieces and bagged them, putting them out for sale near her pay phones (business #10). Somehow, she was able to scrape enough money together to pay back her loan each week on time. The dedication and integrity she has shown is simply remarkable. Goodness knows not every borrower is like that, but the fact is there are borrowers like this, and it is a real honor to meet them and know that these loans are making a difference when taken in conjunction with ability, spirit and will.

Saturday morning, 9 a.m.

The plumber is here! Huzzah!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


For some reason, the water in my bathroom isn't running. It started on Tuesday night when I wanted to brush my teeth and the faucet wouldn't cooperate. I used some water I'd boiled earlier in the day.

The next morning, still nothing, which was a problem because, boy, did I need to bathe. I asked Robert, the new Alex, about it and he clambered up to the compound's water tower to turn taps and things to no avail. I heated up a couple of pots of water, hauled them into the bathroom, and sluiced myself off as best I could.

Now, all this was, you know, not perfect but tolerable because of one key thing: the toilet still flushed. Today, this is no longer the case. Something's got to change or it's going to get really nasty around here soon.

But believe me, I have gained a new appreciation for the gift of water. I went with Joseline to visit her mother Joy on Sunday. No running water there either. As we walked from Nakulabye to Kasubi where she lives, I saw children getting water from a dirty stream. I'm hoping and assuming that the water I had at Joseline's mother was from a tap somewhere.

After some cassava chips and tea, Joy showed me around the house. This is actually a house she owns, which is a big deal. It has three rooms, a kitchen in a kind of lean-to to one side, next to a garden with some matooke trees, a jackfruit tree, and some other useful plants. And on the other side, the loo--two outhouse sheds--and "the bathroom," which was an open-air enclosure, a little larger than a shower stall with a wall up to about shoulder height. The cement floor slopes down and has a drain that empties onto the ground outside. That's the bathroom.

Yesterday when I came into the office after visiting the center, Justine and I were comparing guilt, which was helpful in a way to know that Justine, too, feels the kind of pain and sorrow of knowing that her life is more comfortable than those of the people she works with and for. "What do I have to complain about? I sit here all day in a comfortable chair, looking at a computer screen," she said. I talked about my water problems and about heating up water for a shower that morning. "I never take hot showers," she says. "Growing up in a boarding school, there was no one to boil it for us. If I need a hot shower, I know that I'm sick." Yeah, like that. No complaints, really. None at all.

The Northern Bypass

I took a couple of pictures with the borrowed MCDT camera the other day. When Justine, my supervisor there, downloaded, she said, "I'm sure these were IMPORTANT photos," making me feel really bad, so I don't know if more photos will be forthcoming.

These pictures are of the Northern Bypass, a freeway that will run all around the northern half of Kampala. On my McMillan Kampala map it says, "Under construction--completion 2007." Well...maybe 2008. Or maybe not.

It was supposed to be done in time for CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Kampala last November. Without that deadline, I wonder if it will ever get done. "So much corruption," Fred said when I asked him about it. In the meantime, as you see, it's a great gathering point for these bicycle taxis who pedal people and goods around on the back of their bicycle, like boda-bodas, only human powered. I can't imagine how they do this on all the dirt roads here. And I can understand why the Northern Bypass is a wonderful boon for them.

As for me, one thing I will be happy about when I get home is smooth roads.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A busy week!

Hello, there!

It's going to be a short update right now as I only have about 9 minutes left at the internet cafe. I thought I would take advantage of the unlimited internet access I still get at the Life in Africa internet cafe but a) the power is down and b) Ezra is packing up as LiA prepares to move back to their original location. They can't afford the rent where they are any more. Alas!

But I've had a good, very busy week at MCDT, going to four different neighborhoods ranging from rural at the edge of Kampala, to slums, to urban/downtown, to an industrial edge of town.

I've also heard there's a new Kiva fellow who will be arriving next Friday, so I'm starting to make transition plans.

All in all, things are going well and I'll add more details when I can. Today is for laundry, grocery shopping, and general housework. And all is well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the apartment...

I came home yesterday to find men putting razor wire all around the walls. Very depressing.

Basics: School Fees

As I was writing up business descriptions this morning, I was reminded of the importance of school fees in the lives of people here. I don’t think I’ve mentioned them before, and certainly not in any serious way.

There is no such thing as free education here, anywhere. It does not matter how poor you are or what school you go to, everyone pays school fees. And if you don’t have school fees, your children do not get an education. Period.

Without exception, every borrower I’ve talked to has mentioned school fees as a primary reason to need a loan, to need a profitable business. Even for those who don’t have children themselves, money is needed to pay school fees for younger brothers or sisters, or nieces and nephews, or somebody.

I went to a neighborhood restaurant for lunch the other day. I was the only one there, and my server, a young man maybe out of his teens, wrote a note for me explaining how he had had to drop out of school and is trying to get money together for school fees so he could complete his education.

The story isn’t so great for teachers either. Yesterday, I interviewed two women applying for loans. Both of them had been teachers. Both of them are now running a school canteen because that was more profitable than teaching. Not only is the pay very low, but it was often late, one told me. In a cash economy, late pay will get you nothing because there is no such thing as credit.

I don’t know how I would do it, but if I were setting up a program to help people in Uganda, it would have something to do with paying school fees.

An interview

These past couple of weeks at MCDT, my primary task has been interviewing women who will be getting their first Kiva loan (though not their first loan) in order to write up the brief introduction posted on the Kiva website. You might want to keep an eye out on if you’re interested in given one of these groups a loan.

I’ve been hearing so many stories doing these interviews, as you can imagine, it’s hard to select any particular one to share. But there was one yesterday that got to me and I thought I’d pass it along.

Fred, the loan agent, and I had gone to Lugala, a rural district near the western border of Kampala, where we met a group in a wooden shack that also served as a classroom. I interviewed six women, using a standard format, asking age, marital status, number of children, whether they are in school, along with a description of her business, her plans for a loan, and her goals.

My last interview of the day was with Christine who runs a grocery business. She is 27. She is married. She has six children. The oldest is 14.

Throughout the rest of the interview I kept looking at her, trying to find signs of how she felt about her life. Was she frustrated? Content? Angry? Resigned? I couldn’t tell. She answered everything in a dry and factual manner without a trace of emotion that I could see. But then, it’s not really an interview that lends itself to emotional outpouring. I am going to read into it, though, that when she said that her goal is to have enough money for all her children to complete their studies that she might be saying a little something about herself.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What happened to Alex

I saw William, the property manager, Friday afternoon and asked him what happened to Alex. He didn’t know. “He didn’t even say he was leaving,” he said. So now it’s Robert who’s opening the gate and cleaning the apartment.

I found out that evening why Alex left. He’d stolen $500 from me. I lost my key a couple of weeks ago and he offered to make a copy of the spare from the guest house for me. I suspect he made an extra for himself.

For some reason, I thought to look in my money belt that I keep in my suitcase in my bedroom and it was completely cleaned out—-dollars, Euros, completely empty. I didn’t have any shillings left in it, which was in a way fortunate and in another way too bad because he stole all that money for nothing. These were $100 bills that were printed before 2000 and were useless here, as I found when I first tried to change them.

It would be one thing if he’d taken all that money and it made a huge difference in his life, but he took it for nothing. He now has no job, no housing, and no money. And for me, $500 is not an amount to sneeze at. It just makes me very sad; it seems quite tragic in a way. And there’s a part of me that’s hoping he’ll bring it back since it won’t do him any good anyway. I know that’s a ridiculous notion, but I’m hoping it anyway.

I told my landlady about this because I want the lock changed. When I told her what happened, she alternated between saying, "Oh, my God!" and "I'm so very sorry." When she came over this afternoon, her husband took my hand and said, "We'll track him down." I hope they don't. I would hate for Alex to be sent to prison for stealing what was worthless to him. I doubt the police will get involved or find him. But it’s just so distressing, it makes me want to cry.

Collect for the Day

I finally read the rubrics (a.k.a. instructions, for you non-Prayer-Book-junkie types) after the collects for Pentecost which I have been using this week and note that it says, On the weekdays which follow, the numbered Proper which corresponds most closely to the date of Pentecost in that year is used. Whoops!

With Easter being as early as it could possibly be this year, that meant using the collect for Proper 1, which hardly ever happens. I think it’s a beautiful prayer and certainly spoke to me today. I copy it here:

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Alex is missing!

Yesterday, just after I posted my blogs, I walked back to my apartment to find the gate locked. That usually means Alex is inside because someone needs to be inside to unlock the gate for people. I knocked. No answer. I called him. No answer. I knocked again. Nothing. I phoned. A voice said, "The number you have called is not available." I kept this up for 10 minutes, then finally gave up and went in search of lunch at a neighborhood restaurant (matooke, rice, maize, beans).

I came back a half-hour later. STILL no answer. I called my landlady and explained, and she sent another young fellow over from the associated guest house who clambered over the gate being very careful as he navigated the spearpoint bits at the top and let me in.

Alex was nowhere to be found. One of those locked room mysteries, although obviously it's not impossible to get over the wall.

This morning, still no Alex. I asked his replacement what happened to Alex. He said no one knows where he is. Very strange. I'll keep you posted.

Camera is kaput

I was hoping it was a matter of dead batteries, but no. My camera clicks and whirrs but the lens is open and out and will not close; nor can I take photos. Visuals may be a bit thin for a while. Luckily, MCDT has a couple of cameras that I'll need to use to photograph clients, but personal photos may be limited.

If anyone has some troubleshooting ideas I'd appreciate it!

Two books I didn't mean to buy

There is really only one bookstore here in Kampala and that is Aristoc. The other day I got out of work early and decided to buy something trashy to read. With the time I have in the evenings without television or internet to distract me, I had thought I would tackle some Masterworks with a capital M, and so I have been plowing through Crime and Punishment for the past few weeks. Enjoying it, too, but I wanted something…well, trashy, as I said.

Unfortunately, to get to the trashy book section, you have to walk through the entire rest of the bookstore (you enter through a turnstile), and there on top of one of the displays was a book that I realized I needed to buy. Not a book I necessarily wanted, mind you, but one I thought I ought to add to my collection. Namely, Same Gender Unions: A Critical Analysis by six African authors with a forward by the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya.

Oh my, is what I have to say. When in the first paragraph of the first essay, the author writes that “Among the most well recorded accounts of the same gender union is found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 18 and 19 [the story of Sodom],” you know you’ve got a ways to go. A mob demanding of a homeowner that he send his guests out so the mob can rape them is not exactly my idea of a “same gender union.” Homosexuality is described as an addiction that “one might compare…to the urge to taste the highly intoxicating and lethal drink Kumi Kumi.”

However, and this is a major shift, I think, there is some sense and understanding that “there are among us people who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation” (from the Archbishop’s preamble). This is huge! If, indeed, this is beginning to be understood, then I suspect deeper understanding will follow. I think, though, that there’s a mix of feelings about this. One woman is quoted thusly: “Even a mad man does not sleep with another man and it is a matter of common sense that negative attracts positive. I refuse to accept gays and if I realized my boyfriend was gay¸ I would immediately terminate the relationship.” (emphasis mine) I mean, it’s one thing if the Archbishop of Kenya quoting Lambeth resolution 1.10 1998 says some people recognize themselves as gay, but when your Kenyan beautician says it, perhaps people really believe it.


Meanwhile, back in the bookstore, I eventually made it to the trashy novel section where a staff member asked if there was a particular novel I wanted. I said, no, I just wanted something to read. She asked if I had read any Ugandan authors. No, indeed. She took me over to yet another section of the bookstore and pulled out a number of books I might like. I bought one called The Official Wife by Mary Karooro Okurut (which I had actually seen recommended in another book I had bought a while ago, Uganda Observed by a British columnist for the Daily Monitor): “…a dissection of modern day polygamy in a Christian setting. It is a cheeky and wicked peep into the polygamist’s bedroom and an insight into the mind of his troubled wife.”

I finished it last night and enjoyed it quite a bit—very wicked, indeed. Also very revealing about the culture. As our heroine decides what to do when dealing with the fact of a co-wife, “I wonder why the traditional African woman accepted polygamy. I ask around. Maybe I did not have to do so much research in order to find out the truth.

Marriage in Africa had really nothing to do with love. The traditional African man never married for ‘love’—it was out of necessity. Free labour for his farm(s); and complaint or rebellion was unimaginable.

The first wife was always respected. More highly respected by the husband than all the other wives. But modern day polygamy is built on totally different premises. The other woman comes as a competitor, to snatch love from the official wife for herself…In modern day polygamy your typical Number Two will make sure the man builds her a better house than Number One’s…In traditional polygamous marriages, the most beautiful house belonged to the official wife. It was known as the big house. The small house belonged to the second wife, a symbol that she was the lesser in status. With modern day polygamy it’s the other way round.

Isn’t that interesting?

And then I bought a John Grisham novel.

Basics: crossing the street

Have I mentioned that traffic drives on the left here? Steering wheels are on the right side of the car. And when crossing the street, look right first, then left. I didn't realize how automatically I checked to the left before crossing the street. For the longest time, I would look left, right, left, right, left, until I figured out which way I was supposed to be looking, which way the traffic was coming from, and then after checking one last time, I would cross.

Now looking right first is automatic. It's only taken two months. I'll have to adjust again when I come back, but there are the advantages of stoplights and crosswalks and things.

One thing I have found very confusing are the hypothetical stoplights that are in a couple of strategic intersections in Kampala. What seems to be true is that you should cross the street when the light is red. Waiting for the little green man and then crossing is taking your life into your hands. Mostly I just follow what the natives do. They seem to understand the mysterious codes of the stoplights.

The other thing is that people here generally cross half a street at a time. You wait for a gap in one direction and move to the center of the road (no lines in the road, incidentally); then wait for another gap and cross the second half. It's rather nerve-wracking, especially with boda-bodas that don't feel particularly bound to this concept we call "lanes." Well, no one really feels bound to that.

Alex's title

Just found out Alex's official job title: he's "the houseboy." Isn't that squirm-inducing? I think I'll just keep calling him Alex, if that's OK with you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Basics: Bananas!

I can’t believe I have gone so long without giving bananas their due. You can’t swing a cat here without hitting a bunch of bananas. Yesterday as I was walking to work, I saw a truck packed with bananas making deliveries to the various stalls on my street. We’re not talking little bunches, as you see. This is the WHOLE BUNCH! Bunches of whole bunches.

I hope I have mentioned matooke before now. If not, let me explain, matooke is mashed and steamed green bananas, and is an absolute staple of life around here. I never thought of bananas as something that could be served with meat, but that’s what happens. You get a pile of matooke and some kind of meat or beans, and the juice from the meat seasons the matooke, giving it some flavor. And let me tell you, it’s really rather tasty.

Then, of course, there are the roasted bananas and plantains that you can buy from the vendors at many street corners. There are two vendors at the corner when I get off the taxi to come up to MCDT. They sit there with small charcoal grills loaded with bananas, turning them over with their fingers until they are golden brown and truly delicious. Joseline gets them for 100 shillings. I never get them for less than 200, and really, they’re worth it. I don’t have tough enough fingers to hold them straight off the grill, usually holding on to the ends of the newspaper in which they come wrapped, but when they do finally cool enough, how wonderful they are.

Dogs in Uganda

This morning as I was walking to work, I stopped a man to ask if I could take a picture of him with his dog. He agreed, but unfortunately my camera didn’t. It’s too bad, too, because the dog was unique in a couple of respects. First of all, the dog was on a leash. Second, he was a recognizable breed, a German shepherd.

Most dogs I’ve seen here in Uganda would fall under the general heading of “yellow.” Until today I had never seen a dog on a leash and only very, very rarely with anything resembling a collar. Most of the dogs I’ve seen have been sleeping. I let them lie. (The picture here is from the Acholi Quarters.) I hear them barking at night and finally get the notion of dogs howling at the moon.

One time, I went with Peter to visit a client who lives in her aunt’s house. When we came in the gate, we met a dog, yellow, long and narrow. “Oh, you’ve gotten so fat!” Peter said to the dog.

Up in Ntinda, there’s a pet shop—a GIANT pet shop, it says, for all of your training needs. It’s about the size of, oh, my office at Christ Church, I suppose, with a few bags of nondescript kibble in brown paper and a few other things. No toys, no t-shirts, no personalized dog dishes.

There are some puppies in my neighborhood. I generally see them rooting through the trash in the little grassy area on my way up to the Life in Africa offices and internet cafĂ©, flies often buzzing about their raggedy-looking ears. There used to be a lot more of them. I’m not sure I want to know.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Football update

My upstairs neighbors, Wilson and Arthur, and I went to a place called "Kickin' It" to watch the football last night. We paid our 5,000/= entry fee, good for beverages, grabbed chairs and sat looking at one of the four televisions (also one large screen) showing the match between Manchester and Wigan.

Some wonderful things about football: no time outs. A 45-minute half is a 45-minute half. Additionally, no commercials!

Furthermore, the objective and scoring is rather simple even if you don't know anything about it: get ball in net, score one point. Wilson would occasionally lean over to me and explain some fine point, which I could never hear or understand over the crowd, but I would just nod and say, "Ah."

As mentioned earlier, Chelsea needed to score more goals than Manchester to win the Premier League title. Alas, Chelsea played to a 1-1 draw (against Bolton, unlike what I previously reported) while Manchester beat Wigan 2-0. Manchester fans went crazy, jumping on chairs and singing, "Wee-oo, wee-oo wee-oo wee-oo." I can't say I was devastated by the loss. I'm not invested enough. But I'm mighty glad I went for the experience of it all.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Football countdown!

I have wangled an invitation from my upstairs neighbors, two Tanzanians working here for the year, to go with them to a sports bar in Kisamenti to see the football tonight. They have promised to explain what is going on. I shall report.

Initial thoughts on sermons

I heard a good sermon this morning at St. Andrew's Bukoto--well, let me revise that to say I heard a sermon I paid attention to through its entirety. It was about 30 minutes long, which is typical in my experience, though due to some very long announcements about the youth sports day prizes, the 8:30 service ended at 10:20. This was problematic seeing as the next service was supposed to start at 10:00.

Our preacher was a woman who is a missionary now working in South Africa. She used stories and images, which I found immensely helpful, and she talked about the very practical point that the choices we make today affect what will happen tomorrow. But that does beg the question: how exactly is that a Christian message? She did tie that in with Christianity a titch, but the take-away (as we say in preacher parlance) was "make good choices," and I'm not exactly sure that's headline news.

For the second sermon in a row, I have heard the preacher say, "Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep," once at All Saints Cathedral and here at St. Andrew's. The thing is, these sermons seem to me to be an inch deep as well. God knows I've heard lousy sermons in the U.S., no doubt, but I listened today and thought, Where exactly is the gospel? When am I actually going to hear a preacher who takes Scripture seriously? I admit I'm surprised and thus far disappointed.

Jesus loves the little children

Yesterday, I had Joseline and a friend of hers over for lunch, the first guests I've had here, and we had a marvelous time, swapping stories, cultural details and songs, among others. I tried out "Jesus loves the little children" on her, and she gave me the Luganda version, sung to the same tune. Here it is.

Yesu ayagula abaana,
abaana beensi zonaa.
Badugavu naberu,
bamyufu nabakyenvu
bonna ba mu wendo nnyo mumasoge.

Friday, May 9, 2008


I know you’re wondering what’s been happening in Premier League football. Well! My boys at Chelsea Football Club have been doing great! In the past two weeks, they beat Manchester United and Liverpool and have pulled up even with United in number of goals. They’re going to the Champions Cup in Moscow on May 21st to face Manchester again—an all-English tournament.

In addition, they’re still in the running to win the English Premier League title. I believe they’re playing Newcastle this Sunday with Manchester playing Wigan. If Chelsea gets more goals than Manchester, they win the title! If they get the same number of goals, United wins because they have a far better goal differential. As if I knew what I was talking about.

This Sunday will decide it all. Go Blues!

Eladde bannyabo

Fred, the loan agent with whom I have been paired the last couple of days, is doing his very best to help me in the most basic Luganda, but my age is showing in my inability to hold on to even the simplest greetings. I have been trying all week now to commit to memory the greeting, “Ela de”—at least I think that’s how you might spell it. It could also be “Era de,” the consonant sounding like a blend of “l” and “r” with a little bit of a “d” thrown in.* “Nnyabo” is “madam.” “Ba” is for a group of women. The proper response for the greeting “Elade nnyabo” is “Elade nnyabo” back. Unless, of course, it’s a man greeting you (or you are a man), in which case it’s “Elade ssebo” (or “bassebo” for a group of men).

As we were walking to our first meeting yesterday, Fred explained to me that “Elade” as a greeting is asking, “Is there peace between us?” or perhaps, “Peace be with you.” And the response is the same (“And also with you”), to be sure that those meeting are approaching one another peacefully. He tells me that it comes from a word that’s used to describe still waters—“The waters are calm.”

*Joseline, with whom I had lunch today, informs me it is "eladde" with an L and two Ds.

A wonderful gift

Finally getting the feel for when I ought to show up at the office, yesterday I arrived at about 9:30. I put on my sunscreen and used the restroom and when I came back, everyone seemed to be waiting for me. Justine, the supervisor, said, “We would like you to say the prayer today.” Really? I said. And so I did. What an honor. What a gift, what a blessing.

More meetings

One of the things I’m really enjoying about MCDT is that I get to go all over Kampala to places I have never been before, places off the beaten track--at least my beaten track. I doubt these places will ever be on a tour, and it’s an amazing feeling to get invited in to the smallest degree to people's life here.

The past couple of days I have been paired with Fred, a very warm and friendly man who has been extremely patient with me.

On Wednesday, we took a couple of taxis out to a neighborhood on the Nateete Road, near the outskirts of Kampala. Fred was excited to go there because he had recruited some of those members and hadn’t been back since that time. We met that day in a beauty parlor ("a saloon" Fred tells me) owned by one of the members. You can see here the women waiting to check in, carrying plastic bags holding the weekly repayment of their loans as well as a lined notebook in which the group leader records the total payments of the groups and the individual passbooks that Fred marks with each member’s payments, balance due, etc.

On Thursday, we went to two different neighborhoods, both within walking distance of the office. The first, Kitanga, is a slum built in a hollow between two of the main hills of Kampala. The houses there are small brick rectangles with corrugated iron roofs. Lots of water collects there and so mosquitoes are a huge problem. It’s a neighborhood that’s actually having some new building—for the students of Makarere University, which is just on the other side of Kitanga. There, we met on a kind of public porch with a television set in front of an apartment building.

From there, we walked to Mulago, uphill, where the city felt amazingly far away. The dirt roads were wide and well-tended there, and the pavement (when there was pavement) was amazingly smooth and free of potholes. Fred tells me this is because it’s near the hospital so there isn’t as much traffic in that neighborhood. For whatever reason, it certainly felt like a much more comfortable place to live than Kitanga. There, we met in a classroom. The only sign posted on the walls was a small handwritten strip that said, “Be Aware Aids Kills.” Otherwise, there was a chalkboard in the front and dozens of desks with benches to seat two. Unlike the other two neighborhoods where the women sat on the floor, here everyone had a bench to sit on as they waited for Fred to collect and count their money.

Fred and I walked back cutting through Mulago Hospital, a huge compound, plain but nicely landscaped, then turning up and walking over Mulago Hill, back down to the office, where I turned off and down to Kiira Road to catch a taxi home.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Back in action!

After a day to clear out the pipes, I was back at MCDT yesterday (Wednesday). Thanks for your prayers and good wishes. I'll fill you in on further updates soon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It had to happen sometime...

It started to pour as I was starting to go home after the meeting with the borrowers yesterday afternoon. I hadn’t had lunch, so I popped into the nearest restaurant, a rough-and-ready lunch spot with a typical menu of your choice of meat with matooke, rice, cassava, etc. Chicken with matooke and rice, a fruit salad (an extravagance!) and a bottle of water cost 3,600/= (a hair over $2). Which might have been a clue.

I decided it would be wise to stay home near reliable plumbing today, my own personal plumbing being a bit touch and go. Bleah.

First day at MCDT

The folks at MCDT (which stands for Micro Credit Development Trust, I found out) asked me to get there at 9:00. I got there very early (at 8:30), and they were already hard at work, sorting through files and getting things all set up for the day. They were a bit shocked to see me there so early and tried to keep me occupied, but clearly 9 didn’t really mean 9. They asked me to arrive later the next day. In the meantime, I read the newspaper, which didn’t take all that long, and then I watched fascinated as the man across from me sorted baggies full of change into piles of 10 100/= pieces and 6 500/= pieces, and then parceled them out so that everyone at 5,000/= per person for travel expenses.

There were about 6 loan agents going out for meetings with borrowers all over Kampala, scheduled on posters on the wall opposite me. At about 9:40, everything was ready and so everyone stopped everything to say the Lord’s Prayer. I think this is an RC organization as they didn’t say the doxology. After the Lord’s Prayer, someone at the head of the table continued on with the prayer that they would do God’s work that day and all said Amen with the conclusion I’ve come to expect: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Then we went out.

I went with a rather dour woman called Alle. She didn’t talk much; we just went about our business, taking a matatu up to Wandegeya and then another taxi to Nakulabye (NA-coo-LA-bee-yuh--very near Namirembe and Joseline’s place). From there we walked down into a neighborhood that seemed grittier than I had seen elsewhere—kind of like a bad Oakland neighborhood, not quite so violent, but it had a bit of that feel, very different from the IDP camp that still had a sense of family and countryside.

One of the things Alle had said as we traveled to Nakulabye (with some disgust) was that the women would undoubtedly be late for the meeting. It was supposed to be at 10, but they were almost certain to show up late, though they might show up earlier today because she was supposed to give them something. I found this a little odd, given that she was telling me this at about 10 after 10, thus putting our own timeliness in some doubt. Again, "time" means something rather different here than in the U.S.

At any rate, people eventually trickled in and there was a way that they really struck me as the urban poor that the people in the Acholi Quarters never did. They were a bit scruffier somehow. Except for one woman who was wearing this amazing blue dress with black ruffles on a bias and a matching headdress with a huge black bow, mostly it was T-shirts and wrap-around skirts and flip-flops.

I should describe where we met. We walked down this dirt road and stopped at what appeared to be an empty wooden shack with a doorframe but no door. Inside, it was covered with all sorts of political posters for various candidates: local council, Kampala mayor, Parliament, President Museveni, with slogans like “Working for the Common Man Revolution,” or “Politics with a Human Face.” Alle and I pulled out some small blue wooden benches and set them up for people to sit on when they came. Some boys peeked through the window at us—me mostly. I would smile back at them and they would duck out of sight. One boy, much later, who walked past the door did a classic double-take when he saw me sitting there.

There wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. I did try to do a couple of the Kiva intake interviews for the group loans, but English was not so easy in the circumstances and Alle kept having to interpret while counting money. Both of the group leaders dealt in waragi (which I heard pronounced “wallege”), a local brew, so I learned something new today.

Also tried to learn a Luganda greeting, which I need to review because the ladies were exceedingly amused that I knew absolutely nothing, not even the most basic thing. I think it’s “Ale de nyaga,” but I’ll have to double-check. “Aledenyaga,” a woman would say to me and I would stare stupidly and everyone would laugh. The proper response is to say, “Aledenyaga” back. So I’ll be working on that.

One woman brought a chicken to the meeting, tying its leg with twine that was put under a bench leg. Then she held it down by stepping on its feet. Then she bound its leg with twine. It seemed fairly resigned about all of this. I hadn’t known it was there for quite some time. It gave one squawk when she stepped on its feet, but then stopped. It made me a little uncomfortable, though not uncomfortable enough to stop me from having chicken for lunch (which turned out not to be the best idea).

Alle spent the morning filling out papers, marking passbooks, counting money, showing the group loan members where to sign. There wasn’t a meeting as such. It was just time to collect money and take care of business. The ladies sat and chatted and I have no idea what really went on. After I had finished interviewing the second group leader and taking the group’s picture, Alle said, “You might as well go,” so I made my way slowly home, trying to avoid the rain.

Another party at Joseline’s, with a familiar refrain

Joseline called me up late last week to ask me over to lunch on Sunday at 1:00, which I happily accepted. I knew enough now to expect this not to be a tete-a-tete but a more raucous affair, which turned out to be the case.

It was a birthday party for three of the young women in Kings Daughters Ministries, and there must have been over 40 people there. We had a big African buffet for lunch and sat out in a circle in the yard as the chickens pecked around our feet for scraps. There were even party games of the most familiar sort: musical chairs, truth or dare (I chose dare and was asked to dance in front of everyone, causing a high degree of hilarity. Other dares included, “Climb that tree!” and “Do a somersault,” all of which people refused to do. I protested, but to no avail). We also had a cake and I got the tiny piece to which I'm growing accustomed.

Joseline sat to my right (I love this picture), and to my left I talked with a young woman named Ritha, a seventeen-year-old secondary school student who wants to study in the U.S. In Ohio, specifically. I warned her it was cold there. She wasn’t sure she would like that, so she asked about Minnesota.

She also talked about church. She’s been an altar girl at the (Anglican) cathedral in Namirembe, but she’s started going to the Pentecostal church because the cathedral is just so boring and dry. She likes the Pentecostal church because there are so many more people her age and because people actually move and dance there. Yeah, I’ve heard that tale before. I can’t say I’ve heard that many teens talking about their father’s multiple wives before, but the whole “Church is boring” thing—that was very familiar.

More unpleasant school stories

You will recall the story about the fire at Budo that killed 20 girls. Well, I saw this story in the Friday New Vision that I found perhaps more disturbing if only that it was a small story on the inside pages.

18 Kasese Secondary School girls defiled

A total of 18 girls from Kasese Secondary School were defiled and impregnated during one term last year.

Aisha Tibananuka of the family protection unit said they investigated the cases, but only two were prosecuted because most parents were uncooperative.

Tibananuka said the impregnated girls were aged between 14 and 17 years. Their parents preferred getting money from the culprits.

She was speaking at a workshop on child labour organized by the district labour office in Kasese district recently.

Participants blamed the rampant defilement cases on the failure to formulate a law dealing with parents who exonerate defilers.

They noted that the number of street children in the area had increased. Some of the children were from child-headed homes or families facing domestic violence or those affected by HIV/AIDS.

The seminar was sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

And yesterday when I read the paper at the MCDT office, there was yet another and even smaller story about a man who had been jailed for defiling (suggestive choice of word) an 8-year-old student, giving her 500/= (about 30 cents) and telling her she didn't need to worry about grades for the rest of the semester. I find these stories very disturbing. Exactly how common is this?

An indulgent day

After work on Friday, my last day at Life in Africa, I went whole hog American: I went to the Cineplex at the mall to see the opening day show of “Iron Man,” which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not saying it’s a great movie; I’m just saying it’s a satisfying thing to watch after seven weeks in Africa—especially the moment when Robert Downey’s character, Tony Stark, returns to the U.S. after three months of captivity in Afghanistan and tells his assistant he wants two things: an American cheeseburger, and to call a press conference. “But first the cheeseburger.” Oh, I’m hearing that.

Which made it particularly wonderful to go to a restaurant called “New York Kitchen” tucked away in the parking garage of the mall. They sell NY style thin crust pizza by the slice, but I got a bagel with cream cheese, avocado and tomato and a slice of red velvet cake! RED VELVET CAKE! And it wasn’t a serve-40-people-from-a-cake-the-size-of-a-paperback slice of cake. This was a good America slab o' cake the size of a monument. It was bigger than the bagel. I have a photo here with a fork next to it for purposes of scale. But, boy, did it make it clear how out of whack American servings are. I saw that piece of cake and realized that it ought to serve four people, minimum.

The differences between cultures were also apparent during the ads before the movie. There was an ad promoting a new housing development on the Entebbe Road that guaranteed that each new home would have electricity and running water. Ex-pats had a separate ad aimed at them for a housing development (called “Kensington”) that didn’t mention electricity and water. I’m assuming they were included, though.

A sign I had not heretofore seen in Uganda

Not that anyone actually observed this sign, but it was novelty enough to see one at all. From my indulgent Friday afternoon in downtown Kampala.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A change of venue

In the "But what is Laura actually doing in Uganda" category, I have been spending the week finishing up my work at Life in Africa. Next week I will be starting work at a new MFI called MCDT (MicroCredit something something), an organization that is just starting its partnership with Kiva. It will be a very different situation since Life in Africa is primarily a community development organization with a variety of programs and initiatives while MCDT is strictly and specifically involved in microfinance. I'll be very interested to see how that works!