Tag Archives: Africa

Last Few Days

I’m fairly sure when I leave Uganda in a few days, I will be leaving a fair sized chunk of my heart here.
Today was my last day on a Watoto farm. I started at Buloba in the feed mill that the guys are putting together, then moved to Lubbe where the machines are putting the finishing touches on the dam. The farm manager, Sam, asked me if I was sick or angry when he saw my face, but I’m just sad.
The rest of my week will be spent in the church office working on some things on the computer and attending a meeting or two. In 5 days I will be home with my family, assuming no problems with my travel arrangements.
I asked my mom if they would come visit me if I were to move to Africa. She said not to make any decisions right now because I’m emotional about leaving.
Darn right I’m emotional about leaving. I love this place and this ministry. I love what Watoto does and I’ve seen how they are always taking steps to improve.
Plus, they’ve combined loving and positively impacting the lives of orphaned children for Jesus with farming, and I don’t know how it gets any better.

Internship Course Over, Internship Goes On

The last time I was on American soil was exactly 2 months ago – May 17. I am in the middle of my 9th week in Uganda, and I love it. Still. This internship is awesome. It was like, “Hey Sarah, why don’t you travel to Uganda and do work you love with this amazing ministry? It’s paid for!” (The words in bold print describe some of the things that contribute to its awesomeness.)

It was almost easy to forget that I was actually doing this to complete a requirement for my master’s degree and I’m getting class credit. I enrolled in a summer term internship course to get that credit, and my assignments for the course were due this past Monday. I had to submit a 5-10 page report and a 30-50 slide PowerPoint presentation about my internship experience. The requirements were pretty simple, but I realized last week that I did not have everything I needed for the presentation.

I was supposed to include at least 5 pictures of myself in the PowerPoint among all the photos of my experience here. As I took inventory of my photos, I found I did not have enough pictures that included me. Luckily, I spent Thursday of last week at two of the farms, so while I was out, I got my picture taken a few times. That’s why it would appear that I dress the same every day, if you looked at the slide show. Here are those pictures.

 

18' diameter grain bins, nearly 30' tall at the peak I helped build this fence! (A little)

 

Grain Bin Door With a goat kid at Watoto's dairy goat farm

 Anyway, I finished the report and the slides and submitted them, and that’s the last thing I had to do to get my master’s degree. Now it’s up to OSU to confer the degree and mail the diploma!

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of desk work. My last post was about the challenges of finding input suppliers across cultures, and those difficulties still hold true. It has been further evidence of the truth of the old Mzungu adage: “Everything is harder here and it takes longer.”

Another project I’ve started is to research possibilities for Watoto Sustainability to expand into the production of foods for disaster or famine relief. We want to find out if dehydrated foods are a good potential business enterprise. The objective would be to help food crisis victims as well as help sustain Watoto Child Care Ministry.

Various organizations procure food and distribute it in areas experiencing a food crisis. Some try to purchase as much of the food as possible from developing countries to avoid further depressing the market there by importing the food from wealthy countries. Uganda truly is “the pearl of Africa,” and the excellent conditions for farming here make it a great place to purchase good food. Watoto could potentially become an excellent supplier of nutritious foods for food crisis relief efforts! I find this project very interesting, but it also involves a lot of time sitting and staring at a computer.

Ag Trade Show

I did get to do something different last week, though! On Friday, I got to go to an annual agricultural trade show in Jinja. I was very impressed with the show, which lasts for a week. Vendors, government entities, and NGO’s begin preparing months before by planting demonstration plots. There were seed companies, equipment companies, and livestock breeders there.

NARO's Books

 

Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization had a large area where they displayed their new machines, information about plant varieties they have bred, and books.

 

DSC01615

 

Heifer International had a booth where they were demonstrating and promoting, among
other things, a project they have in Uganda developing biogas for cooking and lighting.

 

 

 

Non-agricultural vendors were there too. Basically anywhere a crowd gathers here, there are people selling cokes, juice, food, and crafts. This leads to another highlight of the trade show: there were two vendors there (I never saw them, but I heard them) who played music like an ice cream truck plays. What songs do they play? One played Fur Elise. The other played My Heart Will Go On, of Titanic fame. A similar vendor makes its way around the neighborhood where I’m staying, playing a Christmas song about Santa Claus.

A few weeks ago, I said that church at Watoto reminds me of the student section at a major Texas Tech football game, because of how excited everyone is. The trade show reminded me of those football games in a different way.

I remember waiting in line to get into the stadium the day the Texas Tech Red Raiders beat the University of Texas Longhorns with a last-second touchdown in 2008. There was so much excitement before the game and there were so many people there, the line to get in was ridiculously crowded. When they opened the gates, the crowd compressed and pushed forward. Personal space was a happy memory. Walking in crowded areas here reminds me of that. I do not know what it was like all last week at the trade show, but on Friday when I went, there were what seemed like a billion school children there. In Uganda, walking existing is a contact sport.  People don’t wait in lines for their turn or walk respectfully around others in a crowd. Mzungus, including me, are surprised when they get in line somewhere and people step in front of them. People squeeze and shove their way wherever they want to go, because that’s the way things are done here.

That makes a lot of sense, too, when you observe traffic on the roads. The general rules for traffic are:

1) If there is room for your vehicle, you may go. 2) If there is almost room for your vehicle, you may go. 3) If there is not room but you see a driver who looks like they might move for you, you may go. 4) If there are no drivers who look like they would move out of your way, squeeze in anyway.

DSC01716

Before we left Jinja on Friday, we stopped and ate Chinese food at Ling Ling’s. The last time I ate at Ling Ling’s, I was on a church-planting trip with my home church in 2006. My mom and I went on that trip together, and the team went to Ling Ling’s on her birthday. (Too bad she doesn’t like Chinese food…) This past Saturday was her birthday, which means I have eaten at Ling Ling’s two times – 7 years less 1 day apart. It was still good. = )

 

Soybeans. No, SOYBEANS.

The past couple of weeks have been the most major learning experience I have had here, so far. For weeks I bounced around among three farms and the ministry office, asking questions, listening, and trying to learn. I did learn a lot – but I felt scattered. I had nothing on which to focus my energy.

I finally started on a project. My goal was to find potential suppliers of agricultural inputs. I started with a list of about 50 products (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, vet supplies, and feed), who the current supplier was, and what Watoto Ag is currently paying for the product. Where else could we get them, and for how much?

Where do you start? I have yet to see a Ugandan phone book, but I figured the best place to start was the World Wide Web. Generally, I’m pretty good with Google, probably because of the practice I’ve gotten through my weird compulsion to learn the answer to any question that pops into my head.

First of all, dealing with Ugandan businesses is totally different from dealing with people within the ministry or with western businesses.

I started searching and collecting business names, phone numbers, locations, and email addresses. Some of them had web sites.

Some of those websites were not very helpful at all.

Marketing here is very different from in North America. Websites here are generally only good for getting locations and phone numbers. Sometimes.

I started calling phone numbers.

Some of the phone numbers were outdated. Others were correct, but the person I spoke to could not understand what I was saying. The connection was fine and we were both speaking English – but I had one of the most confusing phone conversations of my life the other day trying to find out what this guy charged for soybeans.

[“Soybeans. “

“Be clear. What are you asking about?”

“SOYBEANS.”

“I do not know what you are saying. What do you want?”

“SOY. SOYA. SOYBEANS.”]

He finally understood I wanted soybeans and gave me a price nearly three times the amount we’ve been paying.

And so it went.

Surely, I thought, emailing must be better. Accents don’t cause trouble in emails like they do in spoken English.

I started emailing the companies that had email addresses listed.

None of them replied.

I started wondering if there was a problem with my email account. Maybe mail from my Oklahoma State University email address was being filtered to spam folders. Then I got a reply from a UK company I had contacted about another issue, and I started wondering if there was a problem with my approach. Maybe you have to write emails completely differently when you cross cultures? I meant to send respectful and concise messages inquiring about specific products, but maybe I came across as demanding or rude. Maybe my “Texan accent” was transported through cyberspace and the recipients of the emails are staring at the words, uncertain of my questions.

I asked Alex about this. Should I change my approach? Take a course in writing emails to Ugandans? He was not surprised that no one responded to me, simply because there’s a good chance they don’t check their email. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

  1. There’s an internet café on pretty much every corner here. Everyone and their mother-in-laws have cell phones. Seeing someone walking or riding a Boda Boda while talking on the phone is just as common here as seeing someone talking on the phone and driving in the US. Telecommunications is a huge industry here.
  2. These people run businesses, and those businesses depend on selling products. They provided email addresses for business purposes, obviously to help them sell their products. Then they don’t check the email.

I can’t make anyone check their email, but I was confident that I could go talk to them face to face to get the answers to my questions.

I gave Alex my list of companies and asked him where they were. We spent all day last Thursday, the 4th of July, driving around the spider web of crowded roads that is Kampala, and walking into office buildings and shops.

Some of the locations were wrong.

Of the 10 places we actually found, I made real progress with four.

At one place, we made accidental progress. I had a name and address for a chemical company. We drove down the correct road until we saw a sign for a company with the exact same address. Not the same business. It was a seed company. We parked and went inside to ask about the chemical company, but the girl knew nothing of it. So we stayed and asked about their vegetable seeds.

One of the companies was located in an office building. I had an address and a room number, so we parked and went in. The security guard made us sign in before we went up the stairs to find Room 2. We found it, but there was nothing in sight with the name of the company we were looking for. Signs for a bus company were plastered on the wall. We asked the guy behind the desk if we were in the right place, and he looked at us incredulously, like “Of course this is the right place. Why would you question that?”

Another company was in a different office building. We went inside, and asked at the front desk where we might find that company. They were confused – had never heard of that company.

“I have an address and a phone number for _______________ company, located here under the name of Mr. ________ ________. He doesn’t have an office here?”

“Oh, ________, yeah we know him!” and they led us to his office.

He wasn’t there.

Business hours are extremely flexible here. At three of the places we found last Thursday, the addresses and phone numbers were correct, but no one was in.

Accents cause the same trouble talking in person as they do on the phone. I’m lucky I have Alex driving me around, because there were many times when he had to translate my English into English.

When you travel, you have to keep an open mind. If you are so sure that the way you do things is right and everyone else needs to adapt to your way, you will end up extremely frustrated and bitter. I couldn’t make business owners update their phone listings, or make them answer their email, but I can treat them with respect when I finally get to talk to them.

Moral of the story:

If you want a cross cultural experience that doesn’t involve eating grasshoppers or something, try being a mzungu looking for potential suppliers and price ranges for 50 products in Sub Saharan Africa!

Lists

I’m a list-maker. This week I’ve been noticing differences and similarities between here and home, and I decided to summarize some thoughts in list form.

Things I love about Uganda & Watoto:

High emphasis on people, showing respect

Music and singing everywhere

More relaxed pace

Fresh tropical fruit. Everywhere. = )

Stoney Tangawizi and Krest Bitter Lemon (Coca Cola products not sold in the US)

Getting called “madame” on a regular basis

Meeting people from all over the world here to work with Watoto

Getting to be part of an organization that is caring holistically for nearly 3,000 children

 

Things I miss about home:

Family and friends (since day 1 – of course)

Mexican food

Steak from an American steakhouse

Driving

Using my Google Maps app (It’s really a good thing I’m not driving here)

Country radio

Good (or at least safe) coffee widely and easily available

 

Difficult or frustrating things:

Seeing widespread, true hardship and extreme poverty and not having a quick fix

Trying to think in metric terms. (Petrol costs about 3800 Ugandan shillings per liter. Is that expensive compared to gasoline at home? I don’t know…let me have a calculator and a few minutes…It’s about $5.58/gallon.

Feeling like the dumbest person in the room for speaking only one language

 

Things I don’t miss about home:

110˚F high temperatures (43˚C)

Hot tempers and stressing about things that don’t matter

 

Some things I’m learning:

A smile is universal

Black or white, no matter the differences, people are people all around the world

Westerners come here to try to help Ugandans, but we could learn a lot from them

 

Things I never would have experienced at home:

Tasting water from a clay drinking water pot (don’t worry, Mom – it was clean water)

Purchasing bananas through an open van window

Almost getting run over by a Boda Boda while crossing a street (don’t worry, Mom – he missed)

Eating matooke with g-nut sauce

 

Funny things about being a (West) Texan here:

Hearing people try to imitate their ideas of a “Texan accent”

Getting into a (peaceful) conversation about US and Texas gun control laws with an Australian in Africa

Getting confused looks when I say “y’all”

Explaining to someone that where I’m from is hotter in the summer and drier and dustier pretty much year-round than Uganda is during the dry season, and laughing when they don’t believe me

[Insert reference to The Lion King here]

Murchison FallsSome of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Uganda were on a youth mission trip from a church in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They came to love on, play with, and minister to the kids in the Watoto villages. I got to spend some time with them last week, and they invited me to tag along on their trip to Murchison Falls to go on safari. They were leaving early Thursday morning, so on Wednesday night they made room for me at their guest house and I got up and stumbled to the vans with everyone else at 4:30 the following morning. We drove past road construction, on both good roads and bad roads, entered Murchison Falls National Park, stopped and walked to the top of the falls, drove some more, got out of the vans and rode beside them on a ferry across the Nile River, then got back in the vans and drove to the lodge where we had reservations. Our first wildlife sighting in the park was a group of baboons. At first, we were excited, because you don’t often see baboons on the side of the road in Texas or Oklahoma. Later, we were not so excited about the baboons. The spunky youngest girl in our group got a little too close to one and she got chased away. At least she is a fast runner. ; ) We learned that one of the main reasons we needed to keep our doors locked at the lodge was to keep the baboons from coming in to steal our stuff. Also, they had to build a fence around the swimming pool to keep the hippos from slipping in for a midnight dip. Anyway, the lodge was beautiful. We walked into the reception area tired and rumpled, and staff members were ready with cold washcloths and passion fruit juice. We checked into our rooms and ate from the lunch buffet set out.

Keep in mind – this was a team of USA youth (ages 13-18) and some parent chaperones, a youth minister, plus some people about my age. References to The Lion King abounded. Attempts from white American kids to sing that one song in Swahili while in the van probably had our patient Ugandan drivers wishing they had ear plugs. Every wart hog was named Pumba. Every sighting of Pumba meant that Timon must be nearby. (For my grandmothers reading this – if you haven’t seen this movie and don’t know what I’m talking about, just ignore this part. I got to see cool animals.)

That afternoon, we went on our first 3-hour game drive, with a park ranger named Sarah for a guide. (It got really confusing for me – people from the back of the van kept shouting out questions like “Sarah – what is the gestation period of an elephant?” and I would think, I’m not sure – I guess I skipped that day in Introduction to Animal Science.) Anyway, after a while I was able to ignore people shouting my name and asking questions I never thought I would need to answer.

Ugandan Kob

On the first game drive, we saw lots of antelope like the Kob and the Oribi. The Kob is one of the national symbols of Uganda. We saw Cape Buffalo and giraffes (lots of them). Cape Buffalo always look grumpy and giraffes are terrible at Hide and Seek.
Giraffes always lose at Hide and Seek
Giraffes always lose at Hide and Seek
Cape Buffalo
Cape Buffalo

We saw elephants from a distance, and learned that elephants only charge at humans because the older ones hold grudges against poachers. The group in the van I rode in for the game drives got to see 4 lions (3 adult females and 1 male) over 2 days. Sarah (the guide) spotted the lions with her eagle-eyes. The rest of us had to squint to see them through the grass with our regular eyes. Speaking of eagles, we saw several African Fish Eagles, which look a lot like Bald Eagles.

Friday we went on another game drive and a 3-hour tour on the Nile. The name of the boat was the African Queen. I wasn’t sure if a reference to Humphrey Bogart or Gilligan’s Island was more appropriate for this part of the trip, but it was fun no matter what. I learned that hippos can’t swim, but they can hold their breath for about 5 minutes and if they want to cross the river, they walk across on the bottom.

Hippopotami
Hippopotami

Friday evening, the team gathered after dinner and met with the Team Host, Melvin, who had been with them every step of the way during their stay in the Pearl of Africa. Melvin asked them to share their highlights and lowlights – what did they like about their experience with Watoto and what would they like to see changed? I sat in on their meeting and it was obvious that everyone had loved their time working with the Watoto kids. Saturday morning we packed up, had one last delicious meal from the lodge, and headed back to Kampala. The drive was much longer because we stopped more, but it was an enjoyable day with great people. I’m so glad the team adopted me and let me go with them!

Hello from Uganda!

– This post copied from my personal blog – beingsarahdiane.wordpress.com. –

(I’m having trouble uploading pictures to my blog – so I had to type thousands of words to make up for it.) (Just kidding.)

Travelling with three other people (Steve Swigert who has been here eight times in two years working with Watoto Agriculture, his wife Vicki, and Steve’s colleague Adam), I boarded a flight from a Dutch airline on Friday afternoon and flew for nine hours to Amsterdam (arriving at 8 AM Amsterdam time, although it felt like 1 AM to me). After a short layover, we boarded another plane and flew first to Kigali, Rwanda, then on to Entebbe, Uganda. I set my watch eight hours ahead and tried to convince myself it was 11 PM on Saturday instead of the end of a 36 hour Friday. After a short drive on a nice bus with the friendly and capable Watoto logistics guy (Joe), we arrived at the house we get to stay in for the next few days. Four tired people turned in for the night after making plans to get up for breakfast and church.

Sunday morning, we attended the Watoto Church central campus. We waited outside until they opened the church doors and then we were seated in reserved seats in the second row. Church in Uganda is fun. It is an altogether different experience from any church I have attended in the United States. The music is energetic, to say the least!

They asked any first time visitors to stand. I stood. They asked the group of Watoto Agriculture visitors to stand. I stood again. Church was fun in spite of that!

In case you are just now tuning in, Watoto Church based in Kampala, Uganda started the Watoto Child Care Ministry in 1994. Uganda has a huge population of orphaned and neglected children. Estimates vary, but because of the recent civil war in Uganda and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, most of their middle-age range population is missing, leaving something like 2.6 million orphans in a country of 26 million people. The average age in Uganda is 15. Watoto Child Care Ministry is an innovative orphanage model that uses house mothers in children’s villages to raise (currently) about 2,600 children. The benefits of this model are wide-ranging. For example, the kids are raised in a family environment instead of an institution. Schools and churches are on-site in the villages so the children never want for education or spiritual nourishment. The house mothers get purposeful and fulfilling work raising Uganda’s future leaders. Watoto has children’s choirs that get to travel the world touring and singing. However, the costs and challenges are many. As you might imagine, feeding 2,600 children as well as their house mothers and teachers is quite the feat. The purpose of Watoto’s Sustainability project is to make sure that Watoto can keep functioning and creating positive change in Uganda. Part of this effort is Watoto Agriculture, of which I get to be a part this summer. This first week we will be mainly seeing Watoto’s work and what has been accomplished so far agriculturally.

Monday morning, we piled in a van driven by a Watoto driver (Simon) and headed to the Watoto village at Suubi. At Suubi, there is a children’s village (complete with houses, schools, playgrounds, and a medical clinic), Watoto’s fabrication unit, the goat dairy, and a beautiful babies’ home that currently holds nearly 100 babies under two years old. A new worship center is currently being built.

Next, Simon drove us on to the poultry farm and feed mill at Buloba. The poultry barn, when finished, will house at least 7,000 laying hens. The feed mill will be finished in the next few months and will save Watoto from buying flours and meals from external sources. My first two days in Uganda on this trip have been great. Tomorrow, we head north to Gulu, where we will visit another Watoto site and possibly get to drop in on Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who I got to see when she gave a seminar at OSU in February. Hopefully we will get to see the school she runs for displaced girls. Our hosts here in Kampala are wonderful and I have loved every minute seeing and hearing what Watoto is doing in this country!