Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A casual weekend chicken slaughter. Fun fact: soaking a dead chicken in hot water makes it easier the pluck the bird.
So here's a little throwback. This post goes with one of my earlier posts titled "Perseverance, Hope, Love, and the Electric Slide". Here I'm teaching Joab (clothed in all black) how to do the Electric Slide. One of the best dance partners I've had in a while!

Me chasing my pig!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Look what we spotted in park! 

Elephants, Hippos, and Giraffes, oh my!

Sorry we've been absent for so long! Here's a quick rundown on what you've missed. 

On Saturday we visited Titus, the leader of the MFP project, and his rice farm. He has six piglets and a pig, dozens of chickens, and a few goats. I fell in LOVE with the cutest piglet and spent a good while trying to catch her (looking absolutely ridiculous) before someone else gracefully did that for me. I finally understand what a piglet squeal sounds like, and it broke my heart into a million pieces. Titus saw my true love for this adorable piglet and he gave her to me! After contemplating how I was going to take a Ugandan pig back to my parents, he decided to just name her after me and "won't let a soul tamper with it". My beautiful piglet will grow up to live a long and wonderful pig life. 

On Sunday we visited Paraa National Park.... which was INCREDIBLE! Butterflies twinkled like Christmas lights all over the grasses, giraffes just casually munched on trees mere feet away, hippos eyed us from the Nile, an elephant waved to us with his trunk! This park has no fence - you step out of your car and you risk getting eaten by a lion. (Which may or may not have happened before?)

Anyways, we made it out alive and have tons of pictures to share later! We love you all.


- Elaine 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ben Loves the Kids

After a long day of business modeling we played with the community. We left the community with a soccer ball, a tennis ball, and a polaroid picture to remember us by.
Elaine (the MVP of the day) gives visualization of the budget aspect of business modeling. 
On the boat facing Lake Victoria.
After a hard day of work!

Busness Modelling in Sugur

On Thursday, Pilgrim took us about an hour away to the town of Sugur. Unlike the previous communities we visited, Sugur had found great success with the MFP. Implemented with the Chang-Fa engine as opposed to the inferior Lister engine, the Sugur MFP has been working well and generating a profit for the members of the co-op. When our van pulled up to the site, 40 men, women and children, greeted us, welcoming us to their home.

This meeting was a specialized business-training seminar, and Pilgrim took the lead, explaining the tenets of good fiscal practice. Tyler and I mainly observed today, as the training was conducted Teso, the local language. However, Julius was able to keep us up to date with rapid translations. This observation was crucial for EWB’s understanding of the program we’re running, and it was very cool to see the way the community engaged with the project. While Tyler and I sat (amongst bats, 9-inch-long lizards, and swarms of bugs), Elaine jumped into the role of official secretary—mainly as a result of Titus’ truly abominable handwriting.


As soon as we arrived to the community, we were greeted by about 30 of the members of the community. It was as if our presence gave them a new sense of hope. They were cheering and singing. Finally we settled down into our meeting. Our meeting today lasted 4 hours and I think that every hour was worth it. The community was so receptive to the business training and was so eager to learn. The business skills training shows that our trip is not just an engineering trip but a community development trip as well.

Elaine definitely gets the MVP for the day for her penmanship. Thanks to her, the members of the community were able to better copy the business skills notes for future reference.

As a side note, I’m always very alert during the meetings because of a particularly jarring incident in Tubur. As we spoke with the executive board of the MFP there, a 6 inch lizard fell from 10 feet from the ceiling onto my back. After falling on my back, it made its way into my hat which was hanging from my neck. The best part is that everyone just sat around and just stared while I tried not to panic. Julius finally turned me around to check my shirt when the lizard got out of my hat, down my back, and onto the ground. My binders and papers went everywhere. We laughed for a few solid minutes before resuming work but I’ll never forget those moments of panic. So as soon as I got to Sugur, I made sure to check the ceilings and of course I find a 9 inch lizard and some bats. I kept it together. Mom and dad, you would be proud!

Now back to serious matters. The business skills training included topics such as business planning, budgeting, management, savings, and investments. My favorite part of the program (and probably the most useful to the community) was the budgeting section. There was a discussion on how to budget on a monthly basis. The community members estimated expenditures and we came up with a monthly total and how they would make revenue for those expenditures. The community did a lot of brainstorming which was very exciting. I think that the best part of the business training is that the lessons learned could be applied to the MFP as well as any other businesses the community wants to start. I would definitely say that today was successful!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Starting Work

            On Tuesday, we finally began our engineering work in Soroti. It is Wednesday evening now in Uganda, and I can definitely say that the past two days have been both rewarding and sobering.
            Our mission was to help with implementation of two new Multi Function Platforms (MFPs) in rural communities. MFPs are agro-processers that have been implemented in rural communities all over East Africa. The concept is simple enough for a non-engineer like myself to understand: a diesel engine uses pulleys to attach to various ‘components,’ which can each process various crops. There is a maize huller, cassava chipper, and oil press, among other attachments. These are very important for communities, as they drastically cut down the amount of time needed to process the crops. Columbia EWB started implementing MFPs, housed in brick structures, around 10 years ago. Each MFP has local leadership that owns the device and charges individuals to come process crops. Unfortunately, the funding from Columbia for the two MFPs did not arrive in time for us to implement them, and so we have shifted the focus of our trip. Instead, the last days have been filled with assessment of old sites.
            On Tuesday, we visited Orungo, which is about one hour away from Soroti town and talked to the chairperson of the MFP. It was incredible to see how the work we’ve been doing over the past few months in New York has actually been implemented. However, it was also immediately clear how problem-plagued the system is, from engine trouble to lack of communication. Our Wednesday visit to Tubur confirmed both the positive and negative aspects of the project—there has definitely been a beneficial impact, but there is a long way to go until the communities are independent.
            The team from Pilgrim that has been driving us to the sites and participating the meetings is truly incredible. Julius is head engineer for the project, and is warm and outgoing. David, the driver and special assistant, is also a remarkable individual. During the 2003 violent insurgency, David took up arms along with 30 other teenagers to help defend the region from the rebels. David took the time to share his inspiring story with us, and we were blown away by his bravery and selflessness. Titus is the MFP lead at Pilgrim, and he is truly passionate about his work, and has dedicated his life to improving the lives of those displaced by the insurgency.
            It feels great to be out in the villages working, and we look forward to continuing the project in the week and a half to come.


Perseverance, Love, Hope, and the Electric Slide

I would like to start off by apologizing for not posting daily. The reason for this is that we don’t have access to wifi very often and when we do its for a short period of time. So mom and dad, I’m okay! Now back to festive blog things!

Today started a little bit like yesterday but the duration of the day brought new and exciting experiences. Our first destination was the Beacon of Hope School where we attended their prayer service. We were greeted by glistening smiles and open arms by students and staff alike. We received the word of the Lord from 2 pastors sprinkled with times for praise and worship.  I really enjoyed the praise and worship time because it was a time for the students to express themselves through singing and dancing. One of the students really stuck out to me because he was really getting it and I wouldn’t mind getting some dance lessons from him.

Towards the end of the service, I was asked to speak a few words of encouragement to the students. Students of all ages were there. Even students my age. I was trying to think what to say to them because these students have been through so much. Most of the students at this school were once a part of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Many of these students were forced to kill those who were close to them. I was beyond nervous trying to think of what to say to them.  By the time I knew it, the pastor was calling me up to speak. I stood at the podium looking into their eyes. Their eyes were full of hope despite everything they’ve seen. Through everything they’ve been forced to do. I just decided to speak from the heart. My message revolved around perseverance, love, and hope. I just hope that my words were able to touch at least one student…

On a lighter note, after the service we were free to interact with the students and what better way to interact than to dance. Praise and worship continued once the service ended. Elaine and I decided to dance with the students and they were happy to have us. They had about 10 choreographed 8 count dances that weren’t the easiest for those of us who aren’t the greatest dancers. Fortunately, the student that was amazing at dancing during the service introduced himself as Joab and then taught me how to do the dances. After about 15 minutes I picked up about half of the dances and I couldn’t tell whether me or Joab was happier. Once Joab realized that it would be fairly difficult for me to pick up the last few dances in such a short time so he asked me to teach him an American dance. I thought for a little bit. What dance should I teach him? The wobble? Forgot how to do it. The Cupid Shuffle? Only really works with the original song. The Booty Call? Kind of inappropriate. I finally settled on the Electric Slide because it’s pretty simple and I had done it so much at family cookouts that it was second nature to me. While the rest of the group did praise and worship dances, Joab and I went off to the side and I showed him how to do the Electric Slide. I was sure to jazz it up a bit for him so I added a snap on the front step that almost touched the ground and exaggerated the step on the turn. He thought it was coolest thing and after about 10 times he picked it up and was doing it better than me. Soon 3 or 4 other kids joined in while others just looked on. I just found the cultural exchange to be so fulfilling for the both of us while finding a new dance partner in the process. Shout out to Joab!


Sipi Falls

Our first shower in Uganda! 

The chameleon and I are one with nature.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mosquito bite update

Elaine - 0
Tyler - 0
Ben - 9

New friends and old fish

Its nothing like waking up to a rooster at 6:30 in the morning to your 3rd day in the beautiful Uganda started. I laid in bed so pumped for 6:30 to come, despite popular belief, because of the breakfast Grace (the hostess of the Golden Arc) would make for us and our first journey throughout Soroti which is the area that we are working. Breakfast was delicious as usual and consisted of eggs, bread, and mangos. And I’m obsessed with mangos. Soon after breakfast we met James, David, and Julius and they are all a part of the MFP team in Soroti. We chatted for a while about Uganda, our expectations, and our experiences.  

Afterwards, we hopped in our trusty white Toyota rover and began exploring the town of Soroti and a lot of its different communities. We made about 4 pit stops and each of the communities were so welcoming. They treated us as if they’ve known us our entire lives or as if we were a part of their community.  In general, everyone I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with has been more than pleasant to me which is a huge culture shock after living in New York for 8 months. We’ve also managed to pick up few words in the local language such as hello, which is pronounced ‘yoga’, bye, which is pronounced ‘ebo’, and thank you which is pronounced “A elamo noi’.

Of all of these communities, I would definitely have to say that the fishing village was my favorite. This particular community was located on Lake Kyoga which is the second largest lake in Uganda behind Lake Victoria (which we visited yesterday). As soon as we got out of the car, we were approached by a group of children greeting us with smiles. Of course Ben happened to have a tennis ball and as soon as whipped in out the kids got so excited. We played for a short time until we made our way down to the lake. The view was amazing. It literally didn’t even look real. Lake Kyoga stretched as far as I could see and the contrast with the sky was incredible. As if this moment couldn’t get any better, I met a fisherman named Michael who immediately called me friend with the brightest smile. Michael told me all about his life as a fisherman and how he wanted to come to the United States. He also took me to his boat which had just got back from the fishing on the lake and invited me to stand in it. He looked at the day’s catch and said that it was a poor one. We talked more of his experiences and how one time he swam 20 meters below the surface of the water. He was proud to say that his boat was the fastest boat. It was cool seeing that he took such pride in his work. As we said our goodbyes, he gave me a fish that he caught that day as a token of our friendship. I was definitely touched by the fact that he would give me one of the few fish that he caught from that day. I was also a little caught off guard by the fact that the fish was still alive but needless to say I’m happy to say that I have a new friend in the fisherman Michael. - Tyler (6/7/14)

Sorry I’ve been absent!

Here’s a quick recap on everything you’ve missed:

Everything you’ve ever heard about Africa is either 100% right or 100% wrong. There is no gray area in this country, Uganda, the pearl of Africa. As soon as I line up to pay for my visa, a person standing to the side of the desk takes my crisp $50 bill right out of my passport and walks away. I stare at the office, and in a small voice that I couldn’t even recognize as mine, I say, “but that was mine…?” The officer laughs for an eternity and a half and then finally explains that the man had been waiting for change and that I was clear to enter the country. Welcome to Uganda! (6/5/14)

After flirting with death on a quick ride to Kampala, the capital of the country, we arrive to our hotel at 5 am. After a quick dip in 40% deet bug spray, I spread out into a bed, covered in with a mosquito net. It honestly makes me feel like a princess.

The capital reminds me of some of the central areas of El Paso, and I was shocked that a) Kampala is just as nice as El Paso or b) that El Paso is right out of the middle of Africa. We met with the NGO we’re working with, Pilgrim, who could not have been more welcoming, and then head back to our hotel. After waking to what I SWEAR was a crazy warlord cry, we ate breakfast with a man who cried to us about the failure of his fourth marriage due to a certain Miss Uganda and how his sons hated him. I assured him that it was never too late to fix things, and he melted, exclaiming “It’s never too late!” We left shortly after that. We were ready to take on the whole of Uganda! We took a smooth drive from Kampala to Jinja, then hopped on a boat to see the source of the Nile. I waved at all the people on the side of the river, learning later that they were a part of Uganda’s federal prisons. (Blessed) (6/6/14)

Soroti’s incredibly cool. I have never felt more out of place and yet more welcomed. We visited a small fishing village and I received a fish as a gift from a friend I had made there. The fish was lovely and slimy, and it meant the world to these people and to me. The twenty + children of the village followed Tyler, Ben, and I around. Ben whipped out a tennis ball and the whole crowd went crazy. A girl who could not have been over five with a two year old on her hip hovered right next to me the entire time. We shake and she takes her hand, sniffs it, and then licks it laughing. American sweat is tasty? (6/7/14) - Elaine