• Alinafrica

    Living it up in Mbale!

    02 Mar, 2012 General — Posted by alinafrica
    Hi all, sorry for the delay but have not been able to get internet in last couple of weeks. Hope all is well. ///// I have been having a few more issues with my accommodation, such as lack of food, lighting, drinking and bathing water and sanitation, but apart from that it's grand. I now understand why nobody I work with lives in the District. I have therefore made an agreement to spend the week days in Bududa and the weekends in Mbale, which isn't the nicest town in the world but has such luxuries as food, running water and electricity. ///// Friday 17th February, I did some more field work with Bosco and Marian. I mentioned that I was planning to go back to Mbale for the weekend and Bosco said that he was going to do some more engineering work later that day before returning his friends car to Mbale. I agreed to tag along for the experience and get a lift back and avoid the extremely uncomfortable commuter taxis. Long story short, we met with a well know local businessman at a quarry and then was taken to his land and had a meeting with workers regarding the construction of a bridge. It was around this point that I realized that we were outside of our district and that the bridge was for access to private land so I couldn't understand why Bududa District would be involved in its construction. It then dawned on me that Bosco and his colleague were being private consultants for a wealthy individual, and all of which was being done in work time. I had even chipped in with some free environmental advice. I had also mentioned that I intended to see some of Kenya after my assignment and had preliminary agreed to stay in his place in the hills, which I was quickly regretting! ///// The whole time I was there I felt very uneasy and wanted to leave but instead was invited into the family home and fed and watered, which I had to accept gratefully. We were there for sometime and it became apparent that this businessman had a lot of influence in the area and was widely respected, to the point that people would kneel down with bowed head when shaking his hand, for which they did the same for me. I was starting to feel like I was in the fillm 'Last King of Scotland', and we all know how that one ended! Two weeks in and I am already tangled up in a bit of corruption! ///// The weekend was well spent relaxing, eating nice food and drinking cold beers. We also went out with a couple of guys from South Wales who were head and deputy head of schools that were linked to area as well as a couple of Canadian girls who were working as Occupational Therapists in the local hospital. Mbale is really off the beaten track as far as tourism goes so when you come into contact with other muzungus, it is worth sticking together, which we did and had a very enjoyable weekend which was a million miles from what I was used to! ///// Monday morning I went to speak to the Environment Officer for Mbale as Marian is turning out to be as useful as a chocolate teapot. I worked the next couple of days in a quite district office still trying to understand what was needed within the district, what my imput could be and where the hell everybody was that should have been in work. It seems that the few people in work are more interested in sitting outside under a tree chatting or napping. O well, I thought, I will have to do this the hardway, so I wrote letters to all the heads of departments insisting on meetings with all of the them. To use the only printer in the office I had to use a pendrive to pass my files to Planners computer. Bad move, as soon as I plugged his pendrive into my computer it was game over! I have been warned about Africa viruses (electronic ones that is) and how bad they are. Within a minute of using the pendrive nothing worked on my laptop and it wouldn't even start up. So much for the Agencies antivirus software! I spent the rest of the day trying to fix it and failed miserably and had a realization that without a computer I was as much use as Marian. ///// The next day Dani came to my District to research case studies as part of her TACC project. Dani had kindly offered my services as the official photographer for the day, which I did not mind as it was good to get out of the office. We visited some rural areas and looked at their seedling cultivation schemes and the energy effiecient stoves that are being invested in by TACC all to combate deforrestation. After dragging Marian, the girl working with Dani and Fred the driver around a couple of villages like 3 stroppy teenagers we called it a day. Since I needed to get my laptop fixed and Dani had already said that it was the Welsh teachers last night and they were all going out for a few beers that night, I made a spur of the moment decision to go with them back to Mbale with not much more than the clothes I was wearing. I'm glad I did as even though we arrived back late, we had a cracking night. ///// The next day I spent walking around Mable with a sore head trying to find someone to fix my computer. By Friday, I had had the computer rebuilt and was working again. However, I was not able to retrieve the work I had done over the previous couple of weeks but on the plus side I had a newer version of windows and no stupid Agency software that had been causing problems all along. The man who fixed it was in the back of the shop/shack about 10 foot by 6 foot that also had a seamstress and mobile phone shop in. 6 hours work and Windows XP installed with all Office apps and antivirus came to a total of 10 pounds. Not bad! I can't wait to see our IT departments face when I hand back their laptop with an illegal version of windows installed. ///// The rest of the weekend was spent at Mbale resort which is the poshest place to stay in Eastern Uganda and expensive at that. However, it only costs 5,000 Uganda Shillings to use the pool (and more importantly pool bar). Sounds expensive? It only costs 1 pound 40 and well worth it considering the conditions I live in during the week. I finally got a taste of the "holiday" everyone told me I was going on. I also treated myself to an hour long full body aromatherapy massage for just 6 pounds. Which was a bit of an experience as it was, near enough, a FULL body massage and the lady who was doing it was not exactly petite. I have never been in so much pain and fear in my life. I have also never been straddled during a massage before either or rearranged for that matter! ///// After leaving the massage room dazed, in agony and slightly violated, I returned to the pool to watch more locals trying to swim, which to be perfectly honest and for some unknown reason they just can not do. It was uncomfortable to watch as most of them looked like they were drowning but at the same time having fun. I was challenged to a race by the best swimmer there who had the body of Usain Bolt and could probably run as fast too. It wasn't much of a challenge and he was widely mocked for being beaten by an out of shape muzungu and by such a huge margin. It is obvious Ugandasns aren't taught to swim so they would watch me and try to emulate. I have even been thinking of moonlighting as a swimming coach during my assignment, working conditions would probably be a lot more desirable! What was amazing was that not one Ugandan could do a proper dive into the pool but instead choose to do back flips, which I tried and failed miserably on a number of occasions which meant it was my turn to get laughed at. ///// Dani and I did try to watch the rugby that weekend but it was not to be. The internet was so bad we couldn't even get the commentary or even updates, kind of glad we didn't as Dani would have gloated with the victory with her Wales shirt, flags and even a WRU teddy bear! On the positive, Saints are back on top! ///// Send me some emails of updates of how you all are and even some news. I have just heard from someone local about Witney Houston, so news doesn't travel quick out here. Unless it's football which the Uganda's can't get enough of. I did watch the impressive Arsenal comeback with some locals which they were very animated about. Keep in touch Read more »
  • Alinafrica

    Posted by alinafrica @ 05:16 My first day in work was Wednesday 8th February. I arranged a lift from Rashid, a well known Boda Boda (motorbike taxi) driver. Rashid charged me 4000 Ugandan Shillings even though I know it should be no more that 3000. However, this is the difference between 90p and ?1.10 so I don?t really mind as he is trying to earn money to study Engineering at University! The journey is about 25 minuets of sheer terror of hanging onto the back of a badly maintained motorbike while flying along extremely bumpy dirt tracks, trying to avoid children, chickens, random boulders and the occasional truck coming straight at us. Lets just say it is an extremely uncomfortable and dusty journey that almost makes you religious by the end of it. Don?t worry Mum/Lara I bought a Crash Helmet in Mbale before leaving the previous day as the image of what could happen was still haunting me. Saying that, the views while riding into work are fantastic, or at least the ones I saw when I dared to open my eyes! I could definitely imagine Top Gear using this road for their next feature length episode. // When I arrived at work I was very warmly greeted in the Ugandan way. Ugandans are very polite and softly spoken and love prolonged welcomes. Everything they say is done so slowly in almost a whisper and is often accompanied by a very soft lengthy handshake, that probably goes on a little bit too long than is comfortable in our culture. I was introduced to the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) which is pronounced ?cow? who as far as I can understand is second in command for the District and signs off everything. The man was plump, middle aged and dressed in full military ceremonial dress and reminded me of someone I dare not mention. The courtesy he was paid by the staff was unbelievable, as not even the Queen would command such respect. During our meeting, I was spoken about but not to which I found very strange. It felt like I was sitting in a headmaster?s office with your parents. I was also introduced to the District Environment Officer. And yes, there is only one and it seems she is responsible for everything environmental. Her name is Marian, she is young and seems to like nice clothes, phones and new hair do?s. // Our first appointment was a meeting with all the leaders of the 16 sub counties in the District, which was about landslide prevention. Landslides are the biggest issue in the area due to the steep hilly slopes and the high rainfall in the rainy seasons combined with the deforestation and over farming of the slopes. Only two years ago a landslide wiped out an entire village and killed around 200 people, yet we hear very little of it. It is worth noting that to get the sub county leaders to attend these meetings a generous lunch is put on which is something I haven?t seen in the Agency for a while! They are also given a ?transport? payment that more than covers their travel. Some people more sceptical that me may see this as a bribe to attend meetings, whatever your opinion is, it seems to work! // The next day Marian, Bosco the District Engineer and I were planning to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment on a new proposed road going over the hills which would make the journey to Mbale a lot quicker. As there was a long walk involved we decided to go early so I was told to meet them in a local town at 07:00. It is worth noting that the Ugandans are not known for their time keeping. I phoned Bosco at around 08:00 as to their whereabouts and was told they were about 10 minuets away. At 09:00 they still had not come so I phoned again and was told exactly the same message. I then received a phone call at 09:30 saying that there was a change of plan and that I was to catch a boda to another village to meet there. Once we were all together we caught bodas to the start of the new road. Well it wasn?t that simple for me as my boda kept cutting out and getting stuck in gear. At one stage the boda cut out while going up a very steep hill and with the breaks not working either, we started to roll back and with our feet not stopping us we both abandoned ship which resulted in a nicely bruised ankle for me and a heavily dented motorbike for the driver. // After helping to push the bike up what seemed a never ending hill I got another ride but this time on a motorcross bike. I eventually met with Marian and Bosco to start our walk. The first couples of hours of the walk was up step hills that were heavily farmed. This is deepest rural Uganda and was reassured that locals would have never laid eyes on a white person before. Even Marian had only ever met one white person before and she is a City Girl. This meant that every village and house we passed by people just stopped and starred like I was an alien. Some were even too speechless to reply even after I greeted them in their native tongue. It was a hard climb in blistering heat but the views at the top were spectacular. We then descended the other side of the hills into Mount Elgon National Park. It is illegal to farm here and with armed guards patrolling, the park is mostly untouched jungle. We spent a couple more hours trekking through this jungle which was fantastic, stopping every now and again to cool off by a stream. I even managed to pitch in with a few pollution prevention methods for the construction of the new road. // We emerged from the jungle into more farmland and came across a newly built primary school. This was also a very remote area and the head teacher was more than happy to invite us in. Once the kids saw a ?muzongo? (White Man), nothing could stop them running out of their classrooms and staring at this strange creature. However, the kids were very timid and preferred to be more inquisitive from afar. We got invited into a classroom so that the kinds could sing us a greeting. This was quite an experience as there were 135 kids in a class and they sang their little hearts out. // After doing the rounds at the school and waiting for a lift that again didn?t turn up. We walked towards the main town. The kids were again so inquisitive that they followed us. After walking about a mile a couple of dozen of hardcore kids were still following a few steps behind, every time I stopped, they stopped, This was weird as they didn?t want any interaction, just to be near the Muzongo. We walked further through a number of villages with the same reaction of everyone stopping and staring with mouths open, Marian and Bosco found this hilarious as they had never seen it before. I even had a couple of children scream and run away in fear at the site of me, I?m hoping that was because I was white! Either way, every village we passed through seem to gather more children who wanted to follow. I felt a bit like Rocky or would that be more like Forest Gump. My sunburnt, dehydrated and sweaty face probably looked like neither. After finally getting to the main town, we only waited another hour before our lift turned up and took us to Mbale where we got food and I was left to catch a 2 hour commuter taxi back to Bududa. It was very late before I got back, but what a day! // The next day started with another death defying Boda ride to work but as it was Friday I had to wait a couple of hours before anybody else came in. After a brief meeting with Marian, she told me she had to go out to do some work in the field that afternoon. After enquiring further I found that ?some work? was somehow lost in translation and actually meant visiting her mother. Therefore the day was cut short and with nothing else to do I went back to the guest house to do some reading up of the annual reports I pinched from their office Read more »
  • alinafrica

    Posted by alinafrica @ 17:12 Hello All, I thought that instead of various emails, I would put a few things in a blog so as to keep whoever is interested informed of what I'm doing. In case you didn't know, I am working in Uganda for 8 weeks as part of an International Learning Opportunity, funded by the Welsh Government. It seems that there are some perks to living in Wales! I have also taken an additional 7 weeks leave to travel around the area and may be flying back to the UK as late as 20th May. Hopefully this will be an honest and not too tedious account of what I'm up to. Please note, that the views I give are my own and do not represent that of the Environment Agency or the Welsh Government. Basically, keep it to grade 4 level and below colleagues and no forwarding it on to Chris Mills, that means you Ash! A more sanitised and professional (and probably boring) account will be published by our internal comms team for our stakeholders. // The big adventure started for Dani, Sue and I and we flew out of Heathrow on Sunday 5th Feb. We were luckily to do so as I heard later that over half the flights were cancelled that day due to the snow. After sitting at the back of the plane next to a couple of Ugandans, Dani, a couple of rows in front was asked by an Air Hostess if she wanted her Husband to sit next to her in the spare seat. Well I have never seen anyone more insulted in my life. For that reason, I decided to move seats and sit next to her so I could get my own back over the next 10 hours or so. The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful apart from finding out that there was a complementary bar, which we made full use of. // We arrived in Entebbe Airport in the early hours but was not greeted by Edward our Country Manager as it was too late for him, but his friend Alex met us instead. Alex then passed us over to his friend who we got in a random car with. It might of only been a hour but the drive into Kampala seemed to last forever as we tried to acclimatise to the heat and the surroundings while being extremely tired. We stayed in Kampala that night in a relatively nice hotel still a bit shell shocked. // The next morning I awoke and drew back the curtain to take in Uganda in all its glory and instead found myself staring at 3 men with AK47s staring right back at me, yep I thought, This Is Africa! We met with Edward our Country Manager who took us to a western shopping centre to get local phones and to exchange money, before hitting the road for Mbale. The main roads were surprising good to start with but the further we got from Kampala, the worst they became. The tarmaced roads had so many pot holes that traffic simply did not drive on it. This had lead to widely used dirt tracks either site of the tarmac which for the majority of time saw no action. My first impressions of Uganda was how smartly people dressed with shoes, shirt and trousers being the minimal for whatever your job is as well as for casual wear. A million miles away from what I'm used to. I was also surprised at how green everything was considering it is coming to the end of the dry season and hasn't rained in months. // We stopped for lunch in Jinja, where we had no other option but to eat a suspicious looking buffet, that I would have put money on giving us the "inevitables". After a couple more hours of driving we arrived in Mbale in the early evening. Our arrival into Mbale had been somewhat dampened as we drove past an RTA moments after it had happened between two motorbikes. The two motorbike drivers were both getting to their feet and trying to rite the motorbikes, but it was the passenger that concerned us most as he was lying on the road motionless and bleeding from the head. Edward's response was of "it happens all the time". Within a minute of this we arrived at Dani's accommodation. With Dani seeing her home for the next two months and having what just happened resting heaving in all our minds, I think she was in a state of shock as the realisation of where she was hit her. Put it this way, it's the only time I have ever seen Dani speechless! // The next day, after Edward took Sue to her district North of Mbale, he took me to mine, Bududa. Bududa is a hilly rural district that had only been formed 6 years ago, when it broke away from Mbale District for political reasons. The area is notoriously poor and lacks money needed to develop it. After introducing myself at the District Offices, we went to the guest house. The Guest house I'm staying in is the only one in the District and run by an American Missionary project that has built a school locally and accommodates volunteers from oversees. The two American girls who run it, Lacey and Caitlin, seemed nice. There was also a couple of other American girls there who were doing a photographic project for a couple of weeks. // The accommodation is basic, with 4 rooms with 4 beds in each, all equipped with concrete floors and complementary geckos on the walls. Fortunately I have a bedroom to myself at the moment. There is a small common area with a smelly dog and basic food rashons. There is an outside shower and toilet but due to a water shortage we are only allowed a bucket wash and selective flushing!!! There is electricity, well sort of! The power is out for a least 50% of the time. There is a backup battery that runs minimal lighting and power to one socket, which is difficult with 5 people with laptops and the photography girls with 40 digital cameras to charge (that's not an exaggeration). To top it, I have found that the work laptop that caused me so much grief before I left does not hold power and needs a constant supply to work! All this makes for very interesting nights. There is a dongle for basic internet access but only allowed very restricted access due to cost!!! There is also a house help called Jenifer who (should) come in every day and do the cooking and laundry which is included in the price of the guest house. This will be my home for the next two months.
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  • 1travel_monkey in America

    Well, here goes....   We leave tomorrow on our big adventure.  To day we are organizing and packing all the junk we are taking. We have never done blog before so th is going to be a learning experience. 


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