June 16-Our Visit with Obama and his Family

Leave a comment

(Note: This blog was a team effort! Individual authorships are noted.)


After leaving Soroti, we headed to Pakwach for the night — just a small town on our way to Murchison Falls. We got up bright and early to drive into the Murchison Falls National Park and immediately started seeing many animals. A list for you! Elephants, giraffes (twice we saw hillsides spotted with so many of them!), duikers, kobs, waterbucks, oribi, hartbeests and monkeys. A few of us glimpsed a leopard jumping down from a tree, but otherwise we couldn’t find any lions or leopards. Our turning point was a watering hole with a bunch of hippos chilling in the water, rumbling and snorting. After a few hours, we drove to the Nile River to go on a boat ride to see the falls. While we were waiting to leave for the boat ride, we met some baboons.

So, the last time Joey came to Uganda and visited Murchison Falls, a pack of baboons raided his group’s van because they left the doors open with food inside. This time around, Joey was reunited with a baboon friend he’d made, but we were extra careful and made sure to shut the door anytime the baboons came close. At one point in the afternoon, Bethany, Harrison, Joey and I (Allison) were in the van waiting to go up and join Rohan and Rebecca at a lodge. We shut the doors and slid the windows closed until they were gaps, because this baboon had looked like it was about to try and jump up through the window or something. Suddenly, we see a baboon appear on the roof of the car next to us — uhh, something’s not right here. We see that the window right behind the passenger seat is still a tiny bit open and Joey shouts, “CLOSE THE WINDOW!” but too late – the baboon jumps from the roof of the car onto the windowframe, shoves the window wider and pushes its body through. It’s hindquarters are still out the window but it’s pretty much in the car. Harrison is holding a can of Pringles and thinks it’s going to go for his food and maul all of us. I’m yelling and images of monkey claws are flashing through my mind. Joey is trying to get out of the van to pull the monkey out but gets stuck by the door handle. Bethany’s finding her camera. We find out later that the baboons are bold but still scared of humans, but at this moment we don’t really know that. The baboon grabs the plastic bag closest to the window and tears it open to see a loaf of bread before it snatches it to its chest and jumps back out of the car back onto the neighboring car’s roof, where it proceeds to shred the rest of the bag and eat our bread. We’re stuck inside the van for a bit longer because a ton of baboons have appeared and are surrounding our car, hoping to get some of the food, but they soon lose interest. Unlike them, I don’t think any of us are going to forget that episode very soon.



To the Tune of Gilligan’s Island Theme

Now here’s our brave victorious crew,

They’re here for a short boat ride

To Murchison Falls and back again

Past crocodiles and hippopatomi,

Crocodiles and hippotami.

Now, dear reader, you’ve perhaps figured out that we did not get stuck on the little rocky island on which we stopped to get the closest possible pictures to Murchison falls available on the Victoria Nile. You have made your conclusion too quickly, because we are using a service of Orange called Internet Everywhere, which means that we could very well be posting from our little rocky isle. At least this isle was free of ants. ANTS!

Our three hour boat ride was uneventful, fortunately. We enjoyed seeing hippopotami and crocodiles. We saw many mother and child hippopotami, and kingfisher birds that live in holes in the (I assume sandstone) cliffs along the river.


We got up bright and early for the drive to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which is the home of the 10 wild white rhinos in Uganda. The sanctuary is 70 sq km and crisscrossed with tons of roads for trucks because they keep their rhinos under a 24/7 surveillance. We drove for quite a while before parking at the side of a road and walking for a few minutes until we saw three white rhinos: a male calf named Justus, Justus’s mother, and another male calf named Obama. We took a ton of pictures — Justus’s mother didn’t seem to mind our presence. The sanctuary has a newborn baby girl (born a few weeks ago in the beginning of June), but nobody sees her because her mother is still extremely protective and attacks pretty much anything.


We returned to Kampala, and stayed in a lovely hotel, as always. We went to dinner at the Nakumatt Oasis Shopping Center, Café Javas. Pilgrim must have cleverly picked this location to help us culture-shock back into the states, as thiscafe had a menu with every kind of food (except, conspicuously, and unfortunately for me, looking for my last hurrah of posho or matooke, Ugandan food) and pasteurized dairy products, namely, ICE CREAM! Probably healthier ice cream than we eat in our dear old US of A, as it melted quickly and must have been lacking our usual stabilizers. Joey kept my side of the table in stitches, as we all had a light discussion of polygamy, the scent of New Jersey, and future plans to fight malaria (Well, the latter discussion was not as light). Joey’s stomach was already keeping him in stitches, but not in the way that he could appreciate it.

(Spoiler alert: We’re already back in the states, but stay posted for what happens next, in between eating dinner and arriving home! Also, “Final Reflections”, plans for the future, maybe more photos… great stuff, all around)

Title Explanation, in case you didn’t read thoroughly enough:

Politics, or any awkward conversation topic, is often described as the 500 pound gorilla in the room. In this case, we are not actually talking about anyone involved in politics, but a very large African land mammal, the 1500 lb baby rhino, Obama. Now we need a new idiom because we have ruined that one.

What Greed Does to Us

9,500 Liter Night and HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVID!

1 Comment

We awoke “at the crack of dawn” (give or take) to head on our final trek to Beacon of Hope college, to finish caulking one more building. We arrived to find that last evening’s nasty rainstorm had left us with 5000 L of water in the S1-S4 building, and 4500 L in the Middle building (the difference in yield is caused by the differing catchment sizes of the roofs). The lab building tank, however, was completely empty. Some students informed us that the cap had popped off, so water came out of the first flush all through the storm and never made it into the tank. We had had some problems with that particular 6″ PVC end cap when we were installing it (we were already using a replacement, because the first one was faulty). Our recommendation to Pilgrim was that they immediately seal the screw on cap and install a valve onto the lab building’s first flush. We also had no idea that the tanks could fill so quickly, which means that the overflow outlets for the tank need to be lowered within the next few days. Right now, the overflow is higher than much of the piping to the tank, so the pipes could fill up with water, sag down, and rip out their brackets.

We left Golden Ark today (our home for 24 days!) for our final “debriefing trip” to Murchison Falls, Uganda’s largest game park. (Debriefing trip = safari + discussion of the project – office + giant animals)

On the drive up, the landscape went from flat with the occasional volcanic plug to gently rolling hills, with the occasional flat-topped stereotypical savanna tree. It is thrilling even to see these trees that I have seen so often on TV. We also passed some deer-creatures (I’m gonna say impala) and a HERD OF ELEPHANTS! (Ok, 5 ELEPHANTS!) On their way back home after crossing our road.

Tomorrow morning we again leave at the crack of dawn to drive through the animal park and see what we can see. Given that we already casually bypassed some elephants, I expect to be very impressed.

In case you, our dear reader, have not noticed, our team member who left early to go to work back in the US, David, is celebrating his birthday today! In case you are David, hope you have a Happy Birthday! Get yourself a big piece of cake and some pasteurized ice cream that won’t immediately cause diarrhea.




1 Comment

Project Accomplishments today:
Caulking and sealing more gutters
Sealing the PVC connection to the tank
Creating “bee hive” wire filters to cover the gutter downspouts
Labeling the tank
“Teachers’ Workshop”

At lunch time, I went up to some random students whom I thought had been in my S2 class (they weren’t) and asked if they painted. One boy volunteered, and his friend Max came to help him. I told them how, last week in the class Harrison and I led for the S2 students, we had calculated the height at which the tank was 2000, 4000, 6000, and 8000 Liters full. When labeling the tank, we quickly realized that using the external diameter of the tank, provided by the company, resulted in labels that would make the tank look like it held 12,000 L total instead of 10,000. After finishing the first tank with our calculated heights, the student painters decided that they would use the more accurate yet simpler technique of dividing the height by 5 and labeling the volume at every point. The boys completed their job with a crowd of students around them. They also want to add more lines so that students can know exactly how much water they have in the tank. I think this is a great idea, so I intend to leave the paint and their names with Julius. I was very glad that we finally found a way to incorporate the students into the Rain Water Harvesting Project. Painting the tank was something safe that they could do (It didn’t require any sharp tools, or climbing on ladders), and gave them a chance to use a measuring tape and make their own mark on the project.

The second big success was our teacher’s workshop. About 10 teachers, and 10 students (the heads of their classes and prefects) assembled, and Harrison and I explained the different components of the system to them, discussed design decisions still to be made, and warned them of all the ways that it could break!

It rained as we were leaving the school to go for dinner! We plan to stop by the school tomorrow morning to finish caulking and perhaps to joyfully turn the taps on all three tanks and have water flow!

Joey is taking one for the team, as our Mama Duck and resident Mosquito Bait. He says that he is used to pain, and thus is not whining about his malaria nearly as much as I would.

Tomorrow morning, after we finish the final touches at the school and settle our accounts at the Pilgrim office, we will depart for our “Debriefing Trip” to a game park!

* I hope the title makes sense, even to our readers who have never taken part in a Knowledge Master Competition.*

Malaria Clarification

Leave a comment

We don’t want all parents/friends/family to freak out so we want to clarify the “one of us has malaria” statement.  The “old and fat” one has Malaria, Joey.  He has accepted his role as our guardian/supervisor and protected us by taking on all the mosquitoes in Uganda.

We would like to take a moment of silence and thank him for this. Thank You Joey, A.K.A. Mamma Duck.

C.H.U.D. pt.3


Backed by popular request, today’s general blog post is brought to you by EWB Columbia, Team Uganda, the team that just pretty much completed their implementation trip. Word up. The MFP team undertook their final field assessment trip last Thursday, and the Rain Water Harvesting portion of the project had it’s last rubber reducer tightened Saturday. Was it epic? In my mind, it was awesome, but the scene was just like the whole team sitting on some concrete, watching Joey on a ladder with the screwdriver, doing his thing. We then just dug a little pit, with the help of the community, and let it be. There was some lackluster congratulations to all involved, some genuine smiles under weary eyes, and we went to eat a pretty amazing meal.

Still need to do some sealing of the gutters, because they are kinda leaky. Sigh… That’s what we did today. The team is not hoping for rain – the sealant/gutter glue thing is supposed to be applied in a dry environment. Before I came, the prospect of exercise every day was like not on my mind, because I’ve traveled before, and it’s just hard to stay active other than walking or running to something. Our project is probably as labor intensive as it gets. We have 3 wood ladders. One of them weighs heavy. We have to carry it every day around the school.

On the way back from the restaurant, it was pitch dark except for our little torches lighting the handful of square meters around us. We were on a field. Suddenly, we happened upon the biggest pile of writhing ants I’ve ever seen, especially because the little dudes are like 2.5 cm long, CRAZZY. We then realized that it wasn’t a pile, it was just a blob in a continuation of them. This line was thick as half of my arm, and it just stretched out from the as far as we could illuminate our lights. I was wearing sandals. My foot got bit by one. It hurt like really really bad. Army ants man, they eat elephants stuff. Can you imagine just sleeping on a field at night if you were a mighty elephant, and waking up to ants all over your, trying to eat you? It seriously feels like lava, like a lava stream that’s alive, and has a hive mind. Seriously awesome. We also saw a frog jump around. Hella paranoid after I got bit, so the rest of the trip back I was jumpy.

Am I allowed to say that one of us got malaria? Took a while to get to a clinic with a doctor, but the blood tests came back. Malarone, whack. 1) Misquitos- can someone tell me a ecological justification for them. I need one because I feel bad when I think/say/do “mosquito genocide.” 2) It showed me how much this team is a team, we really take care of each other. I look back on these past few weeks, it’s clear that we did something here that’s more than some reports or a manifesto/mission statement/w/e or a summer volunteer thing. This is some serious, coming of age stuffs. Could just be speaking for myself.

David, hope all is well in NYC. Hot over there huh~~~? Haha.

Flour, PVC Glue and T-Rexes



MFP TEAM IS OFFICIALLY DONE WITH FIELD WORK! Woohoo! We successfully installed the COES at Usuk today, and it worked beautifully. There was a brief panic moment when we got to Usuk and realized we didn’t have a power adapter for our drill (which is sold here but has US plugs), but Silas and Rohan went to the nearest town and bought a power strip from a man who was using it to charge money for charging cell phones. While we were waiting for the silicon to dry, we took some pictures of the kids there — upcoming! We also put on the vibration counter and put up the MFP safety/instruction posters that had fallen down since our last visit.

PVC Glue:

Water team continued their piping work today. They finished one side of the second building, marked out pipe bracket spots on other walls, and completed the first flush system on yesterday’s building. We always have so much difficulty getting the drills/drill bits we need because we have to borrow them from people, but sometimes they have cords and sometimes they’re cordless but the battery doesn’t charge fast enough and it’s just crazy. But nonetheless: One system is now complete! We finished past sunset, so no pictures yet.


We taught/learned how to play Ultimate Ninja to/from the rest of the team today! However, in the small space between our couches in the living room here in our guest house, there’s not much room for five people to jump around swiping at each other’s hands. Thus, we created Ultimate T-Rex, which is just Ultimate Ninja but with your upper arms pinned to your side and two-footed hops only. It’s a ton of fun, and you get to pretend to be a dinosaur. Try it out 😛

Starting to put it all together

1 Comment

This post is a day late but oh well — David, we need your blogging stamina back!

Yesterday, MFP team went to Orungo and successfully installed the COES! The Catchment Overflow Exhaust System takes all the flour dust shooting out the top of the cyclone separator of the MFP’s mill attachment and redirects it outside. We had some difficulty with the cap we commissioned because we gave them numbers and received back a different product than we expected — but Rebecca and Rohan spent a few hours hammering away and in the end the cap fit!

The water team finished two sides of piping for one of the three buildings. We have to make sure that there’s enough slope in the piping to move the water, but we have very few inches of space to navigate in between the bottom of the gutters and the top of the Crestank, with a long distance spanning in between.

Picture palooza!

Aye, Another Loovely Day in This Fair Country

Leave a comment

Engineering school creates good problem solving skills, but does not do much for my imagination and creativity. My brain is a bit rusty, but I have here attempted to boot up my old sense of rhythm. It’s slowly coming. Check back by the end of the summer and maybe I’ll have something good.

Anyway a description of Thursday’s activities in the finest and most elegant poetic form, the Limerick:


First we’d mark out every five feet

And set a slope with finest technique

We’d prop up PVC

Eye it and agree

Our success was slow-coming but sweet


We only finished one building today

Half another is now under way

We worked like 10 hours

Past what the sun would allow’r

We might have to work on Sunday


Today we rented a drill

That had concious emotions and will

It ran free and clear

Whene’er Julius was near

But when with us, pretended its current was nil


Today Joey built our first flush

From glue, his brain might turn mush

He sealed all the joints tight

All the angles were right

So that with rain, dirty water will gush.

Totally Tubular Torrential Time in Titus’s Tenacious Tubur!

1 Comment

This morning after a short meeting with some folks at Pilgrim, the MFP team went to the Tubur site and the water team worked on first-flush systems.

In Soroti on our way out to Tubur, we stopped so that Julius, the engine operator/mechanic, could pick up a big hammer. The goal with Tubur today was to replace a bearing seal for the main journal bearing, which meant that we had to remove one of the massive flywheels. When Julius began working on getting the flywheel off of the axle we realized exactly how big the “big hammer” was… it kind of resembled Thor’s hammer. In fact, we have decided that Julius is Thor — or stronger than Thor because he broke the hammer’s head and then fixed it by smashing in a nail. In the end, Joey and Julius got the MFP running! Parts still need to be replaced and they need a new fuel tank (right now they’re using a plastic jerry can), but the MFP is finally up and running. I’ll update pictures tomorrow of the site so you guys can see.

Rohan and I were able to take a little side trip to the top of the tallest rock in Tubur, a whopping 25 feet. We took a roundabout route because we thought the rocky way up would be too difficult, but then we saw all the kids from town climbing up and down (some of these kids were also carrying babies) and decided that we could handle it on the way down.

Joey would also like to comment that he predicted tonight’s torrential downpour via his collarbone.

BTW FYI… If you couldn’t tell by the title, Titus grew up in Tubur and Joey’s middle name is James.

Skittles and a Lazy Sunday


Joey’s First Post

So Joey is our professional EWB mentor. He works with us throughout the year, giving us advice for our projects, and then volunteers to travel with us over the summer

**Disclaimer: We had to edit Joey’s post for content, this is a family blog people, gotta keep it PG

After a 12 hour flight to Dubai with a 12 hour layover and another 5 hour flight to Entebbe, Uganda, I finally have made it to Soroti for the second time.  It has definitely been a long awaited return since 2008.  Today, we played with children, and not in the creepy Michael Jackson type of way, but with a Frisbee.   It was a ton of fun.  I found a lizard in my suitcase today, I will name him Skittles and I will care for him until I leave.  I hope he enjoys crushed mosquitoes, because that is all I have to offer him at this time.   The team was also able to give me a quick tour of the progress with the rainwater harvesting system, and I have to be honest, it needs work.  But, I am proud of their progress.  They have made their mamma duck proud!  All-in-all it was a great day, except for the part where I almost died in the car on the drive from Kampala, but I am here and alive so, a great day.  Oh yeah, I already have a mosquito bite and I am pissed!

The actual post:

Sorry for no posts yesterday, but David was our resident blogger and now he’s back in New York, so I guess I’m going to have to pick up the slack and actually write my first post.

Today, while Joey and Harrison were on the road from Kampala, Rohan, Allison, Bethany, and I explored Soroti. We stopped at a video store to pick up some questionable copies of DVDs, and then went to visit some of the bookstores in town. We’ve all spent a lot of time reading, so by now we’ve gone through all of the books that we brought with us. In Soroti, there are a bunch of stores that are called bookstores, but they don’t actually sell any books. But on the recommendation of Grace, the manager of our guest-house, we tried two bookstores. Most of the space in the store was dedicated to textbooks and paper, but they did have a small selection of classic novels and works by African authors.

After leaving the bookstore we were walking to lunch when we stumbled upon what looked like an alley lined with small shops and stalls, but actually led to a huge market. Although we got there a little late in the day for a typical market there were still a ton of people. As we weaved our way through the canopy of stalls, vendors were constantly trying to attract our attention, and of course the little kids would scream “muzungo hi” constantly. There was a ton of produce, and huge sacks of rice and beans for sale. There were also a bunch of seamstresses sewing clothing. Allison tried to hire a woman to make her a skirt, but there was a bit of a language barrier, and none of us trusted our drawing skills enough to sketch the type of skirt she wanted, so no luck there.

We finally met up with Joey, Harrison, and Edward, who drove them up to Soroti from Kampala. After grabbing a quick bite in town, we headed over to the school to hang out with the students. While Allison and I tried to get some Ateso lessons, the guys played some version of ultimate Frisbee with the students. I’m not really sure who won, but Joey was complaining that the kids lied to him about the rules, so who knows what really happened.

Tomorrow we’re splitting up again, half of us will be going to Tubur to visit the MFP site, and the other half will be at school working on the downspouts and first flush systems.

Older Entries