June 16-Our Visit with Obama and his Family

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(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


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

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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!

Totally Tubular Torrential Time in Titus’s Tenacious Tubur!

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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.

Mission Accomplished, June 3

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Yesterday, we learned that the Pilgrim Office would be closed today because of “Martyr’s Day.” With a Ugandan accent, this sounds alot like “Mother’s Day,” which spawned some confusion. According to today’s issue of the “Daily Monitor” (Truth Every Day), the holiday commemorates the deaths of 45 early converts to Christianity in Uganda.

We started the morning a bit late, as we were still saying our goodbyes to David and our “see you soon”‘s to Harrison (David’s bodyguard, as I told the students today when asked why Harrison had gone with him).  We worked on finishing the gutters on the window side of the longest building, S1-S4, 127 feet long. We are sloping the gutters to have their lowest point 50 feet from the tank, and plan to connect the downspout to the tanks with lengthy PVC pipes.

Pilgrim has also hired a plumber to help us with any of our tank/pipe installation needs. He works for the plumbing store where we bought almost all of our supplies. While we worked on gutters, the plumber carried around a miniature stove of hot coals, and used heat and properly sized pipe fittings to melt his holes through the tank. He melted holes for the overflow at the top of the tank, the tap stand, and a wash valve. The tap is about 5 cm higher than the absolute bottom of the tank. The plumber says that that will let dirt stay at the bottom and not come out in the drinking water. We had thought that having the tap as low as possible would allow us to completely empty the tank, and thus minimize bacterial growth, but we deferred to the experience of the plumber. (In our trip preparation, we had known very little about the structure of the tank, and whether or not it would come with suggested faucet attachments, so our plans for the faucet in our report are a bit vague, because we didn’t know what we would find).

He explained that to clean the tank, he would climb inside the tank, shovel out most of the sediments, and wash the rest out through the wash valve. To me, it sounded like this regular cleaning service was a benefit that came from purchasing the tank from this company, but I mean to confirm this with the plumber.

I interrupted the plumber’s work for a bit to show him the drill bits we had bought to make the tank’s water level gauge, an unnecessary component of the rainwater harvesting system that I had spent loads of time planning for.

After lunch (and a trip to MY Supermarket to purchase bottled water, a newspaper, and candy), our plumber finished up the tank attachments. We worked one tank at a time to get all the fittings in, and then would call all the students around to help us to lift the tank onto its concrete pad. Having the tanks lying on their sides on the ground had caused me a bit of anxiety. Even I was tempted to roll the thing around, and I’m sure the children hanging around on campus were even more so.

When the final tank was set onto its base, I gave almost everyone around me a high five. I was received with varying levels of enthusiasm, but my own spirits were quite high.

The only holes left to drill in the tank will be to connect the PVC piping from the gutters, to the first flush, to the tank.

After we finished working for the day, Rohan and Allison played “football,” and I played an intense game of better-than ultimate frisbee. Perhaps penultimate frisbee.

Quite a productive day!  Tomorrow, we will be setting out long stretches of PVC, and hopefully providing the MFP team some time to talk with Julius, the school handyman, whose time thus far has been monopolized by the water project.


Another note — after we lifted up the third tank, Bethany was running around giving the entire crew high-fives and these kids were like, “But Bethany… how is the water going to get INTO the tank?” Premature celebration, check! As our team decided, it was quite the ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment.

Shout out to David, who left this morning, from all of us: Thanks for saying such nice things about us; we miss our tireless photographer!

and HI, EWB COLUMBIA! Thanks for reading and keeping EWB in your thoughts through the summer (NERW kids I love you all so much. so much… so much.). and of course, special shoutout to EWB Uganda! As I’m sure you can already tell, the plans we worked on all year have been changed a bunch during implementation, but the decisions made were much easier to do keeping in mind our previous reasoning and logics from our Friday meetings.

and now picture time!

Funday Monday

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Today was another split day, MFP visiting Anyara sub-county district and the water team working more on gutters.

MFP: We first dropped by the Pilgrim office to pick up Julius; while we were waiting we tried to learn some more Ateso. Rohan asked how to say “good night,” and when I (Allison) tried to repeat the phrase they returned, I accidentally said “good mating” instead of “good night.” It was extremely amusing to the Pilgrim folks and to Rebecca and Rohan. Anyways, the drive to Anyara was relatively short and smooth! Once we got there, we were greeted by the chairman of the community, as well as the engine operator and the village board members. We also met their dog named Obama. Unfortunately the MFP in Anyara is also down — the fuel tank is leaking and parts broke down in January and haven’t yet been fixed. The villagers were very gracious and welcomed us even as they expressed some disappointment in the MFP, saying that they expected the village to benefit very much from the MFP but have not yet seen such a growth. We’re trying to figure out where in the communication chain that objectives are getting tangled up; hopefully it will be resolved soon!

Water: The water team started at around 10 AM hanging gutters on the opposite side of the laboratory building, again led by Julius, the school handyman. There are two classrooms in the laboratory building, housing S5 (doing organic chemistry today) and S6 students. We annoyed their classes for about 1 hour each.

Today’s clever idea was to slope the gutters towards the center of the building, rather than towards the end closest to the tank. We figure that it will be easier to slope a PVC pipe to the tank than 2 m sections of gutters. For some of the longer buildings, the distance the gutters would have to travel beneath the fascia board would be impractical for water collection. Hopefully a new clever idea comes our way tomorrow to solve the rest of our problems!

Another major accomplishment for the water team was the ordering of the 3 10,000 L tanks. The headmaster of Beacon of Hope  College and Julius paid a visit to the Pilgrim Office so that they could “release” the money for the tanks purchase. The tanks should be arriving on Friday, and then we can begin connecting everything that next Monday.

After working on the gutters, Bethany/David/Harrison decided to stay for a bit talking to fellow students and just playing with them. Harrison, as usual, taught breakdancing to the kids, and Bethany/David just talked to other kids. David talked to this one kid called Baker who came from this village that faced a lot of problems due to the insurgency in early 2000’s and he wanted some ideas and help in rebuilding his community. While this may not turn out to anything, if all goes well this could be the site of our next MFP site or another project! When he asked me specifically to help me rebuild his village I was kind of reminded of that scene from Three Cups of Tea when Greg Mortenson gets asked by the village chief to build the village a school. Obviously I’m still in college and I’m nowhere as crazy/adventurous/bold as that guy, who knows what the future will bring. Afterwards, we saw this huge thunderstorm fast approaching over the hills and the Soroti rock, and with the coming of fast, vicious winds with huge, ominous gray clouds stretching over the horizon, and we knew it was time to go. Partially from fun and partially from being scared of this oncoming grey monster, we started running out of the school. While it was partly motivated by fear, when running out there was also that childish joy of being silly. As we walked back to the hotel in “New York speed” (since Ugandan walking is quite slow/relaxed), we kept saying “2012!” as the grey monster now with these electric thunderbolts approached us fast, consuming us in this powerful wind and engulfing us in darkness. While we had our perils and surprises, we finally got to our hotel, where we had an emergency meeting with the team to come to a very important decision: do we face this monster, or do we bail and just wait until the monster goes away. Since it hasn’t started raining that hard yet, we decided to adopt the maxim of “no time like the present” and just gear up and bravely dash towards our haven, Landmark hotel. When we first got out, the wind was so strong that the massive pink gates started to falter and almost fell apart (not really). But once we got out to the street, the wind subsided and the rain wasn’t all that bad, and the restaurant actually served our food early. So all in all, our adventure of 6 hungry college kids in a Ugandan thunderstorm ended up alright and we’re all safe and sound.

Allison’s Pictures

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