Final Blog for David

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NOTE: Our trip is not over! Just David leaving early.

Just a week ago I had been in Uganda for about a week and it felt like it had been a month. Now, after two weeks, it feels like it’s been a flash of a dream.

After a bit more than two weeks in Uganda, I’m bringing back a few things. With me I’m bringing back the same shoes I wore here, except red with the ever-present red dirt of Uganda. I’m also bringing back my camera which has a cracked screen after all that hard work. I’m bringing back emails, numbers, and names of the people I’ve met, and perhaps most importantly, I’m bringing back memories. Memories through my pictures, memories through my experience.

So what could possibly make these memories so important? First and most importantly, the people, the friends. Through this travel, I’ve made some awesome friends within our travel team and learned some interesting things about them. Rebecca, our awesome and tireless travel leader, never sleeps in the car! Whenever we travel to far MFP sites, Rohan, Allison, or I doze off for a decent amount of time, but Rebecca is always vigil, perhaps looking out for the team or maybe just daydreaming, but she’s a strong leader. Rohan, the only college (non-SEAS) kid in the group, is a smarty pants who does physics and has a great sense of humor & addresses our technical questions very well. Allison is the freshman of the group, and she’s a very bright person who lightens up the mood of the group through various…unique ways. One of those includes…. barking, literally like a dog. Haha. She does quite a great imitation and I told her she might be a dog if she reincarnates. Bethany is the amazing work horse of the group. She does a lot of planning for the rainwater system and she never gets tired of working in the field. One day Harrison and I were working the whole day and we got exhausted, asking/whining for a break, and Bethany just wanted to keep going! And finally Harrison, the popular kid of our group. Haha. He is just talented in so many ways… rapping, breakdancing, singing, guitar, and he knows tons about just so many random topics… quite an interesting character. Often our group got into heated discussions about religion, science, faith… and we have had our differences and haven’t reached consensus on many topics, but we have accepted our differences and we have gotten quite close. I think this is one of the beauties of EWB trips: bringing people from such different backgrounds into one trip where we have to cope with each other and hopefully we learn more from each other.

I’ve also made some more local friends: the supermarket guys who often gave us free stuff whenever we buy conspicuously large numbers of water bottles; the villagers at Orungo/Usuk who’ve been quite cooperative and their simple hospitality and relaxed attitude; the people at Golden Ark, Esther, Grace, and Eve; the officers at Pilgrim who have a positive attitude and has done a lot to help out the community; and finally, the kids at the school who are so bright and encouraging for us and perhaps gave me the best memories in Uganda. There is a pair of brothers whom I have especially gotten close to, Baker/Emmanuel, who aspire to be a journalist/economist respectively and whom I hope someday will make a great difference in Uganda.

When I wake up from this dream and look back, there will be things I will and won’t miss. The most obvious is the people, people of simple and positive attitude here who despite the oppressive history have strived and often seem so much happier than people in the US. What I won’t miss: some hygiene issues, especially stomach issues… which I’ve suffered the worst of in the group. And most of all, mosquitoes/bugs and all the misery they bring. Because of these bugs we have to paste ourselves with DEET everyday in addition to the sunscreen, and it’s almost as if we add another layer of chemical skin to our bodies… I definitely won’t miss this extra layer.

When I wake up, one thing I would have wished to do would be spending more time with my team and the kids, and being able to see more of Uganda, the beautiful landscape, mountains, waterfalls, safaris, animals, and nature. But when I wake up and get working at a lab for 10 weeks, I wouldn’t have regretted any of it because even though it was short, at least it was sweet and it let me experience the other side of the world.

Uganda is a beautiful country and it has beautiful people. If all goes well, I hope to come back once, if not more, to see more, meet more people, and learn more. Thanks everyone for reading these blogs, and good luck to my travel team for the next two weeks in finishing up the project!

Peace out.

P.S. Some departing picture gifts ahead.

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3 ladders.

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Today,  rain water harvesting team started early, and made it to school around 8:35am. We got a system down of measuring brackets, placing gutters, testing water flow, and finished laying down gutters that don’t leak a great deal for the middle building. All this in one day, so the prospect of completing this project seems not so impossible yet.

Julius, again, was a beast today. Always exhibiting a positive vibe, he was a great ally when it came to building our third ladder, which increased productivity because now we could have three people, each performing a task specialized for that ladder placement (not for the person, almost everyone on the team can carry out all the motions required to complete the system). The last building that has to be fitted with gutters is going to be the toughest yet, because of its ridiculous long length, and unforgiving facia board placement that leaves little room for the gutters to catch water… whack.

Personally, I find it kind of hilarious that our current implementations are nothing like what we originally planned, and I’m extremely grateful for all the painstaking preparations we did do while in school – it prepared us with thinking processes and information that enabled us to think fast.Because we didn’t consider the building slope when we were planning, we found out after much hammering and back breaking labor that the reason why water was flowing in the non-useful direction was that the whole building was essentially an optical illusion. Now, it looks like we’ll have all these extra pipings and wall mounts and taps and calculations which will make our construction much more steam-punk and lively. It just goes to show that the future belongs to not the ones that have book smarts, but the ones who can adapt. Word~

After all that hard work, we hung out with the kids again, which usually make our best part of the day. Harrison again taught breakdancing/rapping and David showed let others play around with this camera, which they loved and just kept taking pictures. Kids were posing in front of the camera and we got some pretty funny/ridiculous pictures. David also met up with this kid Baker who wanted our help in fixing up his village hit by the insurgency, and this conversation led to that and they ended up talking about development in general. Baker’s brother Emmanuel, the prefect of the school, was the main one taking pictures or “snaps” with his camera. This was one interesting thing to call pictures snaps…although I do like the word snap, being a bit more classy of a word. Anyhow, some of the pictures from the snap-fun are up below. Enjoy!

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.

Sunday Adventures

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Today was Sunday and we went to our first service at the school. The school, being a Christian school, holds an outdoor service every sunday in front of the administration building with speakers. The service started at 8 and that was a bit rough getting up for, but it was fun to go see how the kids spend their Sundays. Some things I noticed about the service was that they do a lot of singing and skits, which is much different from US churches. The sermon was a bit longer than the standard sermon in the US, and the speaker definitely is a lot more fiery. Most of the singing is done by the choir with all the kids who can sing well. Most of the service went smoothly and the pastor welcomed us warmly, and the only awkward part was that they brought us chairs and let us sit while others were standing, and the people in front of us moved to the right/left of our view so that we have a straight view of the front, which left this empty space of awkwardness between us and the front.

After church, we hung out with the kids for half an hour to an hour or so just talking. One of the kids, Baker, wanted to learn about different languages and Rohan and I wrote down some Hindi and Korean, respectively, on his notebook and I helped the kids pronounce the words which was really fun. We then went back to the hotel, where we rested for a bit and picked up Harrison (sleepy head didn’t go to church… jk.) and went to lunch at Landmark, a restaurant we have been going to a lot. Harrison got this awesome Napoleon spaghetti which according to Harrison was so good because it was “less sugary and more salty” than marinara sauce. After some supermarket/hardware shopping during which we bought a soccer ball, we went back to the hotel, rested a bit, and around 5:30PM when the sun wasn’t about to melt us down, Harrison/Bethany/Rohan and I left for school with a frisbee/soccer ball and went to play. At first I was slightly worried that the kids would be busy or we wouldn’t be able to find many kids to play with, but these kids are just so friendly/awesome and they just came to play very quickly. Rohan played soccer with the kids, Harrison played guitar & did breakdancing/rapping with the kids, and Bethany and I played frisbee with a group. At first we were just a circle passing it around slowly, but soon enough the kids took the initiative to start up a game of ultimate frisbee. After making the teams, we started the game…. oh my. This was by far the best ultimate frisbee game I’ve ever played. The basic rules were followed, but one key rule we neglected was giving the frisbee to the other team when we drop the frisbee. So it was ultimate frisbee without so much the accuracy part. But this made the game so much faster and exciting, and although I was terribly out of shape and got tired easily, I just couldn’t stop running even in the midst of the little flies and mosquitoes possibly with malaria because of the sheer exhilaration from playing with these energetic, fun kids. One thing that was really cute was these two little kids, Daniel and Samuel, were in my time and they served as goalies and they were so eager to defend the post, and even when these very tall, older kids came at them trying to goal, the kids would just fearlessly block the goal post. After the game I was sweating like crazy, but it was totally worth it. The game ended only because it was about supper time, and before they left I met this kid called…DaRock. DAROCK??!?!? That is the most sick/BOSS name EVER. And this kid wasn’t just some shy little kid with a cool name, but he had that macho/bright look on his face. One last thought I had on this frisbee game was that kids in America, especially in high school, would rarely have this much fun playing outdoors; they would usually go into their little rooms and turn on their xbox/PS3 and start delving into the cyber-world. But these kids’ abilities to have so much fun from simple, natural, outdoor activities was a refreshing experience.

 

Kids & Gutters Part II

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So today was Saturday and we were supposed to go up to the Soroti rock with Titus of Pilgrim. So we walked over to the police station to get permission to go up the rock because the rock has a military complex at the top and ordinary people need permission in order to go up there. On the way, we met a lot of kids and said hi to a lot of them, who kept calling out “mozungus!” and it was really funny. Once we got to the police post, Titus tried to get the permission and meanwhile we were playing with the kids, who kept running away at our slightest movements in unsparing laughters. They were quite shy at first but eventually they came up to us and a lot of them came up to shake hands with each one of us and it was funny/cute. So Titus comes out saying that the guy who can give permission is not here today and so we have to go back, and later he gave us a call saying that the guy is out of town for the weekend, meaning that I (David) can’t go see the Soroti rock during this visit because I’ll be gone by next weekend! UGH.

So after that whole issue, we came back to the hotel to just chill, and I sat on the third floor balcony on a chair just reading for a little more than an hour. Although the sun is really hot, the air temperature actually wasn’t that bad and there was a nice breeze and it was just a refreshing/nice place to read, excluding about 3 minutes when one of our neighbors was trying to control this rather large pig and it squealed very unpleasantly and loudly. After our little break, we went out to Marissa’s where I got vegetable curry & rice (delicious) and others got samosas, beans, etc. Then we went to the school, where we tried to fix up the problems with yesterday’s gutters.

When we’d arrived at the school, the gutters on the laboratory building looked to be a mess, and quite leaky. We thought that we could do a better job by increasing the slope yesterday, but apparently we hadn’t increased it enough, as tons of water leaked out and ponded in the center. Today we decided to rehang the gutters without letting ourselves be limited by the length of the fascia board. If we got 3/4 of the way down the building, and were already too low on the fascia board to hang more brackets, we decided that we would either quit or use wire to hang the gutters. We increased the slope bracket by bracket. Every time we’d lay a new bracket, we would set the next gutter onto it and pour some water down it, checking to ensure that we were indeed working with gravity. It was hard to use measuring tape to determine the slope because the thickness of the fascia board, and the distance of the roof material from the fascia board, varied across the building. Rebecca suggests that we just use a spirit level to check our slope, which I think is an excellent idea.

Julius, the school handyman, again did the majority of the work. When we got to where we could no longer nail brackets the way they were meant to be used, he would hammer the bracket out flat, and then reshape it so that it hung from the other side of the fascia board and held the gutter at the correct angle. Whenever we finished a stretch of gutters, we checked the job done with our “yield” bucket, placed at the end where we expected the water to come out. From one end to the other, we “yielded” about half the water that we poured, which is good enough for now. If we have time, after hanging gutters on two other buildings, we will apply sealant between these gutters or use pliers to fit them together better.

So while all this gutter work was being done, we only had two ladders and so only two or three of us could really work on the project. Thus, four or five of us were actually just fooling around with the kids. The fooling around group kind of divided into different groups: Harrison with the kids playing guitar, Allison just watching the choir practice, and Rohan playing tag with the children. While I worked on the gutters at first, I eventually took over Rohan’s position and played tag, which was quite difficult considering how much Columbia puts us out of shape and my lack of exercise for… years. So after years I discovered how weak I’ve become at running, which was quite depressing but a lot of fun to run around with the kids and just play. These kids were quite fast though… no easy targets. I also went and observed the choir group, and they were impressive. While singing, they also were doing body motions, nothing too fancy but something that we would need to practice at least a little bit for, and their quality of voice & sound of the group as a whole with harmonies and such was just really pleasant to listen to. Harrison, being as talented as he is, later also taught a crowd how to breakdance and do some martial arts moves. He had a semi-circle of kids in front of him and he brought some volunteers up to practice with him some basic martial arts & breakdancing moves and the kids just loved it. After we finished with the gutters, we talked to and befriended a few kids who were just very approachable and friendly.

Here are some pictures from today:

 

Kids and Gutters.

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What a day.

So today was another split, MFP team going to Tubur. The MFP team found that this community had some bad news as well. The MFP was installed in November but there have been many issues. First, the engine has been leaking, and the miller & oil press could not be used at the same time, making it not a multi-function but a single-function platform. Also, the generator couldn’t be used either because the whole machine shook too much. Last but not least, just like all the other MFP sites, we found that the engine is simply too slow to prove to be economically viable. The problems have been reported but there has been some problems with communication and deliverance, but we’ll work with Pilgrim to the best of our abilities to get this all figured out before we leave!

As for the water team, today was Lesson 2 and we taught the kids about our rainwater harvesting system and showed them how to do a lot of the calculations. So we started out with a review of the last class then did this fun activity where we asked the kids to draw their own version of rainwater harvesting systems for their type of house. A lot of kids came up with very creative designs (and very nice drawings too!) and we had some of them come up to the board and demonstrate for us their design. Having the kids participate this way was a lot of fun for both us and the kids. Then we explained some things about rainwater harvesting, foundations, filtration & water purification methods, and we also did some calculations with the volume of water we would get with a water catchment system at their school building and how long it would take for the whole school to use up the water in our three 10000L tanks and things like that. The kids were really smart, cooperative, and they just have so much energy and enthusiasm with their learning it was quite encouraging for us. I couldn’t help but think, if kids had this much energy and motivation in the middle schools in the US… and Harrison and I talked about how with all the resources that kids in the US enjoy, and if these kids had those resources, like Harrison says…it’s over. They would excel American kids by so much it wouldn’t even be funny.

After class, they had an hour of break and so they went outside and kind of expected us to entertain them, even though Harrison was the only one with real skills like rapping, dancing, etc. But we all found our own niches within the kids and Rebecca/Allison had girl time with a lot of the girls of the class, and they taught the girls some songs while the girls also taught Rebecca/Allison some songs as well. The girls’ singing was really quite amazing, with some kids harmonizing like crazy. They mostly sang church songs and their musical abilities were impressive. Harrison did a lot of rapping with the beats on his phone and some of the kids tried to imitate him or come up with their own lyrics and it was fun to watch. Rohan and Bethany were the real workers who worked with Julius the work horse and the boss who helped us fix the gutters of the laboratory building. Me, David, with my camera/flip cam, attracted those kids interested in cameras and I filmed some singing, Harrison’s rapping, and this group of kids who just wanted to be in front of a video camera and just talk. One thing I noticed with the kids here is that they’re so easily amused and we jaded kids in the US don’t laugh much to “be cool” because of our attitude, but kids here laugh so easily, finding humor/joy in the simplest things and it was just amazing to see these kids in a continent so battered by history and yet, they seem to be happier than many in the US due to the simple attitude they carry. With my kids and the camera, these kids started to take over my camera and take pictures on their own, making funny/cool poses, each of them so fascinated by being able to just click that one button and retain that image in memory. Looking at the kids so fascinated by this simple thing we take for granted and especially at the moments when they cutely/innocently look through the camera lens to take the picture with their small, excited hands holding this big camera rather awkwardly, I couldn’t help but smile.

After all this kid frenzy, we actually got to work and we basically took our all of the old brackets and nailed them in again at the correct position/height so hat our gutters would work well. the installation part wasn’t particularly difficult, but after we installed we poured some water through and saw that a lot of water leaked between the different gutter sections because the sloping wasn’t quite right. We tweaked things here and there trying to find the easy way out but ultimately, we knew we had to fix the slope and we left that off for tomorrow.

After we got back, we had a delicious dinner (goat stew, rice, chipatti, veges, and beans) by Esther/Grace who are running the hotel and are really friendly and laugh a lot. Allison and I took some pictures of the lightning in the clouds. One thing about lightning here is that there is no thunder for some reason. Perhaps because the lightning is to far away, but even the closer ones don’t make a sound, which was a bit strange. Also, the lightning occurs quite frequently (basically every 1-2 seconds) and brightens up the sky pretty well. We ended our exciting Friday night with group reading (and some napping) and it’s about bed time.

Here are the pictures, and enjoy! And keep up with the blogs, because you never know when we have exciting stories!

It’s over 2,

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So today was the second day that our team split up in two: the water team & the MFP team.

After our second meeting with Pilgrim, the water team hitched a ride on the van to Beacon of Hope school and rendezvoused with Julius, the grounds keeper, engine runner, all around beast man of the place. We found some lumber, and Julius, who has a perpetual friendly smile and can-do attitude, proceeded to build ladders like a boss. Rohan, Bethany, and I for the most part tried to help where we could, but it was pretty beautiful to see an artist at work. We needed to build ladders from wood because we need to inspect and eventually install gutters for catching the rain. After we made completed 2 ladders, we also went around and visited the tank foundation construction that we had contracted the previous day. It seems that the process is going smoothly so far. There is around a team of 6 people laying brick, digging, and just being merry. Hopefully we can lay concrete tomorrow, and have pass the first major milestone in our project. As I mention a lot before, it gets hot after 10:30 in Soroti, so we went to grab some lunch, and I proceeded to pass out.

Today the MFP team visited the Usuk site where we met about 7 villagers and they told us how the MFP has been helping them. On the drive there I couldn’t help but smile at these long-stretching fields of green pastures that met the blue sky with these batches of clouds. One thing that I noticed about the clouds in Uganda is that they are always in little batches in the fluffy formation, and they all kind of hover above this invisible table and clouds’ bottoms rest just at that level. We also saw a marketplace on the way that stretched for maybe half a mile to a mile, and there was everything from bikes to clothing and it was quite a sight. As for MFP issues, there were some major problems with the MFP, mostly concerning the speed of the engine, the high fuel costs, and the lack of an oil press which could greatly help the profitability of the MFP. Despite all of these shortcomings, the villagers were still positive about the future and thanked Pilgrim a lot for various reasons. One of the most striking things that they thanked Pilgrim for was helping the village be on a map. Apparently Pilgrim did some mapping work for Usuk and they were finally on the map for Uganda, and to see that they were thankful for that, when we have so many other luxuries and benefits that we just take for granted, I guess I could say I was humbled by these villagers.

A few other things I’ve been noticing about Uganda: people talk very differently from in the US, where people are loud. We always joke that we can point out Americans by their loudness in foreign countries. In Uganda, people talk in this soothing, calm tone and it’s sometimes a bit difficult to hear since we Americans are so loud and we’re just not used to it, but it’s a very gentle way of conversation between people. Also, Ugandan roads have MAD speed bumps. These are these fatty, high speed bumps that drivers always have to almost come to a complete stop for, and they’re quite prevalent throughout the roads. It’s probably a good thing since a lot of the roads don’t have speed limits. One more thing: people are VERY friendly and chill. One aspect is that whenever we pass by on the roads, we see a lot of people just chilling under the shades just talking and often just staring at the cars and the people inside like a hobby. Also, whenever we wave, people almost always wave back, and as people coming from such different backgrounds, to just establish that instant connection by waving I think speaks to the common humanity we share, and although this might seem obvious it shows how chill Uganda is because if we did this in New York or even just America in general, people would often think we’re weirdos.

Pictures will be up tomorrow, because the internet is acting maxx weak sauce. Orange~ Seriously……………………………………….

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