Friday, February 26, 2010

This week in Africa!

Interesting Newspaper Headlines

  1. “Albinos demand special seat in Parliament”
  2. “55-year-old dies in salon after haircut”
  3. “Girl dies in school stampede”
  4. “Hundreds attend Jinja anti-homosexuality rally”--- "Let them keep their homosexuality and their money as well”--Anti-gay protestor
  5. “Bushenyi students cane head teacher"
  6. “Woman arrested over trying to sell six-year-old niece”
  7. “Dracula vs. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in Uganda”
  8. “Polygamy is a necessary evil for African women”
  9. “Connect Karamoja to fibre optics network"
  10. “Climbing out of poverty with beans”
  11. “18 ministries run out of cash”
  12. “Chicken Pox strikes Pader”
  13. "Man’s body found under impounded bus by police”
  14. “2010: Gloom and more gloom”
  15. “Teachers want social security investment not bicycles”
  16. “Female officers control more than the flow of traffic” ---“Someone stops his car and tells you Afande you look smart, can I give you my phone number so I can take you out tonight?”--Bako, Traffic Policewoman
  17. “This country needs my services”
  18. “I will not use the youth as a Kiboko squad or teach them to shoot their brothers and sisters”
  19. “The beauty of chandeliers”
  20. “Celebrating 131 years of Catholic evangelism in Uganda”
  21. “Nearly suffocated at the door of a Swift bus”
  22. “Crocodile eats Mayuge pupil”
  23. “Woman jailed for procuring abortion”
  24. “No place for tribalism in modern politics”
  25. “Only America can help 'humanise' the Saudi”
  26. “Ray of hope in Zanzibar as govt moves to end power blackouts: The island has had a blackout lasting over two months”
  27. “Surge in ivory poaching fuelled by organized crime, says report”
  28. “The untold Jekyll and Hyde story of Idi Amin”
  29. "Man cons village with hired car"
  30. "Wife leaves hubby over Valentine's Day"
Vote for your favorite!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mid Program Update

So, I have now been here five months, and it looks like will be staying another five months.

No, its not because I was detained at the airport, married a Ugandan woman, or "thrown back in jail again." Actually, MAPLE, the organization I have been working for since September of last year, decided that my boyish good looks and suave demeanor must continue to represent its Uganda field operations.

My modeling studio will be the village, and my duds, once the rainy season begins, will be a $50 suit with the pant legs tucked into some big rubber rainboots. I will also get the chance to get out of Uganda. In April I am going to attend the Middle East/African MicroCredit Summit in Nairobi where people from all over the world will get the opportunity to rub elbows with yours truly. This brings to mind a conversation I had just this morning with my housemate and colleague Eddie.

Scene: Eddie hanging his clothes up out to dry on the line. I,
standing in the doorway chatting with Eddie. Rachel, sitting on the couch
eating her oatmeal listening.

Joel: Eddie, do you know where I could get some good dress shirts for
the MicroCredit Summit?
Eddie: Yes.
(Joel waiting for an answer that is helpful…..)
(Joel still waiting…)
Joel: Uh, where?
Eddie: Shops.
(Joel laughing)
Joel: Well Geez, thanks Eddie, what a helpful answer! And where are
these shops?
(In an air of “isn’t it obvious”? Eddie responds…)
Eddie: Town.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Age in African Years

"Middle age is the time when a man is always thinking that in a week or two he will feel as good as ever."
~ Don Marquis ~

Three times a week, around 8 in the morning, I board a rickety (matatu) minibus destined for Sironko. Usually I just try and look as scary as I can so that no body tries to hassle me for seat space or money and I can settle down and read my book. Just yesterday, our matatu pulled into the town of Sironko to drop off two passengers and let another seventy-four on, when an interesting change was made. Our mustachioed driver, who had been with us since our origin, was replaced by another man. Now, at the time I was reading Sherlock Holmes, so my sense of observation was in full force. For instance, I deduced from his tattered, soiled shirt that he had been spending too many shillings of his daily income on moonshine waragi. The back of his head was slightly misshapen, which told me he had been born and raised in the village and had been subject to sleeping on the ground when he was of the age when the head is still soft and malleable. Yet he also had a watch on, a knock off Citizen to be exact, pointing to a period in his past when the times were good and he spent money more readily on his appearance. His long strides suggested a youthful vigor, and his lack of facial hair and smooth forehead were enough to give me a solid conjecture of his age, the number I arrived at being eighteen years. After all, young boys are frequently driving matatus here, and I felt quite comfortable with my guess--Dr. Watson would be impressed. To prove my keen observation skills, I told my friend Eddie, who was sitting next to me at the time, the age I thought the driver was. Much to my surprise, Eddie responded by laughing hysterically. This man, he told me, was not close to being that young. I did not believe him, maintaining full confidence my original estimate. Eddie kept laughing, though, so I asked him to ask the driver what his age was. A long conversation ensued, entirely in Lugizu but peppered sporadically with muzungus, that finally ended with Eddie falling back in his seat with a huge grin on his face and shaking his head.

"Well?" I said, "How old is he?"
" This man," Eddie said, "is born of 1972"
The driver turned around from his driving duties to repeat this information, "Yes, eh, born of '72!"
Then Eddie started to say, "That means he is 38--"
"I know how old that is," I interrupted.
Then it hit me, this might be a cultural thing, so I asked Eddie to ask the driver how old he thought I was.
The driver looked back at me for a longer period of time, and, after first consulting with the passenger sitting to his left, finally offered his guess: "40 years!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More Nonsense

While we were taking a soda the other day, an unshaven man in a dirty frock approached us and asked us if we were feeling alright. "Could be better, could be worse, I suppose," I replied. No matter, he said, he had  the solution to all of our maladies. Only $2.50 to rid ourselves of all demons, ranging from Malaria to a deficiency of sexual power. 

Sold, I said.

Later our waitress came up and saw us rereading the packets and laughing. It works, she averred, though she herself probably wouldn't take it for an "impaired neurons system."

Sooo...can I take any orders for people back home?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The antithesis of Uganda is 1970's San Francisco

I imagine many bills in Ugandan Parliament collect a lot of dust. No, not because the potholes in the streets outside the statehouse are repaired with shovel loads of dirt, but because not much seems to get done here until election time is fast approaching. However, there are two bills which have attracted the ire of Westerners  and their policymakers and have also, accordingly, managed to stay pretty dust free. 

The first is the infamous "Anti-Homo Bill" tabled by MP David Bahati. Aside from the usual shame-on- you's telephoned in by diplomats worldwide, several European nations have threatened to pull the plug on foreign aid, on which Uganda is heavily reliant. That is where I left you in December, but not much has changed since save one development, Mouseveni has told legislators to slow down and consider the foreign policy implications of the bill, which could be disastrous. Keep in mind: the President has a lot of sway with the NRM-packed Parliament, and he will want to make more friends than enemies in the year leading up to the 2011 elections, especially with Hilary Clinton monitoring the poll booths. . (Actually, I have personally met someone who works very closely with Mouseveni, who asserted with a sly grin after a few whiskeys, "The Bill will not pass."

The next piece of legislation is one that I haven't discussed yet, and touches on HIV/AIDS. Uganda has improved leaps and bounds in the last decade in this area, drastically reducing its prevalence rate to 5.4%.  Some brilliant practitioner of the legislative arts has put forth a bill, coined the HIV Prevention and Control Bill 2009, which, among other things, criminalizes transmission of the virus.   People aren't too keen on this one either. The UK doesn't like it one bit, and neither does the Human Rights Watch.

Once again, I'll keep you (blog) posted

Monday, February 8, 2010

But, then again, everybody looks like a keeper after Idi Amin!

The National Resistance Movement is the current ruling party in Uganda. It and its leader, President Yoweri Mouseveni, have been in power since 1986 Elections will take place next year. This is an excerpt from an issue of The Daily Monitor newspaper, Uganda's "opposition" daily, with my own comments attached in parenthesis. Enjoy, I could be jailed for writing this:
NRM balance sheet 
  • Per capita income has risen from $264 in 1986 to almost $394 in 2009 (does it really matter if the figures have been adjusted for inflation or not?)
  • Country now collects Shs 4trillion ($2.1 billion) in revenue compared to Shs 5billion ($2.63 million) in 1986 
  • Total exports of goods are now approximately $1.3billion (neighboring Kenya has a fraction of the rainfall but, aggregate, exports are valued at $4.7 billion per year) of which $1 billion are non coffee exports (credit not diversification--the coffee trade has tanked big time in recent years)
  • Number of Ugandans living below the poverty line has reduced to 31% down from 56% in 1988 
  • HIV prevalence rates slashed from 32% in 1992 to 6.2% thanks to ABC strategy (this is a legitimate, impressive statistic)
  • As of 2007, 7.5million pupils attending Primary school compared to 2.2million in 1997 (makes little difference when per capita income is $394 but school fees at "government subsidized" public schools, the cheapest option, hover around $60 per semester per child. Oh, and every Ugandan woman has 6.77 children)
  • Economy growing at an average 6% of GDP (2009 data shows the economy was extremely susceptible to global market fluctuations)
  • Inflation has been stable at about 5 per cent per annum until most recently when it shot to 14 percent (last clause makes a lot of the information that preceded it unreliable)
  • Relative peace and security around the country with the exception of northern Uganda (and Kampala, and the Rwenzori region on border between Uganda and the DRC, and Eastern Uganda's border with Kenya)
  • Corruption continues to blight his (Mouseveni's) administration
  • Over stay in power, failure to groom successors
  • Weak infrastructure, hospitals, roads (and Uganda's population growth rate is 3.6% annually, one of the world's highest--median age is 15 years, making "weak" an scary understatement)
  • Real power is centred in the presidency, failure to build independent institutions
  • Two decades of conflict in northern Uganda 
  • Intolerance for democratic opposition (the NRM was the only legal political party until 2005)
  • (Average life expectancy 39.5 years)
  • (Adult literacy 65%, secondary school enrollment 13%, primary school completion 38%)
  • (Development: Uganda is ranked 154 of 177 on the UN Human Development Index)
  • (Tribalism still overrides nationalist sentiments)

What should have been included:
  • Uganda's art renaissance "embodies a vibrant and vital country redefining its past yet also reaching for a hopeful future"
  • Uganda is very safe when compared to other African countries, particularly its East African neighbors
  • Over 90% of Ugandans are subsistence farmers or work in agriculture related fields. Deforestation is rampant
  • The country is heavily reliant on foreign aid, and is a member of the HIPC and Paris clubs
  • The introduced massive (100 kg) Nile perch has decimated local species in Lake Victoria, and efforts to control its impact have only exacerbated the problem. The Nalubaale Dam built last decade was nixed by Makarere's environmental team during th eplanning stages, and the soon-to-be-constructed Bujagali Dam seems it will continue the trend
  • Freedom of speech is is guaranteed at most levels, though the conspiracy theorists will quickly remind you of the men who wait and listen in bars or the people that are taken away silently in the night
  • Ugandan people are extremely kind and outgoing, despite a troubled past that would normally suggest wariness and reservedness    
  • There are substantial natural resources here, including fertile soils, gold, copper, cobalt, and, the newly discovered oil reserves in the western part of the state
  • A disastrous, horrific decade under Idi Amin, not much better in the ensuing or preceding decades, has bred a resilient culture that doesn't complain, ever. Even with this not-so-rosy picture I have painted here, the future is bright for Ugandans, who continue to put their head down and work hard

In 2001, Mouseveni "reiterated his commitment" to stepping down after the 2006 elections, adhering the term limits specified in the Uganda Constitution. Lo and behold, NRM's "big man" on the ticket in the upcoming 2011 elections? None other than our friend, Yoweri Mouseveni.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I feel like Teddy Roosevelt at times...

...even though I don't shoot at wild animals from a couch fixed to the front of a moving train.

I'm not sure what this interesting little bird is called, but would love it if someone could tell me!

Despite how it may look, that is NOT my little sister drinking a beer in front of the Nile River after a full day of world class white water rafting

Terrace farming just visible in the early hours of the morning, Lake Bunyonyi, Southwest Uganda

The lake has hundreds of islands, some inhabited, some filled with muzungu travelers like my sister and me, but others have more interesting histories, including Punishment Island, a single-tree mound in one of the most remote parts of the lake where villagers used to bring women who had been impregnated out of wedlock to fend for themselves in the cold waters. The girls we were traveling with somehow found their way back to the boat.

Some canoeists paddle across the lake at dusk towards home after a full day of fishing for tilapia and, the specialty of the area, the Bunyonyi crayfish.

The second animal Hayley and I saw at Kidepo Wildlife Preserve was Bull Bull, an aging African bull elephant that has acquired an affinity for marwa, the local beer made from millet that is popular with the locals. (WAS popular, I should say. Apparently Bull Bull, if he picks up the scent, will stop at nothing to get his trunk on some marwa, even if it means breaking down the doors in the staff quarters.)

Hayley and I went exploring around the campsite we stayed at, first walking to this beautiful sunken area which centered around the dregs of a rapidly-shrinking water hole, and then onto the dry wadi of the Narus River, where we strolled, toes in the soft sand, until we stumbled across some fresh looking lion prints moving in the same direction and decided it was time to head home for lunch.

I could try and use some fancy words like "juxtaposition" and "reclamation" to describe this photo, but I'd only embarrass myself. How's this: Rift Valley peaks line the perimeter of Kidepo, extending through Kenya into Sudan, then back down to complete the enclosure in Uganda.

The third animal we saw was, like the second, a medium-sized, ageing bull elephant. This one was not friendly however, and began to charge the pickup truck which we were standing on. Luckily for you, the reader, that my first inclination when I hear the guide frantically yelling directions to the driver because a full grown African behemoth has just started to charge, is to take a picture.

Abyssinian Roller, one of my favorite birds ever.

I forgot what this animal was called. The mountains in the background lie in Kenya.

A duo of lions in heat, too exhausted from all of the action to do anything more than lazily watch our vehicle creep by

What do you call a female elephant? Bullina? One of those things I should probably know after living in Africa for five months

Our final day in Kidepo, Hayley and I shelled out more shillings that we ought to have, and went swimming in the greatest pool ever. All one had to do is float over to the pool's edge, peak over the retaining wall, and catch a glimpse of waterbucks, zebras, wildebeest, or even a family of warthogs playing in the mud.

Savannah lines the valley around the township of Karenga, Karamoja.