Saturday, July 12, 2014

Small rant concerning God Loves Uganda

I recently watched God Loves Uganda a couple times and got all riled up have had many thoughts.  So I wrote them down.  I hope they’re not too offensive to anyone.  Here they are.
The problems with religion and science are few.  I believe strongly in parts of both and am wholly disappointed that society makes me feel like I have to choose one.  Religion offers an answer to all of the unanswerable questions about life and reality.  This does very little to inspire a thirst for knowledge and proof.  And this can lead to problems for some people, i.e. accused witches, scientists who prove something contrary to scripture, etc.  Religion also insists that you are either in or you’re out, with us or against us.  This is a problem because the rules of these establishments are decided by men and, as most major religions agree and state explicitly, men are flawed and should not be the ones to cast judgment.  But look who’s running the show here!  There hasn’t been a legitimate apostle in like 2,000 years! (meeting religion more than half way here…)  These are flawed men with ulterior motives setting the moral compass for most of the world!  And you go to hell when you die if you don’t believe it!  They are as good at interpreting the Bible as the Supreme Court is at interpreting the constitution.  But at least we have the freedom to criticize the Supreme Court and still be Americans.  With this “with us or against us” policy, a handful of hateful people can decide that now the Catholic Church is against homosexuality and everyone has to either agree whole heartedly to hate gay people or be cast into burning pits of hell for all eternity.  It’s a pretty easy choice for them.  Their hands are tied. 
There are many really clever groups that have learned how to use this immense power to benefit themselves.  One of which is called the Republican Party and they consist of Americas few richest, smartest people and most of its poor and undereducated.  They are masters of manipulating people into voting against their own self-interest and they usually facilitate their agenda under the guise of religion.  You’ve gotta vote for the guy who wants to cut your welfare program and pollute your water ‘cause the other guy believes in gay marriage!
Now let’s talk about the flaws of science.  Where’s the appeal?  What, so I get no eternal afterlife, I just rot in the ground when I die and there’s no fun music and dancing and awesome buildings with pretty windows?  Actually, the death part won’t start weighing on me for at least another decade and there are a lot of beautiful university buildings, but still not enough stained glass.   My real issue with science is that it’s undeniably and by its very definition as close to truth as we can get, but nobody is crusading for it.  It’s terrifying and impressive how effective the religious model is.  I’ve heard it compared to a virus, but I disagree because a virus this deadly would kill off all the hosts before it could spread too far.  Mormanism is the poster child.  They keep their communities sheltered from foreign ideas and base all parts of life around the church.  If you try to leave, your family gets a downgrade in afterlife accommodation.  They encourage people to have as many children as possible and then, when they are fully on board, they send out mission groups to places as far away as Uganda to spread “The News”.  There is nobody traveling across the world to passionately speak about the beautiful miracle of evolution or plate tectonics.  Nobody is crusading for string theory. 
I like most parts of many religions in regard to how we should treat each other and conduct ourselves.   What I BELIEVE is that there is nothing wrong with me picking and choosing the parts of religion that I think are best for myself, my society and the children I will have one day while still trusting in and acting on empirical evidence.  And I don’t think I’m alone here.  So, to bring it full circle, here is the problem.  These religious groups send their well-rehearsed missionaries out to the most desperate parts of the world with the intention of spreading their views (most of which I believe in, but still think it’s kind of lame to “help” the developing world while having a secret agenda to change their beliefs), but they are bound by their corrupt institutions to spread this little bit of hate that goes a looooong way.  I know, having lived as a white man in Uganda for 2 years, that if I could preach with enough enthusiasm, to the right people that the sky is falling and we’ll all burn in hell unless we kill all of the lions without modern weapons, in no time I would have an army behind me, ready to fight prides of lions with sticks. So when people like Pastor Scott Lively, a crazy evangelical who was too radical for Americans who is now being tried for Crimes Against Humanity for what he did in Uganda, come and tell Ugandans that gay people have taken over the United Nations and are trying to recruit their children to be gay and eat each other’s shit all day, it becomes a problem.  You can’t spread even an ounce of hate into the faith of a people who still regularly practice mob justice on the accused, without trial, often resulting in murder and not have a serious problem.  You wouldn’t know this as an evangelical missionary here for a few weeks to build a fence for some orphans and spread the good word.  How could you?  It’s really complicated and all you’ve ever been taught is that spreading your religion can only do good. 

I really don’t think anyone believes this crap.  I think that deep down even these missionaries know that Jesus wasn’t out teaching people to hate people.  They know it was exactly the opposite.  And I think that most people going along with all of it, in the back rooms of their mind, think to themselves:  “I really don’t hate anyone, this moral confliction is just kind of the entrance fee for a really great club that I’m a part of.  I sure as hell won’t trade eternal salvation for everlasting hellfire for a few people I’ve never met.  My hands are tied.”  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Camps and farewells

                Just got back from a crazy few weeks of Uganda travel.  I tried to get as much out of my last visit to the west as I could.  The vacation began with me missing the Post Bus (the only bus in Uganda that leaves at a certain time, rather than waiting for the bus to fill which can take hours).  So I had to wait an extra hour to start the 8 hour ride down to Kabale, a beautiful, high elevation area next to the beautiful Lake Binyonyi.  I used to bitch and moan about the 2 hour drive from Seattle to Ellensburg, now an 8 hour ride on terrible roads with some huge, sweaty Ugandan lady and her kid spilling over into my seat is no big deal.  It was worth the journey.  About 15 of us booked up all the dorm rooms on a beautiful island on Lake Binyonyi for Easter weekend.  This was an important trip because so many people that I came here with are leaving.  The controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill that was recently passed in Uganda resulted in my group (the next group of PC Volunteers to leave Uganda) having the option of leaving early without any consequences.  Many of my friends who have run out of work are taking advantage of that.  As much as I wish them all the best, it totally sucks watching them leave for those of us who are sticking around a while longer.  So, on that island, I said goodbye to the first few of my good friends to leave.  This was how the whole trip went.  Awesome experiences, followed by sad goodbyes. 

                Wanting to maximize my time in the South West, I got a small group together to climb a mountain that I’d been wanting to get at since I learned about it last year.  Mount Sabinyo is around 10,000ft and would be impossible to summit without the janky ladders that take you up the cliff sides.  It was a Peace Corps Volunteers project some years back and it’s been well maintained by the local people.  You go through a swamp for an hour, then through an amazing, pristine bamboo forest before beginning the ascent.  Then it’s up a single ridge to the first peak and continuously steeper ridges until you reach the 3rd peak which is where Rwanda, Uganda and DRC all meet.  The last ladder is over 400 steps up almost vertical cliff side.  It’s absolutely spectacular at the top.
                The next leg of our journey took Craig and I North another 8 hours, through Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we saw a huge group of elephants, to stay with some awesome PCV friends in Bwera.  PCVs have no problem sleeping anywhere:

  A few days later, it was time for my second and final camp counseling experience in Uganda. 
                I’d never really interacted with young girls until this camp, much the same way I had never interacted with boys until my first camp.  Girls are way better and they keep the boys in check.  This camp was mixed gender groups and I think that’s why it went so smoothly.  My team of 4 boys and 4 girls (ages 13 – 18) were assigned Ivory Coast in the World Cup theme of the camp.  They were great and my co-counselor was awesome too.  The other theme was income generating activities.  So there were a lot of sessions on business skills and professionalism and then specific skills like making planters and candles and scarfs out of t-shirts.  I think the last camp was too scattered in attempting to hit all of the major development topics (water/sanitation, income generation, gender, HIV, agriculture, safe sex, etc.).  This camp was more concise and I liked that.  I almost strangled one of my kids when he was the biggest proponent to the idea of beating your wife to “strengthen the family.”
  I hope that the reactions from his peers and the staff were enough to make him see it from the wives point of view.  This idea of the husband not beating the wife may have been an entirely new concept for him.  Other than that, I loved my group, even that kid – Osbert.  It seemed like every group had a confident kid that spoke up a lot in sessions and assemblies and mine was Professor Osbert (as we called him) and he would never miss an opportunity to throw out the most offensive, inappropriate bigotry and hatred.  He was definitely my most improved kid by the end.
                After camp, most of the staff and counselors hung around beautiful Fort Portal where we had bon fires and got all deep sentimental about our futures and  how much we’d grown and all that garbage.  From my buddy Peezi Glizi, I bought a Martin Backpacker travel guitar which was built for my exact lifestyle and I love it.  After some seriously sad goodbyes to some of my best friends who I went through everything with out here, it was back to the forest.  And I very quickly realized that I definitely could not afford to be buying a new guitar right now.  So I have just enough money to feed myself for the next 2 weeks.  And then BOTH solar inverters went out at the same time and so I am left without any way to charge my laptop and therefore without any media, in the woods alone.  I literally scrounged in the couch cushions to scrape together enough change for the ride to where I’m typing and charging from right now.  At least I’ll have media tonight…  And my new guitar can certainly help kill some evening hours.  As for tomorrow, I don’t know what I’ll do.  It’s a battle with boredom while I wait for my last 2 grants to come in.
                Oh yeah, I’m trying to get in 2 more grants before I leave August 1st!  One is a Pollination Project grant which will be used to have beautiful nature scenes painted all over camp, just like the one I had done in our reception, except on the outside of the buildings.  The other grant is a supplemental grant for the Skyway.  We’re going to make a few improvements and get a bunch more gear so they can wait longer before needing to replace it again.  Both of these grants have experienced some big delays which is going to make my last couple months crazy busy.  But until that money comes in, I’m just chillin in the forest.

                In other news, looks like I don’t qualify for the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Masters Program at University of Missouri and I just have one thing to say to those no good, piston pumpers:  “Yeah, you’re probably right.”  So I’m looking into their Civil and Environmental Engineering Masters Program which would probably suit my interests more.  No matter what happens, I am eligible for this Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Fellowship that is pretty much handing out Masters Degrees from U of M for free! Since I still have no real career path, why not kill 2 more years in school.  And I can’t apply until 2015 cause I haven’t even taken the GRE, so Boosh!  I just bought another 3 years of not having to know what I’m doing with my life!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sky Captains and Economic Development

It has been a while since my last post and a lot has happened.  We got the grant money, bought the materials, hired a crew and built the Mabira Forest Canopy Super Skyway in the past 5 months.  It was a little rocky at first, but it didn’t take too long to get the hang of building the platforms.  My very good friend, construction manager and now, Sky Commander Kabugo Gregory was absolutely essential in finding a crew and many of the materials.  One of the huge challenges we faced was finding workers crazy enough to climb these massive trees.  Everyone wanted to work for the white guy until they saw how big the trees are.  So Gregory found some guys that had worked on some power lines and smoke stacks and we finally got the crew we needed.  With a little consultation from various sources, we managed to get 4 platforms and 3 zip-lines up and realized that we hadn’t even used half the grant yet, so we decided to add 2 more platforms and have the last wire cross the River Musamya (the really polluted river that feeds Griffin Falls).  So we now have 6 platforms and 5 zip-lines totaling 220 yards of zipping.  The addition of the last 2 platforms really adds a lot to the experience.  The final zip-line is 200ft long and passes between two 115ft trees.  Then we repel you back down to the forest floor and we hike over Griffin Falls and back to camp.  The month of February has been strictly for training my workers to be “Sky Captains.”  It worked out really well because I was able to hire most of my construction crew to be the Skyway operators.  Since they built it, they have a sense of ownership and comradery which results in them showing up on time and being happy to work.  I posted a message to all Uganda PCVs that they could come and do the Skyway for at a discount during this month to give my guys some practice and the response was excellent.  I also met a couple Israeli folks that went up and have since sent me 3 other groups.  We’ve got the insurance thing taken care of and we are planning a grand opening in March.  After that, I’m hoping to kind of phase myself out of the Skyway equation.  I was a little worried at first about these village fellas using such technical equipment but they picked it up in no time, and I now have no doubts about the safety and awesomeness of this attraction.

I also wrote a grant to The Pollination Project, which is an awesome group who give $1,000 every day to help seed small, personal projects.  I used the money to have a mural painted in our reception depicting all the cool animals of Mabira Forest and also to have huge stones put in the sugar cane fields at intersections to direct people through the labyrinth of roads to Griffin Falls Camp.  There was all kinds of drama getting the mural painted with our artist taking a bunch of money and disappearing, but we ended up harassing him enough to finally come back and finish it and it looks really great. 

So those are the big things I’ve been working on and they are all coming to a close as I start to think about what comes next for Tata Django (what some people have started calling me, meaning father of Django).  I’ve danced around with so many possible things to do with my life that I realized that I just have to pick something and stick with it.  And I think that something is going to be getting a Masters in Mechanical Engineering.  Building the Skyway made me realize that I really enjoy that kind of creative problem solving and I think I have a mind for it.  I still have no idea what I will end up doing with it, but it feels good to know which field I want to get into.  It will also give me mad post-apocalyptic value.  
Also, my awesome parents sent me a harness for Django.

It’s crazy to look back and see how much this experience has changed me.  I’m going to be SO WEIRD when I get back to America!  Overall, I think the changes are positive.  Just knowing that I am able to pack up and move to a completely foreign place and make a life for myself really makes me feel like I can do anything.  I never would have dreamed of getting into engineering for my undergrad, but now I have no doubt that I can do it.  Still got 5 months to go though…

One of the hardest parts of this whole experience is meeting amazing people who are traveling or doing other awesome work here and then realizing that you are here WAY longer than any of them.  So they all leave.  It’s great to keep in touch and to know people living all over the world, but it’s still hard to see them go again and again.  I can’t express how important my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers are to me.   Especially now that I’m in the oldest group, so I know I’m leaving before ANY of them!  And so the emotional roller coaster rolls on.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Something Skyway this way comes...

                Just about 17 months in and I am finally doing something that I think can make a small difference in a small area of the developing world.  There have been a few things that changed at around a year into my service that have really made a big difference.  Maybe the biggest one was something that we were told so many times during training but could not possible grasp until we had been thoroughly chewed up, digested and blasted out by the Pearl of Africa.  That is, that our “sphere of influence” has about the diameter of a grain of rice and we just need to be celebrating the smallest of accomplishments.  Next is that you need to make this experience about something you’re passionate about or you’ll just end up killing time for 2 years (or vacationing and I have some friends that are doing that and still really enjoying themselves).  Even the greatest juicists of all time can’t make lemonade out of corrupt, boring and/or abusive lemons.  Never-the-less I’d like to give mad props to the many friends of mine that are still squeezin’!
                That all being said, I couldn’t dream up a more amazing experience than the one I’m having right now (Side note: If you’re one of the aforementioned PCVs that are still trying to add weird-ass flavors like ginger and cilantro to make your rotten lemon juice into something drinkable, you may want to skip the next paragraph as it will be bragging about how amazing my site is…).  So, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up in great detail with my life (shame on you), I am working with an NGO that represents Mabira Forest and its surrounding communities in Central Uganda.    They are called MAFICO, which sounds great as an acronym but is a little heftier in its entirety, Mabira Forest Integrated Community Organization.  Much like firearms, in the world of NGOs (non-gov orgs.), your organizations credentials and dependability can be measured by the heft and bulk of its name.  And donors are like poverty assassins, comparing the girth of two hand guns.  The metaphorical, non-gender-specific assassin lifts the .22 Glock in one hand and then the Desert Eagle .50 in the other, expertly comparing.  It’s a tough job, cleaning up after European colonizers and you need the perfect weapon.  Which is going to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy? Which is going to pack the most punch and then also serve as a bludgeoning device after it runs out of ammo?  Mabira Forest Integrated Community Organization, that’s who!  Anyways, I live and work at their income generating camp where I meet all kinds of interesting people from all over the world.  The camp has plenty of things for me to work on and the guys in my NGO are awesome and very receptive to my suggestions.  They’re all ecotourism guides, so they actually care about protecting the forest.
When I first visited Griffin Falls Camp to see if MAFICO had what it takes to support a PCV, I walked into Mabira Forest and thought:  a canopy zip-line would be super impractical to create, but would be SO awesome!  Eight months later, I’ve written a grant and am able to access the top branches of no less than 4 forest giants.  We will be building the platforms in the next few weeks (or months) and then The Mabira Forest Canopy Super Skyway (henceforth referred to simply as “The Skyway”) will be available for the enjoyment of our camp visitors. 
                I wasn’t so wrong when I thought that it would be super impractical to create The Skyway.  It’s just mildly impractical. It’s been complicated enough already and we haven’t even begun building the structures.  But we’ve learned a lot and have had plenty of time to research and plan.  I am very confident in our ability to do this right, with big, strong platforms and a well-trained, professional staff and great views from structurally sound zip-lines.  As I write this blog, I have all my wood treated and ready to be moved into the forest to build the structures, a fearless and competent crew of 3 guys and myself ready to to complete the project and 4 boxes of generously discounted, climbing gear (8 harnesses and helmets, three 60M ropes and a bunch of belaying, ascending, descending and transcending gear) waiting for me in Kampala.  People have been so awesome in helping out with the project.  Special thanks to my Peace Corps Country Director, Loucine Hays who enabled me to have all the gear sent to Uganda for free, freeing up a bunch of grant money that will go to making The Skyway even cooler.  Also thanks to for big discounts and free shipping to DC (and my prayers for the blackened souls of the REI staff who never even responded to my many emails begging for discounts on climbing gear).  Now I’m just waiting for the very capable and professional Uganda National Forestry Authority staff to give me the permission I’ve been asking for for the past 2 months (seriously, these guys must have taken convoluted bureaucracy lesson from the US government because they are KILLIN’ IT!), and then I can get to work and finish this thing.  Then I need to train a staff to operate the attraction and then to market it all over the adventure tourism hot spots like crazy.  And this all needs to be done in such a way that MAFICO has the know-how and the drive to run and maintain it long after I leave.  And that’s exactly how it’s going to go down.

                In other news, we fired our old receptionist, Betty, and got a new one who is way better.  Her name is Juliet and her cooking is excellent and she has a great attitude.  I’ve written another grant to get a bunch of murals painted on our reception and restaurant depicting all the cool animals in our forest which is pending but should go through.  We chopped Djangos testis and he has completely changed for the better.  He plays and is no longer aggressive and his coat is much softer and he smells better and he’s growing like crazy.  And NO, I don’t know what I’m going to do with Django when I leave, so stop asking!  Many Ugandans are very keen on eating him to which I politely say:  “OVER MY DEAD BODY M*THER TR*CKERS!”  (I don’t actually say “truckers”…  Not like they know what I’m talking about anyways, don’t judge me!)  I’m in the planning phases of exploiting the ridiculous gullibility and superstition of these village folks by planting some kind of supernatural myth around Django, cursed by a Gyspy or something of that nature to protect him after I leave.  Please contact me if you have ideas for a good Ugandan village myth to plant.  Also we can now deliver Pizza and awesome Asian food and burgers to Griffin Falls Camp.  And they’re supposed to be cleaning up the river really soon so the waterfall will no longer be horribly polluted and stinky and swimming will absolutely be a possibility.  And that’s all.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This has to do with Uganda

                It’s been a little over 4 months since I left Mukono and I’ve really settled into my new site.  I feel like we’re really starting to whip this camp into shape.  I had my birthday and it was definitely one of the best yet.  My girlfriend surprised me and we went on an awesome adventure to Galagala falls on the Nile and then had some drinks with my Mukono friends and she had set up karaoke and it was a blast.  Then we had the solstice/birthday/full moon party with a solid group of PCVs, GHCs and STDs and it was great. 
                The big project I’m working on right now is a canopy zip line.  It’s going to be crazy awesome if it actually works.  It’s going to be an attraction for my camp and it’s going to take a lot of labor and training and creative problem solving.  We’re hoping to make it a 3 line system between 4 giant trees.  If you do it in the morning or evening, you very well may be surrounded by monkeys as you fly through the canopy.  So I have to figure out how to build 4 tree forts 150 feet up a tree, build a zip line that travels through the canopy and train my colleagues how to belay and safely get adventurous tourists through the course.  I’ve also never written a grant before and the grant I’m applying for is an HIV grant, so I have to figure out a way to put an HIV spin on the whole thing (that might sound weird to people outside of development work, but it’s really not).  It’s very difficult to submit a plan and a budget for a project like this without actually having some of the grant money to use, so we’ve had to be creative in getting ourselves into the canopy to do the actual planning, because you really can’t do it from the ground.  Despite some of my Ugandan staff are very skeptical that anyone is going to want to use this thing once we get it built, I’m totally jazzed on this project and I think it could be a kickass thing to leave behind.  Nothing like this exists anywhere I know of in East Aftrica.  All the profits from the final product will go to funding community projects which we are slowly by slowly developing.  We’re probably going to charge a lot to do it because it’s going to be super awesome and if Adrift can get away with charging $100 for a 12 second bungee jump, I think I can jack up the price for a much cooler experience.  We’re close enough to Kampala and Jinja to do it in a day trip, so I think, if we market it well, it could be a pretty big attraction.  But first we have to write the grant and build it and I have no experience in architecture or carpentry or engineering or grant writing, but what’s the WORST that could happen!?  But seriously, safety is going to be the number one priority. 
                In other news, Django and I have developed a very special relationship and I don’t even care how weird that sounds.  He went rock climbing AND crossed the bridge over the waterfall for the first time during the solstice party.  After a week of trying to just push him with my feet or drag him with a rope down the trail with mixed success, I figured out his weakness.  His stomach.  I got him hooked on soy nuts and he can’t get enough of them and now he follows me everywhere ‘cause he thinks I have them.  He came on a backpacking trip up to Namusa Hill where we camped out and was totally easy and awesome.   He’s totally content to just chill out and eat foliage all day and then run to me when I make a clicking noise that he associates with getting soy nuts and proceeds to head ram my leg until I give him some soy nuts or head ram him back (this could become a problem when he gets full sized…).  He also came on a trip with 30 school kids into the forest.
                I got a call on a Sunday night asking me to take the place of one of the MAFICO guys as a guide/environmental educator for a group of 30 tweenage school kids the next morning.  It turned out to be pretty awesome.  I found some of my old environmental science notes and put together a kickass presentation on the effects of mankind on the environment, putting on trial the very policies established to protect the forest and giving a voice to the people that live and breathe the forest and finally concluding with a glimmer of hope on the horizon highlighting the changes that need to take place here, on the ground level to save our planet before it’s too late! Then I found out that we had 20 minutes to split between 4 of us which was cut down to 10 minutes and the kids were 6 and 7 years old.  They were totally stoked about Django though.  Oh yeah, Django is my goat, btw. 

                Anyways, things here seem to be in a perpetual state of ass kicking.  My girlfriend’s awesome and the things I’ve been working on are starting to take hold.  I’ve also got Uganda’s most charming goat chilling on my front porch, ready for the next adventure whenever I am.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Bleating Heart

   I was a counselor at Camp BUILD (Boys of Uganda in Leadership Development… or something), responsible for 8, 13-21 year old boys for a week.  It was a crazy week and the most memorable camper quotes were:
In reference to the entire camp experience, “You whites really know how to make funs!”

   And, in a rousing night game of capture the flag, our team mate comes running back to our base grinning from ear to ear. He looks down at his prize and his face drops, it’s as if he’s just noticed he were holding a dead puppy.  He sees the red shirt decoy that he thought was the red team’s flag and gasps,  “Ah!  I have been deceived!”

   Being responsible for the health, safety, education and entertainment of a group of adolescents is uncharted territory for me, but I got really lucky with my Ugandan Co-counselor and my group of kids.  We had a great week and I think I learned more than any of those kids.  Highlights include a massive 5 team capture the flag game on the whole college campus which resulted in a stalemate because all of the bases were too awesome and impenetrable, a bitter rivalry between me and my co-counselor/nemesis Patrick Glisczinki which lead to many unsuccessful water balloon assassination attempts and ended with a pride-shattering glitter attack on my sweet camp shirt, my teams flag being taller than Patrick’s team’s flag, riddle battles and a giant mattress fort party/extreme Olympic mattress pit jump with the 85 mattresses rented for the camp after all the kids left.  

   I bought a goat very recently and I think Django Reinhardt Goatsly is going to show a real marked boost in my life awesomeness index.  As a hooved quadruped with propensity for following, he’s proven to be a great hiking partner.  When we’re not hiking, he just chills out and eats my weeds.  It’s a pretty low maintenance, awesome thing we got going on here. 

   In other news, the next big project is going to be a Peace Corps Grant funded Mabira Forest Canopy Zip Line.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew on this one, but despite having no idea what I’m doing, it’s going ahead. 

   Camp is awesome as ever especially now it is filled with the bleats and charm of Django, and life is good.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Forest Parties

                I’ve given up on the tiny, translucent, red ants that have invited themselves into my bread bag.  These are seriously crafty little bastards; they can slip through the seal of a Pringles lid and just when you think you’ve blown, flicked or picked them all away, one will emerge from a crevasse and crawl onto your hand as if mocking your feeble efforts to control nature.  They aren’t disease harboring and lord knows I need to pick up protein wherever I can get it, so screw it! NOM NOM NOM! Suck it hymenoptera!!
I’ve been at my new site for about a month now and my experience has, thus far, been truly amazing.  There is a lot that I can do to be of help here, but the biggest challenge is the isolation.  I’ve always been able to enjoy solitude, so loneliness hasn’t been too big of a problem so far.  I have people come visit often and I get out to Mukono regularly to see friends which helps keep me balanced.  I’ve also started to get to know some folks around my village.  What a drastic change it has been from living in Mukono. It felt so weird to be in such a busy place with everyone hustling around, trying to get some small money just to get by while I effortlessly passed the days, more concerned with avoiding boredom than anything.  If I had been with an organization for which I felt some kind of ownership or commitment or that I was making a difference, Mukono would have been better.  Then again, I had never imagined my Peace Corps experience to be located just a short walk from a supermarket and a night club.  I rationalized it by thinking that life would be such a drag if I didn’t have a flushing toilet and a shower and such readily available (junk) food.  In reality, I was living just like I had back home and those little challenges I was worried about have turned out to be the best part out here.  It’s really similar to when I worked at Mt. St. Helens.  I plan out my meals for the week and cook on charcoal (when Betty isn’t around).  
Betty has turned out to be awesome!  A few weekends ago, Craig, Alana, Zoey and Alexus came out to stay with me and it turned out that these 3 awesome UK folks had found out about the camp and come for the weekend also, so we had a bon fire at the camp site and it was awesome.  We had my faithful Boda Boda delivery guy bring us beer from town and we had a forest party.  Betty cooked for all of us all weekend while also tending to various other groups passing through.  She was a total champ.  Women here are amazing workers.
Caitlin came the next night and we had another forest party and a hike with tibbs the next day.

At camp, I live with completely renewable resources (solar power and rain water) and I’m pretty much vegetarian (except for some tuna packs my folks sent me).  It’s mostly rice, noodles, peas, beans and veggies (and bugs which are not strictly vegetarian).  Never-the-less, I’m sure I’ve never lived so sustainably in my life.  I have temporarily taken on a new comrade here, his name is Mr. Tibbs and he can be a real pain in the ass, but I’m growing to love him.  He’s my good friend Craig’s dog and he’s staying with me while Craig and Peace Corps figure out a new site for him.  One of his first nights here, Tibbs and I had a bit of a disagreement which resulted in a battle between us physically and a rift between us emotionally.  Neither of us are the type to hold grudges, so the next day we hugged it out and moved on, somehow with a better understanding of one another.  Tibbs is a truly handsom dog, a slim tridapple with a big head and big paws.  But he had a tough puppyhood, having been “rescued” by some Peace Corps Volunteers who didn’t have a great exit plan other than to dump him on a new Peace Corps Trainee and head home.  Craig, being the compassionate, dog loving man that he is, took on Tibbs only to find out that his site would fall through, leaving them both homeless.  Tibbs has since been displaced, moving between foster owners, without much stability and having never been properly trained.  He was given to Craig as a disobedient, overly energetic dog with attachment issues, so I place no blame on Craig.  Without much other choice, Craig has stepped up and done a really good job of making sure Tibbs is taken care of and being there as much as possible. But the reality is that it is very difficult to have a dog as a Peace Corps Volunteer, especially one drifting between sites.  Tibbs is spastic and neurotic, but still a loyal and good dog.  I know this because whenever he is going crazy barking at a motorcycle dropping someone off at camp, he runs to find me and make sure I’m ok. 
I’m starting a chicken project, a topic which I know nothing about, but I’m excited for it.  My village chairmen and I decided, over a pot of Malua, to start up some kind of community agriculture project.  We decided chickens would be the best.  He introduced me to a very interesting fellow who had gotten degrees in accounting and agriculture and then moved back to his home village after checking out the job market.  And it turns out that he's dating Betty!  I'm happy she didn't end up with one of the village boys that always hangs around camp.  They're good people, but I have high standards for Betty.  Anyways, the chicken project is looking promising.  I’m going to do my best to advise and facilitate while making sure they do most of the actual work themselves.  I think the key to a successful project is local involvement and ownership.
There is some animal amidst the symphony of night life forest noises that I have named the banshee death owl, though I have no idea if it’s an owl.  Someone told me it was a bat, but I’m not buying it.  Bats use high pitch sounds for echolocation, not human like, shrill death screams.  It calls intermittently with about a second in between and it sounds like a mixture of a crow call and the final scream of somebody who’s had their throat cut open (sorry for the imagery, I’ve been rewatching Game of Thrones for the 3rd time).  It’s the only thing that freaks me out when I walk out to my bathroom before bed because I have no idea what it is.  Anyways, this night sound track still beats the tortured wailing of the tied up dogs back in Mukono Town.
Really, a lot of this first month has been me exploring the area and seeing what we have to offer around here.  Besides the cultural tour that we’re working on, I want to design a camping trip up on this really beautiful hilltop that you have to hike a couple miles to.  My idea is to use local kids as porters to carry the water and camping supplies up to this beautiful clearing on top of Namusa Hill.  A guide would stay with you overnight and make a bon fire and tell local folk tales and you could sip wine (BYOB) under the stars.  Then in the morning, the porters would come back and pack you out.  They would get some income for their families and the visitors would have a memorable experience. 
Clearing on top of the hill

Having Mr. Tibbs here has made me realize that it’s a bad idea for me to get a dog here.  So I’m getting a goat.  His name will come when I meet him, but I read that they are excellent hiking partners and they are much lower maintenance.  When you hand raise them, they follow you around and as a hooved quadruped, there isn’t any hike too intense for them. 
My parents and my sister are coming to visit in April and I’ve been planning out that whole trip.  We’re using my organization to do pretty much everything which will be great both because they are awesome and because it will give me a chance to see firsthand how my organization looks through the eyes of the consumer and search for improvement.  We are going to spend a few days at my site and then head southwest for gorilla and chimp tracking and then hitting up a safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park and maybe Murchison Falls for some giraffes and zebras.  I’m super stoked!  And then my heterosexual life partner, John Edward Campbell is coming in June and that will be an entirely different and amazing experience.  Good things to come.