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 Backcountry.com 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.