Thursday, June 29, 2017

Uganda Style

Imagine a street full of boda boda (motorcycle taxis) rushing by, letting each pedestrian know that it is their responsibility to not get run over, with men yelling from the shared taxi’s “Jinja! M’bale! Soroti!”. As Betty Ikanaly -- my boss and the person that the next few weeks of my life depended on -- navigated effortlessly through the swarm of people, I followed closely behind until we made it to the bus that would take us to Soroti, an Eastern district of Uganda.
            As soon as we climbed on board, the bus started. To be completely honest, it was more like we climbed on board as the bus was moving. We took our seats and I waved farewell to Kampala. The scenery changed from rows of two story buildings to run down cement and sheet metal houses and then to farm lands with scattered villages. As the bus made its first of many stops in a village, women and men flooded the bus with goods, such as roasted maize, water, soda, and grilled goat. Betty, a wonderful host, treated us to roasted cassava, groundnuts, and chapati. Within the first hour of the bus ride, I knew that food here would definitely not be lacking in flavor, or in quantity.

            When we reached Soroti, I quickly noticed the starking contrast from the capital city. People lounged outside of the shops and strolled through the town. Most took shelter from the heat underneath buildings. We boarded some much less hectic boda boda, and drove out of the town to our new apartment. Children ran out as we drove by, screaming with glee, “Mzungu hi!” (Mzungu means white foreigner). After a short ten minute drive, we reached the apartment. Betty made sure that everything would be ready for us when we got there; we have running water, electricity (most of the time), and even a fridge!
Our apartment in Uganda (the second door from the left)

            Three weeks later, I have settled into my new home for the next couple of weeks. Colvin and I have been working on improving the carbonization process at Betty’s company, Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies (AEST). I have definitely learned a lot during this project. For example, one of the largest differences between the US and Uganda is that here, things move slowly. A task that might take an hour in the States, can take up to a day here. Part of the reason is that some processes simply take time, such as waiting for the charcoal to dry in the sun, or warming biomass to make charcoal. Other reasons include a lack of resources and the blasting heat, which definitely takes a toll on productivity. When visiting a local high school – one of the best in Uganda – I chuckled as I read the school’s motto, or what Colvin and I consider to be Uganda’s motto: if you rush, you crash.

Betty's cook stove factory
Other things to note when coming to Uganda:
  • Most women and girls wear skirts and dresses
  • Look first right then left when crossing!
  • Your host wants you to gain weight before you go back home, as will be noticeably in the quantity and quality of food
  • Throwing food waste on the ground is completely acceptable
  • It is quite toasty (currently sporting a nice sun burn)
  • Cooking takes much longer, since you need to heat up your charcoal cook stove before your food!
  • You will do the same thing as a local for a day and end up covered in dirt, whereas they will still be wearing a pristine ironed white shirt
  • You won’t even know where to begin when doing your laundry (how the heck to I get mango juice out of a white t-shirt?)
  • Workers will stick weld on the side of the road wearing only sunglasses
  • Children will find you fascinating and a little terrifying- most screaming the little English they know, and some even daring enough to touch you or shake your hand 
Stick welding the cook stove grates

            But in the end, people are the same everywhere. We bond over the love of Justin Bieber’s hot new single, complain about the heavy lifting, and tease everyone working incessantly. After a day of work, we might kick around a soccer ball or throw a Frisbee (that we brought from the States).­­­­­­ I’m definitely excited to learn more from the people here and from Uganda!
Sipi Falls: One of the many beautiful landscapes of Uganda

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