Saturday, October 25, 2008

African Helmets

(this post by a Sean with too much time on a weekend and not enough outlet for sarcasm)

Today we received two brand new motorbikes for the centre. Similar to the volkswagen bug, these things have been in continuous production unchanged since 1978. Ours is Uganda specification, so they're road legal, have luggage racks on the back, and come in white (to better accept the brown of the roads around here I suppose). They're awesome bikes though and incredibly dependable.

More on the bikes later. This post is for the helmets. Bikes in Uganda come with helmets. Which I should have understood as you get a FREE helmet. Or, you get a free helmet. I'm trying to say that free is not necessarily good. That probably didn't come across, but its hard to type a voice laced with sarcasm and loathing.


The free helmet (1 of 2). Looks alright. Decent graphics. Who knows what A.H.T. stands for but you can get creative with that.

Hmm. This must have slipped past the QA.

This too. Possible signs of Elmer's white glue on further inspection.

I couldn't remember what this was from the picture so I picked it up while typing and it just ripped out. Must not be important then.

Time for a stress test....

... two fingers and it passes brilliantly...

... searching for signs of rigidity...

... none found. It is quite possible this is a deflated and hollowed out basketball shell that has been painted to look like a helmet.

Fits perfect too!

Mom - send helmet.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 6... err, 32

We’re back. Sorry for the delay.

We’ve integrated ourselves pretty well here, we think, and are feeling right at home. There was a propane shortage awhile back which just ended, which means we can have warm water again without boiling it on the stove. A propane shortage here is kind of a big deal given that our stove and fridge and freezer run on propane tanks. There are also these pre-heater boxes we have set up that heat water from the rain-tanks as it flows through, essentially giving us a hot-water tap. This is the first thing we shut off if we get low on propane, with all reserves being donated to the fridge and stove. Our fridge is a bit old and guzzles fuel, so we’re looking forward to getting rid of this one and moving on to our new place, eventually. Yes, in case you didn’t already know, we are currently staying in a guest house and will have our own place to call home in a few months. More on that when it happens.

Jamie is settling in so fast to her role in Kibaale Children’s Fund (KCF). The girl who currently runs it, Laura, is to be married soon and Jamie is stepping up to the plate. Laura has been amazing in teaching Jamie how the office runs here in Uganda and what needs to be done, and what kind of challenges she will face in the future. We’re both very appreciative of her help in this time of transition. One of the best parts of Jamie’s day is when the primary kids come to visit on breaks and after school. A good portion of them make it a habit to drop in and greet `Auntie Jamie` - she loves it!

(I’ve just enabled the French language option on the keyboard somehow… no idea how to turn it off… all question marks will now be capital Es with little accents overtop… É)

Sean is settling in as well and tackling the mountain sized pile of tasks he has ahead of him. Sean heard something about eating an elephant one bite at a time, but Sean has realized he really doesn’t like Elephants too much… they taste weird and have a tendency to bite back, or at least slug you in the head with their trunk. Sean prefers eating smaller, trunkless animals. Preferably on sticks. That said, I (Sean) have been getting my hands dirty all over Uganda, making contacts and friends from Kibaale to Rakai to Masaka to Kampala (ok, admittedly, they’re all on the same stretch of highway) and learning the ins and outs of water and sanitation in a place such as this. Just the other day I was able to meet, again, with the local water counsellor and convey, through vigorous hand gestures, the need for the overhaul of the in-town pump. We made a compromise and we now have a working hand pump in the town nearest Kibaale Community Centre. Which is excellent! There have been hard moments, but it’s all part of the work here and all part of becoming a part of the culture one way or another.

It can be daunting to walk into a village where no one speaks English and try to get information, and just being a Mzungu (meaning: traveller, or white person, except not derogatory) brings its own sets of expectations that you try and live up to. But, the challenges also bring the greatest rewards, and sometimes you can find yourself being inspired by what is happening all around you if you are just able to step back. It’s a matter of perspective… rather than having the difficult task of walking into a local village where no one speaks English, I have the privilege to be here and make a difference, and once the language barrier is surpassed the relationships (almost friendships, for these are incredibly genuine people and there really isn’t any smile given if not meant) are so rewarding you can’t wait to go back and fumble with your arms and hand signals again. Of course, having a translator, or someone who speaks English makes the job a bit more effective… either way, we love it here, and the work is coming along.

To be fair, English is widely spoken in Uganda. It is the official language after all. Those who don’t speak English speak their tribe’s language. And there are 56 tribes in Uganda. Yes, 56 languages. And English. Our area is composed mainly of the Buganda tribe, and the language is Luganda, but we don’t have too much difficulty finding someone who speaks English except in really remote areas.

Today we also were able to go back to Mpigi where we were last year for three weeks. It shocked me to find that everyone remembered us – even the kids! Not five minutes into the service we were being escorted up front and there we were sharing in front of the entire church, ears still ringing from the bedlam of worship in Africa. It’s something that has to be experienced. After church we took to the soccer pitch and had a match with the kids of the Mpigi Children’s Home. So great to see all the familiar faces, all a year older, and we can’t quite explain how great it is to be recognized by a five-year old one year later, with a big smile and a hug, like you were never gone. Our three week visit last year made a difference in these kids` lives… how much more can we do in two years here in Kibaale É (question mark). If you’ve never done Africa before, or short term missions, you need to do it. 

Now for some pictures for the skimmers out there who didn’t read any of the above.

A home visit Jamie went on. This is at the very top of the hill we hiked earlier. Nice view.

Coca Cola makes this pop called Krest Bitter Lemon here. Most amazing drink ever. Unless you open the bottle and find a used Vodka wrapper inside your drink.

Biyinda, one of our gatekeepers, showing us the house he has started constructing with money loaned to him through our Staff Loans Program. We loan staff funds for projects or housing, etc. with zero or very little interest, with the deductions coming off the paycheck. The results can be amazing. Biyinda's pretty happy!

Jamie on another home visit. This is the end result of a donation from Canada. The girl on the left in blue is sponsored to go to our school. Her sponsor also donated money for them to build a new house. And that's the house.

Cows. Some get angry if you get too close.

Sean had to go into Kampala to meet with a bunch of Water Projects contacts. We checked out the Munyonyno Commonwealth Resort while we were in the city.

Jamie at the side of "the only Olympic sized swimming pool in Uganda!"...

That night there was a jazz fest. Jazz Fest in Uganda, first time ever ... pretty awesome.

Today at Mpigi - Jamie beating up little kids.

Mpigi twins Kato and Wasswa. Kato means "first", Wasswa "second." All twins in Uganda go by this.