January 10th, 2016


Bweyale (a Belated LJ Idol Entry)

Well I misinterpreted the LJ Idol deadline and thought it was Monday. Turns out it was Friday. I was really looking forward to continuing my tradition of writing on ALL THE TOPICS, all while not interrupting my travelogue narrative -- especially since one might think it would be challenging to work this week's essay style topics in. Not so! I have/had a plan! And gosh darn it, I'm going to write my entry anyway!

Edit 2: I do have a few pictures re-downloaded off of Instagram but for some reason flickr isn't loading very well right now so I might have to add them later

Thursday, October 29th, Day 26, Bweyale, Northern Uganda - It was a sunny morning, I forget if I was sweating because it was actually hot or because I was becoming anxious, but either way I remember I was sweating under the sun as I approached the ATM by climbing the uneven embankment by the main road. I was in a small town in northern Uganda, and I needed gas. I had already visited the other two banks in town but, while they had ATMs for their own cards, they didn't serve visa/mastercard (you start to assume these things are universal, maybe not quite "everywhere you want to be" though!). As I punched in my pin code I crossed my fingers ... and it worked! Next it was time to punch in the amount. I double and triple checked the exchange rate on my phone (having data service is another modern miracle" before typing in 350,000 as my withdrawel amount (is that decimal point in the right place? ::checks again:: yep). Approximately 3,500 Ugandan shillings to the dollar. In Tanzania it was 2,500 Tanzanian shillings to the dollar, and Kenya 103:1 -- I'm sure more than one tourist has been had by an outrageous price just after returning to Kenya from one of the other two and not realizing that shillings there are worth more than ten times more than they are in Tanzania and Uganda.
   It's funny too, the shillings, since a shilling was originally maybe not quite one cent (12 pence in ye olde convoluted system), but a small amount, ordering $100 as 350,000U UGX kind of feels like I just ordered 10,000 pennies instead of $100.
   Another weird thing about African currencies is that many of them (Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Guinea, Ethiopia, ie everywhere I've been except Kenya), have as their HIGHEST in-circulation currency bill something the equivalent of about $5, so I'll end up walking around the blocks of money. Buying gas takes blocks of money. I can't imagine how they buy cars or houses, probably go to the bank together and transfer it on paper.
   I once asked someone why they don't make a bigger bill, a young man in Nigeria who has just graduated a local university in economics no less, and he said he thought they were afraid making a bigger bill would cause inflation. Ummm I'm pretty sure that's not how it works.

Monday, October 26th, Day 23, Kampala -I had thought I'd only be in Uganda for maybe two full days, meet this development agency on one day, see something the next, and return to Nairobi (and head back to Zanzibar). Monday morning Grace and I spent the first few hours of the day just relaxing on the grounds of the beautiful hotel (recall, rooms are all constructed as separate "huts" separated by gardens and fish ponds), and then met with Alex and Emmanuel from the "African Human Resources Initiative Strategies" (AHRIS) organization. The came the hotel and we had coffee by a fish pond first. Emmanuel was relatively youngish, maybe in his later thirties, he seemed like he had kind of a "cool guy" personality, not in a bad way. Some people just everything they do is smooth. Alex was kinda the opposite, he wore a fedora and tended to kind of giggle after he said things, which made you almost want to not take him seriously. I'd guess Alex was closer to 50. He was really nice, and friendly, and after all had dedicated his life to running a non-profit development agency and that says something about a person. I'm not entirely certain how Emmanuel was involved, he might have been a sort of independant contractor who works with them on logistics?
   Anyway after coffee we went to their headquarters downtown by car, and I got my first taste of how it's hardly practical to get around in town by car. There I met the rest of the staff, there were 7-8 young people in AHRIS' employ, in their little headquarters office in Kampala they teach women to make sandals and some other stuff I think. Notable previous projects involved make a whole bunch of wells (17?) to provide fresh water to communities as well as latrines for schools (55 of them?), these latter projects funded by the Mormon Church apparently.
   They had a number of communities they thought could benefit from beekeeping projects and invited me to come see them .. it didn't take much convincing (as I was still dealing with the big hole in my schedule left by Zanzibar breaking into tear-gas-riots over the election), so we resolved to go up north the next day!

a rare picture of the illusive Grace

Tuesday, October 27th, Day 24, Kampala - So early Tuesday morning Grace and I checked out and Emmanuel drove us to the bus station, where Alex had the bus waiting for us because we were running late already. We hopped on for another 8-10 hours sardined in a local African bus.
   Bweyale (which for some reason shows up on maps and wikipedia as Kiryandongo, but I'd always heard it as Bweyale) is a small town in kind of central-northern Uganda (strictly speaking it would be in central, but because the major population center is Kampala in the south anything north of there is "north," kind of like how San Francisco is in "Northern" California even though it's actually near the center). Bweyale consisted of one main street with some shops fronting the main highway, amd a few blocks of narrow crowded market streets. There were a handful of two story buildings (which i've come to use as a benchmark of the size of a town), but they were extremely ramshackle, one seemed to have a scaffolding as the permanent way to access the second floor -- It was interesting and I took a picture but... yeah most of my good pictures of Bweyale were lost. After just a few blocks of mainly one story square buildings fronting immediately on the street it breaks into "suburbs" of huts, usually spaced apart, with grass verges, dirt paths, and a well every block or so. It looked mostly rather nice actually and I got some good pictures... ::nervous tick::
   Our hotel (selected by Alex) was really nice! It was simple and kind of bare-bones as usual in rural Africa but it was really nice! Clean, airy, pretty, freshly painted, and even had wifi (shocking, really!)! It only had about 12 rooms, but they all had attached bathrooms (no hot water though brrr I hate cold showers). The proprietor, George, appeared to be about 18, I don't know if he was running it on behalf of his dad or what but this young fella seemed to be the big boss! Other than the twelve rooms and broad airy hallway they opened onto, there were three big rooms up front. One was a bar, and I tried to avoid it because there were always loud TVs in there, one was a restaurant, but neither we nor anyone else ever seemed to actually eat in there, there were tables out front which were much nicer or you could take your food into the other rooms, one of which, the third big room, was a sort of lounge with three couches and a TV. All of this surprisingly nice and comfortable! As mentioned there were also tables on the veranda in front, which was a lovely place to sit and eat or just have your tea.
   And the cook! He was amazing! There was no set menu, and he didn't appear to have terribly many ingredients at his disposal, but for dinner you would basically have a quick chat with him about what you were in the mood for, what he had or was already making, and he would whip something up that was delicious! I was really impressed. Especially his spicy pork, mmm.
   The hotel staff assumed Grace and I were married, which was funny, and we didn't bother disillusioning them of this.

   During the day Alex and I would visit a local group and then come back in the Afternoon. Alex, it turns out, lives in Bweyale so we had his car at our disposal. We met with a beekeeping coop, a women's group, a group of people with disabilities, a coop in another town...

   In the evenings we would watch TV in the lounge room. Usually there'd be a lot of people back in the evening, having been out all day working they'd roll back in in their dusty white land cruisers with the giant unicorn antennae on the front, blue logos of UN, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, UNICEF, etc on the side. Bweyale seemed to be a center of international aid work. Part of it is that there's a sizeable Sudanese refugee population in Bweyale. Sudan is the country north of Uganda, but its a few hours drive North from Bweyale I believe.
   Uganda, for that matter, has become a very peaceful, stable country. That being said, there was an election coming up and the discussions I heard about it centered on that the people planned to vote for the same party that had been in power for a long time now "because at least with them it's stable and you know what you're going to get, you elect someone new who knows what will happen." In the minds of a lot of Americans I think Uganda is synonymous with the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin and violence pertaining to the Lord's Resistance Army -- but Idi Amin lost power over _forty years ago_ and the Lord's Resistance Army also petered out years ago, and is now limited to a few ranchers militants hiding in the jungles of the Congo (and a legacy of boda-boda drivers with PTSD). Unfortunately at some point Americans became numb to violence in Africa and just wrote it all off as happening forever.
   So Grace and I would be sitting there surrounded by all these other aid workers, who incidentally all seemed to Ugandans, or at least, I was the only white person in town, and it's nice to see them employing locals because all too often aid agencies seem to hire westerners when a local could do the job just as well.
   In high school and college I was always in Model United Nations and we were always talking about these agencies, so it felt interesting to be sitting there in the field in the midst of them all.
   Grace is gorgeous and all but we have unfortunately divergent tastes in television. She could watch soap operas all day, but I can hardly stand any television at all, it's gotta be something I'm really into or else the act of the television being on makes me feel like I can't think and I start to get stressed out.
   For a brief time the movie Hunt for Red October came on, which is a movie I not so secretly love. In college my then-girlfriend and I would go to the movie rental place (that was a thing back then) and every time I'd stop in front of Red October and she'd say "nnnNo! nnnnnnNo!" I really like a good war drama that really addressed the psychology of the situation (though I think Thin Red Line was trying too hard), and submarine movies are really the epitome of that -- the characters are in a pressure-cooker (practically literally). The classic is of course Das Boot, and then you get a little more Hollywood with U-571, there's the drama of Crimson Tide and K-19, and then there's Hunt for Red October, with the Latvian captain with a strangely scottish accent, it will always have a special place in my heart. "Con! Sonar! Crazy Ivan!" ... but then someoen changed the TV to a soccer game, and while soccer is my favorite sport, I just can't get into watching sports unless it's the World Cup. Otherwise zero is at stake.

Disabilities union of Bweyale, sorry for the big white parts of the picture its re-downloaded from instagram

   In the morning there was of course made to order omelettes, sausages, and African tea (made with milk instead of water, and our amazing chef would infuse the milk with ginger for me!!). Hotel breakfasts are definitely one thing that's always better in Africa.

   One afternoon we drove north just a bit to go see the baboons. Along the way we skirted along the edge of Marchison Falls National Park, a thick forest to our left. We stopped by a village where Alex had a friend and the friend showed us where they've put beehives in cleared areas on the edge of the forest (with permission from the park service) as well as a large "elephant trench" being dug to prevent elephants from wandering out of the forest and damaging fields. While we were out looking at beehives I was shown a fresh elephant footprint in the mud.
   We crossed the Nile on a bridge, it looked like white water below us (I've now crossed the Nile in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Egypt!) and immediately on the other side, sure enough, there were lots of baboons hanging out, with beady yellow intelligent eyes, right in the middle of the road! So vehicles had to carefully steer around them. On our return to Bweyale we got stuck in a traffic parade celebrating local elections -- crowds clogging the street and trucks full of jubilant (drunk?) young people. A weird thing and slightly intimidating, being surrounded by such energized crowds. But soon we were safely back in the hotel, asking the chef about spicy pork while Grace looked to see what everyone was watching.