Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Exchange Rates

Hopefully, everyone got the forward of the email from the Trust Fund, officially approving Okweyo. I went rummaging through the budget today, updating this and that, and re-evaluating our situation.
On April 25th, a Euro bought you 2,637 Ugandan shillings, and 40,000 of them bought us 105 million of them. 
Today, a Euro buys us 2,519 shillings, and our budget has shrunk to UGX 100 million. Fluctuating currencies robbed us of:  annual school fees for 15 kids, or two motorbikes, or money to facilitate 2.5 healing seminars.
...Probably we'll cut something less important.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

We went to the same junior high...just saying...

"He's quick and he's strong," Mr. Love said of Mr. Obama. "A lot of people still don't know that he's left-handed, so he can get to the basket and get his shot off, even though he's not the most explosive or tallest player on the court."
We were in 8th grade Science together, tried out for the same JV Basketball team (I made the first cut), and I played Varsity football and he didn't.
Still, Reggie, if you're looking for an economist, East Africa expert or spiritual advisor, you know we're still close...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Exciting Night

A funny thing happened to me the other night. I'd been enjoying a nice conversation and meal with Rev. Patrick and his family at his house, just stone's throw from mine. Usually one of us has an excuse for me to stop by, food is brought out, and I'm happy to be eating dinner around a table with a family. The news was on, the kids were catching bugs by the flourescent light. Good times. I remembered from before there was a pretty big heifer with horns tied up somewhere near my path, and I was pretty relieved when I made out his glowing eyes and resting frame as I passed him. I must've let my guard down a bit, because I ran into the pitch black 3-year-old like someone had moved the couch around while I was out. "Oh! Sorry, sorry!", I said, as he/she stumbled humbly out of my way. "mmMMMPh" he/she responded.

Now, I can rarely pass towards home without stopping by the house of the archdeacon Rev. James Okoyo. Most nights you can find he, his wife, and some of the nieces and nephews he's taking care of, sitting outside taking supper or evening tea. And despite adamantly protesting that I had just left Patrick's having eaten my fill, I can't leave without doing some damage to a bowl of beans and millet bread. One of those nephews, David, recently got some school fees assistance from my good friend Elizabeth Duncan in Charlotte. That night we were doing some picking on the guitar, which David's become particularly keen on. While David and I are playing and eating, mom is lying by the candle light grabbing the slow trickle of white ants - insects with large white wings that come out of the ground searching for light after a big rains - settling near her light. Two households collecting insects, but this was small scale compared to what I'd find at home.

Just around the bend I enter the gate to the bishop's compound to find the entire front side of the house lit up like a rock show. Two of the house staff, Helen and Apiyo, are patrolling the walls with brooms and buckets in hand, and as the white ants swarm to a particular light, they swat them down, make them into a pile, and scoop them by the handful into the baskets! They invited me to try my hand at it, and I successfully nabbed a few of them, but they kept swarming my reflective head and neck, and I just couldn't cope with that.

The next day, you could see evidence of the magnitude of the infestation, or harvest, by the wings which littered the ground, not just where people had lights on, but everywhere. And those who had harvested them were ready to capitalize, drying thousands in the sun, then sorting them and roughing them until their wings fell off. The sell for about 500 shillings ($.33) per cupfull. When boiled and shaped, they make a meal not unlike hamburger patties with a salty soup, and with a gritty crunchiness from the exoskeletons and legs and such. It can be a satisfying meal if I can just shake the image of what it is I'm really eating. That's tough to do.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

So, I got malaria.

It was about Saturday, May 31st that I first started feeling dizzy and fatigued, and after a couple days feeling pretty lousy, I went to the hospital and it turned I had full-blown, no-joke malaria. My parasite count was serious and I was admitted that day.
From Tuesday to today Saturday, I mainly tried to keep down food so many kind people brought in. It wasn't my version of comfort food, but I helped down what I could, making sure to drink more water and juice than I really wanted. The quinine drip ran for four hours with a four hour break. All in all it was a miserable time, despite having a private room and self-contained bath
As scheduled, they discharged me today, and I traded an IV drip for tablets and home.
Thanks for all of your calls and prayers. You pulled me through a very lonely, miserable time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Motorcycles and starry nights

Last night we did say goodbye to Nick.  Outside Kope (pron. copay, meaning "I have no problems") Cafe, we sat under the stars while a thunderstorm lit up the distance.  No music - the iPods were all charging - just enjoying the cool, clean night air.  We talked a little of home and what it'd be like, but mostly just enjoyed some laughs and a bite to eat.  I think we've gleaned from our hosts a respect for today, that tomorrow will only present itself tomorrow.
Riding home at night is always a touch exhilirating and magical.  Exhilirating, for the dark streets and open intersections of town, streets quiet and sparse, but carrying people to their night-time destinations.  There's also the motivation to travel flawlessly, without a stall or fall, nothing to relinquish surprise to anyone who might be out late.  Magical, for the cold air, unforgiving dirt roads with the same ruts and pitfalls as in daylight, but especially for the stars, which reach all the way to the horizon and which move right everytime I move left.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Afternoons at the Office

I spend the bulk of my days at the diocesan office, if not because I have work there to do, then out of force of habit and the hope I can catch a ride with someone going someplace to do something. Afternoons at the office are usually pretty laid back affairs. We walk back from lunch around 2-2:30. There's usually some work to finish up - I don't mean I've been sitting on my duff this whole time - but when I arrive back at the office, there's at least one thing looming temptingly on the horizon: the mango tree.
It's mango season here in Northern Uganda. And mango trees...we have plenty of 'em. The hang a bit like apples, on their stem a few inches from the branch. When they're ripe (yellow, as seen above) they're also pretty easy to "shoot". Here I am, shooting mangos.

And these mangos are DELICOUS! I'm not entirely sure what mangos are like at home, but my hunch is that they're imported, reddish-purple or orange in color, and have a consistent texture, like a banana, not pulpy. These mangos are pulpy, juicy, sweet and tangy! And they're everywhere! I can't step outside my office without seeing two or three prime ones just lying on the ground, freshly fallen. Here, Susan demonstrates how to give in to the temptation. Abandon your desk, bring a chair outside, fill a basin with water (not shown), and prepare somewhere to collect your skins. You can find your first couple on the ground (mentioned above), and as many as you have time or energy to separate from the tree above you. Use a long stick to knock or hook them, or other fallen, unripe mangos to shoot them down (also above). Don't worry about being a loner; once you start, others will follow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Developments for Okweyo

It's a beautiful Saturday morning, I'm picking mango pulp from my teeth. They're now ripe, and everywhere. Best practices in Uganda are to plant a mango tree by your house and in your yard for the wonderfully cool and complete shade they provide. When they get big and fall, they hit your tin roof with enough force to give you a jolt, even if isn't your roof. Also this morning, this nice fella' here stopped by to greet me.

It's been a busy and exciting week here in Gulu. First of all, amid much anticipation and fanfare (all on my end), my motorcycle has finally arrived. Aint she a bute'? Together with my trusty helmet (not pictured), we've been all about town and ventured to scenic spots not too far away, but not too near.

For two nights and one full day, Rev. Patrick and I travelled down to Lira, a Gulu-esque town about 2 hours south. As authors of one of five proposals hoping to be fast-tracked by the Trust Fund for Victims, we were invited to participate in a two-day workshop to learn about the workings of the TFV, sister org. of the Int'l Criminal Courts, and we can expect of one another. On day one, we learned that the mandate of the Trust Fund for victims exactly matched the goals as stated in Okweyo: Psychological Rehabilitation (our healing of memories seminars), Physical Rehabilitation (our connection to plastic surgery, prosthetics, etc.), and Material Support (our school fees and vocational training). In a brief one-on-one meeting Tuesday night, we learned of our initial support amount: 40,000 Euros, or about 1.05 million Ugandan shillings, or about $60,000. Immediately I went to my hotel room, pulled the budget up on my laptop, and began seeing what we could do with that. Nix the digital camera and motorbike, trim the funding the school fees and facilitator training for 1st year expectations. Viola! This thing is really going to happen, and it looks good! And we haven't even seen what other donors will contribute!

The next day we had another one-on-one (two-on-two) meeting. Budgeting for monitoring and assessment, contracts, schedules of dispersement and the like. But I can't, without sounding more than a little giddy, describe the energy, the excitement at that table. Partnering with TFV pro bono doctors, using the resulting small group communities to keep touch with long-term victim needs, and so on. They explained how excited they were about the project, and asked if they could begin some preliminary publicity about it (A call to the bishop confirmed they could). It seemed they couldn't wait to see our revisions, and we were just as excited to tell them we could have it by Monday. It looks like this thing really is going to happen.

So, that's what's happening here. No more jets or troop transports. No news from the bush. I'm out of propane for the stove, and so is the gas station is town. Lots of sandwiches. Good thing I've got good transport to town now.