Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mike's Visit Diary: Part 1

August 31th
Whooo, what a day. Rita and some of the kids met me at the airport in a big cargo truck, which I was about to spend a lot of time in. Was taken to my hotel for just an hour to clean up and sort stuff for Sabina; back in the truck to UCCF HQ, meet with Abel for an hour (good business mind, lousy with underlings, especially women). Went for a Chinese lunch (so-so) and went back to load up in the truck for the trip to Rakai. Met Jimmie and Shiela, a 50s black couple from Georgia; she’s on the board, he’s a fireman. Also, Moud; about 18, an artist with big dreams and a touch of arrogance with the other kids. More on him later. Constance, a ‘daughter’ of Jimmie and Shiela, a very attractive young lady of 20 with a dynamic personality, good fashion sense and apparently a great dancer, studying to teach primary school. Several other kids whose names I don’t remember, but all pleasant.
Drive took almost five hours; Uganda uses lots of ‘sleeping policemen’, though there are also cops in a checkpoint mode. The pollution is pretty bad and it’s dusty this time of year; riding in the back of a truck with essentially no suspension is not great fun, especially with the tarp popping loudly all the time. Got to Sabina with just a couple hours light left, but enough to assess some of the needs. Tossed out the football field ideas; field grass is patchy, but the field is not horrible. Immediately spotted ways to improve their rainwater collection system, which runs off the facing roofs; will need to extend up the guttering a few inches and fix those areas that have sagged. This could be accomplished using 6-8 inch wide flat galvanize sheeting and pop rivets, with 1 inch x ¼ inch stock to add bracing across the top of the gutter to prevent bending down.
Debra, the Sabine administrator, then took me on a tour of the place, pointing out what she felt need working on. I will say, looking back, she has an eye for potential problems, not waiting for them to become real and substantial. The main problems for me to address: one rain retention pipe that was exposed at the bottom of the runoff channel from the pump house that needed to be covered in concrete; and a drainage problem from the back (south) of the facility. There was quite a bit of miscommunication as to what was draining; at first I thought it might be runoff from the slit latrines (from washing them), which would have been a huge problem. It turned out to be runoff from the washroom area; the washrooms were covered-over latrines that used to connect to a nearby pit. Still a significant problem, if nothing else as a mosquito home and disease breeding location.
Got my first experience with a slit latrine; you squat over a 4 inch by 2 foot slit on a 2 inch raised platform and dump or pee into the hole; your aim has got to be good. I figure this type of latrine explains the superior running ability of Africans in things like marathons; can you imagine the strength it takes to use such a latrine, especially with the frequency and weakness associated with something like typhoid?
Also was shown the other drainage issue in the courtyard between the two dormitories; rain runoff from here (including the inward facing roofs) flow to the south end of the courtyard, through a 8 inch circular opening, into a rectangular channel in the concrete through the south end of the boys dormitory. This channel is covered with heavy rectangular slabs that can be lifted out to allow cleaning of the channel (necessary to keep mosquito populations down. This channel often overflows, flooding this smaller room used by the boys. Relief of this is a long term project. First part could involve trapping the roof rainwater, either in a separate container, or by running piping through to the main supply.
Ate just a snack that night and retired early due to lack of sleep and jet lag; no dinner.
I ended up getting the ‘matron’ room all to myself; felt guilty about putting Debra out. Bed was pretty comfortable. Had a visitor in the night while I was getting ready for bed; a mouse.
September 1st
Breakfast was bananas and a flat bread called ???. First thing we had to do is go shopping for supplies in a shopping village called ??? that is about 20 minutes away (Sabine is really out in the country). Lots of small shops with horrific dirt ‘roads’. The gigantic potholes and open drainage must render this area one big malaria ward every rainy season. I would think the risk of malaria would be significantly increased with trips to town.
The first stop was at a hardware store that Terina (a young Christian New Yorker teaching at Sabina) told me was good about not applying the ‘mzungu’ overhead (the inflated prices for whites, since ‘they’re all rich’). Bought the screen, nails, hammer, a tape measure, etc. mainly for Jimmie’s screen window project (certainly more important than mine). Talked to a lumber cutter, then went to buy lumber to cut down as strips for the screens. Mzungus are rare enough around there, but I got the biggest stares walking down the ‘street’ with a 2 by 10 by 10 on my shoulder; mzungus don’t do manual labor. Then found cement and the piping at another store; got stuck a bit with mzungu pricing.
I was quickly realizing my best approach was as I thought. Don’t even let the store owner see the mzungu (though I suspect they can identify Jimmie pretty quickly visually; he is fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of African-Americans, which means he’s significantly lighter in color than nearly everyone else here. Me, though; I draw stares; very few mzungus in the Rakai district.
Terina drew here share of stares too along with several pithy comments from some men. She says she’s nervous if she goes to town alone; I say she shouldn’t go to town alone (or even with just younger kids). That really goes for the older girls, as well; some of the loiterers (certainly a very small minority) around the shops seemed a bit brutish. I should say something to Ritah. Maybe my faith in my fellow man is lacking, but I can just visualize all sorts of ugliness if, say Terina (who is rather plain looking) went shopping alone with Constance or some of the other attractive older girls there. Could be bad news.
Then there was grocery shopping: all sort of bananas and matoke (seems like just another banana to me, but always green), ‘Irish’ (potatoes), rice, and 20 live chickens. The fellow from Sabina insisted I come along; a mistake, of course. Only one guy in town seemed to have 20 available and he insisted on 5000 Shillings for each (about $2.75); normal price had been 4500 but the mzungu presence likely changed that. Chicken if more prized than beef in Uganda. The chickens are phenomenally tame; the guy just chucked them out of their shed and they just sat there. We had to go get the truck; by the time we got them, he had their feet tied together, 5-6 to a bundle. Had to cut the strings shortly on the road as their feet started to swell too much. They just rode in the truck with no attempt to leave.
We loaded up and headed back; since they were having an ‘engineer’ come out the next day to help on the plumbing, I spent most of the time working with Jimmie. The difference between 15 years at a desk versus 15 years as a firefighter was evident pretty quickly, he just didn’t get tired.
Lunch and dinner was generally matoke, bananas, some beans and rice. Was never very hungry; I’ll probably be 10 pounds light on return. Maybe start a high-dollar weight loss program; go to Uganda, work with your personal trainer (Ritah) and lose pounds while doing good.
September 2nd-3rd
Worked all day on stuff; Jimmie well outdistancing me in useful output. Patrick the hired hand had a good head for most things, but not the sequence of getting the pipe glued together. Found the end of the pit into where the flow used to go, so planned to hook in. Digging out the trench, cutting and laying out the pipe exhausted me, but didn’t phase Patrick. Took all day, including a run into town for the T pipe and an extra 90 elbow (at much better prices; the Muzungu stayed hidden). Got the stuff down with about 2 hours of light left; Jimmie was still doing screens, but I was worn out. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t been going to the gym.
A little irritated, in that everybody got their shower before me (who had been digging up sewage) and the special dinner call came before I could clean up. Power went out just as dinner started (enough clouds during the day to reduce output from the solar panels and the generator was broken). Ate quickly and then ran out to get the ice cold shower; not a happy camper returning to the party. But the singing and dancing by lantern had started and I cheered up quickly; they are really great kids out there. Slept well.
September 4th
Headed back to Kampala at 6:30am; the industriousness of the kids that early is a sight to see. Praying, scrubbing all hard surfaces, sweeping, heading off to an early Mass. We stopped at the Equator for pictures; one of the shops there actually had one of Moud’s pieces of work for sale. I bought a green tablecloth for Catherine. We stopped to buy all sorts of fruit on the way; the Mzungu stayed in the truck to keep the prices down. We dropped off Brian; a cute little boy I nicknamed Little Jordan.because of his light blue basketball clothes. Gave him half a soda and 2000 in ‘dirty money’; his sponsor is one of Jimmie’s grown kids. Went to see the place that Jimmie is staying at and was impressed; will be moving there Tuesday, if the events at dinner doesn’t delay that. Got to the hotel and tried to rest as cold is getting worse.
I got to see Winnie today!! We went to the site of her leadership training class and there she was; she was so happy to see me, she almost started crying, After that we sat down and just started talking; the girl is sharp, insightful, analytical, and the leadership skills just ooze from her. If I do set up a business here, I think I have my office manager. She explained a number of things about UCCF staff and pieces started falling into place, in terms of my own observations. I did have to fuss at her; she’d gone to the training camp without a net and the mosquitoes ate her up. She’ll probably need malarial testing and medication after she gets out Wednesday (early). Like all teen-agers, not too bright sometimes.
Does God actually intervene in day-to-day events? I personally have always been doubtful of such for a long time. But sometimes outlandish circumstances just built up to a point of being hard to accept any other explanation. My contact with Winnie was one; I had another today.
Moud had been really leaning on me to help with his art career, but what do I know about the art world? Gordon might have some contacts, but everything was very thin… until I sat down at dinner next to a table of Australians who essentially buy art from orphanages! I was reluctant to speak up, but I couldn’t let it pass; and they were very receptive to looking at his work! Thank you, God; the opportunity may not come to anything but it is an opportunity, and that’s all we can ask for in life.
September 5th
Deathly sick last night, coughing up my guts. Felt better this morning. Ran into the Australians and they were very pleased with Moud’s work. More importantly, they want to videotape it and show it to the buyer for ‘Out of this World’ a global import store chain. Had to give a long lecture to Moud in the process; basically ‘don’t get a swelled head’. Don’t know if it sunk in. Still, a good deed accomplished with very little effort; a rare and precious event.
Ended up get stuck for 500K for pig work and 200K for shears; I’m done spending significant amounts for Kiwanga. Couldn’t work with no materials, so ended up starting lists. Started with the nurse; malaria test kits were the first priority. Kit cost 85K for 25 tests, while sending out costs 15K each. Shiela tells me they did excessive testing before and that’s why the one test kit donated before was it. Still, if they over-test four times, it is still cost effective. I’ll just warn the nurse to be more conservative and see if I can swing one if there is left over money (after toys for Rakai).
September 6th
Felt better this morning. Found out Jack, one of the Australians, came down with prostate problems; his wife was very distraught, but was calmed down later as he seemed to be stable. Annie and her two kids rode out to Kiwanga with Alex and me; long drive because of bad traffic. The three of them seem to enjoy the visit; had a big bag of clothes and gave away lots of candy as well. There wasn’t a lot for me to do onsite; Julius had the holes dug, the poles up and 2/3 of the tin on before I arrived. Just had to put up the rest of the tin and the cross beams and he really didn’t seem to want help. Went and tried to solve a problem with their printer, but couldn’t get it to take the paper after the initial feed. Frankly, too bloody hot to work outside. Irene cooked an excellent lunch; I can see her as a stewardess; in the old school way. Attractive, polite, and naturally well-mannered. Got a few more items on the list; that’s all. Tomorrow I’ll go to the office to try to be more helpful.
Moved to the Ridar hotel to be closer to the Home on Shiela’s suggestion. After hearing my need for a ground floor room for Winnie’s wheelchair, they showed me to a room that needs to be seen to be believed. Let’s just say the round bed, heart pillow, access via a separate back road, inicate these rooms were designed for one thing in mind; all they needed was the mirrored ceiling. Problem is, ffrom an access viewpoint, it’s perfect. Room normally goes for 130K, they were giving it for 80K (still 10K over Shiela’s pricing and more than I want to pay for long), so I took it. I definitely will leave the blinds drawn back, so everyone will know what I’m doing with Winnie in there. (I must say, a couple decades ago and pre-marriage, getting Constance and/or Irene in that room would definitely have been an evil thought). The business center is a disappointment, so I figure on three days here to get her first days of training done, then find an internet café. Then I’ll find a ‘non-Board-of-director’s’ hotel nearby to get back on room budget.
September 7th
Went to the office to work on the computers; was able to double Abel’s computer RAM and increase another by 50%. The rest have a much older memory stick. I need to take the rest out to Kiwanga to see if we can help them; otherwise, see if they can barter them for memory they can use. Ate lunch with Alex at the Blue Africa restaurant and had a decent club sandwich; Alex saved most of his lunch for Winnie. I like this guy and want to throw as much business his way as I can, especially via Winnie.
Picked up Winnie at her leadership class; everyone had to say goodbye to her and didn’t want her to go. An absolutely natural leader. Florida, her ‘driver’, came with us; they shared Alex’s leftovers. We returned to Kiwanga where I had a talk with Irene (who is only 15! Evil intents there become felonious!) brilliant in school and wants to go into Chemistry or Physics. I can see her in graduate school with those very lovely curves; her looks will cut IQs of every geeky male to a third of normal! I must get an interview with her (with Winnie interviewing her); we’ve got to get her sponsorship. If she ends up with a ‘Dad’, he better have a very big shotgun and a really mean look.
Moud keeps pinging me; I finally gave him 50K for a 30K painting, but that will be it; no more money his way. The three I’ll be working on to get help will be Irene, Moud, and Rose; in that order. And if Moud keeps pushing, he risks falling lower on the list, even off.
September 8th
A day of computer training. Had several bouts of diarrhea; the club sandwich turned out to be a mistake. They didn’t get in until 10am and things went a bit slow at first, but picked up quickly. They both need keyboard time, though they now know how to do basic Word documents. Alex came and we went restaurant hunting; ended up at a hotel several miles down the street. I really liked the layout of the Hotel for Winnie; ramps were common. Food was good and a special treat for all.


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