Sunday, September 27, 2009

I love hybrid words!

But credit where credit is due: thanks Matt for the monumental effort it took for your wee little brain to combine my name and the country I'm now in to come up with... UGANDANIEL!

Though I will say Ugandaniel just barely won in a photo-finish with Afrikatz.
Kampalatz came in a pretty distant third. Mostly because it sounds like a traditional dish in Eastern European cuisine.

But first, a word of warning: this is probably going to be a text-heavy first post. I have a lot to tell and I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to start carrying my gigantic camera with me around town. But soon!

So I’m officially a week in! And I don’t have malaria yet! Or a parasite (I think)! Or a shrunken head!
Am I being insensitive yet?

Anyway, things have actually started off pretty well. The trip halfway around the world (from LA, via Detroit and Amsterdam, to Entebbe) was remarkably uneventful. The only real features I can remember noting were that the window-washers in Amsterdam have amazingly overly-Batman-esque utility belts and that I don’t think serving curry as a meal option on an airplane is a great idea. After 23 hours of traveling (but 33 hours after I left), I arrived in Uganda. My new employer had arranged to have a taxi pick me up so I got to feel mildly important for having a guy waiting for me with my name on a sign… and it wasn’t even my brother with a “Dummy Katz” sign.
Before I left, my boss had put me in touch with a friend of hers who was looking for a flatmate, so I arranged with her that I would rent the room for a month and then I will decide if I want to stay (and she’ll decide if she wants me to). I had very little idea what to expect, but when I arrived Monday evening, I found the flat actually surpassed what hopes I’d allow myself. It is spacious, open, airy and in a former army barracks courtesy of Idi Amin. We are located in a neighborhood called Bugolobi (I love saying that name) which is located a bit on the outskirts of Kampala. It’s close enough that I can take a long walk or a short boda-boda (motorbike taxi) ride to just about anywhere in town, but far enough that there’s actually grass around, as well as space for me to run (and thus maintain sanity).
All 5 of my roommates are as agreeable as the space itself. Kate and Hannah are both friendly and welcoming, and have been wonderfully willing to show me around town and allow me to tag along with them. The other 3, feline, roommates provide plenty of entertainment and have yet to prove themselves anywhere near as irritating as my Brazilian cat-companion.
I hope to take a video-tour of my apartment soon, which I’ll be able to upload to youtube and post here. Keep an eye out if you want to see what living in Africa as a gringo (“mzungu”) researcher looks like!

My first few days are kind of a blurry mess of sloppy sleep scheduling and impressions of Africa. Kampala is definitely a serious city with the usual mixture of city-goods and city-bads. Traffic is abysmal and exhaust fumes can be ghastly. On the up-side, restaurants are aplenty and entertainment profuse. I have actually allowed/forced myself to take it pretty easy this past week – I’m going to be here plenty long to get to know my surroundings intimately and I wanted to make sure I started work relaxed and well-rested. I’ve done well on the relaxation front – I’ve blown through a couple books and taken copious advantage of the flat’s stock of DVDs and couches – but rest has been somewhat more elusive. Despite my medical professional parents’ urgings, I opted not to take Ambien on the flight, or since I’ve been here. Thus, I slept sparsely on the flights and have been all over the place since I’ve been here. On Tuesday I awoke at 6am, on Wednesday at 2:15pm (to a text message from Hannah asking for some confirmation that I was alive), on Thursday at 5am and Friday at 10am. I determined that my packed-out foam mattress may have been the culprit so yesterday Kate took me mattress-shopping (she has a car! Oooooo….), which was an adventure (picture a teeny little Toyota with a full-size foam mattress folded in half tied to the roof with twine and a mzungu clambering into the passenger seat through the window because he tied the door shut). Last night went somewhat better, hopefully the situation continues to improve.
Aaaaaanyway, on Thursday I actually traveled about an hour from Kampala to Jinja with my boss (from here on to be referred to as “Pia”… because that’s her name) to sit in on a training session for the enumerators (the people who actually go out and interview/proctor surveys in the field) on another study. It was a nice excuse to see some pretty countryside and meet some more folks, and tired me out enough for a serious nap when I returned home in the afternoon. Friday evening a friend of Kate and Hannah’s had a dinner party and Saturday night I was introduced to the ex-pat scene at a local bar.

And today was my first day of work! I will be the go-to guy for 2 studies that Innovations for Poverty Action ( is starting on microsavings. For the sake of space/reader-sanity-maintenance I will limit my descriptions one of the studies will look at the effectiveness of a couple different types of incentives for getting people to open and use savings accounts and the other will study the effects of providing financial literacy counseling to teenagers. And both of them are still pretty much on the drawing board, so I get to see them all the way through to fruition! HOLY CRAP I HAVE A LOT TO LEARN.

Ok, I’m going to force myself to stop here… I could easily continue rambling for quite a while. I will do my damndest to keep this sucker pretty up to date with the goings-on of my African life… and replete with pictures! I miss you all – please feel free to leave comments below the post so I know my typed words aren’t falling on deaf ears. Or deaf eyes.