Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Field testing in Rakai

Fiiiiiiinally got to get out to the field a little bit on Monday and Tuesday. I spent the days field pretesting the survey for one of my projects in Rakai district, a few hours Southwest from Kampala.

The idea behind pretesting is that I, sitting in my office in Kampala, can write survey questions that I think make sense and "get at" some concept, but when the questions are actually asked of real people, it turns out they either totally don't make sense, or are interpreted completely differently. So theoretically it's best to pretest a survey everywhere that it might be used, since different people may interpret questions differently.
An example: "percent" in Luganda is literally translated to "of 100", so "what is 20 percent of 100" doesn't work to understand a person's math skills if it's asked in Luganda ("what is 20 of 100 of 100") the same way as if it's asked in English.

Field pretesting is something I've been meaning/wanting to get out and do for a while now, but it's just been damn-near impossible to find a couple days when I don't have meetings or other things I need to be in Kampala for.

7am on Monday, I met up with Sam (one of our data collection team rock-stars) and found the bus headed the right direction. We boarded the bus and discovered it almost-empty. Bad sign. Why? Because public transportation (well... "public" - they are run by private companies) vehicles in this country will not move until they are FULL.

Two hours later, the bus actually started moving. Great.

Fortunately, I had pleeeeeenty to keep me occupied. Pia (IPA country director), Sarah (another IPA project associate) and I had spent all (ALL) weekend tearing the survey apart, and it had yet to be rebuilt. So I set up my office for the morning:

and got cracking. I spent a majority of the 5 hours of bus-time (2 hours waiting + 3 hours in transit) hacking away, less a few breaks to ease car-sickness. Fun!

We arrived in Kyotera, the main town in Rakai, found a decent hotel, I frantically finished the last-minute survey formatting and we struck out to find a printer. Heaven forbid a print-shop actually be able to effectively and efficiently print 2 copies of a 15-page survey... I let Sam deal with that headache. We finally got underway around 1:30pm. We pretty much just operated by walking up to people on the street and asking if we could have a few minutes of their time. It's amazing, if someone did that to me at home, I'd pretty much give them the finger and tell them to put there [insert convex body-part] right into their [insert concave body-part], unless they're gonna buy me lunch. But here, people loooove to answer completely uninteresting questions for way too much time!

Okay, there's a caveat though. At Sam's suggestion, we said we were "students" ("of life", I would mutter under my breath) doing our senior research. Sam maintained that as soon as you say "research organization" or even "researcher" people get veeeeeery suspicious. Interesting. Fortunately my Berkeley ID is still in my wallet! It came in handy a couple times.

Long story slightly less-long, we interviewed a chunk of people, fought our way through the survey a few times, and learned a whoooole helluvalot. We reworked the survey until about 9pm, hunted around for some food (Passover in Uganda means eating a whoooooole lotta matoke - steamed green bananas), and I tore apart and rebuilt the survey until about 1am.

Up at 7. Breakfast. Back to inept printer-shop due to lack of options. Why would you expect a print-shop's printer to actually have toner? Allowed Sam to deal with that dirty-work, once again, while I called the parents to wish them a happy Passover (a full half-day after I started Passover... slackers!). Hopped in a "taxi" (a car operating as a mini-bus, along a set route - in Kampala they're minivans but in most of the rest of the country they're smaller cars):

with 7 of my best friends (4 across the front, including the driver) to Rakai town.

A funny dynamic- Rakai town is the district capital, yet a sleepy little country town by comparison to Kyotera. I'd been to Kyotera once before, to do some focus group discussions in November. I'm a fan. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it just feels... home-y.

A local resident. Look, Matt! It's dinner!

Aaaaand back to pretesting. Since we'd spent most of Monday pretesting with more urban, shop-keeper-type folk, we focused on farm-type-folk on Tuesday. Thankfully they were even more willing to sit for a long chunk of time and let us survey them, and we were also becoming much quicker at surveying. Sam had to spend a good amount of the time speaking in Luganda, so it was a bit laborious, but even more interesting to have him back-translate to me and explain exactly how he had explained in Luganda.
Sitting on a straw mat, in the dappled sunlight filtering through racks of drying tobacco, learning about why a young mother deals with money the way she does, as her 2-year old son sits on her lap, playing with her mobile phone and staring at me with wide eyes... moments that redeem the daily bullshit of Kampala.

Around 4 or 4:30 we decided it was time to start heading back. Walked the highway

looking for a taxi. How would you like this to have been your boarding primary school?
-notice the right-most room is labeled "Girls Dormitory". Yeesh! And no windows.

Aaaand we walked

And finally found a taxi. Jammed ourselves inside
and headed back towards Kyotera.

I wound up crammed halfway between the front and back seats, and just as I was chuckling to myself about the fact that the driver would turn the engine off during any down-hill chunk of road, and noticing how low the fuel-gauge was, the engine sputtered and died. The driver battled valiantly, but the inevitable was inevitable.





The driver hopped out and found a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) driver and gave him money to go to Kyotera and fetch some fuel. For reasons I cannot even venture to explain, no one got out of the damn car as we waited. And waited. And my foot fell asleep. And we waited. And I didn't want to cause some sort of cultural faux-pax (spelling?) and be the obnoxious muzungu demanding everyone got out.
After about 10 minutes Finally someone else made the first move and we all tumbled out of the car. Sam, ever the unstereotypical Ugandan (always in a hurry, impatient about delay), said he didn't think the boda-boda man would come back and since Kyotera was only a few kilometers away, we should just start walking, and maybe we'd catch a ride part-way.

And so we walked

We joked about asking an old man who bicycled by for a ride, but decided against it. Finally a boda-boda driver transporting a small sack of grain on the front of his motorbike pulled up and agreed to take us the last couple kilometers for 1000 shillings (~$0.50). Even Sam felt a little bad about the fare, but the driver seemed content!

*Note: collar popped to ward off sun.

Back through Kyotera

And found a taxi headed to Masaka town (towards Kampala). Rode for a few minutes in absolute luxury - the only 2 passengers in the car! And with a delightfully cheery driver.

Stared out the window at the Ugandan sky

and made it to Masaka town in no time. Found the taxi park and hopped in a taxi (a Kampala-style minivan) headed to Kampala. The taxi was mostly full so we were feeling good about our chances. Foolish us.
Fortunately I again had diversion- I spent most of the 45 minute wait on the phone, with Pia skyping from Kampala, Sarah on her phone in her office in Jinja (in the East) and one of the Principle Investigators for the project (Julian, Senior Economist of the Boston Fed, for those who've been keeping up) on his phone on a train in Connecticut. One of the more frustrating phone calls of my life.

Finally we started moving, after even all of the Ugandan passengers were getting annoyed.

Somehow, and I can't even begin to explain why, what should have been about a 2 hour drive back to Kampala wound up being a solid 4 hours. Even the Ugandans started getting frustrated for the last couple hours. Sam was damn near apoplectic - mostly because he missed the first bit of the Manchester United game (see previous post). Finally, exhausted, butt-sore from the padding-less taxi seat, and cramped from being squished in the back of the taxi, we made it back to Kampala taxi park. Hopped a boda-boda, and home around 11:30.

Aaaaand had a frenetically busy day today. I'll be crawling to Friday... when I'll be going to Lake Bunyonyi in the West to relax on a little island for 4 days with some friends! Couldn't come soon enough.

Damn I'm exhausted. But it was good to be out of the city for a bit, and learn a helluvalot!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

IPA Uganda needs a bigger office...

Room 1:

Room 2 (yes, some of the same people are in both rooms... taken on different days, but the point remains):

I actually should have taken a photo of this room today, when it was packed full of enumerator team leaders reviewing surveys and enumerators filing in to get paid. The office equivalent of a clown car!

UPDATE: Room 2 on Thursday. More accurate representation of late. Put your hands in the air for error rate checking! WOOOOOO!!!

What do you do when the office is too full and you need enough space to have a meeting? Buy a plastic picnic table and set up outside!

What about when everyone in the damn office is annoying you and you just want some peace and quiet?

Actually I was waiting to be joined for a meeting. And someone nabbed my camera.

Working reeeeeeally hard...

Fortunately, yours truly may have found our new office yesterday... fingers crossed for an office with water pressure, a big balcony and a view of the Bahai temple across town!
Friday happy hour on the IPA balcony? Ehhhhh?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Soccer colonialism? Or reverse-colonialism? Or something?

Uganda LOVES English Premier League soccer. To an unhealthy extent.

I have some American friends whose love for EPL I can't quite understand (Peter, I'm lookin at you), but I don't think even their misguided fanaticism (I guess I played soccer for too many years to enjoy watching a bunch of sissies squirm around on the ground and throw tantrums like 3-year-olds in the candy aisle) would lead them to doing things like naming a primary school after their team of choice.

No joke. "Manchester Primary School" - I definitely remember seeing a sign for that one somewhere. And the kids in the little primary school near my office run around on a playground decorated with logos of one team or another (Manchester United also, I think).

And I'm pretty sure I could pretty accurately sketch out of Arsenal's schedule, based on which nights I fall asleep to the roars of my entire damn neighborhood. Get enough sleep to do a competent job at work tomorrow? Or watch 11 guys who I'll never even see in 3 dimensions get paid too much to prance around and pretend to get knocked over, on a continent 4000 miles away? That's easy!

Now I'd be a hypocrite to pretend that my mental welfare can't be affected by the shenanigans of a bunch of hooligans I don't know following some arbitrary set of rules about how to play with a ball on a pitch of grass.
But at least I have SOME sort of tie to Cal football! I mean, I at least saw the guys on the team in classes (occasionally...), they wear uniforms and ostensibly represent the university to which I staked my reputation, and they occasionally almost beat USC.

But how does someone, born and bred and never-having-left Uganda decide that he will stake his happiness (and sleep schedule) on a team he has never seen, and to which he has no shred of actual attachment? Peter, of Arsenal fan-dome, explained to me that for him the process of deciding on a team was a deeply analytical one, involving a time-consuming and painstaking process of determining which EPL team's style he most supports and whose cultural and history he most identifies with. Fine, I can respect that. But I have a deep, deep suspicion that the uncountable masses of Ugandan (men) whose identities seem to be more aligned with who they "support" than even their (highly culturally salient) tribe have not each and every one gone through that same process.

Basically what I'm saying is: it's dumb.

Crowds around the doorway of a TV shop that happens to be playing some game that somebodies apparently care about. Enough to even watch from an opposite balcony.

There's a TV in there. So life grinds to a halt.

And this has nothing to do with anything: the Old Taxi Park