Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pretesting in Gulu

Wed through Fri of last week I spent in Gulu doing more survey pretesting.

Fortunately this time I actually managed to get the survey formatted the night before leaving, so I didn't have to set up office in the bus. I did, however, have to get up, pack, get to the office to print a couple copies of the survey then get to the bus by 8am, after about 10 hours of sleep in 2 days (and you all know how I need my 8 hours).

I got on the Post bus (runs mail around the country, so fortunately runs on time) at 8am, read a bit about election drama (Museveni lookin' for a way to discredit Busigye... again, Otuno blaming Musevni of feeding Joseph Kony and the LRA money to keep them existing as a convenient political enemy...), then discovered that the back row of the bus was empty. Sacked out for a solid 3 hours. Pretty sure it saved my life.

Finally some dude smacked my leg to get up 'cause he wanted to sit down. Jerk.

At a bus-stop, bought a baggie of peanuts for 500 UGX (~$0.25) from the window of the bus

As soon as they saw the muzungu lean out the window, I was pretty much assaulted through the window by maize, peanuts, cassava, water and live chickens.

Got in at around 2:00, met up with a colleague who's based in Gulu and an enumerator, briefed them on the survey and got cracking. The first couple times through the questions with a new enumerator is always a bit rough so it wasn't tooooo interesting. After ~5 hours of pretesting, called it a day and went to man-handle some (DAMN good) Ethiopian food... I guess Gulu is closer to Ethiopia than Kampala is?

Day two. Up at 7.

I like the texture and pattern of this second-hand shirt I bought here, so I took a picture of it.

Kampala is basically a gigantic thrift store. You know all those clothes you donate to Salvation Army and the like thinking you're doing good? Well this muzungu says thank you!
Seriously, though, it's an interesting situation, and an excellent example of the double-edged sword that is aid/development: the West ships a ton of clothes here for free, microentrepreneurs buy it up for dirt cheap and resell it for slightly-less-dirt cheap - business happens, money circulates, and people are happy. But at the same time, the local textile industry is driven into the ground because even for as cheap as labor and materials are here, they can't compete with free stuff from the West.

Aaaaanyway. Off my soap-box, onto a boda-boda to a youth center

(left my helmet in Kampala, fortunately there is MUCH less traffic in Gulu and I wasn't ever traveling far)

Before I saw this picture, I didn't think AIDS was so bad. Now, though...

Waiting for the next respondent

It was interesting to try to pick up language differences between Luganda (predominant in Kampala) and Luo (one of the Northern languages)

Blood drive goin' on over there. Funny how I won't be able to donate blood for (at least) a year when I get back, though, since I've been to a malaria-zone...

Bored waiting for the next respondent, and these socks make me happy:

Planets! Thanks for letting me steal them, Mitch!

Walking back into town after a solid 8 hours of pretesting when the sky opened up and released a rainy fury. Took shelter in an overhang and figured I might as well work on the survey...

(this beast dominates my life lately)

Debriefed until about 10:30pm, walked back to the hotel in the rain. Discovered that the place was locked down tight and the guard was passed OUT... using his gun as a pillow. The guy was out so hard that I actually had to physically shake him to wake him up. Fortunately he had my key. Aaaand back to sleep he went. Way to guard.

Walked into my room and discovered one of the more perplexing situations of my short life:

WHY would you dress a bed... sideways?

Not gonna lie, I had to fight pretty hard to get situated in bed that night.

Day 3. Up at 7 again.

As an alternative to Kampala thrifting, I had this shirt made by a local tailor, of Congolese "kitenge" fabric. Rad!

Revised the survey for a couple hours at Cafe Larem - apparently onwed by some USAid folks

then printed and headed to the youth center for a couple more pretests

Post office

Got a couple more respondents in, then caught a bus back towards Kampala. Unfortunately this one was FULL. Opened a book, put in my headphones, and tried to keep my butt from falling asleep every 5 minutes as I was wedged between two new best friends...

one of whom decided to buy some live chickens on the road.

He was pretty stoked on his 2 chickens for 20,000 shillings (~$10)

Grabbed some snacks at a bus-stop. Grilled goat meat skewer and a grilled sweet potato for 1000 UGX ($~0.50)

Gulu is a strange place. It's been in the limelight for a while because it's the biggest town in the area of the North where Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army was for a long time kidnapping children to be child-soldiers and generally terrorizing the place. Because of that, it's become jammed with NGOs of all varities, though the LRA has significantly diminished in size and threat over the past several years, and relocated to the DRC/Sudan/CAR. There's definitely a higher density of bazungu (non-African folks) than in Kampala, but what's even stranger is that they're all around my age.

And the place is rife with more hints at the problems with the aid/NGO/development world. For instance, there's a significant amount of construction going on - mostly of hotels, and mostly for visiting-for-work bazungu (like yours truly). The problem is that as soon as the area is stable enough and the economy developed enough to support construction projects of this type, the NGOs will start pulling out, taking with them the would-be customers of said hotels... let's just call this the "NGO bubble" and move on.

Aaaanyway. Back to the big city.

I spent most of Saturday in meetings, but in between I managed to get myself a haircut! I call it the Bi-Directional Fade: fade up into head-hair and fade down into beard. Hah!

Monday, April 12, 2010


I was stretching/desweatifying in my usual spot outside of the abandoned restaurant I dreamed of opening as "Kate&Katz" and there were a handful of people busily at work inside. Hope burst into my chest like a deranged kamikaze-ing dove as I walked up to ask them if they were opening a restaurant...


"Good food?"


"Cheap beer?"





(for reference: http://ugandaniel.blogspot.com/2010/02/themes-are-for-sissies.html)

The presence of multicolored flashing lights did concern me a wee bit with regards to the mood of the to-be-eatery, but I'm not tryin' to be a Debbie Downer...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lake Bunyonyi

Finally! Victory! I actually made it out of Kampala for a weekend, with the intent aim of... relaxing!

I didn't even bring my computer. That is serious dedication to the cause. It also helps that the law was on my side.... human subjects research regulations restrict me from being toooo loose with where I take my computer (since it contains data on human subjects research... uh... subjects).

I'm going to let pictures drive this post, since that's most of what anyone (myself included) really cares about! Just a couple stories...

To set the scene: remember the bedraggled tone of my post about field pretesting in Rakai, tack on a few massively hectic round-the-clock work-days and a delightful half-day spent trying to trans-continentally resolve trans-continental identity theft/bank-account-fraud until 12:30am Thursday (er... Friday).

The plan was to leave Good Friday morning (public holiday) at 6am for the ~8 hour drive to Lake Bunyonyi, thereby missing traffic and arriving at the lake early enough to enjoy some daylight. And then Jill (who was to be driving) called me at 11pm on Thursday to inform me that she was having car troubles and a mechanic would be coming in the morning, so hold tight. Long story short, we were finally in the car at noonish.

Getting out of Kampala makes me feel like this

Snack for the road, anybody?

And then we had the joy of dealing with a nation-wide gasoline shortage! Fortunately we managed to find a Shell station (ahhh... America) with fuel after only about 45 minutes of hunting. We decided to be smart and fill up a few extra jerry-cans to be safe. We tossed ("placed") them in the trunk, loaded up, and hit the road. The smell of gasoline was bothersome, but we figured it would air out and go away. Buuuut it didn't. In fact, it got progressively worse. Finally, after deciding we'd probably killed off enough brain-cells to forget about work, we decided to pull over and investigate. Sure enough, one of the jerry cans (read: former vegetable oil container) had a leak. Terrific. While Laura busied herself trying to clean the leaked gasoline out of the car, Jill and Selima communicated a need for a new container to a local lady in sign language and yours truly got his Macguyver on.

For extra safety!

(my favorite moment of this experience was when a girl walked by and asked us if that was gasoline or wine. Because logically we'd be tying jugs of wine to the back of our car?)

Aaaaaand off we went, right as rain and only a little bit high from accidentally huffing gasoline fumes.

Drive and drive and drive we did.

Sweet, they're still there.

Seatbelts are for sissies. So are seats. Or sitting.

Apparently this secondary school costs on the order of $5,000 per term.

Repping the Northern Hemisphere. Hard.

Jill proves her transhemisphericality.

Also, roads are for sissies.

Good Friday parade... or something.

See? By comparison our solution was quite safe.

A bit of a frontier-town feel, eh?

Aaaand that's about where photos of day 1 end. We made it to Mbarara before sun-down (route: Kampala -> Masaka -> Mbarara -> Kabale -> Lake Bunyonyi), at which point Jill expressed her desire to switch drivers (she'd been behind the wheel for about 6.5 hours). "Sure" your fearless narrator thought, "I can do this! I've driven twice for a total of 20 minutes in Kampala in a compact sedan, driving a lifted SUV at night on country roads for 2. hours should be no sweat!"

I have NEVER worked so hard driving, or been so exhausted afterwards. No streetlights, narrow roads, rampant pot-holes, oncoming drivers who feel the need to remind you of their presence by turning their high-beams on right when they pass, and the fact that African folks wearing dark clothing at night are damn hard to see... it was an adventure, to say the least!
But we made it! And I'll admit I was giggling uncontrollably most of the time (little-boy-monster-truck fantasies made real + nerves).

We stopped in Kabale and wolfed down one of the fastest meals I have ever seen four people concurrently eat - we were almost to the lake and ready to be there. The restaurant staff were clearly STOKED to have gotten the bazungu (for all of 5 minutes). Added to the general theme of fuel-related safety by hacking a small water bottle in half with my leatherman, sticking the small end in the gas tank, and, while Jill poured the extra fuel from the (vegetable oil) jug through water bottle, stabbing an air-hole in the back of the jug to prevent "glugging". Twice (two jugs of extra fuel) Macguyver round two, complete.

The boat ride across the black water in the black night surrounded by little black islands under a massively star-studded sky made it all worthwhile.

As did seeing where I was when I woke up the next morning.

Path from our cottage up to the restaurant/lounge

Byoona Amagara, on Itambara (sp?) island

The eight of us decided to disregard the ominous clouds and choppy waters and take out a couple dug-out canoes.

After about 45 minutes of failing miserably to go any definable, chosen direction, the rain started. My thought process went something along the lines of "Eff it!" and before I could give myself time to think I was diving out of the canoe into the water.
It's hard to describe the feeling exactly, but there was something about swimming in a beautiful lake in the pouring rain in Africa that was kind of amazing.

I realize it may sound silly to those of you freshly emerging from winter, but having the opportunity to be genuinely cold was wooooonderful. We bundled up and a few of us decided to put our heads together to remember how to play cribbage. Successfully! Cribbage became a theme of the weekend. And the Trans-Bay Alliance (former San Francisco resident + this former East Bay kid) held down the victors' title pretty consistently, thanks to hands like this:

Yeah, Justin. You already know you're about to get handled.

The other half of the Trans-Bay Alliance

The cottage, decorated with clothing soaked in the Rainy Canoeing Experiment

Hi Jupiter!

Swings should be everywhere, always.

"Haha! That cow is nudging Adam!"

"Haha! It's really going for him!"

"Hah- uh... wait. Adam, why are you running? Oh no now it's going for Laura!"

[Audio track: little boys in tree laughing maniacally]

Adam makes trans-lake contact

Jill solidifies the relationship

"A UGANDAN CRESTED CRANE A UGANDAN CRESTED CRANE A UGANDAN CRESTED CRANE!!" (Uganda's national bird, on the flag and the state seal)

You can juuuust see our cottage sticking out over there

Crawdad-fisher's catch

Later, several of this little guy's family members wound up in my tummy.

Keeping it classy.

Mom and Mitch: next dogs' names?

Relaxing is reeeeally hard work.

Went for a long walk on the mainland on Sunday.

"Canteen" - must be a school

Ants are assholes. But at least they're really really efficient assholes. Gotta respect that a bit.

Mitch? Comments?

Found some little inn, comprised of 4 little bungalows and a 4-story turret. Played South African Monopoly. Ate the most expensive matoke, potatoes and beans I've ever had - 7000 shillings! (~$3.50)

Wound up back at the car and decided to drive around a bit.

This country is insultingly beautiful.

Driving back down to the lakeshore. I drove this road 2 nights previously in the pitch black.

Oh good! This makes me feel even better about my driving experience!

Canoed back to the island

"I grew up on the lake. That's why I am able to make the canoe go where I want it to."

The open-air shower. We couldn't figure out why the ladder was there...

View from the cottage

Aaaaand back to Kampala we went, despite the protests of the staff of the Byoona Amagara who told us we could continue staying for free, and even threatened to not call the boat to take us back to the mainland. I shoulda complied...

Jill means business.

Even the drive was pleasurable

Also also buses are for sissies.

This picture is purely for Mom: even in Uganda they've figured out to put soap in the squeegee-water at gas stations.

Some sort of inclement noise was coming from the front of Abigail's car. Justin and I discovered a screw had gone missing where it was supposed to hold together 2 plastic panels. And, Macguyver round 3, we fixed it with a safety pin.

"Let's stop and grab snacks at-- whaaaat?"

"Okay, how about Banana Chick Hunger Care instead...?"

And... homeward bound. Towards the storm (metaphor? pathetic fallacy?).