Thursday, May 26, 2011

April, Revisited

Remember that post about how nuts April was going to be? Well, it was. This is a little bit of what it looked like:

Market day in Masaka

Monday morning, 4 April, hopped a bus to Hoima, out west in the Lake Albertine region (where billions of dollars worth of recently discovered oil is in the process of starting to be brought up...). Well, I say we "hopped" on a bus, but most buses here don't leave until they're full, and I had arrived just in time to hop on a bus with a couple seats left as it was prepping to pull out but had to get off when my colleague didn't arrive in time. We wound up sitting in a bus in the park for two hours waiting for it to fill. Also had the annoying (and not infrequent) experience of a random dude on the bus seeing my bottle of water and instructing me to give it to him. When I said no, he got all offended. Entitled much?

Anyway, off we went, through the belly of the beast and out of town

This dude talked for three hours straight. It was all in Luganda, but from the few words I picked up, it seemed like the most rambling, bizarre speech/sales pitch ever. He wound up selling some random Chinese medicinal stuff, but I can't imagine all three hours was spent just to sell those few things. Impressive vocal endurance though.

Arrived in Hoima and checked in to a guesthouse (called "Pedro's" - hah). Innovative bathroom design.

Enables the user to defecate and shower concurrently!

Hoima town looks... unremarkable.

Grabbed some local food at a restaurant. I love the presentation of the rice!

Came across a football game - not sure what teams, but probably the Hoima (district/town) team, versus another district team. Impressive crowd turnout.

But my favorite part was the bleachers

Back to the guesthouse to get some work done.

The purpose of my visit to Hoima was to observe the roll-out of the baseline survey for another project. I'm going to be handing the last phase of my last project - the end-line data collection exercise - off to a colleague when I leave in a couple months, and we're planning on doing electronic data collection (PDAs for the win! I'm still dealing with ripple effects of the hell that is paper data collection from the baseline survey a year ago - managing 2810 25-page paper surveys is a PAIN), so we wanted to learn from the launch of this electronic data collection exercise. Bright and early the next morning, we met with the enumerator teams as they did some warm-ups with the PDAs

Out to the field we went. Each enumerator team is responsible for the respondents in one village each day. Funfortunately, whereas for my project we have a very organic way to physically group respondents, for this project the enumerators were visiting respondents at their households. We couldn't visit with them because of the effect we would have on responses if we were listening in, so we just posted up at the village's "trading center" and worked on our survey. My office for the first half of the day:

Later we walked to meet up with another colleague who was helping out with the roll-out (not his project, but his project is in a dormant stage so he was being a helping hand) in a neighboring village. And continued working on our survey and end-line exercise logistics. Our office for the afternoon (being a spectacle for the neighbor kids):

Wound up becoming aware of a pretty interesting dichotomy as we were sitting here for a few hours. Notice how nicely built and painted the house we're sitting in front of is (yes, we're sitting on a random dude's porch, but he gave us permission), compared to the one to the right of it - cement and paint versus mud construction. The guy whose house we were in front of went out in the morning to work his farm, came back and washed, went to pick up his little healthy-looking daughter from school on his motor-scooter, came back and went back out to his farm. The next-door neighbor came back around the time other dude got back from his farm in the morning, washed his shoes and proceeded to lounge on the grass trying to be half-involved in our conversation. His children were clearly massively malnourished and dehydrated - the 8ish year old son clearly prefered crawling as his mode of locomotion, was not wearing pants (the village alternative to expensive diapers for non-potty-trained kids) and drooling profusely. I won't draw any bold conclusions, but it was an interesting contrast, and frustrating to see and know I could (and, more importantly would) not do anything about it. [Insert soap-box speech about development and dependency theory here]

Four-hour bus-ride back to Kampala early early the next morning. Hopped in my car with my colleague, picked up some materials and an enumerator, and hit the road back out Southwest toward Mbarara. On the way out of town, the police had a nice display to remind us of their authority and firepower.

The past few weeks have been interesting - the opposition has been holding "Walk-to-Work" campaigns in which the lead opposition politicians have been walking to work from their homes each of the past few Mondays and Thursdays, in order to protest rising fuel prices (due to inflation that's risen to over 10% - and still rising) and subsequent rises in basic commodity prices. The government has responded with brutal police crackdown, resulting in riots in sundry spots around the country. It's interesting hearing authoritarian and police-state-ish rhetoric coming from a regime that is still patting itself on the back for the (widely regarded as massively fraudulent) "democratic elections" held a couple months ago.

Anyway, we hit the road towards Mbarara without event... and got stuck in all sorts of fun traffic-jam situations

Stopped in Masaka to pick up another enumerator . I was particularly amused to find these in a gas station where we met up in Masaka. The NRM (National Reistance Movement) is the ruling party, Masaka is a very opposition-dominated district, and 5000 Shillings is a lot of money (around the price of two full meals in local food restaurants).

The NRM REALLY does not need fund-raising help - they demonstrated in the elections that they have no qualms about raiding the national bank account to fund party activities.

The purpose of the ensuing couple weeks' adventures were to have pre-endline meetings with project stakeholders (local reps of partner organizations) and do survey pretesting - essentially the process by which a survey tool goes from being a good idea to actually usable. This is probably the most interesting part of my job, though definitely pretty exhausting pulling 10ish hours of pretesting and then a few hours of reviewing the survey and making changes.
Pretesting in a church at Mbarara University of Science and Technology

The morning view from our lovely guesthouse in Mbarara town

Looks like they'd planned on building this floor out further, then ran out of money.

After a couple days in Mbarara, it was time to head to Arua. I decided not to drive the 7 hour trek in my car, so back on the bus we went. This is what trying to do data- and survey-work on a cramped, hot bus looks like

Also note the strangely safari-kitted out old British missionary dude who's been in Africa for decades - loving his adventure.

Had the stakeholder meeting straight off upon arrival (nothing like running straight into a meeting after 7 hours on a cramped hot bus), then to dinner at my favorite spot in Arua town

All this food, 5000 Shillings (~$2.25) per person for that whole platter plus the salad to the left. BOMB. I love this place.

Back at the guesthouse, my colleague doing some work after power goes out (Arua is not yet on the grid so is run off of a gigantic generator just outside of town)

Next morning, this big guy greeted my on the door frame of my room

Off to do more pretesting. We had actually tried to survey here in the baseline but wound up dropping it from the sample due to insufficient turnout. I had been with the baseline enumerator teams when they visited trying to survey here a couple times in the baseline, so it was funny to be back here to pretest.

Love the name of this place

How many buzz words can they put in one restaurant name?

The road out of Arua town

On the way from school

Fruit? Veggies? Cassava?

The landscape in Arua - and in Northern Uganda in general - is much different than in Central, Eastern and Western Uganda. It's much more arid and, frankly, looks a lot more like "Africa" than the rest of Uganda does to me.

Village life

Anyone need some charcoal?

On the bus on the way out of Arua, a new experience: police made everyone get out of the bus and show their ID. Intimidation much?

I have to say - I love working in Arua. It's not that noteworthy a place (in terms of stuff to see or do), but people in Arua tend to be much more gracious and genuine in my experience. For the lifetime of this project, Arua has been an absolute dream and breeze to work in. Two examples of what I mean:
1. Every survey-group we visited for pretesting served us a light meal and often tea when we were finished with the pretesting. My teams working in Arua during the baseline reported that this happened to the extent of it actually making their job more difficult since they had a tight timeline to keep.
2. In our stakeholder meeting, a member of our partner organization there asked something about what the respondents would get after the survey. The top dog of the partner organization cut off my response with "I don't believe in handouts. After the [LRA] war, all of these organizations came giving handouts, and it made people lazy. I don't believe in them." I wanted to jump over his desk and kiss him - I have NEVER heard this from a member of a Ugandan organization.
After the meeting, dude said (a Ugandan proverb) "I hope you are not going to go, but you are going to come." I got a bit choked up. I'll miss Arua! Fortunately it's now looking like I'll be going back one more time before I'm done here.

Baaaaaaack in the Kla. There's this absurd crossing guard near where I live. While I support the safety of school children crossing busy roads, I can't support this dude. Unfortunately you can't see in the picture, but the sign he's holding is basically a gigantic advertisement for the NRM (National Resistance Movement - the ruling party) that says things like "NRM: protecting our children's future" and some other BS. I'll have to try to get a better photo next time.

And then off East to Mbale for more of the same. Saw a couple clusters of riot police on the 4-hour drive, and joked about it. Shortly after we arrived in Mbale, found out that shit had popped off like mad all along the route we had just traveled. Gnarly.

More pretesting in more churches

Though concentration (and confidentiality) was particularly difficult when the primary school on the same grounds had its recesses

And more pretesting in more churches...

More churches in Mbale

I liked the light. Spaghetti Westerns? How about Matoke Westerns?

And always on the phone...

Back to Kampala again. I appreciate little bursts of natural beauty that manage to fight through the Kampala grime!

And little bits of absurdity

Tried something new: attended a boxing match! Boxing is actually pretty big in Uganda - Idi Amin himself was a heavyweight champ. I've never been to a boxing match before, but I found that I enjoyed it much more than I expected.

When the last fight got exciting, everyone got up from their seats and bum-rushed the ring.

Monday we headed out for more meetings and pretesting in Mukono. It was a bizarre day because things blew up a bit with the protests. Only two of the five enumerators who were supposed to come made it before police and protesters shut down the road. At the end of the day, we wound up booking it out of Mukono quickly after seeing police fire tear gas into a slum off the road and some serious heavy military machinery rolling in. Interestingly, we wound up leaving because the last enumerator we were with is from the West of Uganda and he said "If things get bad, once the people here [the Buganda tribe] see my height and my nose, they will attack me". There's a bit of animosity between the Baganda tribe and those of the west because the west has all the money (and is where Museveni is from) and tends to be very arrogant. So we trucked out. Gnarly.
But anyway, more churches in Mukono [note: my project and organization or not religously affiliated, just working with churches for this project]

and more

Not a bad spot to work

Had to have a word with that cow about infringing on respondent confidentiality

After Mukono, I finally had a couple of days in the office in Kampala, before the great reward. Early Friday morning of Easter weekend, hopped in the car with a couple friends for the seven-hour drive to Lake Bunyonyi.

Look at that gorgeous mug.

Driving here is always an adventure. Yes, that's a fuel tanker overtaking a dump truck. I've been run off the road by overtaking fuel tankers a couple times. The suckers are crashing all the time, then people come running with jerry-cans to grab as much petrol as they can, and then something sparks and they all burn.

Local bus. Takes cattle one way and passengers back.

Scenic Kabale town.

Another page for my American Bicycle Messengers are Sissies coffee-table book

Rutinda market, on the shore of Lake Bunyonyi

Ahhhh, arrived. We stayed at Byoona Amagara on Itambara Island, in a "geo dome" for ~$15/person/night.

Trying to capture the beauty

Might as well be a different world from Arua

Not a bad spot...

On Sunday we decided to go to church on the mainland (as if this Jew doesn't already spend enough time in churches in Uganda...). Reading while waiting for services to begin. Philip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda is pretty amazing...

Inside the church

Who needs church bells when you have big drums?

I've been in and around so many churches in Uganda, it was fun to see one actually in use!

The view from the church. This place is unreal...

Looking back up the path towards the church. STEEP.

Back to our island

And back to the hard work

Sadly, time to leave the island. On the way out, saw this dude unloading his crayfish trap (had some great crayfish meals during the weekend).

Back to the mainland.

Past the rock quarry (this would be a rough life...)

And that was April. May has been a busy one as well, but much more stationary. We're ramping up to launch the end-line survey pretty soon - training for enumerator teams begins next Monday (!!!). I'll be helping out through the training and see the teams off to the field. And then, DONE! Monday 13 June is my last day of work, and then the next part of the adventure will begin!