El Salvador Group:
- Meets 9:00 pm Wednesday nights in Anderson 208
- Contact: Jesse.Cohen@tufts.edu, Jacobthomasdenney@gmail.com, Ariel.Branz@tufts.edu
El Salvador Group:
The last few days that we have had here in Shilongo have been very bittersweet. Timoth has already begun to complain about how he will have nothing to do when we leave and it’s difficult thinking about how little time we have left with the community.
We recently found out about a gravity tap system that should supply Shilongo with clean water through various taps throughout the community. Thursday morning, we went into Mbale to speak with district officials about our organization and the potential directions we are interested in moving. They were very receptive and encouraging and we received a lot of useful information.
After returning back to Nyondo after the meetings, we went into Shilongo to share the water manual that the Community Health group put together all of last semester. We provided several community members with pre-addressed envelopes so they can make notes at their leisure and send us feedback. Already, they have shown an interest, laughing about the various faces they recognize throughout the publication. On a more serious note, they also expressed interest in a lot of the health concerns that are caused by contaminated drinking water.
On our way throughout the village, we ran into Justine who invited us to visit her father who was staying at the clinic in Katwelatwela. Although Misaki and Justine are close, it was touching that she invited all of us. At best, communities in the United States are friendly, but Shilongo has accepted us as part of their family and, in my opinion, that is something rare and valuable.
On Friday, we trooped up to Busano to follow the previously mentioned gravity flow system. It was a good hike and we learned a lot about the complications and extent of the system. Misaki even drank water from the source of the system – you should ask her how her stomach’s doing! After the hike, we held a community meeting at Muswema and learned more of their perspective on the issues that had been brought up by other community members. Afterwards, we had to rush off for dinner at Father John’s house. Everything was extremely delicious, he even fed us chicken!
Saturday was our last day in the community and it was by far our busiest. Everyone wanted to meet with us before we left. We started the morning in Shilongo Lower at a community meeting there and then we moved to the prunyende where people were beginning to gather for the second meeting. Misaki and I started a game of Duck Duck Goose that we ended up calling Imbwa Imbwa Ipusi (Dog Dog Cat) that the kids loved playing.
Following all of the meetings, we moved around the community saying goodbye to some of the individual community members that had really made an impact on us. In particular, Matt, Misaki, and I spent a long time at Florence and Timoth’s house. Sitting there, I couldn’t really recall the moment I realized I didn’t want to leave Shilongo. It could have been when I was reminded of the winter weather that was waiting for me in the United States but I think it was when I saw the night sky. I saw more stars in the Ugandan night sky than I have ever seen in my whole life. I even got to see a shooting star! Timoth was intrigued by my fascination with the sky, he told me he sees it pretty much every night. And in that moment I thought, “He’s so lucky. I can’t believe he gets to see this every night.”
Looking back, I realize that I was the lucky one. Lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to travel to Shilongo, lucky enough to have made such a giving friend and to meet such a vibrant community, and lucky enough to have seen that night sky at least once in my life. I hope that Timoth and the rest of the community of Shilongo never forget how fortunate they are to live in such a beautiful and unadulterated place. Thank you for being so welcoming and hospitable to us. Khuli mungo. (We are family)
On most mornings, we wake up to sunshine streaming through our windows and singing from inside the church so we were looking forward to attending services on Sunday morning. It was a peaceful and joyous way of spending the morning and it was interesting for all of us even though none of us are legally Catholic. I especially enjoyed the fact that the service was accompanied by an enthusiastic choir and girls who danced their way down the aisles. After church, Professor Swan declared the day as our “day of rest” and we tried to get a lot of organization and paperwork out of the way.
Of course, our day began to fill as we were invited to attend “market day” at Katwelatwela where we curious to see if community members were participating in the buying and selling of products. We tried Coke at Homeboy’s and everyone was convinced that it tasted sweeter from the Coke we drink in the United States. Our only explanation was that it could be sweetened by sugarcane as opposed to the processed sugar most likely used in the recipe in the US. While at the market, Vincent was very attentive and offered to show us around the different shops and buildings. We were particularly interested in a clinic run by a couple named Juma and Judith. The most important information that they provided to us was the presence of gravity taps that bring clean water to the clinic. We are hoping to research in the next few days on any connection between the cleaner water and less instances of diarrheal diseases.
Feeling relatively unproductive, we decided Sunday night would be a good time to fill the tank and check to make sure that it did not leak. We were surprised to see the amount of people still around the borehole after dark although I’m sure the majority of them were there out of curiosity about us. The younger boys of the village, Paul, George, and Timothy all helped to fill the tank by pumping, carrying jerry cans over, and dumping them into the tank. Even with their assistance, it took us several hours to fill the tank and we were forced to stop filling the tank at around eleven. There were several cracks on the surface but only one or two were actually allowing water to be lost. Even then, they were very small and were not significantly affecting the volume of water within the tank.
On Monday morning, we woke up early to go into Mbale before we had to meet with the community and visit people’s homes in the afternoon. We searched for various prices for the materials identified by each of the groups. It was a busy morning and we made it back to Nyondo just in time to have lunch and then move into Shilongo. Sam and Richard came to visit and we shared with Sam the ideas that we’ve been hearing and were eager to hear his advice about them.
In the afternoon, Matt and Misaki went again from household to household asking families what their concerns were for the village and what changes they would be interested in seeing and being involved with. I, on the other hand, went to visit Jude to show him the water manual and gain his advice. He was very helpful with communicating to us his advice as to the direction that we should be moving in and with explaining the many cultural tendencies.
When we returned to the house, we saw that Rogers and Fred were waiting for us so we invited Timothy and them to eat dinner with us. The conversation was enjoyable (as always) – I’m always surprised by the issues that they are curious about. We still have many things planned for the upcoming week but it already feels like we don’t have enough time with the community and for everything that we want to accomplish.
We have been spending so much time in the past few days with the community. Going house to house, we have visisted numerous homes all over the village. Not only are we gathering the important information for our project but we have been meeting new community members of Shilongo and developing new friendships everyday! Each house we visit, we come away with answers to our questions but often, we also learn a couple new words in Lugisu or a new part of the Ugandan culture. On Tuesday, Matt and I went around the Nashiloholo area to go house to house while Alyssa met with Jude to talk about the water manual.
In the afternoon, we met with the Shilongo Disabled Association to talk about their plans for the future. They are a group of twenty community members who suffer from diabilities and are a looking for a way to make a living in a way that is not highly physically demanding.
Since we have had very long and demanding days, we headed back to the house fairly early. Around the house, we relaxed a little bit by playing cards and lounging around.
On Wednesday, Alyssa and I met with the women of lower Shilongo to discuss any ideas that they may have for future products. Since Tom acted as our translator, the meeting was held at his house. After the meeting, Tom and his wife invited us into his home for some ground nuts and tea! Although we would have liked to stay longer, we left soon after to meet Matt in Khutwelatwela for a meeting with Sub County officials. Alyssa and Matt then had the opporutnity to go up the mountain for a little bit to look at a clinic and the gravity tap system that we have been researching. In the meantime, Professor Swan and I went to the prunyende for a meeting.
On the way to the meeting, I was pleasantly surprised to meet up with Justine, who I thought would not be around during our stay in Uganda! It was so nice to see Justine again and she was really excited to see me and to meet the rest of the travel team.
We ended the day with a dinner at our house with the travel team, Timothy, Rogers, Fred, and Justine. We love being in the village and don’t want to leave so soon… even though we will be extreemley busy for the next couple of days, we are enjoying all the time we have in the village!
Our days so far have been continually jam-packed, which has been great, waking early and returning after dark to long discussions about the day. The last few late nights have resulted in Misaki, Alyssa and me each taking turns nodding off while in discussion about the community. Saturday morning, after the dusty affair of going into Mbale for some supplies (the red dust of the roads is continually kicked up), Misaki, Alyssa, Professor Swan and I met with part of the community at Shilongo Lower. Richard from FDNC, as well as the village chairman, Vincent, the vice-chairman, Tom, and a few other people sat with us in front of about 40-50 members of Shilongo as the discussion proceeded. This was a normal meeting time for the village, but our presence was immediately acknowledged and we were all graciously received by wide smiles and resounding responses as we introduced ourselves in Lugiso and greeted everyone there in what we have found to be typical fashion. Misaki gave a great introduction of our group and what we hope to accomplish in our time here. In a talk that looked forward to our time in the coming week, and to future trips to Uganda, she explained that we are here to learn from the community about their lives and some of the challenges they may face, and to work alongside them to help develop some of the ideas they have for overcoming those hardships. Again we were very well received, and the discussion opened up to many people introducing themselves and explaining some of the issues the village faced. What was especially great was the group’s readiness to suggest potential future projects they felt could help the community to grow. Tom translated all the while, and we got some great suggestions – one suggestion that was voiced a few times and that was built upon by various members was the desire for a technical/vocational institute in the village that would be available to kids who did not continue on to the college or university, the main idea being to teach kids practical skills such as carpentry, knowledge of electrical systems, plumbing, sowing, construction, and computer skills. Afterwards we thanked the community for welcoming us so warmly into their village and homes, and for making us feel so immediately at home. Tom suggested we make a photograph with everyone at the meeting and as the group was quite big, we made a few, each section of people requesting that we come sit and join them.
In the afternoon we met up with Rogers, Fred, Florence, and Tom, and we walked with them over to the sub-county Bukyende for a coming-of-age ceremony that went into the early evening. It was a really interesting look into ‘Uganda culture’ as many people have referred to it, and we were welcomed not just to observe the ceremony, but to get up close, join in the festivities at times, and meet some of the important members involved. It was altogether an extremely interesting experience that I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Many people in the area talk often about the ceremony, so it was great to experience it first hand and thus continue to learn about the community in which we are living and working.
It amazes me that we have only been working with the community for only three days! We’ve been very productive in the past couple of days. Unfortunately, our first attempt at water quality testing didn’t turn out exactly as we planned. This morning, the petri dishes had a pretty awful smell and the bags we thought would keep the samples at the right temperature were no longer warm. On the bright side, Professor Swan finally got to eat his cornflakes and milk this morning – an American staple that he’s been missing. We left the Nyondo house around 10 to meet at the prenyende and begin meeting with the community. Timothy, Florence’s son showed up at the house to walk with us to Shilongo and ended up staying with us the entire day.
Once at the prenyende, we found Rogers and Fred waiting for us. They went around the community with us, helping to translate and provide helpful commentary and feedback. Matt and I worked together today, moving from house to house to meet with members of the community closest to Nashiloholo. Misaki also went to speak with community members near the spring and even met a woman with two solar panels on her roof that help to power her radio and some of the lights within her house. Speaking with the community was very informative even though we didn’t travel around with any survey material. We were trying to keep conversations as casual as possible because we wanted candid and honest answers. It was also a lot of fun and a great opportunity to become closer to the community. Misaki asked each family she visited to teach her a word in Lugisu, Matt perfected his Lugisu which charmed many of the people we talked to, and I learned about the local agriculture and livestock – I even got to hold a baby goat!
After speaking to the community for the majority of the morning, we returned to the house for lunch and to discuss what we had learned. Timothy followed us back, had lunch with us, and taught us a new card game called “Pick and Play”. Since our water quality tests weren’t very successful, we decided to go back into Shilongo and gather more samples.
Timothy was our tour guide the entire way and he was diligently followed by George, Patrick’s son. Our first stop was Itsakuni where a woman named Lydia taught me how to make a sun hat from local plants. Our guides even pointed out Kenya from where we were walking and I was so surprised by its close proximity. As we went to the other water sources, we were entertained by the two boys that played tag with us and laughed when we imitated the various animals around the community. Timothy even showed us the source for both Nashiloholo and Muswema which was important for us to understand how water is delivered to those water sources and what we can do to make any improvements.
All of our days have felt simultaneously long and short. We have been really busy everyday, we estimated that we walked about 5 or 6 miles today! At the same time, we are already planning ahead to the day that we have to leave the village and everyone who asks when we are leaving says that we are staying too short. For me, I feel grateful that I got the opportunity to travel here every time I look at the landscape around me. Uganda and Shilongo in particular is breathtakingly beautiful, I keep getting laughed at by the community when I stop walking just to stare at everything around me.
We started our second day in Shilongo with a 9 o’clock water board meeting at the prenyende, which of course meant 10:30 in Ugandan time. While we waited for all the water board members to arrive, we enjoyed the beautiful view of the village and practiced our Lugisu with people who passed by. I also got a chance to play with Alan and Atha, who I met in August, and catch up with their mom. Alan and Atha’s baby brother, Samson, grew so much since the last time I saw him!
One by one the members arrived and Matt and Alyssa got a chance to meet them. As chairman of the board, Jude explained to us what had happened with the bike and tank system after our departure in August. We discussed the major issues with the system and what steps should be taken next. The meeting was really productive and we got valuable information and input from the board that will be crucial to our progress.
After the meeting, all the water members and Vincent, the chairman, took us on a border tour of Shilongo. Starting at Muswema, we worked around the entire perimeter of the village and stopped by all of their water sources. As we trekked through the expansive land that is Shilongo, we learned about all their plants in the gardens. At one point, Vincent and Richard showed us how they use common plants to make rope! Near by Muswema, Richard made us a hat out of leaves and sticks, and for the remainder of the walk, we all took turns wearing it. Matt even got a house tour from a couple that lives near Muswema.
In the afternoon, we decided to go off on our own to the water sources and collect water samples. Unlike the hot morning, the weather was slightly cooler making it easier to move around the village. We went around to Muswema, Nabubolo, Nashiloholo, and the borehole to collect the samples and to dimension the spring boxes. While we were at the borehole, I finally got to catch up with Michael, who was not around at the meeting in the morning.
After a long day, we returned to the house around six but we still had more work to do! We immediately started the water quality test even though the power was out. So for the next couple of hours, we tested the samples lit by our headlights and candles.
It was such a great day for us! Matt and Alyssa got to meet many of the people that they have heard extensively about from all the past travel members, and I got to see everyone who I had met in August! Even though I was here for three weeks in August, the travel team never had much time to relax and do an extensive tour of the village like this one so it was great. We hope our remaining days as just as exciting as this one!
We woke early this morning to singing from the church just across the street and a few roosters announcing the day. After a nice breakfast of toast, jam, tea, and sweet bananas, (‘kamamua’ in Lugisu, as we learned this afternoon), we met Vincent and Father John in the yard, before heading down the road into Shilongo with Vincent. The weather was perfectly warm but not hot as the shadows behind us got shorter and the sun, higher. We made our way down to the borehole, meeting people along the way, practicing our shoddy Lugisu, which certainly improved throughout the morning as everyone we met was really friendly and helpful as we stumbled through conversation. Shouts of ‘Mulembe!’ or ‘hello’ in English was the dominant greeting and along with a wave and a smile was seemingly a sure way to receive a large grin and a returning welcome.
We ran into Juda at the borehole and set up a meeting with the ‘water board’ for tomorrow morning at the Punyende, a community meeting place under a large tree. After the meeting we’re planning to see more of the village and start talking with people about how we’ll move forward with the project. Misaki continually reconnected with people from the implementation trip in August, and scheduled some card games for later with Rogers. Vincent took us over to see Florence, but along the way, pointed out all sorts of fruits and vegetables, explaining what they were, what they were called in Lugiso, and perhaps best of all, picking some that were in season and letting us taste them. As we walked through various gardens, we found gigantic avocados, sweet bananas, plantains (‘matoke’), baby green eggplant, tomatoes (‘zinyanya’), mangoes (‘kumuyembe’), Irish potatoes (‘komapoli’) , sweet potatoes (‘kamamui’), kasava, a white root that’s a bit sweet and nut like to taste, coffee beans, passion fruit (‘bitunda’), oranges (‘kumuchungwa’), and a host of other interesting and tempting plants. The most common question of Vincent quickly became, “Can you eat that?”
As Misaki reunited with Florence amidst wide smiles, Professor Swan was checking out some of the clay stoves with Vincent. Not far from there, some of the same red dirt, mixed with water, was being put to use as the base of a two room addition to a nearby house. We met some of Vincent’s relatives before heading back to Nyondo for another delicious meal prepared by David and James, and after are planning to meet with Samuel and Richard from FDNC to go over our plan for this trip. We’re really hoping to lay out a solid plan with the community so our short time here can be spent most effectively.
We’ll likely be back in Mbale in the next few days, so hopefully we should be able to get a few more blog posts put up to keep everyone in the loop. Excited for the days to come!
We started our long journey to Shilongo on January 1st, flying from JFK to Amsterdam. After getting in earlier than we expected, we visited Professor Swan in the airport after he had gotten off of two flights and was planning on getting on two more! We were all under the impression that our flight would be going from Amsterdam straight to Entebbe, Uganda but the flight was actually scheduled to stop in Kigali, Rwanda before continuing to Entebbe. Confused but sure that they wouldn’t allow three passengers to board the wrong flight, we relaxed and passed the 10 hour flight by making friends with our neighbors, reading, and watching movies.
We arrived in Entebbe after Professor Swan and were worried about meeting up with him but he had cleverly made a sign that said “Swan” so we wouldn’t miss him. We all finally got to meet Samuel and our driver Fred. Misaki was welcomed very warmly by Samuel who was so happy to see a traveling member of EWB return. After settling in at the Entebbe flight motel, Misaki and I discovered that there was hot water to shower with. It was such an unexpected luxury and really cherished after two days of traveling.
After a good night’s rest, we got up early to have breakfast at the motel and begin our journey to Mbale, and eventually, Nyondo. We got a few essentials in Kampala before continuing to Mbale. Samuel was so helpful with getting everything that we needed for our stay, I really appreciated his knowledge of the best local stores and his ability to bargain. We stopped for lunch on the way and got to try some local dishes. Matt was the most adventurous and tried posho (millet), matoke, and pilau (rice with beef) – all traditional Ugandan foods. Once we arrived in Mbale, we visited FDNC where we signed their guest book and looked back at some of the other entries that other traveling members had made. Then, we stopped at the market and purchased food for the week. Everywhere we have gone, Matt has managed to find passion fruit. He has ordered passion fruit juice, bought passion fruit at the supermarket, and even bought it fresh at the market. His reasoning? “It’s a natural aphrodisiac!”
The drive out to Nyondo was bumpy as the roads got worse as we got farther from Kampala and Mbale, but we got our first glimpse of Mount Wanali, the first mountainous terrain we have seen. During the drive, Professor Swan kept commenting on the redness of the soil, I think he’s planning on sneaking some back into the United States. Once at Nyondo, we were amazed at how beautiful the house we are staying in is. It’s spacious and clean, with hot water too! We’re really being spoiled. David and James are helping out around the house again, they were very happy to see Misaki – everyone was! They cooked us a delicious meal of rice, carrots, and chipati. It was my first experience with chipati and it really is as good as everyone claims it is.
As we were planning out our schedule for the next week and a half, we realized how little time we actually have in the village and are already sad at the thought. We can’t wait for what this next week will bring and will keep you updated as often as we can.
El Salvador Group: