Goodbye and Happy New Year!
| December 31, 2013 | 2:39 pm | Uganda | 2 Comments

Post Author: Kevin

Today our team is saying goodbye to 2013 in America a few hours earlier than most. We will be flying out of Logan Airport at 6:45 PM and we won’t be back until 2014. It seems fitting for me to be returning to the place where I rang in 2013 to celebrate 2014’s arrival.

Last year our team had landed in Kampala at 11:30 PM December 31st and we were greeted with fireworks left and right, people dancing and yelling in the streets and a general chaos that was a little overwhelming but mostly amazing. This year we will be at cruising altitude above the Atlantic when 2014 rolls in.

The departure of one year and the arrival of the New Year is cause for reflection on yourself, how you’ve grown and where you want to be in the New Year. While I would have loved the opportunity to be with my friends and family to ring in the New Year, for me, there is no better way to reflect and celebrate than to return to Shilongo, Uganda. I feel like this year has been a year of tremendous growth for me, and it all started in Shilongo. My experience in Shilongo left me with many new friends and a new passion for our project and for development work in general. Creating this connection with the community has inspired me as a leader of our project and has forced my personal development. Inspired by a both a passion for our project and a fear of failing the community and Tufts students in our group, I have worked all year developing better organizational and leadership skills. Combine this drive with working my first 9-5 job and renting my first apartment and you have a transformative year.

I know I am not alone in being so impacted by EWB. Our trip is the culmination of a year of work by our whole chapter. Together we have researched, engineered, planned, raised funds and accomplished so much. While only five students from our group are departing on what is sure to be an awesome adventure, everyone who put effort into making this trip a reality has learned and grown through working on the project.

I think this is truly the value our project provides to our members and the community we work with. Every year we graduate members who have had life changing experiences with EWB and every year we need to send younger members to follow in their footsteps. Working on the project in the US builds a skillset and a knowledge base and an awareness that most students would have never been exposed to otherwise. Additionally, actually going to Uganda provides the travel team members with an extraordinary opportunity to make an impact on the community we work with and on themselves. I have had the good fortune of being able to travel twice and it’s had a tremendous impact on my life plans and worldview.

Hopefully our future blog posts will further detail the awesome experiences that I have only written about in generalities in this post. For logistical simplicity all of the blog posts will be published from my account but all of our travel team will be contributing to this blog. We will not have internet access except when we travel to town to buy groceries and supplies. So you can expect posts every 3 days or so hopefully.

I hope you all have a happy New Years Eve wherever and however you celebrate.

Jesse is the New John Henry
| March 22, 2013 | 1:17 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

There was no getting up at the butt crack of dawn today, though the roosters did their screechiest. Around eight we ate breakfast and then began work on the hinged lid for the spring box in El Porvenir. We figured the best method would be to build it first, where we have tools and power, and then bring it over to affix it to the box.

We began by building the PVC pipe frame, which was a challenge because we had to match the curve at the front of the spring box. If you’ve ever tried to bend PVC to your will, you know that it has a tendency to jump out right before the glue kicks. This took a few tries. Also, interestingly enough, the PVC glue here is different and does not include a purple primer. It’s just one little tube. No one else cares about that detail, I am sure. But too bad, you read this far anyway. Nyah nyah.

We let the frame dry for a while. Ariel and Paige worked on our monitoring report to send to national (woot getting on it!). Jesse, Bob and I drilled holes through the metal pieces for the hinge bolts to go through. There may or may not be new holes in the plastic table – but hey, it’s an inferior table anyway. As Ariel can tell you, its legs just magically fall off.

We bolted the hinges and metal pieces to the frame in a sort of tin lamina sandwich: two tin slices of bread on each side of the PVC filling. Then we shot some machine screws along the frame on both sides. It looked very professional, if we do say so ourselves. Mike showed up as we were finishing with his hands full of Pollo Campero. Pollo Campero is the El Salvadorian equivalent to – or should I say ≥ to – Kentucky Fried Chicken. It comes with spicy salsa and ketchup and is muy delicioso. See, aren’t I picking up this language? It also comes with flan. Jesse nearly fell for it when I said it was terrible and he shouldn’t eat his. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so aggressively cleaning the bottom of my cup with a spoon.

I have to say that the most important lesson we learned in Porvenir on Wednesday was that you have to think things out way ahead of time if you’re going to need electricity. That’s something we’re not used to in the States. Hell, I even leave the house not knowing where I’m going, figuring if I get lost, I can just call someone. But in Porvenir, you’ve really got to plan for electricity. We had charged the drill battery during lunch for about an hour, which wasn’t full but it was as much as we could get before our scheduled meeting with the community. So off we went, lid and drill and all.

Ariel and Paige went to lead the meeting while the rest of us went down to the spring box to install the lid. We shouted victory when we discovered that our estimated lid shape perfectly fit the front curve of the box. I am not exaggerating. It was perfect and snug. We began to drill the first hole in the concrete for the hinges.

However, our victory was short lived. After about half an hour of drilling, we had almost completely worn down the drill battery and we were only halfway through the first hole. Meanwhile, while Bob had been drilling, I had been hammering down the front edges of the lid so that they wouldn’t be sharp. Unfortunately the leverage resulting from the hammering was enough to pop out three of the nearest machine screws. We were not in good shape.

I decided to call the driver to take me back so I could charge the drill. Ariel explained to him what was going on and I communicated with him in my incredibly bad Spanish on the way back to SJV. Bob had recommended charging it for 20 minutes, since any more would mean we’d be working past dark. While I was back, I went over to Mike and Susie’s to rummage through the quadruple-coffin-sized box of “things volunteer groups leave here” and was able to uncover another drill with some charge, another battery for our drill, and two chargers and batteries for yet another drill. It seems that these things never appear before you need them most…

I plugged everything in that I could, wishing that I’d found them and charged them all the night before. After the meeting was well over, the driver and I headed back to the spring box, my arms full of drills and batteries. Upon our return we discovered that in the hour and a half it had taken for transit and charge time, Jesse had singlehandedly finished the first hole. How, you ask? By hammering the masonry drill bit into the concrete lid over and over with the most miniscule hammer ever. I am not kidding.  And if you ever read the story of John Henry as a child, you will know that he was quite tired of it.

We started drilling another hole. The drill died. We got another drill. It died. We got the last drill, and guess what! It died too. I began to hammer a hole for a bolt in the other hinge using a real-sized hammer, which I’d run into in the magic coffin toolbox. It was slow going. It was also getting dark.

Soon we saw Ariel and Paige coming down the hill, with what seemed to be half the community behind them. They were coming to see the lid, and Don Chepe was bringing tin snips to trim the edges. The men swarmed around and saw our dilemmas and picked up our tools. They began where we’d left off, though with much stronger muscles built on a hard life. However, things looked bleak – it felt like a humongous failure, and we’d had such high hopes.

As the daylight was winding away one guy named Felipe said he thought it would be better if we took out the frame and welded the metal pieces together. He and the other guys began to measure the dimensions of the hole. They began to chat about how they would build it, and who would hang on to which pieces so no one could make off with them all until it was made. They wrote down their measurements. To put it bleakly, they were restarting our entire process for building the lid.

While at first we were disappointed that our lid had not succeeded, we realized something important – this work was never about us doing something for them. That kind of work is unsustainable. It’s the kind of work that draws criticisms for all volunteer trips like ours – people have no sense of ownership of gifts like that, if it breaks no one has the materials to fix it, etc. So while we weren’t proud of our failed lid, we knew that this was in many ways better: instead of building something for them, we had inspired several community members to get involved and work together on making something for themselves. We had brought the need for a lid to their attention, and we had presented a design idea. We did not succeed in implementing our design. But we presented the tools and reasons they needed to resolve the problem without us.

And in the long run, isn’t that the goal?

~ Grace

“Fix it With Your IR Degree”
| March 20, 2013 | 12:52 am | El Salvador | Comments closed

Said the Jesse to the Ariel

When she picked up the table

And off its legs fell.

 

Ariel was bewildered

She stood there in the grass

Calmly put them back on

While we offered her sass.

 

That’s a poem. Engineers can write too. Well, some of us.

 

Speaking of poetic words, I realized last night that the phrase “up working until the first rooster crow” is really not that impressive, seeing as the roosters here begin crowing at midnight.  They crow in shifts – midnight, dawn, eight-ish, and noon. Whether the same roosters crow during each shift is unclear, but there are equal numbers of crowers at each shift, all equally confused about what time it is.

Anyway, we got up at a time that most college kids on spring break would consider criminally early. And in fact, someone probably should have handcuffed us to the truck on the way to Arada Vieja this morning to keep us from falling out. That said, riding on top of a moving vehicle up and down wild hills is pretty fun. I feel a lot less sympathy for Mitt Romney’s dog now.  I bet he liked it.

We arrived in Arada Vieja around eight a.m. and found the villagers already up and ready to fix the slow sand filters. As it turned out, only one of the three was even remotely dirty – it had a growth of some variety of algae. A man named Ricardo showed up and seemed to know all about slow sand filter maintenance, so we let him take charge and direct people. They cleaned the smaller tank that the filters lead to with chlorine – women and children helped carry the water over from the spigot, which was still directly connected to the big tank. I helped carry water too – on my head. I can’t tell you how much it was because they kept saying it was “treinta botellas” – thirty bottles – but it was unclear what, exactly, one bottle’s size is. Meanwhile, the men fetched long logs (I’m fairly certain they were just casually felling some trees) to use for the roof.

I met my first in-person scorpion today; it was loaded up with ten or so babies and prepared to sting one of the kids. Jesse kept him from climbing up on top the tank next to it as he had been planning. The kid climbed up farther away and after Jesse had taken a picture of it, proceeded to stomp on the entire clan with his Spiderman crocs. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but crocs are really big here. They’re the perfect El Salvador shoe – they empty of dust quickly, they’re light, dry fast, offer decent foot protection, and they’re cheap.  So if any of you Longshore people are reading this, just know – El Salvadorians would be well-equipped renters.

Around 11:30 Ricardo left for work. He told us that he was going to organize a meeting to make a schedule for cleaning the slow sand filters, which is the best we could ask for given our short time here. The villagers intend to construct the roof on Thursday, so unfortunately we will not be able to see it before we leave.

We came home to eat lunch and plan out the construction for the lid we want to build for the springbox in El Porvenir. After much debate, we decided on the materials we needed and went to the ferretería, where they lent us some tin snips to cut the sheet metal and where we bought some thin PVC for the frame. They didn’t have galvanized anything so we called our driver back to take us to La Puerta en La Libertad. There we found everything we needed to build the lid – machine screws, bolts, nuts, and hinges, all galvanizada.

On the way home, we banged on the roof of the pickup cab to stop for some coconuts. We drank them on the way home and got the most “GRINGO!!” catcalls since we’ve been here. As we were chopping them apart at Mike and Susie’s, Jesse and I taught Victor (Salvador) and his friend how to play Jenga. Victor lost the first game, but quickly bested Jesse in the second game.

Our most interesting data of the evening was the coliforms from the Arada Vieja water. Jesse had, for some mind-blowingly unobvious reason, insisted that we take water samples both at the spring source and at the spigot half a kilometer away. This bizarre request to test the same source twice turned an interesting result – the spigot water, which at the time was NOT going through any sort of filter, was much cleaner than the same water at the source. We wonder if the black piping, which bakes in the sun, gets so hot that it kills off the bacteria on the way to the spigot. Also, the boiled water sample came out with just one coliform. Finally, negative really means negative. Ish.

I am sunburnt, tired, and covered in dirt and sweat. I haven’t showered in a while (It’s not my fault – the water keeps cutting out! Why have the others showered, you ask? Because they didn’t have to write three blog posts in a row).

I think I want to do this job my whole life.

 

-Grace

 

 

 

Monday, ¿Mande?
| March 19, 2013 | 11:51 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

Yeah, I’m clever. Actually Paige says mande is a regional phrase that isn’t really used here; it’s more of an Ecuador thing. I’m not changing the title.

 

Well, I was super grumpy about our non-negative negative control (see Posto del Blogo Numero Tres) so in the morning I boiled some more Agua Cristal and incubated that. Our driver was late, which was a turn of good luck because Mike walked in and said “So the mayor will meet with you now.” We went to meet him and told him about our connection with Porvenir, and how we were wondering if he could connect the PIPA trucks to the village and deliver them government water.  He was straight with us and said it his primary concern is the villages with decent populations, but that if we built the tank, he could send a truck that way once a week with ten cubic meters of water. This is substantial; perhaps it is the closest we have been to a real solution for Porvenir. Knock on wood.

Then it was off to Arada Vieja to investigate the slow sand filters and hydraulic ram pump that Tufts EWB had implemented there back in 2007. After all, this is a monitoring trip.

Arada Vieja is a village that, compared to El Porvenir, has its coliform-bearers together. We found that the pump and tanks were still working – the president of the community gave us a little hiking tour – but the slow sand filters had been neglected  and were currently being bypassed. When we talked to the community members, they said that the water was okay without it, but that they would like to fix the filters if we thought it would make the quality better.  We arranged to come back on Tuesday to help clean and to build a roof for the filters, since the old one blew off  in a monsoon and the sun deteriorates them.

We next went back to El Porvenir, where Ariel and I held a women’s meeting. Paige, Bob, and Jesse ran the kid’s meeting and played games with them. Paige says she’s never met such well-behaved children and marveled at getting all her crayons back, especially since the rule was “one crayon at a time.” At the women’s meeting, we got the real deal on what people want for the spring box. We told them what the mayor had said and prompted them for ideas of where to put the 10 m­3 tank, or where to put two or three smaller tanks. Since the community is very spread out, it makes more sense for the truck to make multiple stops to dispense portions of the allotted water.  They seemed very interested in this proposal.

We also handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the women; each took several for their children. Luisa, a very old woman who lives by herself, was left out – but when Ariel asked, someone gave up one of her toothbrushes for her. It was a beautiful moment to see someone who has so little hand her gift to somebody else.

After our stop in Porvenir, we went to the hardware store to get corrugated tin for the roof in Arada Vieja. After much digging, Jesse and I found a handsome drill in Mike’s giant box of “things volunteer groups leave here” and one tiny masonry bit, for which we found a more robust replacement at the ferretería. After a delicious soup prepared by Anna, we tested our new samples for nitrates and phosphates. Ariel and I counted the coliforms from the day before (we had stopped the growth by refrigerating the petri dishes). The winner for the cleanest water source was the Guadelupe source, a town that had government-delivered water. The filtered sample from the Rio Muyapa was the runner up – ahead of the springbox by miles in general coliforms, but only slightly in E. coli. Grossly enough, the bottled Agua Cristal totted up to 450 coliform colonies in 125 mLs. But no E. coli, thankfully.

Ariel and I were a little fried from counting zillions of dots, so we decided to go out for ice cream. Out in the square the festival for San Jose was stilllll going on. That night there was quite the accomplished singer up in front of the crowd. We stopped to watch as we licked our ice cream and discovered that it was the mayor. We wonder what this man cannot do.

 

In other news, Bob says we have very smart cows in this country. Jesse thinks every cow we pass by is a goat. Un cabra gigante indeed!  Ariel can’t work the shower because it has a small pipe coming out of the showerhead that steals all the water. I put my finger on the end of it and took a lovely shower, but not before calling her an idiot and leading her and Paige into a trap where I sprayed them with water.  Work hard, play hard.

 

-Grace

Posto del Blogo Numero Tres
| March 19, 2013 | 10:46 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

As you can see, my Spanish has vastly improved.  Oh man apparently I have to write about the past three days because the rest of this lot needs to do “homework.” Bet you a pupusa Jesse is just on Facebook. I already won a pupusa bet today because Ariel thought lobsters have eight legs, but they have ten. Wikipedia says the claws count. Boom. I expect payment, Ariel.  Learn your crustaceans.

 

Oh right, real information. Let’s start with Sunday. We returned to El Porvenir to finish what we’d started on Saturday. Los ingenieros (me, Jesse, and Bob) finished up surveying the riverbed and found that it would indeed be possible to run a pipeline up to the meeting tree solely powered by gravity. Meanwhile Paige and Ariel went to the houses they’d missed the day before for their own brand of surveying, which involves lots of health questions and interpreting thick, mumbly accents.  After lunch, the villagers Miguel and Don Chepe emptied and cleaned the springbox. We began to measure the height of the water to figure out the flow rate, which was a two-hour process. While we waited, Domingo’s friend Benancio came down the hill and shirked his usual thick, mumbly accent to sing for us quite beautifully.  Meanwhile other people came to ruin our data (read: collect water as they rightfully should) so we had to do a bit of compensation calculation.

 

In the evening we did some serious chemistry – look out, here comes the technical information! We popped the samples from Saturday out of the incubator and took a look at the coliforms (icky bacteria in poop). Most disturbingly, we found that our negative control – bottled Agua Cristal – had quite the number of red dots. I can’t tell you how many yet because we didn’t count them until Monday. This is called building suspense. I can tell you that it didn’t have any E. coli, which show up as blue dots, but it’s important to realize that just because water is in a bottle does not mean it’s clean. Then again, it hasn’t killed us so far.

 

By far the most potable looking sample was the Rio Muyapa one that had gone through a brand-new ceramic filter we have here. This makes it sound as though ceramic filters would make it possible to drink the river water, but unfortunately ceramic filters do not account for some things we aren’t capable of testing for, such as viruses. We also noted that Orbellina’s filtered water, which came from Tomas’s well and had been through a 3-year-old ceramic filter, did not have a significant decrease in red dots but it did seem to have banished all of the E. coli. So the conclusion is that ceramic filters make a decent difference in the water quality, though they deteriorate over time.

 

We also began the nitrate and phosphate testing on Sunday night. Once again, I found that the worst offender was our own bottled water – at least for phosphate, at 10 ppm. Concerned, I did the test four times. I even bought a new bottle for the fourth test, to no avail. The phosphate results seemed consistent for the rest of the tests so we have concluded that something else in the bottled water set off the indicator. In case you’re curious, the springbox and Orbellina’s filtered water won the contest at 0 phosphates. Jesse’s not saying what happened with the nitrates yet. I think he’s grumpy that he had to deal with the cadmium.

 

But really, we’ve all been getting along pretty well. Each of us brings a unique and useful set of skills wherever we go. And we all bring a fair amount of sass. My new favorite Spanish phrase (which I found in my handy dandy phrasebook) is “¿Puede empaquetarmelo como regalo, porfavor?” which we use frequently when being handed items. If you’re too lazy to look it up, it means “Can you giftwrap that for me, please?”

 

That’s all I gotta say about that. Go read Monday! You know you want to. And no, I’m not giftwrapping it. That’s a waste of paper.

 

-Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meetings, Mangoes, and Massive fireworks!
| March 17, 2013 | 1:36 am | El Salvador | Comments closed

Today began with dusty ride in the back of a pickup truck to Porvenir, We had a community meeting scheduled for 9, so of course it started around 10:30. Paige and Ariel talked, Grace understood, and Jesse took pictures! We expressed to the community that we can’t promise anything, especially because we’ve been working there for a long time without coming up with an ideal solution, but that we’re going to try our hardest and are hopeful.

With a few community members, we visited the three main water sources in the community. The first was Domingo’s spring box, which has been the focus of our work to date in El Porvenir, and the source most people used. March is the height of the dry season here, and the river by the spring is much lower than it’s been in January. We’re going to be taking lots more data there through the week. Next, we visited Tomás’ well, which has significantly more water than Domingo’s spring box, and is full of bees. One of the community members bravely took a water sample for us. Next, we walked a couple kilometers up the road to a well we had never visited before, owned by a man who doesn’t live in the community. This well served as the main source of water right after the earthquake a few years ago, but is not a little far out of the way for community members. The community members shook mangoes out of a tree and peeled them for us. Yummy!

In the afternoon, we divided and conquered. Ariel and Paige went house-to-house surveying people about their health and water usage. We learned that Salvadoreños are very friendly people, and also some old men think they don’t have to open their mouths when they talk, rendering them utterly unintelligible. Bob, Grace, and Jesse took water samples and surveying data along the river. In Grace’s words, “It was hot. The cows are nice.”

After maybe the best showers of our lives, we went out to Mike’s administrative assistant Graciela’s family’s restaurant. Pupusas galore! And for the record, Ariel ate way more than Jesse.  We then went to the town center, where there was celebration for the Fiesta San José with a big wooden structure that had spinny fireworks on it. While the liberal arts students among us oogled at their beauty, the engineers analyzed the metals necessary to create the different colored flames. Afterward, it was back to work getting our water samples in the incubator and discussing the survey results. We’ve got another full day ahead of us tomorrow, entonces buenas noches todos!

~ Travel Team

Exhaustion, Surprises, and Wonderful People
| March 16, 2013 | 11:49 pm | El Salvador | 1 Comment

To say that our team was exhausted by the late afternoon is a bit of an understatement. The college sleep schedule doesn’t particularly go hand in hand with 2:30 a.m. wake-ups and 5:45 a.m. flights. All-nighters the week before Spring Break however, are common occurrences. So whether it be pure adrenaline or mental toughness, we made it with all of our equipment to the airport in good time.

We’ve traveled with a good bit of equipment this year. A Hach Portable Incubator, 2100P Turbidimeter, Phosphate, and Nitrate Test kits were among some of the supplies. We’ve brought these down with the intention of testing the water quality at various locations in the community of El Porvenir. It’s one of the main prerogatives of the trip along with gauging the communities interest in POUs and monitoring our past implementations. So it was very important that the equipment made it from Boston to San Salvador. We’re only here for 6 days so United losing our luggage would have been detrimental to the trip. In addition, we haven’t always had great success with checked bags. We made the decision in the airport to risk bringing the turbidimeter, phosphate, and nitrate test kits through security. Each of these kits contains samples of liquids, albeit less than three ounces in size. Nonetheless, it would have been a hassle to explain the purpose of these samples, that they weren’t hazardous but critically important to the service work that we plan on doing. Clearly, I was pretty anxious walking through security with a bag of chemicals. But by some godforsaken miracle, not a single member of our travel team was pulled aside and asked questions. Surprise #1.

The total travel time ended up being about 10 hours. Sleeping on planes isn’t quite deep sleep, but we took what we could get. Mike Jenkins, of Epilogos Charities, met us at the airport and we crammed into his comfy SUV. We then had the wonderful privilege to be taken for lunch at a beautiful restaurant in La Libertad that overlooks the beach. Mike is very concerned with our health, but was confident that the seafood here was fresh. It may have been our only opportunity for fresh seafood for the trip and it was well worth it. Surprise #2.

Later in the afternoon, Mike drove us through some back roads to San Jose Villanueva (our place of lodging), where we stopped by to visit another volunteer group working on building a home for a family in need. It was very inspiring to see a family so pleased with the volunteers and so thankful for the opportunity they had been granted. Our travel team would love to see the same faces on the members of El Porvenir after a successful project implementation! Surprise #3

Further down the road we had the incredible opportunity to pass the oldest women in El Salvador. According to Mike, at 112 she still carries 3 logs of firewood a day. When asked how she was doing, she replied “Well, my knees are bothering me a bit”, after standing from sitting with her knees bent. Quite an incredible human being to say the least. Surprise #4

After arriving home and taking a two hour power nap, the team had dinner cooked by the wonderful house cook Ana. Tortillas, rice, and chicken were on the menu tonight. This weekend is the festival of Saint Joseph (the patron saint of San Jose Villanueva), so we went to watch a concert (the 5th place winner of Mexican Idol sang) and some loud fireworks. We had a soul-searching meeting exploring goals and strategies for this trip, and headed off to well-needed sleep.  Hasta Mañana!

Back in the States
| January 10, 2013 | 7:54 pm | Uganda, Uncategorized | Comments closed

So usually this blog is mostly posts from our group in Shilongo, but it’s about time that we provided some at home insight.

We, as you, our readers must, love reading these blog posts because it gives those of us who haven’t traveled a more intimate view of the community we work with and those of us who have, an intense longing to go back.

These trips are not only important for gathering technical information and improving community relations, they always end up providing inspiration and injecting enthusiasm back into our meetings at Tufts.

Last year, we realized that the project that we implemented for the community wasn’t the right choice for them and we were discouraged for a bit. We had no direction and no plans. But, we visited in January of 2012 and that travel team came back and reminded the group about why we involve ourselves in this particular line of work.

Kevin put it simply for us. The people of Shilongo are inspiring and we are always looking for their perspective, but above all, we feed off of their enthusiasm.

We hope that everyone in our group willing to travel gets the opportunity to because as every single person who has had the privilege of visiting Shilongo, it is life changing.

Happy return to campus for all of the group members – we hope you’re ready to work hard! And for those reading for pleasure or interest, we hope that these blog posts have shown you how much we love working in Shilongo.

We’re Alive!
| January 10, 2013 | 7:46 pm | Uganda, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Mulembe!
I wrote an email full of the details of daily life in Uganda for my very worried parents and family and I thought that, with a few alterations, it would make a decent blog post. It is a nice departure from the daily narrative style of our recent posts. So here is a modified email for the people who are worried that we will catch malaria:

“I am actually doing really well. I adjusted really quickly. I am sleeping well and the food here is really, really good. I am staying with a Ugandan family in their house. The mother is Rebecca. She is 27 and has 3 beautiful boys, Alan (5), Arthur (3) and Alton (1). She is the nicest and coolest and her English is very good, she is a teacher at a nearby school but school is out until February 4th. Her husband, Sam, was with us the first 2 nights but then went to school. He is a teacher and working towards a better degree while school is in recess. He seemed amazing as well but I did not get to spend a lot of time with him. They live with another man, Rodgers, who is 23 and also a teacher. I believe he is Sam’s cousin. He is wicked smart and his English is amazing. I am sharing a bed with him.

Their house is one floor and has a living room, two bedrooms a storage room and a little foyer. They do their cooking and washing outside and have a shed of sorts for doing that in the rain. They also have a little enclosed area outside for bathing and a latrine. One of the biggest surprises for me was what I missed the most about US life. I thought I would miss showers and plumbing but it is indoor lighting that I miss the most. We eat dinner and hang out at night with just candle light and flashlights. They have electricity but only one lightbulb that is very dim. They do have a TV though and we watch the news in the morning sometimes.

They are much more informed about current events than I anticipated. They know American politics better than many Americans I know. Most nights we chat about life in Uganda and America and swap information about culture, history, politics and geography. It has been a really enlightening experience. I am also picking up the language. “Mulembe” means hello; “Komakhoa” means what is the news (basically how are you) and “Kasila” essentially means everything is good. Now you can greet each other in Lugisu!

Rebecca is also an amazing cook. I like almost everything they serve. My one complaint is that nearly everything is cooked in vegetable oil. But everything is delicious. The food is all fresh and local, especially the produce. My favorite dishes are the cabbage and the beans. I bet you didn’t see that coming. I want to learn how to make some of these dishes so I can recreate them at home.

They are also an incredibly clean community. Rodgers says he bathes twice a day. I feel bad that I only bathe every other day… They also produce almost no waste. Everything is fresh so there is very little plastic or cardboard packaging.”

Living in the community has had incredible positives along with a few negatives. It has certainly hampered our ability to do our work. It is hard for us to find time for just the four of us (Dave arrived the other day!) to talk shop. Being with the community has also added distractions and diversions to make it harder to focus. We persevere through it all and have had a very productive trip. Today we wandered around Mbale checking out mechanic shops, checking the prices and availability of various parts. We also went to Umeme, the power company that runs the electricity in the Mbale region and we got a lot of useful information.

Living in Shilongo has also provided us with information and insight that we could not have gotten any other way. It has given us an opportunity to take a crash course in Lugisu and Ugandan culture. The purpose of this trip is to research the feasibility of our project and the village’s needs and desire. Sleeping in their houses and taking our meals with them has helped us build a deep understanding of their daily lives and needs and truly helps us decide how we can best help them. This understanding goes both ways. Our nightly chats with our hosts has helped create an understanding of our group, who we are and what we do. Our bond with Shilongo has become incredibly strong through this trip and I cant imagine learning this much any other way.

Sadly we only have two full days left in Shilongo. I will be sad to go but I havent been in the US yet this year and I could honestly go for a hamburger right now. Hopefully we can wrap up with a few more meetings in the village and maybe conclude our trip with a hike up a nearby mountain (only if we finish our work!). We will try and post once more before leaving Uganda but this may be our last post.

I hope you are all having a great 2013 and I will see you all soon,

-Kevin

Settling In
| January 10, 2013 | 7:41 pm | Uganda, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Sorry we haven’t been able to post more regularly, but here are updates from the past few days.

It’s unbelievable that we have already been here for a week. Getting
to know the community and learning about their culture has exceeded my
expectations above and beyond. Everyone here is so welcoming.

On Sunday morning we went to Father John’s for church with Timoth and
Allen. It was quite a different experience then the one Kevin and I
were used to in the US. There was much more singing and dancing.
Everyone was so full of energy. The service was extra long since they
were celebrating the nuns 50th year in the church, but the time still
passed very fast. After about four hours we decided it was time to
leave and got caught in the first rain here on our walk home.

Later in the day once the rain had stopped we all went to a local
seamstress in Shilongo to get fitted for our Ugandan clothing. We all
picked out our fabric in town the day before and were excited to see
how the clothing would turn out.

In the afternoon we played outside with many children who lived in
Shilongo. Kevin played soccer with all the boys while Misaki and I
were told by Fred and Rogers to sing songs with the girls. However, we
decided instead to teach them how to play Frisbee. Although some were
very shy at first they soon felt more comfortable with us and everyone
joined in.

Later in the afternoon we were all very tired and ready for some
downtime. We walked to khatwela twela, a nearby market, and sat for a
while at Homeboys with Rogers, Fred, and Moses. It was so refreshing
since this is one of the only places nearby that has refrigerated
drinks.

On Monday we went on a border tour of Shilongo to look at all of their
water sources, springs and boreholes. Our main focus was on the
Muswama borehole since many community members disliked the water and
told us that it turned yellow when boiled. After examining the
borehole, and taking to people in the village we took a sample of the
water and noticed that it had a slight yellow tint to it. We also
realized that the borehole had a lot of rust on it despite being
relatively new. We were also told that the structural metal used was
iron, as opposed to the galvanized steel used for the Shilongo
borehole. We plan on studying this further next semester to try and
fix this problem.

We are currently awaiting the arrival of David in Mbale (he landed on
Monday night). We are very excited to see him and introduce him to
everyone in the village.

We will write back soon! Miss you all.

Abby