Monday, March 19, 2012

A Fist Full of Feathers

Ask any volunteer and they will tell you that a post service international travel epoch is more than customary, it's downright compulsory for those wide eyed paragons of government efficiency called the Peace Corps. I may have ended my service early, but I still got my travel experience, and in my opinion, it was streets ahead of anything I was thinking about back in Africa.

For anyone who is more than a close acquaintance, they will know my love of hunting, specifically bird hunting, with an occasional prairie dog massacre thrown in for funzies. This past week I have experienced the Valhalla of wing shooting (that's birds for you hippies). It is located in Argentina, on a ranch called "Estancia del Salida". This is the tale of the Carpe Palomas.

My father is a prolific, if at times unsuccessful in returning with meat, hunter; and so are his army friends from the era of the Soviet Union, or the Persian Empire, I forget which. My father also happens to be the state chairman for the waterfowl conservation group "Ducks Unlimited". During a national gathering, he blindly purchased a dove hunt in Argentina from the auction believing he could convince a few of his friends to join him in a bucket list worthy week of hunting. He was not disappointed.

With my early termination of service, I was suddenly available to fill the final slot on the trip a mere month before the departure. Our hunting band was formed, which as I write this sounds poetically like a D&D set up: Dave Marsh the father, Michael Marsh the son, Dan Posten the young of heart, and Roger Weed the commander.

After a 12 hour plane trip from Dallas to Cordoba, 75% of our gang were fatigued enough to swear of plane travel forever. Then came the taxi ride through the city on streets only 5m wide, nary a major road to been seen, and only a coat of paint separating us from oncoming traffic. My companions were suitably jostled by the end. I was chuckling with the deja vu of TIA.

The next day the Estancia sent a van and whisked us 2 hours upcountry to the ranch. Almost the entire way was surrounded by enormous swathes of farms or businesses related to farming. Metal fabricators, tractor dealers, tractor repair shops, chemical dealers, bio research sites; the fences of the farms were even used as advertising space for the products they were using, generating a discount for the farmer.

Farming in Argentina is huge, and it gets bigger every year. In this particular region the biggest pests are doves. The estimate is there are 40-60 million doves in an area the size of Kentucky. However, the dove population size, combined with the complete lack of a bird hunting element in Argentine culture creates an average loss of 40% on farm outputs. The Estancia we are staying and hunting at is first and foremost, a farm. The wing shooters that come all year long are their attempt to control the doves, as there has been no effective solution to the problem, and none looms.

At this stage, I believed my hunting band, and me specifically, was the answer to their dove problem. Arriving at the Estancia, we left for the fields 10 minutes later. Each of us was taken to a hunting blind prepared by one of their bird boys. These were the men who would fill your shell belt, count your hits, serve your field beer, and call out if there were birds coming you didn't see. A finer hunting assistant I have never had.

As I approach my blind, I see there are several cases of shells, with each case containing 500 rounds. Before I can scoff at the idea of using that many shells, a 20 gauge semi automatic beretta is thrust in my hands, my shell pouch filled, and birds begin to swarm through my firing arc. Being an experienced hunter, I know that this boom of birds in shooting distance cannot last, so I do my level best to put a wall of lead in to the air. But this is a farm in Argentina, so the doves don't stop coming. There are points when I cannot load my gun fast enough and many birds escape, only to be replaced by two more. In any other story, I would tell you how many birds I pulled out of the sky with super accelerated lead BB's, but I'm going to leave the magnitudes till the end. After about 2 hours, it's time to go in for lunch.

Lunch is a 3 course meal with bottomless Malbec red wine and a guaranteed siesta afterwards. Sometime during the nap another 4 hunters arrived to join us. Three brothers and a business partner, all from California, all avid hunters; no better company from total strangers could be expected. After introductions and shit shooting, we all head to the fields at about 4pm for actual shooting. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we rotated through different shooting spots. My first time was over an open undeveloped field, and this second time was on the edge of a milo field.

To say that hunting doves with no limit over a milo field is like shooting fish in a barrel would be disingenuous; it was more like shooting a barrel filled with only fish. However, at the end of the day, what was never told to us was the physical toll this style of hunting takes on a person. Interestingly, it was not the recoil shoulder that screamed with fatigue, but the one that lifts the gun up. All of us were in varying degrees of shooting fatigue, after 1 day. I made sure to schedule a massage for the following day's siesta.

The next day after waking up to the after effects of shooting too much, we all made the pledge that we would only shoot at difficult birds so as to increase our skill. Taking only shots that challenged us so we could become better shooters. Things like direct overheads, right-left crossings, late stage flares, etc...

The day turned out almost the same numbers as the first. Only now both shoulders shrieked with ache, even after the massage.

For our third day, we all decided to do contest shooting as a group. We came up with games to play while good naturedly ribbing each other. We started with rotational shoot-till-you-miss, then teamed up and did the same. Later we tried a rounds system. First round required only one bird to be hit, 2nd round the same, but the 3rd required both shooters to make hits to continue. We did this until lunch. My best streak was 12. Lunch this day was more memorable due to the steak they served us being the size of a War and Peace novel. It really was more like Valhalla than real life at this point.

Our afternoon shoot was on the same milo field I had hunted the first afternoon. I came up with the idea that we do time trials. Normally, on any other hunt this would be ludicrous as no two time periods could guarantee an equal number of targets for each hunter to have a fair trial; but again, this is a farm in Argentina. We started with a last man standing round: each hunter has five minutes, low score is eliminated. It came down to me and Dan; we tied. Since a tie in unacceptable, we reduced the time to 3 minutes and went again. Another tie. Reduced to 2 minutes. Another tie. Reduced to 1 min. I lost by 1. Damn.

After the single elimination we did team 5 minutes. After those we came up with what ended up being my favorite. Two of us, me and Dan, would do a team 5 min shoot, but have the bird boys loading the guns of the two not shooting and pass the loaded guns to us after expendeding the 4 shell magazine of the gun we were actively using. This in effect cut our loading time down to 0 giving us the maximum lethality possible.

After this one particular 5 min shooting spree, I have forever been ruined as a dove hunter, or really a bird hunter period, as nothing will ever compare again... unless I bring an AA platform.

That evening our host, the owner of the Estancia, brought several of his friends who own a big game hunting preserve from Patagonia. While Red Stag are impressive, as well as the dozen other large and unique animals it's possible to hunt on their Estancia, I can't quite justify the 34k it would cost.

Our flight out was the next afternoon, so our last dove massacre would be that morning. For this particular session my blind was on the side of a hill overlooking a meadow. For non dove hunters, this creates a situation where the birds are flying higher to get over the hill, and often just going behind it, or veering off to the trees on the other side of the meadow; practically, this meant 80% of my shots were at greater than 20m. Normal bird hunting is done at less than 30m, so this session represented the greatest challenge purely because of distance. Thanks to the constant barrage of dove slaughter, I was well prepared, and achieved a hit percentage of 74%. And just to toot my own horn on this, the average American dove hunter comes in with a meager 14%.

After settling the bill, having lunch, traveling home, blah blah blah, no events besides denigrating the TSA, we arrived back home.

Best hunting trip of my life, and one hell of a post Peace Corps travel experience.

And now for the really fun part, the numbers (for me only):

1st day
morning: 520 birds
afternoon: 640 birds
Total: 1160
2nd Day
morning: 552 birds
afternoon: 596 birds
Total: 1148
3rd day
monring: 156 birds
Afternoon last man standing, 5 min rounds:
1st round: 25
2nd round: 42
3rd round (3 min): 21
4th round (2 min): 10
5th round (1 min): 5
Team rounds: 62, 47
Bird boys loading guns session (5 min): 51
I would like to make a special mention of this round; in effect,
I shot 1 dove every 6 seconds for 5 straight minutes.
Total: 428
4th day
morning: 260

Total all days: 2996 doves
Time hunting: ~18hrs
Total average efficiency: 68%

Carpe Palomas

Monday, January 9, 2012

News of Uganda (last 3 months)

I can offer no substantive excuse for my lack of blogging, but as recompense, here are some of my favorite excerpts from the local newspaper. A note first about the periodical industry in Uganda: There are 2 nationally circulated newspapers (also a tabloid, and various local language region papers), the Daily Monitor, and the New Vision. The New Vision is a state owned periodical and, in my opinion, prone to obsequiousness when it comes to criticizing the current government. Hence all of the following articles and headlines come from the Daily Monitor.
I will try to faithfully copy the articles as best I can, but at times added input may be necessary; such instances where I make comments or additions will have (mm:…) as their format.
Addendum: As I have purchased all of the newspapers that the content of this post will concern, I do not feel I am violating any copyright, or restriction, and any critics can go whine to someone who cares.

Hydropower Projects Under Construction
• 250MW Bujagali hydropower project
• First 50MW expected before the end of the year
• 9MW Hydromax hydropower project, Buseruka expected to be commissioned in Jan 2012
• Electomaxx to revamp from current 16MW to 50MW in Jan 2012
• 3.4MW Nyagak, Nebbi district
• 800MW Karuma hydropower dam, Kiryandongo
• 18MW Mpanga hydropower project, Bushenyi
• 0MW Kikagati mini hydropower project, Isingiro

No Report yet as UPE probe uses Shs7 billion
Kampala. The commission set up to investigate alleged mismanagement of universal primary and secondary education has spent at least Shs7 billion and is yet to make public its findings, 25 months after its inception.
President Museveni constituted the five-member commission in Nov 2009 headed by Justice Ezekial Muhanguzi and gave it a six-month deadline to produce a report. The tenure was, however, twice extended on request of the commission with the last extension having expired in June 2011.

Single girl, looking and don’t know how to cook? No wonder you don’t have a man!
(mm: the headline really was enough, the article had nothing that added or subtracted from it)

Chameleone (mm: the most popular music artist in the country) sets up beach in swamp as govt fails to stop him
Surrendered. Commissioner for land says the musician defied a restoration order although Chameleone denies it.
Wakiso. Musician Joseph Mayanja a.k.a. Jose Chameleone has taken advantage of the country’s poor enforcement laws to set up a beach at Kyanvumbu Landing Site, Nsazi-Lulongo Zone in Kasanjje Sub-county in Waksio District.
Residents say the singer has since Mrach 2010 filled the wetland with murram before completing construction of the beach scheduled for opening any time this year. He has since ordered his workers to stop people from taking photos at the spot.
But the commissioner of wetlands, Mr Paul Mafabi, said they could not do anything after Chameleone defied the restoration order. “we have no environment protection police, we cannot do anything now,” Mr Mafabi said.
Mr Mafabi added that several companies and private individuals have taken advantage of the government’s inaction to reclaim the Lutembe Ramsar Wetland and Kampala city wetlands. “we can only be rescued by establishing either an environment court or a police body,” he said.
The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has detective constable Naboth Kusiima as the only environment law enforcer responsible for stopping all wetland degraders in the country. “We were given powers equal to those of High Court and if one refuses to adhere to the order, we cannot do anything much,: the commissioner adds.
Ms Naomi Karekaho, the Nema spokesperson, said the government needs to walk the talk and establish an environment police, short of which is rendering Nema toothless. “I think the media should help us show our plight in order not to fight losing battles because we have no enforcement body,” she said.
Chameleone said he spoke to the environment authorities who gave him a go ahead to develop the area, a thing Nema refutes. “Call those environment consultants. I spoke to them and they permitted me to develop it,” he said.

Rapist sentenced to 13 years in jail
A 25-year-old man was on Monday sentenced to 13 years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to rape. Prosecution told court that Geoffrey Alal, 25, on October 9, 2009 at Oketkwer Village in Erute North, raped a 51-year-old woman. Alal pleaded guilty to the offence before Justice Byabakama Simon Mugenyi. The judge is presiding over a mini-session which started on Nov 28. Prosecution asked court to give Alal a deterrent sentence, arguing that he exposed the victim to HIV/Aids. She also said the woman was old enough to be his mother. Justice Byabakama, while passing judgment, said the convict needed to be put away for a while. “It is the duty of this court to send a very strong warning to other men out there who have such tendencies.

Letter of the day,
If we can’t run even a national bank, let Bill Gates manage our nation
(mm: the letter simply expands on this statement, which I believe is enough to convey the writers intent)

Kenya hunts al-shabaab door-to-door
(mm: after suspected al-shabaab militants from Somalia kidnapped several tourists in Kenya, Kenyan soldiers invaded Somalia to hunt them down. These types of stories dominate the “East Africa” portion of the paper.)

District chief takes ambulance for keeps
A patient died because of lack of ambulance to transport him to Mulago Hospital (mm: biggest public hospital in the country), but the district chair claims the ambulance is for his official use.
Nakapiripirit. Residents of Nakapiripirit District have given the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) a four-day ultimatum to recall the district hospital ambulance that he allegedly gave the LC5 chairman John Lorot for official use. A group of youth form the district have vowed to ambush the vehicle, arrest and beat up the chairman and the driver of the car and drag them and the vehicle to the police if the ambulance is not returned in four days.
A senior district health official, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal, said the CAO’s deed has affected their operations. “A patient with a heart condition was referred to Matany Hospital and we tried in vain to ask the district chairman to give the ambulance to transport the boy. The Chairman didn’t respond and, unfortunately, the boy died,” the source said. The CAO, Mr moses Kisembo Bahemuka, admitted giving the ambulance to the chairman to travel to Kyejonjo District in August, saying he is also disappointed Mr Lorot did not return the ambulance, claiming he has no official vehicle.

The New Year dream that drowned before midnight (mm: this is an article from the ‘notebook’ section, which typically gives personal advice and relates domestic stories of its columnists)
Ahhhh, brand New Year! Alright, the year is a few days old, but still new. It found me rapidly reversing from a fence, watching the New Year fireworks in my rear view. It doesn’t sound like much fun, and believe me there was nothing funny about the whole incident.
What had started out as a very well planned evening, one that was meant to show the romantic side of me, ended up with me running for my dear life. For Jenny, I had no idea what she was up to. Jenny is, or was my girlfriend. I am no longer sure.
The plan had been for us to have dinner in a fancy hotel, then sit and sip on some wine while we waited for the New Year to clock, the head off to celebrate a little more privately. We both agreed it was a solid plan, well planned and bound to convince the girl I was romantic, despite the suspicion she had been having that I might be romantically lacking. Oh, I am a romantic man, but once in a while, not every day.
So, at 6pm, I went to pick my lovely Jenny from her home. Her father isn’t exactly my best fan, so, I didn’t want to stay long. Luckily, he was busy in another part of the house. She came out, looking sharp! (Of course she is beautiful, otherwise why else would I be this twisted up about her?). She was unusually talkative, but I rubbed that off to personal issues that might or might not have had something to do with the girls’ biology and the time of the month. I was sure that it wasn’t that process that happens every month for females, and seems to totally disrupt every other function, especially the logical functionalities. Whatever it was, I hoped it wouldn’t spoil the evening for Jenny, because she had been looking forward to this for a long time. I even had flowers for her!
At the fancy hotel, we started off well, and we were already halfway through the meal, and about two hours to mid night, when things started happening not according to plan! Suddenly, Jenny lost her appetite! In fact, she insisted that the steak suddenly smelled bad. I thought she was being funny, but then, she said she was developing a tummy ache. I got her some tonic water, but that seemed to make it worse. In rapid succession, she became sick.
I decided to take her to a clinic but she insisted she only needed to lie down and she would be fine. I took her to my place to lie down. Bad idea! One hour later, she was all burning up. I took her to the car, to drive her to a hospital wondering if there was even a hospital open at that time. But again, she said she had her medicines at her home, that it was an allergy she was having. So, I took her home. The moment I entered the house carrying his daughter who was asleep or unconscious, I wasn’t sure, her dad took one look at me, and all hell broke loose. I don’t know what he thought I had done to his daughter, but I wasn’t going to stay around and find out.
Remember, he was not very fond of me, claiming I was leading his little girl astray. I dumped the girl in the nearest sofa, ran out of the house, into the car, and blindly reversed out of the fence, with her dad screaming things I didn’t hear properly, because suddenly, the sky went all bright. It was New Year! Well, Happy New Year to you too, Father of my girlfriend!

Man beheads father over land
Residents of Seeta Village in Kangulumira Sub-county in Kayunga District are still in shock after a man beheaded his father for allegedly refusing to allocate him a piece of land.

MP asks parents to love their children
Mbarara District Woman MP Emma Boona (mm: the civil system has a certain number of parliamentary seats reserved for only women) has appealed to parents to handle their children as a gift from God. Ms Boona made the remarks while addressing Christians at Karamurani Catholic Church in Mwizi Sub-county on Sunday. She commended the UPE programme which she said is eliminating illiteracy and helping children observe proper sanitation and urged parents to always provide scholastic material, boiled water, and packed food to their school-going children.

In Golola, Ugandans have what they deserve (mm: Golola is a Ugandan kick boxer)
If President Museveni had a rival in popularity, it has to be the man who claims to hold a PhD degree in pain. Moses Golola is a phenomenon that subtly speakes volumes about who we are as a society, and how one can make it if they are determined to do so. The story of Golola is quite amazing. A few years back, he was a houseboy who dreamt of a beter life. His situation was so dire before he became a houseboy, he slept in a chicken house! Out of that misery rose a character who held sway last Friday at Hotel Africana with a mammoth crowd of thousands of people all coming to see ’the reason why Sahara desert has no trees”, simply because as he says, he “kicked out all the trees in that area”. The crowd was so huge that queues of people wanting to buy tickets stretched all the way up to Wampewo Avenue!
Can you imagine a former houseboy having the whole nation glued to their television sets watching his fight with the Hungarian chap? President Museveni ceased to have that much attention when he addressed the nation on TV! Don’t ask me why. Moses Golola’s fight was watched by more Ugandans on television than the CECAFA finals (mm: something involving soccer) – though the Cranes actually won! How did Golola make it this far? Well, it’s partly down to his determination and partly the empty society that we are. Golola, if you were observant, was more hype than the real McCoy when it came to kick-boxing. The commercial character was the version Golola and his handlers sold to us, and thousands bought into. If you mentioned Golola, what came to people’s minds wasn’t his ability or inability in his sport. It was about what funny line the “kick-boxer” had concocted this time around!
No one was interested in Golola’s strengths and weakness as a fighter. No one bothered to find out how Golola for example became Africa’s “kick-boxing” champion, when according to the world kickboxing federation, Abbey Steven, a Ghanaian, is actually the number one kick boxer in the world. No one was bothered to separate jokes from facts. What we all wanted was another of those statements from him, - “I’m the only man who pockets while naked,” (some called that “intelligent comedy!”). We wanted the jokes so much that apparently millions of shillings were collected as gate collections from last Saturday’s fight.
Some say credit should go to Golola and his team for having such a marketing plan but I would like to disagree a little. What all this “Golola-mania” shows us is that we are not an analytical society and we jump onto anything so long as it promises to offer us beer, music and entertainment.
A one-hit wonder outfit with a song whose meaning leaves you puzzled every time you listen to it, (…bend over… bend over…bend over…) comes all the way from Jamaica to hold a “concert” here and not only do they get a full house, they manage to get their picture as they touch down at Entebbe Airport on the front pages of newspapers!
You find a politician that’s been accused of embezzling our millions, making his way to court, with an army of “supporters”, shouting his name, some holding placards with messages like, “God is with you no matter what you did!” written on them!
We are a weird society.
How can someone manage to get Shs 100m from us simply by uttering lines like, “I’m the one that kicked River Nile out of Uganda!” rather than for his mastery in his sport? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The likes of Muhammed Ali and Floyd Mayweather were known for their comedy, but they had a track record. They backed up the nonsense with a serious CV which everyone knew. But can someone tell me what weight category Golola fights in or what his track record was before last Friday’s fight?
Stories of money disappearing, famous pastors involved in the fight and families fighting for money have surfaced. Typical of Ugandans isn’t it? Why then do we mourn about the quality of leaders we get?

Golola Moses

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day of Days

In the past, I have written about events that span periods of time. This post will be a deviation from that practice. This post will cover only a single day I had last week.

The day is Sunday, and for the first time, I am attending mass at the local Catholic Cathedral. All 3 masses to be exact, each at 1.5-2 hrs long. Why would I do this you ask? Well I find myself in need of paper bead makers for a project I'm starting, and mass on Sunday provides the largest guaranteed audience. So 3 times I stand in front of a crowd 200+, to tell them I need their bead makers. What I have not told them (yet) is that this project is a copy of Smiles' project, just with a Marsh twist on the operation. Competition is beautiful.

After lunch with Father Kayaye, off to the Soroti Golf Club I went. I have been acting as a technical adviser to the businessman who is reviving the Golf Club and spent an hour or so going over improvement plans and marketing methodology.

Around 2 or 3, and my scheduled yoga lesson with Chelsea came up, so off to Eneku Village I went. Every time I do yoga here (I try to do it in public as much as possible) it always turns in to a spectacle; the white man fighting a desperate battle against gravity, which he will lose, as he does every time. However, I'm fairly well known at Eneku, as it has hosted several of my parties and some of my students work there. This led to only polite questions about why I was contorting myself in to unnatural positions and calling it "exercise". It also led to me getting a ride back to town. The people you know...

Back in town, around 5, I called my friend Gorka, the Spanish director of an emergency relief German NGO. He and I have been bonding rather hedonistically of late; we have a man date almost every week. Today however cannot be like our friday and saturday shenanigans as we both have to work the next day. So I pick up snacks in town: rolex, banana bread, and chips... also beer. About half the beer was consumed when we hiked up one of the smaller volcanic plugs in senior quarters. The view is even more spectacular when augmented with a 2 beer climb. As evening turned to night we drove back to his house where our mutual friend Achuma (a local boxing instructor and sometimes bodyguard) was babysitting Gorka's newborn daughter. After eating snacks we introduced Achuma to the video game Dead Space 2 (Gorka has an Alienware laptop). I have never this reaction before to a horror anything, but Achuma would rather play with Jen and the baby than us as (quote) "that game is too scary". In his defense Dead Space 2 is even more dismember-y than the first.

After satiating our lust for alien slaughter, we played Red Alert 3. Having played this one before I instructed Gorka in the subtle art of Uber-Mirco, in so much as to defeat an enraged Tim Curry playing the part of a Russian Premier, or conversely Lieutenant Sulu (I mean George Takei) playing the Japanese Emperor.

I have always believed that westernization is a "step at a time" process, and playing modern video games only took a year. Perhaps I'll make a beer in addition to honey wine next month...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Vacation and other Diatribes

I have a fool’s hope that someday time will be proven not to be continuous, but a random series of moments joined together by the slimmest of probabilities. Perhaps then my frequent lapses in blogging will be forgiven.

This adventure is the story of my African vacation before my American one. The grand unified plan of leisure was to go to the Ssese Islands with many of my training group for a weekend of beach fun and then jet off to America to object to Nathan and Micaela’s wedding.
Everything was planned out, in typical Michael fashion; where to stay, when to leave, what to take, how much to spend, a logistics master thesis. However, I erred in that I had not been to Kampala in 8 months and consequently forgot that there is such a thing in life called “traffic jams”. This several hour public transport fiasco ate all my buffer time to get down to the ferry to the islands in Entebbe, and then some. Arriving at the ferry I found that it left an hour ago. After having a lovely chat with the ferry manager (Charles, a Teso man no less) he informed me that several others had also missed the ferry. They were in the process of making arrangements to stay at some local lodges to ensure their timely arrival to the ferry the following day. However, I had my heart set on getting to the islands that day, so Charles and I made a deal. He would call a couple of his friends who owned a banana boat (the giant African canoe you are picturing in your mind); I would go find and organize those passengers who missed the boat.
In total, there were 5 people who wanted to get there that day. We collected the money for fuel, life jackets, and fare (a paltry 45,000 each); all told, we set off only about 3 hours after the ferry left. The journey itself was much better than I had anticipated it would be in this rickety boat that required continuous bailing due to the unsealed keel being pressed upon by 2 foot waves. The real shame was that my Ugandan comrades had never heard of Gilligan’s Island and thus could not savor the potential irony as the trip was supposed to be a 3 hour tour.
We conversed about this and that and before we knew it, night was upon us; more than an hour from shore. Just as I was beginning to think that my earlier jovial thoughts about Gilligan were more prescient than I believed, a beautiful coincidence occurred. The reason we had booked this weekend for our trip to the islands was because the mosquitoes would be suppressed by the full moon; which rises over the eastern horizon just after dark. The last hour and a half of our fateful trip was spent watching the moon rise in to the sky and consequently guide our way in to port. This trip allowed me to see the most beautiful and striking full moon I have ever witnessed.

Arriving at the islands was equally fun. The gang there knew I had missed the ferry (yet no one had bothered to send me a message; does this mean they didn’t care enough, or that they knew I would figure it out?). So upon arriving and checking in to the hotel, I parked myself in the bar for a beer. I watched as one by one everyone came up from the beach to fetch another drink only to find their wayward companion smiling and waiting. Reactions spanned the gambit from “WHO? WAIT, WHEN? NO, HOW? MICHAEL!” to “Aw, I knew you’d make it”. Eventually people began to ask how I managed to get to the island without using the ferry, as there is only one, and they were on it. I presented 3 possible options as the method of my arrival, of which one was the truth: I swam to the island, I had myself flown to it, or I used my Gypsy magic. I would say that chartering an unimproved vessel to travel more than 50Km partially at night and finding 4 other people to agree to it counts as Gypsy magic.
The rest of the evening was spent in energetic merriment. At a certain point it was decided we should go night swimming in the moonlight, which proved to be awesome. Fresh from that I noticed that the hotel had a banana boat of their own, but sans engine. The engine was quickly replaced by Danny (and a paddle carelessly left in the boat), who readily agreed to my scheme of shanghai-ing the boat and becoming island pirates. The plan fell apart like so many others that are lured in to the high seas by the siren song of “A pirates life for me…” when it became apparent that Danny makes a terrible galley slave.

The following morning I had intended to revive a favorite childhood pastime: making sandcastles. The pace was productive until a drunken man wandered down the beach and became fascinated with my half finished construction. That was the end of the productive phase of building. I remembered that “Hey, I'm a Peace Corps volunteer”, so I goal 2ed it up and taught this very inebriated fisherman the process of making a sand castle. His attempts at soil compression and use of dry beach sand led to several structurally superfluous piles around the castle which had to be removed before additional battlements could be built. I still tried to teach him proper sand castle mechanics, and for my effort, he rewarded me with the title of “his best friend in the world”. This title was promptly removed and replaced with “mortal enemy” when I tried to bury him in the sand, alive. Around this time we got to the conversation topic of what he was doing on the island. He told me he was a fisherman supporting his family back on the mainland. This made me ask why he was drunk at 10 in the morning as the beers all cost 3000Ugx. This went back and forth for a while, until I told him that he couldn’t work on my sand castle until he went home and gave the money he had earned to his wife; only then could he come back and be my friend again. He ran off in to the forest shortly after.

And some people think getting rid of drunks is hard.

Later in the day I found a super-keen stick that Bodie and I used as a golf club. Due to its size, the only acceptable object to play golf with was a volleyball. I made par, but before Bodie could sink his Mary came and momed at us that we were going to break it. So we played old-fashioned stick ball with a tennis ball we found. During my 3rd at bat I managed to hit a grand slam out in to the lake. This marked my retirement from stick ball. I prefer to go out on a high note, never having to go before congress and defend my “natural” talent.
The rest of the holiday was lovely; gambling, drinking, eating, sightseeing, a bit of hiking, lots of swimming and the like.

On the ferry back (which I somehow managed to make) I started talking with the ship’s engineer (also an iteso). He showed me around below decks and I got to inspect the ships two deafening diesel engines. He now plans to visit my school in reciprocation.
Back on the mainland, there was a bit of business to do before leaving for the America’s. Namely, visit the National Water and Sewage Corporation of Uganda and pitch them on Miox water purification technology. I showed their head office quality manager all the spec sheets for the variously sized products, perspective costs and savings, and was generally a salesman. He told me about a big industrial trade show happening in Oct that Miox now wants to attend next year. The really interesting thing he told me was that there is already a pilot project working in Lugazi using the same purification technology as Miox; the only difference is that the firm doing it is North Korean. o_0

That evening I was finally America bound. Arriving in Amsterdam was quite a sight; paved roads as far as the eye could see. Another thing I saw was Americans in their semi-natural environment: Europe. It is very easy to identify Americans in an airport; they don’t walk, they waddle, and failing that, they ride in the airport carts.
I had intended that my first western meal would be Rudy’s barbeque, but I lost the battle of wills in Amsterdam when I found there was a McDonalds. I should be tried in The Hague for what I did to those innocent McNuggets.
On the trans-Atlantic flight, I found it is possible to be supplied with beer for the entire trip. All one needs to do is casually inform the flight staff that you are a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa teaching business skills and entrepreneurship to disenfranchised rural vocational students in a post-conflict zone. Free Heineken never tasted so good.
And then came the Atlanta airport. This is still preliminary, but I believe the Atlanta airport is larger than the Soroti Town limits. Also in Atlanta, I had the privilege of seeing monorails for transporting passengers. Otherwise they would have to walk the extra 1/4-3/4 of a mile to their gate. It was here that I got the first quizzical looks from security regarding some items I had brought with me: Ugandan waragi (gin) sachets. Being 100mls each, fully sealed in their plastic bag, they violate no airport liquid handling restrictions. All 24 100ml sachets made it through security, save for the 2 I sold to the airport screeners at $1 apiece. God I love America.

The trip was not all fairy tales and rainbows however. My inability to throw away semi-useful things finally bit me in the ass; in this case it was the packets of coffee from my MRE’s. During transit, they broke open inside my backpack. It now smells like a rich mocha. I hate it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Corps Samples

I have been trying to keep up this whole “writing” gig as it seems to please people. However, I have only semi regular internet access. Hence, this post will combine several of the writings I have made over a period of time.

The other night I had to correct a waiter from the best hotel in town that 20,000 minus 13,000 equals 7,000. This is not the first time. I once explained to my class the 80/20 rule; I have found an exception: 99% of problems here can be solved with a 1% dose of common sense (maybe one day they’ll develop a topical unguent). I have tried desperately to find “professional” work worthy of an engineering degree, and have been left wanting. Case and point: the bricklaying department is expanding our piggery. They are laying courses of bricks for additional pens, and I notice that they are placing the bricks with the short side facing the outside of the wall, making the wall 8” thick. When I asked the teacher why they are making the walls absurdly thick, his answer was because it’s the strongest pattern. Never mind that the wall is only supposed to hold the weight of a pig lying against its base. This project has a material waste of 50%. I determined all this in the course of 10 minutes observation.
If I was teaching a ‘real’ business class, like with calculated forecast projections, market suitability matrices’, floating average cyclical business trends (specified to individual markets), that would be challenging; I would have to put a lot of effort in to my work. But I’m not. My last class was on the importance of marketing, and for an example, I used the story of the pet rock. I might have lost weight, but I can feel my technical acumen getting a pot belly.

It is not that I tire of the work I do, for even my rainbow of morality can realize it is important and worthwhile. Yet, I find myself staring at a void in my life that I was absolutely convinced 10 months ago I could not possess. I believe normal people call it “loneliness”; I call it want of companionship. It is not even specific to a gender, but more to the role of equality a true companion represents: A bro to share my broings on about town, or a lady capable of appreciating an elaborate waltz of wooing.
I have many Ugandan friends I commonly associate with: Simon, Patrick, Sam, John, Johnson, Samson. Yes, madams are conspicuously absent from that list, and I believe I have the reasoning of it if I can indulge you to read. With any conversation there are certain overarching subjects of discourse: providing new information (personal, professional, cultural), commenting on events (past, present, future), giving opinions of mutually interesting subjects, use of humor, wit, and insight. I could try for more on the topic, but it is not the point. The point is, that when engaged in conversation, with even my friends, the only item on the list they can readily articulate is the cultural information exchange. Every other aspect is found wanting, to the point where it is plausibly believable that I have found myself in possession of a cadre of yes-men. If I make a point that invites discussion, they cut that avenue off at the pass and just agree with me with prodigious use of the head nod. It is this basis that has led to my near exclusive friendship of the y-chromosome. With men, at least, we can share a common bond of manliness that transcends all cultures and peoples (with, as always, a few queer exceptions) and makes going to have drinks an altogether pleasant affair. With the women however, I can find no common ground. We can have the normal Ugandan conversation that always revolves around my culture and their culture, as it is the only subject on which they seem to be able to start, hold, or continue a conversation with. Yet through it all, I can read the message in their eyes: “you give me a baby”. They wear this look like sunglasses. It is raw, intense, and lusty. But it’s not what I am that they are cravenly coveting, it’s what I can give them: a child; the best, most efficient, most dependable way to ensure the support of the muzungu and consequently themselves. Having a child here is as common and normal, for all ages capable, as checking the oil ([pulls out dip stick and checks] Hmm? Not pregnant. Better get that fixed).
This is the bread and blue band (cheaper equivalent of butter) of my local social interactions: men who only ask me to take them to America so they can get a chick, and women who only want babies. The agony of choice.

One memory of college stands out as being especially quirky: the best Asian food I have ever had came from Socorro New Mexico, specifically a combo restaurant/travel lodge named Asian Garden. Tuesdays, during the last couple of years, would always be “Tai Tuesday”, and much gorging thereof was practiced. My and Ryan’s favorite dish was the “sesame beef”, a meal so tasty that I would describe its flavor as decadent. Many was the time that we would postulate on what exactly the chef did to make the meal so delicious. We eventually settled on witchcraft and underclassmen sacrifices, as every other hypothesis was implausible (eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth).

Since those times, I have always harbored a secret dream of surreptitiously trying to recreate that magical dish. Since I lacked the requisite underclassmen to sacrifice to whatever dark God of cooking there is (of whom Martha Stewart is the only begotten son), I would have to use science to accomplish the task. This is where I began to imagine what kind of scientific implements could be substituted to perform the foul and debased rituals required for making sesame beef. Visions began to take form and solidify; I was convinced that I would need some sort of tesla cannon to fry the meat which would be operated by way of some overly elaborate baroque lever. A power source might be fashioned from the overpressure of non-speech emanating from the classrooms of the school. Teams of students, press ganged in to service, would need to haul on comically large chains and pulleys to orientate the skillet to the proper axis of cosmic alignment. All these things I convinced myself were needed; in the end, it only took a package of meat, an online recipe, and a dinner party.
Everyone who knows me knows that I am prone to flights of fancy; that I revel in the outlandish. This dinner party represented none of those things. I have thrown dinner parties before, and all have been safely ensconced in the realm of the ridiculous, but this one was different. I cooked, and had catering students help. I instructed them what needed to be done and taught them cooking techniques and lessons all the while. There was pleasant conversation aplenty with the guests (the white people gang of Soroti), with many topics discussed, both funny and serious. The meal turned out so edible as to be delicious. Then I told the students to do the dishes, and they dutifully obeyed. We enjoyed desert and all went on our way. No part of the evening was eccentric, in any way. It was downright normal (if I could spit a word in written form I would, but italics will have to do). The entire evening left me feeling very much like what I remember of my parent’s behavior and countenance when I was a child; being taught to cook and doing dishes while my parents entertained guests. At the time, I remember vowing I would never be like them; I would be fun and different and interesting. And then I had this damn dinner party. I have broken my childhood vow to be different from my parents. I have now had a: “Dear God, what have I done!?” moment in my life, the likes of which have only been seen by the editor who approved the Batman Forever script.
My vacation is just around the corner, and it’s time to return to a place where the likelihood of any given white person being a hippie will return to normal western levels. When I think of all the things I want to do while home, and then all the things I need to do while home, I come to only one conclusion: America is a world of near infinite superfluousness. Wal-Mart has a parking lot bigger than our largest hospital. Meter maids exist. Light saber battles are a phone call away. Death by intentional poisoning is not in the top ten.

I like what I do here, but, among such potent levels of do-goodery, I feel I might have taken a step too far towards the granola munching tree huggers. Yesterday, during a monsoon, I did one of my exercise regimens (Shawn T’s Insanity Deluxe), in the downpour. Afterward, I ate an MRE of vegetarian penne pasta and watched the rain fall heavy as a shower spout. Then, to regain warmth, I did a session of yoga. While listening to Elvis, and wearing a bandana. Dear God. What have I become. I knew there were risks joining the Peace Corps, but I find myself unprepared for how easily I have slipped in to this lifestyle. In order to really feel like I’m taking a break from Peace Corps duties during my vacation, I think I might have to have every meal consist of some animal that has itself eaten another animal.

Next to Christmas and my birthday, July 4th is my favorite holiday. The corpulent celebration of freedom is exactly the kind of activity that I can put 100% of my effort behind. For this years’ we held the celebration of our nation’s founding in a bar/conference center named Eneku village. A scenic place, rarely patronized by simple bar folk (the Soroti gang of muzungu’s), but so patronized by us as to be at our (read: my) beck and call. For the holiday, I decided that we would have hamburgers and hot dogs. The other volunteers could provide the vegetarian items (I still hesitate to call it “food”). So in homage to our most patriotic holiday, I invaded the kitchen of Eneku village and taught the minions therein (I mean staff) how to prepare “beef burgers” and “beef hot dogs” (pork sausage is simply not available), also, as a personal snack, grilled cheese. While cooking and instructing the minions how to prepare these dishes, I was struck by how much they looked like deer. Their eyes were wide as I explained how simple it is to make beef patties; the possible profit margins; the accompanying dishes. The deer motif is really slammed home by the fact that they are all brown, and eat mostly vegetables.

The guests of our party were of course the local volunteers (me, Chelsea, Joanna, Brennan, Linda went to Amsterdam-traitor), Chelsea’s mom, another volunteer named Jam (insert bread joke here), a contingent from America’s hat (Canada), and 4 of my staff. I should note that all of us were supposed to bring members of our staff’s, but only mine actually showed up. Whether this was out of friendship, respect, fear, or the promise of free food and drink, I know not, but I’m going to believe it was the character and camaraderie of my fellow staff; Joanna believes it’s because of my corrupting influence. I’ll leave the final judgment to you, the readers, as to what the real reason was.

Anyhow, merriment was had by all. Proper hamburgers were experienced (having been raised on the grill this wasn’t difficult) and copious imbibements consumed (having gone to NMT this too wasn’t difficult). I even made a 4th mix of music for the occasion whereby all were treated to a semi-sober rendition of the national anthem. After much fun and carousing, the night came to an end, just like the power 3 hours before. Then, what I am now calling my 2nd holiday miracle occurred:

Nurse Angela, Opio, Johnson, and Samson were my guests for my 4th party this year. I tried to play a nice host but still felt as though I did not spend enough time with them, favoring the muzungu’s and our shared reverence of the holiday. However, despite this feeling, at the end of the night they all thanked me profusely, humbly, and sincerely for inviting them to this obviously very important holiday for me, and sharing with them all we had. They said that, instead of saying thanks for the free beer, and food, and the entertainment provided by drunk muzungu’s. Their thanks for the invitation had such potent solemnity as I have never in my life heard before, and truly, I was at a loss for words besides a pitifully meek reciprocal thank you.

As I am writing this very sentence, I know that it is being done so only by way of our schools electric generator. “But Michael, the power is unreliable in Uganda, why is this noteworthy?” I’m glad you asked. I live near a large town, which given its population and location on a major highway, has reliable connections to electricity. Occasionally a windstorm knocks down a line, or a truck a saves nature the trouble; rarely there is load shedding. Sometimes it’s the power companies doing (ir)regular maintenance. But his time is special. We’ve been load shedding for the last week, which is the longest period of time it’s happened since I’ve been here (almost a year). Some would say that this is caused by people using their air conditioners more, or refrigerators having to work harder against the heat. I laugh in the face of those notions. The reason I, and the town, and many other town don’t have power, is because the government has failed to pay its electric bill; some 97 billion shillings (~38m USD). Until the payment is received, the electric suppliers have taken about 100MW of power off the grid.

Up to 5pm, I will have power from the generator, allowing me to do my computery things. After 5, I will be enjoying in that oh-so-Ugandan way: a warm beer drunk by candlelight, explaining what load shedding actually means, and convincing people that the sky is blue because that’s Gods favorite color, thus proving he’s a dude.

I am very much looking forward to being home for a little while. A nice vacation in America: that ethereal land where all the privations and savagery of life are subtly hidden behind a veneer of minimum wage barista’s and 24 hour emergency rooms. For at least a week and a half, I will no longer hear the everyday “So-and-so’s child died of malaria; So-and-so’s brother died of aids; there was an outbreak of ebola in central”. For a week and half, I can reasonably expect that the worst thing I will hear is that New Mexico still hasn’t balanced its budget or that the gun show was the week before I came.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A month in the life...

Ah, another blog post, another month.

Having been here for ten months, a thought occurred to me; I have not held a weapon in 10 months. This is the longest amount of time that has happened since I first went to the shooting range as a kid. Unfortunately, PC has a strict "no guns" policy. So I've been forced to the next best option: spears. In fact, as I write this, my welding students and their teacher are diligently hammering away at their makeshift forge to produce 3 African spears for me. Soon my dream of playing full size darts will be a reality.

In the past 2 weeks we have had Martyrs Day, and Hero's day. The first celebrates when a group of the faithful were executed by the king of Buganda some few hundred years ago. The second... well, I still don't know. I asked 8 different people and still couldn't get a real answer. The by-product of these holidays is that the school puts on a party for each. These parties really amount to the same thing: sodas, meat, beer, local brew, and dancing. One of the curious things I noticed is that when we have our normal, every days meals at school, we use forks. But when we have the parties with the special lunch which includes meat, you are obligated to use your hands. I personally can't do it, and simply carry a fork with me wherever I go now. The second Kill Bill movie has ingrained in me a belief that if I eat rice with my hands, a Chinese Kung Fu master is going to come in to the room and bash my hands.

That last bit actually led to a conversation among my staff where I cemented my reputation as an unassailable muzungu. I told them I know the five point palm exploding heart technique. A little lie (or is it?) is good for security; I'm sure Fred (our Ugandan safety and security coordinator) would agree.

On another note, many volunteers talk about how many people say hi to them when they walk through the village. Indeed, the time required to walk a certain distance is not dependent on the distance, but on how many people are out in their yards on the given path. I thought I could avoid all those repetitive conversations and pleasantries because I live so close to the city. And then came yesterday. In the course of walking through town to go read at a bar I like, I was greeted and drawn in to conversation by no less than 10 people. It took me 2 hours to walk 4 blocks. I guess I'm well known in my field.

Now that we are in to the second term of the year (and my second term as a teacher), I am remembering why I never selected "teacher" as a possible future profession.

Case and point:

I gave my students the assignment of "write a letter of application asking for employment in your field". Results: Of my 35 students, 13 did the assignment. 12 were girls. 3 misspelled my name "Mr Marsh Macheal". I then think, "I am supposed to be teaching these kids the art of making money". When these two incompatible thoughts (goal vs results) meander in to the came brain cell, it makes my head hurt, and I briefly consider the merits cubicle work.

However, on the other side there's this:

The next assignment was "make a list of 10 small details that make a business successful". Results: Of my 35 students, 12 did the assignment. 10 were girls. 2 included in their lists "making puns with the customers".

Maybe this is that warm fuzzy feeling teachers tell me is their reason for doing their job.

I took a tally of all the books I've finished the other day. In total: 45*.

*39 of which are science fiction.

Curious observation: military MRE's contain an inordinate amount of processed cheese spread. This has been an incredible boon to my grilled cheese manufacturing.

I have finally found an upper limit on the ridiculous activities I perpetrate around my site. My idea was to put a variation of a Forex Bureau in the Catholic church in town. The purpose of which would be to exchange the large bills people get from the ATMs in to the small bills which are useful for the common Ugandan. They could then give a nice tithe to the church, have a sizable quantity of small change, and the change would be the new, crisp and clean currency the banks like to see in circulation. From every transaction, a small percentage (3%) would be the fee, which would go to the church, generating income. My supervisor, however, is of the opinion that we shouldn't be changing money in the temple.

It is at this time I must confess to a most sordid affair with a married lady; Mrs Dash. It is only with her flavorful ministrations that I am capable of eating posho (plain cornmeal) and beans 4 times a week.

Speaking of sordid affairs... Last weekend I went for a hike on one of Teso's rock formations in town. It was very invigorating to be able to see for more than a half a kilometer in any direction, seeing as Teso is preternaturally flat. One thing from Abq I realize now that I have always taken for granted, was that because the city is on a slope, there is always a grand vista to be had. Not so here. While the countryside is nice, you can really are not afforded sweeping landscapes to gaze upon. Which leads me to what I gazed upon the rock. There, in an alcove of granite, was a young Ugandan couple in flagrante delicto. Not a care in the world. I even asked others I saw hiking if they knew and they said yes, "those ones come here all the time". I L0Led pretty good.

And look at that, my spears are finished! Time for an afternoon session of good ol' fashioned spear chucking.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Quarterly Reports

Working for the government has a tedious condition: Reports. And then more reports. Right about now I have to start doing my quarterlies to send in to the office so they can send their own reports to Washington, so they can send their reports to congress, so that they can send reports to their constituents, who will promptly dismiss all but the most high profile, high impact stories as the stoned ramblings of a bunch of government sponsored hippies.
This requirement of reports, combined with a viewing of Hot Fuzz, has allowed me to realize that I cannot perpetrate the amount unilateral projects I have without incurring a considerable amount of paperwork.
To this end I will now write essentially a rough draft of my last 4 months, the refined, edited, and partly censored version I will send in to Shiphrah, my program manager. And as per her visit to my site, she will be only delighted to read my reports as “Michael, your reports are always so informative and professional”. Thank you junior and senior design class, you have made me a most effective civil servant.
So, in the beginning (of Febuary), there was school. And it was empty. The kids here are under the impression that if the letter we send them home with says to report back the 31st of January, then it is acceptable to arrive and start classes on the 7th of February. This was only the beginning of the students’ trend of truancy. In mid Feb, we had elections which we released the kids for so they could go make democracy proud. Results: Museveni - 5 million votes, Besige (runner up) – 500,000. A slight anomaly? No, I wouldn’t say that Mr. Peace Corps digital media content supervisor. However, the other results of the elections were that the students didn’t come back for a week.
This proved particularly aggravating since I had arranged for a neighboring volunteer to come give a presentation to my students on Village Savings and Loan Associations. When she arrived the day the students were supposed to resume class, they were approximately 0 students to teach. Not wanting her visit to be unused, I rounded up the staff for the lecture instead. They were so taken with the idea of a VSLA that we started one the following week and have the highest share value of any VSLA I have heard of (5000Ugx).
This actually proved to be very fortuitous, as it finally allowed me to address the tardiness problem of my staff. I had myself appointed to the chairman position in the group and instituted a rule that if you were late to the weekly VSLA meeting (every wed at 1:30), you would be charged 500 Ugx. The first 3 weeks we took in 5000 Ugx in fines for being late alone. The fine for missing a meeting without apology is 1500; first three weeks took in 18000. Now, every meeting, every person is there, or has sent word ahead. I consider this to be one of my greater success stories so far. If you have ever experienced “African Time” you would agree.
After the tardiness issue among the staff was solved, I went about tackling the same issue with the students. To this end I put myself in charge of all disciplinary action for the school. I am now referred to as “the Boogeyman”. All cases of lateness in all classes are sent to me. I then send them to work in the fields digging or mulching for several days. Rate of incidence has since declined and there are days when I often find myself without laborers.
But I am not the Captain Lugard of legend reincarnated; I also have many incentive programs in place that reward initiative and dependability. In my class if you attend every lecture and/or get above a 90% you will receive a free t-shirt (2 shirts if you go double down and do both), courtesy of World Aids Day and the big bag of shirts I convinced them to give me for this exact purpose. I also pay students for various tasks: mostly field work to emphasize the fact that they’re being punished when I make them do the same work but for no pay.

“But Michael, paying students to do work for the school isn’t sustainable!”

It is when you’re using the profit from businesses you helped the school start.
Which is what I’ve been spending a lot of time doing.

I have had the school implement a program whereupon each department tries to use the work of the students to earn back some of their departmental costs. If a department can recover 25% of their departmental costs by way of providing goods, services, ect then the dept head receives 7% of the recovered sum and the other teachers 6%
The catering dept was the first to step up. They have the students practice making chapatti every morning which is then sold to staff and students. I bankrolled the project with my Peace Corps stipend to start and recovered my costs from the sales ( a mini grant if you will; take that grant committee!). The profit is then used to pay for my classes training material. This coming term they will have enough made to become independent from my support.
The next was the tailoring department. For them I began with outlandishly patriotic Peace Corps Tunics; the prototype I sent to the country director. Several volunteers have approached me asking for them. I will have them ready as soon as the tailoring department head stops being pregnant.
It was around this time that the episode with the American soldiers, specifically the 108th Cav, happened in Soroti (see previous post).
Another little project that I arranged, was for the volunteers who are running the reusable menstrual pads program to come and do their thing for my female students; no boys allowed. So all in all, about 60 girls, some staff and the school nurse/matron were trained in the manufacture of the pads and are selling the extras to other girls in their villages during holiday to supplement their school fees. What was I doing while all this talk of menstruation was going on? I was cooking calzones.
This is something I realized was happening about 2 months ago. I am swimming in a sea of estrogen. Of the volunteers in Soroti, I am the only dude. While I find this awesome, I do miss the base vulgarity of my own gender (they also are more prone to drinking games). It appears to me that I may never find any gender balance in my life. I have now gone from 4 1/2 years of 7:1 guy/girl ratio to having no less than 3 Ugandan ladies profess their love for me every time I go to the club.
And then came the Spaniards. One Friday evening me and the gang had our normal fish dinner. Just after the others left, a Spaniard name Jorge and his colleague Julius invited me to join them for dinner. I had already eaten, but was also about 3 sachets in to the night and didn’t mind having a second, liquid, dinner. Many rounds later, we decided the best thing for us to do was to go for some bit of dance at Trendz. And dance we did. Till about 4 in the morning.
While a buxom young Ugandan had me pulled away from the crowd professing how much she loved me, Jorge and Julius assumed I needed no more help from them and went home in the vehicle we all came in. They had in the back of said vehicle my bag, camera, phone, and most importantly, my HAT.
The next day I can unequivocally state that I had the worst hangover of my life.
The day after I began the search for my things (thank God for rehyrdration salts, and damn the man who made them taste like ass).
Brennan, a nearby buddy of mine took it upon himself to ceaselessly call my phone and eventually Jorge realized he had my things. Later that day I had a near tearful reunion with my hat (and the other stuff too).
The following Monday Joanna came to the school to do a lecture about Apiary (bee keeping for the uninitiated). It was very well done, and incredibly nostalgic for me as I drew heavily on the knowledge Grandpa Bill had given on the subject when I was a kid. And then, just like that, the term ended.
And so the 1 month of holiday began.
One of the first things to do was to go down to Mukono, Kokonjero village for Anna’s Easter party/world malaria day. One of the best parts was the journey there through the Lugazi sugar cane fields. That is some scenic shit, let me tell you.
The first night was general merrymaking, with most everyone arriving the next morning. They did and we all went off to a local waterfall to have a picnic and see the traditional healing spots around it. Not surprisingly, I was the only one who remembered to bring along any beer for our little hike. N00bs.
That evening we divided in to teams and set about making the perfect pizzas using the industrial ovens that Anna’s nuns use for the Bake for Life Bakery. My team managed to create the most flavorful deep dish pizza ever. Suck it dominoes.
The next day was a truly memorable one; Easter. Everyone can predict Easter, but no one could predict Nick Duncan murdering the main course: a 40 kilo pig. The use of the word “murder” is justified in this sense as has never killed an animal before, much less an animal as large as a pig. With a knife. Cherry on top: Gary took a video of the whole episode (and in deference to Mr. Duncan’s political aspirations it will never be posted).
After the pig was finally dead, I took over and carved it all up in to manageable pieces for the grill. Next problem: what do we grill it on? Solution: a metal spring bed. After sufficient time over a pit fire to sanitize it, an entire pig’s worth of meat was grilled on a bed, behind a nunnery, under the watchful scorn of a sometimes vegetarian Jew (Love ya Becca!). Being grillmaster has its perks, hence a nice slab ribs was sent my way. As usual for our group, a dance party ensued shortly after dinner.
The next day I stayed through part of World Malaria day and left for Jinja. What occurred next was a near continuous playing of “the Gambler” courtesy of Nick Duncan as we prepared to take all of the casino’s money. It ended up not the clean sweep we had imagined where we owned the place at the end of the night; it was more a distribution of wealth. From me to him. Ass. This scene was to be repeated a week later when we welcomed the newbies to the East. Also, more dancing.
Which brings us to current events: me writing this. As it’s still holiday time for the school there’s not much to do, so I go and pester Joanna at her site as her organization has a better lunch than mine. Which I will now go do.