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.



  1. Michael - I love what you write and how you write it. I will be joining the PCVs in Uganda in August 2011 and look forward to meeting you. Keep up the incredible creative work!
    PS you need help marketing this site - its too good to miss