Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Ahhh, finally home. It feels great to be back. I'm not staying here for very long however. By the end of the month I will be up in Boulder, Colorado, where I'll be attending law school in the fall.

Since this is a time of big transitions for me, I've decided to take an indefinite hiatus from Thought Progress. I do expect to take this blog up again eventually, but in what direction I cannot say. I've had a great time chronicling my journeys and staying in touch with friends and family, and I hope the next incarnation of this blog can serve as much of a positive role.

Keep in touch, and check back every once in a while!

Monday, June 30, 2008

On the Way Home

Apologies for the long absence. Since leaving Africa two weeks ago I`ve become a little lazy about blogging ($8/hr internet doesn`t help matters).

We`re in Switzerland now, which is sort of bizzaro/opposite-world from Africa. Before that we were in Istanbul, a place that convinced me to be sure to visit the area again as soon as possible. Istanbul is a very interesting place filled with great people. It`s also the site of probably the worst, most criminal dining experience I`ve ever had. Inspiration to write about it escapes me at the moment, but those of you who know me ask me about it the next time you see me.

In a few days we are headed to Berlin, where I will be staying with an uncle, before a few short skips to London, New York, and finally home!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Visited Robben Island just the other day, and was blown away in several different ways. Its really amazing how similar the prison seems to our current disaster called Guantanamo. Political prisoners at Robben Island fought for years for merely the "privledge" to be called such, and in the end they had to settle with the branding of "security prisoners". I would expect more from my own government, seeing how different our ideologies are from the former Apartheid South African government.

Obama's presumptive primary victory reminds me that I have some pretty sweet pictures of pro-Obama graffiti from Zanzibar. Hopefully I'll find a time and place to post these. Support for Obama runs pretty high all over eastern and southern Africa.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Migrants have until today...

The news these days in the local Cape Times is both frightening and depressing. Mobs in the townships continue to attack migrants from other parts of Africa, mostly Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Meanwhile, it seems that South African president Thabo Mbeki is practically ignoring the subject. Here in Cape Town township locals gave foreigner "job thiefs" until today to pack up and get out. This morning we heard of overrun churches and community centers filled with frightened people. On the positive side, it looks like many South Africans are doing their part to help these idps. Our local grocery store has a shopping cart out front asking for donations for displaced migrants. Sarah and I are planning on donating some of our gear, such as tents, and Sarah is even thinking of volunteering with a local NGO should they need help. I look forward to tomorrow's coverage with anticipation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

from Multi-Cultural Mozambique to Rioting South Africa...

A week to enjoy Maputo was a great way of finishing our time in Mozambique before heading off to Cape Town two days ago. Luckily, we were able to stay with some friends we met up in the northern part of the country. The two fellows we stayed with are both Lebanese doctors, so we got a pretty good perspective on a number of things, including the Lebanon conflict, the practice of Islam, and Arabic perspectives on the US. Probably the most interesting story I heard was about getting fired on by Israeli soldiers while working for the Red Cross in the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war. Apparently that experience makes their work in land-mine detection seem "low risk."

South Africa is another world. The two most striking things about it for me are: 1) How 1st world Johannesburg and Cape Town seem, and 2) How dangerous things are here. Jo-burg is a collection of fortress-like houses and buildings. The recent xenophobic riots in the townships definitely didn't help our impressions either. The news has been pretty horrendous. I really hope the government does something about it, both short-term and long-term.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Last weekend we took a trip to MUSART, or Museu Nacional de Arte de Moçambique. We weren't really sure what to expect from it, but ended up very impressed. Free entrance was an added bonus.

Throughout the exhibit one is struck as much by the creativity and imagination of the paintings and sculptures as by the stark symbolism and dark implications behind many of the pieces. The dates of the works, most of which were done in the 70's and 80's, helps explain this: It was a time of revolutionary upheaval and civil war in Mozambique, and the implications of this are ubandantly portrayed in many of the sinister, mocking and ironic images. Sculptures of helicopters, fish and jungle creatures are made out of rusty ak-47 parts and broken bayonets. Paintings, such as the one above, portray a distinct social malaise, where alliances, loyalties and trust are all up for questioning.

I know too little about both Mozambique's modern history to give a proper critique of the socio-political context. I am also almost completely ignorant of the individual artists and their histories, but I will say that their works are both imaginative and well crafted. One cannot help but be lured into the emotional and psychological state that influenced these artists.

Friday, May 9, 2008


It's been about two weeks since we made our harrowing journey across the Tanzanian border into Mozambique, which means that this post is two weeks overdue. My excuse has been the lack of infrastructure in northern Mozambique and the chaos that has been our schedule (example: it took us three days to realize that Mozambique is an hour behind Tanzania). I guess it doesn't help that we stuck ourselves away in several of the beautiful little hard to get to nooks along the way.

The past few weeks have been for the most part quite fun and relaxing. I would say that for me the highlight has been the different type of characters that we have found ourselves in the company of. Northern Mozambique has a fraction of the tourist infrastructure found in the south or in Tanzania. Because of this you often find yourself clumping together with whatever other expats are in the area, many of whom are there for work rather than pleasure: Landmine clearing rigs, oil company contractors, tourist establishment proprietors and various hanger-ons. I've been surprised by the amount of ex-military types working up here. We've bumped into a few South Africans who were in the Apartheid-era South African military and who because of the clandestine operations in Mozambique and Angola are fluent in Portuguese. For them it was an easy decision to skip off here after South Africa's transition to a "rainbow nation" government. However, we've also met Kiwis, Australians, Brits, Lebanese, all of whom have served in some sort of capacity with some military. Not a few of them have seen time in either Iraq, Afghanistan, or both through some of the many companies contracted there by the US government and the UN. One Afrikaans assured me that the first place the American military went when they looked for dependable contractors was the demobilized South African paramilitary forces.

Despite having significantly different philosophies and ideologies, these guys have been extremely kind to us, paying for drinks, giving lifts, and passing on helpful advice. It's been nice to see that great differences in opinion about a lot of things doesn't have to stop people from being kind to one another.

We are currently in Maputo, which feels like the first "real" city I've yet been to since getting to Africa: Huge gridded avenues, skyscrapers, paved walkways, it has it all.

Ugandan Cuisine

While in Arusha I had a couple of friends stop by to visit. I took them out to the local joint we frequented while there: Hut made out of cardboard where you could get a solid meal of rice, beans and casava greens for about 50 cents. One of my friends, Tara, wrote up a review of it, complete with pictures, on her blog, www.beyondrecipes.blogspot.com. Check it out.

CORRECTION: Sorry, I originally wrote the wrong address down above. I have made the correction, and will repeat here: www.beyondrecipes.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Strange Only If You Come From Somewhere Else:

The Terrifying: Trip from Dar es Salaam starts off with the bus driver narrowly missing a taxi pulling onto the road, driving up onto the grassy foot tall median strip and pruning a barely-missed tree before continuing on to the wrong side of the road. Without stopping the bus driver steers back onto the median strip and reenters traffic.

The Hilarious: Taking a dug-out canoe back from the historic Swahili ruins on Kilwa Kisiwani to Kilwa Masoko, our navigators begin by unfurling the boats sail. Unfortunately, there is no wind. One man gets out one of the three oars and begins rowing and singing, while the other fishermen and passengers (there are three others besides us) sit and watch. Only rowing on one side, we inevitably start turning around, and are prevented from doing so only by hitting two other boats. In the mean time the wind has picked up so that our sail starts to billow, only in the wrong direction (i.e. towards us). The fishermen do nothing about this, but instead the rudder-man picks up one of the two remaining oars, of course choosing the broken one, and proceeds to row. Eventually, half way across the channel another boat with a barely running motor comes out to tow us the rest of the way across.

The Ridiculous: Traveling from Lindi to Mtwara in southern Tanzania on a refurbished Japanese bus that of course is carrying at least ten more people than it was made to fit, when we pull over to pick up someone else. Only this person has with him a full wooden bed frame. Yes, a full twin bed frame, which he negotiates onto our bus. Luckily, the place for such furniture on the bus is the roof, and so that is where the next full wooden bed frame that we picked up about twenty minutes down the road also went.

Headed to Mozambique next...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

From Zanzibar...

...but actually concerning Uganda, here are two anecdotes, one of which is (verifiably) true:

1) A year ago the Ugandan transportation minister was invited by his German counterpart to visit for an exchange of ideas. The German minister showed his guest his beautiful house, situated on the top of an expansive valley. The German minister took his friend out to his veranda and said,"Do you see that bridge in the distance?"

"Yes, yes I do!" The Ugandan exclaimed as he caught sight of a huge suspension bridge in the distance"

"80% there," The German minister said pointing to the bridge, "and 20% here" he said patting his pocket.

A few months later the Ugandan transportation minister invited the German minister to Uganda. The German was treated to a visit at the Ugandan minister's house, a spectacular mansion atop a hill outside of Kampala. From his patio the Ugandan minister pointed out below, asking the German, "Can you see that paved road there?"

The German, squinting hard, asked, "what road?"

"100% here" said the Ugandan with a smile, patting his pocket.

2) Two American health workers go to a Ugandan primary class to teach them about HIV/AIDS awareness. The two are accompanied by a town council member, one of the most respected men in the village. At the end of an hour-long session on safe and proper uses of a condom, the town council member addresses the class: "And so, boys and girls, we all know what sort of girls use condoms?" He hesitates for a moment as the class responds with silence. "That's right, working girls."

The story that isn't true was told to me today by a PhD student who had worked in Uganda for the past several months. I don't mean to be harsh on Uganda and its people, they really are great.

Having a rainy but good time in Zanzibar!

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Passion of the Crisis

Let me begin by saying that since learning that the so-advertised "non-religious" charity organization I am currently working with is actually extremely Christian (maybe, if I had looked closer, I would have noticed one of their school's names: Camp Joshua Christian School"), I have tried to be as open minded and diplomatic as possible about the beliefs and teachings of educators at the various orphanages and schools run by it. After all, what does religion matter if good values and a good education are at stake? Thus I set the stage for today, whose first scene begins with me learning upon arrival at work that I am to assist with preparing our television and DVD player to watch "The Passion of the Christ."

Now, I remember this film being criticized as somewhat anti-Semitic (it is), and somewhat very violent, but I also remember the film being very interesting with regards to linguistics and period costume, and so ignored that part of me that thought better of playing accomplice.

As the film started all 60-some 2-12 year old pairs of eyes were glued to the monitor. One of the teachers sat besides the machinery to commentate (the kids aren't quite at the point in their classes where lightning-fast English subtitles are suitable). Good, I thought, finally something that they might be able to sit through in its entirety. However, around forty five minutes in things turned south with the lashing scene. Wow, I had completely forgotten how graphic Mel Gibson likes to be. Within five minutes of this gruesome (and ridiculously long) scene one of the eldest girls started bawling. Within two minutes the sobs of nearly half the room were heard rebounding against themselves. What was I thinking? This was clearly not appropriate viewing for young children. I began recalling in my head that the rest of the movie doesn't get much better. As soon as the scene and with it, I assured myself, the first DVD ended, I would have to do something to stop this. But how long would this damned scene last?

Then, a miracle happened. About two-thirds through this excruciating hail of lashings and groans the DVD skipped and paused. The head teacher, with a tint of impatience, called me over to the player as the sobs of the children subsided a little. I took the DVD out of the player and began to pretend to look for scratches. "Yes, I don't think it will be viewable. Sorry" I said, relieved. "What? Ok, then put in the next DVD" the teacher happily demanded. "Um, uh," I stuttered, looking for a good excuse to avoid what would be another hour and a half of hell on earth. Finally, I realized the only way out was to fess up and stand by my "effics," regardless of whether I was thwarting her authority or embarrassing my bosses. "Sorry," I looked up, "I don't think that this is appropriate for the children. I can't put this in." For a little while the teacher tried to coax me into playing it, but when she realized that I wouldn't budge she shrugged her shoulders and left the room. I proceeded to put in a Charlie Chaplin DVD (now there is a genius) as an awkward silence enveloped the room.

Charlie Chaplin may not have caught the attention of the kids as well as Mel Gibson did- although it did a good job holding its ground against modern Hollywood cinematography- but at least the kids won't get reoccurring nightmares and entrenched anti-Semitic opinions from it. At the very least I'll be able to sleep better tonight.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mural Madness

It took me a little time to notice it, but there seems to be a thriving mural industry in Arusha. Business fronts are covered with pictures illustrating their goods or services. Barbershops and record stores advertise this way most frequently. The quality of painting varies, but I've been astounded at the creativity and artistry of many of these paintings. More often than not the artists replicate pictures from magazines and printed advertisements. Illustrators often sign their work somewhere on the wall and even leave contact information, such as a phone number or email address. I've passed several sign "shops" (really no more than a sign themselves on the side of the street) around town, where I assume these artists may be found.

Generally I find this sort of advertisement pleasing and a welcome change to the drabness of Kampala.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Since its been on my mind I thought I'd catalogue the ongoing repercussions of Friday night, by category:

Emotional/Psychological: Probably the most affected. The first day or two I found distracting myself with anything helped avoid the chilling memory of waking up to my door crashing open. Such distractions included reading my book, doing work for LOHADA, even sleeping (when I could). Now however I find myself tending towards an odd inverse of my initial response where I actually prefer doing nothing to doing anything. At work I'll doodle and daydream. When I get home from work I'll go to lie down in my bed and stare at the wall, my feet, or whatever is in my line of vision. It feels good to drift, to do nothing.

Physical: On Tuesday I put my foot in a hole playing football and messed up my knee, which has nothing directly to do with Friday's incident, but along with it helped contribute to my very dark mood yesterday evening. Luckily I believe that the effects my malaria medication have on mood swings overcame its effects on depression in this case. I feel better already.

Social: It's great to hear from friends and family who have got in touch with me this past week, whether it was concerning the robbery or not. I'm much more wary about locals trying to be friends with me, but that hasn't stopped a few cheery Tanzanians from chumming it up with me already this week. They really are a friendly, easy-going group for the most part.

Philosophical: For about three fleeting minutes every day I become a staunch advocate of the right to bear arms. I inevitably come to my senses however and realize how much worse having a gun involved might have been on Friday. Most everything else has stayed the same.

US Government: Anyone know why the Department of Justice would be interested in Friday night's events? 17 views in one day (according to my hit counter) seems a little much. Can't remember knowing anyone who works there.

Aesthetics: I find padlocks and bars on windows very pleasing to the eye now adays.

Journalistic: Tune in to next week's Loving Hands article, where I will tactfully tightrope walk the line between my outrage at getting robbed while doing charity volunteer work and being obligated to write what is essentially a white-hat paper for LOHADA (and by extension, charity work in Arusha).

Hope this doesn't sound too down.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Forced Aid to the Needy, a.k.a. Armed Robbery in Arusha

What follows is merely a snapshot account of what happened last Friday night. I lack the motivation and skill to paint a more embellished picture:

Who can say for sure how long they were there, or how long they actually took trying to get in. The first thud I remember being cognizant of was an almost imperceptible point on the horizon of my mind’s sleepy eye. The second tapped against my consciousness, but it took the third crack to fully awaken and alert me to trouble. The fourth and final bang, which was accompanied immediately afterwards by a very loud explosion (in retrospect: dynamite… a gun… fireworks?), was the sound of my front door finally succumbing to violent force and crashing open. I am uncertain of the length the time between my awareness of my circumstances and when my robbers finally entered my bedroom, but I can approximate it by counting the number of times I screamed "help" at the top of my lungs (five I recall). These cries were my only pathetic and thoroughly futile attempts to openly obstruct or deter my assailants.

Flashes of that night, momentary images are mostly all I remember. Three men enter and immediately begin scuffling between themselves, I assume, over how to deal with us. Gunpowder in our noses, flashlights in our faces, and beyond them fragmented views of flashing machetes. The men shout at us: "WE WILL KILL YOU! WE WILL KILL YOU! WE WILL KILL YOUR WIFE!" I am frozen terror as I decide whether staying in bed or getting out will improve our situation. "GET OUT! SHOW US YOUR MONEY! THE MONEY!"

The Money! I imagine my voice sounded as eager as eager as theirs as I searched with desperate hands for some hidden treasure to satisfy them. Three pairs of bulging eyes meet mine, a machete separates me from the closest of them. Our combined soundtrack probably sounded Disneyesque with its farcically maniacal exclamations:

Robber 1: "The Money!"
Robber 2: "Yes, the money now!"
Me: [whilst searching] "Yes, yes money money money!"
Robber 1: "You have lots of money, give us your US money!"
Me: "No, we have little money! Here is the money, lots of money, plenty of money!"
Robber 3: "There is more money! Where is the other money!"
Me: "No, no more money! Computer! Here, take the computer!"

Approximately one month before President George W. Bush had left Tanzania bequeathing it $700 million in aid. Pronounced Bush (I'm quoting), "I'll just put it bluntly, America doesn't want to spend money on people who steal the money from the people." Friday night I managed to increase my own donation to a country of destitutes (specifically 4-8 machete-wielding destitutes) by several hundred dollars and a laptop, the latter of which doesn’t really count because it was going to be donated anyway, albeit legitimately and benevolently.

I have never before personally experienced the physical trembling the cartoons always parody, but after their voices quickly receded into the nighttime darkness I could hardly put on my clothes because my hands were shaking so violently. We cautiously made our way from the guesthouse where we stay to our host family's house. I knocked on the Janet and Jo’s bedroom window. "Hey, Jo and Janet, are you there?" I whispered loudly.
"Chris, is that you?"
"Yes, we just got robbed!"
"Yes, us too!"

If I believed in the God worshiped by mainstream religions I would thank Him that all these men wanted was money and that no one was harmed. These facts did not however ease my nerves over the weekend. On Saturday night Sarah and I stayed up all night in the living room watching TV and periodically peering out windows and conjuring up make-believe intruders from the sounds of the night. Sunday night was spent at Backpacker’s Hotel in town.

What now? Well, weld the double-door bolts (check), buy padlocks for all the doors that still remain without them (check), perhaps also remember to use these padlocks in the future (check?). Buy an alarm system for neighbors to fearfully ignore again, or the police to take 30 minutes to get there? Rent a guard to man the ten-foot wall that surrounds us and protect us from half a dozen armed robbers? At what point does the security reach a point where it deters a unit of would-be murderers who will climb walls, smash windows and annihilate doors (that is, seemingly stop at nothing) to get what they want? At what price and with what annoyances to daily life can peace of mind be bought? Where does one start, and where does one stop?


Monday, March 10, 2008

Pole Sana

In Luganda it is common when greeting someone to say "jebaleco," which translates roughly as "good work" or "way to go." It is appropriate to say this even if the recipient is doing nothing in particular, i.e. just sitting or standing around. In response, the recipient should reply "kale," which means thank you (or your welcome, depending on context), thus affirming the other's observation and accrediting one's own (non)accomplishment.

In Swahili, a similar but rather inverted greeting is often spoken between, say, two passers by. In this case the initial phrase is "pole" or "pole sana," which means sorry/very sorry. The response to this is "asante (sana)," or thank you very much. Here the initiator is expressing his/her regret or sorrow at another's burden, which usually is nothing worse than having to walk from one place to another. As in Luganda, the response is an acknowledgement of the task being performed. The intonation may seem quite different, but in fact because both phrases are attributed to such mundane tasks as sitting, standing or walking, they both reflect a sort of extreme attitude to work of any kind. For how different they sound in English, they both seem to speak to a common comradery absent in English greetings.

Permit me one more short observation: the similarity in ambiguity of Luganda's "kale" and Swahili's "pole." The former can mean thank you, your welcome, welcome, ok, yes, fine then. The latter can mean sorry, forgive me, excuse me, slowly ("pole pole"), keep it up. Again, the figurative communal intonation that binds these meanings together is something that transcends their literal English translation.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My New Uniform

I own a uniform. This uniform, of the upmost utilitarian composition, consists of the following:

  • ONE green beach hat- to protect my sensitive mzungu skin from the harsh rays

  • ONE red (tuesdays and thursdays)/ green (monday wednesdays and fridays) light synthetic long-sleeve shirt- same purpose, dark colors hide coat of dirt well

  • ONE pair of green zipper cargo pants/shorts- light material with many pockets to hide play-things from naughty children or phone/money from pick pockets

  • MISMATCHED socks- self evident

  • ONE pair brown all-purpose (walking/running/football) sambas- dirt colored to, you guessed it, hide their innate dirtyness.

This uniform is light but protecting, durable but easy to wash. If you see me out on the street (or in a photograph), chances are good that I'm sporting my new home/away jersey. And since I do my own wash, by hand, it's usually preferred to the unnecessarily large number of collared shirts in my dresser.

Of course by the end of the week (actually more like Tuesday) these clothes could be deemed biohazards with the amount of kid-snot, dirt, meat juice (from the weekly butcher donation to the orphanage), dirt, sweat, glue, glitter, dirt, food, and more dirt that accumulates on them. Luckily I now live at a place with a running (unheated) shower.

In other news, Sarah and I are alternating writing for the local weekly newspaper, the Arusha Times. Check it out (not sure if this link will stay current).

UPDATE: This is the permanent link: www.arushatimes.co.tz/2008/7/society_5.htm

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Postcolonial Modernity and the Washing Machine

Out of the many experiences I've had in the last three months that have exemplified aspects of modernity in contemporary Africa, perhaps one of the best occurred yesterday when I went to do my laundry. Allow me to set the scene:

Having recently arrived in Arusha, Tanzania, I begin my three month "voluntourism" stint with a local orphanage. Among my many tasks at said orphanage is to convince the teachers/cleaners/cooks/washers (they are more or less all the same people) to utilize the washing machine instead of washing the kids' clothes by hand. The volunteer who orients me tells me that she believes they have tried to use the machine before, but have abandoned it either because they are afraid of the sounds it makes or because they are operating it incorrectly (due to language barriers she's not sure which, it may be a combination).

As I have many times before here, I mistakenly assume that a) I know what I am doing b) I know more than they do, and c) things operate the same as they do back home. I believe I can operate a washing machine easily enough. I have of course done so many times before: put clothes in, pour detergent into some crevice, punch buttons and twist dials until something happens. I believe that these washer ladies have simply never seen a properly functioning washing machine and, despite the fact that it will save them both time and effort, are afraid of changing their routines. Finally, I fail to consider that a contraption that necessitates both electricity and plumbing may not work the same way in Africa as it would in the States (such contraptions inevitably do not).

On Saturday I set out with my own sack of laundry to teach/show these simple folk through example how great their lives could be if only they embraced the trappings of modernity, reified through technological innovation. After much hand gesturing and miming one of the helpers at the orphanage helps me find the detergent and clears the space around the machine (this space is currently being used as an extra classroom). She does her best first to warn me of my stupidity in attempting to use the machine, and then to convince me that she can do my wash by hand. Once its determined that I will not be deterred, she sets about trying to help me as best she can. I check all the requisite attachments, knobs and dials: water intake, water discharge, electricity connection, washing settings. There are no words, just pictures on the machine, but I guess at the appropriate picture. When everything is ready, I press power. ... nothing happens. I twist and turn more dials. The machine starts to rumble, so I content myself with sitting down and reading my novel. Everything should be ready in 45-50 minutes.

Twenty minutes later I realize that the machine is no longer making any noise. I go over to it and look through the window. Hmmm, doesn't look like much is wet in there. I twist the dial back to the setting it was originally on and go back to reading. Maybe the first time didn't take. Twenty minutes later, again silence. I try to open the door to the load space but it seems that there is some locking mechanism to it. I see through the hole that my laundry is a little bit wet, but obviously not enough. I check the detergent: half of it has been used. I decide to try another setting.

Another half hour has gone by. I am actively avoiding eye contact with the washing lady, who has commenced washing clothes by hand in the main courtyard in front of the "laundry" room. My clothes still do not look especially wet or clean, though I still can't fully tell because they are imprisoned in their tumbling cell. I realize that actually washing my clothes will probably not happen today, and instead decide to try and rescue my clothes to fight another day. I surmise that the load door must be locked because there is still some water trapped in there, a guess that is confirmed by checking the emergency water release (found on the front of the washer, which when opened unleashes a flow of grubby smelling water at me). I spend some twenty minutes changing the settings dial back and forth between the STOP setting and what I assume is the drain setting. Eventually something clicks and the door lock releases. I drag out my clothes, which although being somewhat damp have also acquired a foul bile-like smell. I gather my load up and quickly and quietly make my exit. I sign to the smiling washer lady that I will try again tomorrow, but I already know that my confidence in the thing has been far too battered to attempt another go this weekend.

Why is it so often here that Western conventions and technology are forced to fit the situation here in a half-baked sort of way? Nothing works as it should, though it is made to work somehow. Things attempt to emulate how they ideally would work in the correct setting (i.e. where they were designed: US, Europe, Japan), but inevitably it is exactly that attempt that dooms them to failure. To me it seems that many of the great ideas thought up for Africa follow this pattern: since it works here, it will also work over there. Usually its just not the case.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Both Kabila and Odinga With Blood On Their Hands

Last week I found myself in a conversation with one of the many local Safari hawkers here in Arusha (actually, it was a ploy to get him off the subject of selling me a safari trip). His contention was that Kabila was to be faulted for the violence in Kenya because it was he who rigged the December elections. I agreed with him, but urged him to consider that by not choosing non-violent tactics Odinga was guilty as well. Is it clear that Odinga has any direct link to the perpetrators of the ethnic violence between the two leaders' tribes? No, but the fact that he uses this violence to pressure Kabila means that he might as well be directly involved. Perhaps instead of pretending that such things are out of his control he should speak out forcefully against violence on both sides. Until he does that in a meaningful way he is just as bad as the man he is trying to replace.

On an entirely different topic, and as a fitting means of waving farewell to Uganda, the following is a conversation I had with an airline official at the baggage check-in at Entebbe Airport.

Official: "Your bags are eight kilograms too heavy. You will have to pay $40."

Me: "Dollars!?!?!"

Official: "...yes, dollars.'

Me: "That's outrageous, let me try to fit more into my carry-on bag."

Official: "ok, $20."

Me: "... (confused by the fact that this has become a negotiation)... um, no let me try..."

Official: "ok fine, you can go"

Me: "..."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Globalized Football

This morning I listened to an excellent BBC radio piece on African footballers who try to get to Europe to play. The whole phenomena sounds chillingly like a juncture between colonization methods of a hundred years ago and modern issues of a globalizing economy. Also throw in this mix the notion that a lot of what goes on is actually human trafficking and it's really enough to utterly disgust you. I want my players to hear the segment, so I'm going to try and download the podcast.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kawempe Boys

Before I forget, I should add that I've set up some of my players with their own blog, which I'm hoping they will be able to use as a learning tool and as a way of stayin in touch with me. Check it out, any support and signs up encouragement would go a long way in terms of keeping them interested:


Constructing Ugandan Modernity

Study #1: Mobile Phones

Uganda is a country where over half the population owns mobile phones. You can buy time by the second. It is customary for someone to call and then hang up, because it costs nothing to receive a call an they will expect you to call them back. Many people own phones and go weeks, even months without buying time. A man in the village my organization works in owns a phone but has never owned a SIM card, and therefore has never made a call. Says a lot about how social status transcends economic boundaries.

Study #2: Pop Culture

The homogeneousness of pop culture in Uganda is shocking, even for someone subject to the narrowness of contemporary American tastes. The variety of music on pop stations rivals mainstream clear channel stations in the US in terms of shortness of playlists. In terms of local music, the style vaguely mimics the repetitive and monotonous melodies of reggaetone with a bit of African gospel thrown in. Of course hip hop, usually Jamaican influenced, is prevalent. So much for the hipness of being different.
Clothing choices generally conform to whatever t-shirts and jumper sets have been shipped wholesale secondhand from the US. Any form of Arsenal or Man U jersey (see next section) are also a required component of any wardrobe.
Last month my organization hosted a youth talent show. The complete list of talents performed included: singing pop songs, "miming" (i.e. lipsyncing) pop songs, and dancing Usher-style to pop songs. A few also sang their own (poppy) songs and one boy, a player from my team, also juggled a soccer ball. Unfortunately, the show was performed by category, so that by the time the 20th poorly mimed song came on I was forced to excuse myself.

Study #3: Football

Perhaps more a sub-category of #2 (which itself could be put within another larger category, entitled "The Homogeneity of much of Ugandan Culture"), the viewing of professional football here is a stark example of the power an problems of globalized sport. As far as 90% of Ugandans are concerned, only two soccer teams, Arsenal and Man U are worth supporting. Another 5% root for Liverpool, though most can name at least a few of the other biggest clubs in Europe. However, the overwhelming dominance of the English Premier League attests to how the incredible reach Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has given us can simultaneously and seemingly paradoxically shrink the number of alternative choices presented to us.

Study #4: E-mail

The ultimate status symbol, people routinely ask for it even if they do not themselves own an email address or have access to a computer. I've had kids as young as six ask for mine. It is practically compulsory at the parting of a first meeting to exchange them. Yet the number or requests far exceeds the number of messages in my Inbox from these new friends. Email was the first thing that most of my students asked me to get for them. Of course, people who have rarely, if ever sat before a computer, let alone type a sentence or open a web browser, can hardly be expected to know even the basics of how to operate an email account. They think I'm beating around the bush when I demand that they at least learn correct typing methods before I show them how to sign up for email. Signing up for email addresses is like supporting soccer clubs here. Either you get your email from Yahoo or Google (although in reality the dominance of Yahoo in this respect mimics the dominance of the EPL much closer than the support for any given English club).

Study #5: Advertising

I love the Ugandan visual advertisements that are painted on building sides and storefronts. It seems better than littering surfaces with paper signs, not to mention cluttering up views with huge billboards (although there is a fair share of that as well). The names businesses choose are great as well, for a range of reasons. Shop Dot Com, a convenience store/gas station, uses its name to associate itself with the hip and modern Internet, although there isn't much beyond the name that the two share. The two local internet cafes I frequent use their names to connote superiority. Ultmate and Paramount, though not much about either could be called either. In many ways the names and advertisements of businesses here strive to put them on par with an imagined ideal that often doesn't fit with reality in any conceivable way. Perhaps its not so different from the US, but the change in perspective reveals more of the whimsical fantasy of advertising.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Power and Corruption in Ugandan Football

The past couple of days I've spent more time than I probably should wondering what to term my latest African charity expense. I've decided that the best politically correct title would be "extra-legal expenses." A harsher but potentially more truthful name would be "bribe money." I've even toyed with putting down the simple generalization "African fee." Whatever you want to call it, I've recently become intimately familiar with the underhandedness that plagues many aspects of society here. In my case it's been my dealings with FUFA, or the Federation of Ugandan Football Associations.

In my humble, inexpert and short-lived experience in the eastern part of this continent I would have to agree with the commonly held opinion that Africa's greatest problem is that of corruption. Not that the West doesn't have its own forms of extortion, bribery and nepotism. The difference is in the details however, and in the form in which such things take place. Perhaps this is my problem: that I am too familiar and comfortable with the formalized routines by which my native society cheats its members. Perhaps it is because I am one of those who more often benefit from this institutionalized unfairness that I have less of a problem with it. Still, I can't help but find the more informal, in-your-face underhandedness in this part of the world annoying and troublesome.

Its not hard for me to imagine that many African countries are run somewhat like FUFA. The organization is populated by people that own or represent teams that fall under FUFA's jurisdiction, creating conflicts of interest that are impossible to ignore. It's hard to believe that the bureaucracy of the organization hasn’t been created for any reason aside from making money for a select few in positions of power. My induction into the legalities of the league confirmed this observation, as rule upon rule, real or imagined (I'm not sure as I have yet to receive a copy of the legal guidelines, despite several requests), has served no identifiable purpose other than creating more red tape, which a pay-off can often and conveniently resolve.

My dealings with FUFA officials have sharpened the unfortunate conclusion I have begun to make about the influence of people like me on African societies: I can only hope to leave this place no worse than I found it. As my time here carries on, I wonder more and more whether the impact I have on this society is or can ever be a positive one. The case and point of this is the example of bribery. In order to accomplish our goals here we inevitably run into situations where our complicity in bribery makes us accomplice to the engine that tears at the fabric of civil society. Refusing to participate in it results in the progress towards whatever your goal is grinding to a halt. Ok its a cynical, pessimistic conclusion, but I believe it actually helps me to prioritize my goals here. It's not meant to absolve myself from my ethical principles, but rather humble myself before a society devastated by colonialist theories of "improvement" and "progress." I shouldn't kid myself about altruistic motives; in the end, no matter how generous my actions are, I can't avoid the selfish reasons behind them. It's not a zero-sum game, we both can benefit, but missionary zeal is what I'd like to avoid.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Case of the Mystery Malaria

My general perspective on healthcare in Uganda this past week can be summed up in a few of the following inner-dialogue thoughts I've had recently (though I won't limit myself to just them):

"Is this treatment going to hurt more than the illness?"
"That's not what the last physician/nurse told me"
"I may be going crazy right now, but I'm pretty sure you are too"

Allow me to provide a chronology of medical trips this week:

Trip #1 (Kawempe clinic, Sunday): Feel terrible, get tested for malaria; told results are (extremely) positive, get anti-malarial drugs

Trip #2 (International Hospital Kampala, Wednesday): After feeling worse, get tested for malaria; find that I no longer have (never had??) malaria; told that medication I have been taking is either no longer effective against malaria or does not treat malaria at all; get proscribed new anti-malarials "just in case."

Trip #3 (The Surgery, Kampala, following Sunday): After some symptoms have persisted, seek another opinion; told that its not even worth getting tested again, since its obvious I was misdiagnosed before and don't have malaria (told, in fact, that no one has EVER gotten malaria in Africa while on Larium, which I am currently taking).

It's really hard to know what to believe anymore. Although this week has been a great study in the confusion that is healthcare in Uganda, it's been made less fun by the fact that I've been quite ill, and still am feeling symptoms. Do I have malaria? Did I ever? If not, then what do/did I have? No one can give me a strait answer that jives with my experiences, and because I'm a visitor I don't have a great sense about who or what to trust. It's been made easier by being with fellow foriegners, some of whom are also ill (although at times that also makes things a whole lot scarier), but it still doesn't help me feel comfortable with the decisions I have to make about my health. Add to this the sneaking suspicion that your weekly anti-malarials may actually be affecting your mental health, and you get one rather rough week.

No one freak out, I really am feeling much better.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Trouble in Kenya

Kampala's Daily Monitor has front page coverage of the violence going on in Kenya in the aftermath of the recent presidential elections there. Apparently local Kenyan media is reporting 124 deaths so far. Police have swarmed the country's city streets after the Kenyan election committee announced that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had won the election by some 200,000 votes. Opposition candidate Raila Odinga, along with a number of civil society organizations, has denounced the ballot count as rigged and claimed that at least 300,000 votes have been stolen from him. Kibaki was sworn into office hours after the results were announced, but Odinga has vowed to hold his own inauguration event in Nairobi on Thursday.

Violence has been reported to be the worse in the slums of Nairobi and in the western part of the country, where Odinga's supporters are based. In Mathare just outside of Nairobi police have been reported as announcing that they will shoot on sight and shoot to kill. Violence in western Kenya has forced people to flee into Uganda, where some have had to seek refuge out-doors under trees or with local churches.

The impact of the violence in Kenya on the Ugandan economy is already being felt, with gas prices rising and expected to rise even higher. About 78% of Uganda's exports and 90% of its imports go through Kenya, which means that continued violence could have a much deeper impact on the region. Already the Ugandan government and businesses are working to secure alternative trade lines through the Tanzanian-Ugandan border, both overland and by ship across Lake Victoria

All this has forced us to rethink our plans for traveling through Kenya to Tanzania at the end of the month. Tanzania by boat seems to me the most appealing, especially if violence in the DRC continues to strain the Ugandan-DRC border.