Project Casa (Part 2)

June 20, 2009

We had been planning for the big day for the last month.  We rescheduled the work day at least three or four times in the last week.  After using much airtime & SMS the previous night to confirm that the people and the tools were available, we kept our fingers crossed hoping the welder, the power driller, the carpenter, the hammer power drill, the generator, the ladder, the driver and the double-cabin truck would still follow through the next day for Project Casa.

June 19, 2009

8:00 a.m

As I headed out to buy chapatis for our worker-friends, Fractal purified 10L water for them.

8:30 a.m

I arrived at the college to find the carpenter, the driver, and the truck. Fred, the carpenter, who was talking to the security guard greeted me, “tusaigaire,” (we’re pleased to see you) at the gate.  I greeted him back, & we went on a hunt across the college campus to locate the truck and the driver.

8:45 a.m

We found a college employee in the white double cabin truck,  which Fractal and I worked hard to procure to transport our crew of workers and tools at 9 am to work on the house, who informed me that he’s currently driving it and running an errand for the college.  He pointed to a single cabin truck and told me that I could take that.  When I inquired why he wasn’t using that one, he retorted that there was no fuel in it.  Before he drove off, he added that he would be back in thirty minutes.

8:50 a.m

While I texted Fractal to wrap things up at the house and come to the college, Fred called the driver and urged him to come to work.

8:51 a.m

I called the college estate manager to inform him the situation.  He assured me that the employee would be back in fifteen minutes.

9: 45 a.m

The driver John and the employee who took the truck arrived back at the college .

9:50 a.m

As Fred gathered his tools, he told me that the college electrician took the ladder and left it in the building that stored the water pump.

10:00 a.m

We drove to the water-pump building half a kilometer away from the main campus to find the ladder inside and the door locked.  John quickly thought and confidently assured us that his friend in F-town had a ladder we could borrow for free.

10:30 a.m

We finally left the college and proceeded to F-town that’s 2 km away to pick up the welder, the driller, and the other tools.

10: 40 a.m

As the welder Alex loaded his gadgets, I called Abrahim, the driller, who owned the hammer power drill, to check whether he was ready to be picked up.  He informed me that he was in Kampala, three hours away, and just took a taxi to get back to F-town.  After I talked to Abrahim, I made a quick call to Sam, owner of the generator, to inquire how much it would cost to rent the generator for two days.  He told me he wouldn’t charge any additional cost for renting it the next day, but would charge 30,000 USh ($15, high for 2 PCV’s on a meager budget) to pick up the generator from the village since we wouldn’t have the truck the next day. Then I turned to Fractal to narrate my calls to Abrahim and Sam, and we both concluded that we would need to cancel the welding and drilling again.

11:15 a.m

As we proceeded back to the college to drop off Fred, I suggested that we could still get some work, like sealing the vents in the storage and the changing the locks in the house that we commissioned the carpenter to work on, done.   We also picked up some bulky items in town that we couldn’t transport in a taxi and took them back to the village.

11:45 a.m

We reached our destination and offered some tea and chapatis to John and Fred.

12: 45 p.m-5:40 p.m

Reenergized Fred worked on taking out the inside locks, chiseling a bigger cavity for the new lock to fit in each of the three doors, and installing the new robust Mortise locks.  Fractal and I marked black dots on the walls for drilling holes–we wanted to make for the insertion of the hooks and anchors for the steel lines that would serve as a lattice for our mylar pseudo ceiling.  We also draped our six windows-frames with the three-layered no-peeping curtains; we anchored the bottom two corners and fastened the top two corners to a vertical pulley on each side that allowed them to be pulled upwards.

5:45 p.m

Fred, Fractal and I admired the colorful yellow, red, and purple curtains that added more color to the blue walls and silver heavy-duty Mortise locks that adorned the doors.  Fred and I commended Fractal on those fine knots he learned to make as a Boy Scout.  We thanked Fred for the more extensive work than he anticipated in installing the locks.

6:45 p.m

After John dropped us back, we headed to the trading center where we bought our dinner of Rolex (an omlette rolled in a chapatti) and cassava chips.

7:30 p.m

As I feasted on the Rolex, I told myself that Rome wasn’t build in a day,  and was comforted that some thing was done today.


Cinderalla Next Door

June 18, 2009

June 18, 2009

As I walk past six-year old Paulina who is bent over the sink in the middle of her second load of dish washing, she smiles pleasantly and replies quietly, “I’m fine,” when I greet her.  Her ebony skin glistens in the splashes of sun-lit soapy water and her small hands work methodically as she meticulously scrub each dish caked with remnants of the previous meal.

When I stop to ask her why she isn’t attending school today, she cheerfully answers that she would attend the next day.  Children who attend private schools are asked to stay home some days when their tuition isn’t completely paid.  Recently Paulina’s step mother Diana took her sick son Peter to another town for health care, which probably cut into Paulina’s tuition.

In one of our conversations, Diana confided that Paulina’s mother abandoned her when she was an infant.  Her father who’s a local butcher works long days to provide for the family.  In the vicinity of Paulina, Diana turns into a fairy-tale stepmother who constantly rebukes and commands the shy child.  Unhesitatingly devoting her energy to washing dishes, laundering clothes, watching her baby stepsister, and running errands for the family, Paulina, on the other hand, implicitly obeys her stepmother and helps her run the household.

Last evening when we returned home, we saw lonesome Paulina patiently sitting in the thatched gazebo and anxiously waiting for her parents.  Her father was still at his butcher shop, and her stepmother with her step-siblings went into town.  Hungry and left alone, Paulina’s eyes were constantly gazing the dirt road awaiting their return.

The young child’s plight kindled a desire to share one of the mendazzi (doughnuts) that we bought.  Under the orange-tainted sky as the Red-cheeked Cordon-blue returned to its nest in the nearby Thevatia shrub, Fractal and I–seated across the young Cinderalla next door with her mouthful of mendazzi–were glad that within a few moments a wide-toothed smile erupted across her face as she pointed to different objects and taught us their Lusoga names.

June 12, 2009

Having lived outside the US, moving to a different corner is not a new experience. Assimilating to a new culture in the company of a family member makes those few frustrating times a lot bearable.  When the matatu driver slyly assured us that the taxi was directly going to our destination, I was glad Fractal was beside me while  it took several detours to get more passengers before actually leaving for our destination.

Although not particularly homesick, I miss aromatic odors of my mother’s Palak Paneer; at the same time, I enjoy the time inventing the new culinary creations while experimenting with spices available in F-town.  I was glad to discover sooner that the Tropical Island spice specialists put the same mixture of spices while packaging their Italian spices even though they marketed them as Rubbed Basil, Oregano, and Mixed Spices.  If I weren’t in Uganda, then I probably would never have tried making chapatis again after almost resigning from making jaw breaking chapatis a year ago.  After that futile attempt, I wasn’t sure I could make palatable chapatis.  Necessity is indeed the teacher of many things.

When Dr. SuperProfessor from our university visited us in F-town, he came bearing gifts,  wishes and hugs from home.  Spending a day with a friend from home and others he brought was like drinking a good cup of coffee while relaxing in a hammock.  The kind-hearted professor brought us the sort of things that make life easier, so living in the village is more enjoyable.  The things that remind us of home–the conveniences  we left behind that we took for granted.  Like children during holiday time, we were crouched on the floor browsing through goodies that our families send.  The stuff reminded us of the kinda families we have.  The type of family that drops everything, goes on scavenger hunts and gets the stuff on a short notice.

Not too long ago leaving home was once an important goal in my life.  I just couldn’t wait to leave familiar things and learn new things.  Spending hours dreaming about exploring the many corners of the world now seem quixotic, but encountering novel ways just seem more appealing.  Now that our four-month anniversary of leaving the USA is in couple of days, I’m discovering something: there’s no place like home.

Peter’s nightmare

June 6, 2009

June 5, 2009

No one would faintly consider from Peter’s innocent smile that he’s in his terrible two.  The smile that instantly melts even a person who isn’t fond of toddlers.  The kind of smile that makes one forget that Peter can be a rambunctious and mischievous little person.  The morning alarm who would easily get on Santa’s naughty list.  The potty-trained child who would  urinate on his uncle’s Picfare exercise book and defecate in the yard because it’s his domain.  An obvious hub for virulent microorganisms.

A seemingly brave child who’s unafraid of living organisms, Peter ran crying for his life when he saw my camera.  The unfamiliar black monster was going to eat him.   Even after watching me photograph his infant sister, it took a while before he became completely comfortable with the THING.

Several days ago I noticed a change that was characterized by persistent crying, limping, and decreased exuberance in his demeanor.  When I inquired about them, his mother informed me that the boy’s father took the sick boy to the local clinic, where the nurse who assumed the illness was malaria gave him a shot on his gluteus. When the mother went to the dispensary to ask for the name of the medication, the nurse refused to reveal the name of the drug.  Later when her husband and she went to confront the nurse, she finally told them that she gave Peter a shot of quinine.

The poorly administered intramuscular injection could  lead to gluteal fibrosis; an injury that damages the sciatic nerve and leaves the child unable to bend the knee, so that normal activities such as walking, running, squatting and climbing become extremely strenuous.  Many cases were reported around the country where untrained health professionals in small clinics gave children quick intramuscular gluteus injections of quinine for malarial infections leaving them disabled.  These children would need physical therapy and orthopedic surgery to rectify their fates.  The lives completely altered by malpractices that could be avoided at little cost.

Since that initial conversation about Peter’s unfortunate clinic visit, his parents took him to the local hospital to test for malaria.  Diagnosed with severe malaria, Peter was given IV quinine on numerous visits to the hospital.  His mother massages his leg to reduce the effects of quinine.  He’s slowly recovering from malaria.

The free ride

June 5, 2009

May 30, 2009

When the director of Fractal’s NGO asked us to go along to an introduction in a village 30 km east of M-town located in southwestern Uganda, we hesitantly said “yes.”  Unable to refuse the free ride to the foothills of Mount Elgon, we told ourselves that it would be a polite gesture to attend–to show support to the director’s wife Agnetia, the maid of honor–even though we were still burned out from the last time and needed time to recuperate from all the sitting.

Clad in the kansu adorned with the $35 sport jacket and dress pants and in the gomesi that my neighbor helped me wear, Fractal and I accompanied the director and his friend in Agnetia’s air conditioned white Toyota Corona.  Half an hour into the voyage, the director decided that he wasn’t adept in driving his wife’s car and asked his friend to drive.  After we swapped drivers, we passed our first sight of professional East African cyclists racing on their Ugandanized bikes–a blend of parts from other mountain and road bikes.

As we proceeded at the speed of 121.7km/hr in a zone where the speed limit was 80 km/hr ( so we don’t collide with the roosters, pedestrians, and goats that speckled the landscape), we were stopped by the friendly Ugandan patrol.  On seeing the two buzungu on the passenger seats, the female traffic patrol officer commenced on a tirade on the dangers of speedy driving and the importance of following Ugandan laws.

When the officer asked for the drivers’ license of the friend, the friend subserviently replied that he didn’t have his license since he wasn’t planning to drive, but proposed to drive since the director wasn’t feeling well.   After much coaxing, she relented and decided not to give the 50,000 ush ($25) ticket for driving without the license.  When the officer threatened to give a speeding ticket of 100,000 ush($50 est), the director and  the friend told her they learned their lesson and tucked a folded 10,000 ush ($5) between her fingers.  Soon afterwards we resumed our journey at speeds of 120 km/hr.

The topography dotted with velvet green foothills of Mt. Elgon, the matooke plantations and  the few remaining mahogany (that weren’t chopped down for timber possibly to design furniture for European and American markets, or for the increasing domestic need for firewood and charcoal) resembled the continental divide of Costa Rica’s San Luis.  The cooler climate made the gomesi more bearable.  After we passed the bustling municipality (one step short of registering as a city) of M-town, we turned off onto a dirt road with hardened mud tire tracks and crept into a remote village where having electricity would be a distant dream.  After about forty-five minutes of the bumpy ride, the dirt road gave way to a narrower mud road that led us to one of the homes of the district judge, Agnetia’s father.

As we walked towards the concrete house that sat behind a mostly manicured lawn, I asked the director how one greets in Lugisu, the local language spoken in the slopes of Mount Elgon.  The director, a musoga–a Lusoga speaker, said he was a muzungu like us in these parts.  After a satisfactory snack of a chappati, a sliver of fatty meat–I placed on Fractal’s aluminum tray–and Fanta we hiked a hill to Katherine’s (Agnetia’s friend) introduction ceremony.

After we arrived at our destination three hours late, we waited patiently in a line with the groom’s side awaiting permission from the bride’s folks, who were waiting for couple of hours, to enter through the ribboned arch gate.  During the ten-minute wait, I took pictures of the uninvited spectators, mostly children, who gathered around the tents to watch the betrothal.

After we were seated right up front next to the groom, we watched tweens and teens wrapped in six-yard striped kanga, East African counterpart of the pareo, sway and dance their way to the middle of the yard. Escorted by her bridesmaids, the bride pranced to the audience’s view in her glittering gomesi to greet her beloved and his family.  After the greetings, the elders took a forty-five minute break to discuss the dowry, the bride price that the groom gives to the bride’s family.  Following the lengthy deliberation, the groom’s folks presented the bride with numerous gifts.  The kneeling bride and the standing groom exchanged rings after she accepted the cargo of goods.  The bride and the groom cut a cake with cemented white icing cake and hugged each other, the only physical display of affection during the entire ceremony.

After the short two-hour ceremony, we were soon ushered into a kerosene lantern-lit room reserved for close family members and friends to eat dinner.  Like many other Ugandans who show disbelief when they hear that I don’t eat meat,  and ask whether I eat chicken, Agnetia apologetically handed me a bowl of steamed matooke and an oily bean soup.  Outfitted with a headlamp to help maneuver the beans through the oil in dim lighting, I scooped small spoonfuls of matooke and beans with REI’s Light my Fire spoons we brought along.  With our stomachs full of matooke, we finally met the newly betrothed a few minutes before we departed from the modest home.

Swinging the headlamp to provide lighting for people behind me, we traversed our way down the trecherous muddy hill and gradually trekked our way down to the front yard of Agnetia’s ancestral home.  The director and his wife jokingly told us that it was too early to return home and they were taking us dancing before they dropped us off at our home at one in the morning.  We sincerely thanked them for the ride.  Craving for more mountain air, we waved them goodbye and were glad the free ride was worthwhile.