Monday, June 16, 2014

Titanic Driving School

After 2 days traveling, I have finally made it to the promised land, Uganda. 

The journey here was a bit of a saga.  When I arrived that the Charlotte airport, my flight to JFK was delayed by over 2 hours so I wouldn’t be able to make my connection to Dubai.  Eventually US Scare rerouted me through Frankfurt, but they didn’t reroute my luggage.  So as I am writing this on Saturday, June 14th, I still don’t have my bags.  I am still wearing the same dress and underwear (I know, TMI – the underwear are clean, the dress is another story).  My luggage finally made it to Entebbe, and my boss is in Entebbe retrieving it, as well as attending to the business of getting the shipment of yarn and craft books through customs.  

The airport at Entebbe is small; about the size of the airport in State College, PA, if any of you have ever had the pleasure of traveling to Penn State.   The guards have automatic rifles and the security is tighter than in the United States.   But it is not nearly as tight as the security in Frankfurt, where I was manhandled by Frau Blucher.  Then my little speaker was tested for bomb making residue.  The people were nice about it, but still it violated every sensibility of personal space that I have.  But I digress . . .

I was met at the airport by my boss Stanley Okurut, the director of PACODET, and his nephew Albert.  We were driven from the airport to Kampala, about a 45 minute drive away.  I soon learned that the driver was Elijah, the customs broker who will determine the taxes and fees on importing the yarn.  NO pressure there to be nice and accommodating! 

While we were driving to Kampala, we stopped in a neighborhood about halfway between for Elijah and Stanley to see someone.  As we were passing into the neighborhood, I saw a sign for the Titanic Driving School.  I thought it was hilarious, the idea of naming your driving school after the Titanic.  Based on Elijah’s driving, I thought it might be appropriate.  I left my nerves at the airport and did not breathe until we stopped in Entebbe.

Driving in Uganda is like a huge game of chicken where no one yields their ground until the last possible second and only when they are threatened with gross bodily harm.   And this all happens at 75 miles an hour!

We spent a day in Kampala so that I could set up cell phone service and a modem.  I tried to set up a bank account, but apparently that will take an act of  Parliament to accomplish so we decided to head home to Pallisa.

The bus depot in Kampala is nothing short of chaos with no room for the vans to move.  We found the van to Pallisa and piled in.  In the US, these vans would carry 8 people at most.   Some government official has approved the vans for 14 passengers, but about 19 people piled into our van for the ride to Pallisa.

The drive to Pallisa from Kampala takes about 4 hours.  For the duration of the trip, I did not breath.  The driver passed on the right or left, whichever was clear for 3 feet ahead.   And then when he drove down the middle of the road with large trucks oncoming!  Oye vey!  This guy surely must have been a graduate of the Titanic Driving School.  I think everyone else must be too.

And thus my adventure in Pallisa begins.   More to post soon!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Crochet Project

First sentences are always a bitch.  No matter how clever I try to be, I usually just sound like an idiot or a jerk.   And let's face it, when I'm thinking of what to write in the shower,  I always sound more clever than I actually am.

And another thing, writing well is a lot like good taste and a sense of humor.  Everyone thinks they have good taste and a good sense of humor, but in truth not many of us actually do.  If we are lucky in life, we have many friends who have one or the other, and sometimes we get really lucky and have a friend who has both.  Thus, I am not much of a writer; I'm more of a think-out-loud-on-paper type communicator.

So, why Uganda and why now?  Many of you may know that for the past four years or so, I have been a volunteer grant writer for the Pallisa Community Development Trust or PACODET.  PACODET is located in Kapuwai Village, near Pallisa township, in Pallisa District of Eastern Uganda.  PACODET is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to improve life for the 60,000+ residents in the area it serves through food security, integrated rural community health services and agricultural/environmental projects and initiatives.

I will spend 7 months on this trip to teach about 12 to 14 women whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS how to crochet.  Together we will set up a micro business to sell these items first in the local markets, and later on, hopefully, we will expand upward and outward.  I have very high hopes for this project.  I want these women to succeed in every possible way and I'm willing to work myself to death to help them achieve that goal.

I leave for Uganda on Sunday, June 8, 2014.  Posts to this blog will be made weekly, and some times more often if there is more to share.

Hope you enjoy the ride!