Pour me a Tall Glass

Some Ugandans walk 1 to 5 kilometers everyday to fetch water from a local borehole. The children and women are often responsible for filling their large yellow jerry cans with water and carrying them back home. You can find them delicately walking along the roadside with a jerry can gracefully balanced on their head.

Luckily, my access to water is a short stroll to the kitchen or bathroom tap; truly a luxury in Uganda. But the tap water is rarely clean drinking water. With the lack of water pressure, inconsistency of supply and waterborne diseases there are still a few extra steps to take before I can pour myself a glass of water.

Up until now, I would boil water for drinking and store extra water in jerry cans for when the town water shuts off (which is often). But even after boiling the tap water there was still a strange taste that lingered. So I’ve finally decided to put my Peace Corps issued “Water Filter Candle” to good use. This is a post for anyone interested in making a dual candle water filter….. or anyone who is just curious about how I passed time on Saturday night.

First, you need supplies. Find two buckets that stack onto one another, with space for the lower bucket to collect clean water. (Wash your buckets!) A knife and candle for heating the blade. If you have a utility knife, the metal file can be useful. And of course, you’ll need the candle filters.
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Second, decide where you are going to cut. I decided to stack my smaller bucket on top of the big bucket; so I had to cut a hole into the lid. Be sure to heat the blade over a candle. The process is more like melting an outline instead of cutting. Just press the hot knife into the plastic until it melts away then re-heat. Be patient, if you try to saw the plastic with a cold knife or scissors it will crack!

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Cut a small hole into the bottom of your top bucket; make sure it is a tight fit for the candle filter to prevent unfiltered water from leaking through. Cut your second hole if you’re making a dual filter.

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Take off the fastener, metal and rubber washer.

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Screw candles into your top bucket.

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And the other candle….

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Stack em’ up…

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Add water to the top bucket and check for any leaks…

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Finally, let the candles soak and filter through a few buckets of water before you begin drinking. Otherwise, it basically tastes like you’re drinking chalk. Once the water runs clear, pour me a tall glass 🙂

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Are you interested in learning more water facts about Uganda? Or maybe you have a few Buck-a-Roos to donate towards helping rural villagers gain access to disease-free drinking water? You’re such a do-gooder! Check out these sites:

http://www.waterforpeople.org/making-a-difference/uganda
http://www.awaytohelp.org
http://www.globalh2o.org

You can also find some interesting videos on YouTube. Search “Uganda drinking water” or “Uganda Jerry Can” or “Sitya Loss” or whatever else meets your fancy.

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Smiles Make Life Better

The past couple weeks have been a challenge. With the frustration of not being able to communicate freely and the struggles of a different work environment, I was starting to get worn out. But most of all I was really missing my family and friends. I was missing those connections…. the unbreakable bonds that tie us to the ones we love.

Luckily, smiles make everything better. Especially the sincere smiles of happy children. Thanks to some heavy rains, I was able to get a healthy dose of smiles to brighten up the gloomy day.

The rain was lightly falling onto the windshield when I noticed a motorcyclist slide on the mud-slick road. The clay was saturated with water to the point where even off-roading vehicles were losing traction.

Traffic came to a stop where a commercial truck sunk into the mud. The muddy road was absorbing car after car, nearly impossible to pass. We watched as the locals lifted, pushed and pulled the many stranded cars through the narrow path. It was clear that we would not be able to make it to the training in our truck.

The accountant and coffee specialist loaded onto a Boda Boda, then continued onto the next village for the training.

I happily stayed behind and played with the kids. Usually I would say that life is simple when you’re a child. But the people living in the rural areas face many challenges. Life is not easy deep in the villages, but, smiles do come easily.

The kids are so eager to learn and share with visitors. And they are so interested to see my muzungu self hanging out in their community. We drew pictures, learned how to use a camera phone and messed with my muzungu hair.

Overall, their smiles made my life a little sweeter that day. My only regret was not having something to read to them. Time to start packing a children’s book, just in case another impromptu kids day happens again.

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The Hills of Manafwa

We follow the orange clay road past small homes made of mud walls with thatch roofs. The beautiful mountains of East Uganda rest quietly in the background as the villagers gather their produce on the streets.

We were traveling to meet a farmer’s cooperative in Manafwa for coffee training. We arrived at a small church located near a primary school, surrounded by the mountain’s foothills. The children laugh and play in the open field as we gather for another day’s work. Simply a lovely scenery for a lovely day.

Real Hard Work, Uganda

Everyday we come across some of the most hardworking Ugandans. Finding steady income in Uganda does not come easy.

There are no applications, no interviews….. no jobs in the rural villages.

You must be an entrepreneur with a strong will to survive.

Traveling from Mbale to Tororo we pass by many men with bike-loads of ripe green banana. They spend their days buying the sweet banana from rural farmers, then transport them to Tororo markets for export to Kenya.

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The mountainous terrain in the East of Uganda provides some challenging foothills for these men to climb on their journey. They often hop off their bikes and push the heavy loads.

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The trip can earn them about 50000ushs profit for the days work.

This is the true definition of a day’s hard-work.

Respect.

Mbale Village (not town)

Mukono… A nice city outside of Kampala with rolling hills and the best roasted goat street meat to date. I was there for an event with Feed the Future at the Colline Hotel, a fancy shin-dig. The youth targeted farmer conference (Exploiting Opportunities – Go for the Gold) was encouraging for the future of Uganda’s young people. Although I have to mention that Uganda defines anyone under 35 years as a “youth”…. I’ll be forever young in Uganda 🙂

The even was a combination of seminars, break-out sessions and field trips to different Agricultural sites.

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NaCRRI researcher showing youths rice at the greenhouse in Namulonge.

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Youth learning about different Maize varieties from NaCRRI.

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Tour of coffee seedling project at Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd.

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Learning about the “mother garden” at Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd.

The attendees were creative but most importantly they were passionate about starting different businesses in the agriculture industry. Everything from growing coffee seedlings to a developed Android App on how to manage your chicken farm (Luunda Lite). Jessica Wadja even stopped by the hotel in time for the demo on making “paw paw jam”.

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But the diplomatic figures and well-paid executives who attended the event make me wonder if they truly understand their impacts. Or if they truly understand what it is that the common people need. The US Ambassador gave an encouraging speech to the Ugandan “youths” about the opportunities for entrepreneurship, but, there was something missing… a connection was lacking. He spoke with his heavy draw at a race speed that was impossible for some to understand. I overheard two hotel staff behind me ask, “is he from America?” All the Ambassador needed was a little bit of Uganglish (Uganda’s special touch on English).

Luckily they followed up with the language understood by most, money. A few checks were handed-out to the farmers who had the three best ideas on “how to make the agribusiness industry cool”. The grand prize winner’s idea was to build youth farming resource centers; an idea worth half-million Ugandan shillings from USAID.

Overall the event was a success but with two weeks in the field, I was REALLY ready to get back to Mbale.

My night couldn’t have ended in a better way. I found my neighbor’s house-girl/maid sitting on the stoop with a blue plastic cup of beans and rice. As usual, she welcomes me back and invites me to join her. We sat and talked about her plans to visit her baby girl next month (back in her home village outside Bududah). The 4yr old neighbor boy joined us on the stoop to share a story; he told us how he drove his father’s car to Kampala from Mbale Village and got into some Kung-fu style battle with a punching balloon. We laughed when he insisted that Mbale is a village, not a town, and laughed even more as he demonstrated the epic punching ballon story.

The orange sky slowly darkened to an luminescent royal blue as we ate our matooke rice and beans on the cool concrete steps. Just as the shadow of Wanale Mountain began to sink into the dark sky, the little boy announced it was time for his bath.

The house-girl laughed when I thanked her for the meal in Lugisu and took the neighbor boy home. A peaceful ending after a tiresome two weeks.

Back Alley Computer Repairman

One thing that you cannot trust in Uganda is the power. It is not only a matter of being on or off. You also have to consider the voltage and stability. Even with a power protector and Dr. Voltz regulator, you can be certain that your electronics will be damaged in some capacity. For me, I’ve been through an iPhone charger and laptop cable. All things considered, it is not bad.

When my laptop stopped recharging I thought that there would be no chance of finding the cable I needed in Mbale, or even Uganda. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask around. My counterpart recommended Damascus, a local computer repair guy. We planned to meet behind the CD store, but as I walked through the back-alley a woman asked me who I was looking for. She immediately took me by the wrist (as Ugandans’ typically do when they want to show me anything) and had me sit in a cramp hair salon. Three woman sat patiently as their hair was being perm, sewn and pulled into the latest fashion.

Damascus arrived and glanced at my charger. He swiftly lead me through another alley behind a locked gate and opened up what seemed to be his apartment door. On his couch was the exact charger for my laptop, only with the Uganda socket. For only $6 (15000shs) my laptop was working again. Happiness.

Finally Home!

After some weeks of delay, we finally are able to move into our home. Although we no longer have the luxury of hot showers at the guest house, it is really nice to have a place to truly relax. This is my second weekend my Ugandan home and I absolutely love the compound. And the view!

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No more hanging my clothes in the hotel bathroom to dry; I now have two different clothes-lines to call my own. Really, it is the simple things in life that make us happy.

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We are slowly picking-up more things for our kitchen and were able to cook our first meal in almost three months. Nothing better than being able to decide exactly what you want to eat, and to eat exactly when you want to.

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We were happy to have Kate stop-in as our first guest.

So we prepared the finest American foods we could get our hands on: MREs.

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Shout-out to my sister Lynn for sending the goods!

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Power and/or Water…. Somehow.

The rainy season has come to Mbale with a big bang. Transformer blew and town went dark for some days. We could hear the humming of generators working and smell the gasoline exhausts in the cool air. I may very well despise the pollution, but, it’s hard to resist the conveniences of power. Like many, we migrated to cafes with generators to charge-up our electronics.

As for why the water is constantly shutting off in Mbale town, I really couldn’t tell you. Maybe its another Enron-style scheme in progress, buying and trading the supply of water for profits. But most likely it is just the way of Uganda. Sometimes we have power, sometimes we have water and maybe (just maybe) we have both.

Salsa in Uganda!

Believe it or not, I’ve found salsa dancing in Uganda. My African lifestyle is now complete 🙂  There is a big scene of salsa dancers who organize different events around the central region. So happy that I brought a pair of dancing shoes! On top of that, the salsa crew invited me to an amazing charity concert event.For a moment, it felt like I was actually in America again. The venue was open air in a nice garden and the music was nothing short of impressive. Check out some of these very talented musicians in Uganda: Irene Ntale, Bebe Cool, Maurice Kirya, Joel Sebunjo, Myko Ouma and Jamal.

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