Saturday, March 8, 2008

Temporary Post for a Busy, Busy Week, 2-8 March

2 March through 8 March have been extremely busy and full of interesting events, Ugandan style. Unfortunately the electricity has been out since a thunderstorm on Thursday and was just put back in service tonight (8 March). It’s quite possible there won’t be enough time to report any of this until after the trip home. Tomorrow is packing day; then dinner with His Grace and his staff. Monday is an early get-up with meetings in Kampala and Entebbe. Tuesday is another early day with a 7:15 flight that starts the trip home. Looking forward to seeing everyone and getting home. I’ll also miss some wonderful people and an exotic land of contrasts and contradictions.

While these days aren’t written up yet, here is an outline of topics:

2 March – 5 March
Travelled to Kampala – saw more of the communities and some of the nicer things
Stayed at ??????????? Institute next to American Embassy
Msgr John Kauta – 8:00
Minister of State Mtg 9:30
Need attendee list
Write report
Phone calls to set up meetings and gather info
Helen Holm
Dinner at the Commonwealth – 2x through security
Army presence
International conference
Kofi Annan
Engineer Aaron
GIS Meeting
Water Resource Maps
Survey and Mapping in Entebbe
Finding the place
10000 ush per map!
No discount
Mtg in Kampala
Lunch at
Met Episcopal Priests from Birmingham, Alabama who used EWTN grounds, working in western Uganda at the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak
The Bank
Payment for maps
The trip home to Tororo
Supper kept by His Grace until 10 PM

6 March 2008
Folding maps
What would Archbishop Lote do with $10,000,000?
Thunderstorm and no power

7 March 2008
No power, battery backup not working in my office, computer battery dead
Visit to St. Peter’s College – secondary school
Visit to St Jude’s Chuch in Busitema, Father Charles Opondo-Owora’s home church
No water either

8 March 2008
Mass in the cathedral attended by 75 or 100 high school boys – on their own on a Saturday
Womens’ Day in Uganda
Ironing with a charcoal iron!
Review of plan concepts for St Jude’s church in Busitema
More detailed inspection of St Jude’s for possible expansion
A traditional wedding, complete with 6 goats, 5 cows and many other bride price gifts
Dinner at the convent – delightful African Sisters
The power is back!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Latest Adventures, 24 Feb - 1Mar 08

24 February – 1 March 2008

On my last entry I forgot to mention the chuckle of the trip. If I would but visit Angella’s village, they would give me wives! I can’t even manage one! Jan got a big laugh out of this.

Time sure flies by. February is over, even with it being leap year. My updates to the blog site might go begging for a while, but I hope not. The temperature here has mercifully dropped a few degrees, especially at night. Still warm enough for me to sweat upon little exertion, but cool enough that some of the locals are wearing spring/fall jackets.

On Sunday afternoon Father Andrew drove me to Mbale where I spent 4 nights at the home of Archbishop Emeritus, James Odongo (Odongo means first-born twin). His Grace was a wonderful and gracious host, and a concerned shepherd for all who came near him. His ability to reach out to everyone and make him or her feel like they were the most important person in his very large universe was amazing. I saw him do this with drivers, servants, visiting priests and sisters and people on the street. And you might learn this from the small chapel where I joined the small community of three sisters and His Grace for daily mass. In the chapel on a side table was a 6” high figurine of Jesus washing the feet of a disciple. Not only did he have a servant’s heart, he taught it to those around him.

On the lighter side, the community would gather each evening at 7:30 for recreation. This consisted of a blessing, ground nuts (fresh roasted tasty peanuts), a choice of beverage, tuning in to the world news and sharing the events of the day. His Grace Emeritus explained the ritual of millet brew, a home fermented (and lightly alcoholic beverage that is consumed from a ceramic pot that holds perhaps 2 liters and is placed on the floor. The fermented millet is placed in the pot and then mixed with hot water. A reed straw about 4 or 5 feet long is then inserted into the mix. At the end of the straw is a cloth-covered sieve to keep out the clumps of millet. More hot water is added to keep the sieve clear and the other end of the straw is ready for use. The alcohol content is quite low and the brew is said to be both tasty and nourishing. It’s a little more complicated than popping a bottle top, but it’s all natural and enjoyed very much by Ugandans. I’d have tried it, but I’m fastidious about only drinking water from sealed and sanitized bottles and so far I’ve avoided what might be termed “the travelers plague.” Maybe on the next trip. (I’d bring the ingredients home except the straw is too long and fragile for air travel. Sorry, Gary. You’ll just have to join me on the next trip to try this. Or maybe we could try it with a length of surgical hose???)

Both archbishops were delighted with the video greetings from Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse; from Father Charles Currie, pastor of St Ambrose; from Father Charles Opondo-Owora, now of St Thomas; and of course from Janet, tolerant spouse of the wandering engineer. Archbishop Odongo has already filmed his response and Archbishop Lote is planning to do so when both of our schedules allow. I’ve also been able to video interviews with a variety of people about water, politics, the effectiveness of foreign aid and ordinary life in Uganda. The thought of editing the hours of video is somewhat daunting.

On Monday Father Paul Buyela and I visited water facilities in the Manafwa District along with the new District Water Officer, named Ben, and his assistant Patrick. Manafwa is largely foothills with mountainous portions along the Kenya border. We visited protected and unprotected springs, a failed borehole, long established boreholes, and drove off road for a considerable distance to get to one borehole we didn't find. We didn't think to remind the DWO to bring his GPS, which he didn't yet know how to use. I told him I would teach him when we got back, but it was late and his office was locked. We visited a large town called Lakhakha (sp?). It's right on the Kenya border and has a piped water system supplied by a gravity feed system from the Manafwa River as it comes off the slopes of Mt Elgon. We drove to the GFS and found it to have a well functioning and modern water treatment plant at the head of the system. The caretaker unlocked it and showed us around, but there was no one there in an engineering capacity. The system was even chlorinated. Ironically, the local mountain people were not supplied with a water tap (and were not happy since they said they had paid someone for it during construction). We walked to the intake structure which was a carefully designed and constructed system of screens, sluiceways, overflows and weirs. Kenya was just across this mountain stream. I couldn't resist jumping from rock to rock to have my picture taken on the other side.

It was interesting to see that the gravity flow system that the Tororo District Water Officer was talking about refurbishing had the same intake source as the one feeding Lakhakha. The sand filters and intake sluice were in utter disrepair. Exposed piping was broken. My initial impression is that it will take complete replacement of all components to refurbish the system. Then there is the matter of water volume. I would like to think that someone has done a complete hydrologic study to determine if both systems could be fed from this particular source. Considering that two somewhat autonomous districts are involved, I subsequently pointed out the concern to both DWO’s.

We stopped for lunch at mountain parish at 4:30 PM. I was so famished that I actually drank a coke, the first since 2004. The priest, whose name is in my notes at another location, was most hospitable and humorous. We drove back “the short way,” over rugged four-wheel drive mountain roads. This was mostly on the downgrade, often steep and narrow downgrade. When we saw another 4WD vehicle go past in the other direction, we were more confident that we would get through. We did, but with some further insight into the typical Ugandan mindset. Bernard, the driver stopped short of a partially collapsed bridge. Not one, not two, but three civil engineers urged him to go through the shallow ford. Instead, he talked to a local resident and before we could object further, he was halfway across the decrepit bridge. You could say that we proof-loaded the bridge for 1 ton.

Further along I saw the sad reality of a 3-year old boy with a bloated belly, just like you have seen on the TV aid requests. Except that I saw most of the context. He may indeed have been suffering from malnutrition or an intestinal infection, but it wasn’t from lack of food. He may have been eating the wrong food, but there was plenty of farm grown produce all around him. Yes I felt bad that this boy was suffering, but the truck kept right on rolling. A few kilometers later there was another child with a bloated belly, this one not as pronounced.

Then we saw a Robinson Caruso style water supply. Starting in a stream next to their homes (huts), some local residents had established linked banana leaves (not leafy leaves, but more like a half section of pipe) as an open pipeline that channeled water to a lower elevation. And yes, there are now pictures of children filling jerry cans from the last banana leaf, effectively right out of the stream. I can’t help but wonder if the water had something to do with the bloated bellies. Until there is a systematic water-testing program in place, we just won’t know.

On Tuesday, 26 February we visited the Sipi parish in the Kapchura District. We got a long distance view of the beautiful Sipi Falls on Mt Elgon. A couple of things stand out about the visit. The school children at the Sipi parish boarding and day school have a gravity flow water system very near the school. However, during the dry season (now), every child except those in nursery school, has to walk down the steep mountain road for maybe 2 kilometers to the main road, then another kilometer or so to an alternate water source, and then carry his or her jerry can of water back up the hill for consumption and washing during the next 24 hours. I also noticed a heavy haze that obscured the view from the mountain lookout. You could count numerous brush fires in the low lands. These and the cooking fires seemed as thick as a smoggy Los Angeles before the Clean Air Act.

On Wednesday, 27 February, Father Paul and I moved on to the Pallisa District. These folks had done some nice work on protecting wells, a dug well and springs. The low-lying swampland had some major fish trapping efforts under way. Men and boys with spears stalked fish in the brackish waters, which surely must also contain its population of deadly snakes. We passed several bicycles carrying a full load of grass for roof thatching. They looked like mini-hay wagons before bailing was invented. When we returned to the Pallisa district water office, DWO Patrick Buyinza, gave permission to his assistant,
Wilson Balisanyuka, for an on-camera interview. The video discussion will be helpful. We continued on to the Budeka District, where once again the true nature of the Church was evident. Schools accommodating over 1000 boarding and day students occupied an extensive campus. What was somewhat poignant was seeing the rehabilitation home for special needs children. A staff of 5 sisters provided care for 66 children with an exhaustive range of disabilities. Their love and concern radiated the love of Christ for each of these children, whose families could not or would not care for them.

On Thursday I returned to Tororo with Sister Salome, but not without first stopping at a tire shop for a flat repair in Mbale. The equipment was the same as you might find in any tire shop in the US. Leo Owora, the Tororo District Water Officer, and I met later in the afternoon. He had just returned from GIS training in Entebbe, so there was much discussion about water records. The biggest discovery (for me) was the absence of the sort of records I expected to find in every district water office. Records are in fact rather incomplete. A special project funded by one or two European NGO’s was ongoing to thoroughly update the records for two subcounties (out of 15 subcounties) in the Tororo District. At least Leo had his GPS receiver and was recording water source locations. After the meeting Leo took me to see his concrete block manufacturing process. He has invented a system of block making that allows you to make the blocks on-site for about 20% less than the cost of inferior commercial blocks. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and Leo will use the blocks to construct a new family home. We documented the process on video in case he wishes to pursue a patent. It looks to be an excellent product for rural Uganda.

On Friday morning I took a walk to find a "nearby" spring. It's on the grounds of the Benedictine Eye Hospital, which is just down the road. I was told it was near the road, but the fellow who gave me directions must have been thinking of a side road when he said “nearby”. Only a few people knew about it. And their sense of distance is somewhat different than ours. It must be at least a mile from the road (1.6 km in Uganda). After most people saying they didn’t know where it was, and getting successive directions from two or three people, I met up with Brother Richard, a Benedictine Monk (I'm guessing about 25 or 30 years old) and he took me to the spring. It was well developed and protected from livestock entry by fencing and had two pipes coming out of a concrete headwall. Nearby were swampland and a footbridge across the local stream. It's an area where you need to be careful not to walk too softly; less you startle a deadly snake. Once again, I didn't see any and didn't try real hard either. Then we visited a second spring, the oldest in the area. It didn't have the needed fencing, but was otherwise in good shape. I took a movie of the monkeys in the mango grove that ran past the springs. When I asked Brother Richard what kind of monkeys, he said, "African monkeys," with a big grin. He then gave me a quick cook's tour of the monastery. The chapel was an incredibly beautiful and polished example of African craftsmanship.

Now here is the heavy-duty local history about the grounds of the Benedictine Eye Hospital. Idi Amin used these grounds as his personal killing fields (execution grounds for his enemies). After Amin, the lands were occupied by robbers, etc. I'm not sure of the founder of the Eye Hospital's name, but I gather it was someone named Father John from Germany. He later bought the land and commenced a major cleanup and turned a very evil place into a sanctuary of spiritual growth and physical healing. His success again represents the true nature of the Church in the world.

Friday evening was a Boy Scout bonfire (we'd call it a campout with a campfire). It was to go all night, but Father Tom and I planned to be there from 7 to 8:30. Well, this turned out to be instructive of “time management – African style.” The adult leaders were still organizing it at 8:00 and didn’t pick us up until 8:20. Father Tom and I had been waiting since 7:00. If it weren’t for wanting to see the Scouts, both of us would have cancelled. We did finally get there, the Scouts were full of Ugandan enthusiasm and we did speak and bring the goodwill of the Boy Scouts of America and the Baden-Powell Council to the Tororo Scouts. Thanks to the night vision on the Sony camcorder, much of the event was filmed.

On Monday morning, 3 March at 9:30 AM I'm to meet with the Minister of State for Water in Kampala. Msgr Kauta, Secretary General of the Ugandan Episcopal Conference will go with me. He is the coordinator of all the bishops in Uganda. I hope and pray that my points will be effectively presented. Please add your prayers to mine.

I expect to be in Kampala for 2 or 3 days to work with central government water ministry engineers to see what GIS and other records exist for the country. In some ways they are quite advanced. They are, however, still very much a nation dependent upon various forms of foreign aid.

Until the next time be well. From the heart of Africa ……………

Sunday, February 24, 2008

18 through 24 February

18 – 24 February 2008

As these seven weeks in Uganda fly by I’m becoming more and more immersed in the everyday realities of life in equatorial Africa. Western reality is just not the same. People are simple, yet industrious and most are hard working. Yes, there are the exceptions. I’m told that many men drink their day away and show up for meals and bed, but those I see are quite diligent and frown on those with less responsibility. An education is very desireable. Primary 1 through Primary 6 are offered tuition-free in the government schools. Unfortunately there are many children to be seen in the villages during the school day. It’s free, but not mandatory. Secondary grades 1-6 requires tuition, books and uniforms. Numerous church sponsored schools may have an edge in quality education. And there are colleges and universities. These exist in very humble physical circumstances. I hope to visit at least one of each before leaving.

On 19 February Father Paul Buyela and I met with Angela Bwiza, Focal Point Officer for the Mbale region (TSU #4) to discuss successful projects and to map out a visitation schedule. She pointed out that success is entirely dependent upon the local community’s interpretation of the project and that it would be best to talk to several committees in the villages (LC1 level of government). We discussed visitations in three districts to get a first-hand look at different types of water circumstances in differing terrain. We settled on Manafwa, Pallisa and Tororo over the next week and a half. Then I hope to meet with key engineers and the Minister of Water in Kampala.

On Wednesday I took a walk to the closest borehole. My guess is that it is 2 or 2 ½ km. And people walk or ride bikes 3 to 4 km to get their drinking and cooking water in jerry cans! I saw first hand a missing bolt from the flange of the hand pump. An ox collar must have needed it. I met the Town Agent (government level LC3) on the way back from the borehole. Once he was satisfied that I had the authority to be here, we were on good terms. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been staying with the archbishop or been able to reference a number of higher government officials? Introductions, references and credentials are of the utmost importance here.

On Thursday I was a guest at a Founder’s Day event at the Tororo Boy Scout Headquarters. It was complete with music, a dance and a skit. I’m sure that the Scout Office would appreciate anything that US Scouts might be able to contribute toward the completion of their new headquarters building, but I made no promises or statements of possibility. I entrusted the Assistant District Commissioner with the distribution of Baden-Powell Council world jamboree patches, an important collectors item given by the Baden-Powell Council as a gesture of fellowship from the BSA.

The director of the Benedictine Eye Hospital (just down the road from the archbishop’s house) turned out to be an American named Charles Howard. He and his wife and now two daughters have been in Uganda for 7 years. We hope to get together for dinner before I leave. Meanwhile he gave me contact information which I’ve passed along to an Endicott ophthalmologists who is interested in some mission type work.

Rotary in Tororo is actively trying to improve the local communities and opportunities for youth. One of their members is drafting a proposal to send to the Endwell Rotary Club to partner on a project.

It’s almost time to leave for Mbale, so God bless until the next installment. Keep this effort in your prayers.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Updates of 16 and 17 February 2008

Written on Saturday, February 16, 2008

For what it’s worth, my St Valentine’s Day message presented hours worth of posting problems. The pictures are finally there and probably twice, right along with the journal text, but the captions are missing. I’ll try again to eliminate the duplication and to reduce it to one copy. But let’s continue……. Also by the way, the Internet has been down for the last couple of days, so who knows when this will actually get posted.

Sometimes life is a blur. Father Paul Buyela made a surprise appearance on Valentine’s Day. One of his many responsibilities is to keep the construction crew on task who are renovating the former bishop’s house. In spite of its sturdy, well-built appearance, the tile roof had been leaking badly and the wiring was inadequate. When we do a “tear-off” roofing job at home, it’s a big, expensive job. In this case, the tile roof leaked badly due to a sagging frame. Every tile and the supporting structure needed to be removed and the support structure rebuilt. The roof is gone for the duration of the project! This opened up the building for updated wiring and other modifications, so the project is quite extensive. There have been 10 to 12 workmen at this from dawn to dusk these last few days. And these men work right along in the hot African sun. (And I break a sweat just carrying my computer and camera gear from my room to the office).

Following directions isn’t necessarily a strength of many Ugandan workers. The electrician had been directed to remove and protect the electrical devices (outlets, switches, etc.). Instead he stacked them outside and they were quite unprotected from the elements. It rained heavily overnight. Sadly for the contractor, this means no pay for the work completed as new electrical devices will be needed. This is an example of something I’ve noticed before. Supervision of technical tasks, even for the best intentioned workers, does take more effort than we would expect in the US. The lesson seems to be, allow plenty of time for training, supervision and extra follow up on all projects. If this was a well (borehole), and a screen was inadvertently ruined, it might take days or weeks to get a replacement, with a resultant impact upon cost and schedule and the necessity to reschedule the whole operation. I hope I’ve learned this lesson well, because it does seem repeat itself now and then.

Something unexpected just happened. Gertrude, the cook, is killing me with kindness today. It’s nearly 1 PM (lunch time) and she has taken the initiative to bring my lunch to my room, “for a change, for Mr. Tom.” The only problem is that every square inch of available table space is occupied with pieces of electronic gear or books or notes as I sit here updating the journal and working on the schedule for the next few weeks. Maybe I should have insisted on the dinning room, but this time I’ve decided to enjoy the change. I really don’t want the mid-day beer she brought as that would guarantee a very sleepy Tom. And maybe I’m getting a trifle skeptical, but I suspect that part of her reason (or all of it) for bringing the lunch is so that she can have part of the afternoon off. That would be fine with me, but the effort to arrange it surreptitiously is a bit amusing. By using unrequested room service, she won’t leave the dinning room messy, just in case the Archbishop comes back before she has a chance to clean it up. At home I would be me making my own lunch and cleaning up afterward, so there is no real complaint here, just amusement. But I do so wish I could influence an attitude of service without the subservience that often comes with it here in Uganda.

A similar indirect approach occurred yesterday. My new friend, Peter Omuse of the Tororo Rotary Club asked me if I would go to a meeting with him and say hello to the meeting. It seemed to include a Rotary project for scholarships for orphans that he was going to, but that wasn’t entirely clear. By the way, Peter is a dedicated secondary school teacher with a real compassion for those less fortunate. I really didn’t have the time to go just then, but he had introduced me to his best friend, Abraham Odeke, a correspondent for eastern Uganda with the BBC, and had brought him to my office for an interview. This resulted in an in-depth exchange of useful information with a key Ugandan news reporter, which Peter patiently sat through. In spite of feeling my blood sugar waning, needing lunch and a rest from the heat, and not really knowing what the meeting was about, I couldn’t say no. After all, this would only be a half-hour (which turned out to be 2 hours). It did appear that he wanted his friend, the American Engineer, to address this group. We’ll get back to the Odeke interview in a moment.

We drove into Tororo in Peter’s Toyota and dropped Abraham Odeke off at the police station where he had a story to follow up on. Peter explained that he had started an NGO to help widows and orphans, which appeared to have something to do with the meeting. A few blocks later we stopped at the curb and picked up a passenger. Incredibly this was Faustine Odeke, Abraham’s son. He turned out to be a news reporter for a local radio station, Rock MAMBO. We continued past the town’s round-about and headed south. After a few kilometers we turned up a well traveled dirt road. We passed Peter’s simple village of homes that seemed a little larger than most I’d seen. We turned into a meeting hall that was constructed of concrete with a metal roof. Peter told me that those in the meeting were widows attempting to embrace micro-financing as a means of paying their children’s tuition and helping the community’s orphans. When we entered the 40 or 50 ladies present stood and applauded. Peter made profuse apologies for our late arrival due to another meeting (mine). Microfinance was explained in the simplest of terms, some of which was done through an interpreter. Then everyone was allowed to have her say,

Peter then addressed the group through the interpreter. He encouraged them and said he would continue to support them as they used microfinance as a means of making affordable low-interest payments from their slim agricultural earnings. What I’ve learned about micro-finance is that it is the user group that holds each individual accountable. This mechanism makes it possible to loan money to those with little collateral or visible means of repayment, and still make good loans. Personal worth and dignity are enhanced and borrowers successfully pay off loans and are consequently helped above poverty through their own initiative and hard work. In Uganda and much of Africa, women turn out to be the best credit risks. They have a typically stronger grasp of the responsibility necessary to make their payments.

Then the moment came. Peter asked Engineer Tom to speak to the group. Quite fortunately I had been able to follow most of the discussion and grasped the essentials of the meeting. The group seemed astounded that an American should stand in their very meeting hall and also encourage them. Actually Congressional Candidate George Phillips had tipped me off to the mechanism of micro-finance as a means of helping to raise people above poverty in developing countries. I’m glad I read some of the material before coming to Uganda. I was able to encourage this large group of widows to continue in their own hard work, and to honestly say that I was pleased to see them taking personal responsibility to support and educate their children in the most difficult of circumstances. If I’d thought about how difficult it was for them, it probably would have resulted in tears. However, their looks of resolve helped me to rise above mere emotion and to applaud them in their efforts and determination. Meanwhile, Faustine took the initiative to pick up my video camera and record what I said. I’m not sure if I dare to watch it.

We left amidst a standing ovation (truly humbling) of very determined and responsible women. Faustine had his story and was doing his part to make Uganda a better place for all. Would that more news reporters in the US were like Odeke.
Back to Abraham Odeke. You may remember that Peter Omuse had introduced Abraham on the way home from a Tororo Rotary Club meeting a week and a half earlier. I told him that I’d like to meet with him and discuss the media in Unganda, adding that the BBC had a good reputation for accuracy. Part of the process in completing public sorts of projects is public perception and understanding, which is very much influenced by the media. And there might be differences in dealing with the media here in Uganda. He agreed to meet on Friday 16 February, which happened as agreed.

Abraham arrived at the chancery office accompanied by Peter and wearing a wide brimmed straw hat ideal for the hot African sun. I gave him a copy of a letter outlining my objectives for being here and let him read a copy of the letter that Archbishop Lote wrote introducing me to the Minister of State for Water. We were off on excellent footing. The introduction had come from a close friend and my credentials were appropriately established. Additionally, Abraham had years of experience in objectively observing the real and positive influence that the Catholic Church has had on the people of Uganda. He cited schools, water projects, churches, hospitals and meticulous stewardship of the funds entrusted to and well spent by the Church. The Church, he said, was a liberating influence on the people of Uganda and Africa as a whole.

This narrative would be incomplete if I didn’t include his studied perspective about the use of funds by other churches and the government. Unfortunately he was able to cite instances where funds given to other churches had too frequently not been as successful or well spent toward their intended purposes. Funding through the government had often been diverted in one manner or another, sometimes to the pockets of the few at the expense of the poor it was intended to serve. Neither of these generalities is true across the board. There are good and successful projects by other churches and by the government. His point is that the Catholic Church has been far more successful in liberating, educating, providing water and health care than anyone else in Uganda. And certain others have been less than completely trustworthy with funds.

It may be impolitic to include such statements, but in keeping with the need for making a trustworthy report, I must recall what has been learned from such a reliable and considered source. By the same token, given the opportunity I would encourage other church representatives to be completely trustworthy in their dealings. And I’d point out that the Cabinet Minister for Water and Environment, Maria Mutagamba and the Minister of State, Jenipher Byakatonda Namuyangu, both emphatically demanded transparency and accountability in the proper disbursement of funds and resources in the water and sanitation sector. I heard and filmed these comments first-hand on Tuesday and Wednesday at the National Meeting of the District Water Officers in Jinja, which I was privileged to attend. Only time will tell how effective their leadership and direction will be, but if one can accept their words, they are sincerely making an effort to change an opportunistic culture into one of responsibility and accountability.

President Ronald Reagan of the United States often said, “Trust, but verify.” These are key words in the collection and disbursement of any form of aid. I am learning various mechanisms that will be very much a part of controlling and accounting for any funding that I may eventually become responsible for.

Abraham and I proceeded to the conference room and videotaped an extensive interview. Usually the correspondent does the interviewing, but yesterday we did a role reversal and Abraham graced me with considerable insight into the news media in Uganda, its culture and the development of responsibility and dignity of an industrious people, my brothers and sisters in Uganda.

This afternoon I showed video clips to Sisters Grace and Lucy in the convent dinning room. Some of the clips involved the Sisters and things they said. This involved a bit of comic relief, because I had purposely led Sister Lucy into a funny mis-statement about making home brew for the convent. This was caught on film, which she instantly retracted and asked me to erase. To me it was absolutely innocent and funny and corrected on the spot. What was interesting is the depth of conviction that both sisters used in not wanting anyone to think that home brew was being made for the convent. They then wanted to have me film them at work and in prayer. Their devotion and faith should be a real world example to us all. I will try to film them at work and prayer, simply due to their utter sincerity. Even if I had great fun with the mis-statement.

One closing comment from 16 February 2008. I talked to Abraham Odeke to review the text pertaining to him. He was happy with what I had written. But more significantly, he told me that even more refugees are now entered Uganda from nearby Kenya. Please pray for all. For many this is an honest to goodness life or death situation. After seeing this reality I never, ever want to catch myself making another complaint about a materialistic issue as long as I breath. We have brothers and sisters who are fleeing for their very lives only a few short kilometers from my moderately comfy base of operations. Thank God for the heroes who are reaching out to them. And for Abraham Odeke who won’t let this pass unnoticed. And for the Church, which does reach out. This will post as soon as the Internet is available. May the genuine peace of Christ be with each of you!

Additional notes on Sunday, 17 February 2008

This morning I walked the 2 ½ km into Sacred Heart Parish for mass at 9:30. I arrived about 5 minutes early only to discover that the 8:00 local language mass had not yet ended. A large crowd had gathered and was waiting patiently. Peter Omuse and his wife, Bernadette were there, both in traditional African attire. I must say that many of the dresses that women wear would look good on women at home. Maybe we should start a new trend. (No, this comment isn’t because I’ve been away from home too long). The 9:30 mass started about 20 minutes later and finished at almost noon. There was a special project at the end of mass to raise funds for seminarians. The support that Ugandan’s give to their priests and the training of future priests is evident. I filmed a sampling of the singing, which was beautiful.

One of my earlier posts talked about the nomadic herdsmen called “Warriors” of NE Uganda. Well, I’m working with two individuals who have personally been ambushed and shot by them. One is Father Paul Buyela, Director of Development for the Archdiocese of Tororo. The other is His Grace, Archbishop Denis Kiwanuka Lote! Both were previously serving in the northeastern corner of Uganda. The Archbishop was ambushed once. The other time was a deliberate assassination attempt. Yet this region seems peaceful and friendly. By the way, there are no immediate plans to visit northeastern Uganda, not even to see the elephants and lions.

Until the next installment, be well……

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy St Valentine's Day from the Heart of Africa

12 – 14 February 2008

Amazing things sometimes happen fast. I hope I can keep up with the needed actions. At the National Meeting of District Water Officers I was introduced to and welcomed by the Cabinet Minister for Water and Environment and the Minister of State for Water. The cabinet minister reports directly to the President of Uganda. And virtually every District Water Officer in Uganda (maybe all of them) now knows who I am – the Minister of State introduced me to the conference as “her friend.” Hopefully some good will come of this. The participants compiled a significant list of concerns and action items. It was a textbook example of consensus building, cooperation, deference to the opinions of all. In short there was a lot of talk that amounted to the same thing, yet everyone had their say and it seemed to produce good agreement on many issues. There is a mountain of detail to record, but it probably won’t make it onto the blog. The chairman allowed me to speak for a minute at the end. My comments were limited to complimenting the significant and organized effort that the Republic of Uganda is making to make safe drinking water available for every family. While most districts are short staffed, they are working to overcome difficulties and improve the lot of every citizen. I've made note of several issues, but hope to bring them up in a more diplomatic setting. If those responsible come up with these ideas and can take credit for them, there is much greater chance that they will be successfully implemented. So I hope to help the process along and perhaps finesse some ideas into actions, projects and programs.

Meanwhile, I've returned to the Archbishop's House. Wait 'til you read the next. Gertrude, the cook is a 50 year old grandmother whose 3 year old granddaughter, also Gertrude, was dropped on her doorstep because her own daughter (20 year old mother of little Gertrude) is ill in Tanzania. Yesterday evening she tried to convince me to take her grandchild with me to America and raise her and send her back! Cute little girl, but oh wow. And Gertrude the cook was so desperate that she would seriously send off her granddaughter, if only the good mzungu would take her. Then there was the cook in the other building who hoped I could help her fund the rebuilding of her mud hut. And one priest who wrote me an appeals letter to help reconstruct one of his churches. Today I am going to meet Gertrude's brother, who is principal of the school that is part of the nearby Benedictine Eye Hospital. My purpose is to collect the contact information for an Endicott opthamologist who might consider serving for a while in Uganda.

Don't worry, I'm not planning to pack my suitcase full of kids. But I must say it would take a heartless person not to mourn for these very real cries for help. If I thought it would make a difference, I would make a commercial like the TV stars have done. The problem with that, however, is that for real help, personal presence is needed. Boots on the ground are needed, not just money. I am also beginning to appreciate that ignorance is real, even among intelligent, hard-working people. Here's an anecdote describing the nomadic herdsmen of the northeast: "Why shouldn't I drink the water. The cows drink it and they don't get sick." And would you believe, at the conference in Jinja, the government has prepared and is implementing a campaign to promote hand washing with soap. I could sell waterless hand cleaner here by the trainload, except that very, very few could afford such luxury.

Please don't take any of this as complaining or being condescending toward the wonderful people of Uganda. It's only said to put things in perspective. And according to Father Joseph Othieno, who is about to return to America where he does mission appeals, Uganda is crying out, not as much for aid as for fair trade practices. One example he used is coffee. 100 kg (he said 180 # without calculating it) of coffee nets the Ugandan exporter about $230. And how much is coffee per pound in the grocery store? And what if you applied Starbucks prices to all the cups that 180# would make. Of course I'd want to analyze the fairness of the profit margins a bit more since each step of handing requires a fair profit, but you get the picture. Western prices far outweigh the income to African producers of raw goods.

Father Joseph didn’t even touched upon the rich mineral resources that are about to be opened up for exploration and exploitation. That's something I hope the Ugandan government can use for building its water, sanitation and other infrastructure resources.

Well, it’s now St Valentine’s Day and this is my letter to all who will read it. Let me close with a few thoughts about things I miss about home. I miss
· Seeing family and friends
· Luxurious showers with hot water on demand
· Plenty of safe drinking water
· Being able to get in a vehicle and just go
· Phones that work almost 100%
· Reliable electricity
· Tuesday, our Black Lab, which won’t give anyone rabbies
· Garbage pick-up and actual sanitary landfills
· Readily available supplies of office supplies, sundries and gadgets galore
· Ability to order and receive most anything on the Internet or in a store near you
· Modern roads with actual signs and traffic lights
· Police with holstered weapons
· A significant level of literacy
· Schools with books, supplies, libraries, drinking water, and even sanitary facilities
· Cooking (After having rubber turkey today I volunteered to teach the cook how to roast a turkey in the oven, but I need to acquire a roasting pan, an oven thermometer, a meat thermometer and aluminum foil. A turkey baster is beyond consideration.)
· Snow – well sometimes.
· Building codes
· Modern hospitals and doctors offices
· The ability to walk or travel about at night
· Doors and windows without iron bars
· Free enterprise were everybody is able to win
· Subway sandwiches
· Predictable workouts at Lourdes
· Relative stability of America (vs. say Kenya, which is about 7 km east where many have been displaced or killed; or the American tourist shot at night on Mt Elgon not too far north of me)
· Working with folks from SEMO & FEMA on disaster relief projects

Oh this could go on and on. And there are some things I don’t really miss:
· Excesses of materialism (including my own)
· Campaign reports (except for George Phillips for Congress, GO GEORGE!)
· TV in general
· The cold of winter
· Political correctness gone amuck
· The old pre-retirement days of working a fixed schedule (every day is an adventure here)

Uganda and its people are beautiful. There is a simplicity, faith and joy that come from within that is evident in most in spite of abject physical poverty. It’s true that many prefer to live in the slums of a city or large town to living in their village or working their small plot of land. But each has a recognition of the worth and dignity of each person. And there have to be ways to stimulate material and health advances without destroying such inner beauty. There is much here that we of the West could learn or relearn from the simpler days of a century or two ago. Perhaps our countries can help each other. It will take more than money or material goods. It will take personal presence to walk in each others’ shoes.

From the Heart of Africa on St. Valentine’s Day, 2008……be well!

Monday, February 11, 2008

6 Feb through 11 Feb 2008

Ash Wednesday mass was obviously important to Ugandans. US Catholics may have gotten a little antsy during the two-hour service, but there was an earthy sincerity as we worshipped and received our ashes. It was amusing to note that the ashes only showed on one forehead, that of the mzungu (Swahili for white person).

Leo Owora, the Tororo District Water Officer and a fellow civil engineer arrived at the archdiocesan office promptly at 2:00 on 6 Feb to pick me up. Fr Andrew had advised me that in Africa, the clock and meeting times aren’t as exact as we might expect in the US. “Africans make time,” (for whatever else is happening). That sounds a bit like Boy Scout time . We boarded his late model 4 x 4 Toyota crew cab truck that is clearly meant for rough country and headed for Mbale. This government vehicle with its dedicated driver, Sampson, gave us a smooth and efficient ride to the regional office of the Directorate of Water Development, actually to their Technical Service Unit #4. The Tororo Archdiocese comprises parts of TSU #4 and to its south, TSU #3. There are eight regions that cover the whole of Uganda. Each is the local representative of the central Ministry of Water and the Directorate of Water Development.

The road to Mbale, about 45 km, north of Tororo exemplified the contrasts and contradictions of Uganda. Traffic included an endless array of bicycles that usually carried a passenger or acted as a mini pick-up truck. Pedestrians shared the road’s edge. To call the potholes severe is clear understatement, yet we were able to cruise along at 100 km/hr or so. The horn got more use than the brake pedal. Other vehicles appeared to belong to NGO’s or the government if they were newer, while older 14 passenger Toyota vans acted as taxis. There were also a few multi-axel tractor-trailers, some of which were tandem rigs. I don’t think the pavement was designed for such loads.

Local communities (LC1) must be areas recognized by the local residents because there were few signs. Instead the countryside alternated between shoulder-to-shoulder one-room shops facing the roadway, or family sized farm plots (hand cultivated) that were set amidst various mud brick or mud homes with thatched roofs. Groves of assorted fruit and palm trees punctuated the many groves of bananas. Other fruits and vegetables grew next to them. This was truly a land of subsistence farming.

The meeting with TSU #4 was more than I had hoped for. The TSU consists of a three-person team: a water resources engineer who is the Team lead named Joseph Tusiime, a community development specialist named Catherine Muhumuza, and a heath specialist named Shaban Kalinaki. The three occupied a shared office in a concrete building in the Mbale Directorate of Water facility. We exchanged information, and Ms. Muhumuza provided me with The National Rural Water Supply Atlas 2001 published by the Republic of Uganda Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment, and the Water and Sanitation Sector Performance Report 2007 by the Ministry of Water and Environment. These two documents provided much more data than I could have hoped to acquire through site visits on a sampling basis in the Tororo Archdiocese. In fact, this published data covered the entire country on a systematic basis. The Directorate of Water has already realized the need for and implemented a process to assure “bottom up management” of all types of projects to involve local demand for projects, local ownership, and responsibility for operations and maintenance. This was music to my ears. Ms. Muhumuza and I agreed to meet again on 19 Feb to discuss examples of successful and less than successful projects, especially in the water sector.

Mr. Tusiime informed me that my participation as an observer at the National Meeting of District Water Officers had been approved, that is if I could provide my own transportation and hotel accommodation. The finest hotel in Jinja overlooking Lake Victoria and the Nile shows a rate of 60,000 Ugandan shilling or about 37 USD. And Leo Owora agreed to let me ride with him. Archbishop Lote’s letter of introduction to the Minister of Water and Environment is already in my folder as I write this on 11 February 2008.

Leo Owora made sure I was back in time for the Tororo Rotary Club. He has invited me to his home and would appreciate some help with Microsoft Project and project management in general. His software is actually newer than mine, but I look forward to the fellowship.

Peter Omuse, who turned out to be the brother of Fr. Centurio Olaboro, came to “collect” me for the Rotary Meeting. We arrived at the Crystal Hotel in Tororo a few minutes after 6, but were among the first there. In about 10 minutes everyone was there and the meeting started. They had quite a display of banners that had been presented by visiting Rotary members from around the world including a few from the USA. All members stood as I presented the Endwell Rotary Club banner, and then received one from the Tororo Rotary Club. The group is vibrant and involved. Their projects include two boreholes that are nearly complete and two more that are being planned. Major funding comes from Rotary clubs in the US. Other projects include sponsorship of several students’ tuition for secondary school (high school or trade school). After the meeting we took a group photo, which was emailed, back to the States and to Rotary President, Johnson Kagoya.

Oh, about the Crystal Hotel, did I mention the doors? Well the veranda is 100% steel bars and the doors are heavy steel with hardware to match. Tororo takes its security seriously. When we exited the hotel the street was pitch black, save an occasional pair of headlights, and it was only 8 o’clock. Peter drove slowly over the tarmac street with its frequent potholes and sharp drop offs. There was noticeable pedestrian traffic none of whom used flashlights.

Peter called out to a friend as we drove toward the Archbishop’s House. When he said that the man was a BBC correspondent, I replied that I’d like to meet him. In true Ugandan style, he stopped the car in the middle of the road, called his best friend on the cell phone, and told him to hurry up; there is someone who wants to meet you. And that’s how I met BBC Correspondent, Abraham Odeke. We talked as Peter continued his careful drive back to the Archbishop’s House. He has been reporting on Kenyan refugees of late and has articles that can be found by searching the Internet. We have agreed to meet on 15 Feb to discuss the media in Uganda. The media of course shapes public opinion. And public opinion is critical to taking projects from the concept stage to the approval stage. And the BBC has a good reputation for accurate world news. Before this is all over, there may be a story in it for Mr. Odeke, hopefully one that will help the people of this region.

Supper was a bit on the late side on Wednesday. A Fr. Robert from NE Uganda was at table with His Grace when I arrived. Father Robert was in town for surgery, but the surgeon became ill himself. The only one in the entire country that would do the gall bladder surgery that Father needed. After His Grace left we chatted about life in the north and my education was again expanded. It seems that there are areas in northeastern Uganda that aren’t safe for strangers of any color, shape or persuasion. There are, according to Fr Robert, those who will attack private vehicles, kill its occupants and loot whatever is worth taking. He called them “warriors.” These are people that still roam naked and have no desire for education or what it will bring. Change is very slow. Public transport is safer than private vehicles, but no stranger is completely safe. Security, he said, isn’t 100% even in the famed national park with its lions and elephants. Many soldiers are assigned to the region, but often fall ill from the heat, or are themselves attacked for their weapons and gear. If lack of water and heatstroke doesn’t kill them, there is a strong chance that the warriors will. I’m seriously hoping that this report turns out to be so much folklore like the talk about Idi Amin’s stew pots. Since typing this paragraph I’ve gotten multiple confirmations that this concern is factual. In fact another name for these nomadic herdsmen is the Karamajongs. Not everything is as safe as driving down Main Street USA. (I’ve no plans to visit northern Uganda any time soon).

An active topic of discussion is the nature of tribal disputes in Kenya. And could such apparently senseless violence erupt here in Uganda. Most agree that it is unlikely. But one of the key factors that triggered violence in Kenya appears to be the amount of control that the Kickuyu tribe has over much of Kenyas government. There is a similar power structure in Uganda with the Budadiri tribe, but those I talk to don’t see such problems in the foreseeable future. There is another tribe called the Buganda, which comprises a large portion of the population in central Uganda. But as near as I can tell, Uganda does not have the history of dispossessing people of their land holdings that occurred in Kenya since their independence from Great Britain. I’m sure that security experts around the globe will monitor Uganda, but my hope is that this peaceful people will persist in their peaceful dealings with each other. What a world we live in.

On Saturday morning there was no running water. Washed up with a bottle of sealed drinking water and without a shave. Later found out that the main storage tank had gone dry and the small tank that supplies the Archbishop’s House also went dry. We investigated the system and found the pipes to be undersized for their use. One ¾” line supplies a number of buildings. In the course of refilling the elevated storage tank for the Archbishop’s House I climbed the structure to check if it was filling. With the tank partway full the structure wobbled badly and I got off without going to the top. It wasn’t apparently designed by a civil engineer. Some cross bracing is needed and has been recommended. This one and at least one other will get fixed in the near future.

Sr Lucy and Sr Grace took a walk with me on Sunday afternoon. They gave me the rundown on all the agricultural crops along about 4 km of country road. Found out what eucalyptus looks like and lots more. Children wanted to meet the mzungu, a favorable term for white person. Delightful kids.

Went to the Indian banker and exchanged $100 of traveler’s checks for 1665 Ugandan shillings. He gave a better rate this time since he now knows me. His posted rates hadn’t changed. Last time it was 1640 per $100 for traveler’s checks. Then we stopped in the marketplace. It was just like the movies from the time of Christ. This is no exaggeration. Not time enough to describe it, just think of the movies you’ve seen from antiquity.

Tomorrow is an early day. Leo Owora is picking me up at 6 AM and we’re off to the conference in Jinja. So it’s time to sign off from the heart of Africa. Until next time, keep the home fires burning……That’s it for 11 February 2008.

My best to all!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

6 February 2008, Noon Uganda time, 4 AM Endicott time

3 Feb through 6 Feb 2008

Janet has asked how the food is. In some ways it’s got to be better. The roadside shops have every conceivable tropical fruit available. In St Peter’s House (my former dinning room) there was a good supply of pineapple (at least as good as Hawaii), po po (papaya) and bananas. The archbishop’s table always has bananas. The greens are called kelp, but don’t come from the sea, and are a bit like spinach. Some of the bread would make Montana Mills proud. Much of the diet is cooked into a paste like substance that would remind us of rising bread dough. That includes millet, bananas and a few things I’ve forgotten. The meats and fishes are prepared by boiling. It kills the germs, but the result is a bit like rubber. Everyone here uses recycled wine bottles, which contains their chilled water (after boiling). I’m still using factory sealed bottled water. The other water should be pure, but the handling of the bottles could contaminate the otherwise pure water. It would be an ironic way to get sick since I’m hoping to stimulate improvements in pure water availability. Oh, the local beers are really top shelf, Bell, Nile and Pilsner. The taste is delicious after a day in the tropical heat. The Bell would go head to head in a German beer taste test any day. Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s tasty in moderation. I wouldn’t want to scandalize the archbishop.

Gertrude, the cook, prepares our meals. Sr. Saloma directs her to be sure I’m eating the right sorts of healthy foods. Susan is a young widow with 3 children who works part time. She takes my laundry, scrubs it in a washtub, dries it and irons every piece. I’m grateful for her help and it gives her employment. It would take every bit of free time for me to keep up with just that task.

The water pressure was down to a tiny trickle this last week, so Patrick the plumber is working on the shower. He believed it to be an air lock in the line and has increased the flow somewhat. It will be a nice improvement if he’s successful, but this skeptic thinks it’s something more basic and external to this apartment’s plumbing. At least I can wash in a sink with warm water.

The blinking florescent tube above me is almost becoming invisible. I went to change it, but was unable to drop the troffer (reflective grid that covers the florescent tubes). Fr. Chris will task an electrician to fix it.

The only cultivation I’ve seen to-date has been hand digging. However, as I write this in my room, there is the distinctive sound of a tractor at work just outside the archbishop’s compound

Now for some actual progress. Leo Owora, the District Water Officer for Tororo and 17 sub counties, got word from the Minister of Water for Uganda that I was here. He got in touch with Fr. Andrew Obel and we met on 4 February in the diocesan offices. The meeting was genuinely informative. He provided a tabulation of bore holes (generally drilled deep wells), shallow wells and protected springs broken down by sub county and population served. The short story is that the majority of people are served by deep wells that have been tested as safe drinking water. But contamination becomes a problem because of the water handling methods between the hand pumps and the end user. Jerry jugs are used primarily by women and children to carry water considerable distances. Bicycles sometimes truck several of these 3 gallon jugs that once contained cooking oil. One local goal is to make bore hole available within 1.5 km for 50% of the people.

Mr. Owora is currently in the process of bidding a six-month contract for water testing services for some 500 water sources in the district. Testing will be performed for ecoli, cholera, turbidity, electrical conductivity and heavy metals. The heavy metals testing will be done in Kampala, several hours distant. The National Water & Sewerage Corporation will perform the lab analysis in its Tororo facility. New bore holes are routinely tested when put into service.

It turns out that the Tororo Water District includes two modern water treatment plants. We arranged to visit the Malaba Water Works which services 4000 customers in Tororo from about 6 km east of the Tororo Rock. The other plant is in Nagongera. There is also a spring fed gravity main that comes from the mountains east of Mbale to the Tororo railyard. It is currently defunct, but is being considered for restoration.

Mr Owora points out that the recommendation is to boil all water throughout the district (standard practice throughout the region). Some of the sources produce pure water, but contamination makes boiling necessary.

An engineer named Edmund of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation took us on the visitation of the Malaba Water Works. We stood on the intake structure and were within 20 meters of Kenya, a mere stone’s throw to the opposite bank. I’d love to visit, but with their current unrest I don’t want to be the cause of an international incident (much less loosing my head). Maybe later if things cool down. Fr. Tom has offered to take me, but we’ll keep that on the back burner just now. Besides, the US Embassy has some stern warnings about US citizens traveling there just now.

The Malaba River is narrow, but apparently deep. The plant is of modern German design and has two identical process paths, one built circa 1953 and the other in 1987. There are two intake structures, a sump for the lift pumps, clarifiers, sand filters, a backwash systems, chlorinators, clear wells and clear water pumps. The grounds are fenced and guarded by armed security personnel. The lawn is neatly mowed and you could imagine yourself to be in most any western town, except for the surrounding countryside, the cotton and tropical fruit. The discharge is piped some 5 kilometers up a rise of 230 meters to a concrete storage reservoir on Tororo Rock. Tororo Rock is one of those gigantic rock monoliths that you sometimes see in Colorado that rise hundreds or thousands of feet above the surrounding plane. 4000 customers are served by the network of piping in Tororo. Unfortunately the network is old cast iron and is prone to frequent ruptures and continuous leaks.

Mr. Owora told us about a national meeting of district water officers in Jinja, about an hour or hour and a half away, in Uganda’s second largest city. He agreed to check about possible attendance with the regional water officer, who could then check with the Minister of Water. We’ll soon know the result. In the meanwhile, a letter of introduction has been prepared for me to meet the Minister of Water, who seems to have already opened the doors of information for me.

I’ve taken lots of pictures and video, and am trying to keep them somewhat organized. Doing minimal editing of the video (clipping out some extraneous footage). Christopher, I should have brought you along as a videographer to keep my hands free. The real value in the video, besides showing folks the country and culture, will be to capture first-hand comments with officials and leaders in an interview setting. I’ll be able to report their statements without filtering their words.

Things sometimes happen quickly. It’s now 6 Feb (Ash Wednesday) and I’ll be going to Mbale to the regional water office with Leo Owora to meet the regional director. It would be hard to beat this level of cooperation from the Ugandan Water Ministry.

Well, it’s time to pack up and head for Mbale. If we return in time, there is a Rotary – Tororo meeting at 6 PM. I’m planning to present a banner from the Endwell Rotary.

Please be well and keep the home fires burning. By the way, is it cold in Endicott? Until the next update…..