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!