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 ……………