Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Daily Life in Uganda

Work, work, work! 

To Africa Renewal University (ARU)!
It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I went from working crazily in LA to working crazily in Uganda with no break. I think I managed ~3-4 hrs of sleep each night the week before I left as I wrapped up my semester. At least here I was sleeping 7-8 hrs a night. Luxury!

Welcome to the Academic Office
I sat at this desk in the middle everyday. 
All the cubicles were for the faculty. And this is basically the entire Academic Team here.
It’s fantastic working alongside the academic team here at ARU.Everyone has been extremely welcoming.

Daily routine
7:00 AM breakfast (just for musungos, foreigners, since the Ugandans usually don’t early)
8:00 AM LATTC (my home school) work e-mails
8:30 Everyone arrives at the office. ARU work begins
10:30-11 Tea break
1 – 2 Lunch break
7:30 (to as late as 9:30): leave office
+ 1 hr LATTC work e-mails.

Joseline and I working side by side on Friday Night with dinner at the office. My watch says 7:38 pm, but we went at least another hour after. Just like the states. We are working on "sense of urgency."

After the first week, the LATTC work died down (and I just started ignoring it apparently), but the ARU work cranked up. Yup. I managed to work 12+ hr work days during my first two weeks of summer. But, compared to what I’ve been doing, this isn’t a problem.
Goals for the Staff
Africa Renewal University is Christian institution that trains students to serve the greater community. ARU just transitioned from a College to a University this past December. Here, that means they can now propose to confer Bachelor degrees as oppose to certificates (1 yr degrees) and diplomas (2 yr degrees). This advance now calls for several new programs to be developed, one which is a BA in Community Health, which is what I came to work on.
Editing the ARU Statement of Philosophy with Samuel.
Transforming. Empowering. Relevant.

Food breaks
Without food, the brain doesn’t work.
Chilling at Tea Time (10:30 - 11:00)
Traditional Matooke (yellow), beans, G-nut (purple) and rice.
Carbs, carbs, beans and more carbs.
I tried and consistently ate all the traditional foods. My friends here appreciated that. What I could not do, however, was eat the standard piled high plate that the Ugandans consume. People looked at my plate and asked "Will that satisfy you?"

I had advance warning so I bought a stash of vitamins, dried fruits, Emergen-C and energy bars. I surprisingly haven’t had to resort to my stash that much. The food has been much better and more varied than I anticipated. Thank goodness for the scattered pineapples and avocado along with the abundant bananas in season. 

“You can get pregnant?” and Donuts
Yes, that is the newspaper saying you want to go along with your donut. Between the copious oil and lack of fruits and veg, my body is not a happy camper, but the stomach of steel is making a comeback. One day all the natives got stomachaches and I was absolutely fine. They were impressed.

Chipati: one of my favorite foods here

Chipati is an indian influenced pancake-like thing. I rolled banana in it once much to the amusement of the Ugandans. It’s best in the form of Rolex which has egg inside and is known as the bachelor’s food (the man, not the degree).

Bed sweet bed

My basic dorm room for 6 on campus
Definitely with mosquito net!

My second home in Uganda at Joseline's
 I spent several nights here at Joseline’s. Her colleagues and friends all live in the same complex. It’s just like the TV show.
The 10 minute walk through the back “road”. 
Joseline and Kristine. My common walk the second week of work.
Everyone dresses really professionally, even with high heels and come to work looking proper after this walk. Pretty impressive.  I felt like a bum with only two skirts, t-shirts and Tom’s.

I’m sitting here for the third night in a row in Joseline’s apt. We’re watching “News Without Dust”. Straight up. “48% of girls get married before the age of 18.” Not sure if they were talking about Uganda. I'm getting used to the squat toilets and may be preferring warm bucket showers over cold running ones. I feel so blessed to have been welcomed into Joseline’s home and community.

More Campus Shots
Banana trees on campus
ARU is a sustainable campus. They plant and harvest much of the food that is consumed. Every Friday students have to do practical work on campus, including working the fields. I wanted to do some shoveling, but alas I played the role of an academic. Maybe next time.

2 minute walk down to my dorm
Black water tank is next to to the dorms for running water.

My Wonderful Colleagues at ARU

So many of the staff here have such amazing life stories to share. I really enjoyed getting to know them, hearing their perspectives and learning about Ugandan culture.
Prayer Time 
Mark (pastor), Samuel (aka “Uncle Sam”. Yes, that can get confusing. Vice Chancellor of Acdemics), Harriet (Head of Theology), Denis (Co-Head of Social Sciences)
This is my first time being in or working at a non-secular institution. One of the benefits is group prayer. What a blessing.

Uncle Sam and I had a lot of fruitful conversations as he leads this Academic Team. He is a strong character with lots of compassion and a history. He has my utmost respect.

“Joseline, what are you doing?!”
“I think she’s going for a panoramic photo.”
Robert, Me and Mark. Two of the 3 theologists.
I don’t know much about theology, but I helped edit several of their program proposals. It was fun to learn new things. Both Robert and Mark were great guys. Mark taught me "Bonga" = "Wussup?"

Me, Kristine and Richard having a little fun in the library on the last day.
Kristine helps with the finances and Richard is the librarian. Both are getting their Master’s degrees while working at ARU. Kristine is a riot. When she picked me up at the airport, she immediately nicknamed me "Nachimoly" which means flower. Turns out that's my Chinese name too.

It’s been such a blessing to work alongside the academic team here. Everyone has been extremely welcoming and a joy to get to know. I got to do several things all in collaboration with the team from drafting proposals, organizing a coding system,  writing course outlines, creating templates, editing and much more! We shared different perspectives and I was able to bring a critical eye. I felt comfortable with the academic environment and my ARU colleagues from the get-go. It was a smooth transition and like I never stopped working! No culture shock. At the same time, it’s really been an eye-opening experience. This type of missions work was the last thing I had in mind a few months ago, but it’s amazing how God perfectly orchestrated this collaboration and utilized my background here at ARU.

Joseline (below) is my “twin” here at ARU. She is so amazing to work with and quickly transitioned from a colleague to dear friend. I’ll definitely miss her, but I’m supposed to come back when a to-be-determined baby arrives. 

The best for last!
Joseline and me in front of her apartment.
ARU is at an exciting and pivotal point in its growth! I feel I have made real connections with the people here. Two weeks is too short and many of my colleagues here asked me to extend my stay (one week … two weeks … come as full-time faculty!). Apparently, now I have full time faculty offers in both NYC and Uganda. Hmm….. don’t worry (yet). I love my job back in LA, so for now I must depart Uganda.  But, I know that I will continue to be involved in the progress of ARU, and definitely hope to come back. Thanks to everyone (especially my Joseline!) at ARU who welcomed me and made my stay so wonderful and those supporting and praying for me stateside. 

I’m extremely humbled to be given this opportunity to take part in the vision of ARU.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Out and About: Big Town, Small Village

Weekend Fun and Exploration

Work has been amazing, but the days have been long in front of the computer from at least 8 am to 8 pm. After 4 arduous days, I was ready to break out of ARU Campus for my one weekend here.


I wanted to head into town (the capital, Kampala) solo to explore, but that idea was quickly squashed. Jeff, who invited me to ARU, said that he’d definitely get in trouble. Bummer. So clearly finagling my way to Bethany Village via boat to see if my friend's school was still standing was out of the question. So, I settled for tagging along with Joseline and Ruth to pick up visitors from the airport and run errands in town in our private van.

Running errands in Kampala

Traffic Jam
Kampala was a typical crazy city with lots of boda-bodas (motorbikes), cars, people and dust. Not much to see, but definitely a place to experience.


We decided to stay local in Buloba Village on Sunday.
Shops by the main drag of Buloba

Maria on the Road
Our leisure 10 minute walk to the local church

Maria helps take care of guests at ARU. She has actually traveled the world with the Children's Christian Choir. Her story is pretty amazing. She probably didn’t know I snapped this photo of her. She hates pictures.

Buloba Community Church.
Not pictured: two chickens that frequented the stage.
Note: man on the left was the keyboardist, sound person and also the preacher. Way to multi-task.
Service was at least 3 hours. It was unclear when the first service ended and the second began. There was a lot of gospel singing with “AMEN!” and high energy. Also, about 50 kids were quietly sitting there for over an hour! Imagine seeing that in the states. The message was on not having favorites and still accepting the second-option as God-given. This idea is relevant in African culture in terms of having favored children. It turns out that a lot of Chinese family values seem to cross with African ones. I always enjoy experiencing church in different countries.

In the afternoon, Joseline took us to the new man-made pond for some relaxation.

Ruth and me enjoying Mirinda soda
Ruth is a Child Development Major and also works in Student Services at ARU

The weekend crew: Ruth, Joseline, Kate, Beth and Me
Kate and Beth came to Uganda for the 3rd time to check out possible places to teach long-term. Sadly, they only stayed with us for the weekend. It was a fun weekend, but we’re back to the grind of work. Only 4 more days left! So much to accomplish still.

Kampala Madness: Take #2

Afterthought to the weekend: On my last afternoon in Uganda, Joseline took me along with her to run errands in town as she is prepping for her wedding in two weeks. We also hit up some craft shops. Can’t go home empty handed.

Unlike the last Kampala trip, this one was keeping it real.
Taxis in Uganda
They are basically mini-busses that go when full and constantly stop to let people on and off. You never know how many people are going to squeeze in next to you and the state of their hygiene. 

To reach our destination, we walked 10 minutes, took a taxi to town center, walked 10 minutes through hoards of people, hopped on another taxi then negotiated a ride on a boda-boda (motor bike). Joseline asked me if I wanted to sit like a woman or man on the boda-boda. I went for man. We reached our destination after 2 hours. Whew!

Battling the streets of Kampala on Friday afternoon.
Joseline was impressed by my ability to power through the crowds. I mean business.
 This second round to Kampala was much more to my liking as it was the real deal. Joseline and I battled the city as locals. Apparently everyone kept asking her to give me up, but she refused, and I pressed on. This city is pretty intense. I’m glad ARU is set in the more peaceful countryside.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Connected Where? Buloba, Uganda

After a few airports and smooth couple of plane rides involving last minute grading, I landed in Entebbe Int'l Airport in Uganda, about 24 hours after departing LA. Not bad. The moment I spotted Joseline, my colleague, I knew it was her. In fact, she bought a crew of 4 people to give me a warm welcome. So, despite warnings from my friend's dad, there were no worries of being abducted. As we chatted it up and followed two roller bladers hanging off a van taxi on the highway, my new friends often just explained "This is Uganda". Yes indeed!

 View of dorms and campus at sunrise.

Africa Renewal University (ARU) is set in a peaceful agricultural area about 1.5 hours outside the city in a town called Buloba.  I'm in a basic dorm room. After a few visits to the squat toilets, I discovered the flush toilets, sink and showers with running water! Score. I don't mind that the water is cold or a slight trek uphill.

University or farm?
Animals roam freely around campus. Maybe I should've gotten those rabies vaccinations after all. So, here I find myself at a university in a somewhat rural village in Africa to work .... connected to the world with somewhat reliable internet and my computer. The first day was a Christian Martyr holiday, so it was pretty chill. I roamed campus and spent a few hours shooting work e-mails. Sometimes, I miss the days of completely going off the grid for weeks at a time.

 Robak, Samson and Joseline, my work colleagues
I missed the office memo to wear red and black.

Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and apparently eagerly awaiting my arrival. I am finally here! I've already worked 2 full days on the curriculum, still handling school stuff back in the states and hanging out with my colleagues at night. I'm quite exhuasted but it's been fantastic so far!

Next time, I'll give you the low-down on the university and my daily life here.