Samstag, Oktober 27, 2007

Testing mobile blogging facility. Tonight Heather and I are working the cemetery tours down in C. Pictures soon.

Freitag, Oktober 12, 2007

The Drought

It's an abrubt and incongruous transition. I left Kampala more than a month ago. Now it's flooded in Gulu, and here I am in the middle of a drought. Today's pictures available here; Monday's here.

I've been moving the column on the right down to the water line each Friday for the last three weeks. I only started taking pictures this Monday (8 Oct.), however. You can (hopefully) see the drop over the last 5 days -- just look at the line of oyster shells.

This is the lowest the lake has been in my lifetime. During the last big drought in 2002, the water line was some 10 feet to the left (towards the rocks) of where it is now.

Dienstag, August 14, 2007

Jokingly, I said:

Me: I'm a nice guy. That's what it says on my tombstone.
Denise: Not "I was a nice guy?"
Me: I'm not dead yet.

Samstag, August 11, 2007

I picked up my chair and retreated from the legion of pre-schoolers

After a ten-day tour of Gulu (during which I saw a lot of my hotel room and various bars in Gulu), I'm back in Kampala.

While in Gulu, we took an overnight trip to Opit, one of the displaced camps south of Gulu town. It was a pretty depressing expanse of huts, crowded with people trying to survive, but it's better there now than I've heard about in the past. People were moving around the camp, going to nearby gardens, buying and selling things. The school was filled, and everybody seemed to have firewood.

From my diary:

Breakfast at Eric's [house]. Nobody saved me any coffee[, but that's what I get for sleeping in]. We spent the morning waiting for the roads to dry out from the rains during the night. I sat on the porch, watching the world go by, watching the clouds [billow up to the east, pile up on top of each other and crowd away to the south], and being watched in turn by the roving bands of [Acholi] children.

A group gathered around and asked me questions in Luo. I asked them questions in English and Luganda. That went nowhere, but they didn't leave. So I taught them how to make various noises, increasingly vulgar ones. I whistled, popped my cheek, made the water-dripping-from-the-faucet noise by flicking my cheek, and we made faces at each other. [I crossed my eyes and did my wall-eye. They rolled their eyes back in their heads and made pig-noses back at me.] Things [cooled off] with the tongue-clicking though. So I tried to make armpit [farts].

[For the first time in years,] I couldn't make any noise. Thinking this was because my armpit was too dry, I spat on my hand and tried again. Still nothing; I gave up. But then[, in horror,] I realized that this was less a give-and-take cultural exchange of rude noises than a game of follow-the-Muno.

Suddenly I was faced with sixteen young Acholi children spitting in their hands, rubbing them in their armpits, and making chicken-dance motions with their arms. [Feeling] incredibly exposed [there on the porch, on the street, in front of everyone, and confronted with this monstrous mimicry of what I had considered one of my erstwhile talents], I [considered being] around when one of [their] parents or elders walked by. I picked up my chair and retreated from the legion of pre-schoolers pantomiming their silent armpit farts, back into the courtyard. "Bye, Muno!" they called, still spitting into their hands and flapping their arms.

Sonntag, Juli 29, 2007

Rafting the Nile

Rafting the Nile river is one of the coolest things I've ever done in my whole life. Holy crap, that was amazing.

Freitag, Juli 27, 2007

A trip taken weeks ago

Pictures! I suppose I've been promising them for long enough...

Please note the format change.* This batch of pictures has been put on another blog. If you subscribe to my RSS feed, I suggest you go there to subscribe to that feed, as well. And please let me know whether you like this format, find it easier to use, or if this is a crummy idea.

Excerpts from my journal and remarks about the pictures.

[On Saturday] we went biking with Emily to the clinic where she works, Goli-goli. The sky was blue[, incredibly azure and studded with large, friendly clouds], the dirt road was orange, and the fields were solid green.... I got into a race with a boda-boda [driver]. He had a passenger and still beat me. -pp. 49-50

She seemed to appear from the very darkness itself, a being magically unfolded from the shadows of the house.... With blurred vision she came into the room with only the vaguest sense of who we were, but she immediately recognized Ron. [...] She went to him and gave him an excited embrace.... After greeting him, she turned her frail form to us, first reaching around Denise, then engulfing me in her arachnid grip. A full 18" shorter than me, she still reached one arm over my shoulder. In that embrace I could feel a worn but still able strength and sense the physical power behind her loose skin. -pp. 29-30

Three of Mze's sons. Mze literally means "Sir;" it's an honorific attributed to his status as the oldest living male born into the clan. He looks frail, standing in the doorway with his canes, but he's as strong as an ox.

Sipi falls spills from the mile-high plateau on the north-east face of Mt. Elgon in southeastern Uganda.

North of Sipi Mt. Elgon flattens down rapidly to the great plains of Kapchorwa, then the deserts of Moroto and Kotido in Karamoja. The Karamojong (the people of this area) have a fearsome reputation across the country. It's a wild place, Uganda's eastern frontier, where cattle raids still claim dozens of lives every year and most men tote around AK47s. But from here, it's just peaceful, green grazing land.

Nestled up against the base of Mt. Elgon, Mbale is a sleepy, dusty town near the Kenyan border. With the broad-shouldered mountain in the background, Mbale's covered walkways and broad streets seem overshadowed. The town is dominated by a single hill, crowned with a roundabout and a clock tower. A typical street in Mbale. (We ate at an Indian restaurant in the last building on the left, at the top of the street.)

*This blog is text-only. I admit that it's proving a chore to try to link pictures in, but it's the only way to keep the page manageable for low-bandwidth connections.

Donnerstag, Juli 26, 2007

Just Now, On the Phone with Jeffrey Sachs

Yesterday, I got an email from an old friend who works at SIRIUS Satellite Radio, asking if I'd throw in an opinion on Jeffrey Sachs' pilot show, The Power of One, for the station.

I've been a fan of Sachs' since I read his book, The End of Poverty, about a year ago. I think his advocacy of the Millenium Development Goals and his drive to wipe out the most extreme forms of poverty are fantastic and necessary ideas.

On the show, I asked if Sachs could "separate so-called 'good' aid from 'bad aid'? How do you [Sachs] respond to criticisms of people like [the Ugandan journalist] Andrew Mwenda, who argue that any form of international aid damages African socities?"1

Sachs responded rather forcefully that aid to rural Africa is a good and necessary thing. There's no reason to hold off on malaria medications and mosquito nets that will help rural Africans, certainly, and the more ARVs we can distribute in sub-Saharan Africa, the better. And I agree.

But perhaps where we don't see eye-to-eye on this issue is the question of delivery mechanisms. I can't agree that aid is unquestionably good in all situations. Certainly, aid programs can be hijacked, misused, or poorly designed, and thus exacerbate political, ethnic, social, or economic distinctions in societies. Sachs' guest seemed to do a wonderful job of bypassing some of these issues by directly targeting a single, easily accessible village in Senegal for a direct injection of material aid. I think that method certainly has its advantages. But that approach has limited applications.

Certainly, large scale projects, like promoting HIV/AIDS education here in sub-Saharan Africa, or the delivery of the millions of mosquito nets that will be needed in the next few years, or even debt forgiveness requires far more resources than can be mustered by school children in New York City. The largest and most complicated development attempts have to be channeled through organizations and governments on the ground in the Third World. And it is in those situations that aid tends to distort African societies by focusing politicians on their relationships with donor countries and NGOs, allowing them to make trade-offs in the names of their constituents. It's the largest programs that breed the most obvious corruption.

And this is where Mwenda certainly has a point, although I don't agree with him that no aid is better than any aid. Instead, how do we handle aid so that we avoid giving people fish rather than teaching them to use fishing poles? How can we direct the flow of aid so that it doesn't eddy into the pockets of bureaucrats, but flows to the appropriate institutions? This issue is overlooked far too often in developed countries, but it's a fact of life here. (For instance, the rumors in Kampala are that a large government cache of ARVs were allowed to expire, simply because the money required to distribute them across the country was siphoned into the private accounts of various, unnamed officials.)

Where Mwenda and other critics of the international donor community are leading us, I think, is not really to a "no-aid" system, but to a "smart-aid" system, where the distorting political, economic, and social effects of aid are openly discussed and mitigated wherever possible. This can be done the way Sachs' guest did: target a small, discernible problem -- a well-cover for a village, a bore-hole, malaria medicine for 12 months, plowing equipment for an over-farmed area. Sachs himself argues in his book that changing the structure of aid to emphasize local demand for programs and then putting local aid organizations in charge helps to alleviate these problems. And that's probably true.

But not all aid projects can be pursued at such a small scale. Educational programs, especially, benefit in concrete ways from expanded mandates and expanded budgets. But those same enhancements often inflate or exacerbate structural, social, or political schisms related to, or in the worst cases actually caused by, those programs. Donors and donor nations need to be transparent in assessing the potential for misuse of donor funds, reinforcing hierarchical or autocratic tendencies inherent in these programs, and the exploitation of the poor or politically isolated that can occur in such situations.

Donors need to start walking the line of necessity, of only doing as much "good" as is absolutely required, then allowing indigenous actors to take the lead. Help people learn to fight their own battles.

Programs should to be tailored to fit the exact needs of their target group. Trimming the fat on aid programs will help reduce the amount of corruption associated with donations by assuring that the program's primary goals are met first. Grandiose, complicated schemes to reduce poverty or alleviate inequalities across broad areas are noble, but ultimately too unwieldy for even developed nations to pursue adequately and cleanly. Stick to the basics, whenever possible.

I want to thank SIRIUS Satellite Radio for allowing me to talk to Jeffrey Sachs by calling me, thus insulating me from crippling airtime charges on my Uganda mobile.
Edited at 11:00am EST. Added note thanking SIRIUS and link to Sirius's website. Also added name of Jeff Sachs' show.
1. My apologies to you, Andrew; I think I'm overstating your position here, slightly.

Sonntag, Juli 15, 2007

Weekly Recap

Posting again so soon may spoil you, but I'm running that risk.

It's been a slow week here in Kampala. On Monday, we cranked into the week with the strongest of intentions and a positive outlook on scanning those 200,000 files. We did scan over 400 discreet images in the last week, a number that I'm currently comfortable with. Plus, on Friday I went in and pre-screened several issues of our current journal; those should be faster to scan tomorrow morning.

We had dinner with a delightful Kiwi and his wife (Finnish, likewise delightful) and their German friend (also delightful) who had wonderful things to tell us about Ugandan agriculture and the creeping Chinese presence here. China has big money invested in Sudan (especially southern Sudan, where most of the oil is), and they've only just started taking an interest in Uganda. Some people, myself included, think this might mean an oil pipeline through Juba, down to Gulu and then on to Mombasa. There are other likely routes, but an increased Chinese presence here speaks to stronger ties economically. Our Kiwi friend told us that their main short-term interest will be food, which is cheaper to produce here. And there's rumors that the Chinese are behind the massive lays of fiber-optic cable here in the city. No one knows whether it's just Chinese money, or there's some other reason behind their involvement. I, for one, see no purpose in burying millions of dollars of dark fiber here, but others might.*

*Whew* By mid-week, we were run down and more than a little tired.

But things went ary on Thursday. We had guests come to see our work, check out our process and gawk at the cool stuff we have access to. But after they left, so did we, felled by something unpleasant and intestinal. After a nap, Ron and I took Denise out for a nice Italian meal nearby.

Friday was bad. I made Denise stay at home, but I only stayed in the office for about an one-and-a-half hours. By the time I made it home, I was in the mood for a nice long shower, a toilet, and some groundnuts.

Yesterday was better, though. I did some laundry, played around all day, and we ate at one of the local pork joints for dinner. Splendid!

And today, I read a whole book.

And tomorrow, my fantastic girlfriend begins her new job. Yay! So exciting! Congratulations!

And really, pictures are coming.
*Here's a doozy of a conspiracy theory for you:
1) Google needs to get chummy with the Politburo, looking to stake a claim in the net market in China. Gets burned in the process by privacy advocates.
2) Google now in China, but realizes that the Chinese will finally break the IPv4 Internet.
3) Google/China now invest massively in dark fiber to force widespread use of IPv6 addressing outside the entrenched US/Europe markets.
4) US/Europe get pulled along within a couple of years. Buzz permitting. (Or, alternatively, IPv6 is branded as the 'poor man's internet,' becomes a standard only for developing countries, and never gets admitted into the developed world.)