Friday, December 18, 2009


I am currently working with the Millennium Villages Project in Ruhiira Uganda. This is part of the UNDP and partners with the Earth Institute at Columbia University. From what I understand, MVP is headed by none other than Professor Jeffery Sachs (From Columbia University if I am not mistaken). For those of you who have not read his book “The End of Poverty” and William Easterly’s book “White Man’s Burden” let me give you a quick synopsis so that this post makes sense.

Both books argue for their respective approaches to international development. If I was to summarize the argument of Sachs’ book into one phrase it would be “more money”. His main argument is that the west is not giving enough money in aid to developing countries and that if we would just give more money, then we could end poverty. A phrase summary of Easterly’s book would be “reevaluate our approach”. He argues against Sachs (his book is a rebuttal of Sachs) and says that the west has given billions upon billions of dollars and not much has been accomplished. He says we need to reevaluate our approach and try to figure out how to spend aid money better rather than just spend more of it. I side with Easterly.

Now, MVP and Sachs do a lot of good. It does spend a lot of money, and I can see the benefits of it here in this village of Ruhiira. The people told me that before MVP came, there were no roads, now there are roads connecting all the villages in the MVP area (the MVP area is actually a number of villages but Ruhiira is the main village in the area). MVP has built a health clinic, provides an ambulance, sponsors a micro credit organization, and has employed people in its offices, the health clinic, as researchers, etc to just name a few. It is also helping the people save money and the environment through distribution of stoves that use less wood and emit less smoke. MVP is doing this in villages throughout the world which is quite miraculous. So, I guess more money and a systematic plan can help development; however, what happens when MVP pulls out? This is where I have a problem with Sachs’ approach.

Yes, MVP is doing a great work here and improving people’s lives. People have especially raved about the ambulance and the stoves (and they have to purchase the stoves, we are not giving them out for free). However, if I understand right, I think MVP was originally supposed to pull out in 2011, but the head office in NY just approved for them to remain until 2015 or 2016 (I can’t remember exactly). The problem: who can take over and continue the project. The idea is that the government will take over, but that is not likely. The government is riddled with corruption and does not have the funds to continue this project. One example of the unlikelihood of the government taking over and running it well is the following: MVP has tried to help the government get its ambulance working again (in addition to the one that MVP has provided). The government ambulance has not been working because it got a flat tire, so MVP stepped in and fixed it. Is the ambulance in use now? No. Why? The government has to send someone out to inspect it to make sure its running properly before they allow it to go out and work. That’s fine, but they say it has to be someone from Kampala (not Mbarara, even though I am sure they could find someone in the local government that could do this task). It has been months and they haven’t sent anyone even though MVP keeps nagging them. So, the government did not even have to FIX the ambulance; they only had to INSPECT it, but they can’t even do this. So, the government does not seem to think that an additional ambulance is much of a priority nor can it organize to send someone out here (one would think the MP from this constituency would lobby for this but either this had not happened or it hasn’t been successful), so why would they be willing and organized enough to take over this extremely involved project? I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I just can’t see the Ugandan government taking over on this one. This is extremely unfortunate because it does do a lot of good.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Some of my friends back in Provo, Utah say that I am a black woman because of my stance on many gender and race issue, and this post will probably only confirm this perception.

So my coworkers Gaby (Venezuelan), Jacob (that is not his real name, but he is Ugandan), and I were having lunch and Jacob brings up the subject of gender because he knows that Gaby is a feminist (and he soon learned that I am too).

He begins by telling me that I should marry an African girl because they're "better" and Gaby wanted to know why they're better. After probing him a bit, it came down to this: he thinks African women are better because, unlike muzungu (white) women, they don't want more rights, they are submissive, and they know their place. He didn't say it in so many words but that was the gist.

He then went on to explain that the reason divorce is so common in the west is because women have rights and they can divorce for no reason at all. So, we asked him what he wants for his daughter (who just had her first birthday): Is she got married and then her husband began to abuse her, does he 1) want her to get divorced because her husband beats her and she hates her life, so then she can be happy and take control of her own life OR does he 2) want her to be married to this man for the rest of her life just because divorce is bad. He said that abuse to an extent is tolerable. I then asked, where he draws the line, and he couldn't answer. I was shocked that a dad would even say that he tolerates abuse to an extent because my dad told my sisters’ future husbands that if they abused his daughters in any way he would kill them (I imagine his exact words would have been “. . . I will rip your head of and shit down the hole!”). I understand and know that people feel this way, but for someone I know and work with, that is educated to say these things so bluntly too me by surprise.

He also mentioned a recent case in the ugandan news were a woman killed a man and she admits she did it, but that it was in self defense because he was trying to rape her. Jacob complained that the "feminist" groups came out and supported her without waiting to see if her story was true, but he says that she needs to be held responsible because we don't know (and can't know) if he really did. I agree that she needs to be tried, but on the premise of innocent until proven guilty (which I believe the Ugandan judicial system works on), and not the other way round! He was annoyed with the feminists coming so quickly to her aid but he was going so quickly to the man's aid: was he not doing the exact same thing as them? Also, given the ridiculously high rate of rape here, her story is very likely to be true.

In short, I think women’s education and empowerment are important for the well being for women, children and men. If half of a society is not allotted the same rights and opportunities, then you can be sure that country will not be able to progress and develop. Not to mention that because women are second class citizens in many countries their quality of life is as such.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Living in Ruhiira

As mentioned before, I am currently working in Mbarara which is a small town which is just a bit bigger than Idaho Falls; Mbarara has about 70,000 people in it but it is really spread out. The main office is in Mbarara, but I am conducting a survey in the nearby (about 45 minute drive away) village of Ruhiira. The field office in Ruhiira has about a dozezn rooms behind it for people to stay in, so I have spent a few nights there (no electricity and it gets dark at 7 pm, so not a whole lot to do at night) and I love it there!

The country side is beautiful! It is beautiful rolling green hills with banana plantations in every valley! Here are some pictures:

This is the road to the "restaurant" called FangFang (I know, Chinese name, but it is not Chinese at all!). On the right, you can see the health clinic built by the Millennium Village Project (MVP). Look at the beautiful rolling hils!!!

This is Ruhiira central. You can see the bodas (motorcycle taxis) under the tree. That is the boad stage as they call it. Then on the left, there is a house that is actually another "restuarant" and then next to that house, the taller building is the MVP office.

House amongst the banana trees. This place is covered in banana plantations!

Besides the beauty, it is really relaxing. The people are chill and you just go with the flow. If you are late, no worries, people understand. There is room to breath and think out there! It is such a relief from the crazy go go go of life! Everyone is really kind and the people that work in the office and the enumerators I have been training this past week are really cool! Genuinely kind and considerate people. Not that the people in the cities are not, but there is just something about being in the country!

Also: awesome food! All the fruits and veggies are as fresh as can be: I have had the best bananas, tomatoes, and avocadoes in my life in the past week! And it is dirt cheap! I can eat a whole meal for 800 Ugandan Shillings at the local restaurant which is like $0.42! Of course it is beans and matooke (which is a certain variety of not-sweet- banana that is boiled and mashed into a really heavy mound of yellow on your plate) but I love it! I really do. The matooke here is so fresh!

Bus ride to Mbarara

About 5 hours after running the marathon, I had to catch a bus from Kampala to Mbarara which was probably not the most wise idea but had to be done. I have been working in Mbarara ever since and I really miss my friends and home in Kampala. This bus ride is basically hell. It takes about 5 hours (but should only take 3) on dirt and pot hole ridden roads. These buses, which make greyhound seem like it has the luxury of a limousine. They are all rattling to pieces as they drive 75+ miles per hour on these crazy roads (which are only wide enough for one car at times). I sat in the back once and when we went over a bump, I seriously went 2 feet off my seat! Also, they never stop for bathroom breaks, the bus will stop every once in a while and let people relieve themselves in whoever’s banana plantation that is on the side of the road. Awesome right!

I have made this trip three times and this most recent trip was particularly noteworthy. We were driving along and then had to stop because there was a car accident blocking the road. So we waited, and then the police moved the car but then because people drive really aggressively here, everyone converged on the opening that was left, and so no one moved for another 15 – 20 minutes: awesome again. Then, the guy in the seat behind me started shouting in whatever language and it sounded like a chant and I thought he was praying. Then he would shift to English and chat the Lord’s name over and over, so I knew he must be praying. Then everyone around us started laughing, so I asked the guy next to me what this other guy was doing, and he said that the guy was praying in tongues, and that he was also praying in Runyonkole to caste satan out because satan has caused the confusion around the accident. Pretty exciting. Then this same man later got in an argument with the other men around and every time he said anything he would shout right into my ear, (not a lot of room between rows of seats in these buses) and pound the back of my seat: awesome, once again!

One really cool thing though is that along the route there are people that sell BBQed plantain, BBQed corn on the cob, water, sodas, boiled/fried grasshoppers (when in season), and meet kababs. I really only eat the first two items.

Anyway, riding a bus, although really really cheap, is not the most ideal way of travel in this country.

Running 26 miles = not good for ones body :)

I ran the MTN Kampala Marathon on 22 November 2009. It is actually an Olympic qualifying race in East Africa which basically means that there were some really awesome athletes there. There were 10s of thousands of people; it was a mad house.

First, I arrived late to the race which is quite ironic because I am not the one this is supposed to be working on “African Time”. From living in South Africa and Uganda, I have become accustomed to what people call “African Time” which is a lot more lax than any other time system I know of. Nearly everything starts late and people use terms such as Now (which can be anything between 30 minutes and 2 hours), Just Now (which is basically whenever I feel like it), and Now Now (which means in the next like 15 minutes) to tell you when they will arrive for a meeting or something. Also, if someone here says they will come at 2 pm then you can expect them to get there about 3/3:30 but don’t be surprised if they don’t show up until 5 pm. So, me, the one who gets frustrated with African Time at times was actually working on African Time the one time things start EARLY! I was shocked. So I get to the race and realize that my race has already started, so I run to the starting line (as if running 26 miles was not enough, I added a few yards onto it). So, I had to play catch up.

Near the beginning, a big group of very fit men and women wizzed past me, and I realized that I had started so late, that the half marathoners (which were supposed to start 15 minutes after the marathon started) were passing me.

I ran really well for about the first 20 miles and then I realized “I am running but could speed walk just as fast”, so I did (seriously, it was like my legs were made of concrete and I was barely moving them one in front of the other). I admit, from about the 20 mile mark, I walked, sped walked, and ran on and off, but I did run the last half mile into the finish line cause I of course could not be seen walking to the finish line.

So, in short, I need to train harder next time (if there is a next time). And it really took quite a toll on my body. About 1 hour after finishing the race I was eating everything in sight and my body ached for the next 3 days and I still have bruises on my toes :)