Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Upset Member of Parliament, Thugs, and the Nightly News

As you may or may not know, I am currently engaged in conducting workshops throughout the county (of Ugandan). In these workshops we present our assessment of each constituency's Member of Parliament (MP). Needles to say, if the MP performed well, he/she is very welcoming of us and our workshop, but if the MP performed poorly he/she is usually quite hostile. One MP took it to a new level.

Honorable Isaac Musumba was furious when my colleague Gerald called to invite him to our workshop in his constituency in which we would discuss his performance with the voters (he received two D's for his grades). He yelled and screamed and said we aren't allowed to do that. He said that since he is a Minister of State he can get the police to stop us! Gerald went ahead and continued with the workshop as planned. When Gerald and his team arrived (I was not there because I was with the other team at a different workshop) to meet with the local leaders on the morning of the workshop, the local leaders kept getting phone calls to which the would respond "Yes, he is here now." and "Yes, I am meeting with him now." Then a bunch of drunken men showed up and started trying to stop the workshop. Nothing got violent but it got really intense. Gerald tried to call the police but they would not come because they were afraid of the MP. So, the called off the workshop.

The people were furious and said that we must come back because the MP cannot do that, he doesn't own the constituency!

We always take a guy with us to every workshop who films the workshop so that we can show our donors that we are conducting workshops. So, our guy filmed the confrontation between the thugs and the local leaders and AFLI (my organization) staff. And Gerald took this to a national news station: NTV. NTV aired a report on the Saturday night news.

In the NTV report, they showed the confrontation footage and an interview with Gerald. They also interviewed Honorable Musumba. Musumba sounded like a complete idiot! In the interview he was screaming and shouting and saying the we had no right to conduct a workshop, that we must clear it with him because it is "my constituency, mine, mine, my constituency!". Of course we don't have to clear anything with him. Musumba was basically saying that "If anyone wants to have any public meeting in my constituency, then they must first ask me because I am in control!" That would be like a US Representative (from the US House) saying that if anyone wants to have a public meeting in his/her district, they must first clear it with him or her; ridiculous!

We are planning to go back and have a workshop in his constituency! We will not be intimidated!

Things like this remind me once again that democracy is still very new here and that a free and open society is still something that Uganda must work for and that one obstacle to a free and open Ugandan society is Uganda's leaders!

$0.20 vrs Theft

I love living in Kampala, but sometimes it is really frustrating, and sometimes you lose your cool and just punch somebody . . .

So, the other day, my friend Phoebe and I were going to meet some friends for lunch. We left the office for a place called Kisementi. We decided we would take a Matatu (the mini-bus taxis) there. Now, I have taken this route many times. In fact, I living in Kisementi for my first 3 weeks in Kampala and took that exact taxi route everyday to the office (and many times since) and I KNOW that the price is 300 shilllings ($0.15). So, we are getting off at our stop and I hand the conductor 600 shillings to pay for both of us (the conductor is the guy that shouts out the window so people know where the taxi is going and the one you pay). We begin to walk away, and the conductor follows us and says "No! Muzungu (white person), you pay 500 ($0.25) for each!" I then said that we paid the right price. He kept demanding more money, so I explained that we take this route all the time and we know the price. He kept pressing . . .

A little more background: Matatu conductors are always ripping everyone off, even Ugandans, but muzungus are particularly easy to rip off because they usually don't know the prices. However, I have lived here for 10 months now and I know the prices. So whenever you get on a taxi you know you are going to have a bit of hassle when you pay but usually they stop at some point because they realize you know the right price.

. . . back to the story . . .

When the conductor realizes that I am not going to pay more than 600 shillings, he reaches over and grabs the envelope of pictures that Phoebe is holding, and then runs back into the matatu. I was like "Hell no!" and followed him and got up in his face and asked for the pictures, he demanded money. I said I wouldn't pay and demanded the pictures. He wouldn't give them so I grabbed for them and he wouldn't let go. By this time I was fed up with dealing with this guy and my rage got the better of me . . . I then smacked the guy upside the head and pushed his head away and down into his lap which made him loosen his grip on the pictures and I took them form him. it then registered in my mind what I had just done: these matatu conductors are usually pretty rough/tough guys and this particular one had a tattoo on his face, so I thought "Holy crap, I am going to get my ass kicked!". So then I instinctively ran, but then stopped and turned around and saw that he had just come out of the taxi after me but had stopped. I yelled "Don't rip me off! Phoebe lets go!" And we left :)

Now, the good things about this is that there was no way he would have fought back because he knew he was in the wrong and people know that conductors rip people off because they have all been ripped off by them, so people would have come to my aid even if he did decide to fight me. Also, mod justice is pretty much the norm here, and he was in the wrong so once again people would have come after him if he came after me.

The most awesome part though was the 2 guys chilling on the street who were dying laughing as they watched this scene unfold. It must have been pretty hilarious!

Now at lunch, I told my friends this story and Phil said "So, you punched a guy for $0.20?", then Avner responds "No, he punched a guy because he stole." I subscribe to the latter explanation :)

It began with me defended the principle of equal pay regardless of race or nationality and the principle of I-hate-getting-ripped-off! Then I was pushed over the edge by his attitude and theft!

Conclusion = Adam needs to calm down! I have been a bit high strung lately and am in need of a vacation. Good thing I am heading to Zanzibar this week for a 10 day vacation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Racism . . .

At the workshop that I blogged about in my last post, I had an interesting experience. But first, some background. I am the only non-Ugandan and only white person that works with this NGO (AFLI: African Leadership Institute) here on the ground. My role is technical support and data analysis, so it makes sense that at the workshops, I present the methodology behind the scores that are on the scorecard (I am however training two of my colleagues to do this presentation).

So, after giving said presentation, I sat in the back of the audience with my colleague to watch the remainder of the workshop. Then a young woman, probably early 20s, about my age, approached my colleague, Teo, and then Teo said this girl wanted to ask me something. I said that was fine. She then came over next to me and as she began to speak, I could tell she was very nervous: I could even see here lip quivering and she was kind of stumbling over here words.

She started asking if our analysis was really correct and really did reflect the performance of an MP. I explained how we get our data (that it all comes directly from Parliament). Then she started asking why I gave the presentation. I then explained my role in the organization. She then asked why a Ugandan did not give the presentation, and I explained that Gerald had given the “Roles of an MP” presentation, and that I was the only non-Ugandan in attendance. She then began asking why white people feel they need to get involved in all of Africa’s business, that there are Africans that can donate and support other Africans but they don’t because they know the white man will do it, and that because of all of this, whites have made Africans lame and dependent. Now, these are all good points, and I think she speaks some truth here. I believe that much aid is causing a culture of dependence and the way in which it is given, presented should be changed (but that is an issue for another time). I tried to explain to her that AFLI for example is both Ugandan-originated and Ugandan-run and that "we whites" try to give support to it rather than control it.

She didn’t seem to want to listen. She continued with her diatribe and began saying that whites upset her, etc, etc. Then she said “And me, I DETEST whites. I DETEST them.” I then looked at her and said “I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” and I turned away from her. She then left, and I did not see her the rest of the time. It was really the first time anyone has looked directly at me and said they hate me. I didn’t really know what to do, and I could feel that all to familiar heat-anger flowing through up into face (I blame that on the Harris in me), so I simply ended the conversation (which would be the Bybee in me).

I realized that she had planned to say that to me from the beginning which is probably why she was so nervous when she began talking to me. She must have had some really negative run-ins with white people in the past to make her want to say that to me (someone she did not even know). It just goes to show, hate spreads hate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another Workshop!

My organization has finally managed to conduct another dissemination workshop! To refresh people quickly: we are created a report card for each MP (Member of Parliament) and then doing dissemination workshops to give that info to the voters. The workshop from this past Friday was awesome!

We were presenting the scorecard for the MP of Bamunanika County. This MP did not do particularly well: he only went to 9 of the 80 sittings of parliament and attending none of his committed meetings. His grades were: F in Plenary (the full sittings of Parliament), F in Committed, and E in Constituency. The MP himself did not attend the workshop, but he sent his assistant and there were about 110 of his constituents in attendance.

After I finished presenting the methodology of the scorecard and his specific scores, the MP's assistant was given time to respond. The assistant was amazing: he admitted that the MP had not performed up to par and went step by step explaining how the MP would improve and how he would help him improve (now whether or not the promised improvements will come to pass is a whole other issue, and he better get his act together before the elections in 2011). The assistant could have gotten angry, said that our data was flawed, that we were out to get the MP, etc, etc, but he didn't. It was a beautiful political move!

Then the audience asked questions and gave comments demanding change etc, etc. It really was democracy and politics at its finest, really! It is quite amazing, because the average Ugandan does not have many channels through which to voice their concerns, so it was great to see them take advantage of this and to some extent force the MP to be responsive to their concerns and needs!

We have 2 more workshops planned over the next 2 weeks, so we'll see how those go. We plan to do 118 workshops (about half of the constituencies in Uganda) before next year's elections.

The bottom line of all of this is to increase good governance, and it is great to be a part of that. And the cool part is that we have a systematic, randomized-trial based way to evaluate if we are in actual fact increasing good governance in Uganda, so once we are finished with all the workshops we will see the effectiveness of the scorecard system of evaluation . . .

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kenya Part 6: Nairobi, Day 4 (Final Day)

Another chill day in Nairobi which consisted of us actually making it to the giraffe sanctuary and the art galleries we wanted to go to on our first day in Nairobi.

at the national museum

the giraffe sactuary

on more train picture just because!

Then it got a bit crazy! So, we had a different taxi driver take us around this time which we hoped would be better than the one we had on Thursday, but it turns out he wasn’t . . . he really wasn’t better! I don’t mean to generalize, but I have found this to be the case in South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, and Kenya: many people in African don’t like giving bad news, so they will tell you want you want to hear to appease you (now this happens at home too, but not as often as it does here). It is actually really frustrating at times because most of the time I would rather have the bad news: for example, rather than make an appointment with me for a time that you can’t make (telling me what I want to hear) and making me wait for 4 hours, just make an appointment for a time that is good for both of us. Or, rather than tell me you can get this data from parliament, make me wait for it for 2 weeks, and then tell me you can’t get it when you knew you couldn’t get it 2 weeks ago would have saved me some time and allowed me to find another way to get the data . . . ok, I’m done complaining :)

Anyway, so we asked our driver how long it would take to get to the airport because we needed to go to an ATM and shopping center before going to the airport (it was about 4 pm and our international flight was leaving at 8:20 pm). He was like “oh yeah, no, it take like 30 or 45 minutes.” Then we asked if he was sure because it took us a little longer to get from the airport to town on our way in and we were worried about evening traffic, but said “No, there won’t be any traffic.” So, being the outsiders, we trusted him and kind of took it easy not worrying too much about getting to the airport because the Nairobi Airport is shit show and we didn’t want to spend too much time there. Also, Air Uganda allows you to check in to your flight up to 30 minutes before the flight if you don’t have any baggage to check (which we didn’t), so we felt we had time.

So, we go to the shopping center, do our thing, and then we try to find out driver in the parking lot. I got his number when he dropped us off so we could call him when we were finished and meet him because we didn’t see where he parked. It turns out he gave me the wrong number and we had to comb through the parking lot to find him (bad Nairobi taxi experience number 3). We found him and then were on our way. We left at about 5 pm or 5:15 so we had plenty of time . . . we thought . . .

We get out of the shopping center and into traffic, we sit in the same spot for about 40 minutes, move a bit and then I can see the traffic is not lightening up any time soon. So, I ask him if we are going to get there in time because the traffic is looking really bad. He said that once we got to the uhuru highway the traffic would flow, so I trusted him. About an hour goes by and we get to the uhuru highway and traffic is no better. Then he says that once we get past the next 2 roundabouts, the traffic will flow. We get through the 2 roundabouts and the traffic doesn’t get better.

Finally, once 7 pm rolls around and we are still on the uhuru highway in bumper to bumper traffic, we start getting frustrated because we are probably going to miss our flight. He said it was fine and would just take 10 minutes, which none of us believed. He then started to say that flights are late sometimes and we will be fine and/or that we could just get on the next flight!!! Yeah, that’s not how it works. So we explained that if we miss our flight, then we have to buy a whole new ticket, accommodations for the night, and miss work tomorrow! Then we break through traffic, finally, at about 7:45 and he drives like a crazy person to the airport. We arrive at the airport at about 8 pm (on his clock which turned out to be 5 minutes fast which was great) and run to the check in counter . . . remember our flight (international flight mind you!) is TAKING OFF in 25 minutes!

The guy begins to check us in and says that the plain is full and they have given away our seats, there are 2 seats left, but they are trying to figure out what to do. We sit there and are kind of to the point of laughing about everything because it has been so stressful, but really we are stressed beyond belief! About 10 minutes goes by and then the guy says that they have another seat and we should run to the plain! We checked in, went through passport control and security, and ran to our plane! We got on and flew home! It was crazy! But luckily we made it home safe and sound!

It was a great and much needed vacation! The country was beautiful and the people were great! Loved Kenya!

Kenya Part 5: Train back to Nairobi

Another awesome train ride back to Nairobi. I really can’t fully describe how cool this train was, but it was awesome. The train ride back consisted of train awesomeness, crazy Norweigans with tattoos of cocker spaniels, more mediocre food, book reading (A Thousand Splendid Suns is amazing), watching the Kenyan landscape, and spotting giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and antelope. It was really cool to see the animals outside of a game park because it felt real, not like cheating. The train ride was kind of what people might think Africa is like if they have never been here; it was quite cool and surreal.

More train Pictures:

the top bunk!


K and E at dinner! Check out the awesome wallpaper behind them. I almost posted the picture of them looking like they were half dead, but decided against it, you guys are welcome :)

Kenya Part 4: Mombasa

Mombasa is a town in the Southwest of Kenya on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We spent two days there, and it was amazing! It was about 900 million degrees and I basically melted, but other than that it was pretty awesome! We went to a beach and the water was like a hot bath which was amazing but didn’t help to really cool you off :)

We visited old town, here is a pretty awesome picture of E and I walking through Old Town (at times Mombasa felt like I would imagine the middle east would feel like):

We also went to Fort Jesus which was built by the Portuguese in the 1600s. It was pretty much a typical old fort.

One evening we took a dinner boat ride around the harbor with an amazing sea food restaurant! It was quite possibly one of the coolest things I have ever done. It was a beautiful warm evening, we were on an amazing boat looking onto the city at night, a great local band was playing, there was an open kitchen in the middle of the boat, and we had AMAZING food! I had lobster and oysters for the first time which were both awesome (although I am a vegetarian, I eat fish). I can’t even describe how awesome it was, so here is a picture of us at dinner on the boat (since I didn't take any pictures, I am left with using the ones that Kate and Elizabeth posted on facebook, thanks guys!):

Kenya Part 3: Train to Mombasa

Awesome, the train was awesome. We traveled second class so that we could have a sleeper cabin to ourselves. We paid for an invisible adult so that we didn’t get stuck with a crazy random 4th person in our cabin, but that kind of happened anyway. When we got back from diner there was a random lady in our cabin who was confused as to which cabin was hers . . . it was a bit sketch because she had been kind of snooping around earlier, but she didn’t steal anything. The food was only ok, but we enjoyed it because we were on a train and we were on our way to Mombasa! Here are some pictures from the train (either the way there or back, not sure which are which).

On the train looking out the windo, kate being creepy . . . because Elizabeth told her to . . . Av couldn't make but he was there in spirit and kate used mascara to make a stash and soul patch on herself so he was kind of there for real.

Elizabeth and I getting ready to go!

Huge mound of butter at the dinner table . . . ok not butter but a sad excuse for margarine.

I'm not sure where we are at this point, maybe on the train, or maybe on the boat in Mombasa. Anyway, this is Elizabeth and me.

Sleeping on the train. It really was comfortable!
Kenya Part 2: Nairobi, Day 1

We arrived in Nairobi early Friday morning. Luckily we had a friend who knew a taxi driver that we could hire for the day, but unfortunately that taxi driver was busy, but he sent his brother to pick us up, so that worked out well. We went to the national museum which was really great! Then we decided that we would try to hit some art galleries and possibly the giraffe sanctuary. The giraffes and an art gallery are about 20 minutes outside of town, so we decided that we would head out that way. On the way out there, we ran out of gas (or at least that is what we thought happened) and had to push the car in the 90 degree heat (which meant that touching the car was like touching a stove burner). Then, we finally gave up and walked down to the nearest restaurant/pub for lunch which had no food really (the menu was verbal and consisted of goat, chicken, or beef . . . the picture below pretty much perfectly captures how I felt that this moment sitting in this pub).

After sitting there for about 5 minutes, our driver pulls up in the car which has been miraculously healed (that is the car behind me with Kate talking to the driver). I have no idea to this day what was exactly wrong with the car or how he fixed it (bad Nairobi taxi experience number 1). Then we decided that we would just go back to town so we didn’t miss the train to Mombasa.

Before going to the train station we needed to find dinner, so we looked at our trust Lonely Planet guidebook which only had like 2 recommendations for the entire city (good job lonely planet; lame). It took us forever to find the place to eat, our driver drove around in the same block about 50 times until we actually found the place (bad Nairobi taxi experience number 2). We were starving but when we got there the restaurant was closed even though the sign said it should have been open. So, we walked to the next closest place which was called Berber’s . . . we walked in, sat down, and ordered some food which was good enough but not great. The service was good compared to Ugandan customer service (but then again begin shot in the face is sometimes better than customer service in Uganda, ok maybe that is a bit harsh; sorry Uganda, but your customer service leaves one wanting). Then toward the end of our meal, the waitress came and said thanks to us for coming into the restaurant and that they appreciate people like us (white) coming in. We were possibly the first white people to ever come in to that restaurant. She then “congratulated” us which was awesome. We officially loved Berber’s!

We then got to the train station without incident in time for our over night train ride!

Kenya Part 1: Planning, what?

Last weekend, I and some friends went to Kenya for a long weekend (it was International Women’s Day; Happy late Women’s Day everyone one!). We decided on Thursday that we would leave on Friday, the next day. It was probably the most spontaneous thing I have ever done in my life. Thursday morning, at about 10 am, Elizabeth sent out an email to Kate, Avner, and me suggesting we go to Kenya, and by 2 pm we had purchased plane tickets. Thus began the coolest vacation ever.