What are we doing in Uganda?

Well now that we’ve been here for a couple of months, I figure it’s high time for me to write about the main reason we’re here: my job!

I’m working for an organization called International Community Empowerment Fund (ICEF): www.icefcanada.org, based in Vancouver, Canada.  ICEF has partnered with Tekera Resource Centre (TRC): www.tekera.org, a Ugandan NGO, to help TRC fund and manage its community development work in Tekera Village, Uganda.  TRC aims to provide affordable services for this community where services are otherwise inaccessible.  These services include a health clinic, an elementary school, a farmer’s cooperative and community farm, and a women’s craft club/microfinance program.

My job as the ICEF Field Director at TRC is to liaise between ICEF and TRC.  Basically this means that I’m responsible for ensuring the smooth transfer of funds from Canada to Uganda, for writing monthly reports for ICEF, for keeping international donors up to date about TRC’s work, and for coordinating international volunteers.  I also end up doing things like managing staff, facilitating day-to-day operations, and writing grant proposals.

This year our goal is “to hand over the centre to the community.”  Although all of our staff, excluding myself, are Ugandan, we believe that the centre will be more sustainable with more community involvement.  We plan to start this process by performing project evaluations that highlight the perspective community members have about the services the centre provides and how they’re operating.

I’ve found that my previous job as Office Assistant at Mission Possible: www.mission-possible.org has provided me with many of the practical skills that I’m using here, and my education in International Development Studies has provided me with the critical thinking skills that I’m using to evaluate the work that TRC is doing…more to come on this!

Now, to answer the question: what’s Paul doing here?

Although he’s not officially employed by ICEF or TRC, Paul does a lot to help out here.  I’d say his main role is driving me around.  Since I’ve lived in cities without a car for the past 5 years of my life, I wouldn’t call my recent driving experience plentiful.  Compound this with needing to learn how to drive standard, how to drive on the left side of pothole infested roads, minimal rules or logic to traffic, and I’d say it’s safer to keep me out of the driver’s seat (for now anyways)!  All this to say, it’s quite useful to have a reliable mode of transport given that my job requires me to get into town on a weekly basis – for “high speed” internet, errands, etc.

Paul does a bunch of other random tasks at the centre too.  His most recent, and quite large, project has been completing a short video to help ICEF raise funds for TRC (hopefully we can post this soon).  Overall, he’s a very handy volunteer support staff member!

In addition to these things, Paul has been working for www.convergemagazine.com as a writer and editor, and has been doing some of his own writing as well.

So, this is what we’re doing in Uganda.  We’re not “saving Africa” or anything glamorous like that.  We’re just working for causes we believe in and we’re really thankful for the opportunity to do it.  Remembering this is (among other things) what keeps us going on the days that we’re sick, when work at the centre is difficult, when Paul can’t write because there’s no solar power for his computer or the internet isn’t working, and when we’re asking ourselves: “What are we doing in Uganda?”

Encouraging words from family & friends

Love: Encouraging words from family & friends

The village we call home

Tekera: The village we call home

Paul's workout buddies

Bros: Paul’s workout buddies

We recently showed our P7 students a National Geographic movie for their Wild Animals unit.

We recently showed our P7 students a National Geographic movie for their Wild Animals unit.

Kampala Kampala

Kampala Kampala

Some of my favourite evening visitors

Little Women: Some of my favourite evening visitors

Things that have been easier than expected in Uganda

It has almost been two months since we moved from Vancouver, BC to Tekera, Uganda. Some things have been new and some things have been difficult, but here are things that have been easier than we expected:

  • Driving: Initially, our expectations of driving in Uganda were true to reality. There were few rules and even fewer courtesies and they drove on the “wrong” side of the road. However, once I started to drive myself I began to see that much – but not all – of the erratic driving was a result of the road not the driver (I swear I am not trying to defend my own erratic driving here). So, even though I have little redeeming to say about drivers at night and drivers of big trucks or buses – which should be avoided at all times – as long as you expect bad roads and erratic driving then it is manageable at the very least. I just look at driving as an adventure that requires a lot of focus all the time. Surprisingly, this makes driving long distances in Uganda much easier than in Canada because even though driving is much more difficult here, the road requires so much of your attention that you don’t feel the same mind-numbing monotony that you get on Canada’s endless highways.
  • Navigating around Kampala: Speaking of terrible roads and even worse traffic, Kampala is notorious for its incomprehensible driving. Kampala is a city of approximately 2-5 million people (depending on whom you ask) and there is no organization nor logic to the way the city is laid out. In addition, there are no street signs to orient yourself if you are lost. Having said that, Krista and I enjoy Kampala very much and we (or should I say “I”) have managed to get a good grasp of the geography of the city in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Bugs, insects, and mosquitoes: It seems somewhat strange to say that dealing with the bugs in the African countryside has been easier than expected. We still have lizards/bats/cockroaches/millipedes/beetles/ants/moths/hornets/bees in our house, and I recently got a “jigger” – a tiny bug that buries itself underneath your skin in order to lay eggs – dislodged from my toe, but despite that we still think the bugs have not been too bad. The biggest reason we say this is that the mosquitoes have not been too bad – although, they are getting worse during the rainy season – but another reason has to do with our rural setting. The rules change when you are in the countryside. It is very similar to camping – what you are willing to put up with when you are camping is not necessarily the same when you are in the city.
  • Cold showers: I speak for myself here because Krista usually boils water and mixes it in a basin with cold water, but cold showers are actually quite refreshing – as long as you don’t shower early in the morning or for very long.
  • Food: To be honest, our expectations when it came to the food were quite low. However, as with everything in life, low expectations simply lower the threshold to happiness (something I continually remind Krista of in our marriage). Our breakfasts primarily consist of oatmeal with bananas and g-nuts or pan-fried toast (we have no toaster); our lunches are the same everyday and is a combination of rice, matooke, porsho, beans, g-nut sauce, and fresh pineapple; and our dinners usually rotate between pasta, lentils with fried potato wedges, and a stew that I don’t really know how to describe. We are starting to get more creative with the food and Krista even has hopes of baking a cake without an oven, but for the time being the produce remains the redeemer factor when it comes to the food. The giant avocados, fresh pineapple, mangoes, and bananas are usually enough to get us through our cheese, yoghourt, and cereal withdrawal.

– Paul

5 ways to get over a travel hangover

This is an article I wrote for Convergemagazine.com. Enjoy!

There are two types of travel hangovers. The first is the sluggish feeling you get when you return to real life after a vacation, and the second, the type I am more concerned with here, is the overwhelming feeling that you get when you realize that you do not have a “real life” to return to. Traveling or living abroad has become your life.

I presume that people become life travelers because they are either running from something (responsibility, the past, the future) or running after something (a dream, a conviction, a calling). Most of the time, it is probably a little bit of both.

But, regardless of whether you have good reason to travel for an extended period of time, you will eventually hit the lows of a transient life. At some point, you will be stuck in a foreign place with foreign people who don’t understand you, or you them. You will not have the comforts from home to lean on or the energy from family and friends to draw from. You will feel, in a word, hung-over.

My wife and I felt our travel hangover one month after we arrived in rural Uganda – right on schedule according to many cultural training programs. We had traveled enough to know that some things were going to be harder than we could expect, but up until that first month we had no complaints. We didn’t get sick, the weather was nice, the culture and language were still exciting and new, and the isolation from being in a rural setting was still liberating. But after one month, the rainy season came, traveling became difficult, solar power became sparse, our jobs were no longer new, and to top it off we had to deal with my wife being sick for two days without running water or a toilet. Our travel hangover was in full force.

But thankfully, and expectantly, it did not last. And that is the most important thing to remember about travel hangovers – they do not last. Travel hangovers, after all, are simply part of the process of adjusting to change. Adjustment takes time and sometimes time is all you need, but at other times we need more than that, we need surefire ways to combat the travel hangover.

So here are 5 ways to help you get over a travel hangover.

1.     Do something fun.

Whenever you do something fun, something that gives you joy, you are actively choosing joy over despair. At times this can be difficult, or even impossible, but doing something you enjoy – like playing a sport, watching a good movie, eating a good meal – is an essential part of traveling and why so many people are able and willing to put up with so many difficulties along the way.

2.     Slow down to reflect.

Traveling over a long period will almost certainly afford you one thing: time. Make sure to use your time reflect on the things that are going on in you and around you. Keep a journal, write a blog, go for long walks for no particular reason, and talk to people you would not normally talk to, which leads to #3…

3.     Make new friends.

This is probably the most difficult thing to do on this list because you can’t force friendships, but if you have traveled extensively before then you are well aware of the collective openness that travelers share toward new people. When you are traveling, not only do the rules change, but so do you. Be open to new people and try not to see new people as “intruding” on your already full social circle, as we too often do when we are home.

4.     Keep in touch with old friends and family.

It is important to make new friends and new connections, but it is just as important to keep up with old friends and family. Today, with the accessibility of phone networks and the Internet (well, not all of the time), there is little excuse to not stay connected with the people that mean the most to you because when you are traveling it is important to remember where you came from, which leads to #5…

5.     Remember why you went in the first place.

In the wake of struggles and difficulties, it is easy forget why you decided to travel or move abroad in the first place. In this way, traveling is no different from “real” life – we too easily let the difficulties or distractions of the present cloud our convictions from the past. So, in order that we do not lose our way along a road that usually does not come with a detailed road map, we must continually reorient ourselves towards the goal that we set for ourselves from the beginning, and one only hopes that the goal we have set for ourselves is worthy of the prize that Paul speaks about in Philippians 3. For even though Paul forgot what was behind in order to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of (us),” he did not forget the calling or the goal that Jesus placed on his life. May we, with equal vigor, press on toward the goal that Christ Jesus has set for us, whether at home or abroad.