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Monday, June 6, 2011

Gender Equality and the Source of the Nile

Today, each of us awoke in our personal suites at Kingfisher Resort. After a buffet breakfast, we rounded a corner to find ourselves in a conference hall with Judge David Batema, who had come to give us a lecture on gender equality in Uganda, despite a personal loss that had recently occurred within his family. We were all grateful that he was still able to share his presentation with us, because it was extremely enlightening and inspirational.

His Worship David Batema graduated from Makerere University Law School in 1989 only to realize that the laws in Uganda had male standards and came from male perspectives. He began preaching gender equality to magistrates before he even became one. He lives with the belief that “All human beings are born free and equal,” and he continues to spread this message to anyone who will listen, as well as some people who try not to.

To us, he stressed the difference between “sex” and “gender,” stating that sex is biological and natural while gender is the social construction of the differences between man and woman. These differences are created in our minds and often have to do with how we were brought up. These differences in upbringing became apparent when students from MUBS and Drake were posed with a simple question: “Whose daughter are you?” Students from MUBS replied with only one name, that of their father, while Drake students included the names of both parents.

His Worship David Batema also commented on the religious aspect that leads some people to justify patriarchy. He explained that in the Bible, God created man first and gave him the Universe, which is why many believe that God gave all of the power to man. However, woman was not created until after this happened, which would mean man’s rule does not go as far as to include woman. I found this to be an extremely profound interpretation of the Bible’s teachings. Christianity is prominent in the Ugandan culture, and often leads people to believe things just because it says so in the Bible and without any additional education on the subject. I am glad that there are people who are forward-thinking enough to analyze the Bible and find the messages within rather than taking everything at face value.

I think that gender equality is an important aspect in the sustainability and development of any culture. For an economy to grow, all of its citizens must be respected. The fact that one man is working so hard to improve gender equality in Uganda is inspiring. In a culture like Uganda’s, women can preach against domestic abuse and sexual harassment all they like, but men will pay no attention to them and things will never change. For a man to try and change the perspective of other men is very important and will be the best way to move this society forward.

After our gender equality presentation, we all climbed onto the MUBS bus to take a trip to the source of the Nile, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Jinja. It was incredible to see the beginning of the longest river in the world. The force of the current at the source was astounding, as would be expected for the only river that flows South to North. We all got our fill of picture-taking before heading back up to the bus, stopping to do some last-minute souvenir shopping at the variety of stores along the way, of course. We boarded the bus with all of our new items and memories and back to Kingfisher Resort we went, for an afternoon full of relaxation and fun.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Microfinance in Jinja

We started the day bright and early! We made it to MUBS on Ugandan time at about 7:30 or approximately 45 minutes behind schedule. Once we finally made it to MUBS we ate our last breakfast at the canteen. When we were done eating we left for Jinja with the MUBS students.

Once we were on the bus we heard some basic information about our bus ride toJinja. Fred told us that Jinja is the second largest city in Uganda. He also told us that we would be passing the Owen Falls Dam. After we crossed the bridge over the source of the Nile, we would be entering into the Busoga kingdom. We had previously been in the Baganda kingdom. On the way to Jinja we also passed the Mabira natural forest, sugar cane plantations, and tea plantations.

Local people greeted us with music for the microfinance lesson. After we were greeted they started the presentation with prayer and the Uganda national anthem. We made introductions and got a very basic overview of the microfinance situation in the rural village. After that we took a musical interlude, which included traditional dancing and music. The music continued, but became educational when some singers came out. They sang about how grateful they are that people are able to form groups and the groups help them to save and link them. In the next song they referenced how they used to save money by keeping it in the house and hiding it in pots or roofs of houses, but now they know how to finance.

After the music, the Kugumikiriza V.S.L.A. group used a skit to teach us about how they were using micro financing in their village. The first skit basically showed how a mother hid money in pots, the roof, and in the dirt. The money in the pot and dirt were stolen and the house burned down leaving them without saved money. This skit showed how saving money used to be a problem in Uganda because people could easily steal it.

The second skit showed the new microfinance system that a rural village outside Kampala is using. It started with a girl listening to music on a radio and having her father take it away from her and listen to the news. He heard an ad about an organization that teaches people how to save. In the next scene people come to the seminar to receive training that will help them keep their money safe. The trainer asks how people have been saving and they say that they have been keeping their money hidden in pots and other places. The people had been treating their savings like leftovers. The instructor introduces them to new methodology called V.S.L.A. (Village savings and loan association). V.S.L.A. could allow them to save money and accumulate it.

In order to save money with the V.S.L.A. methodology the locals needed to be trained. They would need to go through 5 training phases. The first phase was group formation, which helped them to form their group. Each group would need to agree on a minimum amount to share. The next training phase was saving, loaning, interest, and social fund training. The last three phases that were taught were records, bylaws, and procedures. The skit then went into how it is easier for locals to pool their savings because it makes it easier to save and also easier to borrow.

The skit also addressed the fact that the savings meetings are gender sensitive. There needs to be at least 2 women out of the 5 minimum people who need to be there. This program is helping women to take control of their finances.

The next part of the skit had to do with what happened at a meeting. The members would ask the previous balance and count the money. There would be 3 key holdersthat couldn’t be related who would open the box. There were 4 different areas the money would be separated into including finance, welfare, savings, and repayment. Roll is called at the meetings and each person has a number to ensure they are present. At the end of the meeting all members witness the box being locked by the key holders and the treasurer takes the box home.

The skit also addressed the fact that some groups decide to make an emergency fund. They make a separate fund and have a different treasurer be in charge of that box. If someone would need to get into the emergency fund there would need to be 2 witnesses.

If someone wanted to borrow money all the members would equalize the loan. The loan would need to be paid back in 3 months time. The interest could be between 5-10%, but it's usually 10%. The person taking out the loan must pay interest back monthly. This program is a huge benefit to the community because it helps them set up loans and have savings.

Everything that has happened up until this point was in the local language and had to be translated into English for us. It was challenging at least for me to pay attention to the skit and also the translation. They did have a closing poem that was in English. It summarized the fact that before the V.S.L.A. methodology the situation was poor, but after V.S.L.A. people feel more empowered. It stressed that all of society was improved.

One of the most important impacts this program has made on the rural villages is that is teaches people how to save. It also allows women to run their own finances. The program teaches people how to be financially independent and helps bring people together. We don’t have the community feel that these people have because in the U.S. we just walk into a bank or ATM to get money. The people are able to form more of a community because they are saving their money together. After many thank yous in both English and the native language we left the village.

V.S.L.A. is definitively having a positive impact on sustainable development in rural areas. It is teaching people how to save their money. Italso allows people in these villages to have more access to a loan. It is important to give people access to loans because they are more willing to start a business, which in turn will create jobs and stimulate the economy. It also gets women involved in keeping their finances. To have a sustainable society Uganda needs more entrepreneurs and opportunities for men and women to start their own businesses. V.S.L.A. gives people the access they need to take advantage of these opportunities.

We went to the chairman president’s mom’s house after the microfinance presentation, where we had been invited to lunch. We were greeted with a few speakers. John talked to us a little about the world becoming smaller. He referenced John F. Kennedy and how Ugandans used to come to the U.S. and Americans came to Uganda through the Peace Corps. He talked about how both our countries share a common ancestry with Great Britain and how glad he was we came. We also heard about YPMA (Young professional managers association). After all the greetings we ate some traditional Ugandan food and fruit for dessert. All the food was very delicious!

We were able to enjoy an acrobat after we finished our meal. He did some tricks like riding his bike backwards and putting pants on while he was on his bike. He also made tea and drank it in less than 4 minutes while still on his bike. He also did some spinning wheel tricks. He was going to do tight rope walking, but the rope was too wet due to a brief afternoon thunderstorm.He did promise to send us a YouTube video to make up for it. Once the acrobat was done we thanked our hosts and left for the Kingfisher resort.

The Kingfisher resort is so beautiful. We made it just in time for the sunset. We have a great view of Lake Victoria. I know a few of us went down to the beach to admire the view and the sunset. It has been a great first day in Jinja!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

“We Go, We Go, Uganda Cranes We Go!”

Today was a laid back day filled with recreational activities for the Drake and MUBS students. The group was excited for today because we were able to attend the Nations Cup Qualifier soccer game with the Uganda team taking on Guinea Bissau in the late afternoon. The Drake students refer to the sport as soccer, while the MUBS students and the rest of Africa (and the world) call it football.

It was a slower morning, we were able to sleep in and eat breakfast at Red Chilli with fresh fruit, vanilla pancakes and omelets as some of the choices. After a quick breakfast, we hopped on the bus and headed to a small craft market to do some shopping for our last minute gifts. On our way to the craft market, the streets were already filled with people wearing Uganda Cranes jerseys, honking, making loud noises with whistles and the large horns called vuvuzelas. It was only 10:00 in the morning, and the city was already buzzing with excitement for the big game. When we finally arrived to the market, we spread out and started to do our shopping. We had about an hour time limit and each student had a list of items to purchase such as picture albums, dresses, jewelry, fabric and other gifts. At this point in the trip, we all knew the tricks of the trade when it came to bargaining and making deals with the Ugandan vendors. Shopping was a piece of cake! This market had a mixture of items for sale. Most of the vendors had very similar items to what we had already seen in past shopping trips, but there always seemed to be something new. As we walked through the market sporting our Uganda Cranes jerseys, the shop owners asked if we were attending the game and thanked us for our support for their country’s team. They were just as thrilled as we were, and hoped for a win for their Cranes.

After finishing up our shopping we made our way back to Red Chilli to drop our items off and then head to MUBS for lunch. Lunch went by quickly and we jumped back on the bus to be dropped off at the stadium. As we were weaving in and out of traffic, the city was booming louder with cheers of anticipation and excitement for the game. When we reached the parking lot of Mandela National Stadium in Namboole, it wasn’t what most of us had expected. People were crammed together waiting to get into the stadium as cars were driving up to the gate. There were comments from our group comparing the situation to professional games they had attended in the United States. The reoccurring theme was that professional games in the United States were much more organized and regulated than what we had seen so far. After waiting in line with our tickets for awhile and being passed by some persistent and enthusiastic fans, we were able to safely get into the stadium and find our seats up in the top row. The stadium was packed and an estimate of about 70,000 people attended the game! Fans flooded the aisles and the outer sides of the field with police supervision. It was interesting that the seating was first come, first serve. This caused some chaos that required a large amount of officials for crowd control. The security measures were lacking despite the numerous police officers. There could be a possible increase in revenue if this system was more organized and controlled. This would require fewer paid police officers and demand a strict form of security. Also, having the tickets correspond to a specific seat would greatly reduce the chaos and allow for increase ticket prices. Concession stands and spirit wear sales could also make for a more sustainable system.

As the game started the level of noise increased to an overwhelming amount. One of the Drake students said that the vuvuzelas and whistles sounded like a swarm of bees. Eventually we became accustomed to the buzzing noise and even joined in with our own cheers and gave the vuvuzelas a try. The Cranes dominated the first half with multiple shots on goal, but it wasn’t until the 39th minute that they scored the first goal. The fans cheered and sang their national chant and we all joined in. During half time an unruly fan ran across the field with his shirt off. As the police escorted him off the field he raised his hands in triumph and the fans went wild. The second half started and the Cranes were at it again and scored another goal. Before we knew the game was over and Uganda had won and qualified for the 2012 Nations Cup for the first time since 1978. The fans were celebrating the win by dancing and cheering while the sprinklers were going off on the field in celebration. After the crowd died down, we gathered our group and made our way towards our bus. We waited in thick traffic for about two hours before we started moving back to Red Chilli. The city continued to celebrate the win for the rest of the night, and the sounds of vuvuzelas could be heard as we were going to sleep after an eventful day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Safari, Boat Ride Down the Nile and Murchison Falls

After a day of traveling north from Kampala, with only one van breaking down and being replaced, we made it to Murchison Falls National Park late Wednesday afternoon. "We" meaning all of the Drake students, the MUBS students, and a few faculty from Drake and MUBS. We stayed at another Red Chili that is not quite as developed. It runs on a generator and does not have electricity from 12am- 8am. It was also made up mostly of tents that each contained two twin beds. There were also a few small cabins that a few of our group members slept in instead.

Upon our arrival at Red Chili we were briefed about the area. We were told each tent had a lantern outside of it at night to keep the animals away since they are afraid of light. They also told us that hippos and wart hogs like to sniff around the tents and graze at night, so if we heard them we were to stay inside our tents. We needed to have a flashlight on us to use the restroom and avoid the animals, even if they were blocking the path to the bathrooms. After hearing that speech and learning I couldn't have any type of food in my tent for fear of a wart hog attacking the tent, I can say I was a little more than nervous and kind of pensive about staying in a tent. However, we all survived the first night.

We woke up really early this morning in order to try to be the first to pick up our packed breakfasts that we had ordered the night before. There was another fairly large group staying as well, and we wanted to beat them to the ferry that we were suppose to take to start our safari. We grabbed our breakfasts that were put in brown paper bags and left to meet the ferry around 6:30am.

We reached the edge of the Nile River about 5 minutes later. While we waited for all of the groups to arrive, we got to watch a beautiful sunrise. Some of the Drake students started singing the beginning of "Circle of Life" from The Lion King. It was definitely fitting. After a few group shots with the rising sun, the vans drove on the ferry, and we headed to the other side of the river. There we climbed back into our respective vans, and we were off on our safari that was to last 4 hours.

The beautiful sunrise over the Nile River
The roofs on the vans all lifted so that we could stand in the vehicles and poke our heads out to get better pictures than just taking them out the windows. We were also allowed to have people sit on a ledge at the front and back of the van. This was absolutely wonderful because there was nothing to block our view. All we had to worry about was staying on the van and taking pictures.

One of the four vans we took. This shows how the roof lifts up.
Each van took a different path, and each van saw some of the same animals and some different animals. It was nice not staying in a group the whole time because I'm sure it would have scared some of the animals away a lot sooner, and it would have been hard to see some of the animals we did see. First of all, the view alone was breath-taking. The scenery was exactly what I picture when I picture Africa. Lots of green grass with some bushes and trees everywhere. Plus, there was the massive blue sky, with the perfectly fluffy, white clouds. It was absolutely gorgeous. Add in all of the animals that we got to see in their natural habitat, and it was like a dream come true.

We got to see lots of gazelles, water buffalo, water deer, antelope, giraffes, wart hogs (or Pumbas, as my van called them), lots of different birds, and hippos, among lots of other animals. The van I was in was lucky enough to see three female lions and a male lion as well. They all got really close to us. I would guess they were probably within 30, if not 20 feet of us at one point. It was by far the coolest thing I have ever seen. In order to find the lions we had to do some off road traveling, which was extremely bumpy, especially to those of us sitting outside of the vans on small metal rods that made little squares. Plus, those of us that sat in the front continuously bumped our shoulders against the roof of the van. However, it was completely worth every bump, bruise and sore muscle or body part that I have. It was definitely an experience that I will never forget and never regret.

My van was also lucky enough to get to see a python that had most likely eaten lunch quite recently. It was still extremely fat in the middle, so we assumed it was still digesting its lunch. We saw the python right before a few of us got to glimpse a leopard descend from a tree. Luckily, one of the other vans had been right by the tree, and they got a lot of really good photos of the leopard in the tree and coming down. We also had another van see a lioness with her cubs. There was definitely a lot of variety among what the different vans got to see, which made the experience unique for each of us.

At 11am, we left the safari to head back across the river for lunch at Red Chili. We all ordered, ate and played some more games before we left for the boat tour at 2pm. Then we headed back to the Nile where we boarded our boats. We were all originally on a big tour boat together, but for some reason my van got moved to a smaller tour boat.

The boat tour was absolutely gorgeous, and our tour guide David did a great job of explaining everything we saw and answering our questions. He also had amazing eye sight. I'm still not sure how he was able to see half of the wildlife we saw. It usually took me a while to see it when we were close to it, so I'm still baffled out how he saw some of the animals from so far away.

After we took of on the Nile River, we spotted a baby crocodile almost right away. When I say we, I really mean David, but he pointed it out for the group so the rest of us could see it too. We also passed by a house that was constructed for Queen Elizabeth's mother. It looked like it was a very nice house from what I could see of the outside.

We quickly made our way along the river spotting lots and lots of hippos. We learned that they spend over half of their lives in the water, spending only 9 hours a day on land. Their time on land is spent grazing, and they usually travel around 6 kilometers when they graze. David also told our group that hippos and elephants only go to the water if it isn't raining. However, if it rains they stay on land because there is no need for them to travel to the water to get wet or cool down. Along with seeing hippopotamus, we saw water buffalo. David pointed out that once water buffalo reach about 18 years of age (they live to be about 20), they are kicked out of the heard because they tend to lose their eye sight and are seen as weak. When this happens they spend most of their time on the edge of the water. They strategically face the land and have their back towards the water. This makes predators, such as lions, believe that they can see them approaching, and it makes the water buffalo less vulnerable because there isn't anything that should attack them from behind.

As we moved down the river we saw water bucks, wart hogs, lots of birds, baboons, some black and white monkeys, and elephants! The elephants were really amazing, and we even got to hear them make their trumpeting noise! However, they didn't stick around for long because we were too loud for them since they have extremely sensitive ears. Of the birds we saw, the Red-Throated Bee Eater was by far my favorite. It contains all seven colors of the rainbow on it! It was extremely beautiful. We also saw two different kinds of Kingfischers, African Eagles, and a few more. They were all gorgeous, and it was hard to capture their true beauty on the camera.

We continued down the Nile seeing all of the animals previously mentioned, plus we added some more crocodiles. Especially when we got to an area they like to call the Crocodile Bar. By the time we got there it had started to sprinkle and the crocs were slowly moving towards the water. We got to see numerous crocodiles slither, or crawl, into the water. It was really neat getting to see it in person instead of watching it on TV.

We continued our journey until we reached Murchison Falls, the waterfall the park is named after. It was absolutely stunning. I have never seen water move so fast or so powerfully. Looking into the river seeing how strong the current was, was absolutely unreal. When we arrived at the falls, David shared a little of the Fall's history. He told us that it was originally named after a king of a tribe. This king would jump across the waterfall in order to get supplies from the other side. They also switched men and women because the men were dark skinned, and the women were fair skinned. The king on one side and the king of the other side did this to form more of a medium skin colored baby.

Murchison Falls
We also heard the story of Hemingway. Hemingway had done lots of traveling in Africa, and he was working on writing a book about African safaris when he decided to fly over Murchison Falls. However, his plane came upon a flock of pelicans and in the pilots attempt to avoid them the crashed into some of the surrounding cliffs. Hemingway, his wife Mary, and the pilot all survived without serious injury. They were rescued shortly after. Somehow that plane also crashed. This time Hemingway was not so lucky. The plane caught on fire in this crash. He had already suffered a broken shoulder and a cut on his forehead. While he was trying to escape from the plane he got stuck because of his size, but he was able to get out and survive. His wife and him went back to the United States, where he later committed suicide.

On the way back to where our tour had began, we met the big tour boat the rest of our group was on. We found out that something had gone wrong, so we were supposed to get on the bigger boat, and then they would get on the smaller boat since the big boat was unable to get close to the shore. However, it turned out the small boat didn't have enough gas in it to go back to the falls and make it back to the starting point, so we all stayed on the big boat. My group, plus everyone else, went to back to see Murchison Falls again. It was just as beautiful and amazing.

After seeing the Falls for the second time, we started to head back to our starting point. We continued to point out animals that we saw. We even got to see a crocodile go into the water. I have never seen anything move so fast. It moved with incredible speed. It was fascinating to watch. We made it back to the point of origin around 5:30pm, and we headed back to Red Chili for supper. After supper, we played multiple different card games with the MUBS students since we all had split off into different groups. The group I was with taught a few of the MUBS students how to play spoons, except we used straws because they were more readily available and seemed like a less dangerous alternative. They absolutely loved it, and in turn they taught us to play a game similar to UNO.

The crocodile we watched enter the water!
While getting ready for bed, I just happened to look up at the night sky. I was glad I did. I have never seen so many stars. I may live in the country back home, but the night sky I got to see was by far much prettier. There was absolutely no light pollution anywhere to spoil them.

We ended the night with a campfire, and of course where there is a campfire, there are campfire songs. Patrick also played his guitar and sang. It was definitely the perfect way to end the evening. But in order to add a little more spice to our evening, we were also visited by a hippo (or maybe two) at around 10pm. He was by the very last tents, which of course were occupied by Drake students. They were able to make it to their tent eventually, but it was weird having to worry about hippos being outside. I was glad to be tucked safely in my tent at this point.

Tourism is a huge part of sustainable development for Uganda because there is so much to see. The national parks are absolutely gorgeous, and I don't know how someone could come to Africa and not go on a safari. It also helps that people see something different each time. I could easily go on a safari again, and I know it would be completely different. However, in order to make tourism sustainable they need to attract the tourists to the area. For Murchison Falls, I think a little more advertising could be done, but honestly, that is all I would change. There weren't any gift shops around, but I found that refreshing. It was really nice getting to see everything naturally as it was meant to be. Sometimes having something that man hasn't over commercialized is extremely satisfying. This was definitely the case. By the looks of the number of people that were staying at Red Chili, I would say the tourism in the area is doing well. Because tourism is a big part of the economy, I would say Murchison Falls is definitely helping with sustainable development in the country, as long as there continues to be tourism.

Last night I got to fall asleep listening to my classmates, friends and professors singing "This Little Light of Mine." It was beautiful, and after starting off with the sunrise we had this morning, I couldn't picture a more perfect day. It was what I picture as 100% African tourist. It also made me realize that Elton John nailed it in "Circle of Life." There is definitely "more to see, than can ever be seen" and "more to do, than can ever be done." But I'm extremely grateful for the experience and the chance to try.