Archive for June 2009

Snip-its of life in Kampala

June 30, 2009

A few quick anecdotes of some daily occurances:

-today, despite it being the dry season, it decided to pour and pour, which was also when we originally decided to go to the internet. Which meant that my white skirt was a) now a nice brown tinge from the dust and b) completely and totally see through, down to my lime green poka dotted underwear. classy.

-whilst climbing over the gate to get into the high school last night completely intoxicted (which is quite a feat – it’s about an 8ft solid metal gate that has little traction) I managed to stab myself with one of the pointy spears at the top.

-I’m fairly certain that Michael Jackson dying was a bigger deal in Africa than it was in the states. Of course I have no proof to back up that statement, but I have never heard so much Michale Jackson music in my life, seen his face all over every newspaper, or heard about so many tributes for a singer in my life. Sooo crazy.

-best purchase at the market yesterday: for 100 ugandan shillings (about 5 cents) I boiught a handmade paper bag made out of (wait for it) USAID HIV/AIDS educational materials! LIterally – all the true/false questions, info on HIV AIDS, etc, all the sheets were made into paper bags. Hooray for ineffective aid?

Anyway, things are going well. We started teacher training on Monday, and they are really enthusiastic about the project and about learning how to use the computers, which is encouraging. It’s amazing what you don’t think about having to teach someone, like how to understand the correlation between moving your finger on the mousepad and where the mouse goes on the screen, typing, how to highlight text, etc. I’m also amazed at how fast the teachers are picking everything up. My perspective on the laptops have changed another few times – it seems like every time I talk to someone new something else changes in the way I think! But the question of why spending money on laptops is something we should do and is worthwhile is one that I think I have finally answered for myself, instead of spending the money on water/heath/whatever projects. Not that I in any way think that money shouldnt be spent on those projects, but I can at least justify to myself a little now why it is a good thing to spend that money on the laptops and isn’t a waste. And the basic answer for that, in my mind, is that the laptops are a tool for education. I’ve realized since I’ve been away from the internet how much I rely on it for information, how I have a natural instinct when I don’t know the answer to a question to want to look it up and find out, if I want to learn about something to go to a computer to find it, and that’s really directly because of the fact that I grew up with the resource being there, and having the ability to discover for myself. And that is what I see the power of these laptops being – the ability for kids to have the opportunity to become curoius, to discover for themselves, to continue in school, and eventually to become the ones in their community that are making the changes that need to be made, instead of us doing development projects.

Anyway – we’re going whitewater rafting at the source of the Nile on Thursday – should be amazing!!!

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Oliotia!

June 26, 2009

Oliotia = how are you in Luganda, the local language here. I’m learning, but slowly haha.

Things are going pretty well. We have been to our school, Kampala Primary School, a few times now and had a meeting with the Ministry of Education today which was very good. There was apparently a bit of a mix-up but we managed to dodge the bullet a little since the chairpreson was really chill, and we can carry on our project as planned. Our biggest problem right now is that by the school “having electricity,” they actually meant that the school has tapped another line enough to light a few lightbulbs, not enough to charge 100 laptops, so we’re looking at rewiring the entire school which will not only take a lot of time but will be quite expensive. We’re in the process of figuring out how to pay for that now. In the meantime, our training of teachers is going to start on Monday; it’ll be good to get moving.

Been here about a week now, and I’m slowly adjusting. I’ve ate about the same thing (beans, rice, chapattis, egg) for the entire week that I’ve been here becaues it’s cheap, but I’m starting to get a little sick of it. Speaking of sick, I also got a nasty bout of food poisoning a few days ago from jackfruit I think – that’s definitely the last time I’ll be eating that for awhile!

Generally though, life is pretty good. I am finding more things every day that I miss about the states, primarily using a laundry machine and not being called “white person” everywhere you go. This past week was a pretty chill week though since we were really working on clarifying with our NGO and our school the purpose of our project, figuring out how we’re going to make it work, etc, so hopefully once we start getting a bit busier I’ll be a bit less focused on what I miss and more focused on getting our job done.

In other news, I spoke spanish with the Education Committee chairperson today, and it made me unbelievably happy for some reason – I think because finally I actually understood the other language being spoken! English is the “official langugage” here, but almost everyone speaks in Luganda or some other language when they’re talking amongst themsevles.

Party like a rock, party like a rockstar.

June 20, 2009

Hello from Uganda!

One 9 hr cramped busride later, we have arrived in Uganda! We are living at Najja High School, which is in the Makerere slums of Kampala. It’s incredibly different than Kigali – Kampala is crazy dusty, there is trash everywhere, it’s a much bigger city with completely insane driving, but it’s not so bad – there is at least a lot ofreally cheap, good food and places to go and do and see!

So far we’ve been keeping quite busy! We went to and met with the headmaster of the school we will be working with the other day, and it is right next to one of the really big mosques in the city, although the school itself is a fairly small school. We have also been keeping in close contact with our NGO, and they have been taking very good care of us! It looks like our project should be off to a good start – we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we are definitely on the right track. The next week or so will be a decent amount of technical work installing all of our equipment, and we will also be working out with the school exactly the timetable we will use to distribute the laptops.

In other exciting news, one of the people from our NGO happens to be a Ugandan pop star! We went to her concert last night and got to see them perform, and then for the last song, they called us up and we got to dance on stage with them!!! It was pretty ridiculous, not gonna lie. They made me do my booty shake on stage which was awesomely fun, and their manager really liked us so we get to go to their concert again tonight and maybe dance with them on stage, and we are probably going to be in one of their music videos this summer! How ridiculously awesome!!! The group is called Viva Stars – youtube them!

Other than that, I’ve mostly just been adjusting to Ugandan life. They use squat toilets here which was quite a surprise upon coming but not that big of a deal once you get used to it. Standard meals here seem to be rice, yams, pumpkin, mashed up bananas of some sort, and a few other starchy things accompanied by a sauce and for me beans, but for other people some kind of meat. Plus you can get all of that for about a dollar. Amazing! Things here are much cheaper than Kigali – Rwanda for some reason is much more expensive than in the surrounding countries. I’ve also learned to handwash my clothes – washing machines do not exist in Uganda, so today I finally did all of my laundry by hand with the help of a few Ugandans.

Anyway, that’s all for now since I’m paying for the internet (which also means I’ll be on less), but hopefully I will be able to keep this fairly updated! Keep me updated on all of your lives too!

an end and a beginning

June 17, 2009

Well, today is the last dady of OLPCorps trainin, and tomorrow we’re on a 5:30am, 8-9hr busride to Kampala, Uganda!

It’s been a great time here. I really love Rwanda as a country. It is physically beautiful and quite an interesting place. Kigali is amazingly clean – apparently on Saturday a month everyone goes out and picks up all of the trash, and people actually do so – and it is much more developed than I was expecting. The hills make it quite an interesting city esign, there doesnt really seem to be a center, but it makes the city feel calmer and chiller than most other cities (and certainly morre so than Kampala) so it should be exciting.

I’ve learned a lot about the laptops, about the projets, and about my own thoughts about ddevelopment work here. I have finally pinned down what exactly it is that bothers me about OLPC, an it is really only because i have seen Amy Smith’s style of development, of identifying a community’s problem and working with the community to solve that problem through technology, that makes me so skeptical. This whole movement began as an idea, an educational goal that was developed into using technology as a solution. And while yes, maybe giving laptops to children will help them in the long run, it will give them skills hopefully for their future and keep them in school and emcourage the “constructinoist learning” that OLPC values so much, it was not as I am accustomed to seeing with MIT and the people I have interated. OLPC is not a response to an identified problem, that was developed with the help of the community that it will be used in. It was an idea that som professors came up with to push a new idea in educational policy, and then decided to use the laptops to solve it. And while maybe that’s not wrong, maybe that is an ok to try and do development, it is not the way that I personally would chose to do things in development. In my mind, working on a smaller, more organic scale, identifying a specfic community’s needs like we did in Peru and then solving that problem, I personally think is much more effective. When we were working in the Rwandan schools on Friday and Monday, it felt like we were forcing this technology on the teachers, that we were creating a great buren and task for them, which is something that I have never felt before on a development trip. And yes, the kids love them, an of course they are a great tool for them, but is this really evelopment? is my fundamental question. t’s an organization that needs large-scale donors and goernments to buy the laptops in mass quantity to function, and realistially it was not created out of a needd in a community, but of an iea some Americans had. One of the other biggest problems I have with this is that there is no ddirect link between these little laptops and evelopment. Sure, it’s great if kids have a new computer an are learning computer skills when they are younger, but if they are not actually contributing to a larger scale growth, to actually improving these childrem’s chances at jobs or to development of an area or country, then in my mind they are not worth all of the millions of dollars that governmnts are spening on them. When adderssin this very question last week, Nicholas Negroponte respondd with “when countries ask me for proof that these laptops work, I tell them that they are not ready.” WHile I not only find a bit demeaning and arrogant, but also really doesn’t speak to the questino of whether or not lthese laptops will really be effective. And for the amount of money it costs to completely saturate schools and a country, they had better be damn effective, because the government could be using that money to completely power a bigger portion of the country or provide better water or something.

Phew, ok, enough ranting for me. I will try an update once we are in Uganda. WE are staying in a hostel in the slums of Kampala near our school, so I am fairly sure we will not have as regular internet access, but there should be a bunch of internet cafes around 🙂

“In Rwanda, you have to be free.”

June 10, 2009

Things are great here! I’ve finally settled in here, I think. For some reason my first day in a country usually = freakout due to culture shock, but after that I’m fine.

Yesterday was a pretty awesome ady. Ok, well sitting through 7 hrs of ministers talking about the laptop etcc etc was not so ool, but first, I got to meet the president of Rwanda! So that was pretty awesome. Also, at the end of the day, we had a celebration thing where there was traditional Rwandan dance and music, wine, and lots of people. I got dragged into the Rwandan dance because one of the dancers was asking me to and the lady behind me shoved me in, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but it was easily the most fun I’ve had in quite awhile. It was sometime between that first time I danced andd other intermittent breakouts of dancing that someone passingly said to me, “In Rwanda, you have to be free”, which I thought pretty much summed up my time here thus far well. Doing exactly what your heart wants you to do at any given moment and not holding back is what it’s all about here, whether it’s dancing or meeting and talking with someone.

After the party had largely dispersed and a fe wof us were waiting for the bus,a bunch of Ghanaians that I seem to have befriended and a few other people and I had a pretty crazy awesome beatboxing party where they were all going back andd forth rapping and dropping beats and we were all dancing around like maniacs when they put music on, and then the power would go out so they would beatbox until it came back on. Which then continued onto the bus ride home which made for quite the busride. Overall, a very quality night! 🙂

In Rwanda!

June 7, 2009

We made it safe and sound to Rwanda last night around .  After meeting a few more OLPCorps people, we ate some yummy dinner and then hung out before bed!  The trip  itself was largely uneventful.  Possibly the most hilarious moment was the landing of our plane in  Brussels, at which point every man in my vicinity stood up, sprayed on their deoderant and cologne.  Hilariously european.

Today we went to the Rwandan genocide museum.  It was a crazy intense place, even after having studied the genocide and seen movies and interviews before, it was still a very powerful experience given it was Rwandans telling their own story, not us reading about some other person’s analysis of it.

I also managed to survive my frist two motorcycle rides!  I was hanging on for dear life for a bit of it, since I had never ridden one before, let alone in a city as hilly as Kigali, but overall not too bad!  And they even gave us helmets!

Thats all for now – we start our training tomorrow, which should be very interesting.  All of the people we’ve met so far have been great!