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June 5, 2011

I was visiting a village community group yesterday, and one of their main income generating projects is growing coffee and selling the berries. Then today my host mother drank instant coffee with her breakfast. Here was a small example of one of the economic themes I have studied in African classes. Uganda, like many other African nations, is an agricultural nation or raw material exporters. But instead of manufacturing products, or processing and roasting coffee berries, they send them abroad to be made into foreign products, which they then thus buy back. I spoke to a farmer of the Lutweete Cooperative, who I am working with, and he said that the farmers’ cooperative just sells the berries to coffee bean buyers. Albeit, coffee is actually not a very common drink to have here, most people seem to take tea, it is strange that this actually occurs. For the most part though, Ugandans actually eat nearly all Ugandan food. My meals normally consist of matooke, rice, some kind of meat, sometimes peas, yams, beans, pineapple, eggs, avocados and ndizzi bananas. Ugandans grow most of the food they eat. And this I really admire. Even though it doesn’t get quite tiresome to eat the same kind of food, I think it is so much more efficient to eat food that hasn’t travelled thousands of miles from a foreign nation.
So as the second week nearly ends, I still can’t comprehend how I actually feel about this country. Sometimes it feels like a madhouse. This week I spent time visiting community groups that my host organization is a coordinator for. I actually found two of these groups to be incredibly effective in using their own resources to increase their incomes. The first group the Lutweete Cooperative has used the idea of a community group to spread knowledge of sustainable farming. Using two story animal pens and boxed in plant lots, these farmers, men and women, have increased the amount of crops they produce to sell and consume. They have also begun using matooke palms and reeds to create these beautiful bags. I spent Thursday touring an entire hillside village going from house to house visiting their farms and homes. I actually got to meet the Chief of the village. He was so interested in my work and asking where I have studied. I can’t believe I was welcomed into a Chief’s home. I plan to pursue a project helping improve the health aspect of Kingo District farmers. I will be meeting with the second group on Tuesday again. I hope to really get into a detailed conversation about what the community needs and how I could facilitate change. Some of the main issues for farmers is not having enough water. Uganda has a rainy season, but what is strange is that instead of having gutters of water catching systems, many people travel down to a valley to collect water. The community group members seem incredibly welcoming and eager to begin projects. Some of them also think it is hilarious that a Mzungu has come to help their farms. One lady wanted to see if I could even dig. But they have showed nothing but respect for me, and I hope they feel I am respectful as well.
Right now the thought of creating sustainable projects and being here until the end of July feels a little daunting. I can at least say that each day there is something that I really enjoy, but there is also most always something that brings my mood down. I really hope I continue to adjust and really grow to fall in love with this place. Right now I still feel like a foreigner, one who really stands out. But I have gotten a lot better about telling the boda boda drivers that I don’t want a ride. And I notice more and more how many people are very polite and warm here.
My host mother is really a godsend. First off she continues to make me laugh so much, which is just wonderful at the end of a long day. She makes delicious food and she is always concerned about me feeling comfortable. What was so funny too was I brought over Margot and another intern called Elana to my house to meet her and she actually made fun of me in front of them, in a kindhearted way of course, but I am really lucky that I have the pleasure of living in this family’s house. We have gotten that comfortable with each other.
It is hard to watch the poverty here and the inefficiencies, but it gets easier to look at the culture not through an American perspective. I continue to ask people questions about cultural practices, governmental policies and healthcare availability. Also prepare to hear much about farm animals. I spend all my work time in two villages, and right now I have become obsessed with farm animals. I absolutely love this one cow that I have nicknamed Bernadina. You will be seeing pictures soon.


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