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Rebecca, Elizabeth, Anna and our favourite form of transportation
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Rebecca and that looking-into-the-distance/pondering the complexity of community development gaze that our group has trademarked
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We have spent the majority of the past week in the back of a pick-up truck.

Well, not quite. Monday we travelled westward to the DR Congo border to shadow Immaculate’s work with the microfinance support centre while she prepared to take time off her work for us all to go together to her ancestral village of Kumi and conduct the main portion of our Empower U project. The preparations for our project in the village have included arrangements with the Empower U local board of directors and the local microfinance institution, the planning of workshops for both male and female community members, and agreements with local farmers to purchase livestock. The main part of our project begins tomorrow, as we move toward northern Kumi.

But back to this past week in the field with Immaculate.

Aside from the boda boda (a motorcycle or bicycle) and the matatu taxi (old-fashioned minivan), the back of the pick-up truck is one of the most popular methods of transport in Fort Portal, and in Uganda in general. My rule of thumb when choosing local transport is to look dead into the eyes of the driver to determine whether he values his life that day. Never choose one who looks whimsical or reckless—with the haphazard Ugandan traffic, you can never be too careful.

Our week shadowing Immaculate was very much reminiscent of the summer I spent interning for the microfinance support centre in 2009—especially with the field visits. In Fort Portal, the microfinance institutions are widespread and many. In order to ensure accountability, Immaculate must visit each one on a regular basis. Elizabeth, Rebecca, Anna and I piled into the back of Immaculate’s official microfinance support centre pickup truck to accompany her for a visit to the remote institutions in the Rwenzori Mountains (close to the DR Congo border).

The trip included a climb up the Bungi Bugyo (otherwise known as a narrow dirt path along precarious cliffs) into the mountains, a soaking in a thunderstorm, a trek through a lush jungle, a weave through wild and bloodthirsty (yet super cute) baboons and a million stops to ask for directions… all to find out upon arrival to the small village in the mountains that the microfinance institution was closed for the day and that the manager was out. Typical Wednesday afternoon on the job. Immaculate used her usual mixture of sweet persuasion and not-so-veiled threats to insist the manager rush back to meet with her—as the manager did.  

On our way back through the mountains to Fort Portal, we were stopped for three hours in the evening by road construction (or what I like to call random trucks throwing huge rocks all over the place). From the time of seven to ten, as we waited for the construction to finish and clear, more than a dozen matatus, bodas, trucks and cars were backed up on the road. The only detour being off the cliff, we all waited (not so) patiently.

It’s interesting (and not surprising) that almost every single construction truck we come across is branded with Chinese Mandarin, and most of the supervisors are from China (overlooking a largely Ugandan workforce). Just like the mzungu “humanitarian aid” in Kampala is apparent, so is the Chinese investment in Africa. Modern colonialism?

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The thunderstorm ends - happiest girls in the world
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Microfinance Support Centre Limited - the mission
In speaking of colonialism, upon visiting a school by the Fort Portal crater lakes, the children welcomed us by song. To reciprocate, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Anna and I looked among each other, not knowing what to sing - somehow I didn’t think a Drake rendition would be appropriate. Anna and I instead chose to sing the Canadian national anthem “O Canada”.

But this was not my singing debut in Uganda. As a side note on Ugandan pop culture, my 'premier' was in Kampala in 2009, when called on-stage at Club Rouge with Ugandan rap artist Chameleon. That is pretty much my street cred in Uganda's music world.

As we head into the Kumi village, I'm thinking of my favourite George Bernard Shaw quotation:

"Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."

I love all favourable ways of explaining unreasonable action.

- Jen
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Just balancing over a hot spring of temperatures steamy enough to boil an egg, no big deal
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The Female Hot Spring of Rwenzori Mountains
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Summer nights
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She wanted my earrings
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The Rolex assembly line
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Product of the Rolex assembly line 
oxana
7/29/2011 10:00:59 pm

Nice to see you all healthy and happy:)

Reply
Invisible Hand
7/30/2011 01:49:56 pm

Good point about Shaw's reasonable and unreasonable people. No doubt the world is being changed by risk takers.

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    Elizabeth, Rebecca and Jen

    The three of us are spending July and August on the Empower U project in Kumi, Uganda. We will be recording our (mis)adventures here.

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