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A "dam" good time in Jinja, Uganda

UGANDA | Wednesday, 11 July 2012 | Views [1110]

Hellloo friends and family and loyal supporters!!

Over the past week we completed two videos-- One on the conflict between western and eastern foreign donors vying for influence in Kenya (Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXRcJKdqrRw&feature=context-cha). The second video we posted is about Dominion Farms Limited (Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrITMEcOY30&feature=plcp). We collected over 15 hours of footage from the week in Bondo and Siaya, therefore it took several days to sift through it all.  We then headed Northwest to investigate the Millennium Villages Project, crossed the border into Uganda, and are now checking out a new dam being built on the Nile River! Stay tuned this week for a video on the dam conflict. Busy busy days. 

If you are interested, which… hopefully you are, seeing as you did click to open our blog, here is a little more detail on our past 10 days:

Friday June 29:

Began and finished and uploaded our Edward Olima video (a 2 minute clip on foreign donor conflict)! This was our shorter video from the week, therefore we wanted to get it out of the way before getting into the Dominion footage.

Saturday June 30: Dominion video video video…

Sunday July 1: 

Woke up and worked on the video, per usual. But it was also Market day in Kisumu! There are always markets in Kenya. Every day you could go to a street corner and buy a second hand tee shirt or bag of onions. But on Sundays the markets multiply in size, and become as big as fourth of july flea markets in the US. It's crazy. So we headed into the Kibuye market, the #1 place in town to NOT bring your purse or backpack.  We played a game, called "You have an hour to buy each other a 50 KSH t-shirt." Cal bought Evan a tie-dye tee which was soon after turned sleeveless and has yet to be taken off his body. Evan bought Cal a winnie the pooh honey bee shirt, which Cal has stressed needs to be washed after living in the market, and is yet to do so… We may or may not have gotten Chinese food that night for dinner. Cal fell asleep at the dinner table from the exciting day.

Monday July 2: Dominion video video video….

Tuesday July 3: Dominion video video video…. 

Wednesday July 4: 

Happy Fourth of July… Except not, because we were in Kenya. And people don't celebrate that here. We got milkshakes at lunch to celebrate ourselves, and made guacamole for dinner.  Oh, and yes, video, video, video… It is astonishing how long it takes to make an 8 minute video. 

Thursday July 5: 

Finished the Dominion video and uploaded it! Woo Hoo! -- Evan also found colorful strings in town-- The ones he makes bracelets/anklets out of. We hadn't been able to find them anywhere in Kenya. But Kisumu has a large Indian community, and these type of strings are generally produced in India, who knew! Therefore Kisumu was the place to buy 'em! Evan bought over 50 different types of stings. Cal enjoyed watching Evan splurge his own money on something-- He was like a kid in a candy store.

Friday July 6: 

Met up with Jennifer (Ken's sister) for breakfast in town. Ken (our great friend from Bondo) had sent his sister mangoes for us that he had picked from a tree himself! So thoughtful- What a guy. We then travelled from Kisumu to Yala, in hopes of learning more about the Millennium Village Project.  When we got to Yala our first task was to find lodging. We found a sign for a student hostel, which sounded ideal to us. We followed the signs down many small roads, and it ended up bringing us to a grass field with cows and goats, a barbed wire fence, and some farm land. Hmmm… We didn't think we could stay there for the night.  The only other lodging in the area was the Yala Resort, which sounded too fancy for our liking. But we needed a roof over our heads, so headed towards it.  When we got to the gate, beneath the words "Yala Resort" was painted, "A Millennium Village Resort."  Perfect!

Turns out the Yala Resort was built because so many employees of MVP needed a place to stay nearby. It's mid-range in price, but each room had a TV in it, which is connected to the Direct TV network. As we were in the middle of watching our favorite Spanish soap dubbed in English with odd accents, we noticed that the channels were changing without our consent. Huh? Well, apparently the "Resort" takes channel requests from visitors (only the one channel chosen on the Direct TV box shows up on all TVs in the resort). Someone had requested a Swahili channel, but on the way passed the MTV channel showing "Next," a dating show.  Flash forward to tomorrow: We requested that the resort put "Next" back on the TV (we admit it, there isn't much better than trashy American TV). They did, and it was an episode where 5 lesbian women got the chance to date a model-esque woman. Hooray! Except, we were still in Kenya. And anything-but-straight sexual orientations are less accepted in most parts of Kenya than the US. Sooo of course about 20 minutes later the receptionist tells us that one of the other guests requested a news channel, and that they could return to our show in about a half hour. Needless to say, our show never returned. Bummer!

We asked a few people around the hotel and some people in town what they thought about MVP and people either didn't know what we were talking about, or just vaguely would say "They're good- Yeah, they're good.."  We weren't getting much from our preliminary surveys.  

Saturday July 7:  

We woke up in the morning and decided to walk to MVP to see what we could learn for ourselves. Our reason for going to Yala was to check out the Millennium Villages to see if there is conflict between the villages receiving MVP assistance and the villages not receiving MVP assistance. We had heard that MVP was doing great things within the villages themselves, but that communities outside were upset that they were excluded from the project. 

It was about a 30-40 minute walk down a beautiful dirt road, and we eventually get approached by a young Kenyan man in his late-20's (maybe early 30's?) whose name is Carlos. We asked Carlos if he knew about MVP and he told us we were standing in it, and that he lived there. Perfect.  Carlos explained how MVP works- He told us a ton, and we talked for over an hour. 

Carlos informed us that MVP provides assistance to about a dozen villages in the area- They are considered the "Sauri cluster." We learned that MVP uses a "control" village, about 10 km away, in order to measure the effectiveness of their efforts. A "control," in any experiment, is a trial group that receives no treatment or change from normal, and is monitored and compared to the experiment group that receives any type of treatment. Control groups are used in most experiments, whether that be a drug trial, fertilizer use trial, whatever. But when it comes to people, often questions of ethics come up regarding use of control groups. For example, if you are doing an experiment on the benefits of a new drug for cancer, can you only give that drug to half your participants, and deny your "control" group a possible treatment? Sure, it helps your experiment determine if people are improving because of your treatment… but is it ethical to include people in your research while denying them assistance? A lot of people would say no.  In the case of MVP, Carlos told us that they chose a village 10 km away so that the people living there did not know about MVP and did not receive any spillover benefits from living right next door. It definitely makes sense to have a control village. How do you know it's your project that's increasing crop production, and not just the annual rainfall? Or changes in the economy? It has its merit…. But wouldn't you be pissed if you lived in the "control village," and learned about the whole set up? 

We started thinking we would head out there. But Carlos reiterated that most people in the control village don't know about MVP, and that's exactly why they chose them as the control. Therefore, if we showed up, and told people that they were the control village in a development experiment, that would probably stir up conflict … which really doesn't align with our own personal goals nor with what a "Projects for Peace" is supposed to be doing. So we decided to let the control village be. 

We asked Carlos about the conflict between MVP villages and non-MVP surrounding villages? Carlos said that the villages bordering the Sauri cluster receive positive spillover effects. They can purchase the increased crop produce, they can use the newly built hospitals, etc. But, per usual, we wanted to see for ourselves. So we asked Carlos where the closest non-MVP village was. He pointed us toward Dudi, and that's where we went.  To get there we took the most dangerous motorbike ride of both of our lives.  About 3 minutes into the ride there was a police check on the road up ahead, and our motorbike driver said to us, " I don't have a license, so we'll just go this way," and pulled off the road onto a steep dirt hill. Good. 20 minutes later we arrived safely, and slightly traumatized in Dudi. 

In Dudi we surveyed about 10-12 people, asking if they knew MVP and what they thought about it. Out of the people we surveyed only 2 people knew what it was. One of them thought it was extremely positive. The other person only knew about a bank they had started. Everyone else had no idea what we were talking about-- And it wasn't due to a language barrier. The more we asked it seemed like the conflict we had expected to find was just not there. And we were in the village directly next to MVP-- You couldn't get any closer. So we decided to not make a video. We've been trying to show alternative ways of thinking about foreign donors/foreign influence by illuminating different types of conflict they can sometimes cause.  But it appeared that we were forcing a conflict situation to be present in the area. We felt we should move on. 

Sunday July 8: 

Travel day to Uganda! Woke up in the AM and walked to town for breakfast. Ordered toast and got half a loaf of bread put in front of us- Cool, who will complain about that?  But when we pointed towards his Blue Band container (basically, butter) and asked if he had any, he said he was out and had to go buy some. No problem, we said. We ate up our bread with the Blue Band and when we went to pay we were expecting a 150 Ksh total, but instead he asked for 200 Ksh. Apparently we had accidentally asked him to go buy Blue Band for us.  Oops.  

Got on a matatu towards Busia (the border crossing to Uganda) and asked how much. One conductor said 200KSH while the other said 250 at the same time. Caught in the act of ripping us off! So we politely accepted the 200 KSH fee. From Yala to Busia it probably took around 2 - 3 hours. The border crossing went fine for us, although a young man with a Ugandan passport had his passport confiscated by the authorities and had to bring his dad back on Wednesday to prove it was real. Yikes- We were thankful that didn't happen to us. 

At the border Evan went to use the public toilet and Cal sat outside with our bags. A few guys started asking where we were from. She told them "America." And one of the guys, motioning to his friend, said "He's a cousin of Obama, you know!"  And Cal, jokingly, replied "Ah I thought I saw the resemblance!" thinking they were having a playful back and forth. But then the "cousin of Obama"  smiled really sincerely and asked, "You really think I look like Obama?," with so much genuine happiness.  My heart sank. No, I didn't think he looked like Obama. And I felt like a jerk blatantly lying to him that I think he looks like Obama. But at that point if I had said "No, I don't think you look like Obama, I was just saying that" then I would have really come off like a jerk.  So I just smiled and said, "Yes," feeling guilty. 

From the border we found the matatu stage and boarded another matatu to Jinja. This ride also took between 2 - 3 hours. We got into Jinja around 6:40 PM (Whew! Cutting it close!) and made it to our hostel on a motorbike by 7:00 PM.  

That night we stayed at Nile River Explorer's Backpackers- Ironically, it is this hostel that brought us together. When Cal was studying abroad in Kenya she wanted to go rafting with some friends in Uganda for a weekend, and emailed Evan, knowing he had been here in the past, and knew a great company. Evan sent a very long and helpful email back to Cal, with directions and phone numbers of Nile Rivers Explorers, and that was the first e-mail exchange of many to come …. Who would have thought that a year and a half later we'd be here together? The world works in crazy ways.  

Here it should be noted why we felt Jinja was pertinent to our project: When we were here independently (in 2009 for Evan and 2011 for Cal) there was talk about a dam being built on the Nile River. Raft guides were upset because it would wipe out half of the rapids they make profits on, hurting the local tourism industry. Local guides mentioned it would displace many people due to the overflowing riverbanks-- Even a few years ago it was stirring up conflict. The dam is now operating, and it has only been possible through international funding. "Dam Shame" is a documentary that came out over the past few years that outlines several aspects of conflict the dam was expected to cause. However some people are currently saying that it really hasn't been all that bad. Stay tuned to hear about what we find this upcoming week! 

Monday July 9: 

Our day of logistics. Woke up and ate BANANA pancakes!!!! Yummy! Balanced our budget- Hard work figuring out 3 different exchange rates. Walked into town, bought sim cards for our new line in Uganda, and learned that Jinja is mzungu land! (Mzungu = White Person) Every where you go there are white people buying "African" tourist items. Meanwhile, Evan scours every second hand shoe store looking for a cheap pair of birkenstocks to take home- No luck today. Later that night we take a 1/2 hour ride to our hostel's river camp in the back of a pick up truck for free.  We spent the rest of the night enjoying the scenary of the Nile, sharing a Guiness (yes- Evan drank half a Guiness), and playing cards.  Our ride back to the hostel ended up falling through, however the woman working at the reception said she was heading out later anyways and we could jump in her car.  Her name is Celia and she's married to a guy named Jaque. They're both from South Africa and have become our new couple obsession. They were so free with us, warm and welcoming, and have led overland trips together across the African continent for years. They also gave us the contact info for their friend Max, who's making a documentary responding to the previously mentioned film "Dam Shame." His is titled "Dam Relief," and Celia explained it's a film showing that the dam has not caused as much conflict as was initially expected-- We're meeting up with him and his production crew on Thursday.   

Tuesday July 10: 

Woke up and walked down town for some breakfast. Ended up getting cheap Indian Food (?), which was awesome.  Bought minutes on our phone so we can call home / our contacts and came back to our hostel. Met a guy from the UK who works for Nile Rivers, who initially came here as a surveyor for the dam- Ha! Spoke with him for a bit about where to go/ how to get to the dam- A bunch of logistics.  He handed us a map and provided a lot of helpful insights about the dam issue.   As we finished up our discussion it began thundering, so we decided to save our day of exploring the dam sight for tomorrow- Tomorrow will be an early morning!  And because it is now torrentially down pouring, and we are dependent on electrical equipment for our project, we've decided to spend the rest of the day around the hostel prepping for this week's interviews.

Side Story: Just tonight we were in town for dinner and decided to get a milkshake at one of the touristy places, which happened to be closing at 6:30 PM. That's very early for a restaurant to close in Kenya or Uganda. And if you walk through any of the streets in Jinja you see people beginning to set up outdoor grilling stations making kebobs or chapatis outside at this time. Additionally, you can find a restaurant serving chapati, chicken, fish, chips (fries), or beans probably at 5 or 6 places on each block. The point is that if you have been in Jinja for 60 seconds it should be very clear to you that eating establishments are not hard to come by.  Now, a mzungu family walks into this touristy place around 6:20 and learns that they are closing at 6:30. She sighs, and proceeds to ask the staff member behind the bar if there are, quote, "Any other places to eat open in town?"   Really the question she was meaning to to ask, is "Are there other places that mzungus eat open in town?" The poor guy who worked at the restaurant had a hard time answering their question, clearly confused. 

So here is the blog.  We are excited about the upcoming dam video, so stay tuned over the next week! 

Tags: cal crawford, colgate, conflict, evan chartier, foreign aid, kenya, peace, projects for peace, uganda


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