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Farmer Group Finance

21 Aug


So, you’re a farmer in Rakai District, and you’d like a bit of money to buy a spraying backpack and some pesticides because you’ve got a nasty ant infestation in your coffee trees. You’ve only got 3 acres of land and farming doesn’t provide a very steady income, so the bank won’t give you a loan. How do you get the money without having to go around asking relatives for loans? Join a Farmer Group, of course!


Check out the infographic-y thing I drew to explain Farmer Group finance to some friends… and, as always, feel free to get in touch if you have questions!

Jjongoza Farmer Field School


Architecture and Development

30 Jul

One of my goals for the JF experience was to figure out the role of architecture in development. It turns out that was a stupid goal; it’s not exactly something you can “figure out” in 3.5 months. The things I have figured out are pretty straightforward. There are buildings here (duh!). All kinds of buildings. Some are good, some are not so good, most fit into a fuzzy grey area. Most are only partly built. That doesn’t stop anybody from using them. Ok, now just look at my pictures of buildings and building-type things.

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‘Canadian’ Food

26 Jul

As the only Canadian that my host-family has ever met, I’m playing a big part in how they will perceive Canada forevermore. I have to admit, I’m not representing Canada very faithfully. Culture is difficult to describe tangibly when you don’t have your own traditions*. Our dance, food, and clothing all seem to be either generically Western, or things that have come from other cultures. I think our jumble of cultural influences is a really cool thing, but it’s tricky to explain to people who live in a country with very little diversity (in terms of international influences anyways).

To get to the point, my host-family really wants to learn more about Canadian food, and all of my explanations have been seriously inadequate. Ugandan food tends to be pretty consistent; each meal is made up of a few types of “food” – matooke, posho, rice, sweet potato, yam, Irish potatoes, or pumpkin – and “sauce” – beans, cowpeas, soupy beef, soupy chicken, soupy pork, or ground-nut sauce. In my region, matooke is the staple and people will eat it with every single meal (thankfully, my family is reasonably wealthy and likes variety, so we only eat it twice a day).

Tricky question #1: “What is the staple food in Canada?” When I say that we don’t really have one, I get blank stares. So I’ve taken to saying Irish potatoes, rice and bread, since those are fairly common here too.

Tricky question #2: “What is your favourite food back home?” Honestly, I love fresh Okanagan peaches, but my explanation using local references didn’t go so well… “Umm, well they’re sweet like a mango, but you can eat the skin like an apple, and they have a seed in the middle kind of like an avocado. And they’re covered with soft fuzz, like a baby’s head.” If my family ever encounters a real peach, they definitely won’t know it from my description. Now I just tell people about how much I love fresh bread. It’s so much easier!

These questions were immediately followed by the expected request for me to cook Canadian food. Easy, right? Well it turns out that a lot of the things I use daily at home are not so common here: countertops, cutting boards, ovens, blenders, measuring cups, etc. This limited my options, and as Caitlin (my wonderful roommate) will tell you, I like to cook in unpredictable/creative ways when my options are limited. One day I made a pancake-peanutbutter-honey-sandwich hybrid; I cooked pancakes with banana slices, then spread peanut-butter on one, and honey on another, and slapped them together like a sandwich. The family politely ate the pan-dwiches with me, and said they were “sweet”, but they haven’t asked me to make them again.

Yesterday, I made guacamole served with chapatti instead of nacho chips. This is even less Canadian than my first experiment, but the ingredients were in abundance around the house and I couldn’t resist. According to the Picky Child Test, the guacamole was a hit! Little Peter ate about a mountain-and-a-half of it, and told Irene to learn how to make it.

I think my next experiment will involveĀ bannock and bruschetta.

I don’t have any profound messages to end this post with. I just thought I’d share that misrepresenting Canada (in innocent ways) has been fun.

*Yes, First Nations people have quite a variety of cool traditions. But I cannot claim, say, Cree culture as my own.

Linguistic Efficiency

18 Jul

Ugandans use the English language very differently from Canadians. This is one thing that reminds me, on a daily basis, of how much I will never fully understand about the culture I’m surrounded by. I’m at the point where I understand most statements, and am appreciating how much can be said with so few words… but I do take a few extra seconds to translate things inside my head. Here are a couple of quick examples:

Ugandan: Juli, help me smear.

Canadian: Julia, could you please help me by spreading peanut butter on the pancakes you made yesterday, while I prepare our tea?

Ugandan: Noodles.

Canadian: Come prepare the instant noodles that Bridget sent you as a present from school (which you forgot to eat yesterday when I told you to). We will eat them with supper.

Ugandan: Extend!

Canadian: Could you please squeeze yourself into this tiny corner of the car? We need to fit in two more people, and you’re taking up far too much room.

My Canadian brain misses all of the excess words that we use. But a small part of my brain seems to be learning Ugandan English too… Slowly slowly.

Summer Playlist

11 Jul

Music is everywhere! My host-family turns on the radio at 5:30 am every morning. Trucks with big speakers drive around town, blasting tunes and making announcements all day, starting at 7:00 am. At mealtimes, we watch music videos on the television. Every once in a while, a boda boda selling ice cream will play an icecream-truck adapted version of “My Heart Will Go On”. (For some inexplicable reason, Ugandans love Celine Dion. Bonus points in favour of all Canadian expats!) At night, young men gather to play drums in the alleyways, and the blaring music of nightclubs is inescapable. From cellphones and car stereos, street-food stalls and churches, music radiates… at least, whenever the power is on. Every person I’ve encountered here, from 3-80 years old, moves to the rhythm as if they were born to dance rather than walk.

Here are some tunes. (My internet access is too slow for me to actually watch these videos, so it’s up to you to let me know if they’re grossly inappropriate or awful…Also, not all songs are strictly Ugandan)

(Sidenote: While Ugandans have rhythm in every cell of their bodies, melody does not seem to come as naturally. I’m convinced that at least half the choir at the neighbourhood church is completely tone-deaf. My ears suffer on Sundays.)

Matatu Mayhem

25 Jun

I’ve seen some crazy stuff while using public transportation over the years (I’m looking at you, homeless man who urinated on the C-train!) but Ugandans seem to have a knack for doing exceptionally mind-boggling things…

8:00 AM – A rattling, sputtering, Kampala-bound Matatu pulls up to the petrol station. I squeeze into a back seat, next to a man with a baby and a woman with a hairdo that defies gravity. On the back window of the mini-bus, blue and silver letters proclaim “Jesus is Coming”. I ponder all of the possible ways that this phrase could be interpreted, as we wait for more passengers.

8:05 AM – Spaces start to be filled in strange ways, but I’m not fazed. I’ve been here for over a month, and I think I’ve got it all figured out:

[Man in a Uganda Cranes shirt] What the…?! You’re going to bring along a chicken, and stuff it under the seat for the whole journey? Ok, sure. Maybe you went home to the village to visit your parents, and they insisted on giving you a chicken. Now you need to get the bird back to your family in Kampala somehow. I would rather sit beside a live chicken than a bloody, decapitated chicken…

[Matatu Driver] What the…?! You’re going to stuff enormous bags of charcoal under the seats, so that nobody has leg-room? Ok, sure. You might as well have something to sell when you arrive in Kampala, and make a bit of extra money. Besides, your passengers will put up with any discomfort you inflict upon them because they have no other means of getting to the city.

[Old Woman] What the…?! You’re going to let people cram you into the front row with 5 other passengers? You’re like 180 years old! Ok, sure. Old people need to travel too, and clearly Ugandan women are tougher than I am. But seriously, lady, you deserve a little respect…

There is an interesting sort of logic that applies to these situations, it’s just a form of logic that is not often employed in Canada.

9:00 AM – The matatu lurches, and begins to roll through town. We pick up a few more passengers, somehow squeeze them into the already full seats, and then we’re off!

9:30 AM – The ride has been going smoothly, and I’m nicely settled in. Then things get weird. The matatu turns off the main road, into a village. I assume that we’re just picking up some more passengers. False assumption. We keep going and going along the tiny, red-dirt road without an apparent reason. As the road shrinks, my confusion grows; I’m pretty sure this “road” was never meant to accommodate anything wider than a wheelbarrow. And I’m convinced that my tailbone will break if we don’t start slowing down for the potholes!

The woman beside me glances over and laughs when she sees my face (I must have looked pretty befuddled). “It’s a shortcut,” she states.

“Aha! I seeeee!” I say, as if that explains everything…

Branches and leaves scrape against both sides of the mini-bus, providing an up-close encounter with the local crops. Suddenly we emerge into a cleared area with a small collection of huts, and I have a clear view out of the window again. A little girl stands by the road, sucking a piece of sugarcane. Her eyes widen and her jaw drops a little, as if she can’t possibly comprehend why a matatu would be driving past her home. “My sentiments exactly,” I mutter to myself. The next instant, we’re back amidst the foliage (probably ruining some nice farmers’ banana trees).

9:45 AM – The little road re-connects with the highway just outside of Masaka town. Maybe it really was a shortcut, but none of the passengers seem particularly happy about it.


12:30 PM – We reach the outskirts of Kampala. The driver pulls over at a gas station, and most of the men climb out to relieve themselves in a nearby maize field. A group of teenage boys runs up with jugs of water and sponges, to wash the mini-bus while we wait. Grimy water splashes through the gaps around the window, directly onto my face, and I’m feeling pretty bitter about this whole experience.

1:00 PM – The happy ending comes. An incredibly nice lecturer from Makere University gets off at the same stop as me. He shows me the way to the College Inn, and cracks jokes about how ridiculous bus drivers can be. I check into a room, drop my things, and spend a whole 5 minutes washing my face. Cleanliness, silence, and personal space are glorious things.

Missing My Invisibility Cloak

1 Jun

“Mzungu! Mzungu! How ah you?!” That’s the cry that follows me everywhere, as if I were a celebrity … or something not quite human.

In Canada, and even in Europe, it’s always been so easy for me to vanish when I feel the need to be alone. My “Invisibility Cloak” is a subtle behavioural defense against unwanted attention; with glazed eyes, slightly stooped shoulders, walking slowly and not making eye contact, people who see me lose interest immediately. In this mode salespeople leave me alone, awkward acquaintances don’t notice me, and sometimes even friends pass by without a second glance. When you look similar to most of the people around you, it’s easy to make yourself appear unremarkable.

Unfortunately for me, in Uganda I can’t avoid attention because there’s no way to hide my glowing white skin. I will always stand out as a Mzungu. My skin colour marks me as a foreigner, and comes with complicated privileges and stereotypes. I hope to challenge some of those in time, but right now I just wish that I could blend in.