Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Celebrating the Holidays Uganda-Style

Christmas in Uganda has been a whirlwind. Sometimes I feel like it’s not Christmas at all (particularly when I’m sweating my buns off while sitting next to a pool) and other times I feel like Christmas has never been so intense!

I’ve celebrated the holidays in a lot of ways. For one, I cohosted a Festivus/ First Night of Hanukkah party on Sunday complete with latkes, Christmas music, eggnog, the traditional Festivus airing of grievances, and lighting of the Menorah. I’m not sure we could have stuffed in any more holidays even if we tried! I also helped throw a Christmas party for an orphanage, which was very fun and fulfilling, but also really humbling. Not only do these children and young adults have no family, many of them also have AIDS, profound disabilities, or both. It was a wonderful—but very intense—day. In addition, I’ve also had several Christmas movie viewing parties, a work party, and a Christmas themed quiz night at the local Irish pub. Busy busy!

But tonight starts the real festivities—I’ll be eating Chinese foods with some Jewish friends (I’m told this is an unofficial Jewish Christmas tradition), watching movies, and then attending a Christmas potluck complete with a barbequed goat! And on Friday my parents arrive from the states and we will whisk away to Jinja to celebrate Christmas on the Nile!

Anyway, throughout my busy holiday schedule, I have been thinking about all my friends and family and wishing you all a very happy holiday season. I miss and love you all!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from Uganda

I LOVE Thanksgiving. Always have. Something about the cold weather, lots of family, delicious food, and lack of overt commercialism (at least in comparison to some holidays) have always endeared this holiday to me. And I really like the concept of taking some time to think about the things that we are grateful for in life. We should do it more than one day a year, but it’s nice to have the reminder…

I also like Thanksgiving because I’ve done something different almost every year so I’m not as concerned with specific traditions and places. And while every Thanksgiving has been different, they have all been fun and unique and special in their own way. From eating Gran’s rolls in Houston to playing tag football in Chagrin Falls to swing dancing and karaoke-ing off a big meal in New York, the common denominator of all of my Thanksgivings have been that they were shared with people I love and care about.

While this years Thanksgiving will likely be extraordinarily different from those in the past, I think it will probably also be a lasting memory. I will be eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal (but with some Ugandan additions I’m sure!) with a large group of friends and acquaintances from all over the world. And while I’m sure it will be a lovely meal, I will also spend some time thinking about those I love who I’m not sharing the holidays with. So to all of you out there reading, have a great day and eat a lot of turkey and know that someone in Uganda loves you and is grateful for the role you play in her life ;)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Africa in 30 Seconds or Less…

While truly appalling that a certain VP candidate who was potentially a 72-year-old heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world was unaware that Africa is a continent and not a country, the truth is that many Americans have embarrassingly little knowledge of Africa. Myself included! And in some ways, you really can’t blame us as our public education and media are typically lacking in Africa-related information. So in honor of our collective ignorance, I have decided to give you—fair readers—a 30 second lesson on Africa. If you know these things, please don’t think of this post as an insult to your intelligence; rather give yourself a pat on the back and know that you are in the minority.

Lesson number 1 (this is for you Ms. Wasilla…): Africa is NOT a country. In fact it is 53 countries with hugely diverse populations, governments, languages, races, religions, cultures, histories, and landscapes.

Lesson number 2: Africa is ridiculously large. So when you send me an email that says, “hey, I’m going to be in Mali—how hard would it be for me to come to Uganda for a few days?” it would be a little bit like popping in on someone in Los Angeles when you’re traveling from Paris to New York. Kind of ridiculous, but hey, if you want to try, you’ve got a place to crash in Kampala!

Lesson number 3: Africa is not all desert savannah or tropical rainforest. The range of landscapes in Africa are truly staggering, ranging from dry desert to subarctic mountain ranges. (Fun fact about Uganda—it actually contains almost all of the different types of landscapes—from the Rift Valley grasslands in the East to the volcano-strewn tropical rainforests in the Southwest to the glaciers of the Rwenzori Mountains and basically everything in between)

Lesson number 4: Africa is not purely a land of poverty and conflict. While there are some terrible and seemingly intractable conflicts going on in Africa, it is not all war and ugliness. It’s a bit of double edged sword in my opinion because so many of these conflicts are so ridiculously underreported in the West, but at the same time, the only news we ever DO see of Africa is about diseased children, political corruption, and bloody warfare. But Africa is not all starving children and huts and wars, it is also a land of vast wealth and modernity. One thing many African economies do lack is a thriving middle class but this is on the rise in many places, including Uganda.

Lesson number 5: Tribalism is NOT an “African problem”. While tribes are an important part of African politics, there is very little difference between a tribe and an ethnic group or any other marker we identify ourselves with in the West. Many people think that problems in Africa are a direct result of ancient tribal loyalties, and are thus unsolvable, when in reality the majority of African tribal conflicts are a direct result of colonialism and divides that were intentionally and unintentionally put in place as a method of control. While it may sound like I’m being overly PC, the term “tribe” or “tribalism” is often value laden and carries a negative connotation when the truth is that identity is complex, in Africa and throughout the world.

Lesson number 6: Africa is NOT solely what you see in the movies. So much of media (especially entertainment) coverage of Africa is nature and wildlife focused. When humans are included, they are often particularly exotic groups like the Massai of East Africa, Ashanti of West Africa, or the San of Southern Africa. Or they focus on African characters who are simple, primitive and helpless OR ruthless and corrupt dictators. While I love and respect Out of Africa, The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Constant Gardner, Hotel Rwanda, and The Last King of Scotland for what they are, these movies should not by themselves be considered an accurate representation of Africa and must be considered in the context in which they were created. For example, I would hate for someone to watch the movie Giant and have that form their opinion of Texas and Texans. While a great movie, it encapsulates the Texas experience about as much as The Lion King gives you insight on Africa.

Hopefully I am preaching to the choir as I think my friends and family who read this blog are generally more informed than most. But as I said, Africa is not a topic covered in significant detail in American education or media, and when it is, it is often laden with stereotypes and misconceptions. It is hard to not buy into these stereotypes (I find myself doing so at least once every hour!), so hopefully we will all take the opportunity to step back and question those assumptions when we can…

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Work, Travel, Repeat

So again, I apologize for my blogging absence. I’ve been working a lot, entertaining friends and colleagues, and working some more. And once it’s been a while, it’s hard to get back into blogging because I feel that I have so much to catch you up on. But it’s a bad excuse, and I’ll be better… I promise. Anyway, because it’s been so long, this blog is going to be a bit of a brain dump, so sorry for the lack of creativity and cute stories—you’ll get the facts and you’ll like it. ;)

Anyway, life has been good. Busy, but really good. Two weeks ago my colleagues from Harvard were in town, so after working our little behinds off for a week, we relaxed a bit by traveling to Kibale National Forest in Western Uganda. Kibale is a rainforest dominated by primates. While the forest has 13 varieties of monkeys, the star attraction are the common chimpanzees. We spent one morning tracking these creatures, and were not disappointed. Though my neck was a bit sore from looking up in the canopy all morning, it was worth it to see these ADORABLE and funny creatures in their habitat. Best part was Jillian getting pooped on, but that’s a story for another time. Check out some photos courtesy of Jillian my coworker who has a far better camera than I…

After returning from Kibale, I worked like crazy for a week until my friend Gwen from grad school arrived! Gwen is working as a community development specialist in Afghanistan and therefore is required to take R&R (rest and relaxation) in region every couple of months. So lucky enough for me, she decided to rest and relax in Uganda!

We had a great time. After relaxing and seeing Kampala for a few days, we headed east to Jinja to raft the source of the Nile. Now I have been rafting on several occasions in Colorado, but it was NOTHING compared to this rafting. There were a few times where all I could see was a wall of water and I was pretty sure I was going to wash up in Ethiopia or Egypt somewhere. Fortunately between death-defying waterfalls and breathing in half of the Nile, there were some nice calm places where we drifted along lazily past Ugandans washing their clothes and probably wondering why the mzungus were so crazy as to attempt such a river in such a small rubber boat. We also got to see some beautiful birdlife and on one occasion, an adorable river otter! Luckily we didn’t see any of the Nile’s more dangerous residents—the hippos or crocs…
After surviving the Nile, Gwen and I headed up to Murchison Falls National Park, where we went on a game drive and saw tons of antelope, hartebeest, giraffes, warthogs, cape buffalo, monkeys, and elephants (but unfortunately only from a distance). I also saw a pack of lions sunbathing in the grass, but everyone else in my car (and the park for that matter) maintains that it was in fact a lion-shaped termite mound. Whatever, it was a lion to me! After the game drive we hopped on a boat to check out the park’s river residents. We saw HUNDREDS of hippos and several frighteningly large crocodiles (one in particular that was about 15 ft long—eek!) We also cruised to the bottom of Murchison Falls, which is actually two lovely waterfalls that come together in a notch in the rocks and let loose into the Nile. Really spectacular!

The next morning we awoke early to head off on a hike around the top of the falls, which was even more gorgeous than the bottom. After jumping around on the rocks for a bit, we loaded up and headed back to Kampala, stopping briefly for lunch and a few impromptu electricity interviews with local business owners in Masindi (apparently I never stop working…)

After returning to Kampala, we spent a few days relaxing and enjoying Kampala’s many eateries. After attending Jillian’s cleverly named Kampala-ween party (as Sarah and Bristol Palin--I was Bristol), Gwen returned to Afghanistan. I miss her already, but had a great time and lots of fun memories (and pictures!).

For more pics from our adventures, see

Yes. We. DID!!!!

I really didn’t intend to use this blog as a political platform, but I am too excited to not say something publicly. This morning at 7am Kampala time, Barack Obama was declared the 44th president of the United States. As a liberal democrat, I am ecstatic about this outcome. As a strong advocate for civil and human rights, I am delighted about the giant step my country has taken in electing our first African-American president (it’s about damn time!). And as an expatriate living abroad, I am for the first time truly proud to be an American, and it’s a GOOD feeling! I know this sounds cheesy (and it is!), but I really am so excited about the prospects for the next four years. And while I am not so naïve to think that things will change overnight, I finally feel that at the very least we have someone in office who represents most of the issues I am concerned about and is committed to bringing about some very necessary changes in my country.

I celebrated this momentous occasion with a huge group of American, British, Canadian, Kenyan, and other expatriates. Many Ugandans were also in attendance, and most of the crowd was actively supporting Obama. Being away from home on such a happy day wasn’t easy, but it was nice to be able to share my nerves, anxiety, and eventual tears of joy with other individuals who were equally elated at the results. I was also interviewed with two of my friends for the local Ugandan news, and while I’m sure I’ll come off sounding like an idiot, I’ll post a link once I get it.

Anyway, enough politics—the silly stories will return soon I promise!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Courtney is Lost...

In Uganda, when you have been away or haven’t been seen in awhile, people will say you are “lost.” I have been getting a lot of that lately…

I’m sorry I have been so remiss on updating my blog lately. Last week my bosses from Boston were in Uganda, so I have been working pretty much nonstop. However, their visit did provide an excellent excuse to go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale National Forest, which was a great adventure (updates and pictures coming soon). As a sneak preview, while I had a great time bushwhacking through the rainforest in search of our closest animal relative, a few hours was enough, and it appears that I will NOT be finding my inner Jane Goodall anytime soon.

Other than that, life in Uganda is going well. My friend Gwen who is living and working in Afghanistan is coming to town on Friday for her R&R (rest and relaxation), so perhaps I’ll be able to convince her to do a guest blog or something equally nerdy.

Anyway, updates coming soon, but just wanted to let everyone out there know that I am alive and well, in spite of my blogging absence…

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ugandans for Obama

Two friends- a Ugandan and a Kenyan- show off their Obama pride

Last night I attended an “Absentee Voters for Change” party. A friend of mine somehow became the Americans Living Abroad for Obama Country Coordinator for Uganda and as part of her duties, threw a party to make sure Americans living in Uganda knew how to submit their absentee ballots on time, etc. As an added bonus, she had wrangled up some footage from Friday night’s debate (as well as some random Daily Show, Colbert Report, and SNL clips—because obviously that’s our preferred news medium anyway…) So it was a fun night.

But Americans aren’t the only ones in Uganda who are interested in this election. While we were in the majority at last night’s festivities, there were also Ugandans, Kenyans, Brits, French, South Africans, and Rwandese. And while this was admittedly at an event that attracts those who are politically minded, Obamania is taking over Uganda. Everywhere I go people are sporting Obama t-shirts, baseball caps, and bumper stickers. I think partly Ugandans like Obama because of his East African roots, but I also think that as a general rule, most people from other parts of the world know more about us than we do about them. And they understand that in the world we live in today, politics are global and affect more than just the citizens of one country.

So while I am living outside of the country, fear not, I am still going to be politically active for the causes I believe in!

Comfortable and Memorable Accommodation for Exectutives!

One of my favorite things to do when I travel (even in the states) is collect funny signs. Sometimes they are funny because of translation issues, and other times they are just funny. I saw a priceless one the other day and unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me, but I need to share anyway. The sign read: “The Ghetto Guesthouse: for comfortable, memorable, and executive accommodation.” So for those of you who are planning to visit, guess where you’re staying…

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some Days Are Less Fun Than Others…

…And I had one of those days on Monday. It all started with a long day at the office. And ended with me squealing like a schoolgirl in front of Flora—my landlord—and her two small grandchildren, my housegirl Jackie, the askari (night security guard for the complex), and some random dinner guests of Flora. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

One of the slightly annoying things about living in a different time zone from your coworkers and superiors is oddly-timed conference calls. On Monday I had one at 8pm, which on most days finds me eating dinner and relaxing in the comfort of my home. But that day I had a lot of work to do so I decided to just stay at the office and take the call there. One small problem—my office has TERRIBLE cell phone reception. So compound that with someone calling from roughly 6,000 miles away, you basically have a connection that sounds like you are talking through a towel in a wind tunnel on top of a mountain (i.e., bad connection). So after taking the call, I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, I have pretty good phone reception at home so I asked my colleague to call me back in 15 minutes, hopped on a boda, and headed home.

Unfortunately boda drivers don’t always make the smartest decisions. And on this day when I was in a huge hurry, my driver decided to risk taking me home with an apparently empty tank. And seriously, I probably live 2 miles tops from my office, so he must have been running on fumes when he picked me up. But I was unaware of his poor decision until about halfway up the GINORMOUS hill to my house when the boda sputtered a few times and died. “Fuel is finished,” my astute driver stated matter-of-factly as I scowled at him. Ugh! Oh well, I thought to myself, another boda will come along shortly. Normally this is the case, but on this day the cosmos were aligned against me and there was apparently no boda within a 200 mile radius (ok, so perhaps I’m exaggerating, but this is how it seemed at the time). So I had no choice but to run the approximate mile home. With my computer, motorcycle helmet, and other heavy accoutrements. Straight uphill. In the rapidly approaching dark.

By the time I huffed and puffed up the hill, cursing the whole way, I was breathless and tired. Exactly how you want to sound on a conference call, right? Oh, just wait… I ran into my adorable and sparklingly clean apartment (just don’t judge based on the forthcoming event) and ran towards the bathroom so I could splash some water on my face. And as I neared the sink, my bare toe brushed against something crunchy and crawly. I looked down in horror and saw the LARGEST. COCKROACH. OF. MY. LIFE. And horror of horrors, it was thisclose to my foot. ICK! Now I am by no means a girly girl when it comes to bugs and such, and I can handle a lot of things. But cockroaches are not one of those things. In fact, they are pretty much my biggest nightmare. And this one was seriously the size of a small turtle.

Now, under normal circumstances, I might freak out a little bit, but then collect myself and do something about the offending creature. But after my anger at my boda driver and my sprint up Mount Naguru, I was anything but normal. So I did what any irrational person would do in this situation. I flipped out. I ran into the yard with my arms flapping above my head and my voice eight octaves higher than normal. And was greeted by all the people mentioned in the first paragraph who were busy going about their Monday evening business when rudely interrupted by a crazed mzungu. “My… bathroom… big… BIG… bug… please… help!” was all I could manage. Jackie—my ever intrepid housegirl—took one look at my blood-drained face and burst out laughing. Then she followed me into the apartment where the bug was nowhere to be found. I scanned the room and realized that the last place the bug had been seen was next to a giant pile of my freshly cleaned laundry that I hadn’t put away that morning (that’ll teach me). Then Jackie—trying to be helpful—said “don’t worry, they won’t hurt you! The only time they are really scary is when they fly into your hair!” FLY? The cockroaches here fly? As I’m processing this dreadful piece of information, the phone rings—my conference call! I promptly burst into tears.

As I was in tears and completely off my rocker, I decided to ignore the phone. It seemed like a bad idea to talk to my boss while panting and crying, and there was still the issue of the missing cockroach in my clothes. She’ll call back, I told myself. And that’s exactly what happened. Jackie found the bug—under my shelving unit, thankfully not burrowed in my jeans—disposed of it, laughed at me a little more, and then patted me lovingly on the back. And little Nicholas (Flora’s grandson)—angel that he is—took my hand gently and told me in all his five-year-old wisdom that cockroaches frightened him as well. With that, I pulled myself together, dried my eyes, and managed to stop hyperventilating just as my phone rang again. I answered in my calmest voice and went on with my life. And today, when I arrived home to my lovely little apartment, Flora informed me that she would be fumigating tomorrow so that I “never had to be scared again.” I love this place, in spite of its giant flying bugs…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Think I'm Going To Be A Rugby Fan!

This weekend I attended a Women’s World Cup Rugby 7s qualifying tournament in Kampala consisting of the national teams from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tunisia, and Cote d’ Ivoire. In between matches the local men’s rugby teams also played, meaning that there was a consistent stream of rugby for two straight days. I’ll be honest, I mostly went because I enjoy sitting outside watching sporting events (and many of the Ugandan rugby fans are a rowdy but fun group of South African expats that I enjoy hanging out with), but I ended up really enjoying the actual sport of rugby! And I got to witness the Ugandan women’s national team qualify for the World Cup which was very exciting (in spite of the fact that South Africa slaughtered them in the final…)
The Ugandan women's national rugby team celebrating their World Cup qualification

Now for the sake of full disclosure, I will tell you that my knowledge of rugby is limited. I know it’s sort of like football and sort of like soccer, that the South African men’s team are the current world champs, that rugby teams have funny (and not even remotely menacing) mascot nicknames like the “All Blacks” the “Springboks” or the “Wallabies,” that a South African rugby player named Percy Montgomery has great hair, and… well, yeah, that’s about it. And after an entire day of watching the sport, I can honestly say that I still don’t know much more than that. But I do know that it’s enjoyable to watch people run around kicking and tossing each other in the air and tackling one other and I plan to attend more games. These new exotic sports are fun—next weekend I’m taking on the exciting world of cricket!

Two Kampala men's teams-the Heathens and the Cobs (see, NOT menacing mascots!)- duke it out in between women's games.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Is There A Cat In My Apartment Or Is That Just The Larium?

Upon moving to Uganda, I went back and forth about what to do about malaria. Malaria prevention is a complicated issue because most Western doctors will tell you with no hesitation that if you live in a malaria zone, you should take malaria prophylaxis. And in their mind, Africa is a malaria zone—all of it. But that’s not giving you the full story in my opinion. There are certain areas in every country/region/city that are known to be more “malarial” than others, and there are other ways to protect yourself other than taking drugs. And the various options for malaria prophylaxis have a lot of side affects (physical AND mental), and taking any of them for a long period of time isn’t particularly good for your system. But then again, neither is getting malaria. So it’s sort of a toss up.

But for now, I’m taking larium and talking to other expats and doctors here (who see a lot more malaria than my friendly New York City doctor anyway!) to get a sense of my options for the longterm. And in the meantime, I have to admit that I’m getting a lot of amusement out of larium’s particularly interesting psychotropic side effects (or built-in bonuses, depending on how you look at it). Basically, in my case, these side effects manifest themselves in REALLY, REALLY vivid dreams. I’ve had these before (In Kenya I once woke up with my fully-laced hiking boots on in bed because I had dreamt that I was summiting Mt. Kenya), but here they’ve felt even more real. For example, last week I was dreaming (apparently) about a cat in my apartment. It kept meowing and I was getting really annoyed, so I got out of my bed and went looking for the thing at 4am. It took me about 15 minutes (and I have a SMALL apartment) to realize that there was no cat and I had dreamt it all. And in retrospect, OF COURSE there isn’t a cat in my apartment. But I really had to convince myself of this fact because the dream had felt SO real…

The next week (I notice that I usually have the really vivid dreams a day or two after taking the medicine), I dreamt that I went to take money out of the ATM and I had $7 in my bank account. I woke up the next morning in a panic and was in the process of looking up the international toll free numbers for Bank of America to call in and report a problem when I realized that it might have been a dream. (I think the fact that I don’t generally visit ATMs in the middle of the night is what finally tipped me off…) And sure enough, when I logged into my account, I had more than $7 (not much more, but that’s another issue altogether).

So while my larium side effects have been mild and sort of entertaining, on a serious note, there are some REALLY dangerous side effects of taking larium, particularly if you have history with depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. So while I’ve made light of some of these issues, if you are looking into malaria prophylaxis (for a short or extended period of time), please talk to your doctor and do your research, as I am no expert…

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Learning to Speak Ugandan

Whenever I’m in another country, I always feel like a jerk because of my lack of language skills. Luckily, while there are over thirty indigenous languages in Uganda (none of which are actually called Ugandan, so sorry if that confused anyone—I was just trying to be cute…), English is the official language and in Kampala most everyone speaks it fluently. Most everyone also knows some basic Swahili which is my one savior from being completely mono-lingual. But it isn’t widely spoken here as it is in Kenya and Tanzania. However, Luganda, which is the language of the Buganda people who are from the Kampala region, is also a sort of a lingua franca for the country so I have big plans to start learning Luganda soon. Or at least learn more than my current vocabulary which consists of webale nyo (thank you very much) and tugende (direct translation means “we go” but it is the universal signal to a boda driver that “yes, I am securely on the back of your motorcycle and you may now feel free to rev your engine and drive away into the sunset.”)

But aside from the actual technical language skills, there are a lot of phrases that are unique to Uganda (though actually many of them are probably just British English as opposed to American English). So there is an adjustment to how I speak or say things, even though I’m still speaking in English. For example, some of my favorite things are pronouncing the letter “z” as “zed.” For some reason I get an inordinate amount of pleasure saying the phrase “a to zed.” I also enjoy the Ugandan way of expressing that they will pick something up, which is “pick it” or “pick you” leaving out the word “up.” For example, if I am telling someone that I will get them at 7, I would say “I will pick you at 7.” I love it! There are also some interesting pronunciation differences like the letter “k.” While most Americans would pronounce the Rwandan capital Kigali exactly as it is spelled, in Uganda, it is pronounced Chee-gali. This confused me when I first arrived as I was traveling to a village called Kiboga and I kept trying to spell it “Chiboga” as it is pronounced, which wasn’t in my guidebook. Oddly, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce Kampala as “Champala”, so I’m not sure how you know when it is the “k” sound and when it is the “ch” sound. Something to figure out…

Anyway, languages are always fascinating to me, so I’m sure you’ll hear much about my trials and tribulations learning to speak Luganda as well as perfecting my Ugandan English. Hopefully I’ll “pick it” quickly!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fabulous Hats and Racing Goats

This past weekend I attended “East Africa’s premier social occasion”—the Royal Ascot Goat Races 2008. The event, which is also held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, is a charity fundraiser that brings together Kampala society and most of the expat community for food, drink, entertainment, fireworks, and goat racing! But here’s the thing about goat racing—goats don’t seem to really be driven to race against one another. Instead they stand in a clump and graze, but undeterred by this fact, the organizers have set up an ingenious moving wall-on-wheels that is pushed behind the goats so that they move and “race” one another.

The event itself was a lot of fun. Many of Kampala’s large companies sponsor the events and have tents where the food and drinks are flowing. While the dress code isn’t quite as strict as its British namesake—the Royal Ascot horse races—people dress up and many wear hats. But because we are in Kampala and not at a stuffy English society event, people have fun with their outfits—many coming in fancy costumes and outrageous homemade hats.

While I’m not a gambler, I felt the need to place a small bet (1,500 Uganda shillings—slightly less than $1) on my favorite goat whose name humorously referenced my country’s current president and his upcoming departure from the White House. Unfortunately my goat didn’t win, but he did come in a respectable fourth place (and with four months left of the Bush presidency, this seemed somewhat appropriate…). So while I came home with slightly less money than I left with, I felt good about supporting a political cause that I believe in (i.e. Bush leaving office) as well as reputable charity organizations in Uganda. It was also a lovely day, and the races were held at the beautiful Speke Resort in Munyonyo on Lake Victoria just outside Kampala. Overall, a fun time was had by all!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Courtney the Dane

No matter where I go, Ugandans are constantly asking me where I am from. My favorite response to this question is “how do you know I’m not Ugandan?” which always gets a laugh. But after that, people always guess. And nine times out of ten, people have guessed that I was Danish. Danish? Really? As far as I know I don’t have any Danish blood in me. However, I do think Copenhagen is one of the best cities in Europe, I did LOVE the book Number the Stars as a child, we have some Danish family friends who I wish were blood relatives, and the Danish word for itinerary (fartplan) has always made me giggle uncontrollably. Maybe there is something to this Danish thing! Mom, Dad, is there any Danish in me?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rainbows and Sun-Thunderstorms

The weather in Kampala is SO strange. Today I woke up to a bright, sunny, and blazingly hot Sunday. I walked down to the coffee shop for brunch and was soaked in sweat by the time I got there. Then I went to run some errands and when leaving realized that it was still sunny and hot, but also drizzling. I hopped on the back of a boda and was headed home and it started POURING down rain and thundering, all while still bright and sunny. So now I was soaked both from sweat and rain—which was a strange combination as sweat is sort of sticky and rain tends to be cool and refreshing. While I’ve experienced short “sun-showers” in the states, I’ve never seen anything like this—a full-on thunderstorm on a sunny day. The good news is that when I reached Naguru Hill, my half-sticky/half-refreshed self was rewarded with a lovely view of a full rainbow arching over the Eastern suburbs of Kampala.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Night and Naguru’s Jumping

I LOVE my neighborhood, especially on Friday night. For whatever reason, Friday brings out the entire spectrum of humanity in Naguru. As I wind down the hill away from the high compound walls covered in an urban jungle of barbed wire and multicolored Frangipani, I enter a different Naguru—one that more closely resembles village life. Storefronts and kiosks blare loud African music in an effort to advertise their wares. Children play soccer as seriously as if they were in a World Cup final, pausing only to yell the obligatory “mzungu!” as I pass. Goats and long-horned cattle graze their way to wherever it is they spend the night. Gospel music and clapping pours out of church windows and the call to prayer echoes off the walls from a loudspeaker on the local mosque. A rhythmic click-click-click of a jump rope ricochets from inside the East Coast Boxing Club and the collective cheers and boos of young Ugandans celebrating the weekend and supporting their favorite team rises up from the Kampala Rugby Club at the base of the hill. Boda drivers look expectantly at me but go back to their patient waiting after a simple head nod indicating I intend to walk. Friday night in Naguru brings out the community and in a simple way, my evening stroll makes me feel like a little part of that community.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Art of Tucking Myself In

As you may have seen in my apartment photos, I sleep under a mosquito net. I’m pretty sure this is more form than function as Kampala isn’t a particularly malarial zone. But I enjoy the net—partly for the ambiance, but also because I feel all snuggly and tucked in once I’m safely inside for the night.

However, getting tucked in for the night is not an easy process. It requires getting into the bed and then going around and tucking the net into the bedframe piece by piece. And inevitably I forget some integral part of my going-to-bed routine—brushing my teeth, locking my door, setting my alarm clock, pulling the curtains, turning the light off on one particularly memorable occasion—all of which require me to untuck, get out from under the net, do whatever task is required, and then retuck. This adds a solid five minutes to the process, and I’d say I do it about three times per night on average.

However, despite the constant annoyance of getting in and out of bed three times a night, I continue to go through the routine. That was up until last night when I noticed that my net that keeps me safe and secure from all the little Ugandan critters has two fairly massive holes, approximately the size of a quarter and a nickel respectively, rendering the net and my entire bedtime process completely useless. So basically if you add up the two weeks I’ve lived in this apartment and multiply that by an average of fifteen minutes a night—that’s um… well… HOURS of time that I’ll never get back for no mosquito protection whatsoever. Oh well, off to buy a new net…

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Caffeine Addiction Rears its Ugly Head

If I have one vice in my life, it’s Diet Dr. Pepper. I’m pretty sure it’s replaced my blood and is currently surging through my veins and keeping me alive. Or at least it was before I moved to Uganda… the land of no Diet Dr. Pepper. Anywhere.

Obviously I knew this before I came, and came anyway. So perhaps vice is too strong a word. But in the full knowledge that I was moving to a place thousands of miles away from the closest can of that sweet nectar of the gods, I decided that this would be a good time to try to cut down drastically on my soda intake. So while I enjoy an ice cold orange Fanta every once in awhile, I’ve pretty much stayed away from soda since I’ve been here.

One small problem with this plan… Apparently my years of DDP consumption have led to a teensy-weensy, itty-bitty, minor (ok, ALL CONSUMING) caffeine addiction. But hey, here I am in a country famous for its delicious organic coffee! This shouldn’t be a problem at all, right? Wrong.

While Uganda does produce some of the finest coffee in the world, Ugandans don’t drink it. Tea is everywhere, but coffee is pretty much strictly an export cash crop. And while one can find all sorts of fancy coffee drinks at Kampala’s fancy expat places (see above for the lovely spread at Cafe Pap), you can expect those to set you back $3-4 dollars a pop. So here are my options: a) invest in a coffee maker which are currently selling at about $50 at Game (the South African walmart) and make my own darn coffee; b) resign myself to the poor coffee imitation—Nescafe; c) just suck it up and pay for the coffee at the restaurants (student loans be damned!); or d) give up caffeine altogether and wean myself off the stuff slowly and painfully (if this option is taken I apologize now to anyone who has to be around me for the next few months).

Any advice is appreciated. I’ll keep you informed of my decision, though it might be obvious based on my state of mind over the next couple of months…

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pictures from Uganda... finally

I've uploaded a few pictures from my apartment, neighborhood, field visits, and birthday. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pictures and Posting

Pictures are coming soon, I PROMISE. The problem is I don’t have internet at home or my office yet so my online time is limited to internet cafes with really slow connection speeds. And uploading pictures takes forever on a slow connection and I just don’t have time to sit around and twiddle my thumbs while the pictures load. But I should be getting internet at home and at work in the next week or so, so I promise I will provide pics soon!

Also, for those of you stalking…erm, reading… my blog regularly, you might have noticed that I’m posting a lot of posts at once. Again, due to my infrequent internet usage, I’m forced to write the blogs and then post them all at once when I’m at a café. I’ve put the dates that the posts were written in parenthesis after the title, so that should help sort out when things were written. Anyway, I apologize for the onslaught of posts all at once—I hope to even them out a little more once I have more regular internet access.

Learning How to Cook (8-20-08)

It has become painfully obvious to me that I’m going to have to learn to cook. My friend who lives in Kampala kept warning me about how expensive everything was but I didn’t believe her. Until I got here. Food is SUPER expensive*—particularly places catering to expats like myself. I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that Uganda is a landlocked country with a less-than-reliable rail system so everything essentially has to come in via truck from Kenya. With fuel prices what they are (you think you pay a lot for gas—Ugandans pay almost 3,000 shillings a liter, or about $7.50 per gallon!), that translates to everything being uber pricey. And while local food is not too expensive and pretty tasty, it’s loaded with starches and lacking in vegetables, so it’s not something I can eat three times a day every day. So clearly eating out is going to have to be a luxury and not the norm.

Anyway, I’ve always thought of myself as someone who can get by when it comes to cooking. I mean, I’ve never fancied myself as Martha Stewart, but when push comes to shove, I can make a delicious meal. I just don’t choose to do it that often.

Yeah, well, that was in the states. Cooking here is a completely different matter. First off, it’s hard/expensive to get things that are canned or even slightly prepared. So that means all of those nights I “cooked” a veggie burger or “made” a pizza, I wasn’t cooking at all! I was taking various prepared ingredients and putting them together to make a meal. Here when I want to have pasta I can’t just cook the pasta and open up a can of Paul Newman sauce—I have to actually MAKE the sauce. Or spend $12 on Ragu. Um, no…

Additionally I have no oven. I have a gas stove, but no way to bake anything. I think I’m going to invest in a toaster oven so that I can have toast and do some baking-lite, but it’s not an oven. So this presents an additional challenge.

The good news is I have access to some of the cheapest, freshest, organic, and delicious veggies and fruits in the world. And I can get most any spice fresh from the market. I just have to learn to use them properly. So far I’ve made a delicious veggie omelet, some AMAZING guacamole (though without tortilla chips, the guac loses some of its excitement), and the aforementioned pasta sauce. And I’ve eaten TONS of passion fruit, pineapple, mangos, and watermelon, which require no preparation at all!

Anyway, I have confidence in my abilities. I actually look forward to this challenge and think it will be good for me to be forced to learn to cook. A little bit like learning to swim by getting thrown in the deep end of the pool… But, that being said, if anyone has any simple, delicious recipes that don’t require prepared ingredients or an oven, please pass them on!

* Please note that my standards of cost have gone down a bit, so it’s nothing like living in NYC, just way more expensive than other African countries I’ve lived/traveled in, so don’t let that scare you when planning your visit! Have I mentioned I want people to visit? :)

I wonder what Courtney is up to… (8-18-08)

I have this thing when I travel where I often find myself thinking, “if my friends/family happen to be wondering what I am doing at this exact moment, would they be able to picture this?” Generally the answer is no. Mostly because I usually think about this when I’m doing something truly outrageous or just out of the ordinary. But wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to think about someone and conjure up a little snapshot of what they are doing at that exact moment? In this vein, I’ve decided to give you, fair readers, just that—a moment in time of the life of Courtney in Uganda. My first one came tonight at 8:14 pm (1:14pm EST for those of you keeping track). I am in Kiboga (pronounced Chee-boga)—a rural town about two and a half hours north of Kampala. I am hot and covered in fine red dust after spending the entire day riding around on the back of a motorcycle with a UML loan officer (see yesterday’s post). I am eating fish and chips at a tiny little rural Ugandan restaurant/bar but the electricity is out so I’m having trouble eating and getting stuff all over me. A generator is humming annoyingly in my ear, but instead of lighting the place, it is being used to project the television, where some sort of Olympic sport loosely related to gymnastics is on which involves tiny Eastern European teenagers jumping on a trampoline and doing massive amounts of flips. All the Ugandans in the place are oddly enthralled by this “sport” and are cheering excessively. I’m convinced that Ugandan TV gets the stupid sports that no one else wants to watch and skips over the stuff people actually enjoy. Amy Grant’s early-nineties (late-eighties—how old am I?) hit “Baby, Baby” is playing on the loudspeaker and people are dancing. Apparently rural Uganda is where bad music goes to die. What a scene! Anyway, I know that this is a totally random post but I found the whole scene hilarious and felt the need to share. Probably just the dust getting to my head…

Motorcycles and Microfinance (8-17-08)

So I know I said that I don’t want this blog to focus on work, but it’s going to be hard to avoid as it is the reason I’m in Uganda and writing this blog in the first place. So sometimes it’ll come up… sorry.

That being said, so far work has been slow. I just arrived last week and spent the first week focusing on getting an apartment, a cell phone, and other necessities of being a real person in Uganda. I’ve also been helping my colleague Jillian who is currently collecting data for her project on incentives for customer repayment of microfinance loans. Basically this means I’ve been doing a lot of photocopying and filing. But I say this not to complain—actually it’s been great because it has allowed me to slowly figure out how the microfinance world in Uganda works before I get totally embedded in my own project. It has also meant that I’ve had an excuse to travel to some of the rural branches of UML (the financial institution who I’m working with) and ride around with loan officers to get a sense of the customers and their needs, specifically in terms of energy. However, this means that today I spent 6 hours on the back of a motorcycle on roads (I use the term roads loosely—in this case they are mostly glorified footpaths) trying to find customers. You need to understand that Uganda is not like the Western world where there are street signs or numbers, particularly in the rural areas. So to find these customers, the loan officers have to follow directions that—no joke—say things like “after ______ village turn right at ______ Road, take a left at the jackfruit tree, follow path to ______’s hut, veer left at _____’s coffee plants, follow path towards maize, ask for _____.” How these loan officers ever find anyone I’ll never know.

But again, I say this not to complain. As much as motorcycles aren’t my preferred method of transportation, as long as I have a safe driver, a helmet (and boy is my helmet rockin’—pictures to come!), and a long empty rural road, it’s a pretty great way of seeing the countryside. And Uganda—at least the parts I’ve been to so far—is really very lovely and I’m seeing parts that are completely inaccessible by car. Every once in awhile a cow wanders onto the path and the loan officer has to coax it off the road so we can pass, but all in all it’s an effective way to get around. And it has allowed me to ask many people in various trades about their energy consumption and needs, which will significantly benefit my project. So work is going well, and I’m looking forward to really diving into my research soon. I’ll keep you all updated!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where I Live

I will post pictures soon, but in the meantime you can read about my apartment...

The first question everyone asked me when I told them I was moving to Uganda was “where are you going to live?” I think some people pictured mud huts while others saw colonial mansions. Well, I guess I live somewhere in the middle. I’m living on Balikudembe Lane (I LOVE the street name) in an area of Kampala called Naguru, which comprises the highest hill in Kampala. Correspondingly, there are some GINORMOUS houses and some more modest offerings, but overall it’s a nice place to live. I’m living in a compound (I know that sounds weird to Americans but it essentially just means a gated home with several small surrounding buildings) that belongs to a Ugandan woman named Flora. Flora is a mother of eight, a retired public servant (she worked for the Ministry of Local Government for many years), and one of the nicest people I have ever met. I liked her immediately and since then I have continued to warm to her as she has brought me fresh fruit and veggies, driven me to work on a particularly early morning, and asked me repeatedly if I’m remembering to take my malaria medicine. Basically she’s amazing, and I can’t wait to get to know her further. Living with Flora is her adorable and precocious eight-year-old granddaughter Marissa (and Dudu, Marissa’s omnipresent teddy bear) and occasionally Nicolas, a five-year-old grandson who stays over when his parents are traveling for work.

The compound is made up of Flora’s home and four other apartments, including mine. Living in the other apartments are a couple (an Australian woman and a British man), a Canadian, an Ethiopian, and two Kenyans. Another American (according to Flora he is a Vermonter and is bringing cheese!) is moving into the final empty apartment in September. Also on the compound is Patrick—Flora’s driver and night security guard, Jackie—Flora’s housegirl, and Sarah—the housegirl for the other apartments including my own. It’s a little odd to me to have so much help—Sarah cleans my apartment biweekly and does my laundry—but I’ve been told by many that it is considered greedy to NOT employ people if you have the means to do so.

My apartment is adorable. It is a one-bedroom, simply furnished apartment that is fairly small, but perfect for just me. And I love that I have my own space to retreat to but that there are always people around if I want to socialize. Additonally, Naguru is turning out to be an excellent location. I’m a fifteen minute walk from Nakawa, a major market; a twenty minute walk from Lugogo, a Western-oriented shopping center with banks, a supermarket, a huge South African discount store similar to Walmart, art galleries, and an amazing coffee shop; and a short ride or a forty minute walk (when I’m feeling motivated) to my office.

So basically I’m loving my living environment. I think it will perfectly suit my needs. Oh, and there’s plenty of room for visitors! (hint, hint, hint…)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Brief Indian Detour

So not long after I accepted my job in Uganda, I received word that I’d need to attend a week-long training course in India beforehand. I know, my life is tough (sob)… I’ve never been to India, and while it hasn’t ever been on the top of my list of travel destinations, it has always been a place that intrigues me, mostly because I know so little about it. And I’ll be the first to admit, I just spent 10 days there, and I still know nothing about it, so please take this posting with a very large portion of salt.

The first thing I realized upon looking into my trip is how big the country is. My training was in Mahabalipurum, a beach resort town on the Bay of Bengal about 2 hours from Chennai. This is nowhere near the Himalayas, the Taj Mahal, Goa, or anything else I would have liked to see. However, to get to Mahabalipurum, one must fly through Chennai, which as far as I can tell is somewhat like the Des Moines of India (sorry Iowans, I’m sure Des Moines is lovely…). I don’t mean this to sound negative—in fact Chennai is very cool and I met some very nice people and went to some great restaurants, bars, and shops—but everything closes at 11. Like the whole town shuts down except the airport, which is oddly bustling at 4am…

ANYWAY, after gorging myself on dosas and South Indian thalis, riding around in auto-riskshaws (a genius mode of transport in my opinion), and shopping myself silly in Chennai, I got on a bus with my colleagues from ideas42, IFMR, CIFD, and SEFC (ah, the world of development and its obsession with acronyms—don’t ask me what those all mean because I have no clue) to Mahabalipurum where I was to be trained in the glory that is randomized evaluation and its day-to-day implementation in the field. And boy was I trained! I learned all this stuff in grad school, but when the reality set in that in 10 short days I was going to be let loose in the world to essentially run my own evaluation of energy financing in Uganda, you better believe I tried to take it all in. So through the seminars and the field portion of the training where we interviewed business owners about access to start-up capital for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in Mahabalipurum, I tried to get the most out of everything. The training was also valuable because it allowed me to interact with people from all over the world who are working all over the world on these same issues. Some of them were just starting and knew less than me, and others had been working on this on the ground for many years. Also, just a personal opinion, young development workers are some of the brightest and most fun people I know, so the socializing was also great (particularly the dinner/dance party on the beach and the swim in the monsoon rains). And now as an added bonus I have people to visit in Chile, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, and all over India!

Outside of the training, Mahabalipurum was an extremely interesting place to visit. The town is home to a vibrant community of stone carvers who export their art all over the world. It’s amazing, you literally can hear the chisels in the air all day throughout the town. And they make some of the most amazing pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Had I not been moving to Uganda and already having trouble with space and weight from my bags, I definitely would have come home with a bagful.

Additionally, Mahabalipurum is a UNESCO (there I go again with the acronyms) World Heritage Site as it houses rock-carved temples, caves, sanctuaries, and large reliefs from the 8th Century. The temples were really something, though my favorite site was Krishna’s Butter Ball (apparently Krishna had a thing for butter), a giant naturally round rock that sits precariously perched on a hillside near the temples. According to the man who sold me several coconuts, Mahabalipurum is also known for its excellent coconut water which has healing powers (I think he noticed my sinus/cold issues). It was delicious but I’m not sure it helped the illness at all.

After Mahabalipurum, I headed back to Chennai for a day to again shop, cruise in auto-rickshaws, and fatten up on dosas and every paneer (cheese) dish in sight. After a long day, it was time to board yet another plane, this time for my new home in Uganda. And this time I got the pleasant surprise of being upgraded to business class on Emirates due to a seating mix-up which my friend Jillian so wisely complained about. The upgrade would have been fantastic except I literally sat down and passed out only to sleep the entire way to Dubai, missing all of the business class perks. Oh well, I guess the fully reclining chair and footrest was joy enough after such a fulfilling and fun stopover in India.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

India Pictures!

Sorry, I know I'm getting out of order here, but I just haven't had time to write about India yet. But I will soon--I PROMISE. In the meantime, check out my pictures at

A Little Slice (Literally) of Home in Uganda

When my friend/colleague/fellow New Yorker suggested we have lunch at the New York Kitchen today, I was skeptical. Pizza and bagels and cheesecake in Uganda? Um, gross… But I was pleasantly surprised! The pizza was delicious and fairly authentic. And you could order it by slice! I had a bite of my friend’s bagel (with cream cheese, tomato, and avocado—an excellent combination in my opinion) and it was also great! The only drawback was the location—they have outdoor seating (a must for any NYC institution…), but “outdoors” is defined as “in a parking garage at the Garden City Mall.” Oh well, as the Rolling Stones put it so well, you can’t always get what you want. But hey, I guess inhaling gas fumes while you eat is sort of a New York experience…

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Cosmic Significance of the “Box of Hate”

I wrote this on August 2, somewhere over the Atlantic, but am posting from Chennai, India. Will update on India soon!

For those of you who know my family, you know that I come from a long and distinguished line of smarty pants. Note that in this instance, I am defining “smart” as “capable of regurgitating mostly useless and random facts on a moments notice in a high-stress, family game-night setting.” A bit of a difference in this and actual intelligence I realize, but just go with it for a minute…

Due to this genetic prowess in trivia, we have long had a tradition of hypercompetitive games of Trivial Pursuit. I realize that this sounds like a nice, healthy way of family bonding, but trust me—it’s NOT. Let me lay out a typical scenario for you—picture my Dad routinely kicking everyone’s butts while my Mom and sister put up a valiant fight and battle over a highly respectable second-place finish. And then there’s me. I’ve always had a knack for trivia, but when it comes to playing with my family, I’m most definitely the black sheep—no match for my clever elders. And as the youngest, I’ve gotten the “petulant child” act down to a true art form. But while I am not the best loser, we should also note that my family is not made of particularly graceful winners either. Thus our well-intentioned family game nights generally turn into a perfect storm of competitiveness run amok and end in tragedy when I’ve decided I’ve had enough of losing spectacularly and respond as all youngest children do from time to time—by running out of the room in tears. And thus the game of Trivial Pursuit has become forever known by the Babcock family as “The Box of Hate.”

As one of my last nights to spend with my parents, I suggested we stay in and pull out my favorite game (and yes, I realize that the classification of this constant misery-maker as my favorite game suggests I probably have some deep-seated emotional issues). Against their better judgments, my parents warily gave into my desire to play and resigned themselves to the fact that the evening could end very, very badly.

But something changed. The universe shifted to my side and the cosmos were aligned—or I got lucky, whatever. But I WON! W-O-N! To understand the significance of this moment in Babcock family lore, you should know that my Dad has NEVER lost a game. NEVER. I’m not exaggerating. We used to make him not only get all the pies, but also answer an entire card to win. And he did it! Routinely and without fail. Every once in awhile my sister or Mom would put on a gallant effort and get close to winning, but no one actually ever beat him. I mean NEVER.

So perhaps I’m attributing too much to what was likely a spectacular stroke of sheer luck (for the sake of full disclosure I did win on a fairly ridiculous question about Grey Poupon, America’s favorite Dijon mustard). But nevertheless, I see a cosmic significance to this moment. It was like the universe was telling everyone in my family that I am finally an adult—an equal—in our family of trivia giants. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I was just about to embark on this whole new level of self-reliance and independence on the other side of the world from my family. I know this sounds odd, but I think it provided my parents with a great deal of comfort and parental pride, after the initial shock of what had just occurred—a come-from-behind win from the perennial loser—settled in. So while it was probably just a lucky blip, I take what I can get, and I intend to tuck that magnificent moment away and pull it out when I need to tap into my confidence reserves. Because if I can win a game of “The Box of Hate” against my family, I can do ANYTHING! Bring it on world…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This is it...

In exactly two days, eighteen hours, and twenty-two minutes—not that I’m counting or anything—I will depart for a new phase in my life. And in an effort to chronicle this new adventure, I’ve decided to keep a blog. I’m not into public displays of myself on the internet (contrary to my Facebook persona, I know…) but I feel like maintaining a blog might force me to keep some semblance of a journal, which is something I’ve always tried—and failed—to do. So here we go. Be patient with me as I’m new to this world-wide blogosphere or whatever kids these days call it, and bear with me as I’m sure to have moments of endless inane comments that no one wants to read (not even you, Mom) followed by long stretches of silence. So apologies aside, I hope that this is somewhat entertaining, interesting, or enlightening and not a total waste of your time.

So what is this new adventure you ask? I’m moving to Uganda. Everytime I’ve told someone this, I’m either greeted with “cool!” or a blank stare. Whatever your reaction, I’m very excited about it and can’t wait to get there. Why am I moving to Uganda? Well, I’ve accepted a job as a project manager/research analyst for Ideas 42, an initiative of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. I’ll be working with two professors in the states on a quest to understand energy financing for small businesses in Uganda. WHAAAA? Yeah, I know, it’s kind of new to me too :) While I’m still learning the specifics, what I understand is that energy—particularly electricity—is a real problem in Uganda, and the lack of a reliable supply is particularly damaging to small businesses owners who lack the capital to invest in generators, solar panels, or other alternatives to the traditional electricity grid. Thus, we’ll be looking into this issue and determining a “treatment” for this problem which can then be evaluated through randomized evaluation. Essentially I’ll be learning as I go, and would be happy to fill you in on the details as I learn. But really I want this blog not to focus on work. Obviously work will be a big part of my life, but beyond that, I’d like to use this space to record thoughts, anecdotes, pictures, ridiculous musings about my life in Uganda, etc.

So here we go. As I said before, I hope that you get something out of this, but honestly for me this is a selfish endeavor and I’m happy if I get something written every once in awhile, regardless if anyone reads it or not. But if you do decide to read, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and opinions. Welcome to my journey…