Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nat's belated update..

Peter, Russ and the Kampala team ­– electrician, Simon, carpenter, Ben, and the younger team members, Joel, Richard and Steve ­– left for the eight hour trek to Bwera from Kampala early Wednesday. One cattle carrier truck loaded to the brim with our equipment – 3000L water storage tank, wheel barrows, generator, tents, tools, lumber, ground breaker and more– and a loaner van from Mengo Hospital… wish I could be there to see the arrival..

The report from Russ and Pete is the, by now, the very much expected report of a few ‘unexpecteds’ – for the most part, good. The highlights:

·      The rain, though intermittent and unpredictable, has failed to batter down the tents completely (despite shattering one length of fibreglass tent pole).

·      The property next door to the school yard, which we had planned to build our camp on and extent the school yard into, turned out to be not to be so – when the Cobra team started digging for early site preparations they found the human remains of a forgotten burial site. The purchase was called off. We are now in negotiations for the site on the other side of the school yard…

The implications are compounded by the fact that in the Spring there was a cholera outbreak in the  foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains where our second school is located. Currently all of the students from this school in the foothills are attending the one on the plains: 700 students and 24 teachers in one papyrus-wall, three-room schoolhouse… 10ft from the camp.

·      Then there is the foundation trench for the first building. Pete, Russ and the Kampala crew found that Cobra and community members had dug the foundation trench that we had requested.. only it was over a metre deep! We calculate that the overenthusiastic digging will cost approximately 1600 extra bricks to fill… but makes up for itself in local ‘ownership’.

·      On top of our five man Kampala crew, and Russ, Bill, and Charles from Canada, we have decided that six local people with some carpentry skills, and six porters, along with five bright students of the vocational program  at the school, will be hired daily on to help with the construction. The idea is to maximize skills transfer so that the Bwera crew will be able to complete the construction after we leave, and so that the maintenance and of the buildings and materials will be ensured, and so that we can leave our tools behind for the establishment of a local workshop. The students will have small written tests designed by our certified carpenter from Canada, Charles, and upon completion of the training program will have a written certificate. We hope this will increase the future avenues of employment and maintain the emphasis on local ownership.

Here in Kampala I am living in the lap of luxury in comparison – I welcome my eager, if somewhat temperamental, electric shower head, mornings and evenings; I enjoy the good company by evening of the Canadians at Mengo Hospital; and the banana gin is decent, and, more importantly, cold.  Ah, Kampala’s Mengo Hill oasis.

My tasks are going well. I went through the Tax Identification Number (TIN) registration process at Uganda Revenue Authority with minimal bureaucratic hassle, have signed all the transfer papers and paid for the van – keys in hand, custom roof rack built and installed.

I’ve been travelling in the good company of John and Jill (friends of Bill and Kathy who will be arriving late next week), who happened to be in Uganda a different project. John knows a tremendous amount about diesel mechanics and has been instrumental in the purchase of the van.. and great comic relief besides  His wife Jill, an obstetrics nurse, is equally charming. They are eager new recruits and will be coming along with Charles and I for the eight-hour trek to drive to Bwera tomorrow.

This evening will be my first drive through the chaos that fill Kampalan roads – off to Entebbe to pick up Charles, Russ’ carpenter and mountaineering friend, who will be joining our team to help with the project. I plan to stop along the way at the new Children’s Orthopaedic Surgery Unit (CORU), that has moved from Mengo to Entebbe since our last stint in Uganda. Both Pete and I used to spend a lot of time there and really enjoy assisting the Italian surgeon, Fulvio, who runs the program.

I will pick up Charles from the airport at 8:15 in the evening, and, if all goes well, will be in the good company of the crew at Mengo by quarter-past ten.

By day, I’m –Barb, plug your ears – a money-sucking vampire. I slink around to all the banks in Kampala, sucking and scraping, until I hit the limit at each ATM.. in the millions, mind you.  Behind me in the line are the sensationalist mummers, “My God, she’s sucking it dry”; “there will be nothing left for us”; “Momma Nyabo!”; “God help us!”... There have been some serious money issues – our PODA card only allows $500 withdrawals per day and one interaction per day; our email money transfer limit is $2000 per day, and $5000 per week; both Peter and I’s personal bank cards have been frozen; and there have been some hurdles in setting up our Ugandan bank account and transferring money there…Together these obstacles makes all this money-sucking more tiring than it might otherwise appear to be.

Okay, more on my end soon. Tomorrows is a big travel day and I’ve got to run around and pick up some camp supplies to keep those boys going, meet my transfer paper broker, and leave room for a cold Nile before sundown.

The new PODA van

The sunset from Mengo Hill

...Good news, we seem to be coming in under budget… there is a good chance we will be able to go ahead to dig and pour the foundation for the second block of school classrooms as long as our final calculations of monies spent and cost projections for the next four months allow…


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