Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28, 2012 2:30 PM--Geography Trivia

It blows my mind and it disappoints me at how much school students learn about geography, both in the U.S. and everywhere else in the world.  The average person knows very little about world geography outside of their own general region.

If the average American is having a conversation with someone and this person mentions Equatorial Guinea, odds are that that average American will not remember exactly what country was mentioned in that conversation.  They may remember it differently.  They may remember it as Ecuador.  They may remember it as New Guinea.  They may remember it as Guinea.  Unfortunately these four places (Equatorial Guinea, Ecuador, New Guinea, and Guinea) are entirely different.

3 of them are countries.
2 of them are in Africa.
1 of them is in South America.
1 of them is in the South Pacific split between two different continents.

Can you guess which one is which?  Give it a try before scrolling down to see the answers.  (Anyone who knows me knows I can correctly identify each one.)

Equatorial Guinea is a country in Central (or middle) Africa.
Ecuador is a country in South America.
New Guinea is an island in the South Pacific.  Half of it is part of Papua New Guinea and half of it is part of Indonesia (Papua New Guinea is in Oceania and Indonesia is in Asia, hence it is split between two continents).
Guinea is a country in West Africa.

How many did you get right?  I’m guessing most people who read this blog post could only probably properly identify one of them before looking at the answers.  This is why I think that most countries should totally revamp their geography curriculum.

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24, 2012 9:15 PM

7 Worst International Aid Ideas...Check it out!

Here are just a few ways in which foreign aid doesn't work.  Sometimes it can even be considered that the donors are donating for their own selfish reasons.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23, 2012 8:30 PM--World News

I find myself craving world news more than I ever thought I would.  At home I read Time Magazine every week and I’m constantly looking at news online as well as reading The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times sporadically.  Not to mention watching World News every night on TV.  However, here many sources of world news are definitely lacking.

If I were to rely on what news I can get locally I would be left with local newspapers, which usually only contain local news and consider international sports to be the only thing worth mentioning in international news, and local news on TV, which is no different.  And then there is the few times a day that they air Aljazeera on one of the local channels.  Although whenever I get to see this it is usually in a somewhat noisy staff room, yet I’m usually craving the goings on of world events so much that I’m adamantly reading the news headlines as they scroll on the bottom of the screen (although this only happens if I happen to be sitting close enough to the TV to see them and if no one is standing in front of the TV).  I think the other staff members must think I’m crazy at how mesmerized by the news I am, when in fact I’m just straining to get some information, yet on the other hand I also don’t think they understand the need to know so much about world events (probably because most of them will never leave Uganda and what happens in the world will never actually effect them).

So needless to say, I very much look forward to and appreciate every time I get a Time magazine or news article in one of my packages.  When I get home I’m going to have so much access to news, I won’t know what to do with myself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20, 2012 8:30 AM

For the past few weeks I’ve been praying for rain, because without rain my rain tank runs dry and I’m left without water.  I think we can now safely say we are in the rainy season now.  I woke up this morning at about 7 AM and I didn’t really think it was morning because it was so dark outside.  I don’t ever think I’ve see it rain so much.  It was kind of like a cross between an apocalypse and a monsoon.  I guess you can say I don’t have to worry about water for a while.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18, 2012 4:30 PM--Book Reviews

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I sometimes recommend movies, but I have yet to recommend any books on this blog.  So I’m changing it up a little.  I have two books I want to recommend.

The first book is Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden. 

Many people, when they found out that I was going to Uganda, couldn’t help but say “Idi Amin”.  A lot of people only think of Idi Amin when they think of Uganda.  They don’t even realize that Amin hasn’t ravaged this country in over thirty years.  They saw The Last King of Scotland, and this is all they know.  When I told people I was going to Rwanda for Christmas, most people responded with “Is that safe?”  My response to that was “We’re not living in 1994 anymore”.  All people know about Rwanda is that there was genocide, but many people don’t even know when the genocide started or ended.

This book by Richard Dowden is about Africa.  It is meant for people who have never been and maybe never will go to Africa.  It emphasizes how many people in the western world think they know what Africa is, but, in fact, they have no idea.  All they know is what they see in movies and in the little bit of news that is reported from Africa.

Richard Dowden is a British journalist.  The first two chapters of the book are about Uganda because he was a teacher here for a couple years back in the early 70’s.  After that he spent over thirty years travelling in Africa as a journalist.  He discusses the problems in many different countries and how these countries got this way.

It is a good read and I feel like it explains things about Africa a lot better than I could.  You can read my blog til your face turns blue, but I would suggest reading this book if you want a different perspective on it with a more expansive explanation of Africa as a whole.

Foreign countries donating aid to Africa doesn’t help and it never has helped.  This book takes a very academic look at why aid doesn’t work and discusses alternatives to aid, such as trade, foreign direct investment, capital markets, remittances, micro-finance and savings.

Dambisa Moyo is an African woman who has gotten advanced degrees from the United States and the UK.  She talks about how foreign aid from western countries is more about the western countries than it is about Africa and how the corrupt governments of this continent swallow up aid money and the poor people never see a dime.  She is really focused on fixing this problem.

It is a very good book, but it takes a more academic approach as compared to the first book.  It is more like reading an extensive college paper whereas the first book is more like having a conversation.  However, if you fully want to understand why I think foreign hurts economies such as Uganda, read it (it’s only about 100 pages)!

Monday, February 13, 2012

February 14, 2012 7:30 AM--Transportation

Transportation can prove to be a big challenge in this country.  There are a few different modes of transport but the most commonly used ones are buses and taxis. 

Buses are usually used for long distances.  So if I was going from Kampala to Mbarara, I would take a bus.  The one good thing about buses (at least compared to taxis) is that you pay for a seat and only you sit in that seat.  This may seem obvious, but if you ever take a taxi in this country you will realize that it’s not.  Even though you get your own seat, the seats are not nearly big enough for the average person.  This is coming from me and anyone who knows me knows I’m not the biggest person (despite the weight I may have put on since I got here).  You end up finding yourself sitting butt to butt with the person next to you, whether you want to or not. 

Taxis, on the other hand, will cram as many people as they can in to it.  There are two different kinds of taxis.  There are Matatoos and there are car taxis.  Matatoos are kind of like Volkswagen buses.  They are made to sit 14 passengers, but they usually squeeze in at least 20-25.  So needless to say, you never get your own seat.  Car taxis are usually a car like a Toyota corolla (not a very big car) and in those they can squeeze up to 14 or 15 people.  Sometimes they even put more than one person in the driver’s seat.

I’ve found that Ugandans seem way too used to squeezing into vehicles, because sometimes even when a vehicle is not full, they might sit really close to you.  They don’t seem to have a need for personal space.

Children usually travel for free.  This sometimes proves to be a big problem.  The caveat is that they have to not take up a seat.  Although especially in the way you have to travel here, you can’t just pretend that your kids don’t take up any space.  Sometimes you will see a kid sitting on their parents lap when they are way too old to do so.  So if you are sitting next to them odds are they are taking up part of your seat as well.  On a bus this is particularly annoying because you paid for one seat but you don’t necessarily get to use the full seat.  Another place they will put kids is on the floor.  In America this would be considered child abuse.  The floors are not the cleanest thing (sometimes you may even see a roach or two on a bus or taxi).  I’ve seen kids sleeping under bus seats and in the isle.  This is a problem because they can take up your precious foot room.  I don’t think Ugandans understand that you can’t pretend like their 456332 kids don’t take up any space. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

February 6, 2012 6:10 PM

I finally started teaching again today.  It was nice to get back into it.  My classes were significantly smaller than they were last year.  I think I had only about 40 girls in each class.  This will make taking them to the computer lab easier.

Friday, February 3, 2012

February 3, 2012 7:30 AM--Running

Running has proven to be a big challenge for me.  If I want to go running, I have to go early in the morning.  So, I try to get up at around 6:30 in the morning and go running when it is barely light out.  I go so early because otherwise I draw too much attention.  This is hard for me to do because I’m used to running later in the day.  It’s hard to get up early and be motivated to go running.  Another reason it’s hard to go running here is because the roads are not even.  Sometimes it seems more like an obstacle course with me trying to watch my footing so I don’t fall.  Sometimes I can manage to wake up, but I have no motivation to go running.  I need to find another way to work out here.  Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 1, 2012 12:30 PM--Committees

A lot of times people here will make committees.  In fact, they love making committees even for the most miniscule things.  But their main problem with making committees is that these committees usually don’t do anything or they have really long meetings where they don’t accomplish anything.  Often times, if someone is put on a committee it is seen almost as an honor.  It is a good thing to be on a committee.  Whereas, I would never want to be on one of these committees, because I would most likely have to sit through some long, boring, useless meetings.