Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28, 2013 11:40 AM—Reverse Mail Call

Most people would probably think it is the same cost or more expensive to mail something from the U.S. to Uganda as opposed to mailing something from Uganda to the U.S.  However, in fact it is more expensive to mail something from Uganda to the U.S.  A simple letter mailed here from the U.S. is 99₵, but if you were to mail that same letter from here back to the U.S. it would cost $1.31 (approximately with the current exchange rate).

This fact has always been something that I was aware of but never cared much about, because it’s such a minor difference.  Or at least I never cared until today.  As I pack up things in my house and give things away in an attempt to clean out my house before I leave, I put together a package (actually two packages) to mail home.  I knew it would be pricey, but I never realized how pricey it would be.  When I got to the post office and showed the post office lady the boxes I had to mail (one was the size of a shoe box and the other was about 1’ by 1’ by 6”) she told me how it would be cheaper if they were in one package and not two.  Then she proceeded to give me a bigger box, help me repack the packages, and basically assist me in making this as cheap as possible.  In the end, the one large package was 5.7 kilos (12.5 lbs.) and it cost me about $100 (USH265,000) to ship.  This probably would have been a bit cheaper if I was sending it from the U.S.  Was it worth it?  I’m not sure.  We’ll have to see the condition of it when it gets there and how much I really use this stuff in America.

UPDATE: My package made it to the U.S. in about a week (8 days) apparently intact!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26, 2013 5:20 PM—Book Review: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working—The Trouble with Africa

I just finished Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working: The Trouble with Africa by Robert Calderisi.  Calderisi worked in Africa for almost 30 years and his most prominent position was being the spokesman for Africa in the World Bank.  He shares in this book many facts, stories and insights that definitely ring true throughout Africa.

This book begins with setting the stage and giving the audience some background information on this troubled continent.  Then Calderisi moves on to a few case studies (namely Tanzania, Ivory Coast and Central Africa).  Next he discusses foreign aid and all the different aspects of it from culture to economics and beyond.  And finally he gives his advice. He even lists ten ways he thinks Africa can be changed.

This book really struck me because he doesn’t take an all or nothing approach to foreign aid.  He feels there is a safe medium and that it needs to be found.  He also acknowledges that not all Africans are bringing down this continent.  In fact, many of those who could help have been leaving Africa to go to America or Europe.  I also really enjoyed this book because it was written by someone whom you can tell really knows Africa and Africans.  Calderisi has worked hands-on with the locals in many of the positions he’s held and he wrote this book based on many of the insights he has gotten from local people.  One of the things I found most interesting is that he deems Uganda as one of the better off African countries.  He really feels this country has done well for itself ever since Museveni took power in the 1980’s.  He suggests giving Uganda more free reign in their economy and foreign aid.

This book was written in 2006, so it may be a little dated, but from what I can tell it is all still relevant today.  I would definitely suggest it because it really gets into the economics of this country in a way I’ve never seen before and it makes it easier to grasp these realities.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21, 2013 9:00 AM—Imposters!

Every time I travel from my site to Kampala I have to first take a taxi to Mbarara and then a bus from there to Kampala.  So once I get to Mbarara I usually walk down to the bus park and find a bus.  There are many different bus companies that operate in or transit through Mbarara, so I have a lot of chooses.  However, anyone who’s been here for a while knows that the Swift Safari buses are the best.  They are the most reliable, the most frequent and the least likely to try to rip you off.  The only problem is that there are Swift Safari imposters.  The actual Swift Safari buses are white with red writing and they say “Swift Safari” on the side, but there are other buses that will be the same colors and they say “Safari Buses” or something similar on the side.  There are also bus conductors that will tell you their bus is the Swift bus even though it clearly isn’t.  They simply just pray on innocent, na├»ve people.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 12, 2013 11:30 PM—Book Review: Maphead

Another good book for the record.  This one is actually one of the best I’ve found since being here.  I just finished reading Maphead by Ken Jennings.  The name Ken Jennings may sound familiar…hmmmm.  This is because he is the same Ken Jennings who had a record winning streak on Jeopardy! a few years ago.  But as I found out from reading this book, he also has a keen interest for maps.

In this book, Jennings makes maps and geography interesting even to people who are not so interested in them.  As many people who know me should know, I enjoy maps, but apparently not as much as I thought.  I can tell you the names of all the countries and capitals of the world but I can’t tell you the population and land area of all of those capitals.  This book has proved to me that there is so much more to geography then I ever thought.

Maphead covers many different aspects of ancient cartography and even modern maps and map making.  Throughout history map making required exploration and adventure because people didn’t know exactly what was out there.  However, now that the whole world is mapped, map makers and “mapheads” (people who enjoy maps) have to think outside the box to really explore the world.  In this book, each chapter covers a different topic in reference to maps.  We can see how maps have reached modern technology in things such as Google Maps and Geocaching.  We also get an inside look into The National Geography Bee and map rallying.  Jennings also discusses his own thoughts and research into why people like maps, what makes someone good with maps and how the next generation will view maps (or lack thereof).

From reading this, I’ve realized that maps are more important than one might think.  We can’t just use a GPS and not really understand where we are.  It’s depressing to see how many Americans can’t identify some basic landmarks on a map.  Geography education is something that I think is definitely lacking in the U.S.  But I’ve also realized that exploring the globe is all arbitrary.  For example, some people set out to find and visit the highest points in every one of the 50 states, but once they do that, what have they really accomplished?  They’ve seen the highest points (some of them not even that high or exciting) in 50 different random land masses.  When you really think about it, it means nothing.

Maps are important for education and one’s own self awareness, but every map is in the eye of the beholder or simply the map maker.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

February 9, 2012 5:45 PM—Mail Call: Final Call for Packages

This is my first and only announcement about more packages.  If you have something packed and ready to go, feel free to still send it.  If not, I would say don’t send anything more.  Granted if there is something that arrives after I leave, some other needy Peace Corps volunteer would get to reap the benefits from it, but it wouldn’t be me.
And I’m also gonna take this moment to say THANKS to everyone who has sent me packages, letters and cards throughout the last two years.  They have been much appreciated.  Everything from the most ridiculous to the most practical items and everything in between has been used to the fullest extent.  Sometimes it’s the things that you think are least likely to be useful, that are actually the most useful for my physical and mental well-being.  Things like hair ties or a flashlight shaped like a panda bear or newspaper articles and crossword puzzles or disinfectant wipes or just a card or postcard that says “hi” are among the best things I could get in a package.  Often even better than any goodies or snacks that were sent.  Don’t get me wrong, the snacks are also good, but sometimes I just look forward to the unexpected.

That all being said, Thanks for all the packages, but please stop sending them!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Third Goal Project

Looks like I’m leaving my site a little earlier than expected!  Don’t get me wrong, my COS date is still April 24th, but up until that point I will be working on a project that allows me to leave my site in March.    I’ll be travelling the country for about a month visiting volunteers at their sites in their element.  After visiting each volunteer I’ll be writing a blog post based on the volunteer, their site, their experience and the experience I had with them while at their site.  This project will show how every site is different and every volunteer gets a different experience.  This will also be a great way for me to reflect on my service by sharing the span of a PCVs journey.  You will get to see where a PCV starts, where they are in the middle, and where they finish.

The idea behind this project is based around Peace Corps' “Third Goal”.  Anyone not familiar, the three goals of Peace Corps are:

1.       Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2.       Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3.       Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Stay tuned for more updates and information!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February 7, 2013 10:30 AM—Food!

Most volunteers are more than obsessed about food.  Buying really good food is hard to come by, but you can actually get most ingredients to make some really good food.  A lot of volunteers become really good cooks during their 2 years service.  Before coming here I thought I was a decent cook, but it wasn’t until I got here that I became an even better cook.  This is mostly because most things at home that I would get out of a can I now have to make from scratch.  So here are some pictures of my favorite meals that I’ve made myself since getting here.

Apple Bread

Cole Slaw

Bread Sticks

Corn Chowder

Deviled Eggs

Tuna Cakes

Pasta in Alfredo Sauce

Homemade Pasta

Homemade Pasta in Marinara Sauce


Oatmeal Cookies

Pineapple Pie

Pita Bread

 Many Varieties of Pizza
Pizza with Onions and Jalapenos

Plain Cheese Pizza

Pizza with Peppers and Onions

Mango Salsa

 Raviolis (filled with paneer)

Rice Pudding with Raisins


Scalloped Potatoes

Tomato Soup and Tuna Cakes

Spanish Rice


And all of this was made without having running water in my kitchen and some of it was made without power.  Let me just say that boredom eventually hits you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February 5, 2013 11:15 AM—Book Review: Travels

I just finished reading “Travels” by Michael Crichton.  The name Michael Crichton might sound familiar to you and that is because he is the same author that wrote “JurassicPark”.  However, the book I read is called “Travels” and for obvious reasons I was drawn in by the title alone.

Unlike “Jurassic Park”, “Travels” is a non-fiction novel.  It is almost an autobiography by Crichton.  I say almost simply because he doesn’t really talk about his childhood at all and I’m sure there are many major events in his life that are left out.  However, he starts off the book talking about some of his experiences in medical school.  He actually managed to finish medical school and never became a doctor.  Instead he became a writer and really started to travel the world.  As the book progresses, you start to realize that this book is not just about his physical adventures as he travels the world.  It is also about some kind of metaphysical travel that he does internally throughout his life.  There are mentions of many mental explorations including psychics, meditation and mediums.  Despite what you may think about some of these things, this book is worth reading if only to get a feel for his global experiences.  He has travelled from East Africa, to Bangkok, to New Guinea and South America.  He also manages to relate all of these physical experiences to his internal journey.

To me this book was fascinating, partly due to the fact that I’ve been to some of the remote places that he is talking about, but about 30 years later.  If you are interested in travelling to the deepest depths of the Earth, I would suggest reading this book.  I actually now want to go back and read “Jurassic Park”.