The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

October 14, 2010


The following is an unapologetically disjointed collection of observations, opinions, images, and accounts of recent events. Enjoy.

1. Justification for 12x optical zoom in a consumer grade camera: the President of Uganda decides to sit a few rows up from you at a football match. By the way, he wears that goofy hat everywhere. Rumor has it that it's bulletproof.

2. I finally picked up a can of Bop insecticide and obliterated the out-of-control insect population in my house. No longer will the flavor of my morning coffee contain hints of cockroach!

3. On Saturday, my friend Meg came to visit me in Kiziranfumbi. Meg is an American who works for a Hoima-based NGO called Innovations for Poverty Action, and is the only other white person I know in the area. Meg and I decided to go throw a frisbee around on the large field across the street from my house. Immediately, we were joined by hordes of village kids who were intrigued by "the plastic plate". We tossed the disc with them for a bit, until a mix of primary and secondary school students showed up with some drums, something I call "butt-shaking half skirts" (no clue what they're actually called, but I doubt the local name could compete with mine for descriptiveness), and these shin guard-like things with bead-filled wooden bells attached to them (your dancing becomes percussion music with these strapped to your legs). We put the frisbee down and went over to watch the performance. The kids sang, drummed, and danced, and Meg and I were captivated. They were fantastic! And the songs and rhythms were really catchy; way better than the crappy reggaeton on the radio. I started listening carefully to the words in Runyoro. One song was about being nice to sick people and the message of the next one could be summarized as, "Women and girls, AIDS is bad. AIDS kills. You must wait [to have sex]". It turned out that the singers and dancers were part of a troupe that travels around the area, promoting sexual abstinence as a way to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. I imagine their campaign is pretty effective, given the repetitive, yet catchy-sounding lyrics.

4. Ugandans do the "come here" hand gesture upside down. Instead of motioning towards himself with the index finger, palm facing up, a Ugandan turns his palm down and repeatedly draws all four fingers towards himself. Weird! I'm still trying to kick the habit of doing it the American way.

5. Clowns are terrifying.

6. On the equator, the moon's crescent appears under the dark part of the moon, instead of to the side.

7. I wish my headmaster would stop dismissing students from school the day before exams for not paying their school fees. I walked into my S1 math class last Wednesday to hold an hour-long review session and like 80% of the kids were missing. Eighty percent! I will not be the least bit surprised if that many fail the midterm (though my fingers are crossed for marginally better results).

8. Some bars have better names than others. However, I defy you to come up with a better one than "Tactical Headquarter Hoima Cave".

9. Check out this sweet mud hut up the road from my house:

10. Dogs here seem to be nocturnal. They spend all day passed out in the heat, then wake up shortly after the last kerosene lantern flickers out to howl the night away. Look at this demi-bear snoozing at the Red Chili Hideaway (a hostel I often stay at in Kampala):

11. Speaking of Red Chili, they also have a rather ginormous pig:

12. Here in Africa, there are furrier options for travel than the dogmobile in Dumb and Dumber:

13. Last but not least, Arwen has freaky deaky monkey feet.

September 24, 2010

The Power of Pineapple

"What can I do to motivate my students?" I think to myself one morning, as I hastily pack my things before heading to school. "They talk in class, they fail my tests, and even if I broke down and started caning them like the other teachers, they still wouldn't give a flying fuck about physics."

Then suddenly, a revelation: "I'll tempt them with food!"

Bag packed and sandals strapped on, I leave my house and walk over to the roadside produce stands across the street. I pick out a juicy, medium-size pineapple and get the woman selling it to peel and quarter the pineapple for me. At 25 cents, it seems like a relatively small price to pay for classroom cooperation.

I arrive at school, pineapple in hand. My Senior Two (S2) physics class sees me coming. Of course, whoever was supposed to teach the 8:00 - 9:20 block never showed up, giving the kids free reign to screw around outside. But playtime's over. It's 9:20 on the dot, which means every pair of cheeks in a khaki green skirt or trousers—the S2 uniform—should be seated at a desk for physics class. I walk towards the students hovering outside the S2 classroom at a relaxed pace, a nonchalant lion approaching what looks like easy prey. My prey glance at the pineapple. Their mouths begin to water. But then they look at the lion that's carrying the pineapple. And they know it's time to run. Luckily for the lion, they run straight into the classroom. No chasing required this time.

I enter the classroom and wait until everyone's seated. Then, without a word, I take out one of the pineapple quarters and bite into it slowly. A little juice dribbles out of the corner of my mouth. I let out a long, deliberate "Mmmmmmmmmm" as I take my time enjoying the perfection of this fruit. My S2s gaze longingly at the dripping pineapple.

"Master, is it sweet?" one asks.

Before I answer the girl, I finish the slice, making sure to lick its juicy remains off of each finger to emphasize just how much she's missing out on.

"Yes," I say. "It's very sweet."

I then address the entire class. I explain that there are 3 slices of pineapple remaining. Coincidentally, there are 3 students seated at each desk. I'm sure there's at least one desk that's worthy of pineapple. But I'm not sure which desk it is.

"So," I say, "we'll have ourselves a little contest. Remember last time when we talked about swimming? About how your ears hurt when you dive deep underwater?" I get a few nods. The rest probably haven't ever gone swimming. "Well, that pain you feel is the water pressure acting on your eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane. If too much pressure acts on it, the eardrum can rupture, or tear. And then you wouldn't be able to hear anything."

All very well and good, they're thinking, but what does this have to do with pineapple? "Scientists," I continue, "have found that the eardrum will almost certainly rupture if exposed to 100 kilopascals of pressure. For the rest of this pineapple, calculate how deep you would have to dive to rupture your eardrum. The density of water is 1 g cm^-3 and gravitational acceleration is about 10 m s^-2. First desk with the right answer gets the pineapple. Go!"

At that moment, hell freezes over. My students are actually working! I pace the room like I usually do when I give in-class problems. Only this time, I don't need to play disciplinarian. Hands shoot up as I walk by, offering answers to my question. I look at the answers. I dismiss several lacking units of length. Some people are off by a factor of 1000. Others have copied numbers from a previous, unrelated problem (I fear there are some lost causes in my class). But finally, a group of boys gives me the correct response of 10 meters. We have a winner! I present the boys the pineapple and return to the front of the class to put the solution on the board.

"But master, you give me that pineapple," a girl pleads, Bambi-eyed, head cocked to the side with her hands out like some beggar-child.

"No. You didn't answer my question correctly. However, there's more pineapple where that came from..." I turn to the class and grin, "...if you answer some more questions."

September 11, 2010

Where to Look

Sandra: a cute little nightmare of a next-door neighbor.
One of many faces in my new web album.
So I've gotten a little backlogged lately. I have several half-finished posts on the back burner, but lack of time and motivation to finish them right now. What can I say? I'm a slow and easily distracted writer. Wordsmithing takes me some time.

Something that doesn't take me a lot of time, however, is snapping pictures. Click. Done. Up until now I've had a tendency to put maybe one or two pictures of some relevance in each post, or else do an occasional post dedicated entirely to pictures. But my posts haven't been keeping up with my pictures, so readers are getting neither verbal nor visual snapshots of my life.

My solution to this problem was to create a Picasa web album. While in Kampala for medical reasons this weekend, I took advantage of the fast internet speeds to upload some choice photos to it. The photos are in chronological order and span the duration of my time here thus far. Maybe I'll get around to captioning them or tagging people or transferring them to Facebook, maybe not. Some may eventually end up on the blog when I finish those back burner posts. In any case, I plan to continue using Picasa as a visual complement to my largely verbal blog. So now you get words and pictures, hooray!

Links for future picture viewing delight:

August 27, 2010

RE: Anal Fireball

Dear Dr. S. of The Surgery in Kampala,

Our first meeting began like any other encounter between doctor and patient. You asked me what was wrong, and I explained that the gnarly warts on my toes were in dire need of medical attention. However, unlike a normal doctor, this did not prompt you to immediately attend to my bubonic feet. Instead, you proceeded to tell me about a "gay American Jew" afflicted with "a great fucking forest of anal warts." You and a colleague had been treating this poor man, cauterizing the warts with a hot iron, when one of the warts began to bleed substantially. You grabbed an alcohol pad to clean up the blood and sterilize the wound, but neglected to remove the cauterizing iron. The heat from the iron ignited the alcohol, causing a large explosion between the patient's buttocks. Locally anaestitized, the gay American Jew felt only a dull sensation around his cornhole. When he asked "what happened?" you and your colleague both exclaimed, "Nothing!" and returned to cutting down the forest.

To be sure, Herr Doctor, your story is hilarious. But appropriate for a first time meeting with a new patient? No.

- L

August 2, 2010

Not-so-urban legend

Apparently there's a world of riches underneath Lake Albert. You can get there by putting two eggs in a basket, placing the basket in the lake, then climbing inside the basket and sinking to the bottom. Be sure to bring another person with you, though. That way, you can sell their body to the lake-dwellers for lots of cash. That cash can be brought back to the surface, or spent at any of the fine shopping malls under the lake. Oh, and this watery underworld is a safe place to hide when the apocalypse comes, or so Nurse Violet tells me.

People believe this. I shit you not.

UPDATE: My next-door neighbor has warned me not to be out on the street past midnight. Men who roam the streets in the wee hours, she says, have been known to decapitate strangers, thinking that they can sell the heads to the lake people. In a kind of Darwinian justice, these men get their comeuppance when they drown in the lake, basket, eggs, and all.

July 30, 2010

Catch a cheetah by the toe

I have a very strict policy about cheating in my classes: if you cheat, you get a zero. End of story. Not doing your own work is the same as not doing any work at all.

Since grades alone cannot deter cheating here, I also assign punishment work that students must complete, or else take a zero on the following exam or assessment. This sounds harsh, but these kids are so unruly in large numbers that I have to suspend sympathy for them. Otherwise, they wouldn't take me seriously because they know I won't cane them (despite the other teachers' opinion that "an African's ears are on his ass"). Personally, I think a difficult or humiliating punishment is more effective than caning. Caning hurts a lot, but it is over quickly, and tends to only stave off bad behavior for a day or so before students relapse.

Last week, as I was marking a physics quiz I'd given, I caught six girls cheating. They were all giving the same incorrect, nonsensical English answers to a series of short answer questions. So I called them each into the library/office/teacher's lounge (we have a space problem at "Kizesco High"), looked them straight in the eye, grilled them on why they cheated until tears welled up in their eyes, gave them each a zero on the quiz, and told them to get out of the office immediately and each write me a full page apology letter. If they did not submit their apologies before the final exam a few days later, they would get a zero on the final.

You'd think this would be enough to stop the cheating. But, as usual, Uganda surprised me: two of the girls copied each other's apology letters. Verbatim.

How dumb do they think I am?

I still haven't figured out what to do with those two. Probably fail them for the term. The other students at least wrote their own letters. But one of them blamed Satan for making her cheat, instead of taking responsibility herself. Another thought that filling the page with idiomatic expressions would get her back in my good graces:
The reason as to why I coppied is that Idid not read the books. So that's why trying to eat ahamble pie in the nick of time or this time. So teacher may you please put my appology in consideration after the anchent has been burried and then I will concentrate on my books and leave those issues of playing after I have seen that copping is bad.
I told the girl that I accepted her apology, but that she should work on her English.

July 23, 2010


Lately I've developed an obsession with Scrabble. On weekdays, I generally play at least one game a day with my fellow teachers. Despite English being their second or third language, a few of them are quite good at it. I've picked up a few strategies from our games: look for two-letter word connectors like XU and SH, save high-scoring tiles until you can triple their value, and always sit to the left of Sam Peter, the head of the math department. He tends to open up Triple Word Scores by accident. I can safely say that I'm a much more competitive player now than I was on those frosty Tuesday nights in college, when my roommate Kort and I would crack open a bottle of Jim Beam in the library, slam tiles down, and yell at each other until more studious students would glare at us.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I'm encouraged to (I sincerely apologize for the following mouthful of hippie-speak) initiate secondary projects that promote sustainable development at the grassroots level. All the Scrabble I've been playing gave me an idea for a secondary project: create a school Scrabble club! Scrabble is an excellent game on so many levels. Besides being extremely enjoyable to play, it expands English vocabulary, passively forces players to do mental arithmetic, and develops capacity for strategic thought.

I think this is a perfect project for several reasons:
  • The average first-year Ugandan secondary school student has just enough English vocabulary to be able to play the game. Scrabble would help them to learn new words.
  • Ugandans are bad at spelling. This is a generalization, but an accurate one. Scrabble teaches correct orthography. 
  • Youth and children here are desperate for mental stimulation and entertainment. Books and games are practically nowhere to be seen.
  • Scrabble boards and tiles can be made from local materials. My parents suggested pasting printed letters on cut up pieces of linoleum to make tiles. But my requests for linoleum at the hardware stores in Hoima, even the Indian ones, where met with blank stares. If you have other ideas for materials, let me know!
  • Students overuse calculators, which makes them poor at mental math and estimation. This becomes a problem when they have to manage personal finances as adults. By constantly optimizing play values, thinking about the odds of picking certain letters from the bag, and adding up scores manually, they develop these skills.
  • Most importantly, this project, like any successful secondary project, stems from the desires of the community it would help. Students want to play Scrabble. One of them literally walked into the room while I was writing that last sentence to ask if he could borrow my travel edition of the game.
          Last weekend I was playing against two of my students when an idea for a spin-off project occured to me. The game had been a slaughter; my final score was larger than theirs combined, and well into the 300s. This kind of thing tends to happen when an experienced player who speaks English as his mother tongue goes head-to-head with newbies who know English as a second or third language. After the game, one of the students said to me, "But masta, if we played in Runyoro, we could not fail to beat you." That got me thinking. Why not make a Runyoro Scrabble game?

          Why not, indeed? I went online that very night to research foreign language versions of Scrabble. As it turns out, all of them use a board identical to the one used in the English version. The difference is in the tiles: the letter distribution and tile values are adjusted to reflect how frequently each letter appears in everyday writing. When architect Alfred Mosher Butts designed Criss-Crosswords (the predecessor to Scrabble) in 1938, he created a set of tiles based on a frequency analysis of letters in English text. The man literally sat down and counted, by hand, the number of A's, B's, etc. printed in an entire issue of The New York Times. While I applaud Butts for doing this—his labor resulted in my favorite board game—I was not about to sit down and mindlessly tally letters for 8 hours. Counting letters is not a man's job. It's not a woman or child's job, either. It's a computer's job.

          So, shaking the rust off my programming skills, I set to work writing a Python script to count how often each letter appears in a block of text, then return a list of the individual letter counts and frequency percentages. The end result is a program that determines how many Scrabble tiles should be made for each letter in a particular language. You can even change the alphabet used to include or exclude certain letters. For example, I would omit X and V when analyzing Runyoro text, because those letters are only in found loanwords. What I plan to do is amass a bunch of text from Runyoro language websites, feed it through the program, and create a tile set based on its output. The only problem is that I can't find websites in Runyoro! Only about a million people speak Runyoro and most don't use the Internet, let alone computers, so there are very few Runyoro sites. At least my program works, though: running the Wikipedia entry for Scrabble through it generates a letter distribution that is over 99% identical to the English language Scrabble tile distribution.

          One of the major obstacles in the way of making a playable Runyoro Scrabble game is defining which words actually are Runyoro words. Uganda is a linguistically heterogeneous country; over 30 languages are spoken natively here, and each tribe has its own language. A 20-minute taxi ride can sometimes carry you across a tribal border, and suddenly nobody speaks your language anymore. I noticed this happen when I visited some friends in eastern Uganda last month: Stacey and Tony live in Bukedea, where a Nilotic language called Ateso is spoken. But Mbale, a large town nearby, is primarily composed of Bagisu/Bamasaaba, who speak Lugisu/Lumasaaba, a Bantu language (an enormous language family that includes Runyoro/Rutooro, KiSwahili, Luganda, and even a South African language, Xhosa). Tony was able to communicate just fine with the locals in Bukedea. Once we headed into Mbale, however, even greetings proved difficult, and we both resorted to English (which most people know to some degree, especially in urban centers). Luckily, we met up with two other PCV friends, Arwen and Alyssa, who both live near Mbale and studied Lumasaaba in training.

          With such a high density of languages, a lot of overlap and word-stealing goes down. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's unavoidable. I would not be surprised at all if somebody in my village came up to me and said: Hello, ssebo. Oli sawa sawa? That simple greeting is in four languages! Hello is English of course, ssebo is Luganda for "sir", oli means "you are" in Runyoro, and sawa sawa1 is just the KiSwahili word for "fine" (sawa) repeated: "Hello, sir. You are fine fine?" People here switch languages mid-sentence, whenever one language lacks a word with the appropriate shade of meaning that happens to be present in the other's vocabulary. As a result, people forget which words belong to which language. President Yoweri Museveni pointed this out in the speech he gave at the empango (coronation anniversary celebration) for the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru:2

          Do you know that in Runyankore, Luganda, Rukiga, Lusoga and other languages we use the word kuyamba(to help)? [But] you Banyoro and Batooro say kukonyera: that is Acholi [language]! The Acholi say kony. Why is your word for kuyamba different? We are one people [linguistically]. You ask Rwot Acana (of Acholi), he is here. What we call okuyamba, the Acholi call it kony; this Kony who has been butchering people.3 You Banyoro and Batooro just added on that Bantu ’ku’, kukonyera; but the root word is ‘kony’. Now, some people waste time proving how they are different. [They say]: “We are Baganda, we are Banyoro, we are Banyankore, boboooboo...! Now, what’s that? You spend all your time showing how Ugandans are different. We want to unite people; you are [busy] dividing them up.
          I highly encourage you to read the rest of this speech. Museveni justifies the coexistence of Uganda's semi-ceremonial tribal kingdoms with the country's centralized democracy. It's federalism turned on its ear, and an interesting peek at how Uganda [dis]functions. But that's a discussion for another post, ideally one that is titled something other than "Scrabble". My point with all this talk about languages is that without a proper Runyoro dictionary, it will be hard to decide which words are legal in Runyoro Scrabble, since the language itself is mingled (to use a popular Ugandan English word) with words from several others.

          Whatever the text equivalent of "talking someone's ear off" ("writing someone's eyes out"?) is, I think I've done it here. Rest your eyes, dear reader. Then write me some comments!

          1 Sawa sawa by itself is a perfectly acceptable informal greeting where I live. It's my favorite greeting, and I always try to say it as smarmily as possible.
          2 I attended empango and met the King in person, in front of his palace, which I would describe more accurately as a modest mansion. He introduced me to his brother and thanked me for teaching the kingdom's children. I got there too late to meet the President, though; he had already helicoptered it back to Kampala by the time I arrived. After meeting the King, I did the traditional empango dance with some Banyoro. It was an endless, repetitive combination of kicking and hand gestures, done in a circle, in unison. As usual, children were laughing at me.

          The King and I.

          3 Joseph Kony is head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a violent Christian terrorist group that the Ugandan military has forced out of Uganda and into neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Central African Republic. The LRA is rumored to use child soldiers and is responsible for thousands of rapes, murders, and cases of human flesh mutilation (including cutting off the lips of northern Ugandans) since it began fighting in the mid-1980s. Kony himself is on Forbes' list of the World's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives. His company on that list? Osama Bin Laden.

          July 16, 2010

          Personal Ads

          Personal ads are fascinating.

          Think about it: romantic love is an extremely complex human emotion. Love includes the sexual desires that stem from our biological need to reproduce, of course, but it's a little more complicated than "Insert Tab A into Slot B." Physical appearance, personality compatibility, emotional stability— these (and other factors) play crucial roles in the dating and mating game. So things tend to get interesting when people, desperate for love, attempt to boil themselves and their desires down to a single sentence.

          The following are personal ads from the 9 July 2010 edition of The New Vision, one of Uganda's leading newspapers. In my honest opinion, The New Vision is an abysmal publication, rife with spelling errors, subjectivity, and atrocious graphic design. I'm fairly certain that my high school newspaper, The Mountaineer, had better journalism and editing, but then again, it was voted one of the best high school papers in New Jersey. Anywho, I found myself looking at the personals shortly after giving in to my thirst for internet access and purchasing a mobile broadband (wireless dial-up, really) modem in Kampala. A teacher at Kiziranfumbi SS asked me to see if there was "a profile" associated with an email address he had written on a scrap of paper. I googled the address, and up popped the personals page.

          One of the first things I noticed was the prevalence of requests for partners of a certain religion or tribe. In Uganda, your tribe and religion are almost as important as how many children you manage to squeeze out before drawing your last breath:

          MAN, 30, HIV+ WANTS A BORN-AGAIN Munyankole or Rwandese lady, 28-35, for marriage. Call 0757774231

          JUMA, 31, WANTS A LIGHT-SKINNED Muslim, 22-30, for marriage.

          EDUCATED MUTOORO OR MUNYANKOLE girl, 18-23, wanted for love.

          BEN, 35, BORN-AGAIN SINGLE FATHER of 3, looking for a Christian lady, below 30 for a relationship.

          MUSLIM GUY, 31, IS LOOKING FOR A working Muslim girl from western Uganda or Somalia for marriage.

          MUGANDA MAN, 36, WANTS A LADY for a relationship.

          HIV and employment status also seem to be important. When 6% of the population is HIV positive and upwards of 80% are engaged in subsistance agriculture, how could they not be? Age is a pretty big deal, too. In this society, men ideally marry women 2 or 3 years younger than themselves:

          PAUL, 28, WANTS A GOD-FEARING GIRL, 18-25, for a relationship.

          Some of the ads strike me as simplistic or brutally direct:

          DAVID WANTS A BRITISH LADY. Call 0718505915


          Others just make hypocritical demands (look at the email address):

          I WANT AN UNDERSTANDING AND respectful woman for marriage.

          And even though The New Vision informs "those opting for secret sexual affairs, sugar mummies and sugar daddies...that their requests will not be honoured,"

          STEPHEN, 22, WANTS A FINANCIALLY stable lady 27-35 for a relationship.

          C'mon Stephen. You're not gonna find a "sugar mummy" to diaper your ass by posting in the personals.

          In case you were wondering, the teacher who provided the email address that ultimately inspired this post is still single. But I figured I'd give Kenneth, a die-hard 24 fan (he addresses me as "Jack Bauer") and burning hunk'o'love, a little publicity. So, [white] ladies, you are most welcome to drool over these photos we took to showcase his machismo:

          Kenneth is an intelligent man, evident in his ability to put a king
          in checkmate while stroking an imaginary goatee.
          Kenneth also has a bit of a bad boy streak. How many teachers do
          you know that ride a motorcycle to work? Well, actually it's not
          his motorcycle. But he does look badass sitting on it.
          Attitude and intrigue: what more could a girl want?

          June 10, 2010

          On Teaching

          So, what's it like teaching science in rural sub-Saharan Africa, you ask?

          Well, for one, teaching a class of over 100 students with marginal command of the English language is a whole different ballgame from tutoring a single, native English speaker (my job prior to joining the Peace Corps). Tutoring facilitates learning through continuous student-tutor dialogue: the student communicates gaps in knowledge or ability to the tutor either directly (by asking a question) or indirectly (by failing to do a math problem correctly, e.g.), and the tutor responds accordingly. Each student is different, and it is the responsibility of the tutor to adapt his teaching methods to the learning style of the individual so that understanding is achieved. However, when you teach a class of 100+ students, this kind of learning dynamic is completely and utterly infeasible. How can you adapt to the learning styles of 100 individuals when you don't even know their names?

          The answer is that you can't. The best you can realistically do is aim for decent average comprehension by planning each lesson thoroughly and presenting it clearly and logically. I walk into class with the expectation that not everyone is going to understand everything I say, but at the very least they'll have a clear set of notes to study from by the time I'm done teaching. These kids don't have textbooks; what they copy from the blackboard is the only reference text they're ever gonna get. The unfortunate reality is that the majority of a class period is spent copying notes from the board. There's simply no other way to ensure that students have written study material. Kiziranfumbi Secondary has no money for printing or photocopying notes (it's a public school in the Third World, after all), and Ugandan students aren't used to taking notes on what a teacher says (they have enough problems understanding my English anyway), only on what's written out for them, quite literally in black and white.

          As you can imagine, this is really frustrating! If I spoon-feed notes to the class for 80 minutes, the learners get bored and fall asleep. If I opt to do fun demonstrations, walk around, and lecture informally instead, class might be more entertaining, but nobody takes notes and therefore nobody can study. Finding a balance between these extremes is tough. This is especially true with teaching mathematics, which is harder to find good, non-time-wasting demonstrations for.

          It doesn't help that the education system in Uganda appears, for all intents and purposes, to be dead-set on draining every last ounce of creative thought and critical thinking out of the students it is supposed to be educating. The Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) sets yearly exams for fourth-year secondary school students that test material covered across all subjects, throughout all four years. Teaching is geared entirely towards getting students to pass the UNEB exams. Think about it: how shitty would your high school education have been if every class you sat through was SAT prep? Not that teachers here spend every class period working through multiple-choice problems, but the emphasis on rote memorization of inane facts for the purpose of passing the exams is omnipresent. In the grand scheme of things, it is far more important that a student be able to apply knowledge than regurgitate it. But these exams test regurgitation, and if a student does not pass a certain number of them, he or she cannot continue on to the fifth and sixth years of secondary school ("A'level, or "Advanced Level"). And if you don't complete those years, you don't get to go to university, or a teacher's college, or really do anything substantial with your life! Okay, perhaps that last one is an overstatement, but if you came to my village and saw how many people spend the entirety of every day sitting around doing nothing, idly awaiting a customer that never comes, or just drinking themselves into a stupor, you might conclude that I'm not far off base here.

          And so I find myself in a very odd position of having to spice things up and encourage critical thought, while simultaneously teaching towards the exams, knowing full well how monumentally important they are to determining one's outcome in life. I haven't graded enough of my students' work to see how effective I've been, but at least the bar is set low: 30% is considered a passing grade. Perhaps that's because midterm and final exams are the only work that count towards grades, and there aren't resources for going around printing practice tests.

          A note on the textbooks I've been issued for lesson planning: uuuuuurrrrrrnnnggghhh. I quote the preface to O. Akonopeesa & R. Oriada's Physics: A Complete Course: "Physics has always been considered a nightmare subject by many students. However, in this era of rapid scientific advancement physics becomes unavoidable." Great job, guys. In the first two sentences of your book, you've validated students' fear of physics by labeling it "a nightmare subject," then characterized it as a kind of necessary evil by calling it "unavoidable." I'm almost happy there aren't enough copies of your book to go around. It would make my job miserable if my students shared your negative attitude towards the very subject you "taught for a long time in Kenya and Uganda." Never mind the fact that your 2002 text is a blatant, shameless, and shoddy repackaging of A.F. Abbott's Physics, copyright 1963 (the other book I use for teaching my second year physics course). Forty years is a long friggin' time "in this era of rapid scientific advancement." Did you even bother to check if anything's changed since then? Apparently not, judging by your description of how solar power is generated: "Large concave mirrors collect the sun's rays and focus them onto special steam boilers which provide the mechanical force to run electric generators." Take a look at the solar panels on a calculator. Do you see large concave mirrors? How about steam boilers or rotating electric generators? If that Postgraduate Diploma in Radiation Physics from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa is worth as much as the paper it was printed on, you'd know that conventional solar power is generated by light exciting electrons into the conduction band of a semiconductor. I suggest you boys find a new line of work. That or hire a damn copy-editor.

          Am I done enumerating my teaching woes and grilling the textbook authors that exacerbate them? Yes. I do really enjoy teaching, even though it makes me tear my hair out sometimes. It helps that the school has a nice little library to relax in after class, and flip through books on African geography or Old English epic poems (let me tell you, they're pretty epic). My physics class tells me I speak clearer and teach better than any physics teacher they've had, which of course makes me happy. Students often come by my house to say hi, give me some fruit, or watch a movie. I get along very well with the other teachers at Kiziranfumbi SS, too. We chit-chat and play hyper-competitive games of Scrabble, and go out for drinks at night. Tomorrow I'm attending a celebration of the anniversary of the King of Bunyoro's coronation with some of them. I may even meet the king, who knows? I think he's a neighbor of the headmaster.

          Other news:

          I've started clearing land for a personal garden at the south end of the school compound. This involves slashing and burning the overgrown area used by the Volunteer previously stationed here (before he got kidney stones, was medevac'd to South Africa twice for treatment, then finally sent back to the States by Peace Corps - rumor has it the gardening was somehow responsible). Slashing is done by hand with a machete-like "slasher," and is even better exercise than using a mechanical push mower! My shredded, blistered palms can attest to the quality of these tools. Carrots, red onions, peas, lettuce, coriander, sweet basil, and possibly watermelon are going in the ground next month, when the rains return.

          I had a kitten for about a week. We found her in the school office, and even though she was feral, I decided to take her home. No joke, that first night I had her licking warm milk off of my fingers (girls, that's your cue to say, "Awwwwwwww"). She wouldn't drink it any other way. Unfortunately, my neighbors were afraid of her and after she vomited rancid milk into my bedsheets, I decided it was time for Kayaga ("Little Storm") to go.

          I shaved my head. This came on the heels of a disastrous haircut from a local barber who, believe it or not, did not own a pair of scissors. The typical African buzz-cut look didn't work for me, so I decided to start from scratch. I'll post pictures when I get a chance, including the ones of the mohawk I had for about 5 minutes. In Uganda, the shaved head look is called the "Shao-Lin." Previously, when I wore my long hair up in a bandanna tied like a headband, kids asked me if I was Bruce Lee.

          A new discotheque called The Afro-land Joint opened up in Kiziranfumbi. It's owned by a local who goes by Best Man. Must be a pretty cool guy, with those neon lights lining his SUV runningboards and all. Kiziranfumbi lies on a major road to Lake Albert, where oil has recently been discovered, so lots of development is happening around here. It's exciting to have village nightlife. Hopefully Best Man will let me mix some foreign dance tracks in with the domestic reggaeton.

          This song is stuck in my head: Ability by Radio & Weasel. It's some of the only Ugandan music I like. The words you don't understand are in Luganda, the language of Buganda, the largest kingdom in Uganda.

          That's enough for now. Peace out. I've got a tribal king to meet.

          May 29, 2010

          All Eyes on Me

          It's weird to be a celebrity.

          On the one hand, always being at the center of attention encourages a kind of cocky self-confidence. It's not so much arrogance as it is a healthy, jovial, devil-may-care attitude that comes with feeling important. I step into a bar and suddenly the reggaeton music videos on TV are no longer the most interesting thing in the room. Heads turn, and hands reach out to shake my comparatively albino ones. A spot just for me magically opens up between the men on the bench; I grab an Eagle (my brew of choice) and sit down in it. I find myself in five simultaneous conversations in three languages. Some guy offers me his daughter. Another wants to show me his dance moves. A third asks me to buy him a drink. No, Jean Pierre, even though the house waragi is only 600 shillings, (a) despite being white, I'm broke, (b) you're wasted, and (c) didn't that stuff blind like 30 people in Kabale last month?

          Living centerstage promotes self-confidence, but also self-consciousness. This is especially true when your appearance is the primary reason why you're the focus of attention in the first place. Let me put things in perspective: I haven't seen a single other white person in three weeks. And that was when I visited my PCV friends in Fort Portal. When I walk down the street, people look at me like I'm some kind of exotic animal, certainly not one of their own species. Every move I make is subject to the scrutiny of every single person that sees me. If I go on a run, or bike to the market, my friend Jotherm will know about it within two hours, because the women selling tomatoes on the corner (his spies, no doubt) will tell him. When you stick out as much as I do, you simply cannot live in anonymity. It doesn't matter what I'm doing; whether I'm gnawing on sugarcane or reading Mark Twain's Roughing It on the front porch, a group of little kids will be staring with rapt attention, curious if that alien lifeform chews his 'cane the same as them. This is uncomfortable and makes way me more conscious of my appearance and actions than I'd like to be.

          At times, I hide in my house for hours to escape the eyes. I watch Six Feet Under with headphones, cook with my doors shut and locked, or listen to the BBC World Service on shortwave until the top news headlines have been repeated thrice. But inevitably, these activities become lonely and I have to go out for some human contact, even if it means being watched.

          Forget teaching physics to a class of 120, dodging potholes on my bike in the pitch-black darkness of night, the mosquitoes, the long, sweaty taxi rides, and the monotonous Ugandan cuisine. Not being able to to live a private life remains the biggest challenge I've faced during my service. If you've ever been famous, you'll know what I'm talking about.

          May 17, 2010


          Ten weeks of being trapped in training gave all of us a bit of cage rage.
          Especially Devon.

          Surreal landscapes often accompany the storm clouds. This was at RACO, our training site.

          Creeper 'stache #1 (Jake, on the bus to swear-ing in).

          Creeper 'stache #2 (Tony, at the ambassador's house).

          The ladies of Peace Corps/Uganda April 2010-2012. The picture of the guys is on
          someone else's camera.

          The Runyoro-Rutooro crew, right after swearing-in.

          My house, seen from the street. Normally, these kinds of spaces are used as shop stalls,
          so when I moved in, people were always entering unannounced, perhaps to find out
          what I was selling. I had to post a sign that reads, "Enu teri dukka. Eri enju yange.
          Caali otataahamu otaikirizibwe." ("This is not a store. It is my house. Please
          don't enter without permission.")

          The view out my front door.
          Taking a few steps backwards, this is the first room in my house, which I use as
          a kitchen and living room. I have since put a reed mat on the concrete floor and
          am currently getting a small wicker sofa made to lounge in. I'm also going to
          find a carpenter to make me a high table to use as a countertop so I don't
          have to keep cooking on the dirty floor.

          The same room, but seen from through the front door. On the desk you can see the
          most important thing I purchased after I found out that my house has electricity:
          a speaker set with a subwoofer. Sometimes you just have to drown out the incessant,
          aurally abrasive Ugandan "island" music,

          Walking through the doorway in the previous photo, you enter my bedroom. On the
          left is my Mickey Mouse wardrobe, graciously supplied to me by Kiziranfumbi
          Secondary School. Not exactly what I would have picked, but it gets the job done.
          In any case, it's better than storing my clothing under the bed (center), among the
          sawdust piles created by my bedmates, the termites. On the right is the drying rack
          I use for my underwear. In Uganda, it's rude to dry your undies outside.

          My back door leads to a small courtyard. The two black cylinders in the back
          are rain collection tanks. They supply the water I use to brush my teeth, bathe,
          and wash my dishes and laundry.

          If you cross the courtyard, you get to the shop complex's bathing area and pit
          latrines. I get my own personal, locked bathing area and pit latrine as per
          Peace Corps/Uganda's requirements. This is my bathing area. Right now I take
          bucket baths using that red basin and water from the orange bucket. However,
          I've stuck a faucet in the green 20-liter jerrycan and once I figure out a good way
          to suspend it, I'll be able to fill the jerrycan with hot water (from my stove) and
          take an actual hot shower!

          Ahh, my pit latrine. If only that little hole were just a wee bit bigger. I mean, three
          months of living here has made me into a solid waste sharpshooter, but when it comes
          to the yellow stuff, that's a hard target to hit from a standing position. Presumably they
          make the holes small to prevent infants from inadvertently taking Slumdog Millionaire-
          style poo dives.

          The main building of Kiziranfumbi Secondary School, my workplace.

          A feeble attempt to fight the student body's biological programming. These kinds of
          signs are a common feature of Ugandan school compounds.

          Try as we might, Peter, Theresa, and I could not get this gut in Hoima to leave us
          alone. Oh well, at least he bought us beer.

          With a cackle, Peter lovingly smothers Theresa. Peter is another PCV and Theresa
          is a German volunteer.

          The road to Butimba market, which I bike to every week, is filled with scenes like this...


          ...and baboons!

          Sunset street scene by the market. If you climb those hills in the background, you
          can see across Lake Albert to the Montagnes Bleues in the Democratic Republic of
          Congo, forbidden fruit for PCVs.

          "Yo, man, it's spelled 'm-a-r-k-e-t.'"
          "Nawwww, it's definitely 'm-a-r-k-e-r-t.'"
          "Let's compromise. You do yours with an extra 'R' and I'll do mine without it."
          "Find, if you want everyone to know your dumb ass can't spell!"

          Silly Ugandans. Arrrs are for pirates.

          April 28, 2010

          Speech & Song

          Several people have asked me to post the speech I gave at swearing-in and the song my language class sang for our homestay thank you event. Lucky you, dear reader. Today you get both.

          First, the song. It's called "The Ten Weeks of Homestay" and is sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I'm omitting the part sung in Runyoro-Rutooro and the annoyingly repetitive first section. Here's the end:

          By the very end of homestay, I had received
          Two thumbs up for style,
          A fair price for pineapple,
          Mud-covered legs,
          Eighty power outages,
          Flu and rabies shots,
          Frightening mefloquine dreams, ["Fiiive gol-den rings"]
          Tons of dirty laundry,
          Broken mountain bike,
          "How are you, muzungu?!"
          And matooke, matooke, MATOOOOOKKEEEEE. [Complete with jazz hands]

          And now, the speech, delivered April 21, 2010, at U.S. Ambassador Jerry P. Lanier's house (palace?) in Kololo. I've received nothing but praise from the Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, U.S. Embassy employees, and Ugandans who attended the swearing-in ceremony.

          "Eh, muzungu! Where are you going?"

          Where are you going. It's a simple enough question, really, and one that two months of living in Uganda has largely conditioned us to ignore. By now we each have our own arsenal of ways to decline a ride from an inquiring boda-boda driver: “Peace Corps will fire me if I get on your bike,” “Sagala kugenda,” and “If I'm going to die today, I'd rather not do it pelvis-to-pelvis with you” are all somewhat acceptable ways to do this.

          We respond to the question “where are you going?” without much thought. But the question itself is worth thinking about. “Where are you going?” implies that the person being asked has a destination, a place that he or she aspires to be, but has not yet reached. Having a destination demonstrates something uniquely human: the ability to conceptualize the future. Our capacity to think beyond our present state, set goals, and develop long term plans to meet them is fundamental to our development as individuals and as a civilization.

          However, the unfortunate reality is that you cannot plan for the long term unless you first address the concerns of the short term. This presents seemingly insurmountable challenges for anyone living in abject poverty, which includes a great many in the developing world. Think about it: how can you save money to buy a house, start a farm, or pay university tuition when every last shilling you earn selling airtime goes to feeding a hungry family of fifteen? As Peace Corps Volunteers, we will most certainly encounter dilemmas like this, and finding solutions will at times be overwhelming. But I believe the key to success here lies in a Luganda phrase with which we are all familiar: mpola mpola. Slowly by slowly. True, sustainable progress is achieved in baby steps. Whether we work in secondary schools, primary teacher colleges, NGOs, or community-based organizations, we must all remember this simple truth. We are here to help others achieve long-term goals through small short-term victories. 

          Let's be honest. Peace Corps people are idealistic people, and I mean that in a good way. We all want to save the world. But at the end of the day, we're not superheroes; we're boda-boda drivers. Our job is to ask people where they want to go, and help them get there.

          The V-card

          Oooohh. Aahhhh. I'm back at the keyboard, and it feels oh so good. I musta done writ real nice cause people are hounding me for more posts. Readers, stop salivating and start satiating.

          Guess what, everybody? I'm a PCV. That's right, a Peace Corps Volunteer, with a capital V because it's a title. On April 21 in Kololo, Uganda, I faced the U.S. Ambassador, raised my right hand, and stated:

          "I, Lukas Fried, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

          With those words, I exchanged the lowly title of Trainee for the coveted one of Volunteer. Ten weeks of training down. Two years of service to go.

          Completing training is bittersweet, to steal fellow PCV Alyssa's word. On the one hand, it's nice to not have to wake up at the crack of dawn, bike 6 km through the mud, attend inane lectures until 5 pm, bike back, choke down some matooke, pass out, wake up, and do it again every day until Sunday. It's nice to be a big boy, able to choose where and when I eat, and what I do with my waking hours. It's nice to have my own place. But on the other hand, it's difficult to leave my new PCV friends and my homestay family for another unfamiliar town full of unfamiliar faces, left to fend for myself and figure it all out on my own.

          Okay, now that I've had my emo moment, let's get down to brass tacks. Maybe you like it when I wax poetic about my feelings (of which I assure you I have none) but more likely than not, you're here to find out just what's going on in my little corner of the planet.

          Like I said, I finished pre-service training and swore in on the 21st. The lead-up to swearing-in consisted of a visit to our future sites, followed by an arduous week of skills assessments, a homestay thank you event, and a few days of "relaxation" at a nice hotel. One of the skills assessments was the Language Proficiency Interview (LPI), a half-hour oral examination administered in the target language (whatever language you studied during training) by a member of the training staff. Passing the LPI (by achieving at least Intermediate Low proficiency) is a Peace Corps requirement, though you can fail the first time and retake it after 3 months in the field. Everybody in my language class (Runyoro-Rutooro) passed, and two of us, including me, achieved Intermediate Mid. I felt pretty proud of myself, and happy that I didn't have to retake the damn thing. Runyoro-Rutooro, I'll add, was the only class out of the the six (the others being Runyankore-Rukiga, Luganda, Lumasaaba, Ateso, and Acholi) to have a 100% pass rate. Go us, and go Anthony.

          I won't say much about the homestay thank you event, except that my language class wrote and performed a song called "The Ten Weeks of Homestay," sung to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and that my host family didn't show up, except for my host aunt Elizabeth and this random Acholi (northern Uganda) guy named Dennis who had started living in our house a few days earlier to study the Mulindwas' agricultural management techniques. A lot of other families didn't show up either; I think they had a good sense of what a colossal waste of time it was, having hosted previous trainees.

          The day after homestay thank you, we all packed up our things, said goodbye to our host families, and relocated to Joka's Hotel, outside Kampala. The point of this was to ease the transition from homestay to site, as well give us time to rest and enjoy the sauna and pool. In actuality, Joka's did not prove to be very restful. During the day, we had to do workshops with our new work supervisors and counterparts (for me, these were my school's headteacher, or principal, Fred, and math/physics department chair, Sam) and attend development and security briefings at the U.S. Embassy. One cool thing about the U.S. Embassy is that they have a wall where they hang pennants from the embassy employees' alma maters. I saw two Carleton pennants out of the fifteen or so hanging up. Maize and blue, baby. Maize and blue. I hadn't yet written the speech I'd volunteered to give at swearing-in, so after the briefings and workshops, I spent quite a bit of time trying (and failing) to put inspiring words on paper, instead of chilling out with the other trainees. In my usual style, I didn't finish writing the speech until about two hours before I had to give it. All throughout the last workshop, my fingers were frantically channelling the mishmash of thoughts my brain was spewing out, until I had finally typed something speech-worthy. Later that day, at the Ambassador's house, I took my oath and delivered what I'd written. Somehow, it didn't turn out half bad! After the swearing-in ceremony, everybody—newly-minted PCVs, training staff, the Country Director, and Ugandan supervisors and counterparts—congratulated me heartily. Fred even called my speech poetic. Procrastination, you have yet to fail me! Following a delicious snack of meat kebabs with various dipping sauces, we shopped for some essentials in Kampala, then returned to Joka's to celebrate, and the next morning, our training group of 29 parted ways and left for site. All 29 of the Trainees who landed at Entebbe ten weeks earlier had sworn in and become Volunteers. In Peace Corps, that is virtually unheard of.

          My home for the next two years is a concrete, two-room shop stall across the street from The Lord Is My Shepherd gas station, in the tiny trading post of Kiziranfumbi. The Kizi is a 40-minute taxi ride from Hoima, down 25 kilometers of shit-tastic dirt roadway (the main highway between the Hoima-Massindi and Kyenjojo-Fort Portal areas, interestingly enough). Halfway to Kiziranfumbi, the taxi will generally get pulled over by two white-uniformed police officers operating a police checkpoint. The taxi driver will get out and, instead of explaining why there are 8 people crammed into a 5-seat Toyota compact, slip the officers a modest bribe of perhaps 4000 shillings, or $2. The officers will smile, accept the bribe, and take note of the taxi's license plate number. That way, they'll know not to pull over that particular driver on his return trip, at least not for the rest of the day. Upon paying off the corrupt cops, the driver will return to the taxi, get in the driver's seat, reach over the passenger sharing the seat with him, shift into first, and peel out in a cloud of brown dust.

          PC Uganda times training dates so that Volunteers working in education begin their service during a school break. This means that I am essentially on vacation for the next month. During this time, I'm supposed to be focusing on community integration: settling in, meeting and greeting people in town, and getting a feel for the place. I've made a few active efforts to meet the locals. For example this past Sunday I went with my neighbor Eva (who's fast becoming a good friend) to the service held at the nearby Anglican church. Looking back, I didn't really think that one through too well. The service was four hours long, and in Runyoro. On top of that, it was Women's Day, so after the service was over, some women from the congregation sang and acted out a skit. About three songs into the performance, my butt fell asleep and I decided to sneak out the side door (hey, you try sitting on a warped wooden pew for four hours!). Linguistic and gluteal circulatory issues notwithstanding, going to church did end up being an excellent way to expose myself to the community. My white face sticks out like a sore thumb in landlocked Uganda's sea of brown, so early on I was flagged as a visitor and invited to sit near the front of the sanctuary. During the service, I was asked to stand up and introduce myself. I gave them the schpiel I'd rehearsed in Runyoro during training: "Ibara lyange niinyowe Lukas. Nduga New Jersey omu Amerika, baitu hati nyikara omu Kiziranfumbi kusomesa abaana okubara na physics. Mwebale kusangwa." ("My name is Lukas. I come from New Jersey in America, but right now I'm staying in Kiziranfumbi to teach children math and physics. Thanks for having me"). Basically the entire congregation erupted into laughter when I said this. Rev. Geoffrey, who is also my next door neighbor, later assured me that this was laughter of appreciation. It's not too often a mujungu busts out some slick vernacular.

          Alright all, time to head home and start whipping up some nourishment. When my doctor friend lets me use his modem again in a few days, I'll post some pictures of my house, the end of training, and swear-in. I hope my words will be enough for right now. Ciao.

          April 5, 2010

          Stop double-fisting

          Dear falling-down drunk woman at the bar where I had my language class today,

          Stop double-fisting. It's bad for the baby, which probably already has fetal alcohol syndrome, anyway. Talk to me when can put a coherent sentence together. Until then, lay down the bottles. You need help.


          April 4, 2010

          Kandore ensi yaawe (pictures!)

          Kandore ensi yaawe means "let me see your world" in Runyoro-Rutooro. That's the intention of today's post: to give you a peak at my daily life here in lush Uganda. So without further adieu, I give you pictures!

          This is the hill I see every day from the RACO training facility. The view from the top is spectacular.

          Me, Arwen, Brian, and Tony at the top of that hill.

          My host brother Victor thinks that the dimple in his bread looks like Michael Jackson's chin.

          My host sister Juliet (Victor's cousin, technically) works in a salon, but here she's having a bad hair day. If she hadn't fro-picked the shit out of her hair before I shot this, I would have guessed that she got an electric shock from the showerhead. The house is chock full of questionable electrical work.

          Some of my Trainee friends in front of Kasubi Tombs just days before this UNESCO World Heritage Site was burned to the ground, inciting a series of riots across Kampala. The Tombs were the burial site of the kings of Buganda (the largest kingdom in Uganda), an important cultural site for the Baganda people. Inside that gigantic hut, we got to drink traditional Baganda beer. I didn't care for it; it tasted like a mixture of expired sangria and bacon bits.

          Me doing a handstand in two hemispheres.

          Apparently, getting to do this is one of the perks of marriage! Stacey and Tony are hitched chemists from Michigan.

          The madness that is the New Taxi Park in Kampala. Those minibus taxis hold like 18 people and rarely have seatbelts. If you think New York cabbies are crazy, you should see the lunatics that operate these. Hit-and-runs are the norm (I was in one the second time I ever got in a matatu).

          Not gonna lie, I always get a little nervous when I encounter a herd of these cattle on the road, which is almost every day. Their horns are HUGE.

          Devon and I with a class of primary school boys in Gayaza. We taught them life skills (sex, puberty, HIV/AIDS, condoms, etc.) and the great game of Red Light Green Light as part of our technical immersion in the field with current PCV Amanda. I'll hopefully write about tech immersion in a future post.

          Hard to see, I know, but this is Wakiso Town from the hill that my host family lives on. I can't emphasize enough how beautiful this country is.

          Case in point: equatorial sunset.

          This is from this morning, when a current PCV nicknamed "Sexy Jesus" (who also goes by "Chimuli" and "David") taught our training group how to build insulated cooking ovens with bricks, mud, sawdust, and banana tree trunks. The ovens can reduce a family's firewood consumption by as much as 40 or 50 percent, staving off deforestation (a big problem in Uganda) and lessening the amount of money spent on wood. Naturally, our mud collecting devolved into an all-out mud war, which ended around the time the snacks came out. Who could resist guavas, jackfruit, sugar cane, and bananas? Pictured (left-to-right, back-to-front) are Brennan, Cowboy Dave (there are 4 Daves in our group, so we had to do some nicknaming - this one wears a cowboy hat on occasion), Brian, Shannon, Arwen, myself, Devon, Nathalie, and John.

          Enjoy the pretty pictures. I'll have a wordier update soon.