Week 1 has been crazy and exhausting but off to a fantastic start! Jetlag is almost beaten, although I ran on coffee instead of sleep for most of the week. Monday was taken up by classes. Interesting, but both classes together made for a long day.

I feel like my life has been taken over by bodas (motorbike taxis)!
(View from the back of a boda, except usually there is a lot more traffic on the road)

In addition to being the quickest form to transport in Kampala, I am interning at a start-up microfinance organization that loans motorbikes to drivers, who use them as taxis to earn a living. The organization is called Tugende,“Let’s go” in Luganda. The loan system revolves around the “drive to own” philosophy; once the value of the bike has been repaid the drivers own the bikes but in the mean time they are using them as taxis to earn a living.

Boda drivers eke out a modest income from their work, often barely enough to make ends meet, so saving up to buy a bike outright is difficult, many drivers choose to rent their bikes, making payments to a landlord on a weekly basis. Owning a bike makes it considerably more profitable and drivers can then save towards other goals like building a house, buying a plot of land, or paying for their children’s school fees. This is the basic premise of the organization, run by an American man named Michael Wilkerson (aka my boss). If you want to find out more about Tugende then check out the website or send me an email!

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OK, so that’s a brief explanation of where I’m working while I’m here! I work with 3 American MBA students, 2 Uganda managers and the CEO, Michael, the office fills up fast when everyone’s there! Wednesday was a great introduction because it’s the day that we host info sessions for prospective customers and help them fill out applications. So in addition to the 7 staff, there are also about 30 boda drivers! It was definitely standing-room only. The rest of the week was more normal and I'm looking forward to the projects we have lined up.

There have been a few more nights at the bar since I got here. A big bottle of beer (I’m guessing it’s about a pint) goes for $2, which is also the standard amount if you have to pay cover on the weekends! When I get back to Vancouver I have a feeling it will be quite a shock. I also discovered the Uganda equivalent of a 4am McDonald’s run- the Rolex. No, it’s not an expensive watch, it’s actually cooked egg, onions, tomato and sometimes cabbage rolled up in chapati (flatbread) and served hot. Mmmmmm. Oh and it costs about $1.

Today was a bit of a relaxing day, since the rest of the group is in Kigali for the weekend, but part way through the afternoon Michael called to see if I wanted to come out to the launch of some of our new bikes. Drivers who had been waiting received their motorbikes, freshly painted and tuned up, so they can start driving them. The pure happiness on their faces as they received their bike could only be compared to a kid on Christmas morning as each man stood so proudly with his new bike. This really drove home the impact that Tugende is having and made me equally proud to be a part of it.
(Finishing touches!)

Tucked behind the metal shop kids found endless ways to play with the empty helmet boxes. What a great way to end the week. I’m really looking forward to the rest of my time here in Kampala.; it feels good to be back
(This little girl was absolutely adorable, she had a dance-off with one of the other interns)


Africa 2.0

After two stressful months of waiting on visa paperwork, on Friday morning I was on my way to the airport, bound for Kampala, Uganda. Two layovers and a touch-down later I was back in Africa. Landing in Kampala at night, the city looked like a sprawling cluster of dim lights in the dark- a far cry from the brightly lit cityscapes I left behind in Canada. But the view from the air is deceiving, when the sun comes up the city comes alive.

Let me back up for a minute and explain what I am doing back in Africa. Way back in January a friend was describing his work on development projects in Sierra Leone and Uganda and something just clicked. I had slowly drifted away from the idea of doing development work in Africa and all of a sudden hearing my friend talk reminded me of why I had wanted to do this in the first place and how happy it made me feel. So on a bit of a whim I looked into a pilot project a couple of master’s students form my department were starting. I would be with 8 other students from my university working part-time as an intern with a local NGO and taking classes at Makerere University in Kampala. Applications were submitted at the rest is history, leading to me being on that plane to Kampala.

When I stepped off the plane I took a deep breath and all I could think of was, “Mmmm smells like Africa.” The air was a little sticky with a faint smell of earth, exhaust, and something else (I personally think it smelled like maize, but that may not be the best description). It may not sound like the exotic jungle air people imagine, but for me it’s oddly comforting.

First stop was into the city to drop off my bags and then to meet the rest of the group who were out at a bar (as you do on a Saturday night in Kampala). It must have been the jetlag but I had an amazing time and managed not to even feel tired until my head hit the pillow sometime in the morning. Since then I’ve been adjusting to life in Kampala, getting over jetlag, and even managed my first day of classes (coffee was VERY necessary). The accommodations are great,, I share a house with four other girls and everyone seems to get along great, we even do family dinners.

(This is home)

There will be more pictures and stories to come, but don’t count on any regular communication… wifi is anything but reliable here- TIA (This is Africa).


Connecting the Dots: Student life and Southeast Asia

After taking a two-year break from blogging, I'm back! Now it's time to fill in the gaps between Sierra Leone and today:

I returned to Canada from Sierra Leone in March 2011, spend some quality time back home before moving across the country to attend university in Vancouver. It was the fresh start I needed after an amazing and exhausting year of travel. The ocean air and mountains were a welcome change, not to mention an incredible group of people that have become some of my closest friends. What Vancouver lacks in sunshine it certainly makes up of in warm, friendly people. After a great year I needed to scratch my travel itch, so I took off on a whirlwind trip to Southeast Asia with one of my friends from university.

Five weeks flew by as we zigzagged through Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, and Cambodia. In hindsight, four countries in five weeks may have been a little too ambitious, but we managed to hit many of the highlights and still find some hidden gems. Malaysia was definitely my favourite with beautiful beaches, amazing food, and fun cities.

Thailand was a great place to start and get adjusted to the oppressive heat. We temple-hopped and got our first taste of true Thai curry, before taking one of the longest and most horrendous bus trips I have ever experienced into Laos. At the time it seemed the a better option than the fast-boat of death or the 3-day slow boat down the Mekong river, maybe now not so much. Laos was a mix of beautiful colonial buildings, jungle hiking, yummy food, and of course a touristy-excurision into Vang Vieng. The string of ramshackle bars along the river has closed since, somehow this doesn't surprise me.

The view is stunning though! From Laos we flew to Malaysia where we finally got to relax on the beach and take-in some of this incredibly diverse country. We parted ways in Malaysia, as my friend had to return to Canada a week earlier than me. So what did I choose to do with the extra time by myself? Add another country to the list!

I flew to Cambodia for more beaches, history, and temples. After touring the Angkor Wat temple complexes for a few days I feel like I may not need to see another temple for a long time.
Yes, I did the obligatory "get up at 4am to see the sunrise over the temples" thing... and it was worth it.

After five quick weeks I was back in Canada and ready for a rest.

It was back to student life in the fall, and even now it feels like September was just yesterday. Vancouver grew on me over the next 12 months and at the end of two years I feel like I can call it home, making it even harder to leave again. So here I am, packing for my next trip, although this one will be considerably longer... and worthy of another blog post!