31 December 2008

Letters & Chillin' in the Village

    Letters & packages
  • [sent]Grandpa Kinney: Just sent a letter thanking you for all the cards and family history. Also, included a little design (Mom, can you tell Grandpa?)
  • [sent]Nicolee: Random Letter
  • (Michelle: I have a good start on a letter that'll probably be pretty long, I should send it out by the weekend)

  • [received] from Biff-Dad & Patty: Package brought Christmas to me when I was feeling most like it was not around. Currently sharing all the wonderful candy and good call on the pliers, Dad. My leatherman was misplaced somehow and I've really been missing it. Thanks so much! Merry Christmas

The last few weeks have been quiet. School's out, the computers are ordered (thanks in no small part to both my mom and Michelle and friends) and on their way, and because of a short week-trip to Kenya (will post about that later, with pictures) I've had no money for the month and was just chillin' at site. Which can be fun, but mostly just self-entertainment fun: reading, cleaning, organizing received & responding to letters, and teaching myself to program in a computer language called python (which I might also post about because I've gotten a bit addicted to it and have been impressed by how easy and flexible the code is). Anyway, I just wanted to quickly say that I'm still alive, Christmas was good if kinda non-descript and I'll try to put up a more substantial post soon (or maybe a lot of little posts). Loves you all and missing you during the holidays.


P.S. There should be an update about the computer lab soon at UgandaJones

29 November 2008

Philosophy Link & Letters Sent/Received

I know I promised I'd write something more substantial, but I instead wrote an article on moral philosophy for my friends' communal blog. Here's a link (it should be posted soon) if you're interested:

    Letters+ Received

  • Michelle: amalgamation of friends' b-day messages. The prayer flag Rocks and I often find myself contemplating it, although I can't firgure out what the blue world map(?), or heart(?) thing is - story behind that?

    • Dave: New music cd is sweet! I've been listening almost non-stop to M.I.A. and also am really digging MGMT and Keane.
    • James: I almost have "The Senator" memorized. My neighbors undoubtedly think I'm insane laughing to myself in my house.
    • Lawrence: No aplogies necessary, I love hand-made cards. Also, I haven't really noticed the financial crisis so much over here -- village life just plods slowly (very slowly) on.
    • Amy & Jack: Thanks so much for the card and the pictures, my favorite is where Amy is surrounded by her posse of dashing and deadly body-guard-bridesboys.

  • Mom & Grandpa: Card was cool, I'd never heard the hippie saying, "You can't trust anyone over 25." Also, tell Grandpa "thanks" for the card and small letter he sent. I'm planning to write something longer to him soon.

    "Things" Sent

  • A little photographic media with descriptions to: Mom, Allie, and Michelle.
  • Preliminary Thank You cards have been sent to computer lab donors, they should arrive with luck in about 3 weeks.


25 November 2008

Almost Done with Donations

Funding Almost Complete

This is just a very quick post to first of all pass on the good news that the Kayonza contribution has reached 710,000 UgSh of our goal of 735,000! We are very close to completing the funds and are very excited to see the vision of a computer lab here at Kayonza Primary.

The news is also good on the US side with a combined contribution of $4200 of the $4500 goal, but unfortunately this has increased a bit to $4600 with the fluctuations in the world financial system. So, that means that we have $400 to go and we are asking for your help in finishing up by making small donations or by passing along the cause to others who could contribute even a little. An Obama-esque landslide of $5 and $10 is exactly what we need in order to reach our goal by the deadline of December 4th. (see UgandaJones Fundraiser Website for more info.)

Also, preliminary "thank yous" are in the works and should be sent out by this weekend, when there will also be a more substantial post. Thanks to everyone for your support, your letters, your cards, and well ... everything.

23 October 2008

Tambula, Tambula, Tambula (Movin', movin', movin')

It's been a little while since I've updated, so first let me say what's going on with work. I've listed things in order of effort and excitement, so if they start to get boring, well, you passed all the "good" stuff so just scroll down to the picture:

  1. Computer Training & Lab

    The computer lab is well on its way. For a while we were hung up on the fact that the parents were not well informed, and frustratingly, the PTA meeting kept being delayed1. However, when we finally did meet, I gave a presentation answering the five questions, "Why? What? Who? How? When?", explaining different aspects of our computer lab project to a double roomful (~150) parents. The presentation went well and directly afterwards we voted in an 11-member Management Committee to deliberate and decide on the details of the lab.

    Meeting for the first time a couple rainy days ago, the management committee has already proved itself to be autonomous and dedicated. I prepared a little presentation and then was a bit bummed when it started raining pretty decently at 3:50pm before our 4pm meeting. As I set up the room I began writing this update in my head beginning like this:

    Unfortunately, the management committee didn't meet because it was raining. In Uganda pretty much everything stops when it rains and you can expect people to meet up with you hours late (which is also normal for good weather) if they manage to show up at all.

    This group of 11 people defied my Ugandan reality by showing up on-time, or at most, a half an hour late and then taking the discussions and decisions directly into their own hands. I was practically bubbling with praise at the end, and still it deserves saying that I was impressed by Uganda and Ugandans that day. As I post this, the committee will be having a meeting with all the pupils to inform them about the computer lab, and send home children who's parents haven't yet added their 1500 UGX contribution2.

    As for a current funds update, please refer to this lovely graph:
    I have a very similar analog version of this graph up in the school's office to track donations. For the last two weeks it's required updating every other day because of the speed that the Kayonza contribution side, which is heartening. Also, we've stalled on the American base donations, so if you know someone that might be interested in giving a few bucks (less likely in the current economic climate, but still) please pass on this link: Uganda Jones - helping to build a computer lab in rural Africa. I've recently updated the text with some alluring sentence structure, although I may have broken parts of the page with my wordiness. Anyway, we hope to complete all our funds by the end of November, place the order at the beginning of December, which should allow the computers to get here by February and leave us with three more months to set up and smooth things out while I'm still around. Much to do, but it's seeming more and more doable.

    In other computer news, training of teachers is continuing with Yeko and Wasswa producing some valuable work. They've been creating score-sheets for the P7 (read 6th grade) pupils based on mock exams so we can analyze what their performance is likely to be on the PLE (Primary Leaving Exam)3. Before it used to take four days to compile, score, convert, and find the position numbers of the pupils, now it can be done (with a snazzy printed final document) in a couple hours. Although I'm wary to use this loaded term, here goes... DEVELOPMENT! FTW!

  2. Reading Club

    After using a US Embassy program to get 20 copies of Freak the Mighty (about a 5th grade level chapter book), I have been holding regular classes to read it with the S3s and S4s (~Freshmen & ~Sophomores) at Nalinya Secondary. This mini-project alternates between crazy frustrating when the students are goofing off, or not responding, or just plain not trying very hard to understand the story; to really fun and rewarding as we act out different parts of the story or different vocab that they don't know yet. As it's written from the perspective of a 6th grader, vocab has been a lot of, "Oh, moron is just another abuse that means stupid person, similar to butthead, goon,doofus,etc."

    Also, we were very lucky to be visited by the Ambassador's wife, Susan Browning. She not only discussed the book with the students, she and her crew also brought all this fancy equipment (which looked really out of place in the dusty, brick/tin village classroom) and showed a number of little video snippets about the changes in US elections as the internet and youth start having more influence. It was actually really cool for me to see because I've been so removed from the election-ballyhoo over here and hadn't heard of the whole "Macaca" thing or numerous other big pieces of news. But, it's kind of nice to have a little distance from the overzealousness of the US media. But, (I know, two sentences beginning with "But"?!) trying to decide who to vote for was especially difficult without internet.

  3. VSLA4

    Both of my VSLAs are going well. The one with Kayonza teachers has been operating well by itself for the last two months and they've decided they'd like to share out (divide up all the assets saved in a metal box and begin again), which will be nice because I thought they may have to do this alone after I left. My other VSLA, among mostly poorer women farmers in another town, is doing well and will begin giving out loans in a couple weeks.
  4. Teaching Teachers Music

    Last Saturday, I began teaching our PTE student teachers in Music, a subject many of them have said they struggle with. As we don't have any books or even old tests on music, my first lesson came completely from memory (Mom, piano lessons finally paid off). I taught them the notes, and how to write them (and memorize the lines) of the bass and treble clef. I really do need a resource, though, so I don't keep drawing my bass clef signs backwards and beginning the lesson by saying there's 8 notes, when there's only 7. Stupid octave, throwing me off.

    In related news, a new tutor (teacher trainer and my counterpart) has been placed at my school, Arthur. So far, he's been great. He's a bit younger, he's dedicated, and wonderfully, he communicates with me. Although I'm busy with a lot of other projects, he's a major improvement on my old (now retired?) counterpart and I look forward to working more with him in the future.


And, just to make sure that you don't worry I'm working too much, here's a photo from an annual PCV get together called Goat Stock. It's our Halloween-ish type get together and I'm only going to give you one Clue as to what we're dressed up as.

    Letters/Packages Sent/Received

  • To Jay: a pen pal letter from Mukhama Godfrey.
  • To Michelle: an overdue reply, but I think a decent one. ps, I forgot to make a photocopy of it, so I'll likely forget everything that I said by the time I get your reply...still.
  • From Allie: two amazing and huge packages filled with goodies: candy, beef jerky, more candy, a soccer ball, a shirt, and some lovely postcards about the beautiful Finger Lakes region and, of course, Canandaigua. YOU ARE A-MAZING!

    Really sleepy now5, Loves to all,



    1 - I'm not sure how transfers work in the U.S. for principals, but here they're a bit annoying. There's this thing called a "hand-over" which is where the old and new headmaster get together and sign some documents, especially things like the assets of the school and stuff. I don't know exactly what the problem was, but it took 3 weeks for this to happen. I think it had to do with the schedule of my old headmaster (thankfully, the new headmaster, John Bwire, seems to be very much more on-top-of-things). So, that's three weeks where I was getting more and more nervous that we didn't have any money from the Kayonza side. Three weeks where nothing was moving except the deadlines drawing near.

    2 - The exchange rate is about 1600UGX per dollar, so the contribution we're asking for each child is about that. Sounds like too little? Consider that most parents here would easily fall under the poverty definition of living on less than a dollar a day. So, to compare to US standards, a person making $30,000 per year lives on about ($30,000/365)=>$82 a day. So, in rough equivalency terms that's like paying $82 per child, which can be pretty steep considering that many parents have at least three kids at school.

    3 - Here's an "expensive" spreadsheet IF function I helped them write to give scores for certain grade ranges (they don't use A,B,C,D,F or the 4.0 scale): =if(C2<35,9,if(C2<40,8,if(C2<50,7,if(C2<55,6,if(C2<60,5,if(C2<65,4,if(C2<75,3,if(C2<85,2,1,))))))))

    Pretty intense nesting, huh?

    4 - Village Savings and Loan Association. This is a really nice and simple program providing financial services (banking) to people that want to save small amounts and live in remote locations. "Really nice" doesn't do it justice. Really.

    5 - It's after 1 am and I have to get up in about 3 hours to catch the early taxi to Kampala.

    6 - This is a reward to anyone who's read this far and still bothered to be checking the footnotes. Your reward is a juicy piece of truncated gossip: I have a date tomorrow ;).

06 September 2008

USA trip & Computer Lab Fundraiser

I've been back from "the future" (a.k.a. the states) for about a week and a half now and thought I'd take this opportunity to point out a few of the wonderous things that I always used to take for granted:

  • Water that comes from the wall, and it's even drinkable (faucets, drinking fountains, hot reliable showers, toilets that flush, plumbing truly is amazing).
  • FREE water with ICE at restaurants coupled with good service.
  • Wearing shorts outside and even no shirt at the lake.
  • Lines painted on beautiful roads, with sidewalks and relatively orderly traffic.
  • Cleanliness - because it's not crazy dusty, even though you can take a shower ever day, you don't really need to.
  • Fast Internet
  • Washing machines (do you know how much time this saves - holy gosh!)
  • FOOD. All types. All flavors. (esp. Subway & BBQ)
  • and last, but not least Awesome Friends and Amazing Family.

Three weeks was too short, and although I was afraid that home wouldn't feel like home when I got back, I had a ridiculously awesome time (and I must apologize to the Wheelers that "awesome" is my adjective of choice, it's just the most apt ;).

On the subject of Amazing Family, I want to thank the enormous efforts of my mom, Linda Zeringer, who as a surprise raised over $1500 towards my computer lab project!!! She, without any of my knowledge, colluded (how's that for vocab) with my brother-in-law, Jason, to create a website to raise money and surprised me on my trip home. The website is fairly easy as it's the same address as this blog minus ".blogspot":

The Uganda Jones Fundraiser - http://ugandajones.com

This site will be updated with the status of the project soon and even a graph (you know how I love 'em), although, I'll probably give lengthier discussions of what's going on here.

As of now, there's enough money (with the $600 I've managed to save from my monthly stipend) to buy the first half of the lab! However, I'm unsure as to the status of money raised here in Uganda among the community (remember they must match by 10%) beyond the fact that all parents were asked to donate in recent progress reports sent home. It's currently a break between terms (like a mini-summer break), so few people are around the school. When we restart I hope to be meeting more with the school administration and parents to setup a management committee and hopefully order the first shipment of computers!

Besides that, being back has been good, but a bit boring. I am utterly amazed at the ability of American children to get bored - with all of the books, fast internet, public transport, accessible and nearby parks and public places and frisbees, games, etc. How could it ever get boring? A village in Uganda (and probably most developing nations) has surprisingly little to do. There's work (gardening with a hoe, washing clothes by hand, etc.) of course -- and the kids get plenty of that, but when that's done (sometimes it never is, especially the girls work so hard). There's not much to do except sit, or maybe borrow a radio or kick around a soccer ball made from plastic bags. Coming from the a land of constant entertainment I get bored really easy and have been reading an almost unhealthy amount. I've read 3 or 4 books in the last week and a half, and sometimes have even resorted to just sitting. Well, sitting and chatting with neighbors anyway, which is not time wasted.

Lest you think that I'm doing nothing, I still have to cook, bathe, and wash clothes (all of which take a much larger chunk of time to do than you'd think), and I've been teaching small, fun computer classes to the P7 kids (6th graders) in the mornings. I also just started a reading club with 20 copies of Freak the Mighty with the local upper-secondary students. It's a cute little book written for roughly American 5th graders which means lots of explanations of "freak" "doofus" "butthead" "moron" in addition to all the other words they don't know (weird, cellar, casual, tugged, ...). It was almost a joke as they would bring up a word and I'd have to say, "Ah, it's another abuse" (meaning a derogatory word) and try to translate it or act it out. Lots of fun.

Some other little projects are going, but that's good for now. It was wonderful seeing everyone I saw, although too short -- sorry to those I missed. Thank you so much to all those who have (or will) donate.

-Uganda Jones

28 July 2008

If I were asking for money...

So, I feel a bit silly even doing this, and many of you know that one of the things I really dislike talking about, let alone "asking" for, is money. That most evil of evils, the root, yet makes the world go 'round with all of its greed and dreams and stuff. Anyway, the exciting part of this blog is that my school, especially the headmaster (principal), has become excited about the computer lab project and especially making it a decent size and with good computers. Our vision is to put in a lab of EIGHT Inveneo computers! I've done a good budget on the project and this is going to cost about $4834 dollars.

Now, ideally I should write a grant to get this money, but from looking into grants, I've found that the lowest community contribution1 is 20%. Usually, Peace Corps volunteers shimmy around this a bit by having "in kind" contributions where the community does a bunch of work for free and that's included to cover a large part of the contribution. The problem is, that's difficult to do when nearly all of the costs are monetary for buying the computer equipment. The other option was to get fewer, or lower quality computers that would just crap out in a couple years anyway. So, I've offered to try and raise money informally among family and friends and ask instead for a 10% community contribution2. In addition to this, I've been saving from my own Peace Corps stipend3 for about 5 months and have saved $520 towards the project.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I want to gauge interest in donations from home. To do this I've put an anonymous vote on the right side of this blog. Please note that this is in no way a commitment to contribute, but rather to give me an idea of whether this method would work. I appreciate all truthful responses, and send lots of love to everyone.

Jones out.

1 - This is the amount of "money" put forward by the community to pay for the project. The grant puts up the rest of the money.
2 - Of course, in addition to this, most grants ask a lot of questions about plans for sustainability, which I also plan on developing with the community. I've begun training a few teachers to be computer administrators and know some things about managing programs and viruses (although we shouldn't have many problems with the latter due to our reliance on Linux-based OSs). The next thing I want to get started soon is some type of committee to get things moving and spread the word.
3 - This would probably be considered pretty meager by US standards. To give you an idea, but not the actual amount, if the poverty level were set at $5000 dollars income per year I would fall a healthy margin below that. However, it's still about triple what teachers here get, who are doing quite a bit better than the average Ugandan. At times it has seemed ironic that I'm a volunteer and making so much more above the average of the people. I've run out of money before (partly due to banking errors) and had to live for a week on about a dollar and left-over food, which is probably a more realistic experience. So, to feel a little better about myself I've been using good amounts of this money to improve the resource room, or in saving towards this project, or buying materials for the savings groups.

14 July 2008

Pen Pals?

Just a quick note here. Not much is new, still doing the same things, but might be expanding the VSLA (savings groups) to some poorer parents. Yesterday I had my first meeting under a tree where the participants were mostly sitting on the ground--I felt very Peace Corps.

My counterpart, Yeko, has expressed interest in having a pen pal in the US. Is anybody interested in that? If so, just send me an email with your address and I'll have him write you a letter. If I get a lot of responses I'll look for other people here that might want to have a pen-pal.

Peace out.

24 June 2008

Random Pictures & Busy with Projects

It's been a while. To reward all you diligent checkers of my blog, here's some pictures (there's some cool bugs too):

Introduction Ceremony

I managed to invite myself to an introduction ceremony1, which was pretty cool, although mostly what I'd expected from other volunteers' descriptions.

  • The spoils of having a daughter (and these are just the stocking stuffers):

  • Wasswa2 (left, spitting out chicken bone --flattering, no?) and me feasting with nature's fork:

    Visiting Joe and Bird "Watching"3

  • left to right: Rustum (finished and soon to be heading back to grad school is physics, there's more nerds out here than you think), Joe (crossword guru who just put up a basketball hoop at his site in the middle of nowhere, and general cool guy), Jenna (behind, short-term volunteer, who may have mentioned that Peace Corps Costa Rica is way better), Rishi with the "isn't that the rare ___?" look (the bird "watching" organizer and source/go-to-man for many fun events -- check out his blog), and a Ugandan man nice enough to put up with us and paddle us around the lake.

  • Rustum and I chilling on the very top of a big rock outcrop that we camped on.


Dedicated to Amy G. & Tara (now in PC Madagascar!), ladies of biology.
These first two beetles were about the size of a chapstick tube and each one managed to make enough noise in my room to wake me up. You could hear the jaws of the second one clack, it could probably take a finger off. This spider could win a staring contest with two people.

What I'm doin'...

I've finally gotten busy and feel like I have enough (not yet too much) work to do. I know, it took a year?! What have I been up to this whole time? Well let's just say I was doing good things at times, but now I'm doing good things that 1) I care about and motivate me and 2) others care about and motivate them:

  1. Co-teaching P7 (6th grade) math at my school. This can be both a lot of fun (like starting a group clap for an impromptu music lesson) and frustrating (to mark pupil's work who have trouble adding when they're supposed to know some algebra). Because of the latter aspect I've mostly become the "remedial" math teacher, going over topics that they should know already. This last week we covered the multiplication table, with an emphasis on having it memorized4 and receiving a sweetie (candy) for reward.
  2. Teaching the "Computa" to Teachers at my school. With a "theory" lesson every week on word processing and spreadsheet programs5, a recent typing test, and continuing practice sessions 3X per day on my laptop, the teachers at my school are slowly becoming a bit more conversant with the digital world. It's heartening. It's also painfully slow, but teaching anyone to use the computer from scratch when you've been using one since 3rd grade could cause a little frustration.
  3. Starting a Village Savings and Loan group among my teachers. This is a cool program created by a group called VSL Associates which allows people to create their own savings group with minimal materials (basically a metal box with three locks). To illustrate why this is valuable it takes me about $7 and a whole day to get to a bank where I can withdraw money. So, my teachers can get together every few weeks, put money in a box, then after a couple meetings start giving loans to themselves (and thus sharing the interest at the end rather than losing it to a bank). That all makes it sound easy-as-pie and informal, but there's quite a bit of detail including writing a Constitution and stuff. We've done two of the nine 2-hour sessions and it seems like it's going well. If this works out I might try to start some more outside my school5
  4. (Computer Lab). Made a budget for this, but it's on the backburner until VSLA is mostly done. + other little projects.

Well, that's all I have time/energy to write today. Know that I miss you all.




1 An Introduction Ceremony is an important aspect of marriage here, it's more important than the actual wedding. The idea of it is that the family of the bride and the family of the groom get together and have a big conversation about these two people getting married and then the groom's family brings a whole bunch of presents on top of which they give the dowry, which is usually something like a few cows and can be refused by the bride's family. I've been told that "Here in Uganda it's the man that marries, and the woman that is married." Hmmm.

2 Wasswa is the teacher that I'm co-teaching P7 math with. He usually dresses very "smart" and will often be wearing a tie just for fun. He's also one of the teachers I'm giving extra computer training to, so that they can run the computer lab (whenever that gets moving).

3 "Looking for" may have been more appropriate because we were canoeing on this lake to find the elusive (and frankly quite ugly) shoebill. However, few birds were seen, but much fun was had.

4 One thing I've discovered here in Uganda is that my memory sucks. It's probably partly the Emerson aspect that if a man gets a watch he loses the ability to tell time by the sun--so I've lived in America where reminders abound and have lost the ability to remember :). The value of memorizing important or often-used things has also come up quite a bit. Memorizing names, or memorizing basic concepts saves so much time in the end. Memorization is also a big part of the VSL&A system which makes it transparent. Then again, memorization can be overdone at the expense of understanding, and sometimes there's just too much crap to remember--I still suck at crosswords and may never know who "Poet St. Vincent Millay" is.

5 I didn't say "Word" and "Excel", because we're running Ubuntu-Linux here. None of that Microsoft junk, only Abiword and Gnumeric, and Open Office, yo. Actually, beyond that nerdly fervor, I would suggest that people check out Open Office. It works on pretty much all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix, etc.), is free, and does pretty much everything that Microsoft Office does, and probably more.

6 VSL&A is designed for the poorest of people, many of whom may be illiterate. Although my teachers should benefit from it, they are better off than many of the completely subsistence farmers in the area. That's one thing that's a bit sad about doing work here: you can see a lot of people that need help, but it's also very difficult for you to go out and help them if you feel so much like an outsider. This is the main reason why pretty much all my work has been at my school. I feel like I belong here and am accepted and don't have to worry about being called "muzungu" or constantly asked inane questions about Barack Obama or whatever. I've also travelled to some places that could really use a Peace Corps volunteer (or just some dedicated teachers), but they're so "deep" that no one wants to live there--no electricity, small dirt road impassable most of the year, and practically no goods available. Then again, I know some volunteers in "deep" places like that, who are struggling to find ways they can help. < /random_musings_on_development>

02 June 2008

Emotional State, Letters Received & Awesome News!

Just another small blog post here, mostly due to the fact that I've been receiving a lot of awesome letters and really need to get my butt in gear to reply to all of them.

Letters Received

  • Mom: Cute card. Gyebaleko (trans. nice work!) on hosting Eraetu.
  • Grandpa Dick: Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted. Something small coming your way soon.
  • Michelle: Awesome pictures & beautiful letter. Like some of the past ones it's a work of art that should be displayed rather than put on the shelf, I haven't figured out a good way to do it yet though.
  • Amy Nicholas: Laughed my butt off, even the blueprints on the back (no carpet in the collection center ;).
  • Dave: I've been listening non-stop to the new music. Thanks for taking the time during busy finals week to make those. I just recently got some ugandan music on my computer. I'll try to organize it a bit and repay the favor.

Also, I managed to lose the letters I got from Tara and Lizzy (I know, it was lost once and now again -- MADNESS!). But I have your addresses so I'll just write/draw some random things for you.

Lastly, I've been keeping track of my emotional state by drawing in my planner smiley, frowny, and blandy faces, respectively :) :( :|. And I assigned them numbers from -2 to 2 with blandy at 0 and made a graph. Here it is:

Note that the mean (orange line) is above 0, and that March was very manic depressive. Things seem to be smoothing out though, which is good.


It just so happens that I am DEFINITELY coming home August. I'll be flying in on the 6th and then heading out the 25th. WOOT! TWO AND A HALF WEEKS OF AWESOMENESS!!!

Please put in your orders for cool african things, drums, games, carvings, whatever. More to come.

The Jonesinator

14 May 2008

Computer Lab & Links

Just a quick post here to announce that my major project for the 2nd half of my service will be trying to put in a small (probably 2 or 3) computer lab at my center school. The computer training that I've done with my teachers just using my laptop has been a lot of fun and has felt like something valuable that I can bring to the table, which I really needed.

Anyway, I'm planning to get some Inveneo Computing Stations, which are pretty sweet. They're resistant to dust (because they don't have fans and use flash memory) and use extremely low power (22 watts, about a third of an incandescent light bulb), which is important because we'll be running them straight off 12V DC deep-cycle batteries (think car batteryPLUS).

So mainly, I just wanted to share that with you. You can also check out these cool little laptops designed for kids. I've played around with one and they're really neat.

Loves & misses you all,

In Rainbows

Just thought I'd put up this cool shot that Brad got of me at the bottom of Sipi Falls. This is dedicated to all you Radiohead fans (Jay, Dave, etc.), you don't have to just listen to In Rainbows, you can live it. For all of you interested in physics and things that are pretty, usually with a rainbow what you're seeing is light reflected & refracted in water droplets which divides the "white" sunlight into its spectrum. This happens at a certain angle from the sun and so usually we see a rainbow, which is half or a smaller arc of a circle. At bottom of this waterfall you could see the rainbow in a full circle. BTW: it was awesome!

06 May 2008

Still Alive & Taking Pictures

Hey all, just a quick post here to assure you all that I'm alive and well despite the relative silence on the blog.

Letters Received

  • Lizzy: Turns out that my friend who I used to share a P.O. Box accidentally lost this amid some papers so this I just got this letter from September.

  • Tara: From Madagascar - Rock on fellow PCV!
Now that the term is out until next month I should have some extra time to write back to those above, and those who wrote before.

Beyond that, below are some lovely (altho sadly a bit pixellated) images from a nice corner of Uganda.

29 March 2008

Lots of Random Little Notes

Shout Out: Amy Nicholas & Jack are getting married in August!0


  • Brandi (about 3 weeks ago)
  • Grandpa Dick (about 3 weeks ago)

On the subject of letters, it turns out that Peace Corps doesn't want anything sent to their P.O. Box in Kampala unless you're in training, so everything should be sent to my personal P.O. Box.


I got one. He is named Katogo2. He's a good little kitty when he's not being bad. Here are some pics:


0 There is a possibility of me coming back, nothing for sure yet though (hint hint, Mom, offer still stands?).

1 I just wanted to start mentioning when I've sent out a letter, just to double check that people are getting them. I have a suspicion that some never arrived.

2 This the name of a mixed bean & cassava dish I like, it also means little papyrus or swamp. It also sounds a bit like the spanish "gato" and like "cat go."

22 March 2008


(internet is being a bit crappy, sorry if the formatting's messed up

So, I'm not usually much of one for anniversaries and dates and
things, but one year seems like a bit of a milestone I can't ignore.
And, to be perfectly honest can't help celebrating a little. Instead
of a long eloquent expose on my current state of consciousness (I
kinda did that in the last entry) I decided that I'd revisit my
exact1 first impressions of Uganda
recorded in my journal:

7th March 2007

So far it's been pretty awesome here in Uganda. We've gone through
a lot of seminars (i.e. been talked at), but this country is beautiful
and the
Ugandans I've met so far are extremely nice. They tend to be
somewhat shy and polite, but this may be because much of them are
workers at this "retreat," Banana Village.

When we were driving here around midnight right after stepping off
the plane I remember feeling so elated, with such a sense of wonder
coursing through me. My nose was twitchinghref="#2">2 and my eyes roamed from my
at the very front of the bus. [...] I really marveled at the
beauty of the full moon, hanging in the sky with whisps of cloud to
keep it company.
[...] My eyes roamed in wonder, but this was
interrupted for a time by the thought that this elation would not
last.3 That at some point I would undoubtedly be frustrated abnd depressed in this country. It kinda brought me down a bit and then I realized I was being dumb and should strive to enjoy the feeling while it lasted.

On the first night I couldn't sleep. There were so many new
noises: crickets, frogs, owls(?), monkeys(?). Their short calls or
incessant droning rhythm came into my dormitory in stereo and tickled
my excited ears under my mosquito net. With the comforter bunched up at the baseboard 4and my lumpy pillow at the head forced me ito curl up on my bowl-shaped cot. I tapped my feet and vibrated a little, at times trying futilely to fall asleep, at others just zenning out on the night sounds or the colors5 of the darkness around me.

At about 5 o'clock, two hours before breakfast, I decided to give up trying to sleep and walk around the Banana Village compound to take in as much as I could in the darkness. I slipped on some pants and my faux-Teva sandals6 and slipped out the door. I moved slowly without a light, strolling and stopping for noises in the bush and once to look at the moon. Not more than a couple minutes into my stroll I gelt a prick on my foot--and then another. I was confused at first and suddenly the prospect of chiggers in the grass hit me as the pains came more frequently. I ran down to the porch of my dormitory, flopping along and hoping not to wake anybody up. I sat down quickly throwing off my sandals and hurriedly brushing off the little bastards. I crushed a few of the stragglers and went to take one of the colder showers of my life before laying back down to wait for the others to wake up. Back in bed, I chuckled to myself about my first little adventure with the local wildlife.

So, that was my first night in Uganda. Loves and misses you all. Weeraba.


1 Well, actually, I corrected grammar a bit and
changed a couple words, but you can tell if you look at the
formatting. And, added the ever-popular footnotes.

2 It's interesting how much your state of mind
can influence the way that you remember things, especially your
sense-memory of it. I said "my nose twitching," which is a bit inane,
but I was just trying to stress that what I remembered most from my
first impressions were specific senses rather than huge thoughts, like
  1. how the air of Uganda felt -- like Arkansas, warm and close
  2. how clear and bright the moon and stars were -- bright blue while below in Uganda most was dark or lit by dim orange light
  3. how Uganda smelled -- like something burning, sometimes plastic, sometimes brush, it brought me back to my time in Brazil when we saw people burning things on the side of the road (garbage cans, let alone garbage collection are about as rare here as ice)

3 Echo Metallica -- "Sad but True"

4 I almost always go to sleep without a blanket at first -- it's just too damn hot. But around 4am or so it gets cold enough (Dad & Jason would probably say, "It finally gets to a tolerable level of 'hot'.") that covering up is necessary now that I've adapted. I'm officially a cold-weather-wuss and put on long sleeves in 70 degree weather. I guess it makes sense considering that in 90+ heat I'm used to wearing pants because that's the culture.

5 No need to worry, I'm not writing about how I went crazy the first night in Uganda. I'm just talking about the colors and patterns you see when you close your eyes. If I try hard I can usually see neon green, red, and purple, but only one at a time. I believe this is called an entoptic phenomenon, which I think are really neat. Another one that you can look up is called blue field entoptic phenomenon -- if you look at the sky in a certain way you can see these bright little motes whizzing around, which are appparently the white blood cells whizzing around in the veins of your retina. Pretty sweet, huh! I'm pretty sure these are the "stars" you see when you stand up to quick or your brother-in-law gives you a good one-two to the dome. I've seen some other things like this, but barring research or corroboration I plead the 5th in order to not be labeled loony (alliteration, lules!).

6 These are my staple-shoes. They are often dirty, a little ragged, a little too big, and not exactly what you'd call "prfessional." Beyond that they are beautiful, wonderous, and superb in this damn hot country. I put on a polo shirt, tuck in my shirt, and wear a belt, but damnit the shoes are mine! Adaptation is never absolute, sometimes you gotta make a stand for comfort and sanity.

07 February 2008

(A Day in the Life)*2

WARNING!: This is a long post. Read at a leisurely pace. Preferrably in little sections interrupted by catnaps or mindless perusing of the internet.

Today, I just heard from two other volunteers that someone1,2 in my group will be ETing (Early Termination - a.k.a going home without completing service) at the end of the month. And that's cool. Her reasons make sense and it seems like the right decision. One of the volunteers I was talking with, however, said something to the effect of,"She's lucky, I'm jealous. I want to go home" and I replied, "I would have said the same thing yesterday. But, today, strangely enough, I really wanna stay." So, I thought the last couple days might be a good way to illustrate the ups and downs of my life here and also update my blog which has been much too neglected. So, here we go:

The "Bad"19 Day

Yesterday started out pretty okay. The night before I'd prepared a couple graphs on flipchart paper to present at the first staff meeting of Kayonza Primary (see example below).


The meeting went well, I presented my graphs and also talked about other things like the bars that I've put in the windows of the resource room to make it secure and stuff. So, here's where I'm going to talk about how my day easily turns shitty. Afer the meeting I got some lunch, washed some clothes which I would need for today and headed off to Kitimbwato get:

  • 11, 38.5 inch bars to finish securing Resource Room
  • Airtime (read: cell phone minutes)
  • G-nuts4, raw, for roasting as a snack
  • Miscellaneous vegetables

Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Airtime was got with only 10 mins waiting - no problem. Then I went to get bars from a hardware shop from which I've already bought quite a bit, including metal bars for the windows and paint. Now 20 feet costs 12,000 shillings[]. I wanted to buy 38 feet. Let's do the math:

12,000 [UgSh] / 20 [feet] = 600 [UgSh/foot]
600 [UgSh/foot] * 38 [feet] = 22,800 [UgSh]
Yet, this guy was charging me 25,000 shillings, even after we did the calculation above together, and I explained that if I buy more of something it should be cheaper than if I buy less. I was asking for him to come down to 23,0005, really, a piddling reduction considering the above and all I've bought from him. So, with a simmering rage I gave into frustration and just walked away.

Okay, next item is g-nuts. Went to the dukka6, and greeted the man, asked for the nuts, he begins measuring out a kilo for me (internal dialogue: "good, okay, at least something is going right"). Then up walks this guy, clearly drunk (at 3 pm), who flops his hand out in front of me and says, "you give me 100"8. Already, pissed off, I say in Luganda9, "no, I'm not going to give you anything," then I change my mind and say, "okay, if you can answer this question I will give you 100." "What is the square root of 2?" (accepted answer 1.41). Clearly he couldn't answer it and asked me a few more times why I wasn't going to give him money and said, "so you are very sober" and I replied, "yes, and you are very not sober." So, not exactly putting me in a great mood, at least this was entertaining to the people around, who were chuckling at the mzungu and the drunkard.

On to miscellaneous vegetables. I move on to find that the lady I usually buy green peppers and cabbage and stuff from has almost nothing on her table. Bouncing around a few times, "where can I find green peppers?" (they point, I go there). Greet the man with vegebles on a small table, and notice the green peppers are small and shriveled due to age, so I figure that the normal price of 100 is a bit too high and ask for a reduction. He says, "No" giving some excuse about sunshine and whatever, then I say, "okay, how 'bout 3 for 200?" again he says "No" with more excuses about travel costs whatever. Okay, fine. Now I point to the heads of cabbage which are respectively 300 and 200, and small enough to be 200 and 100. I ask for a reduction. "No." "Okay, how 'bout you give me this larger (orig. 300) lettuce, with these three peppers (orig. 300), for 50010?" "No." Flaring nostrils and having thoughts of grabbing a machete and going Hotel Rwanda on this guy, I buy two peppers and walk away swearing under my breath before an internally roiling bike ride home. A few things to notice here:

  1. Look how ridiculously hard it is for me to buy a few simple things for the correct price,

  2. Notice how small small obstacles continue to accumulate, wearing down my overall
    demeanor until,

  3. I very quickly explode into a murderous rage, that, as we're about to see ruins my whole day.

So, I go home and want to do some repetitive work in a quiet place to cool myself down. I go to sweep the Resource Room. The well-meaning, but thoroughly loud and obnoxious kids that live near me notice my return and come to play in the room. I yell at them. A lot. "Stop sweeping, I don't want help." "Get out of the way." "I'm mad, if you're going to be in here I want you to be quiet." "Get out of the way." "Shut up!" "Get out of the way." "Okay, get out of the room." And eventually I close the door to keep them out and send the message with finality that I don't want to be bothered. After that, the sweeping does calm me down some.

I go back to my house where many kids are playing noisily on the swing I put up in the backyard11. Now, I've been trying to be outside my house more,12 and the hammock brought by Dad and Jason has been a godsend (THANK YOU!) not only in relaxing, but in being more comfortable among the kids of my immediate community. Anyway, I'm still mad, but want to do a bit of reading and relaxing in the hammock and I think I can ignore all the noise the swinging kids are making. I notice that one girl who is sitting near the hammock is staring at me. I get stared at a lot. A lot a lot. And it's unnerving, especially when all of your nerves are already gone. So, I ask the girl, "please stop looking at me so much" and all of the 15 or so kids that are back there have frozen and are all staring at me. And it is too much. I go inside and study stuff on the computer13. A little while later, the power goes out while I'm cooking and I think I should enjoy the dark night so I get my hammock time in with the stars14.

The "Good"19 Day

(I'm a bit tired from writing out my whole "Bad"19 day, so for now I'm going to be lazy and just write what my good day was like in outline format.)
    Abstract: Went to Kayunga mainly to observe the "Science Caravan" that's put on by the JICA15 volunteers at Katherine's Youth Center16. Wanted to do some other errands too.
  • Woke up to a cute text from a cute girl17.
  • Rode through a nice fog to Kayunga. Good for keeping cool. Bad for keeping clean.
  • After bathing18, managed to go get metal bars for
    cheaper (19,000) as well as cut into pieces for less than half the previous price.
  • Found out Internet wasn't working (two times).
  • Nina (bottom left in pic) was upset with me for not preparing a math presentation.
    I had brought SET to teach to the JICA volunteers. So, I told her about that, that I'd had a shitty day yesterday and hadn't felt like preparing anything, and that I would go get stamps made of the SET shapes, so that pirate versions could be more easily made (I'd been meaning to do this for a while). That way, if the JICA volunteers, who are all math & science teachers,liked the game they could make it themselves.
  • Getting stamps made was a success and under my planned budget of 5,000.
  • Watched and participated in JICA science presentation, which included:

    • A cardboard box, air vortexer (ARYA!!!!! like you're gun, but lower tech, still
      worked well though.)
    • A number of neat magic tricks by Kimuli (next to Nina, with the crazy shirt)
    • A hot air balloon made from old plastic shopping bags
    • An experiment with cup telephones for the participants to do
    • Some cool exploding things
    • A bottle rocket using air pressure, some water, and a pump. One of the JICA volunteers was struggling a bit with the explanation, so I came up to help and showed off some skillz by explaining the physics of it mostly in Luganda. Yes. I am that cool.(Ego up.) Yes. That is maybe the nerdliest thing to be cool about. (And back down.)

  • Taught SET to a number of the youths that stayed after the science presentation.
  • Rode home toting iron bars. Was tired. But was happy.
  • Final product of the day: the shining blog entry before you.

Also, if you followed my advice, now is a good time to come back to 19. For the rest of you that already read it, I bet you're those same breed of masochists that like to read the last page of a book first aren't you? But, I'm sure that's no one I know ;).
Loving and missing you all,

1 Note that I'm trying to keep these people relatively anonymous. No judging allowed!
2 Also, I'm learning a bit of html and these footnotes are now linked. Please appreciate accordingly. If I get ambitious, I'll go back and link the footnotes in my last big post.
3 These are PLE (Primary Leaving Exam) Results for P7 (~7th grade students). You can think of (Division 1)=(A), (Div 2)=(B), 3=C, 4=D, U=F, and X=absent. Notice difference in achievement by genders (sorry for stereotypical pink=girls, blue=boys coloring).
4 This is short for Ground Nuts, and they're pretty much exactly like peanuts, except that the little red paper thing on the inside tends to stay on a lot better.
5 Note that the difference of our prices is about the same as the difference between $14.71 and $13.53 (exchange rate of 1700 [UgSh/$]).
6 This is the Luganda word for "run," but also happens to mean a small store. Many words in Luganda mean many different things, example: omukka n. 1. breath, 2. smoke, 3. fog. Luckily the meanings tend to be related. 10 points for the person that can think of some words like this in English. All that comes to my mind is "too," "to," "two," but those aren't very fun.
7 I deleted this footnote later one, but I don't know regular expressions well enough yet to reorder the ones below without spending forever, so I'm leavingit.
8 Okay, test time, how many $ is 100 UgSh worth?
9 After this point, things said in English will be normal type face and things said in Luganda will be italicized.
10 Mathematical minds will notice the difference is 100 [UgSh], which, if you passed the test from above is about $0.06. So, I'm asking for old and small vegetables to be reduced from $0.35 to $0.29 - which I think is reasonable.
11 Note that this swing has already broken. After I fix it, it will be part of the next post I'm planning about shit that breaks. I built the swing after they had broken my hammock (which I repaired).
12 It's really amazing how easy it is to become a hermit here. When you are so different and constantly bombarded by kids calling you "Mzungu" it's an easy escape to just hide in your house. There are nice books there which bring you back to America where you are, if not normal, then at least accepted. At the very least more than a circus freak.
13 Which was surprisingly calming in a kind of zombifying way. I've been trying to decide whether it was good for my service that my computer came, because I've been spending a decent amount of time with it, but I think net effect is positive.
14 This was actually a superb idea (sorry 'bout the self-congratulation). My hammock is placed below a tree somewhat skimpily clad in leaves and most of the amazing number of stars were very brightly lit behind it's pitch dark boughs. I had the thought that it was really cool that the actual sky I could see was so much brighter than the dark branches and leaves of the tree and as I swung back and forth the stars moved (due to parallax) in and out, as if the whole world was swinging in the cradle of the sky. It was very beautiful, very relaxing, very deep. I recommend.
15 read: Japanese Peace Corps.
16 The Youth Center is where Katherine, one of my closest volunteers, works as the boss. She's had me come to teach mathematics and tries to hold events for kids as well as always being open with pool (billiards that is), ping pong, a little library, a TV + DVD player, a nice field, etc. Clearly, her organization has money. This is weird in Peace Corps. But, it's also really nice.
17 Although only occuring once, I can definitely say that this is the best way to start my day in the village. I even came up with a funny story as a reply. BTW: lest you all think that I'm some lecherous Romeo over here, please note that girls, in general, for me, have been more problems than they're worth here in Uganda.
18 22 [km road] + speeding trucks/cars + sweat + dust = a very dirty Ryan. Katherine and Amy let me use their facilities to bucket bathe. I appreciate.
19 you should probably read this last, even though it is referenced near the top. Okay, so I wanted to explain why I put "good" and "bad" days in quotes. It's not because I don't want to be judgemental and say all days are created equal. They're not. Some days are shit. Some days rock. What I want to point out here is how even the bad day had some rays of goodness: having a successful meeting where I was well appreciated and presented valuable information, a beautiful hammock-time under the stars. And even the best day had some smears of crappiness: making Nina upset for not having prepared, finding the internet down many times, probably being overcharged for the stamps, being called"mzungu" for about two hours straight on the ride to and from Kayunga. In the end, the difference between a good day and a bad is not just the things that happen, but how you react to them, how you let them affect the course of your actions from bad things to bed time. You can get pissed and take it out on others or you can turn around and say, "I can make this right, it'll just take a bit of work on my part." I'm sure some writer for SCRUBS has already put this idea much more eloquently at the end of episode #whatever, but hey, I'm a physics major right? : )

27 January 2008

Computer's up - Random Trees

Just a quick post here. My computer now has an operating system - Ubuntu! The excitement comes from the fact that despite the limited functionality from running an OS from a Cd I've been able to do a lot more responding to emails and blog posting. Now, I'll be able to do more responding, more pictures and if I get real bored, audio and video too. And, magically, being able to do more writing on a comfortable digital platform has seemed to keep me more sane (notice the change to "Nerd" in blog title). That's it, here's a picture I promised Michelle:

19 January 2008

Postal Update

I've decided to move my P.O. Box closer to home in Kayunga, because I don't go to Jinja very often. Here's the new address (mainly for letters):

H. Ryan "Migadde" Jones, PCV
P.O. Box 18279

However, if you want to send semi-important packages, I would still suggest using the address that goes to the Peace Corps office in Kampala.

Lastly, I just wanted to let you all know that I've signed up to a website called GoodReads. Now you can see what I'm reading and what I think of it (also see "widget" in the sidebar at right).