Sunday, July 6, 2014

Back in Uganda, Summer 2014

This post is seriously overdue! Unbelievably, I have been in Uganda for almost 2-weeks already. Where has the time gone? This summer I am here for a relatively short trip because I will be moving to East Lansing, MI at the end of July to begin my new appointment as Assistant Professor of Soil Biology at Michigan State University. Because of the tight timing of the trip, I haven't been able to take advantage of decent internet access  in Fort Portal to post blog entries.

The trip this summer has been filled with the usual delays and set-backs, including car troubles and sickness including field assistants coming down with malaria. Fortunately, medication to treat malaria is easy to come by here if you have the money, which I do, so I was able to get my field assistant back healthy in just a couple days. It has been a bit stressful and I've felt the delays much more acutely this summer because of my shorter stay. Even so, with two new field assistants and the ever reliable Emma, we've made good progress; we've been able to track down three LC1 (village leaders) to get research permissions and then have visited over 80 households to collect survey data and soil samples.

I am once again struck this summer by the sense of community found in the villages we visit. If someone stays home to watch her baby and can't go to work her field, her neighbors leave their children in her care and then band together to work her field. If someone falls ill and has no family to care for them, they will leave their home and go to a neighbor or friend who will take them in and care for them. If a family runs short of food, their neighbors will pitch in to supply the deficit. In the midst of my third visit to Uganda, it is still remarkable to me how close-knit these communities are and how much they care for one another.

Two farmers of the future:

On a lighter note, I think the baboons here at the Makerere University Biological Field Station have become even more cheeky, if that's possible. My first day here, as soon as I left my door open while unpacking a baboon made a beeline for my bungalow and tried to come in to pilfer my house. The same baboon, identified by a missing right hand, stole a Tupperware container from another house and when he was chased, he made for the fence. He then dropped the contained over the fence so the person chasing him couldn't get it but he could still reach through the links in the fence and get the food that it had contained.

I finally had my camera with me at the right time and was able to get a photo of the small red duikers that live in the forest and frequent the field station.

This coming week I will leave the survey and soil sampling work to my two new assistants while I work with students at the Kasiisi Primary school and in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Just a quick plug for my driver and field assistant Emma (Tugume Emmanuel) and his new tour company. If you are planning a visit to Uganda check out his new website and contact him. He can really help make your visit spectacular.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back in the U.S.

I very much enjoyed my time in Uganda, but am so grateful to be back and settled in at home in New Hampshire. The trip this summer was a wonderful success. We visited over 150 farms and collected more than 200 soil samples all told. We gave presentations in seven villages and I was able to meet with teachers and headmasters at five primary schools near Kibale National Park. The paper work needed to ship the soils out of Uganda came through and we were able to get the soils shipped from Kampala without any troubles. I now have quite a lot of lab work ahead, analyzing the soils and the survey data we collected.

We met so many wonderful people this summer and I look forward to seeing them all again when I return to Uganda in January or May next year.

Now that I have an internet connection that is a bit faster, here is a video of the school children in Kajumiro I promised to post.

And one more, just for laughs to end this installment of the blog.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Village Presentations

We finished up our village presentations this week and delivered more school supplies and soccer balls. Across all the villages, the people were very interested in the results I shared and the suggestions I gave them for improving nitrogen availability in their fields. I was told by more than one village chairman (which is like a town mayor) that they would follow my suggestions and that I was very welcome to return to their village. Everyone really appreciated that I returned to share results with them. I was told many times that most researchers come into the villages, collect data, and then never return to show the results. The soccer balls also created quite a bit of excitement. Every time we brought the balls out you could almost feel the wave of excitement that swept through the gathering. In one village, Nyabinyonyi, they have just started a new primary school because the only other one for their children was too far away. They had nothing but a chalkboard, some chalk and a teacher so I purchased some things in Fort Portal to help get them started. They cheered for each item I brought, especially for the paper, and then sang and danced to show their gratitude. First the children, then they were pushed aside and the parents danced. I am still amazed at how happy just a few small things that we in America take for granted, like paper and pencils, can create such joy here. I wish I could supply all the schools I visited because they all have similar needs. Below is a picture of me with the local PTA and village leaders that started the school. The fellow with the big grin in the red shirt next to me is my friend Elius. He and village elders from several villages around Kibale National Park have started a program to address some of their children's needs. You can learn more here:

Here are some more shots of our presentations.

I guess the rains have officially started here. Last weekend we had a thunderstorm and rain through the night then another earthquake early the next morning. According to several local sources, the earthquake and rain together are a signal that the rains have come and that it is time to plant the next season's crops. This past week we have seen people frantically harvesting last seasons crops and getting their fields ready to plant as soon as possible. In fact, my driver Emma hired some extra help to get his fields turned around quickly and get his next maize crop planted. I'm sure the rain and earthquake together was just a coincidence but the people here really believe it has meaning. Judging by the complete inaccuracy of the local weather forecasts, particularly anything further than a couple days out, I guess the earthquake thing is probably just as reliable.

This week I am looking forward to meetings with local officials with the National Agricultural Advisory Service or National Agricultural Research Organization and with local primary school teachers and headmasters. I am hoping to get some information that will help with my education and outreach efforts going forward. I am also looking forward to going home now the the end of my time here is in sight. Next week, my blog will be from Kampala as we begin to make our way home! I can't wait to get home, take a nice long shower and then sleep in my own bed, comforted by the knowledge that I don't have to trek outside if I need to get up and go to the bathroom.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Car troubles and more from last week.

We had so much happen last week that I didn't get it all into my last blog entry! One of the things I didn't mention last week was the car trouble we had while at Queen Elizabeth. As we were driving to catch the 3:00 channel boat, we blew out a tire. We had a spare of course and after some wrangling with the jack and careful incremental movement until it was in the right position we were able to get the tire changed out. Ten minutes later as we are again driving to catch our boat, the spare tire we just put on flies off into the bush! My driver Emma was great and kept the vehicle under control while bringing the vehicle to a stop on the side of the road. We had all watched Emma tighten the lug nuts on the spare and couldn't figure out how the tire could have come off. After trekking through some bushes we finally located the tire and as we walked back down the road were able to locate the lug nuts that had fallen off one by one. We hitched a ride with a family from Germany, but missed the 3:00 boat. Fortunately the Mweya Lodge had a boat the was leaving at 4:30 that actually turned out to be nicer than the Uganda Wildlife Authority boats, and they served drinks during our outing. While we were enjoying the wildlife, Emma collected some other drivers and went back to the car to get the tire back on. When we asked him how in the world they were able to get the car up off the rim and get the tire back on Emma just said "we were many." In addition to the tire difficulties, our Land Cruiser, which we named Besse, started have engine troubles and we had to make our way back from Queen Elizabeth very slowly. On Monday of this week we traded Besse in for a vehicle that is ubiquitous here in Uganda, a 4WD van made by Toyota called a Hiace. I drove us in to Fort Portal on Monday and was very impressed by the way it drives and handles the roads here. On Tuesday we again made the long trek down to Rwimi to give a presentation with soils data from January, in the village of Kajumiro. On the way back the van overheated and started burning oil, we had to stop and let it cool then add water to the radiator, before slowly making our way home. The vehicle was not drivable after that so I decided to just send it back to the leasing agency in Kampala and rent the same vehicle I used in January that belongs to Kato, the assistant director of MUBFS.

Enough about cars, we also had some wonderful experiences this past week. On Sunday, Mike and I attended a special mass and party celebrating the ordination of Emma's brother into the Catholic priesthood. It was an incredible celebration, with at least 3000 people gathered from all over the country, including two choirs and two groups of young girls that danced while the choirs sang. The range of colors in the women's clothing was stunning! I was glad I brought a nice skirt with me so I could dress up a bit. When the service ended, they had 6 different serving stations set up and provided food for everyone there. It was really quite an amazing experience and was I am so happy we were invited.

While we were in Kajumiro on Tuesday, we went to the primary school to meet the children and deliver some school supplies that Stuart had brought over and a couple soccer balls. The children welcomed us wholeheartedly, and sung up a storm for us. When I get back to the states and have a decent internet connection I will upload some movies. They were so happy to get the school supplies and were thrilled to get the soccer balls. Then we gathered everyone for the presentation and they all seemed to hang on every word I had to say, even though they had to wait for the translation from my field assistant Liz.
We are continuing to give presentations to all the villages I visited in January, so more about this in the next entry.

Monday, July 22, 2013

BUSY and full week!!

The final member of my field work team arrived last week, my collaborator Dr. Stuart Grandy, also from UNH. On Monday we all went to the Kibale National Park visitor center and took a nature walk. We learned a bunch about the forest trees and plants and what the monkeys and chimpanzees like to eat.

With his help we finished off the field work, visiting 51 farms in two days, in the most southern area I visit, the large village of Kajumiro. The farms here seemed to be a bit larger on average and there was definitely much more reliance on the production of maize, although many alternate between rice and maize each season. The hills were larger and in many cases steeper here as well.It is also noticeably dryer in the south and many of the maize fields had already been or were actively being harvested.
The people there were all of the Bakiga tribe and as usual were very helpful and generous. We were offered a variety of fresh fruits vegetables and drinks. Mike tasted the local millet porridge, which in case you were wondering is fermented and does contain quite a bit of alcohol. I was lucky enough to witness a family making banana juice, and then got to sample a large cup full. It was made by cutting up banana leaves and the matooke bananas then pouring water over the top, then crushing and mashing it all together by hand, with the resulting juice collecting in the bottom of the large tub. I tasted the fresh juice, but they also allow this to ferment into a very tasty alcoholic beverage that I hope to sample later this week.

Because we were able to finish the field work early this past week, I decided to take Mike and Stuart down to Quenn Elizabeth National Park for some wildlife viewing. We stayed the first night in the Mweya Safari Lodge, which was extremely nice. There was a very cute family of mongooses that lived around the hotel, and I saw this one eating a little green snake.
We had a great visit and saw a ton of game, including two lions and a leopard!! Pictures are worth a thousand words, so enjoy.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week of the monkeys

We had another good working week, got quite a bit accomplished. On Monday, our driver Emma dropped us off and we finished some more surveys and soil sampling in the area closest to the field station while he took the vehicle to be worked on in Fort Portal. It had been making some squealing noises and we were afraid one of the belts might be about to go out, and we didn't want to end up stranded somewhere far away from help. When we had finished the field work we just hiked back to the field station which was only about 2 miles away. The village we were in is called Kansojo and just about all the maize fields we wanted to survey were at the bottom of a large, steep hill or on the hillside on the opposite side of the valley. I ended up climbing up an down that stupid hill four times so that by the time I had walked back to the field station I was exhausted. Definitely the most tiring day of work thus far.

Monday through Wednesday this week our house was visited by a very rascally baboon. On Tuesday, I was sitting on the front porch when I heard Mike say through his window "Hey, there's a baboon in here." So I said "Tell it to leave," then went in the house to find it going through a box of my stuff. I yelled at it and it grabbed a gallon Ziploc full of powdered Gatoraide and ran out the back door. Fortunately it was too heavy for him to carry and run away quickly so he dropped it. On Wednesday, I was sitting in our house working when suddenly the back door burst open, and there was that baboon again. I yelled at it to get out and it just looked at me until I started to get out of my chair, then it walk off with its compatriots, including a mom with a very young baby baboon clinging to her chest.

Finally, on Wednesday, I was again sitting on the front porch when our baboon friend returned with the idea of entering the house from the front this time. He came right up on the porch, not more than 3 feet from me and this time when I told him to shoo, he barred his teeth at me and didn't back up a bit. I finally had to pick up a chair and brandish it at him before he took the hint and slowly began walking away, with frequent backward glances and dirty looks.

Finally, on Thursday afternoon we were treated to a mass exodus of red colobus monkeys through the yard in front of our bungalow. It seemed like a never ending stream of monkeys. I was told later that the camp group, which this was, has grown to 115 individuals. These monkeys haven't moved very far and we treated to good views of their antics in the mornings and afternoons in the tress near our house.