6 Months in Country

January 28, 2010

Well, here I am, 6 months into my 27 month service in Uganda. We had a two week training a few weeks ago and when I was traveling to the first week, which was language training, I thought to myself wow, this seems normal. And that normalcy hopefully will make the next 21 months flyby. Being away from home during the holidays was hard, but it also made me appreciate the people I have surrounded myself with out here. Three of us, Colin, John, and myself, made the journey to Kampala to join our Country Director, Ted, for Christmas at his house, which is ironically next to the North Korean Embassy. We had a good time, there were some more folks from Peace Corps there, USAID, and the US Embassy. We thought about inviting our friends from next door over, but we were not sure if the DMZ was a universal principle separating North Korea from the rest of the free world or just a really explosive piece of real estate. I digress, yesterday I taught my first Business Management class at the hotel school, the subject was “What do managers do and how they do it”. Which involved my stating the main tasks of a manager, (setting objectives, organizing, motivating…) and attempting to explain the X and Y theories of Management, which resulted in my going to my fallback example of Theory X is like Idi Amin and Theory Y is like democracy…I think they got the point in the end. Tomorrow is my first Customer Care class (and payday…which means Holyfield tickets, the fight was rescheduled to Feb. 20th), which we will examine customer care basics and the needs of the customer, I keep telling myself that these kids have the opportunity to run the current hospitality industry so much better if they can just grasp onto simple concepts that can be translated into different situations, so we are sticking to the most needed yet simple basics. Yesterday I also approached our LC1 (Local Council 1, his name is Adolf) who is like the mayor, which we have and owns a bar I have been known to go to with Matt from time to time to play country music, but has more power…somehow. Anyway, I approached him in attempted to get to our member of parliament, (background: every member of parliament has a constituency fund that he/she is supposed to invest back into their communities and I had the idea to ask for some money to setup a whiteboard and other things in my classroom with. The tax from the hospitality industry is one of the few taxes that the government can actually keep track of and it would be in their best interest to invest in the education of the future of that industry.) here is how the conversation played out:

 Me: Adolf, I need to talk to Frank

Adolf: The big boss man?

Me: Yea, you know him?

Adolf: Yea, but he rarely comes out to these parts

Me: Are you telling me he never comes to his district?

Adolf: Maybe, but I will let you ask him that question

Me: I would rather not, so can you organize a meeting?

Adolf: A meeting about what?

Me: Money

Adolf: We are going to have to have a meeting to talk about that

Me: Wait, we are going to have to have a meeting to talk about a meeting why I’m going to ask Frank for money?

Adolf: Yea

Me:………can that be right now?

Adolf: No, Arsenal is playing soon…

Me: …how about after?

Adolf: Manchester is playing…

Me: …how about tomorrow before any football games are being played?

Adolf: As long as I don’t have any other meetings

Me: (under my breath) as long as I don’t have meetings with myself about meetings that I need to have with other people…Ok, Fine…and promptly went to the mayor’s bar.

I think it sounded better in the moment, but I hope some of my frustration was transferred. Adolf is really a great guy, but my inability to see the value of football games over petty business gets in our way sometimes.

Anyway, about my other projects, one of my groups who wanted me to help them find an IGA (Income Generating Activity) has come really far in their basket weaving, one of the other groups has won awards for their baskets and they make good money off of their sales, and this group wanted to copy them. But, they are of a different tribe, which is good because they weave differently, but making them see that as an advantage has been a three month process. Now, they are making almost export quality baskets in their native weave that look really good and KAFRED has two different styles of baskets that we are exporting. The peanut butter group is organizing themselves to try and show me they can increase production if we succeed in finding a market in the capital A group that had been planting eucalyptus tree seedlings (which use up a lot of water) has successfully planted half of their garden with vegetables which are coming along really well, I have transplanted 6 of their green pepper seedlings in my USPS box garden by my shower at site. I just need to now show them that the revenue they can make selling the vegetables will match or exceed what they were making from selling eucalyptus seedlings and they are helping improve the local diet. I’m now on the Grants Committee, we meet once a month to approve Peace Corps grants and assist grant receivers and applicants on their projects. One area that I want to explore more of is the concept of Peace Corps Loans. My country director and I believe in the power of the discipline to pay back in the business context. If our job is to develop people, why do we just give them money when we can be teaching them business concepts along the way? Thus, a larger and more time-consuming project has come to light, can Peace Corps Loans actually work? I have no idea where this can go, I think it can replace up to 50% of the money we give away in grants and increase host country nationals capacity and business knowledge. If anybody has thoughts on it, let me know. I think it could be Grameen Bankish in ways but it would have to be completely different because the PCV and the community would be responsible for the loan, and there would have to be some loan forgiveness built into it. I wish we could take a Freakonomics approach to it to prove that the amount of aid and free money given to the developing world actually works less efficiently than small loans, notice the emphasis on SMALL, we are not the IMF or the World Bank, and if you subscribe to the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man belief, we are not out to buy UN votes or put countries into copious debt so they are reliant on us…although…never mind. I think I have said enough in this post, I hope you guys are doing well and enjoying the start of the new year wherever you might be.



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