Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From Kampala to Kasese


I arrived at Entebe airport near Kampala late Saturday night.  I had barely slept on my two flights from New York to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Entebe, culminating in well over 24 hours of traveling.  I was greeted warmly by the customs clerk, I think she even called me darling.  I paid her the $50 for the Visa fee, but she pushed the bill back to me and said, “Give me a nicer bill.” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders and asked what was wrong with that one?  “It’s too old” she replied.  “Well it’s the only one I have.  I got it from the bank in New York City, it looks good to me” I said sheepishly holding onto my smile. “If it’s the only one you have than you don’t get a visa,” she stated with no trace of warmth left in her voice. She looked past me to nod the next traveler forward.  I dug into my suitcase for a newer bill.  A word to the wise if you travel to Uganda bring 2000 series $100 and $50 bills only or else you may not be able to use them, or you get a much lower price at the for-ex bureaus.  Go figure.

A driver from Fairway hotel was there to pick me and a Swiss Aquaculture specialist up from the airport in Entebbe and drive us the 40km to Kampala.  The driver’s name was Michael and he called me Danielle just like everybody in Malawi…that made me smile.  Suddenly everything was reminding me of Malawi; the dusty road, the smell of burning plastic from street sweepers burning their trash heaps, the bars blaring afro-pop music through blown out speakers with three customers dancing whistling and cheering like they were in a packed concert.  I felt like I was pulling into Mzuzu after a long day of traveling in Malawi. 

But this is not Malawi I had to remind myself.  I started asking Michael question after question about Uganda.  “Who is your favorite Ugandan musician.” He pointed at the radio and said “Julian Kanyomozi.” What is the staple food here?  “Matoke” he replied, “Plantains steamed in banana leaves then mashed.” When I asked him about the main religion in Uganda, he gave me the specific percentages for all of the major religious sects in the country; the man was a walking talking lonely planet book. 

We got to the hotel after 1am, I should have been fast asleep when I laid down, but I was still used to New York time where it was mid morning.  So I lay there thinking about what the next month will bring.  

Maribou Stork walking around like it owns the road. 
The next day was Sunday, so the CNFA staff gave it to me to recover from the flight. I walked to a shopping plaza to meet my friend from Peace Corps Malawi Jenny, and her fiancé Barak.  It was really nice to catch up with them and get some information about the area where I’m going, Barak is from Fort Portal which is about an hour north of Kasese,  They said the same thing as everybody.  It’s hot!  But he also talked about the mountains and the national parks.  I walked around Kampala a little and was amazed by the giant prehistoric looking birds I saw everywhere.   They seem fearless, and rightly so, they look big enough to carry away a small child.  I later found out that they are the marabou stork.

That evening Paitence Byruhanga the CNFA program coordinator came to pay me a visit at the hotel.  She is a very professional woman, and she has already done a fantastic job setting up the project, and briefing me on what the LIDEFO wants to get out of my time here. 

Again I had another sleepless night because of the jet lag.

Godfrey left, George right
That morning Paitence picked me up and introduced me to the rest of the CNFA staff: the country director George Ntibarikure, the driver Godfrey, the accounts manager Peace, and the administrative assistant Topi.  Everybody was very welcoming and helpful.  They briefed me on the project, safety and security issues and reporting on the project.

CNFA Uganda staff: George top left, Peace top center, Paitence top right, Topi front
We also went to visit the TUNADO office (The Ugandan National Apiculture Development Organization) and meet with the executive director Dickson Biryomumaisho.  The meeting was very helpful.  He explained to me the current situation for beekeepers in Uganda. Uganda beekeepers are producing about 500 tons of honey per year, exporting less than 10 tons, and importing about 70 tons.  So it seems like Ugandan beekeepers are still a long way from fulfilling the in country demand for honey, and the imports are still on the rise.  It sounds like beekeeping is the business to be in here right now if they can up their production. 

Dickson also explained what TUNADO does as an organization. They work to influence national policy regarding honey sales, while also advocating for Ugandan beekeepers among the greater population.  For example every year they host the National Honey week in Kampala, where Ugandan honey is showcased.  Dickson said that they really wanted to convince people that Ugandan honey is just as high of quality as anywhere else.  Dickson also explained what they do for beekeeper’s associations who become members.  They help with marketing, logistical planning with honey packers and literature like the Api-news newsletter and The National beekeeping training and extension manual.

I asked for his advice on anything to add to my workshops in Kasese.  His answer surprised me.  He said, “don’t advocate that anybody abandon the local traditional hives for “modern” hives and other expensive equipment.  Make sure that they plan to expand their honey production in the most cost effective way possible, instead of relying on outside donors.  If they rely on outside donors alone, then it is an unsustainable organization”  I was surprised only because I’m so used to hearing Agriculture extension people say invest to modernize, but he just says do whatever works best and is cost effective.  I appreciate that advice and the numbers agree with that sentiment as well.  A local hive might cost 6,000 Ugandan Shillings while a Kenyan Top bar hive might cost Ush 45,000 with only slightly higher honey yields.  All and all I’m very happy we got to meet with TUNADO and I hope it translates into a deal between the LIDEFO and TUNADO.  If anybody is looking for a good African beekeeping orginazation to support, TUNADO may be a great option.I didn't get a chance to delve into their system of oversight for tracking how donor dollars are tracked. But it certainly seemed to me that they work hard for the beekeepers, and they maintain a slim office budget to focus the money on services to the beekeepers.  Check their website to learn more about them www.Tunadobees.org.

CNFA brought me back to the hotel and I immediately fell asleep around 4pm.  I woke up around 6pm ate an avocado salad, and fell back asleep until 7am the next morning.  It was good to catch up on sleep!

That morning Paitence, Godfrey, and I set off for Kasese around 9:30am.  It was a beautiful drive.  I was impressed to see that most homes were surrounded by banana trees, and not maize like in Malawi.  The Maize that I did see had mostly dried on the stalk, which confused me since people had been saying that the rainy season was about to come.  Paitence explained to me that there were two rainy seasons, one from August to October, and another from March to May, so this Maize was planted back in August.

The greenness of Uganda is striking, even now in the dry season.  The number of trees that covers the landscape is also very impressive.  There seems to be a variety of natural forests still growing and plantations of timber trees like pine, keysha, and eucalyptus.  At first glance it seems like there is much less deforestation here than in Malawi, but I haven’t seen much of the country yet, and I certainly did see some bare hilltops behind villages probably cleared from firewood collection. 

Near Fort Portal we came upon expansive green tea plantations, that stretched over the rolling hills.  They were gorgeous under the massive African sky.  Giant white puffy clouds crept over the distant fields, letting slivers of afternoon light shine through and turn a few acres at a time from green to golden.  It’s sights like this that stop everything else that I am thinking about or working on and leave me in a state of awe and wonder.
Tea Fields near Fort Portal

We got into Kasese town in the late afternoon and got settled into our hotel.  Tomorrow I will meet The LIDEFO board, and the work begins! 

The road to Kasese

3 comments:

ÁLVARO GÓMEZ CASTRO said...

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ralph said...

Hi dan Nice writing style and good pics. What was the nature of the security briefing?
Ralph

Mable Namala said...

Dear Dan, I have enjoyed reading your write up about your experience in Uganda. This is Mable from TUNADO and thanks for appreciating our work. The website is www.tunadobees.org