My First Coffee Washing Station

I finally got to visit a part of the coffee industry related to my company that was not our office. I got to go visit a coffee washing station that we lease in Bicumbi. It was only about 45 minutes away from the office but was definitely in what would be considered the village.

We drove out to the area where the washing station is and my boss went into a meeting with the cooperative while I waited in the car and read for about an hour, well tried to read. I am not sure why I was not invited to join the meeting. It would have been in kinyarwanda but it still would have been interesting to observe.

On the drive out to the station we had a conversation about being stared at and how muzungus are spectacles to many Rwandans, especially outside of the city and other towns. I told him honestly that it did not bother me for the most part. The staring and being called muzungu was something hard to cope with in the beginning but by now I am used to it. It does get to me occasionally but is generally not a problem. In his opinion it is something that Rwandans need to stop doing. He viewed it as a problem and associated it strongly with people in deeper poverty who are generally much less educated.

My views on this were honest and how I felt realistically. At least that is what I thought. I guess I have been in the city too much. While my boss was in his meeting and I waited in the car like I said above and although I was parked underneath a tree in the shade it was still rather hot considering it was midday in Rwanda so I had the front windows rolled down. I started my book and was quickly distracted by the gathering crowd. Four or so children, a teenaged girl and two adult women were soon watching me read. They did not say anything to me for a while but just watched me read. The staring was so heavy that I could not concentrate on my book. The children were constantly inching closer to the car and would lean into my window. I cannot tell you how distracting this was. It made me realize that it does bother me to have people just staring at me for an hour. I felt like I was a zoo exhibit. Every once in a while one of them would say “Good Morning” to me. If I did not answer they would repeat it at least five times. If I did answer they would explode in laughter. At the height of people staring at me there were nine children, two teens and four adult women.

Finally my boss finished meeting with the cooperative and we drove on to the washing station. Honestly, I expected a lot more from the visit. There was some coffee drying and three or four women were sorting. A couple other women were bringing buckets of very low grade coffee up to the drying tables. Other than that, not much was happening. I saw a tank of fermenting coffee but as you can probably imagine, watching coffee ferment is kind of like watching paint dry. They were not doing any washing or pulping during our visit so it was pretty unexciting. I got some good pictures though and at least I have been to a washing station now.

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My First Cooking Lesson

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New Found Friends and Adventuring

The week before last one of my classmates and I were exploring around a bit after a long day at work. We started off at Sketch Bar, a drinking establishment that we visit quite often. I am not sure the real name of this bar. I believe the equation for naming most bars, restaurants, small supermarkets or just about any shop in Kigali is the following:

Random English adjective + restaurant/bar/alimentation/etc.

Such an equation yields varied results as to whether the name actually makes sense and more so according to how appealing or inviting the name is. Even with such an excellent naming scheme in place, many establishments remain nameless or exercise an extreme in word-of-mouth advertising by not actually posting their name anywhere yet many people know it. Sketch Bar has a Kinyarwandan name painted on the side of it but since we dubbed it “Sketch Bar” the first time we drank there, I have not really paid it any heed. We gave it the name of Sketch because it is down a little dark staircase behind a bus stop pavilion, scarcely lit and hosts a chicken or two as well as the ‘hole in ground but with walls around it’ latrine.

Anyways, we started our adventure of at Sketch Bar then migrated over to a nameless bar that we dubbed “Church Bar” as it is in the same plot as a massive Catholic Church and housing compound. The distance between the chapel doors and the rickety wooden planks over a drainage ditch to the open doorway leading into Church Bar is about 100 meters of uninterrupted dirt parking lot/open space.

After a beer at Sketch Bar and a subsequent one at Church Bar, we went to Simba Supermarket to pick up some snacks and then onto Juicilicious, our favorite hookah bar, to relax and eat them. (This sounds like we spend most of our time at bars but it should really just attest to how many of them there are in Kigali. Juicy also does not serve any alcohol, just hookah.) However, when we got to Juicilicious, we happened upon a birthday party for the daughter of the owner. The owner is a rather young Pakistani man and most of the people at the party were also Pakistani. Not surprisingly, they welcomed us to join in the small festivities, gave us Pakistani BBQ chicken, rice, food whose name I do not know and probably cannot pronounce let alone spell and birthday cake. It was awesome. We met all of the adults and all of the children. They kept telling us to take more and more food. Either I have not noticed in America or people from many other cultures are much more friendly, hospitable, inviting and willing to share anything they have with strangers. Sorry America, but I think the latter is true.

We hung out at the party for a couple of hours and thanked them profusely before heading home for the night. One of the guys gave us his number and told us to keep in touch; he wanted to take us to a good Pakistani restaurant in one of the hotels in Kigali. Turns out we probably had seen the guys that we met quite a few times before stumbling upon their get together because we see them everywhere now.

A couple of days afterwards we ran into our friend back at Juicy and he had us try sugarcane juice for the first time. It was delicious; especially considering how little effort it takes to sip in through a straw as opposed to the tedious task of eating it. We discovered that he and a couple of the other guys we met worked for the UN in different agencies. We made plans to go out with them one night this past weekend but they go a little harder than us, which is kind of pathetic to admit since they have a decade or two on us. We did manage to meet up with them on Sunday evening though. I will preface my story of this weekend by saying it was more or less the weekend of delectable foods.

During the day on Saturday it poured for close to four hours. I was really caught off guard when my mom asked me if I liked ‘cow butter’ at lunchtime. It took me a moment to recognize that she said butter and my mind immediately pulled up my less than prized memory of attempting to try cow stomach. Thus, I reacted in fear of being asked to eat that or something similar and responded with a quick no. This was no big deal as it simply meant I ate the beans that were not cooked in cow butter. A couple bites into my meal I realized that cow butter was probably just real butter since what we normally have at the house is margarine and felt a little silly for being so scared of it.

When the weather finally cleared up I set out to go to town to get some work done and decided that wet weather was a good enough excuse to wear my cowboy boots since they have more or less been shunned by my family due to their resemblance to rain boots and rain boots are for farmers. I went to tell my brother goodbye and where I was going. He looked down at my feet, tapped my boot with his shoe and asked, “Kate, what kind of shoes are you wearing” while he kind of laughed. I explained that they were cowboy boots and had to draw the connection between cowboys, horses and Texas for him. Fortunately when mama wanjye saw them she thought they were nice and “good for the climate.” She is really good at understanding and respecting my cultural differences most of the time.

On Saturday night we had a very successful adventure. We really should have done this when we first got here but one of my classmates and I have made a commitment to go on more of these. Basically our adventures consist of us walking down roads we have not explored before where we check out and discover bakeries, restaurants, craft shops, markets and bars. On this particular journey we found a particularly awesome craft or gift shop. They had lots of awesome products and were very reasonably priced compared to the muzungu prices that most of these mini-markets charge for their creations. We definitely plan to return there before leaving Rwanda to stock up on presents for people. We also stumbled upon a pretty cheap supermarket that will be beneficial when we move into our own house and realize that we need things like cups and plates. We discovered a casino that we will return to next time we are in the area without our backpacks as well as a decent looking restaurant. We concluded our adventure at another nameless bar that we really enjoyed. This place had some delicious brochette that actually had really good and really spicy seasoning on it, something that we do not find too much in Rwandan cooking. After that we went to my friend’s house where we ate my favorite dish for dinner. I guess stew would be the most accurate term for it. I have no idea what is in the sauce, probably a combination of peanut and tomato since I feel like that is in just about everything here, but it has green beans and carrots in it and is one of the best foods I have ever eaten. This particular dish was made with cabbage instead of green beans and was only slightly less incredible.

Sunday morning breakfast involved lots of hotdog buns and butter. Hotdog buns are by far one of my favorite foods and definitely my favorite breakfast item in Rwanda, especially when they are fresh and soft. Throw in some butter (margarine, not cow butter) and they are to die for. It upsets me horribly that we get regular bread instead of hotdog buns for breakfast at my house now. I will be eating these on a regular basis when I return to America.

Since we missed hanging out with him Saturday night, our new friend invited us over to his home on Sunday. We got a little lost on the way there and sure enough a friendly stranger guided us, walking about 30 minutes out of his way, to where our friend came and picked us up, out of pity I am sure. Their home was beautiful, definitely in one of the nicer parts of Kigali. Let me just say there were actual street names AND street signs, a rarity here. One of the first places I have been with an address that did not consist of “across from this other place and down the road from another, near this roundabout.” On top of this, everyone there was so friendly and welcoming of us.

There were four couples there with their children, all of whom were primary school aged or younger. We hung out and talked with them for a while. The guys had some great stories about other places they have lived and how they compare to Kigali. We talked about Pakistan and were quite instantly invited to visit the cities they came from. We ate some of the best chips I have ever had. I do not remember their name but I know they are tomato flavor and I know where I will be buying them from in the very near future. I had my first Pepsi in a very long time and it was surprisingly delicious. Asides from all of this we also spent at least two hours playing table tennis (ping-pong). They taught us basic rules of the game (since neither of us had ever played according to actual rules) and we played quite a few rounds of doubles. I would not say either of us is terrible at table tennis but most of them are much better than us. One of the guys, our new table tennis coach, gave us pointers and tried to help us improve. I like to think that we made a little headway and improved over the hours of playing. However, one of the little boys beat both of us in singles matches. After hours of chatting and working on our table tennis game, dinner was served.

This was some of the best food I have eaten in a while. We had dum ka qeema and some other things along with homemade pita bread. It was funny that they called it a Pakistani chapatti though, especially since chapatti is technically Indian flatbread. They had brought us little tastes of what was cooking earlier to see if we liked how spicy it was. The little tastes were very spicy and I did not really think about how that spice would build up when I was actually eating a sizeable portion of the food. Along with the food there was a bowl of curds to top or dip or food in as a means of mitigating the mouth-fire. Foolishly, we both underestimated the power of the spice and took small spoonfuls of the curds to eat with our food. It definitely did not take long for us to realize our mistake and it was obvious in how red our faces were because our hosts kindly brought the bowl of curds to the table we were eating at so we could access it easily. The food was so good though but was also the spiciest food I have ever eaten in my life. I was surprised at how well Pepsi soothed my burning tongue. They also brought us each a small bowl of banana, mango and pineapple fruit salad and I quickly learned how good each of those fruits was at alleviating the situation. I further learned that the sugary sauce in the fruit salad was a strategic development as sugar is an excellent way to combat the spice of chilies used in Pakistani cooking.

We felt much better when we noticed that everyone else, especially the shouting and panting children, were also feeling the heat and that we did not just have horribly inexperienced palates. Apparently the food is not quite so spicy most of the time. Regardless the food was delicious and I only felt like my taste buds were being singed off and that I would never taste again for a couple of minutes after I finished eating. Unfortunately, no amount of curds, sugar or fruit salad can help when your body is finished with the meal. I hope that explains the situation well enough and requires no further clarification. I know at least my mom will get a good laugh out of this and I hope the rest of y’all are well humored enough to do the same.

That more or less wraps up this past weekend’s adventures. While these adventures might not seem that impressive it was certainly one of my best weekends in Kigali so far. I will undoubtedly be making a point to get out on more adventures in my time left here. Somehow I am also going to try to spend more time with my family, especially in the next two weeks since my sister and cousin are both home from school for the two-week commemoration/memorial vacation. I have a hard time connecting with my family simply because they do not do much and they do not talk much when I try spending time with them. Further, I just cannot sit inside and watch television with them in silence for hours during the day. I am going to make concerted efforts to spend more time with them though since we have one month before we move out.

My increased adventurism is also aided by some crazy, doxycycline induced dreams that I had last night. Among many, two of my dreams were specifically about my trip having ended and being back in America. In both of them I experienced something that really made me miss Rwanda, like America less and feel that I did not get everything that I could have out of my time here. I was so concerned that I did not experience all that I could have experienced and missed opportunities to explore and immerse myself in Rwanda. In both dreams I started bawling and then quickly woke up feeling that I was about to actually start crying. This has inspired me to ensure that I explore as much as possible and discover everything that I can in my two months left here. You will hopefully find my reasons in my dreams for being so upset about being back in America as funny as I did.

In my first dream I was walking down the sidewalk in Georgetown and passed a mom and her daughter walking in the other direction. I have developed a disposition to think a child of any ethnicity or race is way cuter than their white American counterpart and thus was first upset that this girl was not as cute as a little Rwandan girl. Also, unlike what any Rwandan child would have done she only glanced at me. A Rwandan child would have stared, probably smiled and in many situations hugged me with a huge grin on his or her face. This disturbed me horribly in my dream and I burst into tears and woke up.

In my second dream I was in the car with an unidentified individual driving down an empty road. I was looking out the windows and noticed there were no animals on the side of the road. The lack of cows, goats and chickens wandering around or minimally confined upset me to the point of tears, waking me up again.

While I know these dreams are silly I took them as a sign to be more adventurous and take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. This will probably keep me from having more negative posts like that one I had a couple posts ago. I will also have more exciting weeks and weekends like this one to blog about. I plan on making a little schedule of adventures for my classmates and me and will keep you updated on how it all pans out.

There will also be a post in the coming weeks about commemoration week and what it is like to experience this type of memorialization and mourning as an outsider with no direct connection to the tragedy.

Categories: From Rwanda | Leave a comment

Spring Break 2012…Kind Of

Our SIT program does not have any actual school holidays and days off from our internships depend on where we work. Some of us get holidays and some of us do not. I do not; I get an extra day of work on Saturdays actually. However, just like most jobs, days off can be negotiated for. Needless to say, we did not get a spring break vacation.

A couple of weekends ago my classmates and I decided to go to the beach. It was one of my classmates 21st birthday and his dad fronted some money for a celebration so we organized a couple of nights away in Gisenyi. It just so happened that this weekend away coincided with most of our home institutions’ Spring Breaks.

We took off late Friday afternoon on a three-hour bus ride from Kigali to Gisenyi, it’s actually called Rubavu now. Our accommodation was a small Presbyterian hotel that was nice and cheap. Five of us stayed two nights for 44,000 Rwf or less than 75 dollars; not bad for a short walk from the lake, hot water and a flushing toilet. ☺ My standards for nice have clearly been Rwandized.

Friday night one of my classmates and I walked down to Lake Kivu after the sun had already gone down and just admired how beautiful and peaceful it was. Then we went to eat and had some communication complications. Gisenyi is very close to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo and as such there are a fair number of Congolese in the area. I ordered our food in both English and Kinyarwanda with a mixture of hand gestures to indicate the proper numbers. We ordered two beers, two goat brochette, two chicken brochette and one order of chips. Clearly our waiter was not a fluent speaker of this language combination. What came out was two beers, four goat brochette, two whole chickens cut and cooked and two orders of chips. Eventually we figured everything out but of course everything cost more than our waiter had told us when we got the bill. It was all delicious though and a bit of an adventure.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then walked down to the beach at Lake Kivu. We did the super muzungu thing and paid to lie out on the beach front of Hotel Serena. We got to use their chairs, umbrellas, towels and swim in the pool and have toilets so I would say it was worth it. It was really nice to just lay there for a couple of hours and especially nice to swim! The weather was beautiful; it rained for a couple of minutes but did not get cold so it really was not biggie.

The beach along the lake stretches the entire way that we walked. Most of it was 30 or so feet park-like landscaping from the road up to the sandy part and was open to the public. Once you got to Serena property though there was a fence made of trees and bushes and then a little chain across the sand where trees wouldn’t grow, this kept people from accessing the Serena beach unless they paid and entered through the actual hotel. The Serena part of the beach was not any cleaner or nicer; it just had beach chairs and umbrellas and then the actual hotel bits (pool, waiters, etc.). 90% of the people on the Serena side were white (not including hotel employees) and 99.9% of the people on the other side were black. Also, only maybe eight people (including ourselves) got into the water on the Serena side and there were at least 20 people swimming right past the little chain fence. It was very interesting to observe. It should be noted that Lake Kivu is a volcanic lake and it is advised not to swim in it for health reasons. Clearly this warning resonates much more with foreigners. Either that or native Rwandans are not really warned about it.

The day was very nice though and after a couple of hours and a healthy sunburn we headed back to our hotel. On the way back we wanted to stop by the Gisenyi market because we had been recommended to do so. Not really knowing our way around Gisenyi we ended up walking around the entire city before reaching the market. It was a pretty sizeable market. I finally bought some wax. Wax is traditional African fabric that many people stereotypically think of women wearing when they think about Africa. I also got some regular fabric with zebras (pronounced zed-brahs) on it. I will hopefully get some cute things made of both of them at some point before I leave Rwanda. Afterwards we ended up going on an even lengthier trek through and about the town trying to get back to our hotel. It was raining and a while after the sun went down we gave up and stopped by another hotel to see if they could help us find our way. The hospitality of the people here never ceases to impress me. The receptionist at the hotel walked us all the way back to our hotel to make sure we found it. We actually we not too far away from it and would have eventually found it after some more wandering but the gentleman walked about 10 or 15 minutes out of his way to take us there. It was very sweet of him. By this point we were pretty worn out so we just went to dinner after freshening up and then headed to bed.

The next day we decided to go to a smaller town on the lake that is a popular fishing spot, Nyamyumba. This is also where the Bralirwa factory is. They produce the majority of beers consumed in the country. We took a taxi along the lake to Nyamyumba, about ten minutes away. When we got there we walked down to the ‘dock’. It was more just a shorefront where about 12 fishing boats were tied up. People were selling sugar cane, ibitoki (green banana), fish and a couple other items. A man came up to my friend and me and told us to come get on his boat so we gladly accepted. We paid the man 10,000 Rwf ($16.67) to take four of us on an hour-long boat ride around an island and to the other side of a large hill. The weather was perfect and it was really enjoyable. He pulled up around the side of the big hill and we saw about ten kids and younger adults playing right off the shore in one area as well as on the sand. I saw some smoke coming up and figured they were cooking something. Our boat captain pulled up on shore and told us to get out but as we did he pointed at the ground saying, “amaze shyushye.” That translates to hot water in Kinyarwanda. I still have to process the things said in Kinyarwanda a little slower than in English so I stepped off of the boat before I realized what he said. This realization coincided with putting my foot into the boiling hot water. Turns out that what I thought was smoke coming up from someone cooking was actually steam coming up from the head of the natural hot springs we were at! I had never been to a hot spring before so it was really exciting. The water was literally hot enough to cook a banana or an egg (we were told) and I believe it completely. There were a couple of pools that got less hot as you went towards the lake but even the water in the lake that touched the shore was pretty warm. Even standing on the mounds of sand between the pools of hot water, and most likely above more pockets of hot water, was almost too hot to bear and definitely too hot to stand on for more than a couple of seconds. I was really impressed at how some of the kids could sit in the shallow pools and splash the water over their bodies. After a couple of minutes our captain told us it was time to go so we went back around the hill and island to the fishing dock. After our little excursion we bought a stalk of sugar cane to share (100 Rwf or .17 for a 6 foot length) and headed to a restaurant for some fish.

While sitting at our table a woman brought a bucket of tilapia caught that morning to our table and let us pick out which one we wanted to eat. Each fish was 1,000 Rwf (US$ 1.67) and pretty well sized. She cleaned them for us and the restaurant cooked them for a charge of 300 Rwf (US$ .50). We munched on our sugar cane and ate pineapple while we waited for the fish. I bought the pineapple earlier in the day (also for 300 Rwf or US$ .50) from a woman walking around selling them and the restaurant cut it up for us.

If you have never eating sugar cane I should have you know it is a time-consuming, deliciously rewarding jaw exercise. Starting from one end, you have to get a pretty sturdy grip on the edge of the cane with your teeth and peel away a couple of outer layers to get to the inner sugary part. A cane usually has a one-inch diameter and a one-foot length has 3 or 4 segments to it. You go around the cane, a segment at a time, peeling the outer skin away bit by bit. This is no easy task and wears your mouth out pretty quickly. Inside this skin is the edible part of the cane. You bite off a chunk of the fibrous, juicy interior, chew it until you have sucked all the sugar out and then spit out what is left. Peeling a segment can take around ten or fifteen minutes, especially if you are pacing yourself, allowing your jaw to relax between peelings or just not a very apt eater of your cane. The rewards of you labor, sucking the sugar out, takes about five minutes. Needless to say, you put in a lot of work and depending on how much you like sugar cane, might not get much out of it. I personally find it delicious and really do not mind the extra work.

Additionally, I have found Rwandan restaurants to take a notoriously long time to prepare food. I am sure you have heard people joke about food taking so long because they have to plant the seed, harvest the produce, prepare it, etc. This joke applies to just about every establishment I have ever dined at here. The fact that our fish literally had to undergo every step of preparation asides from being caught should serve as an indicator of how long we had to wait. Also, unlike the Mexican restaurants that I miss so dearly, there is no Rwandan equivalent of chips and salsa and thus no free snacks to nibble on while you wait for your meal. I found that sugar cane is a perfect solution to this small inconvenience. Sugar cane really could take up an hour or so of your time while satisfying your hunger and keeping you from noticing the time it takes for your meal to come out.

It started raining halfway through our sugar cane munching so we moved inside to some couches where our food did eventually reach us. The fish was very well seasoned and absolutely delicious, very well worth the wait. I also really appreciated how cheap the meal was considering how delicious it tasted.

After eating we took a bus back to Gisenyi and waited for the big bus to leave, taking us back home to Kigali after a much-needed vacation.

Categories: From Rwanda | Leave a comment

The Honeymoon is Definitely Over

Let me go ahead and apologize profusely for not updating in a month. I know I have been letting you all down, but here is a post finally!

The main reason for not updating in so long is that nothing exceptionally exciting has happened in a while. The month has gone by pretty quickly I would say. I have heard before that there are stages to a study abroad experience: the initial shock, the honeymoon stage and then acculturation. I summarized that a bit but I am sure I have established my point more or less. I take this last stage, acculturation, to have potential to either be really good, really bad, a mix of the two or just downright bland. I have surpassed the halfway point in my stay in Rwanda and I would say that the honeymoon is definitely over. For me the acculturation period is pretty bland with some sprinkles of really good and somewhat bad. The really good definitely outweighs the bad and occurs more frequently though. I know, it does not sound very appealing but it is what it is.

Classes are over but we still have to write papers for them. Something I am not really a fan of. I do not mind writing papers at all. I am very much used to cranking out a couple big ones a week back at Southwestern University. However, what I do not enjoy is having to write a 15 page essay over a month after classes for a particular course has ended. Especially when the classes for said course were less than informative, mostly yielding no information that either was not already known or that could have been read on a Wikipedia page or similar web source. I honestly cannot remember if I have ranted about our program or not yet so here goes. Before I tear the program a new one though I will point out that this is the first time that the SIT Hendrix program has ever existed. Although the regular SIT Rwanda program has been around for a while and is pretty well established. The programs are different in structure, content and length. I’ll elaborate because I know you are just dying to know the differences in more detail.

SIT Hendrix:
– 5 months long
– 2 months of liberal artsy classes (History, Culture and Arts, Ecology and Sustainable Development, Microfinance and Poverty Reduction and Field Methods/Kinyarwanda)
– 4 month long homestay
– 3 month long internship
SIT Rwanda:
– Roughly 3.5 months long
– 2.5ish months of classes focused on post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation (National and Ethnic Identity, Post-Genocide Restoration and Peacebuilding, Research Methods and Ethics and Kinyarwanda)
– 2.5ish month long homestay
– 1 month long independent research project

In both of the programs the different courses have their own academic coordinator or “administrator and grader of papers” but individual classes are all or mostly taught by different people. From reading about the program prior to coming to Rwanda, the prospect of having a variety of professors, area experts and members of relative government organizations and NGOs was wonderful. Unfortunately, the actualization of this was not so wonderful. While many of these people might have indeed had the above-mentioned qualifications, very few of them were clued into what we already knew or knew how to present a lecture to students. I am also very skeptical of how much the lecturers knew about our program and if they were even told a basic outline of the topics that should have been covered in each course let alone what information their specific class should have provided us with.

Having such, lets face it, rather awfully uninformative classes does not really prepare one to write any sort of lengthy paper. This is compounded when the academic coordinator for a given class is probably unaware of what we should have been taught and what little information we actually received. Add to this the fact that we never got any readings for our courses (except when we went to Uganda for our Microfinance class) and it really doesn’t motivate you to write anything of quality. Paper assignments are given way after courses end with rather open prompts but the grader usually has a very specific answer to their question that they are looking for. This especially complicates writing an essay that is supposed to be personal and reflect individual feelings, reflections and interpretations of activities.

More than a month after most of our classes have ended we have only turned in three papers: a small one for both our history and ecology classes and a large, final one for our history class. We were told that each of our three courses would have 2 papers, a shorter one and a longer 15-20 page one (as well as our final internship paper). I really do not see us ever getting these assignments let alone writing the papers. Not having class for so long in addition to no readings to reference and working over forty hours a week are not exactly ideal circumstances under which to write such long papers. Finally, why would I want to waste my time writing papers that I do not feel anyone really cares about or benefit me in any way when I could actually be experiencing Rwanda.

Oh and the reason for the comparison between programs earlier was to point out that their lectures have been much more beneficial, they have received readings for their courses and have actually gotten to visit governmental organizations and NGOs. We should have gone on similar excursions in order to make it easier to establish connections for our internship. For whatever reason that is lost on me, we did not use the same connections that this group did. I still do not understand why we did not use so many of the same lecturers and excursion contacts that had been established for years.

Okay, I think I have complained enough now. As you might have guessed I recently spent quite a few of my nights writing a long essay under these circumstances.

Moving on,

I’ve been working at my internship full time now, Monday thru Saturday. Some of the days are pretty long too. I would say that I enjoy it for the most part. That sounds pretty negative but unfortunately it is true. The best way I know to explain it is to say that I love the prospects of what I can do and the possibilities associated with my internship as well as what I envisioned myself doing. However, actualizing these ideas is not quite playing out in the ideal fashion that they could. I have yet to visit any part of the company and its operations other than my office. Although I did visit a rather rinky-dink international trade show (of course I am comparing this to exhibitions and conventions I have attended in America and did not exactly expect more from it) here in Kigali the other week. We did not exhibit anything at it. I simply accompanied my boss there while he met with the organizer of the event. I walked around and checked things out; there might have been 20 or so booths in total. The exhibitors were all from East Africa and the Middle East and marketing clothes, furniture, make up, a few household items and some other unrelated products.

The point is I sit at a desk in front of my computer for at least eight hours a day and it is rather mind numbing. Not to mention the fact that I could be doing exactly the same thing in America, just not in the coffee exporting industry. About 50% of the time I have no direction in what I am supposed to be working on so I just browse around on Alibaba and make databases of people we have contacted by flipping through page after page of sent boxes on email accounts.

I have made some company publications that I am quite pleased with though. In the past weeks I made a catalogue, an informational packet about the company and wrote a 25-page marketing plan complete with beautiful graphs and charts. The downside to these is that I really do not feel like they are appreciated that much. The company has no publications of this type and they really look nice. Yet when anyone (I guess only 2 people have seen them) looks at them they just say things like “its very structured” or “it will work”. Maybe it is a cultural thing but at least I like them and know they are better than what they had before…which was nothing. I have not yet shown my marketing plan to anyone. I am waiting on some financials. I still think it is interesting that I have no idea about most of where and to whom we already sell. I made a very detailed list of all the information I need to know if they want my plan to actually have any value to it. I know this is the only way I will find out what I need to know. I am also trying to get a couple American supermarkets to buy into our coffee and sell in the in US (special thanks to my mom for the help).

Things are not quite as bad as this post might make them seem. I just needed to vent to world a little bit. I will post a happier one about the good things that have happened for all to read shortly.

Also, if you have ever clicked on my map and was annoyed that it still said I was in the Kigali Airport you should be pleased to know that I finally updated that. ☺

Categories: From Rwanda | 1 Comment

I am in Love with Coffee

Today is my first day at Lifemate. I am sharing an office with one of my colleagues who handles finance and human resources here. I was supposed to arrive at 9am but got here about 25 minutes early. I wasn’t sure how long the bus would take/if I would have a hard time finding my way since it was my first time to come here from home. Unfortunately I left my plug adapter at home but my colleague’s looks like it accommodates more than one plug so that is good news. He is very accommodating. I honestly have no idea what I will be doing today but I’m sure that will work itself out soon enough. From my meetings with my director before today I am under the impression that I will be doing some sort of marketing. I think I might end up having to buy a modem? Although my colleague has one and I feel that he is going to possibly let me use it for any information I need to retrieve or work I need to do online. Never mind – he just mentioned that we will have to get me one – meaning Lifemate will let me use one of theirs I suppose.

I will be partnering with another woman who handles international marketing and assisting her with anything she needs done. Her name is Shunem Kabera. I am terrible at spelling people’s names here but luckily hers is on the Lifemate website.

My colleague just handed me my objectives for my three months here. They are broken down into local operations, regional and international operations and operational targets and deliverables.

The list is rather intimidating but I think once I get into the swing of things I will figure stuff out. I am thrilled to hear about online platforms that they subscribe to. Hopefully I will be able to learn more from these and find some more information about the market. So far that is one of my biggest challenges – finding information and resources online both about the company and the market as a whole. I really want to help them as much as I can and I feel that the more I know about the industry and processes the more I can contribute. I am so excited! It has only been an hour but I have already learned so much – its crazy!! I really love it here. I have spent the last hour and a half talking with my colleague about basic company info, processes and challenges. I am supposed to meet with my director shortly though.

My director has actually left for the day – or some period of time at least. He said we will sit down to go over things once he is settled back down in the office though. For now I have been given a modem but unsure as to whether the airtime is by day or data packages I am hesitant to do too much browsing on the web. Instead I decided to tackle the website seeing as this is something I know how to do and it will take up some time. I hope to improve the website and make it more user-friendly as well as give its visitors a better idea of what they do. Right now the content is rather basic and not all that informative. This little project will help me to tap into some of my other objectives and tasks as well as learn more about the company myself. I am already compiling a list of questions I need answered, and I am sure that I am not the only one who has viewed the website and pondered them.

It pleased me greatly when my colleague walked into our office with coffee cups and announced that the traditional noon tea time at Lifemate was indeed ‘coffee time.’ Of course I expected nothing less. My colleague poured me my first cup of freshly brewed Single Estate coffee (produced by Lifemate). I am going to somehow train myself on how to distinguish coffee flavors but for now I will just say that it tastes wonderful. However, I can say that it does not possess the same acidity that bourbon flavors do. After my first cup my colleague wanted to prepare me one with a higher concentration and what kind of intern would I be if I turned him down? I am so pleased to work for this company. The smells and tastes I get to experience are phenomenal.

My colleague told me that during my first few weeks I will have the opportunity to visit farmers, washing stations, roasting stations and today the national coffee board joined the list. These visits will enable me to accurately portray and represent the company while I work with the marketing team. Aside from the professional benefit of these visits I am beyond excited to see first hand the production process of coffee! The internship component of my study abroad definitely makes up for any of its prior downfalls. I cannot wait to start contributing to their business and helping them grow!

I am working on my third cup of coffee and one of my colleagues just brought me a plate of pasha (corn loaf is the best way I know how to describe this) with soup. This alleviates my concerns about when my lunch break would happen. Well I only have a couple of hours left in my work day so I am going to try to finish up my edits for the website. I want to have something to show the boss whenever he returns and I have no idea when he might turn up! So far things look great for my internship and the next three months, I don’t think I could have found a better organization to work with.

One last thing – the heavy rain sounds absolutely amazing on the tin roof on my office building. The drops come straight down so we can keep the windows open while it is storming and it sounds and smells incredible. My office does leak a little though; I guess keeping the windows open can’t last forever, especially once it starts pouring.

I just got to look at my first coffee cupping results. Everyone that works here is very helpful and willing to aid me in learning as much as I can about coffee. One of the guys took a sample out to be cupped earlier today and he let me look at the results. The only acceptable scores start at 6 and go through 9 (so a range of 60-100) and our coffees are generally ranked very high.

My colleague gave me a couple of packets of information to look at and read over to get a feel for what all they do here and to learn more about their involvement in the production process as well as about their end products.

For the last fifteen minutes of my day I sat in my director’s office and watched him make a deal to sell what seems like (at least to my inexperienced self) a ton of coffee. He stayed so calm through the whole thing and afterwards I calculated the amount of money the buyer could potentially end up paying and lets just say it was no pocket change. He said he would hand over some of his clients to me to handle and make sure we maintain relations with them. I am nervous considering I have zero experience in this field – but I have faith in everyone here to mentor me and make sure I feel comfortable. I am definitely more excited than nervous to be marketing coffee internationally. I find it difficult to grasp how truly lucky I am to have this opportunity. I never would have thought that at 20 years old I would be in Rwanda helping a company export one of the worlds most traded commodities.

Categories: From Rwanda | 1 Comment

Lions, Mud and Birds, OH MY

Our second day in Kasese ended up being one of my favorites in Africa so far. We went on a forest hike in the Rwenzori Mountains. These peaks make up part of the border between Uganda and the Congo and are gorgeous. We actually got to see (from a distance) a snow-capped peak! We were all very tempted to make a run for the Congo before we learned that the hike would last about four days through the mountains. So we decided to veto that idea. The hike was incredible though. We went through an open forest that was made up of trees and agricultural vegetation. The view took my breath away and the sun beat down on us. I actually got my first sunburn on this little outing. After the open forest we got to the dense forest that I loved even more. It was harder to navigate but there were so many trees, it was cool and smelled just like you would expect a somewhat tropical forest to smell like. We did not encounter any animals although seeing monkeys was a possibility.

Half way through our circuit in the dense forest we came across the river and were able to kind of swim in it. The water felt so cold it hurt our toes after not too long at all. The rapids were pretty strong and one of our classmates almost floated away, which was rather hilarious to be honest. A couple of the walking sticks floated down river as well. After the river we continued up the mountain and once we reached some muddy patches things got interesting. I think most of us ended up almost knee deep in the mud at the risk of losing a shoe at one point or another. Luckily our guide and our driver were better at navigating the mud than us and they continuously were pulling us out of it. After about four hours of hiking we finally left the mountain and the forest and all headed back for naps and showers.

On our last day and night in Kasese we stayed in the Queen Elizabeth National Park and in the morning we went on a game drive. The part itself was beautiful, African savannah at its prime. Watching the sun set and rise over open lands and lakes George and Edward was such a treat. This was also one of the first times that we got to experience the intense darkness of night that I had expected much more in Rwanda. With this also came the stars. I actually forgot to look at them that night before going to bed. Thank goodness we were up before dawn to start on our game drive though. Looking up at them was awe-inspiring. I am sure I saw hundreds of stars I had never seen before. I wish I could have taken a picture of them to share. We set off on our drive with the goal of seeing the Big Four: lion, buffalo, leopard and elephant. The last one actually might have been hippo but it is irrelevant now. When our tour guide told us this he said it hopefully and made it seem like it was not typical to see them all. On our way into the camp we had already seen buffalo and one of us saw a hippo so we were doing pretty good so far.

Not long into the drive we came across a leopard walking right in front of our van! It was so calm. We took pictures of it, turned the car around and followed it a little bit and there were even two other vans behind us but the creature just kept walking slowly down the road as if we were not even there. Continuing on we saw elephants, hippos, baby hippos, a plethora of birds, kobs, warthogs and then, a lion! We saw him from afar so he was just a tiny speck really. A bunch of safari vans and cars were parked in the same area on a road where onlookers were spying through their binoculars and standing on top of vehicles to get a better look. Eventually our driver and a couple of others worked out a little plot to get a better view of the lion who was resting behind a large rock. After the other vans slowly continued on down the path to find other animals, our driver and the others got ready to drive through the grass, circle the lion for a closer look and come back. Let me point out that this is very much against rules of the park. Even walking too far into the grass can get you kicked out of the park and a minimum $500 USD fine.

We were all so excited for the moment when the buses took off until our van failed to start. This was possibly the worst time it could have decided to give us trouble, and the only time on the trip so far. We watched sorrowfully as the other cars got close to the lion and he eventually was fed up with people disturbing him that he got up from behind his rock and went to rest behind a bush.

Finally our driver fixed our van and told us to get in – he was determined to get us close to this lion. We drove through the grass and he stopped the car about four feet from the resting lion. He was majestic and huge. He picked up his head and it was amazing. We were all in shock afterwards. It was definitely one of the most awesome parts of our journey. I can now say that I have been within five feet of a real, humongous lion on the African savannahs and am so proud to be able to do so.

After the game drive we went on a boat ride that was equally incredible. One of my classmates and I sat by a couple other Americans who were ornithologists on a bird-watching expedition across the country. They taught us eight or so birds on the two hour-long boat ride. We saw hippos, elephants, buffalo, birds, more birds, some more birds, monkeys, crocodiles, Nile monitors and I cannot even remember what else. It was gorgeous. We were able to go on the top of the boat and the view was just amazing. I need to come up with some more adjectives to start using because I am sure everyone is getting tired of reading how awesome and amazing everything is. It truly is though. Our ornithologist friends were pretty cool too. Their reason behind picking up the hobby was that they loved nature (hiking, boating, just being outdoors in general) and bird watching gave them something to do so that they were not just walking through jungles. It made them become more aware of the areas they were visiting and they learned so much more about the habitats they traveled to. They pretty much sold us both on picking up the hobby.

After all of this fun we finally hit the road and headed back to Rwanda. Clean, organized Rwanda. Altogether the trip was amazing. Some of our best weeks so far. Coming back to Rwanda also meant that our classes were finished and our internships would be starting in the upcoming week. This also meant that we were two months into our program with only three left to go and that we are half way done with our homestays. The time is flying by. Whenever I think about going back to America the thought seems so strange. It is going to be so different and weird, definitely weird.

Categories: From Uganda | Leave a comment

A Real African Man Knows Everything

Uganda and Rwanda are interesting countries to compare. We have gotten in the habit of calling Rwanda “Europe” or “Fake Africa” and considered our trip to Uganda a trip to the “Real Africa.” Our director reprimanded us for this. He admitted that he was one of the first in the group to say these things but pointed out that in saying these things we were applying negative and hugely generalized stereotypes to Africa. We were basically saying that to really be Africa a place must be dirty, crowded, smelly, undeveloped and disorganized. This is not what we intended for our statements to mean. Uganda simply fit many more of our stereotypes of Africa that we came to the continent with. While this plays out poorly for Uganda (and I guess all of Africa other than Rwanda) it shows that Rwanda disproved many of these stereotypes. Going to Uganda also showed us that we chose a very well maintained and organized country to spend our time in.

This probably makes it seem like Uganda was a terrible, dirty place. It was not. Uganda was beautiful and I loved being there. It was just very different. Yes, it was dirtier than Rwanda but for a couple of reasons. In Rwanda, people sweep the dust off of the roads and gather the garbage left on sidewalks and roadsides by hand. Rwanda also prohibits plastic bags, which more or less eliminates that particular contribution to waste in the country. Additionally, Rwanda’s population density far exceeds that of Uganda and therefore Uganda’s countryside tends to feature much more uncultivated and seemingly barren land. From what we learned and saw, Uganda’s corruption rates top those of Rwanda and driving through the country, one can see the extreme poverty much more easily in Uganda. Uganda’s infrastructure is not as developed and things simply seem less organized everywhere you go.

Nevertheless, going to Kampala was awesome. It actually felt like we were in a big city and now I understand why so many people call Kigali a small city. After visiting Kampala, the best way to describe Kigali is to say it resembles a bunch of small neighborhoods rather than a big city. Different neighborhoods do form the whole of Kigali but each of them seems so much like its own little town that they don’t quite go together. While we did not travel around Kampala as much as we have in Kigali it seemed much more like one big city. There were many more high-rise buildings in Kampala. Street vendors are much less organized and informal. The informal sector in general is more prominent, contributing to the development and regulation issues.

When you actually find a sidewalk more than two feet wide and with less than 3 potholes per 10 seconds they are taken up by salesmen. Most of them try to sell you second-hand clothing or shoes, fruit or g-nuts and my personal favorite, the insanely cheap burned DVDs in little plastic fold over bags with paper print outs of the case inside. Each DVD only cost 2,000 UGX so less than a dollar. That is a price you cannot really argue with. Unfortunately we have all become very stingy, and I can fairly say that the selection was not the best, although plentiful, so we only got a couple between the six of us.

The night and lack of street lighting does not hinder these entrepreneurs work. They simply light a candle, or a chunk of cardboard, and shove it in the top of a bottle in the middle of their display. The only thing that could make this more of a nervous situation is the fact that Kampala’s sidewalks are more or less taken over by boda-bodas and especially so at night.

Motos or boda bodas (the guys – I’ve never seen a woman at least – that drive motorcycle taxis and are considerably cheaper than an actual taxi) drive way more recklessly, do not require licensing and do not have to wear helmets whereas in Kigali they are organized by area and must wear helmets and provide helmets for the individuals they transport. A perfect example that we saw frequently: a boda boda driving on the already crowded sidewalk with three passengers (four people total) and zero helmets. It was not abnormal to come close to being run over by these. The cars also do not give any indication of willingness to stop let alone slow down for pedestrians to cross the road. Our director in Kampala told us that when she came to America once, crossing the street gave her such culture shock that she could never get comfortable enough to not run across the road, even at an actual cross walk with the cars completely stopped and waiting for her. Kampala had real traffic too. At certain times in the day the traffic jams were so long and backed up that drivers frequently turned off their vehicles to wait for them to move.

Classes in Kampala were wonderful for the most part. Unfortunately we have discovered the huge flaw in having a different lecturer for just about every class. They have little to no idea about what we have already covered and therefore repeat material frequently. I think they also are not familiar enough with the intensity of American universities (at least liberal arts universities) to provide us with classes at a level that we are used to. Many of our classes end up seeming like introductory ones that deviate from one another minimally. I wouldn’t expect the first year of any program to be perfect though. The classes in Kampala varied a little more than the usual and were a fresh topic in a new country so we welcomed and appreciated them greatly.

One of Kampala’s other tremendously appreciated treasures was the Rolex. A Rolex is an absolutely delicious street food, an omelet (usually made from two eggs and meager amounts of onion, tomato and cabbage) rolled up inside of a chapatti. Our director actually told us about them during our debriefing on Uganda and we happened upon them during our second night while searching for a place to eat dinner. We decided to go ahead and get one each and then stopped by a grocery store for some other snacks in order to feel like we had an actual meal. The choice was such a good one. We ended up eating Rolex for dinner every night that we stayed in Kampala. The walk from our hotel to the Rolex stand was about fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back and was worth every minute of walking in the dark, avoiding potholes and uneven sidewalks, basically playing frogger trying to cross the road and dodging boda bodas driving down the sidewalks around us. Did I mention that they only cost 1,300 UGX, which converts to about $0.57 USD? We all wish they were a thing in Kigali.

One of our last days in Kampala we tried going back to the huge market we had visited before in Old Kampala. Right when we got there it began to rain so our (absolutely amazing) driver told us we should just go back to the hotel because things were going to get crazy. One would think that in a country with as much rainfall as Uganda, people would not freak out when it rained. But oh how they freaked. People scurried out of the street and under the tiny awnings of stores. They scrambled to pull tarp over their products out in the open air and the traffic was absurd. Driving down a small section of the road took long enough that our driver finally agreed to let us go shopping and more or less told us how to walk back to our hotel when we were done. The rain started to let up by this point as well but a few sprinkles still persisted. This shopping experience could have been amazing and I could have found incredible deals, however I felt awful and the insane amount of clothing for sale simply overwhelmed me. I desperately tried to find dresses that I liked but every time I tried to start looking at an item, the 40 others around it flew into my view and then a salesperson would pop out of nowhere to try and convince me that the dress was perfect for me. None of which was conducive to me spending money. I ended up getting a $6 USD (if I remember correctly) cardigan so the day was not a complete loss. I went back early with two of my classmates and rested until I felt well enough to eat a Rolex for dinner.

We eventually said goodbye to the lovely city of Kampala to head out West to Kasese. This was a long a bumpy drive, and not what you probably think of when you read bumpy. No, the roads did not feature a plethora of holes and unpaved sections. Just lots and lots of speed bumps. I am not exaggerating in the least. One stretch of road had 21 large speed bumps in a row with about six seconds of driving between each of them. When the speed bumps were not featured in such a way they were instead in groups of five small speed bumps, all right after one another. The drive was frustrating to say the least.

Categories: From Uganda | Leave a comment

So Many Soybeans

Another Ugandan excursion was to SESACO. This is a company that makes the majority of its products from soybeans and focuses on providing healthy substitute for meat products. Charles, the founder and owner of SESACO, talked to us for a while about he started his business. He started out selling roasted g-nuts (groundnuts or peanuts) to his coworkers when he was a casual worker. Eventually he expanded his business but unfortunately he was too trusting and his employees stole his recipes and left the company. Charles became a driver and eventually, after running into former customers who told him the quality of products was falling and asked him to come back to his old job, reopened his company. He started up again by borrowing from small lenders and eventually tapped into microfinance. Things kept going good for him and he now is working to expand his business, not just to subsist. SESACO is doing well in Uganda now and there is actually a store in Dallas, Texas where his products can be purchased.

SESACO does not currently have contracts with local soybean producers. Instead local farmers grow for subsistence and he buys their surplus from them. He said that he respects daily changes in market prices and is working on plans for investment and contracts in the future. He hopes to enable farmers to produce more efficiently as well as permitting them to supply him with increased quantities as his enterprise grows.

After speaking with Charles we toured the factory and were given some samples. Everything was pretty delicious. We tried soymilk, brown butter (peanut, soybean and sim sim butter), soyacup (an alternative to coffee that is produced from soybeans with a similar taste – more like a chai latte once it has sugar and milk in it – but without caffeine), and soy meat (dried tofu). Everything we tried was delicious and I really enjoyed the tour. The machines used for processing were all fairly small and a good deal of the labeling and packaging was done by hand which was impressive. He talked about plans to upgrade machines to improve and increase production but was also able to show us some that were pretty new. The newer ones included the brown butter machine and a milk-pasteurizing machine. We got to see how the brown butter machine worked and I wanted to dive into the huge tub of butter underneath it. Afterwards we bought some treats to take with us and went on our way. We pitched some ideas to Charles for future products and he was very open to our ideas. Who knows, maybe we will get some joint ventures started up soon.

Categories: From Uganda | Leave a comment

Microfinance in Uganda

Our trip to Uganda covered our module on microfinance and poverty reduction and featured a number of meetings with different individuals and groups taking out loans with different microfinance institutions as well as the institutions they borrow from. We visited Finca, DFCU and BRAC.

Finca began as an international NGO but their branch in Uganda is now a for profit lender. They offer loans at slightly over the national interest rate of 24%. (Uganda is facing very high inflation right now.) Their loans are smaller than those typically offered through large commercial banks and have very short repayment periods. We had the opportunity to speak with a client, which was an eye-opening experience. It might have been the language barrier or maybe the woman did not feel comfortable talking to us but it was very hard to get her to answer our questions the way we wanted her to. We were trying to figure out how she had benefitted from taking out microloans but all she would tell us was that her business had expanded and she had plans to expand further in the future. She did tell us that she took out a 1 million shilling loan every four months. (About 450 USD) When we asked what her interest rate was she did not know but she knew that she paid back 1,200,000 every four months. Meaning that her interest rate is 20%. This was actually a low rate compared to many of the groups and individuals we spoke with. Also when we asked her whether or not she saves with FINCA she said no but her loan officer interjected himself and explained that she does have a savings account with them.

Again, I do not know if it was the language barrier or the situation that caused her to answer incorrectly. While financial literacy needs extensive expansion and revision, I do not think this woman would have been unaware of a savings account that she opened. These high interest rates with short repayment terms are typical for many microfinance lenders. Through many of our discussions in the group about this we wonder whether, and doubt, that people realize how much money they are paying in the long term to borrow large sums of money for short periods. Other than the fact that they have flat interest rates, they really are not much different from payday loans or similar schemes in America. However, there are other microfinance organizations that take an approach that integrates micro-lending with other community development services.

BRAC was one of these types of microfinance institutions. The organization was started in Bangladesh and is hugely successful there. They are fairly new in Uganda but seem to be making an impact there. Before BRAC distributes loans to their clients they have to undergo a month long training program where they are educated on what their loan means and ensuring that they have a practical business that will enable them to pay back their loans.

In addition to offering loans, BRAC administers programs in agriculture, poultry, livestock, health and employment/livelihood for youth education in Uganda. These programs are mostly educational and capacity building and also increase access to resources in each of these areas for their clients. Through these programs they hope to not only help with community development and poverty alleviation but the businesses of their clients will expand noticeably over time instead of simply maintaining themselves.

One of BRAC’s downfalls is their 45-55% interest rates on microloans. These seem absurdly high but when you really thing about it they kind of make sense. Going off a base of the national interest rate of 24% they are only making 20-30% on loans they give out. While the amounts repaid by clients are a lot to them they might not be that substantial to an international NGO like BRAC. Also when I see these high interest rates and hear about the programs that they institute in their areas I consider them as more of a subsidy for the cost of these services provided to clients. I am sure that they are still making a profit – we did not ask about this or see any financial reports so I am speculating – but it seems pretty reasonable. Regardless, an organization like BRAC is going to be much more sustainable if they can support themselves instead of relying solely on aid funds for all of their operations.

DFCU is more like FINCA than BRAC. We spoke with a woman there who talked to us about the basics of loans and clients there. Then we had the opportunity to speak with a group who took out loans as a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO). SACCOs tend to benefit individual members by providing a safety net should they fail to repay a loan at any period. The groups also generally provide loans within themselves. Members will save up and on a weekly basis the savings will go to one member who repays the loan with interest and the process repeats over and over. It was a group of people who all sold dried fish in the nearby market. We asked a few questions and the loans they were taking seemed to be helping them improve their quality of life. Many of them had bought land and built houses instead of renting, their children were going to school and overall they seemed pleased with what they were doing. These are the types of things we keep hearing from clients of microfinance organizations. While I am all for them improving their overall quality of life they do not seem to be expanding their businesses. I might be letting my western ideas of business loans influence my opinions here but I feel that the loans should be helping the clients increase their business productivity, thus increasing their household income which would eventually lead to them not needing these loans because they would be making enough money without them. Microloan clients seem to be stuck in a cycle where they have become dependent on their loans instead of saving and increasing their own profits.

After we spoke with the group we went into the nearby market to see their stands. The market is located in Old Kampala and is MASSIVE. There is anything you could want to buy and a million of them. It is overwhelming to say the least. One of my classmates and I bought some mangoes and avocados for later but other than that there was way too much to take in and not enough time to do it in. The market was crowed and filled with so many smells. There was garbage everywhere and so many people. It was crazy.

Categories: From Uganda | Leave a comment

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