Monday, 23 March 2009

We've been here for a whole month now!

So, we've now been in Uganda for a month, and we like it so far.

I did my first lecture last week, on 'capsule technology' (eg how to make capsules) and I think it went quite well. We are now more that half-way into the semester, and all the Pharmaceutical Technology lectures have finished - and that is the subject I am supposed to be teaching! The reason for this is that the students are supposed to have a morning of lectures and a morning of practicals each week - but as the lab has no pharmaceutical technology machines or even many chemicals, we have been unable to do any practicals with the students whatsoever. If anybody has any bright ideas of ways around this, I would love to know! I have suggested to the students that we use the remaining lectures as revision time, and they can come to ask me about any problems they have with the module. It seems crazy that they are learning all the theory of the subject, but there is no way we can show them it in practise. One of the students suggested that we arrange a trip to a Pharmaceutical Manufacturer, which is a good idea in theory - but the problem is the university has no funds to give us for travel etc.

Outside of work, things have been going pretty well too. Our cleaner started last week, and she is fantastic! As most of you will know, neither myself nor Jason would make a good house-wife, and it's more difficult here because of all the dust and the lack of an automatic washing machine. So Gertrude the cleaner comes to our flat every Monday, does all our laundry (and irons it!), and cleans the whole flat - and she picks fresh flowers for us and leaves them on the dining table!

This weekend, we had the VSO's from Bushenyi (a town nearby) visiting us. Unni (a VSO neonatologist from the UK) cooked us fantastic curries at his flat, my colleague Professor Reddy made amazing chappatis, and Jason and I provided the beer! On Saturday we took them into Mbarara to show them around the shops etc, and we bumped into two of the new Dutch VSO's - Erik and Gabriella. They are working in a town about an hour and a half away from Mabarara, and were staying in a hotel here for the weekend. We all went for lunch at the Lake View Hotel, which is relatively posh. It was funny when we arrived, because the place was crawling with security and soldiers - and we got asked if we had any guns! Apparently, the President (Museveni) was coming to visit, so they had stepped up security. We had lunch and a couple of drinks there, which was really nice (they do veggie-burgers!), but the president still hadn't shown up by the time we left.

Jason decided to spend most of yesterday afternoon attempting(!) to make bread. We have no oven, so he found a recipe on the internet for some bread you make in a pan - I suppose it was supposed to be a bit like soda bread. Anyway, it didn't turn out very well, and tasted like a scone gone wrong. So then Jason decided that was because we'd put butter into the dough, so he remade it minus the butter and it was like a brick! Jason is adamant that he is going to eventually make some nice bread without an oven, but I have yet to be convinced. I did take some pictures of our baking escapades, but I haven't uploaded them yet.

Nearly forgot to tell you the hilarious story of our bin....
There is a big skip at the back of our compound where we have to dispose of all our rubbish. There is usually a very dirty looking Maribou Stork sitting in the skip eating the rubbish (Maribou makes the stork sound exotic, but it is one of the ugliest creatures I have ever seen). Anyway, at the weekend the skip had been emptied, so we couldn't see if the stork was in it. So when we threw our bag of rubbbish into the skip, we expected the stork to fly up angrily.....but instead a PERSON popped their head out and said 'OUCH!!' (because our rubbish had hit them on the head!). We felt awful, but the whole thing was so funny that we were in hysterics - you just don't expect a person to be in your skip.

Friday, 20 March 2009

This week I have mostly been sorting out a Helpdesk...

Well, things are starting to take shape here. Anna has done her first ever lecture and by the sound of it has done very well indeed, although now she is staring into an abyss hoping that some other big task will come her way! Any suggestions, please feel free to comment. I thought she would make a good boda boda driver (motorbike taxi) but knowing her she would fall off!

It looks as though my tasks are growing every single day. This week we have interviewed students to run a helpdesk for us (I did 26 interviews yesterday, it was a very long day). Thankfully we can now choose the people we would like to help and can implement the helpdesk next week. This means that the department can be more efficient and the staff can do their day jobs instead of troubleshooting problems all of the time.

Next on the agenda is a new domain, ghosting, network printing and a central fileserver. Unusually for a Unversity computer services are provided from the Computer Science Department, but it seems part of my role may be to try and make the department independant.

This may mean we can setup more services and become self sufficient, which would be nice. If anybody feels that they can share their expertise with the department when they come and see us or fancies maybe helping me to find a good fileserver solution for a dirt cheap price feel free.

Enough of the boring stuff. I think we are getting used to the life here, with a little more creativity and acceptance that everything is a little bit harder to do, it could be a nice relaxing time! We have vistors again this weekend, I think the plan is to have a few beers and chill out. There have even been suggestions of going to the local club although my colleagues tell me to expect a mixture of country and western, hip hop and african music. We shall see.

Anyway not much else to say as Anna said it all :-( oh well.

A View from our flat!

A View on the walk from the University to town

Monday, 16 March 2009

Our Dodgy Electric Cooker with new improved gas hob!

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The Kitchen

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Our Bathroom

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Jason in our Flat

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Week 3 - Settling In

We're finally getting to know our way around Mbarara town, and learning the best places to buy things from. For example, I went to the market on Friday and got 12 eggs from one of the stall-holders - when we got home we discovered that 6 of them were rotten! I don't think you can really take them back and demand a refund over here, so we will just try a different stall-holder next time. We've found a lady in the market who sells the most amazing little bananas - a bunch of about 12 for 30p, and there's a man who sells exquisite pineapples (2 for 30p!) from his bicycle over the road from our flat.
There are loads of little supermarkets in town, but they don't all sell the same things, so you spend ages traipsing around them all. We found Cadbury's chocolate in one of the supermarkets, but it didn't taste the same as it does in the UK. It's surprising how much stuff is actually available here - I have even seen Ribena on sale (but have not yet succumbed to the temptation!).
Work-wise, the week was quite slow and frustrating for me. I finally managed to get some lectures to teach from one of the other lecturers, Laurence, and am teaching for the first time later on this week. I'll be teaching Pharmaceutical Technology to the 2nd year students next semester, which is not really my area of expertise, but at least I have got a while to swot up on it!
We had a VSO cluster meeting on Saturday near a town called Bushenyi, which is close to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We met at the Kingfisher Lodge, which had spectacular views over the savanna - even though it was quite hazy. Apparently when it's a clear day, you can sometimes see elephants in the rift valley below. We met the other volunteers from the Mbarara and Bushenyi Areas. The aim of these cluster meetings is mainly for peer support, but you also get to discuss your placements, and think about the possibility of becoming involved in certain projects as a cluster.
On the way back from Bushenyi, we saw a group of Baboons on the road. They were really cute, and some of them were carrying babies. We took some pictures from the car, but they didn't come out very well.

Weve been socialising quite a bit with the other people from our compound this week. We have discovered that we live next door to two doctors from England, and they are really nice. We went to a party on Thursday night, to celebrate the birthdays of 3 of the residents. It was really good to meet everyone properly, and build up a bit of a network.
We're settling into our flat pretty well, and are beginning to feel at home. We have managed to find a cleaner who will come once a week and do all our laundry and cleaning for us, which is great. The floors in our flat are bare concrete, so they get pretty dirty. We had no electricity for most of the weekend, which was really frustrating because we had forgotten to buy candles! Luckily the power came back on in the evening, otherwise we would have been sitting in the dark. I've finally got round to taking some pictures of the flat, which I am currently trying to put on the blog, but the network is being too slow! Hope you will be able to see them soon.

Monday, 9 March 2009

A market on the roadside, somewhere between Kampala and MbararaPosted by Picasa
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Moved into our flat!

It's all feeling pretty good here at the moment.

We moved into our flat on Friday, and it was such a relief to leave the University Inn. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the Inn, but it was a pain not being able to unpack or cook for ourselves.

Our flat is in a compound across the road from the university, and all the visiting lecturers (ie muzungus or white people) seem to live there. At first we were a bit reluctant to live in a compound, but it's nice to know that people are around, and we have the reassurance that the compound is guarded (by a man with a gun!) 24 hours a day.

The flat itself is fairly big. It's got 2 double bedrooms, a huge living/dining room, a bathroom and toilet, a kitchen (with a fridge!) and a storeroom. All in all, I think we've been quite lucky. We have the facility to have hot water (via a water heater), we have a fridge and there's a lovely balcony where we are comtemplating growing some herbs. We spent the weekend frantically getting staff for the flat, and were helped enormously by Danny and Annie (VSOs working nearby) driving us around in their 4 x 4. We had to get a gas stove, as the electric hob that was in the flat was a bit dodgy (to put it mildly). I will put some pictures of the flat and Mbarara on this blog as soon as I get a chance.

Weekends are really nice here, as we get a chance to catch up with the other VSOs in the area. There are three of us in Mbarbara university (me, Jason, and a neonatologist called Dr Unni), and three others at a teacher training college a short distance away (Danny, Annie and Sofie), so it's a good little community. We had lunch at Unni's flat on Saturday - he is an absolutely amazing chef! He even managed to cook matoke in a way that made it taste lovely. Jason and I have said we'll invite them all round for a house-warming meal sometime soon, which will be lovely, but there's no way we can compete with Unni on the culinary front.

I'm still trying to find my feet a bit at work - as the students are in the middle of the semester I'm not really required to teach yet. I am preparing a few seminars on 'Pharmacy in the UK', which hopefully should be interesting for the students.

I'm still getting used to the fact that life goes at a much slower pace in Uganda than it does in the UK. When I was a pharmacist in the UK, I seemed to have something to do all the time, and I hated it when the pharmacy wasn't busy. Now I am having to get used to not having a lot to do, and I must admit it's harder that I thought it would be!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Update from Jason

Hiya, just an update from me, now that we have Internet access at the University!

We are still waiting for our flat to be painted (supposedly it was a bright green colour before). Anna went to see it yesterday and it sounds as if it will be massive! Of course we are not getting our hopes up that we will be moved in by the weekend and that it will be perfect! We are still trying to get used to the fact that things go very slowly here!

Both of us started work on Monday (I shall let Anna update everybody on her department). I have yet to meet the Director in charge of my department and I felt sorry for the other staff as they have an idea what she was expecting me to do but cannot say officially.

It does seem that most of my time will be taken up helping to improve the network and sorting out the Website and Intranet, hopefully I will be doing some teaching in a subject I am good at, they have already offered me VB Client-Server programming which is not really my skill set! Oh well I may have to learn!

My first impression of Uganda are very good indeed, although for the first few days we were in Mbarara everybody kept giving us so much attention. It seems now that we get far less attention even after a few days, which I hope means that we are recognised!. The country looks stunning and we are hoping to get our first taste of the countryside next weekend and there is a VSO cluster meeting taking place, which will be very good indeed! I think it is just an excuse for a few beers...

We shall update the blog with some more exiting news in a few days!