Saturday Departure

Muganzi had proposed to meet Ed and Jim at 6 am today to drive to the Nakasero Market district and get prices and availability of Kampala hardware. That was early enough to catch a beautiful sunrise over the hazy hills and sight some unique tropical birds here along the north shore of Lake Victoria. Muganzi had traveled in from Hoima by bus, a 3-hour journey, and was to return the same way later today.

The market district was a very very busy place, packed with people milling about between the stalls and shops that overflowed out onto the sidewalks. Pedestrians get displaced from the walks onto the road, but the road is still open territory for piki pikis, cars, and trucks, which remain jammed behind vehicles waiting for parking spaces. It is truly everyone-for-themselves if you want to have a chance of moving through the crowds and getting anything done! Fortunately we met up with Patrick, a friendly giant of a man who often did shopping for the Sisters when they needed items from the markets. He was known and respected everywhere we went, and we had a comfortable spot under his wing. After getting prices on every component of the biogas digester (basically a large plumbing and masonry project with a fence around it and a roof overhead), Patrick invited us for a brisk walk through the labyrinth of the inner produce market. We passed vendors selling roasted grasshoppers, freshly cut meat and fish, sweet fruit, aromatic spices, and mounds of vegetables. There were also some strong pungent odors and a bit of a biofilm on the ground wherever we went. Mere footpaths wound between produce bins and vendors lounging on the ground. Patrick helped us negotiate for a bag each of vanilla beans and cinnamon bark, for $7, and bought us each a fresh mango. We were grateful for his help, and he enjoyed helping us and the Sisters on this errand.

Erin and Jim spent the morning riding in a hired car from Buseesa. They phoned us on their way into the city, and we rendezvoused at the Garden City Mall for lunch. From there, we did some tourist shopping at the Craft World market, and returned to the Mpala school to freshen up and rest. Our plans are to eat dinner at the Phase 3 restaurant on the way to the airport tonight, and check in around 9 pm. With the exception of Erin, who is staying an extra week for personal travel, we should be home safe and sound Sunday afternoon!

Mission Accomplished

The main goal on this trip for the biogas project was to interview all three potential contractors, and today we were able to land the final interview and also complete a fourth unexpected one.

The first appointment today was with Paul Erimu and Hamida with Envirosyn. This company has installed over 180 fixed-dome digesters throughout Uganda, mostly in northern part of the country. They put a lot of effort into marketing and education in order to convince people to believe that Biogas does in fact work and it can have a positive impact on their lives. Out of 100 people they approach about biogas, only 50 want to hear more, and then only 2 eventually decide to commit and install a digester in their home or at their school. (The other 48 say it will cost too much to try).

Paul and Hamida rode with us to visit a local school where one of their installed digesters is operating. With thunder rumbling ominously overhead, we walked around the concrete tops of 4 tanks in a row that ended at an outlet for spent slurry to escape to a garden area. Paul hopped up on one rim and poked a stick into an open chamber, explaining that the slurry here had been mixed with too much water and was not producing as much gas as it could. He took a lot of pride in his design, and an accompanying school worker was also very proud of the system that he helped to operate. We followed the gas line to the kitchen, where four biogas burners (not all connected right now) were installed in a remarkably clean and smoke-free concrete room, and a small simmering pot of beans gave off a nice aroma.  It was a dramatic difference from the typical wood-burning kitchens where you gasp for clean air and the eyes burn and water from the smoke.

We left that location and hurried towards the next appointment with Arjan Coenradie, managing director of QEnergy Consultants, at a downtown coffee shop. Luckily, there was enough time for a fried chicken lunch at a Mr. Tasty fast-food restaurant next door before the meeting! Arjan was the exact type of contact that EWBGCP has been trying to find for the last 10 months for this project: a person with experience inside the local small-scale biogas industry, who had clear answers about technical issues as well as supply questions, and spoke great English. He was very much on our wavelength as we discussed bag digesters, biogas in general, and how to get things done in Uganda, for two hours.  Ed and Jim left with a new understanding of bag digesters and feeling that we had found an ideal solution for our needs in Buseesa.

Not much else happened today except for another traffic jam and a few power outages, but dinner was superb and the hospitality remained top-notch!


The Team Splits Up

Thursday began with the departure of Ed and Jim from Buseesa, accompanied by Sister Paulin, and chauffeured by Phillip. Erin and Connor would stay for two more days to finish water quality sampling and other tasks for the water project. From this point in the blog, the story will follow Ed and Jim, as Ed is the blogger and can only write what he knows about!

The clouds opened up and let loose a good tropical downpour on our Land Rover on its jouncing way through Mubende and on to Mityana. A quick chipati snack helped settle stomachs queasy from the rough dirt road. Our destination was a noontime meeting with Vianney Tumwesige, the owner of Green Heat, who was a candidate to be the contractor for the biogas project. Phillip pushed through a typical Kampala traffic jam to reach the Makerere University campus, home to the Center for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation where Vianney pursued his doctorate degree.

Vianney was wearing a football jersey and ball cap and had a student listening in during our discussion of the proposed biogas project at Buseesa. He was in his element at CREEC and whizzed through some cost estimating with supporting sketches on a scrap of paper. He multi-tasked on the cell phone, sending texts to his supplier at QEnergy to get pricing on bag (or "balloon") digesters. Generally he gave us a lot of new information to consider for the project, and also put us in touch with the Dutch owner of QEnergy, who we would meet with the next day. It was a successful meeting.

To kill a little time while waiting to be picked back up by Phillip, Jim and Ed strolled around the campus. A woman sitting on a sidewalk was selling the first mangos of the season, peeled and sliced and ready to eat from a bag. A Ugandan told us that 80% of college graduates here are unemployed, and a good portion of the other 20% are underemployed... some unfortunate statistics that don't reflect a very healthy economy, and not a very good incentive for students!

The day ended after a grind through rush hour traffic to get to Mpala (just south of Kampala, on the way to Entebbe). It was luxurious to again be on the power grid, have an internet connection, and have some hot water for a shower.

Masons Without Borders

Today was a last push to wrap up any last loose ends for the biogas project, as Ed and Jim leave for Mpala tomorrow. While Erin and Connor started the day at BCDC, Ed and Jim met with Jonan the farm manager at SND. They filmed Jonan chopping down napier grass with a panga (machete) and then chopping it into short lengths that could be fed into a digester. He said he would trust a child as young as 8 years old to do this work without getting hurt because everyone in the villages grows up swinging a panga around as one of their main tools. They also took inventory of the school tool shed and then put some to use in digging a meter-deep test pit where the digester will go. Ugandans use a heavy "hoe" for both cultivation and digging. Ed gave the hole a good start but it was not ordinary to let a Mzungu (foreign white person) do manual labor, so another farm hand finished the job. There was a good 6" of rich loamy topsoil underlain by a firm red clay, and no sign of nearing any bedrock that would interfere with the excavation planned for our digester tank.

Now the masonry adventure began with the search for sand. Jim and Ed met with Father Godfrey to use a small amount from his stockpile for the construction of a future church. The Father decided to make a drive to get a fresh truckload instead, and stopped by at the clinic to take a meal to a teacher that had been admitted with a fever. Maneuvering around the burned wreckage of the tour bus in the road at Akasalaba, we caught sight of Erin and Connor about to head to Kibaale. They were getting aboard their favorite mode of transportation, the piki piki motorcycles driven by BCDC staff, and were planning to meet the district water engineer.

Father Godfrrey drove on until he found a sand pile by the road that was an advertisement to draw customers down a trail to an old river embankment. There, a few men had quarried a lode of sandy soil and sold us a small truckload for $4. Eventually, Father Godfrey got his truckload home and Ed and Jim got a sack of sand for the stove repair.

The drive was a good opportunity to talk to Father Godfrey about his interest in efficient wood cookstoves. He is a bit of a self-pronounced conservationist, and wants to set a good example for his followers. Villagers are generally growing more concerned with the decreasing amount of readily available firewood, and the Father sees potential relief in the use of efficient wood-burning stoves that he has heard about. EWB GCP favors the "Rocket Stove", which must be designed based on individualized cooking pot measurements. When they returned to the Father's house, Ed measured his kitchen pots and got info about cooking times, and will take that data back to other engineers in the chapter to complete the design. Father Godfrey is also interested in using a biogas system in the future.

The stove repair saga continued with preparing a few sticks of wood for the forms that would shape the mortar patch. This would have been easy with a saw, but was more complicated to do using a panga. Notching-one-side-of-a-board-and-then-breaking-it-over-an-edge got the job done even if the results were a bit ragged. Here Jim left to go with Erin and Connor to see the new school being built by BCDC in Kirkibicooli, and Ed remained to wash the sand. The "sand" contained lots of clay, silt, and organic bits that would greatly weaken the final mortar. Ed finished 3 rinses before calling it good enough. However, Rose, the head cook, who now understood why rinsing the sand was important, rinsed the sand 10 more times on her own. The result was virtually beach sand to use for the stove repair.

Everyone on the team re-convened at 4 pm for a school-wide performance in our honor in the dining hall. Students of several age groups performed native dancing, drumming, and a capella singing for our enjoyment. Their energy, enthusiasm, and talent were beyond the average U.S. chorus performances we've seen!

Finally, Jim and Ed could return to the stove repair. Rarely does the mixing of a batch of cement inspire such curiosity and gratitude! Children competed for the best view of the Bzungu (more than one foreign white person) doing some skilled labor in a kitchen already busy with kids cleaning dried beans and peeling dozens of bunches (full bunches, from the tree) of matoke bananas for dinner. Jim did a sterling job of placing the mortar patch around the wire mesh and troweling a nice finish. The reputation of our entire EWB chapter is now riding on the success of that patch, so it had better last through the summer!

Just Tuesday

The first highlight of this day was an adorable pre-school performance

put on especially in our honor. About 60 children sanf and danced,

smiling ear to ear, while Sister Juliette did the calling and


From there, Ed and Jim met Sister Bernardi to discuss needed stove

repairs. This Sister is in charge of the kitchen and has a list of

needed improvements, only one of which is the biogas supply. Jim was

interested in attempting a concrete repair to one of the hearth

stoves, thinking of using his masonry skills from previous work in

Tanzania. Ed agreed to append the to-do list, hoping to get some

insight into how to undertake a small repair project in this setting.

All four of us met up again at BCDC to lead a meeting with the local

Water Board, a citizen groupinterested in improving village water

sources. About 10 were in attendance, and again provided Erin and

Connor with helpful informationabout the water sources. These two

water engineers and Jim then spent several hoursriding boda bodas (or

piki piki, we are not sure which is the best word for them) to

investigatethe locations, sometimes winding along narrow footpaths and

covering some distances.

Ed spent a good deal of time coordinating the purchase of a bag of

cement from Karaguzza. It also appeared that getting the sand for the

mixture would be anotherset of logistics. The "sand" used by locals

was a clay loam with some sand in it... the clay content was sometimes

compensated for by using extra Portland cement. The outcome was often

poor quality and low strength. This will be remembered as a valuable

insight for the time when construction begins.

As planned for the rest of the week, we all joined Tusabe, Michael,

and Moses at BCDC for dinner. It evidently often takes 4 hours or more

to to prepare a village dinner in Uganda, so we ate around 10 pm. The

wait was worth it, as we passed the time with good conversation and

the meal itself had 5 different delicious dishes. Afterwards, Tusabe

told us of a man from his village named Busaka who is revered as a

living god for his healing powers. His many followers, in three

countries, sell their possessions and give the money to his church in

hopes of earning favor and opportunities for a healing touch. No one

in the room took this man seriously, and we swapped stories of faith

healers in the United States that sounded similar.

Meeting Day

Today was a day of many meetings, beginning immediately after

breakfast. Muganzi, our first contractor to interview for the biogas

project, arrived unexpectedly early. He and Asiimwe John had driven 3

hours from Hoima on a boda boda and were waiting for Ed and Jim in the

waiting room of the convent. The interview went very well, and Muganzi

even arranged to meet us again in Mpala at 6 am Saturday to take us to

the market district and show us the materials he was confident they

could procure there, including the flexible rubber sheet and a burner

large enough to heat one of the school's kettles.

Erin and Connor had a preliminary meeting at BCDC, followed by a

long-awaited "kick-off" meeting with the BCDC officers and Father

Godfrey of the Parish. Erin began from square one with explaining

EWB's structure and project approach, to make sure that the water

project began with everyone on the same page. Father Godfrey expressed

his gratitude that EWB commits to the same project area for at least 5

years, and in fact hoped that there was not a maximum limit!

Since Ed played the smallest part in the water project, he was called

away to ride to Mubende to pick up our luggage from the airline

delivery there. Driver Phillip was an expert and safe driver, but was

in an understandable hurry, and Ed had a ride as close to the

Paris-Dakar offroad rally as he'd ever want! What a relief to return

with our luggage and deliver our care package cargo from the

Covington, KY convent to the Buseesa convent.

In the meantime, Erin, Connor, and Jim had scouted 3 water sources

near Buseesa Village and were preparing for a village LC1 meeting.

Adding Ed to the group, we were shuttled to the Akasalava crossroads

by boda boda in time to be front and center at the gathering. Erin

again did an excellent on-the-spot job explaining the EWB purpose and

project approach, with Connor as backup in answering key questions.

Locals named 5 water sources they thought could be candidates for the

first "protected spring" location. Wearing an "empowerment through

microfinance" t-shirt, Tusabe from BCDC handled the translating. All

finished well, and the LC1 continued their meeting with an

introduction of the new national identification card program.

Easter Sunday

Sunday morning was cool and breezy, not what you might expect a few

minutes from the Equator. Just outside our rooms, a large heron danced

around the soccer field looking for rats and snakes in the grass, and

two black ibis worked the sidelines. Team members found breakfast at

the convent and lingered for two hours for a very productive

discussion of the water project planning. Erin Cummings is leading the

project and hopes to present a clear outline to BCDC members on

Tuesday. Jim Moyer's previous experience on three EWB student projects

in Tanzania is providing helpful insights into do's and don'ts at this

planning stage.

Easter Mass filled the school dining hall with many Notre Dame

students and a good portion of the Parish as well. A nice breeze blew

in through open doors and windows as swallows sang, darted, and dived

among the rafters and up and down the aisle. Father Godfrey welcomed

us warmly before the service and suprised us at the end by asking us

to speak in front of the congregation. He translated our basic

introductions and statements of the work we expected to do this week.

We felt honored to be received by the community in this way. Several

locals approached us afterwards with questions related to both


One man named Leopold explained to us what a blessing the Sisters of

Notre Dame have been for his Buseesa Community by providing a high

quality education for their children. He felt the Sisters showed the

villagers a lot of respect by allowing them to trade food, supplies,

and labor for their school fees. Leopold thought great potential

benefits could come as the villagers learned from both the biogas and

water projects that the school attracted. We parted and promised to

see each other at the upcoming BCDC meeting.

Matia was another familiar face from our previous trip. One of the key

BCDC employees, he also met with us outside the dining hall and

introduced his family to us. His youngest son is named Nicholas, after

the founder of BCDC. Matia invited us to all go to the nearby town of

Karaguzza to see another friend, Winnie, and to enjoy the town. Erin,

Connor, and Jim accepted, and were also able to scout for hardware,

complete errands, and learn about the water distribution system there.

Ed remained at the school and had a very productive meeting with

Sisters Anita and Judith to update them on the biogas project status

and the outlook towards eventual implementation.

Everyone re-convened for a private Easter dinner with the Sisters, and

a few rounds of cards and dominos afterwards. The bell rang at the

door at an unexpected hour and news came from a watchman that there

had been a vehicle fire down the road in Akasalava. It was a bus

carrying a football (soccer) team back from a match, and it was

engulfed in flame. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The smouldering

carriage was seen the next day in the middle of the road, smoke still

rising from the lumps that used to be the tires. The message the

locals passed up the road through the grapevine was a warning to turn

off your house lights to prevent the fire from spreading through the

electrical power system...?!

Double Rainbow Across the Sky

Our Saturday continued with a slog through heavy pre-Easter traffic in the outskirts of Kampala for the Sisters to get basic groceries to take back to Buseesa and for us to find a Forex to change currency. We were amazed to squeeze through a few 2-1/2 ish lane intersections without the benefit of stop lights or stop signs. Four streams of motorcycles (boda bodas), bicycles, minivans, transport trucks, and pedestrians crossed in a delicate choreography punctuated by a cacaphony of mostly courteous "beep beeps" and disregarded with mostly stoic, jaded looks on drivers' faces.
After one quick pitstop at a beautiful convent in Mityana, and a slightly awkward purchase of chipati bread and roasted matoke through the car windows from a gaggle of roadside vendors in Mubende, we all arrived unceremoniously in Buseesa. Some staff had gone home for the Easter weekend, but the school was still full of excited kids who took barefoot to the soccer field to make the most of the late afternoon.
The team strolled from their accommodations at teacher housing past elephant grass, termite mounds, a matoke grove, the convent, and the Parish church to the office of the Buseesa Community Development Center (BCDC) to meet with the gregarious Michael Garabuzzi. The water engineers discussed updates on the drinking water project and learned of how eager the locals were to see progress. Michael expected many to show up for the community meeting on Wednesday whether it was pouring rain or not.
Michael described everyone as getting "meat crazy" for Easter feasting - the local vendors were selling the beef from 5 cows to villagers ready to stuff themselves on good food... not unlike American Thanksgiving! Michael, an employee of a community bank that makes microloans to poor but motivated villagers, agonized that most spent too much money on this short term binge. He felt that many literally spend all of their money on feasting and then can't pay for things like medical help when they need it later.
BCDC is a community bank project that makes microloans starting at $90 to peer groups of eight members. At least 5 of the 8 must be women, and each member has to prepare a plan of how the money will be used. This provides much needed capital for ideas like growing cash crops, buying equipment or inventory for a business, or for building a brick house with a metal roof.
The blue sky day gave way briefly to a sunshower right at dinner time with the Sisters. We all filed outside to look for the rainbow and sure enough found a double rainbow arcing over the glistening hills behind the school - a lovely sight.
For the evening vigil, the school kids put on a thundering choral and drumming performance in the dining hall. Beautiful, vibrant music resonated off the hillsides under a starlit African sky for an hour and a half. Eventually, the music unravelled a bit into the shrieking and frenetic drumming of kids having fun before bedtime.
Four EWB engineers who had been fighting off jet lag all day finally fell asleep, dreaming of their lost luggage they couldn't reunite with until Thursday.

Saturday Morning

The travel team awoke Saturday morning in Mpala to a nice gentle rain that became a sunshower as the sun came up. Different birds were singing and the roosters were crowing in the neighborhood surrounding the Notre Dame's Preschool compound. We had arrived Friday midnight after a fairly smooth flight marred mostly by the loss of everyone's checked luggage! Fortunately we all have basic items and clothes in our carry-ons to last until our bags can be delivered to us in Mubende. Sisters Anita and Judith met us at the airport, and their driver Phillip drove everyone on the left side of the road, through a few roundabouts, and past a police checkpoint to our accommodations in Mpala.  


Some things feel different from last year's trip, like the rain, and some things are the same, like the people, the rooms, and the continental breakfast. After some boiled eggs from the hens, small sweet bananas from the trees, and a bit of 'fat spread' and jam on bread, we are now organizing ourselves for the day, using the last speedy internet access we will have for several days, and generally settling into the rhythm of Uganda.


Getting Ready For Another Trip!

This is just a quick entry to test the mail2blogger system of publishing my blog entry. This year I should be able to publish this directly via email from the boarding school in Buseesa, Uganda, as long as the sun is shining and the solar cells are charging!


This will be the second assessment trip for the Biogas Group (represented by Jim Moyer and Ed Kohinke), and the first assessment trip for the Water Group (represented by Erin Cummings and Connor Smith). We depart tomorrow, April 17th, at 4pm, and return April 27th at about the same time. Ed Kohinke and Erin Cummings were on the travel team last year. Jim Moyer has extensive travel experience with the UC student chapter of EWB in Tanzania. Connor Smith is along for his first EWB trip.


The forecast in Uganda is for 80 degrees everyday and thunderstorms every afternoon... the rainy season!