Ugandan Endeavor: Day 9 (Monday) – Configuring Computers

I woke up in the bed provided by Ann because she was so hospitable to allow us to stay there for the night, very nice. As I was waiting on my ride (that should have arrived an hour earlier), I talked with Ann about what she has going on. As it turns out, she and her husband run an orphanage a ways away and she also runs a microfinance operation that has actually been successful. I was totally fascinated by the fact that she is able to successfully execute a microfinance operation because I had heard that when the government tried it a while ago all of the people took they money because they said, “It’s our money anyways.” And never paid it back. However, Ann’s operation is small, only a couple dozen people, but they spend a whole week teaching them how to handle the money and provide advice on the type of business that makes sense and then they check up once a week or so to see how things are going.

She was telling me that if somebody had an issue with their business, all of the people in that class would get together to pray over the situations. And then also, if one of the businesses failed, the other people in the class would use their profits to pay the loan of the failed business. What great generosity these Africans exhibit. What is wrong with us Americans?

Not only this, but I have met many people that care for some number of orphans, whether 4 or 20 or 150 or 400. These people see the need and respond. They see the kids that have nothing other than a pair of pants and care. They see the kids that were forced to commit atrocious crimes (such as kill their own parents) at ages of 6-12 who are now orphans with no way to recover from their trauma, no place to live, nobody that cares, and no way eat.

I was talking with one woman who’s parents died when she was very young along with all of her parents’ siblings except one. One man in her family was still alive, a priest living in Chicago. She told how she requested help from him, but none ever came. How can a man of the church, a man ordained to live out God on this earth, neglect his own family? I asked her to help me run some numbers on what it would take to support a child. A child can attend school, have a place to live, and eat every day for around $30 USD/month. An opportunity to go to school is immensely valued here; kids (ages 5) will consciously make choices to go without food for days to save up some money to attend school. They all know that school is the only way they can get out of the position they are in.

I’m just taking all of this Africa stuff in. It’s a whole different world.

On a productive note for the day, I worked with two guys most of the day to successfully create and transfer images of one computer to all of the rest. We could deploy these out for use today (although not exactly perfect). I am happy to say that we have a process that works and can be used going forward. They learned a lot today; I hope the retain some of it. Too bad that the stuff I’m having them help me with is stuff that they will likely never use because they will never develop enough technical abilities to understand what all they did and why.

Many of the kids want to “learn computers.” And, since I’m here as the “computer guy” they come to me asking if they can help while I’m here. It’s quite frustrating because I know that I can manage the 12 computers we have significantly (at least 10x) faster than having these 4 guys help me. Patience huh?

It doesn’t help that the education system here is quite bad. None of the education focuses on critical thinking or analytical skills. These students simply regurgitate. They can only solve problems that they have seen before and been given the answer. It is rare that this is thinking about the problem presented, why it’s a problem, why it needs to be solved, and if there is more than one way to solve it.

Tomorrow I will meet with a guy to see if he has enough technical ability to be able to get the café mostly up and running so that I can remotely log in and manage the machines. I certainly hope so, otherwise there may be no hope for this thing…

Ugandan Endeavor: Day 8 (Sun) – Starting Work on the Computers

Jane is to speak at a church in Mbale today. The car was supposed to arrive at 8am to get Jane there around 9am and I was going to ride into town as well with some of the guys from the orphanage to help me get some computer setup complete. Of course, we dropped Jane off at the church around 11am. We went to a location to work on the computers and sat in front of the door because the person that brought us there didn’t have a key. After a couple hours of this, we decided to go to another location because it was uncertain when the person with the key would show. (Of course, nobody thought that not having a key was an issue.)

After getting setup in the second location to work on computers, I began to try to teach these other three guys how to modify the computer to meet our needs. These are people that only have used computers to send emails because it costs too much money to use them at the internet cafes for anything else. For those of you who are curious, I was having these guys boot into a linux bootable CD (Knoppix), start a graphical partition editor, delete a partition, and create two partitions meeting my requirements. We had 10 computers to get through.

I attempted to explain what a hard drive was, what partitions are, and what file systems are. Those of you whom I have tried to teach before, you may remember that I am not somebody most people want for a teacher. I think it has to do with my lack of patience and creativity in presenting material. So, after many hours little was accomplished (relative to what I could have done on my own) and we were told that we would have to leave around 9pm because the president was in town and that there was a 11pm curfew.

So, the three of us working on the computers at that point headed over this woman’s house that we had went to earlier for dinner. She offered a place for us to sleep for the night so that we could get back to work in the morning. This woman, Ann, was an amazing hostess and incredibly hospitable. She had a few younger girls helping her cook, etc. However, I was quite disturbed because soon after we arrived each of the girls came out to use in the main room and got on her knees, extended her hand, and then said, “You’re welcome.” She would then waddle on her knees to the next person and do the same thing all around the room this happened and she went back into the kitchen to never show up again. Then not long after, one of the girls came out with a pitcher of water and a basin with soap and came to each of us so we could wash our hands. She said nothing, just served.

This type of behavior is very disturbing to me. There is a clear distinction between men and women in the more traditional style homes. Then on top of that, there is very much a mentality that white people are inherently better than Africans. Many people here simply believe that white people are superior; they see themselves as inferior mentally, physically, etc. It’s so very sad to see people live in this type of environment where women believe they are inferior to men and Africans believe they are inferior to white people.

Ugandan Endeavor: Day 7 (Sat) – Hopes Dashed

Much anticipation for the day. The car came bright and early, but of course there were delays. So, eventually we left to go to Soronko, but for some reason we went to Mbale and then we got out of the car and switched to another one. So, we were supposed to meet the owner of a great location at 9am, but we arrived around 11am (decent for African time). Once we walked in, I expected negations to go smoothly because the man working with us had already talked to the owner about a price for the room. However, once we walked in and asked about the price, he told us a number twice as expensive. That was completely absurd. I mean the difference isn’t a whole lot of money, US, but it’s a lot of money in Ugandan terms. We negotiated for a while and said that we would make arrangements to finalize the deal on Monday.

I arrived back in town to look at the place we were putting an offer in on, and decided that it really wasn’t worth it because he wouldn’t fix the windows or paint the room – something that costs 2-3 months rent (rent is quite cheap in general). So, we made the decision to go back with the original place that was supposed to be done that day. We talked to the workers and they said maybe it would be done by the end of the next week. That’s just frustrating because that is when I leave.

Overall, the day was very frustrating. I should have known that I shouldn’t have gone to be part of the negotiations. Of course, mezungo (white man) automatically means 2-3 times higher prices.

I pressed one of our representatives to quickly get the rest of the arrangements finalized for the other aspects of the café, but alas nothing was able to get done and of course there isn’t much that can be done on Sunday.

Mostly, I wished very much that I hadn’t gone to the negotiations. I knew that it would affect things, but I guess I was just living in this ideal world were people treated other equally. I was hoping for honesty, etc. But the owner kept insisting that the current tenants pay the same price he wanted to sell it to us for; I don’t like it when people lie to me (and I know it). So now, things are looking bleak and I still don’t have the computers setup. One thing that I need is internet access to download some files, but with the fastest connection speed in the area being 1KB/s (yes, around one, maybe two KB/s) there is no way I can actually download anything in the internet cafes. I come from a whole different world; I didn’t realize it would be so much different (I’d prefer a reliable modem connection over these “broadband” connections).

Ugandan Endeavor: Day 6 – Close to installation and setup

Wow, this morning we had these things called “donuts” and fruit salad for breakfast. Nothing like American donuts, but friend dough of some sort. I was quite happy that my ride to pick me up at 8am showed up just after 9am. I’m happy that I have had to experience the 2+ hour delay that the others have for rides.
So, I went in early to Mbale to begin to finalize plans for the internet café. We met with UTL (Uganda Telecom) today to discuss an option for a dedicated line offering 128-256 kbps (that’s little “b” mind you) ranging from $300-650 USD / month. However, if we are not eligible for the educational discount then the prices are doubled. The manager at UTL said we needed to provide a prospectus and proposal for what we are trying to do for his review since the schools/orphanages are not officially registered as part of the Ugandan Ministry of Education.
After this meeting, we were able to meet with one of the guys who will likely be our main employee for the café; we’re stealing him from another internet café. We showed him the potential location and we gave a list of things that needed to be fixed in the location for us to rent the place. After this, Jane and I worked on the prospectus and proposal over lunch. As it turns out, the information about all of the schools to include in the prospectus we requested didn’t actually show up as we expected. We then requested again that somebody else coming into town bring us the info. Finally, the director of the orphanage was coming into town and then proceeded to call of the people and get them to tell him the contact information for each school/orphanage. What a grueling process or patience. Considered that I requested this information at 10am, the fact that I didn’t get anything until after 5pm was a bit frustrating. Things like this make any progress at all very difficult.
I was finally able to complete the print them out and give them to the manager at UTL. I told him that I would email him a soft copy because the branch manager would be in Kampala for a couple days. However, when I went to email the documents to him I found out that they were both infected with viruses. So Gmail wouldn’t let me send the files. So, there went a bunch of effort down the tubes. However, after coming back to the orphanage I was able to reconstruct the content after some work. But, it’s just frustrating that all my work was destroyed because of viruses on the internet café computers. However, I knew that this was a problem, but I didn’t think about it because it’s not a problem I ever have to deal with.
I learned even more today the level of deception that exits here. It’s quite phenomenal. There are all sorts of alliances, lying, cheating, and manipulation that exists between so many people – even people that presume to be on your side and your friend. It’s very disheartening to see how selfishness is so prevalent, yet these people can be so friendly to your face. However, not to sound completely down, there are some really great honest caring people. I am very excited about the fact that we believe we have at least a couple of guys involved in the project that are honest.
I have been very impressed the abilities and accomplishments of many of these young people. They have been required to grow up so early – sometimes living alone or supporting younger siblings at the age of 9. There are also some really amazing people here that care for many many orphans or minister in other ways. One guy is 17 and currently is running several youth groups for homeless children in Northern Uganda. Another guy is also 17 and is pastors a church living in very humble conditions (even for Uganda).
There are many things that are looking up. Tomorrow, much more will be known about how thing will progress. I’m excited to see what happens. If we can secure an internet connection and location, then I can begin moving very quickly to stand up the operation.
May God bless our work. I love the fact everyone here relies on God for everything. They can see when and how God blesses them. They recognize his presence, when I am so accustomed to discounting things as mere activities rather God’s involvement. I hope that I learn to God as these people see God.

Ugandan Endeavor: Day 5 – Making Progress

Of course, breakfast again is bread with butter and bananas. But, I got a ride into MBale early in the morning. I sent another email to Patrick proposing an offer to hire him as a director of the business. After more discussions with Jane, I can see that she really wants to have the business in MBale, although I had been thinking that there was too much competition here. However, as I was in the internet cafes today, I took note of the fact that this café was packed – the best one in town. But also, I was only getting 1-2KB/s download speed. There are several cafes in the area, but the others have even slower computers and the same download speed. So, I was thinking that we could take the MBale market by offering higher speed to the customers. We’d charge them more, eventually to cover the higher interne costs we’d be paying. But, we would have the fastest computers in town. So, another advantage.
I interviewed this one guy who wants to come work for the new café today – he currently works at the best café in town. There are others here related to the orphanage that want to work as well. I’m hesitant about these people, but if they are hard working and trustworthy, then that’s all that really matters. Those two characteristics are hard to come by. I think, I’ll test them by asking them to volunteer with setting up the rooms in the café.
I visited the internet providers in town and check them out. They said that most people in town get this particular package and when I told them I wanted more, they had to look around for their better packages. So, that’s encouraging. There really aren’t other options available by any other providers that are even in the price range. Of course, I’d be worried that these other people will upgrade to the connection speed we’d provide, but that will at least force the smaller places out of business.
Today was a very productive, relative to the other days here. Patrick has tentatively agreed to travel here and spend time starting the internet café. That is the most amazing thing possible. With his strong management guidance, I believe the café could sustain itself.
I’m exited that tomorrow I should be in town by 9am to meet with the internet provider. We may begin to rent tomorrow and get a carpenter in to build the desks. That would be truly amazing. I’m so excited that things are looking up. However, nothing has actually happened yet. Soon enough.
It’s really cool here to see how much these people see God as a part of their lives. Everybody gives God credit for any blessing in their life. They consistently ask others to pray with them over almost all issues that arise. They truly rely on God. I’ve been thinking that having so much security (money, things, jobs, etc) in the US gets in the way of us relying on God and giving him credit for the things in our lives. It’s also great to hear the importance of family and relationships here – whereas in the US, these things are secondary to career/money. These people cannot imagine working late instead of going home for a family dinner. They just wouldn’t do it. It’s great.

Ugandan Endeavor: Day 4 – Mbale

Breakfast this morning was bread with butter and some bananas. I then picked up a ride into the city, Mbale, to check out potential locations for the internet café as well as to see what other internet cafes in the area have to offer. Surprisingly, for Africa, I was able to accomplish these tasks quite quickly and got a ride back to the orphanage. One place that we looked at looked quite good for a location although it wasn’t on the street itself. The other place was up a ladder above a copy shop – yea right. Al of the cafes in Mbale are quite slow. One of them has newer computers which is nice, however the internet speed is about the same as the rest. I really think that these places need to look into some sort of Quality of Service or load balancing software. We can’t have a few users using up the bandwidth detracting from the user experience of the rest of the customers. Some of the employees have said that the internet is slow because somebody else is probably downloading something big. I just wish that instead of accepting problems that the culture was more inclined to look for solutions. But, maybe that is just my mentality because God has gifted me with abilities.

I sent an email to Patrick inquiring about potential locations in Kampala to start an internet café and I hinted at the idea of partnership. He texted me, telling me to check my email. Of course, without electricity or anything at the orphanage I had to get a ride back into Mbale. I missed my ride because I was out climbing trees looking for mangos. However, when I returned I asked the only guy with a car if he was going into town and he said he was going to go in half an hour. What a great surprise. The flip side is that the group that left just as I was returning had asked him for a ride only an hour earlier and he said he wasn’t going into town.

I also just found out that the $100 I paid for a ride from Kampala to the orphanage was already given to the guy who was going around with me. However, when it came time to book my travel, he told me that we would take public transport. I told him that was unacceptable and he said I would have to pay for the ride then. Of course, I didn’t realize that he was given money for a private ride to the orphanage. I guess he just used most of the money and only kept enough to get us there on public. This stuff happens all the time. I hear stories about this multiple times a day. It’s very discouraging.

After arriving in Mbale for the second time, I checked my email and saw that Patrick was quite interested in a partnership. As to be expected, because a connection with US people would be a significant business advantage. I have already demonstrated to him that I have ideas for solving some of the issues his business is currently facing. I think that a partnership can significantly increase his profits in general and he can manage the new café. We’ll have to work on the terms, but in general this should be highly beneficial for both of us. We’ll see what happens.

Before heading back to the orphanage, I heard that Jane was at the hospital because one of the girls with us got malaria. Turns out that she only has one strain whereas one of the other girls had four strains of it. Getting malaria takes a couple of days out of you. So, I’m hoping not to get it. My ride back to the orphanage left with out me. I’m not sure why, he said he would stop by at the hospital and get me on his way back. But he never showed. Eventually, I was able to get another ride, but again – frustration.

Dinner was as usual – Bananas with Potatoes or Rice and beans to pour over them. It’s way better than what the kids get – flour and water boiled into clumps. It has no flavor whatsoever. Goodnight

Ugandan Endeavor: Day 3 – Difficulties of Africa

I am pleased to say that I did have breakfast this morning. I paid the attendant the night before and my food arrived before the time I requested; I was quite surprised. A simple breakfast – fried egg (couldn’t find a yolk), 2 pieces of bread, 2 bananas, and some tea. I discovered a mosquito bite today (it may have been there yesterday). It itches a little, but there is a decent sized bug bite lump on my leg. I’m not sure if I should be concerned, but I do know I will continue to take my malaria medicine and today I’ll begin to use the bug spray I brought.

I spent the morning purchasing equipment for the internet café. Wow, the prices for things here are twice as expensive as in the US. And then on top of that, they don’t have the latest things. It was a bit frustrating to spend so much on so little – so I’ll have to re-evaluate the options. After making the purchases I booked a ride from Kampala to Mbale – over a 4 hour ride; that was expensive. However, I am quite astounded at the ability of regular cars to overcome very bad road conditions – things that we wouldn’t even consider roads by American standards.

After arriving at the orphanage, I can see there are a lot of problems facing this endeavor. Discipline seems to be severely lacking in Africa and this orphanage and its management is no exception. Apparently, the orphanage has accepted more kids than it can support – many kids do not have a place to sleep and sometimes there isn’t enough food to feed them. Because of the excess number of kids, there is no money for improvement of the orphanage so that it can properly support additional kids. There also seems to be quite a bit of politics and gossip that is pervasive amount the staff and kids.

A pastor stole a bunch of money that was given to him to purchase food and supplies for the children. Nobody here can be trusted; I’ve been told this over and over again. Additionally, things never happen on time. I have yet to have any appointment be less than 1 hour late. This is apparently normal in Africa, but this will not work in business. There are so many needs, but the discipline, work ethic, and quality work do not exist. I don’t like to sound pessimistic, but these and other issues prevent Ugandans from prospering their country. It is a sad sight to see.

Tomorrow, I will spend the day investigate Mbale to determine the feasibility of an internet café there. However, I am highly concerned about attempting to start a business and leaving it. I do not believe that I would be able to find two disciplined people who will work hard with integrity to leave the café to. Because of this, I may need to consider other options.