Monday, July 23, 2012

Out West

The building before we started
It has been a while and I really haven’t updated you all so I thought it was overdue. I want to make this update exciting but really life here is often quite ‘normal’. My life is not what I consider difficult it is just life and mine is much easier than the Ugandans around me. My life style would be similar to what most people experience going to a cabin in the woods. I have a room in a brick building with an iron sheet roof. Water is pumped from a bore hole through a filter using solar to a tap stand where people from the school and community get their water. My lunch and dinner are made for me and water is even boiled for me to bathe with. There is no electricity but all in all my living situation is nothing to complain about.

Starting the installation
Now to get to what I have been doing for the last month. As I mentioned in my last post I am at the Western Uganda Baptist Theological College (WUBTC), a long name for a college to train pastors. The roof on the classroom building was 23 years old and had many bats and rodents living in it and needed to be replaced. eMi designed a new roof that included a row of windows that would allow more light to enter the dark class rooms. WUBTC asked eMi to send a construction manager to manage the construction of the new roof and windows. And that is why I have been in western Uganda for a month.

Some students and teachers
Trusses and first purlin installed
Akankwasa the mason

Shelling beans
Porter, Brian, cutting bricks

My role of construction manager has three main roles, ensure the quality, handle the finances and disciple the workers. Pretty much make sure everything runs smoothly. A subcontractor was hired to do the metal work. I also hired a few workers to do the masonry work. Working with subcontractors anywhere can be a real challenge add to that cultural differences and it goes to a whole new level of frustration. There are times were I just wanted to fire the sub and do the work myself. I had to remind myself that I am here to teach and often teaching isn’t easy. One of the things I am have been realizing more and more is how different this culture is. Also how long it takes to understand a different culture. I have been in Africa for 10 months now and all I know is that I know less than what I thought I knew after my first week in Africa. I am often challenging things that are very engrained in the culture. I expect the sub to come when he says he will or call me otherwise. I also expect him to be honest and take responsibility for his and his workers actions.

Bottom sheets installed
Almost finished
Getting Close
Now you may say this sounds like the subs in Canada and it is true to some extent but is much different. Here is one example, he had not paid his workers for a month and I talked to him about it and he said he had an agreement with his workers that they could ask for an advance if they needed money before the end of the month. What he said was true but what but he did not mention that this was not the agreement with all his workers and he told the workers he did not have money to give them the advance. So did he tell me something that was untrue? You can be the judge of that. More and more I realize shame is a very big thing here and people will lie or not tell the whole truth just to avoid being shamed. So that is the main challenge I face here. The actual workers on site are good at what they do and a good to work with.

Driving 70 in a 30 zone and still getting passed
Even though the work was not completely finished I had to go back to Kampala for some work related things. It was a little disappointing to not see it finished but that is part of life. So last Tuesday I drove back to Kampala it was not too bad of a drive. I did see hyenas when driving through the park. I did get frustrated with the stupidity of other drivers. I did enjoy driving halfway across a beautiful country.

Now that I am back in Kampala I am saying good bye to all the other interns because they are leaving on Wednesday. I was supposed to go with them but things change and a ministry in South Sudan asked me to come there for a month. Then things changed again when the leader of Hope for Sudan was shot in an ambush while travel in eastern South Sudan last week. With our key person on the ground in South Sudan injured we thought that I would no longer be going but he is a fighter and is soon to be out of hospital and is making plans for me to come there still. I am not sure when I am going all I know is that I fly back to Canada on August 28. Here is more on what happened to Romano Romanos Narrow Escape. Just to limit worrying the area I am going to is safe then were the attack occurred.

Need a mattress?

Well that is what I have been up to. Please pray South Sudan, Romano and the work I will be doing there.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Choir Fit for a Queen

I know this is crazy another blog post so soon but I thought you would have nothing better to do as your summer begins then to read another blog post. This one is hopefully written gooder than my last one as that one was tough to write because I had so many thoughts but I had a tough time thinking them through.

For most of May I was out at the African Children’s Choir Primary School just outside Kampala. The school asked EMI to provide the construction management for construction of a football pitch so EMI sent me. It definitely started off very challenging as it was the closest that I have work with the same Ugandans for a long period of time. The longer I am in Africa the more I notice the cultural differences. I realize how I am very direct and how that can conflict with a very indirect culture. Ugandans use indirectness for good and bad. Sometimes it helps the other person to save face and other times people use it to save their own face. For me it is simple, just admit your wrong and move on but that is not how it works here. This is one of the things that I think about often is there a right way to interact and a wrong way and how do we decide. Now we must look to the Bible how God interacted with his people and told his people to interact with others. I look at God in the Old Testament as being very direct often saying “do this or this will happen.” Looking at God in the flesh it gets a little more complicated, Jesus was very direct sometimes especially when talking with the proud like the Pharisees. Although, when talking with others he used indirect communications such as parables so it makes it difficult to know whether one way is better than another. I find often here people use indirect communication more for their own advantage than to save others from embarrassment. In the end I just had to sit down with the contractor and talk about the need for directness even though it may make him uncomfortable.  There were still a few times the contractor used indirectness for his own advantage but in general communication became much easier.  The construction went quite smooth except for hitting some rock, the bull dozer getting stuck and it taking a whole day to dig it out, and the project taking twice as long as anticipated.

The beginning of my time at the school was very quiet because the students were gone for break leaving the school with an eerie stillness. When the students got back from their break the school was transformed into a vibrant chaos of children everywhere. As I would be working in the morning I would hear the students singing and playing drums nothing like being at an African Children’s Choir concert six days a week. They are so good that a group of them will be going to England to sing at a lunch for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. The students were great and every day after school there would be some soccer matches that I would often join in on and they would always take my dishes before I had a chance to wash them. 

It really was great getting to serve and spend time with such awesome students and staff at the African Children’s Choir.
As soon as I finished at the African Children’s Choir school I got a few days in Kampala and then was off to western Uganda where I am now. Now I am managing another but very different project at the Western Uganda Baptist Theological College (WUBTC). We are doing a replacing and renovating a roof on a building to allow more light in because the school’s power comes from solar panels and the building is very dark during the daytime. The area I am in is amazing I am sandwiched between the second largest game park in Uganda and the snowcapped Rwenzori Mountains, although they are more cloud capped and I have yet to see the snow.

Okay that is it for now take care and God Bless,

Aaron Haazen

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Long Time Coming

Okay, so I know a few of you thought I have been kidnapped or something like that and I guess it is something like that as I have been to faraway places and near places and sometimes I feel like my time has been kidnapped from me. The last months have gone by so quickly it is hard to believe that it is the middle of May already. That brings me to what I have been doing for the last three months. In February I went the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to work on a nursing school at the Vanga hospital and I started to write a blog post but it was just so negative and a lot of it was just about the hopelessness of that is still in the DRC, so I never finished it. Even now I am contemplating whether to finish it or write about the hope of where I am right now at the African Children’s Choir Primary School managing the construction of a football pitch.

Okay I have decided to write about my time in the DRC so here it goes. At the end of January I went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a very impactful project trip in my life and I am still trying to work out all I saw and experienced there. First I am first going to give a few quick facts about the DRC.
  • ·         Holds 70% of the world’s Coltan and 30% of the world’s diamonds
  • ·         Has 30% of the world’s hydropower potential
  • ·         2/3 the size of Western Europe
  • ·         Average annual income of $320
  • ·         Ranks last on the UN human development index
The DRC may be one of the most mineral rich countries but since colonization it has been raped and pillaged by greedy and corrupt people. There seems to be a great tolerance for the corruption in the DRC. Okay I am going to try to keep this from becoming a rant but I am going to talk about the bad first and then the good.

How many people can you fit into a van? Life in Kinshasa
You see corruption and bribes as a part of life in Africa but it came to a new level when in the DRC. People government officials would directly ask for money everywhere from the start of the trip going through customs at the airport to the end leaving the airport. When we were driving downtown Kinshasa with one of the ministry representatives and a police officer walked into the middle of the road waving for us to pull over. The driver calmly drove into the other lane around the cop and continued on. She told us that you never give a cop your license you just put it against the window or you will have to wait for hours as they wait for a bribe. Okay that was just one example of the rampant corruption we saw but I will get onto the good stuff.

Vanga from the air

My time in Kinshasa, the capital with 10 million people, was not inspiring but luckily our project was 500km east of the city. Because of the state of the roads we took a Mission Aviation Fellowship plane to Vanga it was super cool I got to sit co-pilot and enjoy the view as we passed over small villages. We even stopped in a small village to pick someone up it was super cool as we buzzed the trees coming in to land.

Once we arrived in Vanga things changed we got away from the corruption to actually meeting people that are doing things to change lives because the DRC government is doing little. Vanga hospital is a 400 bed hospital that serves 250 000 people and attached to it is a nursing school. For 10 days we worked on the site performing preliminary designs for the nursing school expansion. That was neat but the best part was talking to the people there and hearing their stories. Stories of lives being changed, people healed, rebels trying attack. Since this is very long already I will leave it here, open-ended. Lots of stories to tell so feel free to message me if you want to hear more.

Being introduced to the class
View from where we stayed of the river I swam in everyday

A little break from work
In the meantime please pray for the people of the DRC they really need it more than anywhere else I have been. Please keep me in your prayers as I finish up at the African Children’s Choir Primary School and head to western Uganda to manage a project for 6 weeks. Also please pray for my support raising as it is still lacking and if you feel inclined please donate.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kampala Christmas and Coastal Adventure

Christmas in Kampala didn’t feel like Christmas until Christmas Eve. I am not sure whether it was the warm temperature, being away from friends and family, and/or not doing any shopping for presents. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve when I went to a Christmas Eve service that it felt like Christmas. It got me thinking about what Christmas is supposed to feel like. Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus is the same to everyone everywhere. It does not matter where you are or who you are with; it is about being thankful that God came to earth to forgive my sins and bring me back into relationship with him.

After Christmas I made the long trek to the Kenyan coast. I took the bus there and if you think roller coasters are scary guess again. The first lag of the trip took me from Kampala to Nairobi (655 km). It took 13hrs to complete and we passed three buses from the same company that were broken down. The scenery was very nice we even got to do a 30km detour along a narrow gravel road that wound through a hilly region with many tea plantations. Our bus arrived two hours late at 9:45pm but the connecting bus was supposed to leave at 9:00pm so I was expecting to sleep in the bus company’s lounge but they actually waited for us. There were a number of us transferring so they just kept the bus there for an extra hour. Well right off one bus and back on another was not the best but it looked like a nice bus until I saw the shattered windshield. Being a night bus I took comfort in being able to sleep but at one point in the night I woke up as the bus was pulling a uturn. It then went back off the main road to some small town. The bus driver pulls a tread from a large tire, lying in the aisle, out the door and sells it to some guy. I don’t remember the bus stopping to pick up a tire tread I really don’t know where it came from I think it actually maybe from one of bus’ tires. Well the next morning I wake up to a great sunrise and now the cracked glass in the window is falling out. After another 650 km and 13hrs on the road we arrived in Mombasa with a basketball size hole in the windshield.
Mombasa is a shipping port and where almost all overseas goods go through to get to Uganda. It is on the Indian Ocean home of white sand beaches, palm trees, warm water, and resorts. I do not know why I decided on Mombasa but I was there and was not sure what to do. I had booked a hostel and that is all I planned so I started walking it was weird to walk around probably the biggest tourist area of Kenya and not see another white person. After a few hours of walking I start to head to the hostel I had a vague idea where it was but after another hour or so and being tired I picked a boda to the hostel. Apparently it was actually quite far from town but I got in a great walk. The hostel was nice after lunch and a quick jump in the pool and fell asleep on the hammock.

Over the next few days there I met lots of very interesting people with great stories. People I met included a man who fled from Poland on foot finally making it to the US and now he is a CNC programmer for machining of parts for the space shuttle thrusters. Another one was an Iraqi man who owns a Safari company in Nairobi. There was a guy who imports cars to South Sudan and a South African tourism professor that was on a trip from Alexandria to Cape Town done on public transportation. I also met two women had just taken a Permaculture (designing food systems not crops) course in Nairobi. They were meeting with a local farmer one day and I tagged along it was quite interesting what they said and I got to add my two bits about the proximity of the well to the septic tank and a few other water issues. The same women were going to a “resort” down the coast an hour and I joined them. It was amazing right on the beach and quite rustic which was perfect for me. I spent three days there just hanging out, snorkeling, and reading. New Year’s was spent on the beach around a bonfire talking about how to save Africa.


The next day I was back on the move. I got to town earlier than expected so I walked around and bought a Tottenham Jersey (Everyone has to have an English Premier team here), had a soda a little stand on the side of the road and walked to the train station. The train takes longer to get back to Nairobi but I have been told that it is well worth it. It was worth it, the train is old and sways side to side a lot. The train is much more comfortable we had dinner and breakfast and I even got my own cabin. It was a night train so much of the journey was a night but allowed me to watch the stars as the train chugged through the darkness. The sun rose as we were seated for breakfast. I have never travelled by train but I loved it I got to see so much from many villages to animals like zebras and antelope. There was a couple hour delay as our locomotive went to move a broken down train. The train goes right through a huge slum before arriving in Nairobi which is always sad. To me there is a big difference between poverty in villages and cities. I see much more hope in villages maybe it is because people often go to the city in hope of a prosperous life and it is not that way for many people. From Nairobi I caught an uneventful night bus with a different bus company back to Kampala. Back in Kampala I am glad I did the trip but it would be better to share the long journey with close friends.
Entering Nairobi


That is it for now, sorry for it being long winded. Next time I plan to write about a day in my Ugandan life.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Out and about

I promised to post again soon since I have been not posted very much in the last while but I started writing this about two weeks ago and then just left it. So sorry for that. Of the interns I have definitely been the spoiled one because I have done a bunch of things the others haven’t. Most recently I have gone on two small project trips and done a few days of shadowing an eMi construction manager in Jinja.

The COTN Site (Thrilling I know)
A well COTN built for the surrounding community
One small project I mention briefly in my last post  but now I will tell you about what happened on the trip. The organization had recently bought some more land and they needed to revise their master plan so Robert, a long-term architecture volunteer, and I went up to Lira which is a 5 hr drive north of Kampala. Lira is much drier than Kampala but still green because it is the rainy season. They have experienced a little of the drought that has been affecting the horn of Africa but the affects have really been minimal when you compare it to places like Somalia. Children of the Nations run a primary school, children homes, and child sponsorship in Lira. I went to survey the newly purchased land which seems pretty simple as it was not very large and was very open. Of course it was not simple because the GPS survey unit would not work and after 3 hrs in the sun trying to get it to work we gave up. I was able to use the handheld GPS unit to roughly get the new boundaries and then we called it a day as the afternoon rain was coming. The ministry urged us to stay another night and attend their church the following morning. We stayed and experienced a church service that makes the western Pentecostal church look like an Anglican church. At one point some people pick up their chairs and were dancing with them over their heads. The whole trip was a great time that I got to meet some great people doing great work.

We did another small day project that was much more successful with the GPS survey equipment. The project was located in Mbale in the Mount Elgon foothills. It was a small medical centre and school that recently purchased some more land. Within 3hrs we were back on the road and the long drive back to Kampala. It was a long day with over 14hrs of driving.

A few weeks back I was able to follow around an eMi project manager for three days. Project management is something that I have interest in and the three days gave a great glimpse into what it would be like. I definitely saw the great differences between western and Ugandan management styles such as direct vs. indirect communication. Many of the principles are the same though and I look forward to possibly do some construction management work next semester.

Driving back from market
In the past week all the other fall interns have left, two will return in mid-January, but it is sad to see them all go. It has definitely changed quite a bit over here as I am now the only person in a room with six desks. The other interns were awesome and it was great to get to know them and I can say for sure that they have been changed through their time here. We decided that we needed to create a legacy before we left so we commissioned a local welder to build a BBQ for us. It was made out of an oil drum and uses charcoal. In the picture it is not quite finish but I will show you a picture of the grill when it is finished because that will be the most amazing part. We used the grill for the interns’ farewell dinner even though it was not quite finished. We bought a goat few days prior and one for the guards killed it and we butchered it into tasty shish kebabs that were marinated in a rosemary pineapple marinate. Now before anyone can say that I am not a man for taking part in killing the goat I was not there I had to go to the market to get food for dinner and when I got back it was already skinned. All the Ugandans were astonished that none of had killed a goat before then they became even more astonished when one of the long-term volunteers said when she was younger she had one as a pet and didn’t eat it. Honestly I like the taste of goat and think that I might get a couple when I come back home. I will probably keep them at my village (mom’s house) until they are ready to eat.
Our BBQ!!
Erland with Dinner the goat

With Christmas coming in just a few days the office closes today for two weeks. During the two weeks I will be traveling out to the Kenya coast and back. During the journey I will go by bus and train; it will take me from the tropical rainforest of Uganda through the eastern Rift Valley and to the hot and dry coast along the Indian Ocean. Not sure what I will do there maybe learn windsurfing do some swimming in a warm ocean, relax and read. It will definitely be weird being somewhere so hot for Christmas and away from my family for the first time.

Please pray for me and other eMi staff that are traveling during Christmas. Also keep the Democratic Republic of Congo in your prayers as there is great tension from the recent election results and eMi has two project trips planned there in February.



Friday, November 25, 2011

Uganda the Beautiful

The view of the western rift valley from the lodge

It has been a while since my last update partially because of the reason outlined in my last email update and because I have been quite busy. During the past two weeks I have gone on a safari and seen many amazing animals, visited the village of one of our local staff, and helped a ministry that runs a school and homes for orphaned children some of which are victims of the war called Children of the Nations

We went out to Queen Elizabeth National Park to which is a 6hr drive through this beautiful country. After a quick check in at the lodge we went out for an evening game drive and our awesome driver was able to find a lion with a kill in the little light left. The following morning we woke up early to the amazing view of the western rift valley from our lodge an went on another game drive and saw a pride of lions, cob, impalas, cape buffalo, elephants, hippos and many amazing birds. God creation is absolutely stunning! I put a bunch of photos on facebook if you want to see what we got to see.
Crater Lake in Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda

The goat we bought for Stephen's dad
 That evening after leaving the park and searching a couple of towns for fuel we made our way to the village of an EMI Uganda staff member, Stephen. The directions to where he lives were “drive to the Congo border and take a right.” It was literally the last road before the Congo border crossing. I am not sure when the last car actually made it up to his house but I would be surprised if it wasn’t years ago. A little background here, in Uganda almost everyone has a home in their village and many wives will stay in the village while their husband goes and works in a larger city. It is a little difficult to understand from our western views but it is very common here. On the six acres Stephen’s grandfather owned there now lives his dad, mom, uncle, brothers, cousins, children, and many people I don’t know their exact relation to him. Another thing is anyone that is related is called brother, sister, or dad so it was difficult to figure out what the relation was between everyone. We had an amazing time and one day we went for a short drive from Stephen’s village through the park and we saw a leopard it was awesome but it was too quick to get any pictures. We rode the bus back to Kampala which in itself was an experience of the crazy driving and buying meat on a stick from the bus window.

Stephen and his family in his village

Well I need to head to bed because I am off again tomorrow to Sipi Falls. They are some water falls that come down the side of Mt Elgon near the Nile river. I will be in Jinga for most of next week seeing what is happening there on the construction management front and doing a short little project trip for a day from there. Next time I will write about Children of the Nations. I have lots to write about and plan to write more often so check back soon.

Bye, Aaron

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Culture Shock, a Land of Paradoxes and Beauty

At Kijabe waiting to be shown the site
Before I came to Uganda I was warned about the culture shock and I felt quite prepared as I got to Kampala. The thing that I had forgotten is that even in Africa there are large differences between cities. I arrived in Nairobi on Friday and I almost forgot that I was in Africa the person picking us up drove a very new, power everything, van and the highway was wide and had streetlights and then we had to stop because there were some goats standing in the middle of the highway. My view of Nairobi is definitely not complete as I am staying at the African International University(AIU) which is located in outskirts of the city in one of the most affluent areas of the city.

Our work for AIU was to a work with a Kenyan Architecture firm, that had already done some preliminary design, to design the campus master plan and campus center building. This was my first full project as we had a group of 10 that included structural, civil, electrical engineers and architects. It is not too often that sort of group of professionals would work alongside each other for more than just a meeting. We stuck it out and no architects were hurt during the making of the master plan. Jason it this part is for you, one of the challenges during this trip is the fact that the skills I used most on this project were the ones I learned through summer work that was not related to mechanical engineering. It was pretty easy to get over that because all the awesome people there, people from all over Africa that are working towards masters and doctorates in biblical studies and theology, but were not too busy to stop and talk.

Stephen(healthy again!) and I with the EMI CMs(The Taubitz)
Late in the week myself and another intern, Stephen, headed to Kijabe Hospital to do some surveying for a new wastewater treatment system. The old one was not doing it job partially because it was undersized and partially because the thin sewer pipes had broke and farmers were diverting the wastewater to water their crops. The survey went poor straight from the start with the data collector battery being dead because it had not been charging properly, then lately the day I turned something I shouldn’t have and ruined part of the survey overall a frustrating day. The good always seems to come with the bad because we had a great dinner at the home of the EMI Construction Managers’(CM) and then I had the best shower since I had come to Africa. It is weird that I, a person of mediocre hygiene, would love a nice hot shower with good pressure so much. The next morning we were up before dawn so we could ensure we finished the survey. As we were getting ready I asked Stephen how his sleep was and he replied “not good” and went into some details that I will not mention here. He was a real trooper and stuck it out until about half an hour before we had planned to leave when he couldn’t continue. One of the CMs stepped in and we decided to stay a second night there and allow Stephen to get better. It is interesting how God works because we would have not finished the survey if Stephen had not been sick and for some reason the place we were staying had us booked for 2 nights. Also it worked out that the team would come past Kijabe on way out to where we would debrief.
Baby Hippo on mom's back

The debrief was amazing we went on a boat ride saw hippos and on a walking safari (Pictures will be posted on Facebook) I did not expect to get to do all that but a little relaxation was required after the long hours of the week of work. It was sad to see everyone go but we all left know that we had used the gifts that God had given us to bless others and bring glory to him.

"Oh, Hi there!"
There are lots things that can be prayed about so I will make a list:
-A team member David who has been sick since last week and is now on high dose penicillin.
-The EMI disaster relief teams that are and will be working in Kenya doing drought relief work.
-Good communication and relationship between EMI and the Kenyan Architecture firm.
-The other project trip that I will be going on (more details to come, maybe).
-God’s leading for what I am to do in December.
-That I get to know more Ugandans and learn more of the language.