Saturday, August 29, 2009

Uganda through Jessica's Eyes/Camera

Dear Readers,

Please excuse my long absence from the blogging world. Things have been busy: 7 weeks in Africa, 3 days in NYC, 1 week as a camp counselor. I've been able to wind down and clean some of the chaos in my room after 11 weeks of an intense, but incredibly rewarding, summer. I'm working on putting together reports and albums to wrap up my African experiences. I'm also preparing internship materials to guide the next few months (and maybe the rest) of my journey toward nonprofit accounting.

I've been trying to upload as many videos as possible, but Vimeo has a weekly limit. Thankfully, I've been able to upload all my footage from Uganda (see below)!


Jessica K. Nguyen
Senior - Accounting & Finance
Michael G. Foster School of Business
University of Washington, Seattle

Here they are in chronological order:

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Corporate worship at Mnamuwongo Revival Church from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Simon singing and dancing at Mnawumongo Revival Church from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Sunday School at Mnamuwongo Revival Church from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): The ride to work from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Paul and Julius making biofuel from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Rain storm in Soroti! from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): jammin' in the rain from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Practicing Beacon of Hope Song from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): It's a BAT! from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Soroti Municipal Chorus Performance (1) from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Stories from Simon from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): Kids choir at Mnamuwongo from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Africa 2009 (Uganda): So Long, Farewell! from Jessica Nguyen on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Inventories (RSA) as of 31 July 2009

Animal Encounters/Sightings
1 - kitten @ Cottages
3 - guard dogs
8 - baboons spotted on drive from Joburg to the Cottages
5 - ostriches spotted on the way into town
1 - horseback safari where we saw:
...5 - herd of zebra
...6 - giraffe seen up-close
...2 - giraffe seen from a distance
...4 - wildebeast
...1 - herd of caribou
...1 - herd of impala
...33 - rhinos who hid from us

Child Interactions
25 - kids at the Cottages (more on the way!)
8 - high school students
3 - preschool-age kids
1 - infant
1 - unborn (expected in August)
6 - children who fell asleep on my lap
1 - child who fell asleep on my head
2 - savings accounts started for children
1 - semester of University registration and school fees for a double-orphan
21 - kids who learned to type
10 - kids who learned to play drums
8 - kids helped with school work
13+ - children taught to play pick-up stix
6 - children taught to play Slide (hand game)
7 - pairs of pants mended
4 - kids who helped me hand wash my clothes
3 - primary school classes taught (Grade 7: Technology & English)

1274 - pictures taken
23 - videos captured
15+ - songs learned
4 - songs taught
1 - song recorded
1 - book started (finished after returning to the U.S.)
5 - books still reading

After 22 hours of flying and 9 hours of layovers (with some logistical mishaps in between) Paul and I arrived back in Seattle last Saturday evening, August 1st. It was a HUGE blessing to be able to see the kids at the Cottages again... I'm still processing everything that's happened in the last 8 weeks, and hopefully I'll be able to update this blog more often to give you a better view of what happened. Check out my Vimeo account, too, 'cause I'll be uploading videos there, as well.

Glad to be back,

Jessica K. Nguyen
Michael G. Foster School of Business, Class of 2010
University of Washington, Seattle

Friday, July 10, 2009

Inventories (Uganda) as of 6 June 2009

Creepy Crawly Creature Encounters
25 - bug bites
2 - cockroaches in room at Kampala guesthouse
1 - bat in room Soroti guesthouse
WAY TOO MANY - ants in dinner roll
1 - caterpillar in corn husk
1 - brown dragonfly
1 - bright green dragonfly

Questions about marriage/residence in Uganda
2 - "Are you engaged?"
6+ - "Are you married?"
4 - "Are you married to Paul?" (also, "Is Paul your husband?")
4 - "Will you move to Uganda (permanently)?"
2 - "Would you ever marry a Ugandan man?" (sometimes followed by, "I have a list!")
3 - "When are you coming back?"

Names I have been called
20+ - "Muzungu!" ["white person" in Luganda] (also, "Muzungu, bah-yee (bye)!"
5 - "Emosugut!" ["white person" in Ateso]
3 - "Mudugu!" [children mis-pronouncing aforementioned words]
4 - "Jennifer"
1 - "Naomi"

799 - Photos taken
43 - Videos recorded
10 - Videos shared
6000+ - Songs shared
too many to count - Songs sung
5 - Unexpected songs heard (Celine Dion, *N SYNC, Faith Hill)
3 - Books started (to read)
3 - Books finished
4 - Books still being read
3 - Books purchased

These inventories should also include a countless number of amazing people I have met, various new phrases/words learned, and a whole lot of laughter and smiles.

Paul and I are in South Africa at the Cottages at Injesuthi now. We arrived on Wednesday evening and it's been a blast so far. I'll be sure to keep inventory on interesting happenings down there, too =)

Nerding out,

Jessica K. Nguyen
Junior - Accounting
Michael G. Foster School of Business
University of Washington, Seattle

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Sheraton and The Slums

Written 6.21.09

I wish I had taken (more) pictures to hit these points home, but I suppose that words will have to suffice for now. Try using your imagination to envision the scenes described below – the more graphic/detailed… the more accurate, probably.

Yesterday I spent several hours at The Sheraton Hotel in downtown K’la for an emergency meeting with the Pilgrim staff. We were served beverages of our choices in a very classy way and sat in comfortable, classy chairs. Afterwards we went to lunch across the street at the Speke Resort, where we ordered steak and calamari. On the way back we passed by several extravagant wedding parties taking their photos on The Sheraton’s large, beautiful lawn. I started to question, “Why does everyone keep telling me that Uganda is in such horrible shape? This place is decked out. These weddings are evidence that these people are very well-off. Where are the orphans and widows that my heart’s cried out for over the last two years??”

Today was very sobering. I spent a few hours in the biggest slum in Kampala (K’la), the capital of Uganda. We were there for a church service and in order to get to the building, we took a winding path through this slum. Nothing paved, lots of alleys. The subtle yet permeating smell of fecal matter and decay hit me immediately as we dodged between people and structures. Keeping my eyes on the ground so I wouldn’t trip, I saw piles of burning rubbish, litter strewn all around, “muddy” streams, open sewage drains, and a whole lot of naked children. People stared and I clutched my bag and Bible closely. One child grabbed my hand for an instant.

We finally arrived at a very drab, worn-down building filled with congregants in straight-backed benches/pews. After the sermon and announcements, everybody got up to dance and sing. Throughout the service refreshing breezes would come in, oftentimes accompanied by a waft of the aforementioned stench. The building was hot and crowded, but worshippers sang and danced full-force to demonstrate the joy they found in Jesus, despite their poverty and destitution.

In some ways, I wish I didn’t have to be so concerned about my personal safety. If communicable diseases and theft/rape/kidnapping weren’t issues, I’d have stopped to say hi to many of the people in the slums. (I did get to smile, wave, and say hi to one group of children, which sent them into a fit of giggles and grins.) On the way back from church, I saw at least one child with a bloated belly from malnutrition and one or two more wearing nothing more than string thongs. Most of the children were naked or drably garnished in filthy, tattered clothing.

I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do in reaction to all this. For now, I’m just trying to take it all in and understand what’s going on around me. I am convicted, though, that I should be on my knees praying for these kids more, because Jesus is ultimately in control of it all. Should these sights not motivate me to advocate for these children as much as possible? People here tell me that the sights will only get worse, especially once I get to Soroti. Lord, let me not walk away from this without being changed and without being a catalyst for change in others.

“Greater things have yet to come; greater things have still to be done in this city. May Your work begin with me, fill my heart and move my feet; Your will be done! ...Your Kingdom come!”

Hoping for redemption,

Jessica K. Nguyen
Michael G. Foster Business School - Class of 2010
University of Washington, Seattle

Friday, June 19, 2009

6 Things I Missed about You (in no particular order)

Dear Africa,

It has been two years since I last laid foot on your grounds. Since then I had forgotten many of the things that I love about you. Below you will find six significant features that I’m thankful to be exposed to again. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it sums up my feelings quite well. Enjoy!

1. Your scenery

Compared to winter time in South Africa, Uganda right now is much more colorful. But, for the record, it’s not quite winter in Uganda and (from the pictures I’ve seen) South Africa’s summer scenery gives Uganda a run for its money. But this isn’t a competition, so let me just say that I had forgotten how beautiful dirt roads, deep-green plants, blue skies, and white puffy clouds can be. (In South Africa the clouds tend to look like they were brushed with a broad stroke of a huge paintbrush, though.) Sometimes I look around and think I’m in paradise. Sure, the roads are dirty and the buildings aren’t in the best shape, but I think that’s part of what makes you so beautiful. You’re all-natural!

2. Your accents!

Okay, so I know that for you the way your people talk is not considered an accent and I’m the one who talks funny, but I love the way your people speak. I love the native tongues and the unique way that it affects how your people speak English (and especially that the accent is different in every region). It’s so cool just to listen to. Sometimes I just want to record people talking so I can play it back later… but that might be creepy and stalker-ish, haha!

3. Your drivers

Yesterday while driving into town Charles and Simon apologized for the bumpy, pot-hole-ridden roads. I chuckled and told them not to worry about it because it makes the ride more interesting. Later we talked about the differences between American drivers and Ugandan drivers. Honestly, I think that (some) African drivers are more skilled than many American drivers. Think about it: in order to navigate through literally bumper-to-bumper traffic and around pedestrians who walk freely between vehicles, one must know the dimensions of his car and its steering capabilities. (Keep in mind that most cars here are manual, so mastering sudden and sporadic gear-shifting is necessary in order to not stall or crash.) Africans are smoother drivers, in the sense that they must be able to respond very quickly to stopped vehicles and people in the roads. They navigate through narrow openings in traffic, maintain their balance six inches from 2-foot-deep ditches (see photo to the right), and avoid pot holes and mounds of dirt scattered about the road. (Some may call this reckless, but I call it an adventure =)

4. Your patience

I mentioned in a recent blog post that I was impressed by Simon’s patience with helping us withdraw money and obtain SIM cards and airtime. This four-hour ordeal would’ve been unacceptable in the US. In most countries, people are a lot more lax and not in a rush. “African time,” “Asian time,” and “European time” refer to the difference between the stated time of a meeting and the actual time of a meeting. My transportation has been at least an hour late every morning, but it helps me to grow in patience and remember that there’s really no rush. I should make a more conscious effort to not impose efficiency-imperialism on others.

5. Your hospitality

Even though it’s hard for me to remember faces here and I have to keep asking for names, the people here are extremely friendly. It is rare, to say the least, for me to be in the same room as someone without him or her greeting me and asking, “How are you?” with warmness and kindness. This is something I can learn from the African people: to not be so pretentious, proud, and insecure and to acknowledge people’s presences because it helps to break the ice and build relationships with others. I’ve also noticed the drastic difference in the business environment. In my International Business class we learned about how in Japan (and many other parts of the world) businesspeople want to build a relationship before completing a transaction, whereas Americans want to finish transactions and maybe build a relationship if there’s extra time. The former is also true in Africa, and probably in many other parts of the world.

6. Your music/dancing

I love how no matter where I go, there is always music to be heard. Whether it’s a radio or person making music, Africans are continually expressing themselves. I love how everything’s got a beat and is easy to dance to. At the Cottages (in South Africa) the kids would be dancing at nearly every waking moment. Charles told me that Uganda has a jazz and swing dancing scene. This makes me very excited! Last week I taught Paul how to swing dance and on Friday I taught Charles and Jane the basic steps.

I will do my best to savor these things over the next five weeks. To my African friends: I hope this leaves you at least a little nostalgic! ;)

With deep sincerity,

Jessica K. Nguyen
Michael G. Foster Business School - Class of 2010
University of Washington, Seattle

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Africa thus far: Beautiful weather, hospitable people, broken people, and cockroaches.

My friend Paul Storms and I arrived in Kampala, Uganda on Tuesday! We had two flights that were about 8 hours each, with a stop in Amsterdam in between. I think this was a very fair amount of traveling, considering that it took 40 hours to get to our destination when I went to South Africa in 2007!

Here we are at an Irish Pub (Murphy's) in Amsterdam, Holland. I got an Irish Shamrock and some Amsterdame Bitterballen and Paul got a Murphy's Red and some Fish+chips+mushy peas.

Uganda is beautiful, to say the very least. I'm a big fan of puffy clouds and there are a bunch of fluffy white clouds. Right now I'm in the offices at Pilgrim in Kampala, which is right next to Lake Victoria, the biggest lake in all of Africa! Paul just left for Soroti to do some farming work with Aaron Ruud and I'm in Kampala for about another week working on a project with the finance/accounting department here. It's been a humbling experience so far; Angella, the head accountant at Kampala, has a bachelor's in Finance and an MBA in Accounting and Finance. Jane, the bookkeeper, has her degree in Accounting. I haven't even finished my senior yet! But I think this means there are a lot of opportunities for me to learn from them.

As much as I'd love to pretend everything is happy and dandy and perfect, it's not. Don't get me wrong, I've loved my time here thus far. But yesterday we went into town (downtown Kampala) and spent four hours trying to withdraw money from our accounts and get SIM cards and airtime for our cell phones. Barclay's, a large bank, ATMs only accept VISA cards and both Paul and I had Mastercards so we had to see a cashier. The debit/credit card authorization system at Barclay's was down so we had to wait. And... weren't able to access our accounts anyway because our cards are embossed (as opposed to flat) so we had to buy shillings (Ugandan currency) and pay a $25 processing fee. Then we spent at least another hour trying to get a SIM card to work with Paul's phone. Our guide, Simon, waited very patiently throughout the whole thing. He never uttered a word of complaint and was respectful and straightforward when driving and asking people questions and directions. For four hours. Wow.

While we were walking to and from all our destinations, I saw a whole lot of broken people - literally. Many were missing limbs, several were crippled. I saw one lady lying against the wall around Barclay's and there was a baby sitting next to her wearing a beaded thong. Neither of them looked happy or healthy. (I don't have photos because I think it would have been rude for me to gawk at them and treat them like photographic fodder.)

I'm never sure how to reconcile the disparities I see in Africa. I've only been here three days and have ridden in vehicles ranging from a beater van to a brand new compact car with a camera in the back to see what's behind. I've seen people who are broken and in desolate positions and people who are looking fresh, clean, and very wealthy. It is all very interesting to take in.

On a completely different note, last night when I was talking to Paul we found a cockroach in my pants. Thankfully, the pants were hanging on a bedpost and were not on my person. Paul courageously hunted it down and flushed it down the toilet for me. The brand of toilets here are called "Hindware" and the models of sink are "Vitreous." This amuses me.

This post may have been really scatter-brained.. but I just wanted to update as soon as possible. Next time I will make a more sensible, organized post!

Blessings from Uganda,

Jessica K. Nguyen
Senior - Accounting
Michael G. Foster School of Business
University of Washington, Seattle

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Big Picture

I was just thinking about all the chaos that being a full-time student at the Foster School of Business entails. (Accounting students get an additional dosage of chaos because we need to take four classes to be FT, since our acctg courses are only three credits each.) Someone emailed me to compliment my blog, which lead me to re-read some of the posts I'd written. Then I remembered....



It's not about Jessica. This whole accounting career thing... pulling all-nighters, trying to build an impressive resume.. I've been working for myself, for my glory, for only my own satisfaction, out of stress/paranoia about MY future... It seems that in the midst of all the things to be done and stress to be had I had forgotten that the whole point of me being in school, the crux of my efforts, is for these kids. I say that all the time... but when one says something so often, it's easy for the statement to lose its power and impact.

[photo credit: Agathos Foundation]

This is a starving child in Zimbabwe. I don't know if it's a boy of girl, its name, its story, or specifically how the Agathos Foundation has helped it. But I know that Agathos is making a difference in this baby's life.

In three weeks (6/15) I'll be on a plane to Uganda. Three days prior to that (6/12) I'll take my last final exam. Finals begin Saturday, June 6th. It is vital that I stay focused for the last two weeks of the quarter so I can finish as strong as possible. It is also vital to keep the BIG PICTURE in mind. I only have one year left... this time will fly by.

In lieu of getting distracted by all the typical "noise" that business students face, I need to remember that the better I do in school and work, the more I can help these kids. It's not for my glory... it's not for my fame... it's for the kids. It's so kids like Kwanele can get free access to ARVs to treat his HIV. It's so young men like Zamani can get their education paid for and go off to college so he can become a civil engineer and make his community better. I just need to remember that - at a heart level and not just a slightly-conscious level. I've got to keep the burden visible. Remembering this completely changes my motivation and makes things that would otherwise seem like toilsome annoyances worthwhile because everything I do in the next year will (at least indirectly) affect my ability to help nonprofits become more efficient so they can help more kids.

I hope these words aren't just empty phrases and promises. I hope that these words come from a genuine heart. I hope that my life and decisions will change and get re-calibrated to be rightly motivated. I hope this burden won't die and this dream won't fade. And I hope this with everything I have, however little or much that may be...

Jessica K. Nguyen
Junior - Accounting
Michael G. Foster School of Business
University of Washington, Seattle