Pareto Efficient

In search of pareto improvements

Posts Tagged ‘huts

Day #8: IDP Camp Visit

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Juba Road

Today, my friend and I headed north on “Juba Road” to the Awer IDP (internally displaced people) Camp.  Sudan imports most of its products from Uganda and Juba Road is the primary international trade route between Uganda and Sudan.

The NAFTA treaty was signed between Canada, US, Mexico when I was a teenager living in Houston.  This kicked off billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in roads.  Since Houston would be a major stop on this international trade route, Hwy 59 would become 6 paved lanes in each direction and become Hwy 69 aka the NAFTA Freeway.

You could imagine my disbelief.  The pic below captures perfectly the Juba Road experience.

Yeah.  Imagine two trucks passing on this road...

Um, yeah. Trucks actually pass each other on this road...

Hollywood expectations

As we drove the bumpy 30 km to the camp, I began thinking about what I would see.  I thought it would be something out of the movies like the Constant Gardener or Blood Diamond.

  • several hundred huts housing the thousands in the camp
  • kids playing football in the field
  • parents farming the rich soil on the outskirts of the camp
  • NGOs driving though camp in nice white SUVs distributing food
  • people lined up for free shots from volunteers in white lab coats

Ah, not so much…

The outskirts of Awer

Next stop Awer IDP Camp - you can see the huts in the distance

Awer IDP Camp

I was wrong.  My expectations were mostly wrong.  I saw no farming activity, no SUVs, no NGOs.  I was struck by this and asked about the camp’s leadership.  There didn’t appear to be any camp leader(s).  It was crazy, just a bunch of people 30 km from the nearest town – the middle of nowhere – hanging out with no real leadership, no business, no infrastructure, nothing.  Hmm…

So what is Awer really like?  I need to get out, walk around the camp and see things for myself.

The photo commentary that follows is limited because many adults have a fear of being photographed because they feel it may cause them to be targeted for violence.  So, most of my pics are of kids.

The first people we encountered were a group of nice ladies who were preparing food.  They were friends of my friends and they were keen to talk (through a translator – my Acholi isn’t, well doesn’t exist) about their work and their situation.

The rice shows up on trucks, but it still needs to be processed

The rice may show up on trucks, but it still needs to be processed.

Of course I wanted to give it a try.  The women laughed and said that food preparation was woman’s work.  As if I couldn’t do it.  Well, my attempt was good for laugh and the quickest way to make new friends.

I love woman work

I won't make a sandwich in the US, but, in Uganda, I'll pound the heck out of some rice.


When you take a bunch of people who are used to living with several hundred meters between huts, and compress them into the density of the camps without proper sewage infrastructure, disease is ineveitable.  You can’t just walk out of your hut and pee on the ground anymore because that affects your neighbor who’s hut is 5 meters away.

Tight fit

Liiiiiike a glove -- Ace Ventura

The US sends some supplies in sturdy aluminum containers.  This aluminum is turned into everything from musical shakers to doors (below).

Hanging out.  These guys are only a little afraid of me.

Hanging out. These guys aren't really afraid of me.

Some of the kids aren’t used to interacting with white people.  I get it.  We’re weird.  Our skin is white and we have arm and leg hair (they don’t, really).  Can’t blame them for reacting that way.

This guy was really afraid of me

This guy was terrified of me.

There it was.  In the middle of the foot path.  A tombstone for a lost loved one.


Amon Ventornia. Born 1908. Died 2-11-06.

Farm this stuff

I finally reached the south end of the camp.  Just look at all that fertile land.  Why isn’t anyone farming it?  What’s the deal here?

Ripe for the taking.  This land should be farmed.

Should be acres of agriculture, as far as the eye can see.

The path back to camp

Groups of interested kids waiting for us on the path back to camp.

What a great visit.  I look forward to coming back again soon.  There was so much that I wasn’t able to document on this trip.  I really want to learn more about the camp social dynamics.  When I do, I’ll report back.


Written by thetyson

October 15, 2008 at 11:41 pm

Day #6: Going off the Script

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I traveled to Uganda with a singular question: Are COUPONGOOD‘s microfinance loans working?

All of the loan recipients are in the south near Kampala, Mukono and Jinja because of its stability, infrastructure and proximity to Kampala, the seat of power.  So, logic says I should spend my time meeting loan recipients there.

One twist…I’ve heard so much about a northern town of Gulu and I’ve made some friends that live there.  One has offered to show me around if I’d like to come.  Hmm…

  • Not much microfinance going on up there
  • The State Department advises against traveling to Gulu
  • My father’s only request “Please don’t go to Gulu”

Yeah.  I think I’ll go to Gulu.  Let’s mix it up a bit.

Good luck to me.

We were late.  This wasn’t good.  The only option that could get us to the bus in time was boda boda.  Problem: My friend had several extremely large bags and a drum.  No matter, we piled on the back of two bodas and hung on for dear life as we zipped in and out of rush hour traffic in Kampala.

Post Bus

8:10 am: We arrived at the Post Office just in time.  The Post Bus is the preferred mode of transpo to Gulu because it leaves on time and the drivers don’t harass you as much as those at the Bus Park.  One-way to Gulu was around $8, a bargain for a 6 hour bus ride.

Quite Culture

I was struck by how quiet everyone was.  People weren’t talking, babies were silent.  Everyone was just sitting peacefully together.  My friend and I were the only people talking on the whole bus — leave it to the muzungus to break the silence – ha.


Very quickly we transitioned from the paved roads to dirt roads and the slums.  It was already very different from what I had seen in the other parts of town.

Slums only 5 minutes from downtown Kampala

Slums only 5 minutes from downtown Kampala


The country side was sprinkled with little curcular huts with thatch roofs.  So interesting, I didn’t expect to see huts this close to Kampala.  I figured they only existed in the bush.  Wish I had pics of it, but the camera died.

Street Vendors

Entpreneurial activity was in full swing at the bus stops en route.  Dozens of street vendors were hawking various foods and bottled water.  Their energy was amazing, I picked out 3 kids who could’ve been superstar salespeople in the US.  You can just see it — their delicate mix of drive, empathy and aggression.  Cool.

Pee time

We also stoped for a communal “short call”.  Everyone, men and women, pile out of the bus and pee in the bushes along side the road.  What’s a “long call”, you ask?  Ha.


I was just remarking about the high quality of the dirt roads when the driver hit a pot hole at what must have been 45 mph.  Being in the back of the bus, we were all launched into the ceiling.  Babies and children sitting in their mothers laps were catapulted forward into other seats and, since my armrest was broken, I gashed my arm on a piece of jagged metal.  That’s cool, just sitting there bleeding on a bus.  No big deal.  These people are tough, though.  None of the kids cried.  They just quietly walked back to their mothers.  In fact, nobody said anything about it at all.  Amazing.

It looks sterile, nothing to worry about, right?

It looks sterile, nothing to worry about, right?

Hotel Florida

We arrived in 5 1/2 hours — record time.  The Hotel Florida gave me the best room, called the St. John Paul (with whom I share a birthdate).  It was $20/night and it had a view of downtown Gulu.  Very nice indeed.

Hotel Florida balcony

Hotel Florida balcony


Bird's eye view of the Gulu market

Well, I’m here.  Tomorrow I’ll reignite my quest for fast internet 🙂

Written by thetyson

October 13, 2008 at 8:44 pm