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Behind the Scenes

By Alexa Major, 2017 MIAP-Noble Fellow

Posted Aug. 15, 2017

From visits to the medical clinic to conducting my research, hiking boulders to going on field trips, and everything in-between, the last few weeks on this journey have flown by. I've gotten to see more and more of this country, and I'm trying my best to take in every minute.

I knew eight weeks would fly by. I just didn't know they could fly so fast. There was a week I couldn't get out of bed, but following that I feel like I've hardly sat down!

Ryan and I were able to accompany the Restoration Gateway secondary classes on a field trip to a commercial farm in northern Uganda. All day on an American-scale farm with 30 high schoolers is quite the experience. I had a blast! It was fun to see their reactions to agriculture like we see in America, and you can tell right away those kids who have a passion for it because they knew no boundaries.

tractorRestoration Gateway secondary students ride the combine during our field trip to a commercial farm.

Over the last few weeks, I've also gotten to get my hands dirty and farm like an African. Ryan and I spent one day hoeing a TINY seedbed with hand hoes. I was a little disappointed to realize just how small our plot actually was when we were done – it felt like a huge accomplishment! The next day, we spent a mere two hours harvesting soybeans, and I don't know that you could ever convince me to do that again. I'm pretty sure I counted nine blisters on my hands within the first 20 minutes. I found myself stopping in awe at Walter's, the farm manager, ease in mowing through the soybeans and having HUGE piles. I'm pretty sure he would do three rows in the amount of time it would take me to do one. Thankfully I'm just competitive enough to resolve that I didn't care how bad my hands hurt. I was going to keep up even if they fell off.

Probably some of my most favorite days, and also most challenging, were those spent traveling to conduct interviews for my thesis. Here, I was able to meet with three women in each of the four districts and simply ask them to tell me about their lives and experiences. It was great! Not only that, but I got to do so "on my own" with only my driver and translator (have you noticed that I may be slightly independent?).

ReganRegan, my translator, and I get ready to begin interviews for my research. Notice the goats, who were very vocal, in the background.

I feel like I took a large step even further with each of these women, sharing small talk and family secrets while sitting in a mud hut or under a tree next to their goat herd. I received a Lango name by one woman (Okello, meaning "peace bringer") and was offered land by a handful more. I got to tour their personal gardens and meet their families. I even inherited my own mud hut for whenever I find my way back to the Dokolo district – don't worry, I have every intention of sleeping there at least once before I die.

InterviewsConducting interviews for my thesis in a mud hut.

We started interviews at the end of the week that I was sick and hardly got out of bed, so the first two days were a little bit of a struggle to get motivated. The women quickly made up for this fact, but I think my favorite moment of those first two days was traveling to the Apac District on a Saturday.

I got lost.

While those who know me may find this completely unsurprising, I am proud to say it took me five weeks to get lost in Uganda. I made it FIVE WEEKS in the bush! Granted, I wasn't alone every day, but whenever my accomplice Ryan and I took it upon ourselves to explore in town or walk the back roads to church, it was this girl who knew where to go and how to get there. Even if I had only been there once. I was even giving boda drivers directions (Sorry, Steve!).

Not that I'm bragging … I am just your typical Coloradoan that can never find Due North in the plains or in the hills, even when the sun is setting, so I may have taken great pride in my newfound compass-skills (and I may have thrown it in Ryan's face once or twice that he'd literally be lost without me).

Nevertheless, my skills failed, and I found my driver, my translator and myself staring at a LARGE body of water. My driver quickly explained to the officer at the water corporation gate that we were lost and only needed to turn around, much to my dismay, then he quickly found his phone to call my usual driver for directions. My typical driver, Kunde, had taken the day off. The day before, he asked me if I knew where to go, and assuming my newfound skills were invincible, I said, "Of course! It's just that church right though that one town, off the road, right?" He looked at me warily, gave my translator some directions in Luo, and assumed we would survive. ASSUMED – never a good idea, especially in the African bush.

Hiking in Dokolo DistrictHiking with friends one morning in Dokolo District.

After backtracking a while, and calling the group coordinator of the area where we were going, we found ourselves sitting on the side of the road waiting on further direction. They comically kept asking me if I knew where we were, which I definitely did not. My patience was waning a little when I looked up to see three precious girls standing and staring at the Muzungu sitting on the side of the road. I reached into my bag and pulled out some suckers and offered them to the trio. They willingly took them, stepped back and continued to stare. I started off with my typical introduction and then eventually took to using my translator to ask the girls their names and about school and their weekend. Mid-conversation, a boy showed up and I gave him a sucker and asked the same questions. Before too long, they were telling me to stay forever and not go back to America. They assured me they would be able to take care of me as soon as their studies were concluded. I plan on taking them up on that, too.

Needless to say, the last few weeks were full of adventure. Besides the sickness and trip to the medical center, each day has had its own unique magic. While last time I was getting settled in and making connections, this time I can say I've seen behind the scenes of the Pearl, and I am still just in love with the country and the people as I was before.

Alexa getting hair don at the Calo Me Lare Children's HomeGetting my hair plated by professionals at Project Hope – Calo Me Lare Children's Home.

About the Author

Alexa Major is a 2017 MIAP-Noble Fellow serving in agricultural development roles in Uganda. Major is from Fowler, Colorado, and is a student in the Master of International Agriculture Program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on business and rural development. This fellowship is sponsored in part by the Noble Research Institute.

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