Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awava Holiday Sales Events in an Area Near You!

We have been having so much fun with our holiday sales and you should too!

Don't miss Awava at:

LOLA Holiday Show
December 13th @ Greenroom Salon - Lawrence, KS

December 20th @ Van Go Mobile Arts - Lawrence, KS

Awava Last Minute Holiday Sale
December 23rd @ The Bourgeois Pig - Lawrence, KS

Give the Gift of Light!

This holiday season Awava staff has decided to provide our tailors in Gulu with a new lighting system which will provide a healthy, safe, environmentally friendly alternative to paraffin lanterns!

We have purchased Base Technologies’ Firefly PowaPack 5W solar lighting system which provides 7 hours of light from four permanent lamps that are recharged by the sun. The tailors’ market stall is free of fumes, the light helps to reduce eye strain, and the tailors have not paid a single Ugandan Shilling.

Upon learning of all of the wonderful products offered by Base Technologies, Awava has decided to form a partnership enabling you to give the gift of light to all of the artisans with whom we work. The Firefly12 Mobile is a solar powered desk lamp and phone charger. The Firefly12 supplies direct light to the artisans work area. The artisans will also be able to use them at home and will no longer have to pay money for kerosene or pay to charge their phones at kiosks in town.

The cost to supply a Firefly12 Mobile to an artisan is $29.00. If you would like to contribute to giving the gift of light this holiday season click here. Any amount donated can help bring light to all the artisans with whom we work.

*Awava and Base Technologies are both for profit business, therefore this donation is NOT tax deductable

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Awava Last Minute Holiday Sale @ The Bourgeois Pig-Lawrence, KS

If you find yourself searching for that perfect, one of a kind, socially conscious holiday gift at the last minute, join us at The Pig!

Come peruse Awava's latest goodies, welcome Kate von Achen back from Uganda (sorry, again for a limited time) and enjoy some delicious coffee, cocktails and hors d'ouvres!

See you at The Pig!

Where: 6 E. 9th St. - Lawrence, Kansas
When: December 23rd
Time: 5pm until 8pm

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Awava plus 24 other fabulous vendors will be present at this expanded LOLA event! The "Adornment" show, by Van Go's JAMS youth artists, will be available for sale along with a HUGE selection of handmade holiday products at LOLA's biggest show EVER!

Click here for a complete list of vendors!

For a preview of some of our fantastical Awava products, please visit the new Awava website

New Awava Products Arriving Oh So Very Soon!

Our Olunaku purse is a beautifully tailored bag perfect for any occasion. It is a medium-sized purse which can be worn over the shoulder or across the chest. Olunaku is padded throughout with contrasting liner and two inner pockets, this purse makes organization easy! Crafted by Lucy in Gulu, Uganda.

13” tall x 14” wide x 4.5” deep; 20” straps

Our Essuubi purse is an intricately crafted bag with unlimited uses! Essuubi is padded throughout with multiple inner and outer pockets making organization key. The two outer pockets fit a 16oz. water bottle perfectly, and the inner pockets can fit phones, external hard drives, diapers, you name it! The padding and pockets make Essuubi perfect to use as a diaper bag, laptop bag or for everyday use! Crafted by TEXDA in Kampala, Uganda.

11.5” long x 13” wide x 4.5” deep; 36” strap

With four card holders, three bill-sized pockets and one zippered coin pocket, the Mukimpe wallet is a playful and stylish way to keep your cash, cards and coins organized.

7.5" long, 4" tall; inner zip pocket: 6.5" x 3.25";
inner open pockets (3): 6.5" x 3.25"; 4 credit card holders

The Owino tote is compact when zipped and easy to carry with you wherever you go. Available in a variety of prints, it makes a fashionable and conscientious accessory for any shopping excursion.

Purse strap: 27.5”; 10.5" wide, 13" tall, 6" deep with an 11.5" hanging strap

Awava @ LOLA Holiday Sale!

It's time for the LOLA Holiday Sale and Awava will be participating again alongside Lawrence's most talented female artists and artisans!

Please join us at Greenroom Salon at 924 1/2 Massachusetts Street Saturday 13 December from 1-7pm to pick up your one-of-a-kind holiday gifts for those you love!

For a list of vendors please visit

Awava Holiday Sale - Kampala!

By popular demand, Awava will be hosting our 2nd annual holiday sale in Kampala giving you the opportunity to give holiday gifts that give back!

Please join us at from 4 until 7pm at Restaurant La Fontaine (opposite Kisementi-next to Iguana)on Saturday 5 December 2009 for hors d'oeuvres, music and shopping!

Awava @ University of Kansas Holiday Sale!

Awava will be one of the many amazing vendors at this year's socially conscious holiday sale at the Ecumenical Christian Ministries building on KU's beautiful campus!

The holiday sale begins Friday, November 27 and ends Thursday December 3!

Come join us and pick some truly unique holiday gifts from our wide array of new and familiar products!

My First Voyage to Acholiland

by Hanna Schwing

In October, I finally made my first trip to Gulu. On Thursday, I went to the bustling Owino market in Kampala, and through talking to a few people in the market and pointing at a piece of paper and a paper bead necklace, tracked down a handful of women selling the types of paper that our artisans in Gulu use to make paper beads. The papers are mainly copies of various booklets, pamphlets, and labels that were misprinted at one of the printing shops that line Nasser Road in Kampala. I dug through a wall of rejected paper goods and eventually chose 12 kilograms of paper.

Friday morning, Kate and I loaded her Toyota Corsa with the 12 kilos of paper and set off for Gulu. Between pedestrians, cyclists, potholes, motorcycle taxis, buses, and a seemingly endless sea of speed bumps, the road from Kampala to Gulu is difficult to navigate. Driving in the equatorial sun for five hours and depending on open windows for cool air does not help the situation. Seeing adorable baboons and monkies running across the road near a wilderness preserve helped lighten our moods, which were soured by what will henceforth be known as The Incident of Loud Shouting and Cursing and Life Flashing Before Our Eyes. The Incident brought the Awava Uganda team mere inches away from being completely obliterated by a passing bus and/or killing two tired cyclists. Fortunately, Kate's eyes-squeezed-shut-in-fear driving technique delivered us safely in Gulu.

Arriving in Gulu was a relief. While Kampala is a bustling and difficult to navigate city, Gulu is a small and calm town. Kate and I breathed our first calm breaths after the drive at the Hotel Kakanyero's Ostrich Room. The room is designated by its painting of an ostrich graffitied to wear a monocle and a top hat--brilliant! Lucy, the main tailor with whom Awava works, warmly greeted us with a brief chat and a ginger beer. After dinner, Kate and I promptly passed out from exhaustion and awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to work.

Following a complimentary breakfast of cold Spanish omelets, and after watching a throng of pedestrians participate in Gulu Walk, Kate and I walked to Lucy's stall in the main Gulu market. Having traversed the crowded paths of Owino market in Kampala, I found the Gulu market absolutely spacious. You may have to jump over a few open streams draining from a hair salon, but no one gives you a concussion and pushes you into the drain when they walk by carrying a 20 kilo sack of grain on their head. We quickly arrived at Lucy's stall, which has a new sign designating it as Mama Lucy's Friendship Store. The stall is quite small and somehow fits a mind-boggling amount of fabric, foam, finished tailored products and four foot treadle sewing machines. Kate and I met the three new tailors that were working at Lucy's stall, counted the products ready from our last order, and purchased fabric to place a new order.

Over lunch, Kate and I assigned fabrics to products and wrote out our order. We then met with Lanyero Florence and Oneka Richard. Florence is the unofficial leader of Konye Keni, a group of women who make paper bead necklaces to supplement their income. Her brother, Richard, helped organize Konye Keni and introduced Awava to the group. We purchased some of the colorful necklaces Florence brought with her, gave her the 12 kilos of paper I had bought on Thursday, and discussed our next order.

At the end of the day, we made another short trip to Lucy's stall to place our order and purchase the beautiful new Awava products Lucy and her tailors had made. Kate and I agreed to soon send liner fabric and foam from Kampala to Gulu via a postal bus and said our goodbyes to Lucy. We finished off our time in Gulu with a barbecue at an extravagant USAID house. The goal was to relax and do a little schmoozing for Awava before the ride to Kampala. However, my clumsiness is truly epic, and it sought to embarrass me yet again. In case you were not aware, holding a plastic cup of wine with your teeth then tilting your head back to put up your hair is a very, very bad idea. And for some reason, being covered in wine is not so conducive to schmoozing. Surprising, isn't it?

The next morning, we attempted our return to Kampala. We were delayed for half an hour, as two cars had managed to block Kate's car in the compound at our hotel, and their drivers had utterly vanished. When we finally were back on the road, the drive to Kampala was significantly calmer than the drive to Gulu--until we were overtaken by torrential El Niño style rain that forced us to stop on the side of the road for twenty minutes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Awava @ Kansas State University Fair Trade Marketplace

Get some early holiday shopping out of the way by joining Awava at the Kansas State University Fair Trade Marketplace!

This event is Wednesday-18 November 2009 from 9am until 7pm and Thursday-19 November from 9am until 7pm in the University Student Union Courtyard.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happy Birthday to Awava!

Celebrate Awava's 1st birthday by taking 50% off your ENTIRE order at!

Sale lasts until Monday-November 9, 2009. Simply enter coupon code: happybirthday when checking out! Thank you and enjoy!

Check out our NEW SITE!

For the last year, Awava has been working tirelessly to improve the livelihoods of women in Uganda through value addition to their existing skills as well as creating market linkages within the United States and Uganda.

While our first year has seen challenges, the support we have received and rewards every single person on the Awava Team have realized have been beyond belief. We have developed amazing relationships as well as incredible products, laughed and learned and are incredibly excited for the growth that is happening as we start our second year of life!

For our first birthday, the Awava Team has decided to award itself (and its customers) with a new and improved web site! Please visit our site and see the fantastic changes we've made to make your socially conscious shopping experience better than ever!

We would also like to thank Joi at Atomicheart Industries ( for her beautiful hard work. There were so many great concepts the most difficult part for us was choosing which one!

November Awava Events

The holiday season is approaching and Awava is celebrating BIG!

In the month of November our Kansas customers will have the chance to buy in person!

November 18 & 19 Awava will be one of the fantastic vendors at the Kansas State University Fair Trade Marketplace!
Sarah Clark, Awava's representative for this sale, will be available to tell you about the products and the women who make them, as well as her experiences here in Uganda earlier this year!

November 27 - 30, Awava products will be available at the University of Kansas in Lawrence during their annual Fair Trade Holiday Sale at the ECM on campus!

Stay tuned for more December sale dates in: Lawrence, Kansas; Denton, Texas; Houston, Texas as well as Austin, TX!

New Product Coming Soon: Owino Market Bag!

Designed by Anne Britt Torkildsby in partnership with Chrisams Designs, this tote is compact when zipped and easy to carry with you wherever you go. Available in a variety of prints, it makes a fashionable and conscientious accessory for any shopping excursion.

Anne Brit was inspired to design the collapsible tote while working for Design Without Borders. Chrisams Designs, a women's group founded in Uganda in 1987, and registered with the National Association of Women Organisations (NAWOU), expressed interest in creating a bag. Around the same time, several large cities around the world began to ban plastic bags. Thus, Anne Brit designed a tote bag as an environmentally sound alternative to plastic bags.

Other products designed by Anne Britt while she worked with Design Without Borders will soon be available through NAWOU.

The Owino Bag will be available on the Awava site in mid-November!

Artisan Feature: Okoed Vanessa

Okeod Vanessa was born in Soroti and moved to Kamyana in 2006 to study Development Economics at Makerere University on a government scholarship. She completed her coursework in 2009 and is awaiting her exam results.

Vanessa grows her own vegetables, crochets, and enjoys looking after her friend's cat when she is out of town.
Vanessa makes paper bead jewelry to supplement her income in partnership with Uganda Craft.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 is getting a new look!

Awava's getting a new look! Our website ( will be down Tuesday-November 27 from 5pm EST until Friday for redesign! We apologize for any inconveniences!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Father's Day with Awava!

Don't forget, Father's Day is on the 21st of this month!! Awava has plenty of gifts for the man in your life! Pick one of our fun and funky ties to spice up your dad's suit, or if he happens to be a grill master, choose from our excellent assortment of awe inspiring aprons and oven mitts! Please visit our website and check out our fantastic assortment of gifts for him!

Recycling in Uganda

by Kate von Achen

Recycling and reusing are practices which have been instilled in me since birth, really. My mother is an environmentalist, used to be one of “Nader’s Raiders”. I have frightening memories of our electric trash compacter. As a kid I thought it was a monster. Once full, one of my parents would push the button and the most awful sounds of crushing glass and metal would come out of that pea green iron beast. I have fond memories of walking around the countryside in Kansas, where I grew up, with my mother and sister picking up trash and singing Beatles songs.

Recycling in the United States is so easy. In Lawrence, KS there are myriad drop off points for newspapers, cardboard, cans and Wal-Mart is doing its part by providing the largest recycling center around, taking anything imaginable. In Brooklyn, recycling is basically mandatory and they pick your recyclable items up along with your trash. Where those items end up, well, that’s up for debate. Michael Moore asserts that they end up in a landfill in India while others believe such things truly are recycled and turned into new post-consumer waste products. Bottom line, recycling makes us consumers, obsessed with packaging, feel better.

When I moved to Uganda in 2007 I found myself seriously discouraged by the amount of trash littering the entire country. It broke my heart to throw out water bottle after water bottle, newspaper after newspaper, can after can, until one day I realized, hey! You can recycle in Uganda. In fact, the recycling and reuse of products in Uganda could quite possibly have a deeper and more sustainable impact than our recycling in the US!

There are various things I have found that can be recycled and reused and they often provide an income, be it small, for the local population as well!

We all know that glass bottles for beer and sodas are reused. You pay a deposit on the bottle and when you return them, you receive your deposit. This is great! Those shillings really do add up! If you don’t care about those shillings, place the empty glass bottles out separately from the rest of your rubbish and someone who could likely use the money will return them for some cash.

Plastic water bottles of all sizes are reused here. In the trading centers and taxi parks you’ll notice people selling milk and juice in old water bottles. They get used again, washed out, and refilled with beverages and sold. The larger 5L bottles are also used to keep the larger stocks of liquids in as well as used for jerry cans. Brilliant!

Aluminum cans are also recycled. Go to Owino market in Old Kampala and you see people melting down the aluminum to make hangers, jewelry and whatever else they can think of and selling them from market stalls!

Cardboard boxes of all sizes sell in the market. When I ship things to the US, I often pass by Owino to purchase a broken down cardboard box. This helps ensure the box is being reused while also creating livelihood for the entrepreneur selling more of our rubbish.

For the above items I simply rinse containers and put them in a separate bag from the rest of my rubbish. Instead of throwing everything into the “dumpster” near my flat, I set those items to the side so people can just grab them without riffling through the garbage for those hidden treasures we call rubbish.

Recycled paper products are found all over Uganda. Keep a bin with your old paper scraps in it and donate it to Papula Paper via Uganda Craft (on Bombo Road near Bat Valley—just down from City Oil) or to Paper Craft.

Also, if you drink ½ as much coffee as I do, it would be worth it to keep a bin for coffee grounds. If you have a garden or potted plants, or know someone with such things, coffee grounds provide wonderful nutrients to the soil (though Uganda’s soil is already stellar) and helps keep ants and other pests away. Click here for more information!

Also, if you’re interested in using grounds in your garden or compost but don’t drink much coffee, please email me at and perhaps we can work out a deal with some of the Kampala coffee shops such as Good African Coffee, 1000 Cups, Bancafé or Java’s!

Food waste can also be composted. Now, composting takes a tad more effort than the other Earth-friendly activities listed, but it is wonderful again for garden mulch. For more information on successful composting, please visit Composting 101.

So for those of you (which admittedly should be all of you) who have been aching for ways to cut down on the rubbish which seems to consume this astonishingly gorgeous country, please take head of some of my suggestions above, and by all means, if you have others please share! If you have been living in or visiting Uganda for long enough, you see firsthand the destruction that global warming is causing. While heavily industrialized countries are “more to blame” than less developed countries, the people of developing countries are often the most profoundly affected. That said, everyone, regardless of geographical location or economic status can do their part to halt or even reverse the destruction to our amazing planet at little or no effort.

The Awava Project Kicks Off with First Grantee!

by Hanna Schwing

The Awava Project (TAP) is Awava's fledgling sister organization. Currently funded out of pocket by founder Kate von Achen, TAP aims to award grants to women entrepreneurs in Uganda, provide skills training in areas such as computer literacy, marketing and accounting, and help form a network of independent Ugandan women business owners.

Grace Muttara is TAP's first grantee. Grace founded Flavor Botanicals Enterprise to grow fresh herbs and market them to restaurants, supermarkets and individuals throughout Kampala. She is currently growing basil on land managed by her auntie and is looking for land in Kampala on which to grow more fresh herbs, including rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley and dill. TAP supports Grace by providing funds for start-up costs, starter seeds and materials for accounting. TAP also guides Grace in the use of accounting materials, purchasing affordable packaging and labeling for the herbs, marketing Grace's products, and producing and selling pesto from unsold basil.

Last Tuesday, I visited Grace and her auntie at their farm in Luzira for her first harvest of basil. I met Grace at the Bugolobi trading center, bustling in the middle of the day, and we took a matatu (minibus) to Luzira, where we found two boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) to take us the rest of the way to the farm. It had been raining for most of the morning, and at one point we needed to get off our bodas to carefully walk across a muddy road that was under construction. When we arrived at the farm, Grace's auntie and cousin were busy roasting simsim and ground nuts (sesame seeds and peanuts) to grind and sell to a nearby school.

Grace's family greeted me, and after we rested shortly in the living room, Grace, her auntie and I crawled under the chain-link fence around the farm. On a small patch of land, raised to allow the soil to drain, stood several rows of basil about one foot tall. I started picking off a few leaves and asked Grace if I was picking them correctly. She very frankly told me that I was not, so I watched her quickly pinching the stems about an inch below flowering groups of leaves and started to mimic her. When we were done harvesting the basil, Grace's auntie offered Grace and me a bowl of freshly roasted simsim and groundnut. After eating, Grace and I headed back to Bugolobi to meet with Kate to count the bunches of basil and discuss how to store it.

We decided to wait to sell to restaurants and supermarkets until we knew how frequently the basil could be harvested and how much could be expected at each harvest. Kate and I then embarked on a guerrilla style marketing campaign around Kampala, sending out mass emails to friends, talking to a friend who manages a restaurant, even peddling basil at yoga classes. When half of the remaining basil were wilted and our individual marketing contacts were exhausted, I picked out the healthy leaves and made pesto to sell.

Working with TAP, Grace has been able to access resources to found her business. As soon as Grace produces a regular supply of basil and we have made connections with supermarkets and restaurants, she will be responsible for storing and distributing the basil as well as making and storing pesto to sell. Within six months, she will be running her business independent of TAP's financial support.

While 10% of Awava's annual profits go to supporting TAP, TAP is primarily funded out of pocket for the moment. Because TAP is currently funded out of pocket, we are limited in our ability to support Grace, and we cannot take on more clients. If you'd like to support TAP, you can purchase Awava products at or donate directly to TAP via .

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Celebrate World Environment Day by Taking 30% Off our ENTIRE US Stock!

Hello everyone! This Friday is World Environment Day and Awava is celebrating and supporting by giving 30% off our entire stock this Friday through Sunday at! Simply enter coupon code: WED before checking out!

Awava promotes the reuse of materials as well as the processing of organic, Ugandan grown raw fibers for their products to help promote a sustainable income, a sustainable Earth and a sustainable peace!

For more information about the history of World Environment Day or special celebrations going on in your area, please click here!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another View of Operation Lightning Thunder

The article, AFRICOM'S Ugandan Blunder gives another side of the December 2008 military offensive against Kony and the LRA. So, if the previous article wet your appetite, you can learn even more from this one!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Newsweek Article on Joseph Koney and His War with the Ugandan Government

Hello everyone! Lauren just sent a link to a very thoughtful article in the current Newsweek Magazine about Joseph Kony and his war against the Ugandan Government. For those of you interested in some of the why behind Awava's work, please read this article. Awava works predominantly with Women in conflict and post-conflict areas of Uganda. Many of our Women are from Gulu,one of the areas hardest hit by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. All of the Women making our paper bead products live in one of the many overwhelmed internally displaced persons (IDP)camps.

So please click here to learn more about what's going on in Uganda!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Businesses We Like!

Hello everyone! We have just started a new feed along the sidebar with "businesses we like"! Scroll down and you will find links to interesting retailers and artisans within the US who we think are pretty nifty! AND we will continually be updating so be sure to check back often!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Awava Greetings by Glenna Gordon Set 2

Awava Greetings by Glenna Gordon Set 1

Celebrate World Fair Trade Day with Awava! Take 30% off our entire online stock!

World Fair Trade Day was established in Arush, Tanzania in 2001 by the International Fair and Alternative Trade organization, now World Fair Trade Organization. World Fair Trade Day is celebrated worldwide on the 2nd Saturday of May with various events happening across the globe. Find events in your area at, and celebrate with Awava by taking 30% off of our entire stock this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (May 8-10) by visiting!! Simply enter the coupon code WORLDFAIRTRADEDAYSALE and you will get 30% off your entire purchase!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mother's Day Awava Style!

Hey everyone! Just a quick reminder that Mother's Day is just around the corner (May 10th) and what better way to celebrate than by giving your mom a gift that gives back?! The majority of the artisans with whom we work care for anywhere from 2 to 10 children on the salary brought to them through the sales of their products, and often through these sales alone.

So make your gift go the extra mile by showing your mom how much you appreciate her and other moms around the world!

Please place your orders at no later than Wednesday May 6th to ensure delivery!

Kate von Achen
Awava Founding Director

Monday, April 13, 2009

Awava at Ladies of Lawrence Artwork Spring Sale!

The annual Ladies of Lawrence Artwork Spring Sale is taking place just in time for Mother's Day and graduation! Please join us on Saturday May 2nd from 11am to 4pm at Pachamama's restaurant at 800 New Hampshire Street in beautiful downtown Lawrence, Kansas! Choose from the latest Awava products as well as numerous other handmade goods brought to you from some of the most talented ladies of lawrence!

Fair Trade Feature: Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd.

by: Lauren Parnell Marino

Friday is an important day of the week for the artisans of Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. Every Friday, artisans gather outside of the small office of Uganda Crafts, just outside of downtown Kampala. They come carrying their work from the week: a collection of beautiful baskets, handmade jewelry, or musical instruments. Friday is the day that a week of work turns itself into an income; the day that a community comes together to plan for the week ahead, and to gossip about the week past. For many of the artisans involved with Uganda Crafts, Friday is the best day of the week.

Milly is one of the artisans who arrive early every Friday morning at Uganda Crafts. She is a single mother of four children and lives in a nearby suburb of Kampala. Milly is an expert basket weaver, and has been weaving since she was a young teenager. She also serves as a trainer, and gives informal advice to other artisans on a weekly basis and also teaches new people how to weave during workshops that Uganda Crafts organizes. Recently separated from her husband, Milly works hard to provide for her family on the income she earns from her baskets. Her work has enabled her to build a new house and to send each of her school-aged children to school. She is extremely proud of these accomplishments, and she exudes confidence and playfulness to everyone she meets.

Milly’s story is unique, but it reflects the influence that Uganda Crafts has had on the lives of its artisans. Uganda Crafts began in 1983, the brainchild of Betty Kinene and Marilyn Dodge. Betty, a Ugandan businesswoman and Marilyn, an American UNICEF volunteer, teamed up to create jobs for the disabled and underprivileged in Ugandan society. Disabled herself, Betty provided early leadership and business savvy, enabling Uganda Crafts to become the first craft shop of its kind in Uganda. During the 1990’s, Uganda Crafts’ reputation grew, and it began to work with fair trade partners such as Ten Thousand Villages. In 2000, Uganda Crafts became a for-profit company and changed its name to Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. Already operating under fair trade principles, Uganda Crafts became a certified fair trade organization in 2006 by the International Fair Trade Association (now the World Fair Trade Organization).

Today, Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. continues to be a leader in the industry. The organization adheres to a guiding philosophy: creating jobs for the disadvantaged, training groups in craft production, encouraging innovation and creativity, preserving traditional African cultures through crafts, creating quality products, and adhering to fair trade standards. Betty Kinene remains the Managing Director and driving force behind the good work of Uganda Crafts.

Awava is proud to partner with Uganda Crafts and to support the work of this women-powered business. With the economy slipping globally, both the local market and export market for Ugandan handicrafts have dropped. In recent months, Uganda Crafts has been struggling to give the artisans enough work to sustain themselves financially. The partnership with Awava will bring more orders and more income to artisans during a difficult time. But Awava is also benefiting, by having the privilege of selling colorful handmade baskets and unique jewelry.

With the support of Awava and other fair trade groups, Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. will make it through the economic crisis and will continue to thrive. It will do this while simultaneously encouraging the preservation of cultural art and bringing income to disadvantaged artisans from all around Uganda. And, with Milly’s help, the people of Uganda Crafts will manage to do all of these things with a smile.

Celebrate World Fair Trade Day with Awava!

Don't forget World Fair Trade Day is Saturday May 9th! Stay tuned to for special World Fair Trade Day deals!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lunch In Dar es Salaam: My Search for Obama Kangas

by: Ryan Schuette

This month I traveled to Dar es Salaam in my role as a foreign correspondent to report on a conference the International Monetary Fund hosted. A folded, spotty paperback edition of Jeffrey Sachs’ “The End of Poverty” in my backpack, I crisscrossed the busy streets of the Tanzanian capital to find the conference center, itself lost somewhere in a maze of ten-storey skyscrapers, temples to modernity in a city that echoes with calls to prayer by night. I read that book insatiably, made notations, scribbled figures on a notepad, in part because I would meet and probably interview the author – a panelist – and partly because I saw some of his conclusions about international development reflected in the faces of working poor, with their “simple annals,” as Abraham Lincoln once denoted their lives and lifestyles, all around me.

I never interviewed Sachs. The man, a celebrity in the way only a bespectacled bookworm advocate for the poor can become, ducked out of the conference center as soon as reporters engulfed Kofi Annan, the keynote speaker. A little disappointing? Sure. But what I found in Dar es Salaam made my work for the fair trade business Awava – for which I moonlighted as a serious-faced fabrics shopper – resonate with the idealism I absorbed from “The End of Poverty.” Hopes, dreams, and a little faith to make our world better than the one we inherited, this is what I found reflected from the organization and the book on a small corner, in crowded market spaces, searching for a U.S. president and the stuff of future purses.

It began with my mission for Awava: I needed to find Barack Obama’s face. Put a bit more straightforwardly, I needed to find his face on a four-foot khanga, surrounded by the words Honera Barack Obama, or “Congratulations, Barack Obama,” in Swahili – material that would surely sell well for Awava in America and profit the female entrepreneurs who need it for their daily bread. The only market in which I would find BaracKhanga, I knew, lay in the mishmash of makeshift kiosks, shaded shops, and medieval-looking mosques of downtown Dar es Salaam, a cacophonous rush of cars, spoken Swahili, and American pop music that leaves you with the impression of not so much a clash of civilizations as one – or a few – that got crammed into a blender. That’s culture the world over in an era of globalization, but here I found burkhas and high heels, Britney Spears and the call to prayer, Camel cigarettes and alcohol bans: a real-world microcosm of the so-called “Americanization” you read about in textbooks.

After the conference ended each day, I ventured out into the marketplace that sprawls forth like a gaudy octopus from the center of the city. The first day I met with disappointment: no one could tell me where I could find the khangas I discovered in Zanzibar two months earlier. The second day I came across a man on a step in front of his shop, a cigarette hanging limply from his lips, absorbed in a newspaper. Upon mentioning “Obama” and “khanga” – a note of despair in the back of my mind – he directed me to a bony, bearded taxi driver, a man who spoke little English but understood immediately when the shopkeeper mentioned it to him. The taxi driver gestured me into his vehicle and rushed me down a few blocks, through streets filled with baying goats and Tanzanian women in miniskirts, and to a shop parked on the corner of a street pushed together by two mosques, towers that looked more like minaret-crowned guardians of unspoken godliness. Women in miniskirts from the street before seemed to vanish, and all around me I saw men in flowing white garments and women in closeting hajibs: a bastion of cultural conservatism in Tanzania’s capital.

The taxi driver pointed me to the shop on the corner I first noticed. I paid him 5,000 Tanzanian shillings – roughly three dollars – and stepped out of the taxi. Entering the shop, I found a fat, bearded shopkeeper with two other men behind a counter. Posters featuring Mecca, the holy place of Islam, plastered the walls next to folded khagas of all kinds: diamondback fabrics of blue and orange, of yellow and black, of butterfly patterns and distinctly Islamic designs with curlicue expressions in Arabic and Swahili. I noted that two ceiling fans rotated lazily above me. The shop smelled of textile fabrics and goat-meat – their lunch, I saw, as his two counterparts munched on it between spoonfuls of rice and curry.

Shifting uncertainly, feeling like a six-foot pale-skinned giant from a distant country called Texas, I said, “I’m looking for a khanga with Barack Obama’s face on it. Do you have it?”

The shopkeeper nodded and asked me to follow him to the back of his shop. Passing by the varied fabrics, I came to what I wanted: a treasure trove of Obama-faced fabrics, neatly folded in massive piles on stools and draped over cabinets. I pulled the ones I wanted – ten each in blue, purple, and red – and carefully considered a few non-BaracKhangas that I thought would do well as some of Awava’s purses, aprons, and laptop bags. Making my selection, I headed to the shop front and threw down a substantial amount of money.

The shopkeepers were surprised – pleasantly. They probably hadn’t seen as much money in awhile. As soon as I had loaded my khangas into four fat bags, the bearded shopkeeper motioned to me. “Come, come,” he said. “Have lunch with us.”

I thought about it. The Tanzanian sun blazed above me – quite a different feel from the mild Ugandan heat – and no ceiling fan could beat the air conditioner that would welcome me at my hotel. My arms were sticky from sweat, and I yearned for a cold shower. Still, lunch was tempting, and the smiles of the shopkeeper and the two men warmed me over to a small portion of their meal.

The hospitality was immediate and unconditional. One man pulled out a stool for me, cleared the table and made room for me. The other poured rice with curry and vegetables into a bowl for me, sharing no offense when I refused goat-meat. The bearded shopkeeper opened a Coca-Cola for me, and we ate together.

Though the first minute or two after my outspoken thanks succumbed to some awkward silence, the shopkeeper broke it by asking me, “So where are you from? Britain?”
I laughed. “Nope, all the way from Texas,” I said.

The three men raised their eyebrows and made crooked grins. “So why you like Obama?” one managed, gesturing at a pile of BaracKhangas I had bought. “You are from Bush country.”

I laughed again and explained what I was doing, the fair trade business I supported, and how well Barack Obama’s face sells in America.

“We think Obama is good,” one of the men, who introduced himself as Abdul, a Pakistani, said. He didn’t venture to explain his politics and I didn’t seek an answer why he liked Obama; I think we all understood that our nationalities preceded us and engendered tension without any of us seeking it.

The other man, Mohammed, until then quiet, asked me, “Why are you in East Africa?”

After they heard me describe myself as a student and journalist, the shopkeeper, stroking his beard, said, “I want to study in America.”

That changed the course of the conversation, because he added, “I would like to live in America. I want to be an engineer.”

Abdul and Mohammed piped in, too, saying how much they would like visas. “Are there mosques in America?” the latter asked.

I nodded eagerly and explained that I received my education near Dallas, which boasts of a burgeoning multi-religious community, and that some of my best friends were Muslims in Texas.

Well that stopped lunch. None of them could believe it. The shopkeeper asked me, “So I could worship in America? I could be a Muslim there?” I readily assented.

“We want to escape the poverty,” Mohammed said, about stumbling over himself, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “You see this shop – it is good to us. But our families – I have sons – they want more, too.”

They all talked about their aspirations, and how they, save the shopkeeper, were limited by their expatriate status in Tanzania. The next shock was reserved for me, and it came from the shopkeeper. After describing his intention to become an engineer, he revealed to me that he had taught at a madrassah in South Africa. Madrassahs are synonymous in the Western mind with religious instruction, and with another word: fundamentalism. With images: burning flags. With sounds: planes colliding into buildings. But the man before me seemed less a vision of anti-secular piety than a shopkeeper dressed simply, eating simply, wanting simply more for himself and his friends and family.

“I want to do good by Allah,” said the shopkeeper. “I want to learn to build dams. I want to help develop my country.”

The shock wore off, replaced by a sanguine sense of friendship with these men. Gone were the burdens of nationality, the instant and mutual fears, if they existed: we were friends having lunch with each other. The fans still rolled on lazily above me, but the air conditioner and cold shower beckoned less.

Finishing lunch and my Coca-Cola, I bid farewell to Abdul, Mohammed, and the shopkeeper. I thanked them with as much poise and graciousness as I could muster, shaking their hands repeatedly and smiling as much as possible without seeming forced. The shopkeeper provided his name and email address to me and we vowed to stay in touch. I’ve lost that small piece of paper since, unfortunately, but the memories stay with me rather consistently, like the breeze from lazy ceiling fans on a hot day.

Boarding my plane back to Kampala, I thought of these men and their aspirations. With a jolt I came to think that this conversation somehow interlinked all of our endeavors – Awava and Kate, the director, braving an uncharted lifestyle in Uganda to improve the “simple annals” of others; Jeffrey Sachs, traveling the world and speaking until his voice cracks about aid commitments to the extreme poor – the seemingly separate and innocuous roles they and others play, the fruits of their labor juxtaposed into visions of a free America, a free world, boundless and generous and welcoming. I realized that the aspirations of these men were one in the same with the aspirations of the women in Gulu, one in the same with my own.

Imagine if we could all sit down and eat together. World peace? Maybe not. But we would find something in common, that’s for sure.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Awava Partners with Photographer Glenna Gordon!

Glenna Gordon ( & lived and worked as a journalist and photojournalist in Uganda for two years. Glenna moved to Liberia at the start of the new year but Uganda remains in her heart.

Glenna has been a strong advocate of Awava and the Awava Foundation since their inception, helping across the board from inspiring our organizations' names to identifying the Awava Foundation's first grantee.

This is why Glenna has opened her photo archives full of beautiful photos from Uganda to Awava. Though she is currently living elsewhere, she wants to contribute to make a print on the lives of the people of Uganda and is doing so through the Awava Greetings collection which will be available online at in early April.

We will be starting with two collections containing five blank greeting cards each, one focusing on the children of Uganda and the other, people and places.

Awava Working to Offset Negative Effects of Subsidies and Second-hand Clothing by Promoting Local Textiles and Fashion

I have often referred to Uganda as a clash of civilizations. Old versus new. Modern versus traditional. Western versus non-Western. White versus Black. This collide can most blatantly be seen in observation of attire. Clothes seen on the daily scene in Uganda and Africa as a whole.

A few months after my move to Uganda I remember seeing a University of Kansas t-shirt on the back of a boy walking down the road near Makerere’s main campus (I can spot a Jayhawk anywhere) and I got very excited. It threw me back to grade school when the men’s basketball team won the national championship in Indianapolis, “Soaring to Indie” is what it read. That shirt could have been mine, long ago donated to the old Salvation Army store on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kansas, now home to Family Video. Since then I’ve been startled by seeing Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction tee’s which go for quite a bit of money in hipster thrift stores in the U.S. these days, expecting to see a skinny, white indie kid beneath but instead I find a Ugandan.

While I have to admit I am thankful for the used clothing market here in Uganda (I can’t afford the new clothing in proper retail stores here), it does have a negative impact on both the local fashion industry and African textile companies and cotton producers. Ugandans prefer to go with a more modern or western look, leaving their traditional clothing in the closet, only to be worn for things such as introduction ceremonies, leaving local textile designers and retailers out in the cold.

Likewise, subsidies being given to U.S. cotton farmers by the U.S. Government continue to deplete world prices for this hot commodity. African cotton farmers cannot compete with the subsidized farmers in the West, and with the reduction of local demand caused by imported, used clothing from the West, they are finding themselves and their families in dire straits.

Awava works with tailors using African waxprinted fabrics in an effort to boost local demand for cotton and textiles while providing income for the artisans themselves. In an effort to go beyond the efforts already being made, and to further support local fashion, Awava is working on a partnership with Ugandan designer, Latif Madoi (, winner of last year’s Bronze award at FIMA, the International Fashion Show in Africa, in Niger. Latif typically designs modern pieces, all while running a design school in Uganda, but is eager to make time to create select garments using waxprint fabrics to sell with Awava.

For more information on the issue of cotton subsidies and the effects of donated clothes on the cotton and textile industries in Uganda and throughout Africa, please reference the following articles: “Dead White People’s Clothes’: How the used clothes you send to Africa are killing the local textile industries” ( and “The Cotton Debate: A Global Industry Argues Over Government Subsidies” (

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"You Are Lost!": My 2009 Return to Gulu

by: Kate von Achen

February 3-9

I feel that my last several blogs have started with, “It has been long since I’ve written…” or something to that effect. Perhaps I should just start saying, “Hello! I am still alive and well in Uganda!” or something like that? Hmmmmm. So yes, it has been long and I am still alive and well in Uganda, though I took a five week hiatus in the U.S., Kansas and New York more specifically. Why have I been so quiet you ask? Well, I’ve been busy and then unmotivated, followed by busy and followed again by unmotivated and well you get the point, no? To catch you all up to speed more or less I have been plugging away at Awava and the Awava Foundation, applying for grants, recruiting volunteers, setting up various avenues for sales, designing product, applying for grants, etc., working here and there on my dissertation (but more often laying awake all night thinking about how I need to work on it), drinking (like I said, I was in Kansas and New York for five weeks), readjusting to life in the U.S. just in time to come back to Uganda and have to readjust to life here, helping my friend Sarah who I forced back to Uganda with me adjust to life in Uganda, and now we are here! Today. I can start with this week I think, unfortunately leaving out small, amusing details of the weeks and months before that while sitting and thinking without any way to record them, have forgotten. Sorry.

On Sunday I traveled to Gulu for the first time since October. It had been far too long. My intention was to make it here before going back to the US for the holidays but that didn’t happen. At the last minute, I had to call the tailors and the women making the recycled paper bead necklaces and ask if they could send them on the bus to Kampala. So Sunday was my “homecoming” in a way. Lucy pretended to cane me for “escaping” to the U.S. but stopped when I told her I had brought her some Nutella for our chapatti, Nutella, banana happiness, a concoction I invented shortly after my move to Uganda (this culinary delight is perhaps remembered by those on my Fair Trade trip as chapatti, Blue Band, raw sugar and banana happiness, but now has what I refer to as the capital city upgrade).

But let me rewind…..Sunday, Ryan, Sarah and I reached the bus park in Kampala around 11am to head to Gulu. For Sarah and Ryan this was their first time, and what a first time it was. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time must remember some of my stories of previous travels to Gulu from being grabbed and yelled at by every other person in the bus park, many pulling you trying to get you to fill a seat on their bus while others try to guess where you are going, always guessing places like Fort Portal, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Mbarara and other touristy places but never Gulu; others mob you trying to “help” you to carry your things only to ask for money once you reach the bus and what you give is never enough…..Well, Sarah and Ryan got to experience this multiplied by 100. When I travel to Gulu I often only carry as many things as I can take myself and I take a boda to the bus park. This time, since I was with extra hands, I took lots and lots and lots of things: wax print fabrics for Lucy and for Awava, foam stuffing for products, elastic, solid liner fabrics, etc. We had tons of bulky, heavy things. I was willing to pay for the carrying of the anvil-laden suitcase, but the rest was up to us!

We reach the bus to Gulu and the muyaye (cheats) tried to charge me 20,000UGX to put my luggage in the boot! I talked them down to 5K which was more than enough and boarded the bus. Sarah and I lucked out because the bus was so full that we got to sit in the conductors’ seats giving us loads of extra leg room. This did, however, leave us vulnerable to more stares. Every time I woke up from a doze one of the conductors was staring at me, sometimes my face, sometimes my chest…..

On the way, the bus stopped several times, as always, to buy street food in various trading centers. I bought Sarah some gonga (grilled banana, not marijuana) to try. Yum!

We reached Gulu around 5pm and were filthy and hungry. We reached Bora Bora, my favorite place to stay in Gulu, and I was informed that Francis, the manager for years, had left! I was sooooo sad. I had tried to call his phone a few times during the bus ride but it was switched off. We washed up a bit and headed to Bomah, one of the local hotel/restaurants with “Western” cuisine. I’ve made quite a few Ugandan friends in Gulu over the last year and a half and hadn’t seen one of my favorites, Jacob, in a few months. Jacob is the manager of Bomah and is constantly smiling and giggling. We received the biggest welcome from him when he saw me walk in! It was truly good to be back.

We were all exhausted from the journey and had full bellies so called it an early night, for we had to be up by 7am the next day to conquer the mountain of work we were to accomplish in such a short period of time.

Monday we hit the ground running. We had a nice planning breakfast at Kope Café and then went to the market to hang out with the tailors, pick up finished product and place the new order! After lunch a laid back lunch of maloquang, simsim paste and cassava, we headed to Unyama IDP camp to conduct livelihoods assessments with the tailors which I am studying for my dissertation and who Lucy also employs. The interviews didn’t take nearly as long to conduct as I expected and were actually pretty fun seeing as we were all laughing at my attempts at Acholi (I am getting much better).

We headed back into town where Sarah and I met with Richard, the man who organized the paper bead women’s group, Konye Keni which in Acholi means “you help yourself through yourself”. We were going to be doing baseline interviews with this group the next day and wanted to go over the interview guides with Richard so we could plan the best method for translation, etc.

Following our meeting, Sarah and I returned to Bora Bora, showered and went for a beer with Ryan at Havana Pub to celebrate Sarah’s Half Birthday (she’s such a Leo). While their beers were ice cold, mine was hot and considering that I really don’t like beer much in the first place, I drank about 4 sips and then just sat there. All I really wanted to do was organize stuff for the next day and pass out!
My days in Gulu are typically exhausting because 1) it’s quite hot there especially during the dry season which is now; and 2) I spend my days running around doing a billion things trying to maximize on the short time periods while I’m there. So yes, computer work and bed were calling me!

Tuesday Ryan was traveling back to Kampala so we loaded him down with product to mule back the night before. Sarah and I slept in until 8am (yay!) and had rolex and coffee and an orange for breakfast at Bora Boar. For Christmas my sister’s family gave me quite possibly the coolest and most useful thing in the world, a travel French press! It’s kind of amazing. It looks like a travel mug but one of the tops has a coffee press built in! I am a bit coffee obsessed as any of you who know me personally know, and outside of Kampala you only get instant coffee which I think is an abomination of the coffee bean. In fact, I’m partly convinced that it doesn’t contain a single trace of anything remotely resembling any part of a coffee tree. But I digress…so I got this fabulous gift that I had yet to use, I took my own ground coffee so all I had to ask for was hot water! Brilliant! Megan, you guys saved my life.

After breakfast, I showed Sarah how to deposit money for the tailors, we went and visited the tailors and then headed out to Bobi IDP camp to conduct the rest of my livelihood assessments with the tailors there! This process also went by quickly and before I knew it we were in the back of a very full farm truck on our way back to Gulu town. Sun burnt, filthy and exhausted, Sarah and I returned to Bora Bora just in time for our 2 o’clock meeting with the ladies of Konye Keni!

Despite the language barrier, we had tons of fun with these ladies who also enjoyed laughing at me and my Acholi speaking. We took photos, they tried to teach Sarah how to roll the paper beads (she and I are at similar skill levels) and we learned about the Women’s lives. We also bought all of the necklaces they had and the following day met with Florence, the unofficial leader of the group, to place a new order and go over design.

While I had been sad that Francis, the old Bora Bora manager was gone, the new management was Ethiopian and it turns out no offers Ethiopian food! Ethiopian is one of my favorites so we asked the woman if we could have whatever they had for dinner. We were served one of my favorite dishes, Kir Kwot with injira! It was delicious and only 5K! Excellent.

Wednesday, our last full day in Gulu, was much more laid back. Sarah and I slept in again, had our meeting with Florence, stopped by and greeted the tailors and then headed to Bomah to do lots of computer work. We went back to the market around 4pm for what I like to call, “chapatti, Nutella, banana happiness”, a delicious concoction which I invented when I first moved here which is a chapatti with a layer of Nutella on top, a banana in the middle and then rolled like a burrito. BEST THING EVER! And the tailors, Lucy in particular, are obsessed with it!

Sarah and I headed back to Bora Bora and sundown excited about our Ethiopian dinner that was just a few hours ahead. I showered and put lotion on my sun burn and then lay on the bed thinking, decompressing and looking forward to the food we were soon to be served.

Just like the night before, our meal was delicious. I cannot recall the name of the dish but had had it many times before and it was another one of my favorites! This time it was only 3K! Seriously, you cannot beat that.

Sarah and I decided to go have one beer (this time mine was cold and thus more drinkable) at Havana Pub and then pack up and rest early for we were leaving for the bus at 6am! We sat at Havana Pub reflecting on the past few days, Sarah’s opinions of Gulu and the Women, etc. All in all things were good! We accomplished a lot and made space for a lot more future growth. Fantastic!

We arrived at the Post Bus at 6:30am. The bus was to depart at 7am which means we left at 7:45, but not before the nun at the front prayed that should we crash that our bus would be covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Sarah looked at me wide-eyed and said, “is this really happening” and I replied “yes, this is normal”. The bus departed and we were headed for Kampala.

I was passed out in true Kate form (i.e. mouth half open and slamming my head against the window with every bump) for the majority of the ride home. I would periodically wake up when the bus stopped to see if there were any samosas or chapatti available.

We made it safe and sound to Kampala, me with only a minor concussion. We exited the bus, grabbed our bags from the boot and walked tiredly and grungily down Kampala road in an effort to find lunch.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Very Awava Welcome

By: Sarah Clark

I arrived in Uganda at the beginning of the year, and am living with my good friend from Kansas, Kate von Achen. We live in a two bedroom apartment in Kampala. Besides being a good friend of mine, Kate has founded her own fair-trade craft business, Awava. Part of the reason that I moved to Uganda was to help Kate with her endeavors here. After several days of recovering from jetlag and just beginning to adjust to the newness of life here in Uganda, it was time for my first adventure outside of dirty, bustling Kampala. We were going to Gulu on business.
The plan was to purchase fabrics and other supplies here, in downtown Kampala, and carry them by bus to Gulu where we would meet with various artisans to place new orders, pick up old orders and just generally check in with them to see how things were going. Kate and I were to make this trip along with one Ryan Schutte, a bear of a Texan, who is also working for Awava. A few days before we actually headed for Gulu, Kate and I headed to Old Kampala to purchase the goods that we were to carry to Gulu. Most of the fabrics and other general supplies that one can purchase while in Gulu, and that Awava uses for its products, come from Kampala. If we are traveling there, it is cheaper for us to carry supplies from Kampala rather than purchasing them in Gulu after the prices have been jacked.
The buying experience was an adventure in itself as we dodged bumper to bumper honking matatus, special hires, boda-bodas, boda bicycles and other pedestrians all on intersecting paths to unique destinations. As Kate and I weaved our way through the crowded scene with huge rolls of foam stuffing atop our heads, Ugandans pointed and laughed at the sight of mzungus carrying their own things, much less in this common fashion. As usual, our white skin brought us more attention than either of us deserve or desire during our day-to-day dealings. Every purchase invoved some degree of negotiation. All in all we purchased two huge rolls of foam stuffing, several yards of elastic, several bolts of solid-colored liner fabric and a beautiful variety of wax-print fabrics from various vendors in the Old Kampala market before heading back home. The experience was exhausting and left both of us covered in dirt and grit. I was more than ready to jump into the shower after finally arriving home and making multiple trips carrying our purchases up the stairs to our apartment. Of course, when it was finally shower time, water was not flowing.
A few days later, it was time to actually make the journey to Gulu. I was excited. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do no matter the length of the actual journey (and it is usually longer than expected). I love being in a bus without air conditioning surrounded by stinking strangers. I really do. I love having only what I will need for the length of the trip packed in a bag on my back. Ryan met us at our apartment bearing lemon crème biscuits and water. We chopped up some carrot sticks and hauled all of the Awava supplies back down the stairs to the special hire waiting to deliver us. We would head to the famed Old Kampala taxi park where we would then vie for a spot on a bus headed for Gulu. As the special came to a stand still outside of the taxi park gates, miriad men leaned into the open windows asking us where we were going. They would all guess the most popular tourist destinations, Gulu not being one of them. Many of them stuck their heads in and simply shouted, “Obama!” They had no idea that all three of us happened to be American, and I thought how annoying it would be for other, non-American mzungus to be shouted “Obama!” at all of the time. Kate started replying “Museveni!” Nice.
A few of the men stayed with our special as we slowly crept our way inside the taxi park gates. When we were finally unloading our things to begin searching for a bus, these same men automatically tried to grab anything that any one of us was carrying. We had to yell at them to stop. We could handle it ourselves. There was one large suitcase that none of us had hands for, so we did allow one man to help us with this large item, and we all made our way to a Gulu bus. The whole time we had to guard and pull our things away from helpful hands. We found a bus and the conductor said there was room for three, so Tex climed in to save three seats while Kate and I wiggled ourselves and our goods around to the boot of the bus. The conductor tried to charge us the price of an extra ticket for our luggage storage (ridiculous) so Kate negotiated a more reasonable price. We payed our helper for carrying the extra bag to the bus, and climbed on. Ryan was seated just across from the boarding doors and the two seats across from him were reserved for Kate and I. It was the conductor's seat! We lucked out! Because the conductor wanted to ensure the extra fare for our things, he had to give up his leg-roomy seat in order to accommodate the three of us.
We were soon on our way from Kampala to Gulu. The busy downtown scenes of Old Kampala rolled by and slowly faded into rural scenes of smaller towns. I nodded off and on, but never got any real sleep. The advantage of having the conductor's leg room was countered by the disadvantage of not having a seat-back in front of us to provide any amount of privacy. Everyone in the front part of the bus was staring directly at us. The journey was long, unrelentlessly hot and bumpy. Just what I had expected. I saw a few baboons on the side of the road. They looked mean. Several hours later we were pulling into the bus park in Gulu. Kate, Ryan and I were all sweaty and tired, so we piled ourselves and all of our bulky belongings into a car and asked the driver to drive us the two blocks to the hotel.
The Bora Bora was run down, but cheap and provided all of the essentials. The front of the building was a “pop-in restaurant” opening onto a courtyard behind. The rooms formed the boundries of the courtyard. Each room was named after an international place. Kate and I shared California, while Ryan stayed two doors down in Madrid. California was cracked and peeling, but had a working fan. The room's furnishings consisted of one bed covered with a mosquito net, the fan, a small brown table, a weird little bench, a small mirror on the cracked wall and a pair of sandals to use for showering. The bathroom was bare-bones as well with a toilet bowl sans-seat, a small sink and the shower head protruding from the center of the room. Bar soap was also provided. We all showered, settled into our spaces and met back up for dinner. During dinner we discussed the game plan for the next few days'—we had a lot to accomplish in the few days.
The real work began the next morning. We headed out for an early breakfast before making our way to the tailors' stall in the Gulu market. I had heard many stories of Lucy and the other tailors, and was excited to finally meet them in the flesh and see their famed market stall. The market was cut with many winding and intersecting foot paths, and was packed with people buying and selling everything from hardware and used clothing to fresh fruit and vegetables. Kate led us down a few paths to Lucy's stall. Lucy was indeed a warm and welcoming figure. We were each given a warm greeting from each of the tailors, and were wished a happy new year by everyone. Ugandans seem to wish each other, “Happy new year!” the first time that they meet again after the new year even if it is well past. I think that I have heard that phrase more in my short time here than I ever have in my life. The stall itself was jam packed with fabrics and products in varying stages of completion. Somehow there was still room for the four foot-treddle sewing machines and their operators. Virtually every inch of three-dimentional space was occupied in some way within the tiny stall. Ryan and I sat on benches just outside the stall.
We counted finished products while Kate talked to Lucy about new product prototypes we had brought with us. Then we gave the tailors the new fabrics and supplies we had carried from Kampala with specific orders attached to each fabric. We chatted with the tailors as they worked, and arranged to make trips to two of the IDP camps around Gulu to check-in with some of the other tailors that had been trained by Lucy. We planned to conduct surveys with each of them in order to monitor weather having this new skill and being able to use it is having a positive impact on their livlihoods. That is obviously the goal.
Over the next few days we managed to fit quite a lot in. We made it to both IDP camps to meet with tailors and successfully conducted the tedious surveys. We also met with the group of women that Awava has been buying paper bead necklaces from and conducted surveys with each of them. We placed a new necklace order with them, and talked about new necklace designs. In addition to work, we managed to have a drink on behalf of my half birthday (yay!), and enjoyed a few interesting eating experiences. I had been warned ahead of time that there were few restaurant options in Gulu and that even those options were notoriously slow. In my experience up to this point, Ugandan service was already extremely slow compared to my U.S. standards, so I thought I understood what to expect. I quickly found out that Gulu indeed has its own set of standards.
On more than one occasion, we waited more than an hour between placing our order and actually receiving any food. And when the food did arrive, it never came all at the same time, so we ate whatever came first and waited for the rest of the meal to arrive. Many of the menu items were also misleading or not at all what I expected. One night, Kate and I each ordered a sandwich at a restaurant. We were both feeling pretty hungry so we decided to split some chips (fries) as a side order. The server took our order and returned several miutes later to inform us that the restaurant was out of chips. I didn't think that this was possible in Uganda! It is common to order many times in a row before choosing something that “is there”, but every place at least has chips! Even if they have run out of every other thing on the menu, you can always get chips. Not the case in Gulu. So we opted to split a salad instead. We scanned our options, and quickly decided on the Greek Salad. An hour later, when the salad finally arrived, Kate and I looked at each other and started laughing. Our “Greek Salad” consisted of large chunks of avocado, tomato, hard yellow cheese, onions, and carrots. This chunky pile was amply drizzled with straight yellow mustard. The concoction wasn't too bad, but was in no way Greek, and barely even qualified as a salad!
Kate and I were finally delighted to discover that the Bora Bora actually served not only local food, but Ethiopian food as well! We enjoyed authentic Ethiopian dishes our last two nights in Gulu. Yum! I also tried local food for the first time while in Gulu. We were at Lucy's stall around lunch time one day, and so we joined the tailors for their meal. A girl from somewhere else in the market appeared with covered plates of food. There was boiled casava, simsim (seseme seed paste mixed with other spices and usually some form of meat), and one of Kate's favorites, maloquan (ground g-nuts cooked with greens). Everyone ate with their hands, balling up a chunk of the casava, then dipping it into the sauce as a vehicle to the mouth. Everyhing was very hearty and I think that I would require a nap if I ate that many dense carbs on a daily basis. The girl from the market came by the stall again later to collect the lunch plates and collect payment for the food. Kate provided dessert that day. We found a fruit stall in the market and bought bananas and some fresh chapati (flat bread). We spread nutella (brought with us from Kampala) on one side of the chapati, and then wrapped a peeled banana inside. It was a delisciouse treat!
Generally, life in Gulu seemed even slower than life in Kampala, but it moved at a pace that I could get used to. Once the sun went down, there was really nothing to do. One night I walked down to an internet cafe (I use the word cafe extremely loosly here), and about twenty minutes into my session, the power went out. No generator. I paid what I owed up to that point and left. Everywhere was pitch dark. I had a small LED light on my keychain that I carry everywhere, but all around me was intense darkness. Losing power is a typical part of life here in Uganda, but in Gulu it left me with literally nothing to do after dark. I did have the option of reading or writing aided by my headlamp, but that was it. The darkness felt vast that night and dictated my bed time.
Through it all, we managed to get all of our Awava work done, and we were finally ready to leave Gulu. We said goodbye to the tailors on our last evening at the stall, and wrapped up any other business we could before heading to California for our last meal and to pack-up. The next morning we left Bora-Bora very early. Each of us, armed with a headlamp and several bags, made our way to the Post Office where we planned to catch the earlier-departing post-bus. We arrived minutes before it was scheduled to depart, and then proceeded to wait at least half an hour before boarding began. Then another half hour before the bus moved. Some woman from the front of the bus stood up and prayed for our journey prior to departure, asking for the blood of Jesus to protect our bus on its journey. Creepy. The journey was hotter and longer this time, but we did make it safely back to Kampala, and eventually back to the apartment. Water was not flowing.