Sunday, July 10, 2011

East Africa Day 56 (Fri July 8): US Embassy & Dinner with Kiva Fellow Michele

I had been looking forward to meeting up with Michele, a Kiva Fellow tonight. She works with BRAC Uganda in the organization’s Kampala office, plus a microfinance institution (MFI) that Kiva partners with in Uganda. I had read a Kiva blog post that Michele had written about her Fellowship, and reached out to her to see if she’d meet up with me in Kampala. Tonight worked out the best.

I was able to get online at the hostel this AM. The electricity was working! Elaine had mentioned that the USA Embassy in Uganda has a program that helps Ugandan students apply to university in the USA. I did some online research and finally found a direct phone number for Alexis, who works for the program. I called her and she invited me to stop by the office. I jumped on a boda and headed to the US Embassy. Getting through security alone was a lot of fun – reminded me of working on Capitol Hill – metal detectors, badges, etc. Felt like home:)

We met in her office. She is from Houston, TX and has been in Uganda since March, I believe. Her husband works for the State Department, and they came over together. She works in the Education Advising Center, specifically with the USAP program as an Education Advisor. She receives applications from Ugandan high school students who want assistance gaining admission to USA universities. The Embassy doesn’t provide funding – just assistance with the admissions process. The students are expected to either find their own funding in Uganda, or to secure full scholarship from their USA university of choice. One Ugandan student successfully went through the program this year and will leave for college in the USA next month! I nearly cried with happiness, and I don’t even know this student. Alexis helps the students with SAT prep, “life prep” for university, purchasing plane tickets to fly to campus, vaccinations needed for university, study skills, etc. She said that there are USAP Education Advisors working in USA Embassies in other countries, and that once a year they meet in the USA on a college campus. The USAP students in the USA pay their own ways to attend the conference and make suggestions for how to make the program even better. This past year it was at Yale. I can’t wait to try to learn more about USAP in Kenya!
After parting ways with Alexis, I took a matatu into town and found my way back to Nakumatt. Had a veggie burger again at the same coffee shop, for lunch. My waiter from yesterday recognized me and said hello! I was sitting there reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” when I heard a familiar voice. I looked up and saw two roommates from Austin, TX who I had met at the hostel in Jinja – Erin and Tracie. I joined them at their table and we caught up on our adventures that had transpired since we last saw each other in Jinja. It was so great to see them!

photo: Erin, Tracey.

We parted ways, not expecting to run into each other again until we’re back in the USA. I then went over to the Akamba bus office and purchased my bus ticket back to Nairobi.

From there I hopped on a boda and went up to Michele’s house in the northeast part of the city that I hadn’t been to, yet. We hung out at her house, which she shares with a few other international interns. The house was really nice! Also in a compound, just like Meghan and Nikki’s houses. I met one of Michele’s roommates who is from Ridgewood, NJ. She graduated with Connor Donohue. She said that wherever Connor went, he was well-loved. It was really nice to meet her. Especially since I had been thinking of Frost Valley when I was at the Embassy. Alexis had posters from Connecticut College, where Connor went to school, and Wesleyan on the bulletin board behind her desk. I kept staring at them, wishing that I had been allowed to bring my camera into the Embassy buildings, so that I could snap a photo of that pair of posters:) One of Michele’s other roommates walked by, and one of that roommate’s friends also walked through the living room. After they left the house I learned that they are both Princeton in Africa Fellows. Ah funny! Given that I was just at Hillary’s house in Gulu! The women were on their way to a Princeton in Africa BBQ in Kampala, when I saw them at Michele’s. Funny, funny!

Two of Michele’s roommates joined us for dinner. They both found the group house through the website,, which I definitely have to check out! One roommate is from South Korea, and is volunteering in Uganda for a year as part of her undergraduate degree program in Australia. She’s working for an enterprise center that helps single mothers. Her focus in school is international development. Michele’s other roommate, Lucy, is an American working on her Masters in Public Health at Emory. Lucy has lived and worked in DC – including for the Aspen Institute. I’m on their e-newsletter list! How funny! We had a great time hanging out over dinner, talking about our life experiences, past jobs, and what brought us to East Africa. It was a really, really nice night. A private hire (taxi driver) that they often use dropped them off at their house, and then took me back to the hostel. When I got back to the hostel, the electricity was out again. Fortunately I was tired and it didn’t matter because I went right to bed!

photo: Lucy, Michele, roommate.

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