Monday, July 22, 2013

Uganda - The Pearl of Africa

A friend from Stanford visited last week and I spontaneously decided to join a group of interns from all over Africa to go rafting in Uganda. After an important deadline Thursday evening my colleague and I took the freedom to take Friday off and decided to opted to Kampala by bus. Flying was much more expensive and a 9hr bus ride during the day might actually be nice (... or so I thought before the trip).

Our JAGUAR bus
Border Crossing
On the way to Kampala
Leaving the house at 4:45am meant too little sleep, a seat pitch of about 10cm meant cramps all over my body, only stopping twice meant depriving oneself of much needed water in order not feel like going to the bathroom. Well, and the 9hrs turned our to be 11,5hrs. I was ready to fly the way back (but ended up taking the bus again - One can do so many cooler things with the 150 EUR a ticket would have cost!)

After meeting up with the group in Kampala we went out for some West African food (Mama Ashanti - highly recommended) and a couple of drinks in a nice, but very expaty place.  The next day we were picked up early again to drive to Jinja, a place that calls itself the adventure capital of Africa, and that has some awesome grade 5 rafting on the White Nile.

Beginning of Rafting
Jumping off the raft
IT WAS GREAT!!!! Even though I'm not a water person it was amazing to raft the wild waters and to do backflips from the raft in the calmer areas. Going rafting in Uganda doesn't sound too natural, but I can assure you all it was great.

Luckily the crocodilesusually frequenting the nile have been scared away by dynamite fishing (one of the few times when I actually approved of that practice ;-)). So no immediate threats by dangerous animals. One guy in our boat had a waterproof camera with amazing quality. See for yourself how it was and feel free to become jealous!

The evening was spent talking, eating and drinking on the banks of the Nile and on Sunday we all headed our ways. I must have been too eager to get home and forgot my phone in Jinja. Luckily I realized it in Kampala, arranged a transfer and changed my bus ticket from noon to 4pm. Alright, no big deal, until I was told that they forgot to give my phone to the driver, ok, changed the bus to 8pm and visited some Kampala sights. At 7:45pm I was beginning to worry: where is the delivery guy? Do I really have to take the 1am bus? At 8:03pm they closed the bus doors (without me). I would have never expected that in Africa... I mean I was surprised that there actually are schedules. At 8:04pm the guy shows up with my phone, I run and catch the bus at the first traffic light and still get on. All sweaty, but oh well!

Nile River
So here I am now, the only muzungu (white person) on the bus, sitting in the very back (note to myself: never never never sit in the back... It's SO bumpy) and await another 11hr journey including a 3am crossing of the Uganda-Rwanda border.

At least 30minutes are already over due to the blog entry. I'll try to sleep now.

Cheers + bis bald,

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Development Aid in Africa

I would like to answer a few of the questions I have received over the last couple of days dealing with my work here:
- Do you actually plant and harvest mushrooms?
- Are you working for some NGO that helps farmers grow mushrooms?

Short answer: NO!

The aim of Kigali Farms is to create a modern mushroom growing and processing industry in East Africa. This is done by brining modern technology to Rwanda, adapting that to local requirements and training farmers to work with those new technologies. This has several positive effects: promoting mushrooms as part of the daily diet to fight malnutrition, providing new jobs in a formerly non-existent industry and allowing farmers to create revenues through the sale of wheat straw (a mushroom growing substrate) which used to be a waste product of wheat farming.

Kigali Farms is a for-profit company. The owner has invested a lot of money not only to do good, but to also create a profitable business that will eventually expand and yield returns on his investment. Several government funds and private donors support such companies by awarding grants or loans for innovative and promising businesses. It is my job to think of extensions for Kigali Farms business model (new markets, new products) and apply for funding to materialize those project ideas.

I have yet to got out to the fields and see the actual growing of mushrooms. Until now my work has basically consisted of meetings, research and drafting project ideas. Of course quite similar to what is have been doing in Germany, though the environment is different. Our office is not air-conditioned, next to a car repair shop (to give people direction we always tell them to go to "Gorilla Motors"), has Internet that takes FOREVER (in case it actually works) and gives you a headache due to the gasoline fumes floating around. But I should not complain, we have a western toilet and running water!

Cheers + bis bald,

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Things You Didn't Know about Rwanda

Alright, so I am in the middle of my first weekend here in Rwanda and would like to share a couple of fun facts with you:
  1. People wish you "Good Morning"! Be it 7am, lunchtime or late at night.
  2. Rwandans are crazy about shoes. Dirty ones are a no-go.
  3. Rwandans love buffets. Especially for lunch. Nearly every Restaurant offers one.
  4. Food in local bars takes AT LEAST 1hr to arrive. (Maybe that´s why buffets are popular... no waiting time)
  5. In case you want to buy airtime or data for you phone / laptop you have to buy a scratch card from some vendor on the street, scratch it and type in the code... come on... scratchcards !?!?!
  6. Rwandans love mayonnaise and eat it with everything.
  7. You are not supposed to walk over grass in the city. If there is a nice patch in a public area, make sure to never set foot on it!

As you can see: I am not writing about being attacked by lions or elephants, crazy people trying to sell me blood diamonds or child soliders or being asked to invest in organ trade. Not saying that stuff like that cannot be found, but Rwanda is much more advanced, safe and clean than expected. I guess my perception of Central Africa will be a little adapted over the upcoming weeks.

In order to see as much of the city as possible I today ventured
out to the Kimironko neighborhood, home of the biggest market in town, to do some grocery shopping. I tried to upload a video here directly, but internet seems to be too slow (maybe buy another scratch card?).

Youtube worked though! (Click me)

Cheers + bis bald,

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mushrooms in Rwanda

Alright, many of you might have heard me talking about how I will grow mushrooms in Rwanda for the next couple of weeks. Well, surprisingly I was not making one of my jokes, but am actually sitting in Kicukuro right now (which belongs to Kigali) reading about spawn production in East Africa.

What do I do?
I am working for Kigali Farms ( and am responsible to find much needed funding for our upcoming projects which include enhancing our product portfolio (with white button mushrooms, right now we only do oyster mushrooms), building a spawn lab and setting up a distribution system. Kigali farms is a for-profit social business that aims at fighting malnutrition in East Africa by introducing commercial mushroom growing with local resources in the region. We try to win local farmers to purchase substrate and spawn from us who then grow the mushrooms and sell them either back to us or directly at the local markets.

Where do I do it?
Our office is located in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the up and coming countries in the region, relatively safe and politically stable. We have some land an hours away that allows for expansion and is in a region with more favorable climate. In Kigali I am currently staying at my boss's house but will move to my own place on Monday. It's great to get to know different parts of the town! I have not seen that much of Kigali so far, but the markets, the colorful dresses and the traffic already made an i

How did I get to spend my time in Rwanda?
Well, I have two spare month in between quitting my job and starting school, Instead of simply travelling or doing a traditional internship I tried find working opportunities in the social sector in a country or region I have not been to much. Stanford has been a great help putting me in touch with some organizations that fit my requirements and after a one-hour skype date with the founder and CEO of Kigali Farms I decided to spend my summer in Rwanda.

In the upcoming posts I will talk a bit about the work I am doing here, the non-profit sector as well as life as an expat in Africa.

Cheers + bis bald,