Is this really my job?


Brittani Russell, a 2013 Masters of Civil Engineering graduate of the University of Notre Dame, recently joined the BT team as our very own Engineer in Residence. Just last month, she hopped on a plane to Uganda where she’ll be spending the next year working hand-in-hand with our team in Uganda to streamline and scale our construction process.

Below is her most recent post to a personal blog she’s keeping of her time with us. We though you’d enjoy getting to know her…we’re pretty psyched to have her on board!

*All photos credited to Brittani

Despite the fact that I am slowly getting acquainted to my new life here, of getting more comfortable with navigating my way around the craziness of the taxi park to find where I need to go, of knowing how much a mango on the street should cost, etc., I still am having trouble believing that this is indeed my life and my job. I had this thought as I was crammed in a taxi on the way back from a long day out in the field looking at one of our schools that was under construction. With this post I am going to attempt to give you a day-in-the-life here in Uganda. Although, to do that accurately I think I would really need to mount a video camera on my head … maybe we’ll save that for a later date!

After a quick shower in my all-inclusive bathroom/shower room with the one temperature water option (instructions: turn the hot water on all the way, then slowly turn the cold faucet until you have enough water pressure for the water to stop falling straight down), my day starts off with a stop at the roadside shop for a few fresh mangos and bananas.

From there I jump in one on the public taxis for the short jaunt to the office. After a cup of tea my co-worker, Henry (or Kotongole), and I walk up the road and catch another taxi going into town. We get dropped off near the main taxi park in the city and then weave in and out of the mass of people near the city center to make our way to another taxi park a few blocks away. Unfortunately for me, all the traders in the city are on strike for the week – which makes the journey along the sidewalks perhaps a bit less stressful, but also makes my sitting and waiting for my taxi to fill a much longer affair! I happily take the best seat in the taxi (the passenger seat up in the front … confusing because it’s where I think the driver’s seat should be =P). This, however, is not a very discrete location for me to hide from the people selling everything under the sun in the park (from various forms of food – crackers, grasshoppers, etc., socks, pans, 3D stickers), and for the next hour or so I have to disappoint every one of them who come up to try to sell me their wears approximately every 30 seconds. After Henry safely deposited me on the taxi I waited for it to very slowly fill and started writing a letter to Nakato (Sr. Angela Marie, nakato is the name for the younger of two girl twins); I swear the man behind me was trying to read all about my Ugandan adventures as well! Right as the taxi is about to fill up and be on its way the last passenger enters – much to my disappointment she refuses my offer to let her slide into the middle seat in the front – so for the next hour+ I am smooched against this large African woman as I am perched awkwardly in the center. Alleluia, she is the first one to get off the taxi and I reclaim my former seat! About two or three hours of enjoying the beautiful views of the Ugandan countryside (really absolutely stunning, you should all come see for yourselves because I really cannot describe accurately!), I arrive in the little town of Kikyusa where William, another one of my co-workers meets me. We jump on a boda with the intent to first visit one of the BT completed schools and then Bugabo, one of the schools that is currently under construction. Of course it would happen that as soon as we get on the boda it starts to rain. When it’s not letting up we try to take asylum under the awning of a nearby house. As we’re just chilling there a little boy runs past and I presume goes in the back of the house. Moments later he along with about 5 siblings come peeking out the front door, so excited that there’s a mzungu on their porch. They were so cute, and they sent me back out to brave the remaining drizzles with some roasted maize! =)

Unfortunately, the momentary lull did not last long and we had to again retreat under another roof – at which point we consigned to the fact that the weather was not cooperating with the plan to visit both school sites. With the next rays of sun we traced our way back along the road towards Bugabo. Construction on this school is coming along quite well. Both of the school blocks are roofed and awaiting the finishing touches. The day I was there the community was digging the pit latrines – and I realized that our 9 ft deep anchors for our bridge in Nicaragua had absolutely nothing on these!

Besides viewing the school construction itself, other highlights of the site included the mango tree (which William proceeded to climb with shouts of “I’m a monkey!” to find the best mangos), and a chameleon! =P

As a final stop of the day we proceeded a bit further on the road to where some of the students who will be attending our school when it opens are currently attending classes. This in itself was a minor feat that the boda could not help us with. I don’t know what was different about this little patch of road (well I mean, riding along on a motorcycle post rainstorm was slightly treacherous and delicate in itself, but this stretch even more so!), but the mud was so slick and sticky that we had to dismount and try our luck on our own two feet. I swear my shoes weighed 5x as much as they normally do with the amount of mud that was stuck to them! However, this treck was totally worth it to see the school – and a great motivation to do our work of constructing more BT schools quickly and well! This school (shown in the picture below) is the classroom for 60 students in 4 different grades. The classes face different directions as the sole teacher jumps around the class with the broken blackboard as the others work on assignments. Pretty normal right?

As we were again traversing the mud patch we stopped to talk to one of the community members who was elected to be the chairperson for the school on the previous day. His daughter ran out to their corn field and cut some fresh maize to send me back to Kampala with. William also added a pineapple (since this town claims to have the first and best pineapples in Uganda) to add to my mangos and maize (fresh and roasted) that I had received for the day. I once again found myself on a taxi heading back to Kampala. But man, between the plethora of road construction zones and the “jam” (rush hour) that trip was longggg! It probably felt more so as my legs were cramping up due to the sticks or something that were lined under the seats of the taxi (I still have no idea who they belonged to, no one seemed to be claiming them when we got back into Kampala). But I finally did make it back, successfully got a boda and boarded another taxi that takes me back to the place I’m staying – and hit my bed like a rock!

And yes, that’s what my job looks like! This was just one example of a field visit day, and while I wouldn’t say any day is terribly predictable or exact, there have been several experiences like this with just slight variations. For instance, on my visit to the Mabale site the taxi was relatively full when I boarded it, but we took at least 20 minutes trying to exit the park after it was ready to go. Don’t know exactly what was being communicated with all the Lugandan shouting … but in any case the driver found it difficult to get out of the sardinely parked taxis. Just a day in the life of your engineer in residence! =)


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