Spencer Caldwell (Uganda)

Born in Arkansas, raised in North Louisiana as well as New Orleans, Spencer was always an energetic and adventurous person from the start. Spencer has had many outdoor adventures, including hiking through the trails in the Olympics outside of Seattle, and the Black Hills of South Dakota and traversing the United States in multiple cross country trips. Upon joining the US Navy in 1999, his worldly adventures only increased, with deployments to SE and SW Asia along with many many months spent out to sea enjoying an uninhibited view of the stars and the oceans. His venturing outdoors continued by taking on of snowboarding as a hobby to coincide with rugby. Since then he has snowboarded in 7 countries and played rugby in 8. Recently, Spencer graduated from George Mason University with a Masters Degree in Public Administration concentrating in Non-Profit Management at George Mason University. As Spencer's graduate school experience is reaching its final semester, the door opened up for humanitarian work and the ability to apply by learned skills and acquired knowledge to the world around him. Life is about the journey, much less about the destination.

2001 Toyota Landcruiser – On Its Last Legs

09 Jul

Pictured with me is Emma Ajok, our dedicated Project Officer for GDPU and faithful babysitter to the Toyota Landcruiser, circa 2001, that serves as GDPU’s means of transportation. The latrine project undertaken by GDPU and supported by AP, is well underway and has advanced beyond the substructure to include completion of work above ground, or so we hear. Problem is, our transport vehicle, which is old enough to cast a vote in the majority of nations in the world, has failed us in small measures over the past two weeks that are beginning to take a toll on our budget and patience.  Attempts to monitor and evaluate the construction progress are being thwarted, and there is an uneasy, frustrating reliance on verbal reports from phone conversations between GDPU and the head teacher at Abaka Primary school and the on-site contractor. What is needed is eye-witness accounts from me and Patrick, photographs to send back to The Advocacy Project along with interviews with workers, teachers, and parents to supply proper progress reports and material for blog postings.

In the previous blog, there was a reference to engine trouble with a loose transmission he then changed at the transmission shop and much needed rear axle replacement, which proved to foreshadow another breakdown this past Friday, July 5th.  Patrick, Ivan, Walter, our driver, and I headed out from the GDPU office to the cement store, about a 2 km drive, to purchase a few bags of water-based cement for the latrine. Once loaded, we would be on our way to Abaka Primary School for an overdue evaluation. After pulling over in front of the store, the vehicle died, and it refused to restart. Walter and a roadside mechanic pulled the battery and transported it to an automotive store for repair or replacement. Here on Car Ninja you can find more information.

Emma soon arrived by Boda boda with cash in hand, and fifteen minutes later the task was completed, the new battery was installed, and we were optimistic that our journey would continue. No such luck! Upon further inspection, it was not a faulty battery but worn out spark plugs that failed to emit a spark to foster an engine start, or so it was believed. 

Our plans foiled once more, we all made our way back to the GDPU office by means of Boda bodas and awaited the mechanic’s prognosis on any further damages and a hopeful restart to our journey. Our hopes were dashed later that day upon discovering a faulty fuel injector was also to blame, providing an improper fuel mixture into the combustion chamber.  The correct amount of fuel must be mixed with the correct amount of air to produce controlled explosions with the combustion chamber to bring the engine to life. Yes, a vehicle can run without a fuel injector, but it will run badly and lead to misfires, wasted fuel, bad fuel efficiency, and overheating. Better to replace than blowing your engine.

The Landcruiser’s overworked engine and the mechanics.

This is where Emma’s commitment to GDPU comes to play. She spent the whole weekend at the garage ensuring a new fuel pump with new a rotor head for fuel injection, timing belt, and a spare tire were purchased for the Landcruiser. The parts had to be shipped up from Kampala, and did not arrive till over the weekend, and in fact, the repairs will not be completed until tomorrow. As this blog is being typed, Emma is confirming with the garage that the parts are in Gulu and repairs are on schedule. A job well done by our superb GDPU Project Officer.

GDPU is well overdue for a new SUV, the repairs will continue to add up and the Landcruiser will not get better with time, it is not a fine wine. You can check here about Torque Cars who are always excited and ready for working on modifying , tuning a car. We are basically working with a dying animal that needs to be put down. Today’s cars can last for 10 to 12 years, provided they are subjected to regular maintenance to include oil changes, brake checks, and yearly inspections to ensure proper performance. Here’s a quick list of habits to avoid for longer car life: “How To Kill A Car“. A 2001 Landcruiser that was purchased second hand in 2007, and is nearly 20 years old, and well past its prime. 

Many thanks to Emma for dedication to her job. We would be nowhere without her.

Emma Ajok, GDPU’s Project Manager, and I.

Posted By Spencer Caldwell (Uganda)

Posted Jul 9th, 2019


  • rachel wright

    July 9, 2019


    Sorry to hear about your car troubles but it’s great that you have such a good team working with you while you’re in the field.I’m looking forward to further updates on how construction is going!

  • Abby Lahvis

    July 9, 2019


    Wow, Spencer! Sounds like an eventful few days, but we are glad that the car is up and running. I really enjoyed reading this blog, it feels like we are on the journey with you!

  • Emily

    July 9, 2019


    I’m sorry to hear about all the car trouble. It’s such a pain here in the states, I can’t imagine what it must be like to navigate these issues far from home and with limited resources. However, it seems like you’re handling this as well as possible. Keep up the good work!

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *