Sunday, November 27, 2011

Keep the Good Times Rollin'

Due to a broken camera and an ancient data card (I don’t feel like elaboration), I’ll have to wait to share pictures and the story of the day at the Entebbe zoo, but there has been plenty of excitement to share in the meantime.  There have been some boda firsts: riding side-saddle (just don’t look down), taking Tasha on the boda, wrapped up tight against my chest (took her to get her hair shaved off in town; the ladies at the salon were hilarious) and finally, squeezing three of us girls on the back of a boda coming home late from dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Ling Lings …just for fun; this made all the more ridiculous given the fact that DeAnna had a boda to herself.

Another quick anecdote: We’ve been having issues with the back door of the RAV 4 not latching properly and swinging open randomly if it’s not locked. The other night, Emily H and I stopped off at a gas station to pick up some TP. As Emily pulled out onto the road (a very busy road full of large trucks and taxis just before the bridge to Kampala), the door swung open and a very large bag of toilet paper tumbled down the street, stopping traffic and causing a rather significant disturbance. Emily pulled over and I hopped out and ran across the road towards a policeman in blue fatigues (they always hang around that strip of road) who had picked it up off the road for us. He was quite amused and tried to make light, flirty conversation, but I just took the bag, thanked him and ran back across the road; still laughing about that one.

American thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night: On Wednesday we bought a 10lb turkey and first thing on Thursday morning, Emily W cut its head off the same way we killed the chickens…it was nasty. Aaron plucked it and pulled the guts out and Emily and I rubbed it down with butter and spices before, literally, stuffing into the oven (last year at Christmas, when they still had the crappy little oven, Emily cooked it at a friend’s house and took it home on a boda).  The afternoon was a frenzy of kitchen activity and the final product included mashed potatoes, bean casserole, homemade stuffing, dinner rolls from Ozzies, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, apple crisp and sangria. We put the two long benches from the kitchen table together in the living room, covered them with a sheet and candles and put down cushions on the floor Asian-style and enjoyed the most amazing late night candle-lit thanksgiving dinner together. Due to the fact that we had to wait til the kids were in bed, it was about 9pm when we finally ate and it was so great to just chill out after on the floor, too full to move, talking and getting to know each other better. And if you weren’t already impressed, we lost power at about 3pm and didn’t get it back until yesterday at about noon so all of our prep was done by candle light too; such a great night.

At 9am Friday morning, Job (one of our drivers for hire) picked 5 out of the 6 of us volunteers to take us to Kampala for the day (Bridget got in a boda accident on Thursday and was too sore to endure the 2 ½ hour treacherous trip each way). Our first stop was a mall called Garden City. It was the strangest thing…it looked and smelled like a North American mall. We wondered around for an hour or so, checking out some clothes stores, some souvenir shops and a bookstore before heading to our next stop, the Friday craft market. From there, we headed for lunch at the deli/bakery that I talked about in my last post about Kampala. Erika and I, instead of getting one of their sandwiches on a long French baguette, we got a handful of sliced ham and salami (the real stuff, not the processed deli meat) and a bunch of slices of cheddar cheese. We then headed to the bakery and bought a loaf of amazing doughy bread and had it sliced so we could put together our own sandwich. I realize I have probably already spent too much time describing it, but I cannot even tell you how good this tasted. Real cheddar cheese, are you kidding me?? I almost cried it was so good.

Our last stop before heading home was this magical place that I had heard much about…a walmart-type store called Game. As if the mall wasn’t shocking enough, here I was faced with bright lights, numerous aisles and choices. It was great, as I needed a birthday gift for Erika and found the perfect item, but I admit to feeling a bit of culture shock last night. I was not prepared for that and hadn’t considered that I might feel that way. It scares me a bit, to be honest, because I feel like it’s just a mild preview of how it will feel to be back in Canada…but I can’t think of that now. 

Driving was especially nuts; traffic was bad and hectic and included a number of funnels where cars squeeze in just inches from each other. It’s almost unreal sometimes; just sitting back listening to music, relaxed and peaceful while Job’s going 0-50 and back every 30 seconds and there’s total chaos happening around us. I kind of love it.

We pulled in at about 9:30pm, exhausted from a long day and so glad to be home. 

Oh, and finally, Saturday morning provided a unique experience: roasted grasshoppers. Bridget and I put two of the critters together in a toast and tossed ‘em back. Salty and not half bad at first, but after a little chewing, the fishy flavor came through and I wasn’t so keen any longer…     

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What a Week: Part 2

Day two: Thursday

I won’t spend too much time on details and I don’t have any photos, but on Thursday morning, Emily H, George and I got picked up at 8am by Job, one of our hired drivers, and began the 2 hour trip into Kampala to visit a couple of boarding schools for kids with special needs that were recommended to us. I have heard so much about the horrible institutions that you find here that I truly did not know what to expect. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. The first one was The Ugandan School for the Physically Disabled and it was a wonderful place. The kids were happy and well taken care of and the staff seemed to genuinely care for them. They also had a huge priority on giving these kids the independence to provide for themselves by teaching many vocational skills like leather making, beading, horticulture, etc. And, maybe, one of the best parts of this visit was that we were able to get our hands on the curriculum that they developed for their school, which is based on the British P1, P2 system but has been adapted specifically for kids with special needs in Uganda. This will come in very handy when we start up school at Ekisa…still a work in progress.

For lunch, we stopped at this little deli that has become a favorite for the Emily’s based on the fact that it has legit cheese and sits next door to the French bakery where we get chocolate croissants, among other things. I was sceptical about the cheese because most of the cheese in Jinja tastes like stinky feet but they had samples on the counter for the skeptic and I admit to doing a bit of an honest to goodness happy dance when I tasted it.

After lunch we headed to the Kampala School for the Deaf and were shown around by a woman from Canada. Canadians are few here, so that was kind of exciting. The place could actually be described as magical. The grounds were gorgeous; lush and beautifully laid out with many different buildings for the various skills they taught the children. There was also something about the signing; it’s beautiful to watch and created such a peaceful atmosphere. And to top it off, the three of us were given sign names by one of the teachers who worked with the deaf/blind kids after one of her students insisted on learning our names. Run your thumb and index finger down along the bridge of your nose…you have just signed my name.

All in all, a wonderful day.

Day three: Friday

I did something on Friday that I didn’t ever think I could do and there’s no reason to be poetic about it: I held down a live chicken with my feet, sawed its head off, plucked it and cut it up into the appropriate pieces…under Aaron’s tutorage. There were four of us and I was the last. The first one I could hardly watch, then the second wasn’t as bad, then I watched the third and by the time Aaron insisted that I do the last chicken, I think I was desensitized just enough and it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be; actually, Aaron said I did “real” good.

I have put together a bit of a presentation, but it is not for the weak of heart as it includes a full video of the actual deed. Click here…if you dare… J P.S. If you are wondering what I was listening to in my headphones…Christmas music.

This day was capped off by a coffeeshop-style concert at The Keep featuring recording artists Josh & Tasha Via. They are friends of Pastor Terry and his wife Debbie and are in Jinja pending the adoption of their little girl. Josh shared a couple of songs with the church on a Sunday morning a while back and we were clamouring to find out who he was so we were super excited to hear that he was available on iTunes and that he’d be putting on a more formal performance with his wife accompanying him on violin. We got great seats on the couches, ordered some desserts and just chilled out to a combination of original music and familiar worship songs. It was such a great time of relaxation and fellowship and everyone agreed that the evening had a definite rejuvenating quality.

Part 3 coming soon…the zoo…         

Monday, November 14, 2011

What a Week: Part 1

Day one: Monday (there are too many amazing pictures from this day to attach to a blog, so there will be a link to a YouTube video on the bottom of this post)

Monday morning started slow with the plan of Aaron, the night guard, taking DeAnna, Chalice and I to a “village” at about 10:30. We were under the impression that this village was a relatively short boda ride away and would only take a couple hours, but that thought was quickly dispelled as we were walking towards the road to grab bodas and Aaron mentioned the necessity of a boat ride across Lake Victoria and another boda ride to get to our destination. We, of course, were stoked about the idea, so after a quick stop in town to meet Aaron’s brother, Job, and get some cash, we hailed down 3 bodas and took the 10 minute trip to a small community on the shore of the lake to grab a boat. Aaron and Job took care of making the arrangements (Ugandans always give better deals to fellow Ugandans) so after a short wait, the 5 of us piled into an awaiting boat just like the one we took at Bujagali falls, were joined by a handful of other Ugandans and headed off across the massive expanse that is Lake Victoria.

The trip was beautiful; the sun glistening off the water, the friendly chatter between us and between those who had joined us, the gentle hum of the motor and the sound of the water as the boat sliced through it. We had no idea where we were going but in no time at all, the driver ran the boat ashore and the group of us awkwardly climbed over sacks of flour and crates of soda to jump off the furthest tip of the boat, just narrowly avoiding the water itself. As it turned out, Aarons idea of an island was more of a peninsula, but I was immediately enchanted. As we walked up the skinny path from the water, the bushes and trees thinned out to reveal a network of rudimentary dirt paths that weaved through a neighbourhood of thatch huts and small brick homes. This punctuated by beautiful trees, flowering bushes and ground cover, the waves and greetings from the adults who were milling around the homes and the constant cries of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as the children would run out to meet us. After about a half hour, the path intersected with a “main road” lined with shops and we found 3 more bodas to take us on the next leg of our journey; a 20 minute ride up to the highest point of the peninsula where we would find the small school that we now knew was our destination. This trip would have been more suited for a dirt bike or ATV (the boda that Chalice and Job were on tipped over at one point, pinning the driver beneath it) but it was a blast and as we neared the top, the corn stalks thinned to reveal the most incredible view of the lake and the lush vegetation that surrounded us. It was stunning.

Upon arriving, we found a group of young children being taught under the shade of a tree, in front of one of the two small shacks that house the other children while they’re learning. The next hour or so was spent meeting the teachers, the students, getting a tour of the two “classrooms” and sitting down in the head teachers tiny office, which consisted of a table and a few plastic chairs, to learn more about the school. Genesis Pre-Primary School; run by almost all pastors since earlier this year after one of them received a vision about serving this particular isolated community by giving these kids the chance at an education.

After our meeting, in which we were informed that their greatest need at this time was pencils, we piled into one of the classrooms with all the staff and students to hear a few songs and have the chance at the head teacher’s request to each say a word of encouragement to the kids through Aaron, acting as our translator. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this place the second we stepped onto the shore, but there was something about watching these children, looking into over a hundred pairs of little eyes as we sat on the bench they had brought in for us to sit on that, I believe, left an impression on each of. This school gives them a hope and a chance at a future and we could not ignore the need for us to come alongside them, so there is now a plan to purchase pencils, textbooks and other supplies in town to bring back to them some time in the next couple weeks.

Us girls assumed we’d be going back the same way we came, but it became very clear that that wouldn’t be the case as we followed Aaron and began a rather treacherous decent down the side of the mountain towards the water. We had about 8 kids in tow (the youngest ones who were finished school) who didn’t need our help as they did this hike daily from the fishing village we were headed to, but Aaron and Job were gracious and offered their hands to us girls through the steeper, rockier portions of the trek; I questioned the wisdom of wearing flip flops many times during the hour it took to reach the village. It was a charming place, at the very least. Mukene (little fish) were laid out to dry in the sun, likely to be shipped off to Jinja and other towns to be sold in the markets, and the shore was lined with numerous long fishing boats; one of which we would be hiring to take us back to Jinja. All of us were starving at this point and were informed that we had two choices: go straight back to Jinja or stop at an island off in the distance that we were told had a restaurant. Not wanting to pass up any opportunity for adventure, we quickly decided to head to this unknown island to see what we could find. It turned out to be a bird sanctuary/resort called Samuka Island that housed a restaurant and a handful of little cabins. The place was deserted. We were greeted by a woman upon arriving and were told that the restaurant had no menu and, essentially, no food, but they could scrounge up chicken and chips for each of us if we chose to stay and wait. 

About an hour later, after a considerable amount of silliness due to hunger and sun exposure, we had the best chicken I’ve probably ever tasted. Part of this silliness involved singing some rather bad harmonies to worship music care of Aaron and his guitar that ended up getting us a job offer from the manager of the resort to entertain his guests, but we’re pretty sure he just wanted us to come back and bring our friends for the benefit of his business.

After lunch, we returned to our awaiting taxi boat and enjoyed the half hour ride across the lake as the sun was beginning to go down. This boat ride included a whole lot more craziness from the three of us girls and, we’re thinking, took away any doubt the Ugandans had that us Mzungus are just plain crazy.     

We docked, rather awkwardly, at the edge of Jinja in an industrial part of town which included a leather factory and the foulest smell I think I’ve ever encountered, but we had the chance walk through the community where Aaron grew up and met a couple members of extended family on the way. As a side note, Aaron became a Christian in his late teens and it was a choice that got him disowned from his immediate family.

On our way, we made a quick stop at market to buy veggies and chapatti for some homemade salsa and DeAnna and I’s boda ran out of gas on the way, but we made it home; exhausted, a bit burnt, but incredibly grateful.

I hope this post doesn’t read too much like a point form description of the day, because it was incredible. There were so many moments that we just looked at each other and asked, is this real? I have always said that Epupa Falls in northern Namibia was the most beautiful place I had ever been, but this place, this part of Uganda comes very close. In Aaron’s own words, “This is the real Uganda.”

Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's a Staggering Thing (continued...)

Remember the story I told about Walter chasing the volunteers with a chicken...??

Thursday, November 03, 2011

It's a Staggering Thing

It’s gotten to that point where enough time has gone by that I’ve been procrastinating and it’s hard to know where to start. I’m doing well. I continue to learn, to laugh, to struggle with my sinful nature, to grow, to deal…but generally speaking, things just continue to get better.

Nam returned home shortly after my last post and is doing well, but the illness situation in the house got a whole lot worse before it got any better. Last weekend, all the volunteers and Emily W came down with the stomach bug that I had had the previous weekend and most of them got it way worse than I did. On top of that, we were dealing with malaria, mumps, pneumonia and typhoid and up until a couple days ago, I was still having to administer Tylenol to many of the kids but it seems that maybe, just maybe, we are done with all these fevers. By the end of it, I was pretty much gauging on touch as none of the thermometers we had were giving accurate readings anymore. Honestly, the day that I went out (as usual) to take all the kids temperatures (with the fancy new thermometer that Renee gave us) and they all fell within the normal range, I could have cried with relief. Once Zak is on the mend, it seems there might be some normality returning to this house.

A couple weeks ago, both Emily’s went to Kampala to pick up a new addition to the Ekisa family from a place there that I can’t really talk about because it could come back to bite us. His name is Paul, he has CP and I think he’s about 9. He had spent, I believe, at least 4 years there and the conditions were less than sufficient. He was extremely malnourished and had typhoid when we got him but his face is filling out and he’s getting a little belly; the rest of him will follow suit over time. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. It was about 9pm, the power was out and I was just getting back from an afternoon shift at Al-shafa. He was on the couch with George, surrounded by Emily W, a couple other volunteers and the glow from the candlelight. He was wrapped in a blanket having just been smothered in cream to sooth his cracked and dry skin and was drinking milk slowly from a cup all the while being spoken to in soft voices about how beautiful he was and how loved he was. I went to him and said hello and he reached out his hand, greeting me with the most beautiful smile. Moments like that will never cease to bring me to tears. The knowledge of where he came from and where he is now…being loved, nurtured and cared for…the degree to which Ekisa has changed his life…it’s a staggering thing.

Paulie,a couple days after we got him.

There have been other moments in the last week; Walter walking by behind me as I sat sorting clothing donations and stopping to lean down and kiss my cheek…just because. In addition to that, I witnessed a tender moment between mother and daughter that might have never happened had not a grandmother chosen to bring her little granddaughter to us. This little girl’s jaja showed up at our gate about a month ago carrying this little skin and bones bundle named Mercy. She had CP and had been left in the care of her grandmother due to her mother’s disinterest, but the grandmother was struggling to care for her…a fact that was very evident due to how malnourished she was. The Emily’s agreed to take her in temporarily to help nurse her back to health under one condition…that her mother come to stay to be the one to care for her under the guidance and supervision of Emily and the mommas as Mercy would have to be fed every 2 hours initially to get her weight up. So a day or 2 later, mom showed up to relieve the jaja and took up residence with Mercy in one of the buildings out back. This was the first time she had seen her daughter since last December and was non-to-happy to have been pushed into this scenario. In the beginning, she made this quite clear by her mood and attitude towards Mercy and the mommas, mostly keeping to herself, but over time, her pretence began to melt away and joy began to take its place. She began smiling, laughing, socializing with the mommas, helping with laundry even though she was not required to do so and, most importantly, bonding with her daughter. The moment that encapsulated this, the moment I will never forget, happened just a couple days before she left us to go home with Mercy; she was on the porch sitting amongst the kids and the mommas seemingly in her own world as she cuddled Mercy, kissing her little head; clearly in love with her daughter…another staggering thing.       

Yesterday, in itself, was a day to remember: Halloween. I had an early start, getting up at 7:15 to go to market with Emily H, as we do most Mondays, to stock up on matoke, beans, rice, milk, veggies and anything else that’s needed for the week ahead. By the end of these shops, there is usually just enough room for me to squeeze into the passenger seat as this isn’t your average trip to the supermarket. We usually get 4 or 5 bunches of matoke (like a banana but with a more potato-like flavor), each about the size of a 6 year old child and weighing about 20-30 pounds, a 100lb sack of potatoes, the same sacks full of rice and beans, at least 3 boxes of milk and assorted veggies and supplies stuck in the foot wells, including my own. This particular morning, we made a stop at Ozzie’s for breakfast (my favorite; French toast with cinnamon sugar and syrup, a side of scrambled eggs and a cup of tea) before carrying on to our final stop before home: a chicken vendor. You can buy frozen chicken from the grocery store, but it is not the cheapest or the freshest option. No, we were doing things the Ugandan way. Emily pulled over, agreed to a price of 17,000 shillings per and 5 live chickens were tied together by their feet and thrown into the boot with all the matoke. One of the funniest things to date was the drive home and how Emily would duck her head every time we would go over a speed bump and the chickens would start flapping around in the back. Another one of those wonderful, never-did-I-think-I-would, moments.

As soon as we got home, we began preparations for our Halloween party. We bought a couple green pumpkins which we painted orange to make things feel a little more like home but bought 10 little watermelons to carve as the squash was much too difficult to cut through. Myself and a few other volunteers made a huge batch of sugar cookies and different colors of icing for decorating, we made a “Happy Halloween” garland and cut out construction paper pumpkins and bats for coloring. After the kids woke up from their naps, we got them all dressed up in costumes, painted their faces with orange paint and cycled them through the stations - pumpkin carving, cookie decorating and coloring – while Michael Jackson played from the iPod stereo. They had an absolute blast, but I think the highlight came just after when we all went outside for a huge dance party which was somewhat overshadowed by the rather entertaining game of catch the chickens that the kids decided to play. They tormented the poor creatures, I’m not going to lie, but the sight of Walter picking them up by the tail and chasing after the couple volunteers who were less-then eager to be close to them, was far too hilarious to care. After dinner and bath time, we each took a few kids and went around to different rooms throughout the house and had them knock, say “Trick or treat!” (if they were able) and receive a little bit of candy from whomever we had stationed behind the door. Halloween is completely unknown here, so the whole experience was a first for all of our kids and I am absolutely certain that we did it justice. Explaining the holiday to the mommas, though, was somewhat of a struggle…I have just resolved myself to the fact that they all think that white people are mulalu’s (crazy people). 

Walter, getting his face painted





Walter, chasing Jessica with a chicken

I had hoped to be part of the slaughter and preparation of the chickens the next morning, but didn't make it out in time. I did take a moment to document this, though…    

Now, a couple randoms: first, our dog, Pippen; my sister’s been bugging me for a photo. Second, last week, in the midst of all the sickness, we were down a few mommas so George and I spent the morning helping with laundry. There is a staggering amount of washing to do every day and I admit to enjoying this little change of pace quite a bit.

George, wringing things out by hand