Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Last Words From Jinja

First things first…Erika’s back! She’s a nurse and was here from October til the end of December last year; she’s here for a year so if I come back, she’ll still be here. Given the turnover in this place, it’s particularly wonderful when a familiar face returns to the house.

A couple weeks ago, there was a rat in our bedroom…we get a fair amount of them in this house. I got home just as a couple of the volunteers had seen it and subsequently hid themselves up on the top bunks. I moved suitcases around, peered under beds, but couldn’t find it. I convinced the girls that it most likely went out through the hole in the screen (where it likely came in) so they’d be able to sleep; although I did have to switch bunks with my current bunkmate so she was as far from the floor as possible. J I store one of my suitcases under my bunk and a couple days later, I opened it to find two little beady eyes staring back at me. We shared a little moment before I closed and zipped my bag up, rolled it outside the gate (as per everyone’s insistence) and let it go. The little bugger ate a granola bar and pooped on my Sunday dresses…

I’ve been trying to knock things off my Jinja bucket-list this past couple weeks so last Tuesday Emily H, Erika, Erica (a current short-term volunteer) and myself went on a 2 hour horseback riding “safari” along the Nile and through some local villages. At one point, we were given the opportunity to split off into two groups: those that wanted to go fast and those that didn’t. The former was a small group consisting of a guide and…me. I’ve cantered on horses enough to feel relatively confident, but I expected a bit of a heads up - maybe a progression from a walk to a trot to a canter - but before I had even enough time to sufficiently gather my reins, he shouted “Let’s go!” and took off. My horse, naturally, followed suit causing me to flail around while I tried to tighten the reins and pull back, all the while yelling “Whoa!” at the top of my lungs. Luckily my guide, Charles, had the sense to stop…at which he informed me, “If you want to stop, just call my name.” “Thank you, Charles, I’ll try to remember that while I’m holding on for dear life…” is what I thought, “Ok” is what I said. Not willing to let the first go scare me off, I asked that we go again. 3 more times we took off running and apart from a brief section of cantering along comfortable, each time I ended up being thrown around, barely staying in the saddle, frustrated but assuming that since cantering is a rather bouncy gait it was simply error in my form. Our last attempt, I was thrown forward so hard that I ended up flat on my stomach, gripping my horse’s neck with my left arm and trying to pull back the reins with the right. It wasn’t until just before that moment that Charles looked back at the right time to see what the problem really was…my horse wasn’t cantering; he was bucking…repeatedly… Shortly after, the other girls caught up and Em asked me quite sincerely if I was ok; I didn’t really understand her concern until I realized that they had all seen the whole thing and that it looked terrifying and that they couldn’t believe I hadn’t fallen off. I suppose I can be proud of that.

Thursday afternoon, Em H and I hopped on a matatu to go to Kampala to hang out with Annelise. She’s the one I know from home and who was here for 6 weeks back in February; she’s returned to work with an organization called Watoto for at least a year. She’s a nurse and she’s currently in the process of getting certified to work as a nurse in Uganda which entails an 8 week rotation at a local hospital. This was her second week in the special care unit at Mulago hospital for preemies and really sick newborns. Despite the sign on the door saying “No Visitors, Do Not Enter”, Annelise ushered us right in and we were graciously welcomed by all the nurses. The place was full of crappy old incubators (some held together with duct-tape) and there were so many babies. Not only were we able to walk around, peer in and read all their charts, but Annelise even showed us a newborn that was born with his intestines outside of his body. I even “helped” Annelise with a tiny newborn who, we found out the next day, didn’t make it through the night. By help, I simply mean putting on a glove and adjusting his oxygen tube so that it was snug inside his tiny little nostrils, but it was still staggering to me that I was able to do that.
After hanging around for a bit, the three of us walked back the swanky Watoto volunteer apartment where Annelise is currently staying (and we’d be staying the night) to drop off our things and headed back out to get a tour of Bullrushes, one of Watoto’s babies homes. The place was beautiful and since it was only meant for babies under 2, we got to cuddle some pretty precious little kids; I actually spent a fair amount of time holding a preemie named Precious. Watoto doesn’t do adoptions; they send all their kids to Children’s Villages to be raised in Uganda. I don’t advocate for this but, in this case, it was probably a good thing because I could have lost my heart in that place.

It was already a great afternoon but we proceeded to a café called Mish Mash; Em had had it recommended to her. We sat outside on oversized couches around a stage that was clearly being set up for some live music and we weren’t disappointed: 2 great friends, steak with mashed potatoes, a big oversized glass of white wine and 3 Brits doing a set of old familiars…altogether one of the most relaxing evenings I’ve had in the last 10 months.

The rest of our time included a cold boda ride home through Kampala at night, all three of us squeezed together, a wonderful sleep (waking up to something that is rare and precious…silence), a quiet morning in the empty apartment reading, writing and drinking tea and a stop at Garden City to see a movie. We were planning to FINALLY see The Hunger Games, but 30 minutes before the showing, they crossed it off the schedule because “It hadn’t arrived”. They’ve been telling us that since April 13th when it was originally supposed to open here. We were so irritated we complained and got ourselves 2 free passes to The Avengers instead. 

Those two days weren’t actually meant as a vacation, but it turned out that way and has kind of increased the anticipation of my holiday in Amsterdam. Friday is looming and I’ve made myself quite numb as I busy my way through these final days. I said my first goodbyes on Sunday and was also part of a group that was called up to be prayed over. Everyone is invited to come up and join the prayer if they’d like to and the whole Ekisa crew came up and stood around me…and if that wasn’t enough, we had a talent show for the staff this afternoon and a number of the mamas said kind things and dedicated their dances to me…why do they have to make it so hard?? I feel I’ve been fairly strong about it so far, but it’s becoming clearer to me every day how hard this is going to be.

On Friday, Erika and both Em’s are planning on coming to the airport with me. We will hopefully be able to see The Hunger Games and then eat dinner together in Kampala before heading to Entebbe and saying our final goodbyes. I’ll be flying overnight to Amsterdam where I’ll be catching the train to a city an hour from the airport and meeting up with my friend, Kyla, and her family to spend 5 days exploring Amsterdam and the surrounding areas. I actually think it will be a really good transitional period before having to adjust to life back in Canada.

So, here goes…

Just a couple keepers from the photo shoot I did with Christine and baby Janet (the one I saw delivered)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Concert and Other Fun Stuff

First off, our new sign is up and looks great.

In the last week and a half, I have gone from having the room to myself to having 3 roommates. To be honest, it’s quite different this time around. There a number of factors why, but I find myself feeling a deficiency in the energy it takes to build meaningful relationships with any of them. I suppose I’m just tired of the turnover; it’s kind of exhausting. Don’t get me wrong…all 3 of them are lovely girls and they’ve been very enthusiastic and helpful and I’m enjoying getting to know them, I’d just rather spend time with the people I’ve grown to love over the last 9 months. If that makes me callous, so be it. J

So, the concert…what can I say? The volume in the room made it really hard for Benji and I to hear ourselves or each other so it felt like kind of a mess but I suppose it was a success based on the feedback we got. A highlight had to be Emily W doing the rap in Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with our friend Kate beat-boxing…oh, and she changed the lyrics of the rap to be about me.  The important thing is that I had an absolute blast doing it and I have no regrets and everyone who came seemed to have enjoyed themselves too. Technically, this was a professional gig since cover was 3000ush per person and Benji and I got all of it. A whopping 90,000ush each…about $36.00! 

 Benji's not actually mad, it just looks that way...

The morning after the concert, I weirdly woke up really early and after some deliberating decided to get up, go for a walk outside the compound in my pj’s and watch what was left of the sunrise. It was worth it.

Yesterday afternoon, Maggie (one of our mommas) came rushing in to tell Em that there was a black mamba in the store room. Just to clarify, a bite from a black mamba snake will kill you in about 15 minutes and the only place with an antidote is at least 15 minutes from our house. We deliberated for a minute or so about how best to deal with the situation before going outside to find that Nam, our 17 year old, had taken it upon herself to take a stick to it. Despite much translating, given her mischievous little smirk throughout the lecture, we have little faith that she is fully understanding how serious we are when we say…”That thing could kill you, don’t you ever do that again!” When we got outside, it was laying in the dirt clearly immobilized but still twitching so Emily H took a paddle to it. Its post-paddle injuries were, in a word: severe. Once we were satisfied that it was dead, we thought it best to dispose of it by throwing it into the latrine…Nam beat us to that too.  

Notice Maggie cowering in the back behind the post? And Nam looking quite proud of herself beside Emily?

Heading to the latrine...

Last week sometime, Emily made use of a fancy enclosed boda called the “New-Style Boda”. We’d been meaning to try it out for some time and I was quite upset that she’d taken it without me so when she got back, I grabbed the other Emily and the 3 of us took a wee cruise around Kimaka. Given the sight of 3 white girls squished into the back and the fact that the driver was blaring his Mzungu mix-tape which included songs with questionable content and colorful language, we drew a fair amount of attention. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Beautiful Usual

We got a new sign made to put up outside the compound. Big sign, little bike, what a conundrum…

Things have been moving along here. I’ll be doing a show at The Keep (the same place where I sang at Christmas) on May.25th with the help of a friend named Benji; a very talented singer/guitar player. We’ll be filling up two 45 minute sets, so naturally I’m terrified. I’m looking forward to it, don’t get me wrong, but the 26th will be a happy stress-free day.

Kelsey and Caroline left last Tuesday so I’ve had the volunteer room all to myself and, I’m not going to lie, it’s been so nice. When you’re living with 2-5 other people for 8 months, you just deal with it, but now having had my own space for a while, I’ve realized how much I missed it; not competing for the bathroom, playing my music as loud as I want when I want, having the room tidy…all the time, not the 5 minutes before and after momma Emma mops the floor. The room will slowly fill up again over the next couple months, so I’m enjoying it while I can. On top of having the room to myself, it’s been really nice just having the three of us in the house. We all agree that we wouldn’t be disappointed if it just stayed this way…

What else? One of our new boys, Elijah, had the measles so he was quarantined in my room for a couple days. The poor guy had a rash that was making his skin itchy so we kept him lubed up all day, covered in lotion. It wasn’t a chore keeping an eye on him, by any means. Em H and I spent a whole day watching old movies and drinking tea (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Um, can we say chauvinistic? My gosh…). He’s doing much better (no more 104.5 fevers) and so far, none of our other kids have shown any symptoms. A couple of them fall under the “at risk” category and hadn’t been able to get immunized for various reasons before this epidemic hit Jinja, so we’ll be very relieved when we’ve passed the incubation period without anyone else falling ill.

I spent Friday in Kampala with both Emily’s to take a couple of our boys to an orthopedic surgeon, including Elijah. He’s only been with us for about 3 weeks now and it was clear when he came that he’d suffered some significant abuse. He’s about 3, fully dependant with severe CP and a wrist and ankle that had clearly been broken and not attended to; both bones have set very badly. The doctor confirmed that he would need surgery so we will begin fundraising for that shortly. I almost hoped he’d tell us that Elijah was suffering from brittle bones so I wouldn’t have to face the truth that the damage was done with force and intent and the realization that his bones were otherwise healthy brought me to tears right there in that little curtained enclosure.   

It’s been really relaxed lately. We’d been having some trouble with a few of our morning mamas; just not doing their jobs, showing disrespect to Seera, the mama in charge of the morning. It’s been causing a lot of tension and generally negatively affecting the moral in the house. Em put them on probation and the day after Kelsey and Caroline left, the day the staff got paid, they initiated their mutiny. The plan was to just not show up for work the next day (all 3 of them) as a way of trying to, shall we say, screw us over; but they made a huge mistake. Two of them came into the volunteer room to give me a tearful goodbye, so naturally I asked Emily if they’d been fired. She was able to catch one of them before she walked out the gate. The interaction wasn’t exactly pleasant but they saved us the trouble of having to fire them and the next day, even though we were shorthanded, everyone pitched in and the air just felt lighter. It was actually a pretty incredible change. So, between that and it just being me and both Emily’s in the house, it’s been so peaceful.

Let’s hope the phrase, famous last words, doesn’t come into play…

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Neurotic, As Usual

I realize I have spent a lot of time sharing and writing about events and experiences, but it has been some time since I have expressed anything of a deeper nature. I suppose, because for the last 5 or so months, I have been generally quite contented and at ease, I haven’t felt the need.

I will be leaving this place in 2 months and though that is still a good chunk of time, compared to the time that’s past, it feels to be flying by at an impossible speed. Instead of feeling a healthy combination of excitement and apprehension, it feels like more of a combination of joy, longing and fear with a bit of anxiety thrown in for good measure.

I have no doubt that this tension has been compounded by a long series of cloudy mornings which, in turn, keeps the kids undercover and screaming outside our bedroom window by 7:30am each morning and the fact that the time I’m spending to write this is the first I’ve spent on my own since I got back from Zanzibar. All of this conflicting emotion has left me extremely contemplative, nostalgic and a little run down. I’ve been picking apart my relevance here, the contributions I’ve made… Have I made an impact? Left a mark? Has this time been worth something? I’ve been examining myself… Have I changed? For the better or otherwise? My relationships… Have I made a good enough effort to maintain my friendships from home? Should I have put more effort into deepening the friendships I’ve made outside of our home? Is there even a point anymore? I’ve been looking to the future… Will I struggle to adjust? How long will it take? Do I want things to be just how they were before? And the big one… Will I be back?

Regardless of the answer to that question, it will be good to be home. It is certainly draining to live in a transient home/community where you’re regularly either going through the first stages of knowing someone or saying goodbye to someone you’ve grown to care for deeply. It’s draining to live in a dorm room with 2-5 other people no matter how well you get along. It’s draining to fear the lack of adequate medical care, not so much for myself as I have peace in the fact that my life is in the hands of God, but for our kids. It’s hard to know that some of them have medical conditions that are serious and unpredictable and have the potential of going bad very quickly and we’d be powerless to provide the level of care that is needed. Selina is a perfect example of that and that is not something I am eager to experience again. It is also draining to fear the corruption, the lack of justice and the atrocities that take place so close to our home.

There are days when I feel the compassion and kindness that I’d hoped would be fostered and grown within me has been replaced by a bitterness and cynicism that scares me.

For one, this place has shattered my views on adoptions but I can hardly go into that without it turning into a 3 page diatribe that would shock anyone with a feeling heart. All I will say is that if you feel that by adopting internationally, we are somehow “saving” these children or that a child in an orphanage is there because they have no one else to care for them, then we need to have a conversation. I have seen firsthand the acute damage this type of thinking can cause. It is saddening to me that the reality and truth I’ve been exposed to has caused me to recognize that we have perverted yet another thing that God intended for good. Instead of integrity, there is selfishness; instead of compassion, there is greed…instead of humanity, there is human trafficking.

Secondly, the amount NGO’s and resources in Jinja makes it very unnecessary for children to beg in the streets and not only do they know it, but giving them money actually perpetuates the problem. So when a child approaches me and says, “Auntie, I’m hungry…” and puts out their hands, do I feel love and compassion for this child? No. I feel annoyance and impatience. Given that a good number of these kids aren’t needy at all and just don street clothes and puppy eyes to take advantage of the tourists - and I’ve had more than one occasion where a refusal has been answered by a harsh word or a rude gesture – I suppose I should give myself a break, but it still doesn’t feel good to be so hardened.

And to round it off, there is the pettiness I have seen within the community here and the added joy of recognizing prejudices within myself that I find both puzzling and disgusting; like the absurd idea that Ugandans somehow don’t love their children the same way we do. It is certainly not for me to judge conduct especially given that a parent’s desire to give away a child with special needs often has more to do with a lack of resources, finances, and deep-rooted superstition and a mother’s ability to carry on after the death of a child is a necessity for survival; as is the general resilience in the face of immense suffering that is so evident here…we don’t know suffering, so I suppose that makes it easy to mistake strength for indifference.

This all is not in any way a summary of my experience here; it is just an explanation of why there are days when I am simply tired; this is just half of the story. My time here has also been filled with daily joy and laughter and I have seen an abundance of love and compassion shown and received and God has been his usual faithful self. He has been answering general prayers as well as the continual prayer that he establish within me a spirit of humility and a confidence in who I am. It seems I have difficulty balancing those two attributes as when I am confident, I am proud and when I have been humbled, I second guess myself constantly.

I suppose I can expect that these things will never quite resolve as my personality has me constantly examining myself but one of the most encouraging and foundational things that I’ve learned is that humility is not about simply feeling differently…you will never just suddenly be someone who is completely unaware of yourself and those things that nurture your pride. It’s about choices. If I am serious about wanting to serve God with a humble heart, I will make choices daily to do so. This means I will apologize first even when my pride tells me I should not be the one to do so, this means I will choose to clean up a mess when my pride tells me it’s not my problem, this means I will choose to love and bless and pray for someone even when I am annoyed or when my pride says they don’t deserve it; and all this without bitterness. I feel that if my pride has hardened my heart like a stone in my chest, each time I choose love over pride, I am choosing a chisel and hammer over a rag and polish and allowing God to take care of the rest. I look forward to the day when this conflict is no longer a driving force in my life.

So, how am I? I suppose I am in a state of preparing my heart to leave and trying to keep myself from spending time picking apart every last moment and feeling guilty about the things I wish I’d done more or less of. That is far from productive, I know that. I am also trying to be conscious of not shutting down or hiding away as a way of protecting my heart because that is wasted time and I would regret it. So, for now, I will just continue doing what I’ve been called here to do and do my best to take advantage of every last moment.

One last thing: A couple days ago Emily H came into our room and nonchalantly mentioned that some boys had been to the gate trying to sell us a baby monkey. I dropped what I was doing and ran outside, hoping I hadn’t missed them and laughing as I ran given that Emily had called out behind me that if I brought it in, she was moving out. It was starting to rain and the boys were heading off to find cover, but I selfishly delayed them and got to hold the little guy. He gripped his little arms and legs around my hand and wrist and let me stroke his furry head. I know it seems ridiculous to compare this to seeing Zanzibar or the birth of a child, but it was definitely up there on my list of cool experiences. 

Just some random photos:

At church. It's been quite rainy lately...no one should be surprised at this photo...

Dance/dress-up party...so cute...and yes, Jason is wearing a sparkly dress...

Just a shot out the front window of Job's car on the way to Kampala...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Friend, George

My friend, George, arrived at Ekisa just after I did.
My friend, George, was sent to me by my loving heavenly Father who knew I needed
          a good friend to weather those first couple months with.
My friend, George, kept me from completely losing my mind.

My friend, George, was my bunk mate and travel buddy.
We went to Kabale & Rwanda, explored Bujagali & Galama and spent endless hours walking
          around town.
My friend, George, was always up for an adventure.

My friend, George, is quiet when you first meet her…but just give her some time.
My friend, George, has a fantastic sense of humour and just the right amount of weirdness.
My friend, George, has a great laugh.

My friend, George, has been a constant companion, encouraging and supportive,
My friend, George, listened so graciously to all my ranting and rambling.
My friend, George, understands hardship, empathized with mine and comforted me
          without judgment.

My friend, George, has more strength and more courage than she gives herself credit for.
My friend, George, loves in her own way, but loves well.
My friend, George, is one of the most caring people I know.

My friend, George, has gone home to England.
I will miss her talks, whether a heart to heart or just a few words spoken in a whisper at
          night from our bunks…
- “George, I smell kaka…”, “So do I…”, Ok, good…” –
I will miss her popping her head up from below my bunk just to say “hi”.
I will miss so many things, but most of all, I will miss…
My friend, George.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Zanzibar - Part III

Jambiani & Stone Town -

By 10am, we were on our way, all the more happy to be changing locations as the men that wandered the beach selling trips and curios had a tendency to linger and it only got worse the more familiar they became with us; especially in the evening as based on one particular experience (with a guy that called himself “Captain G”) where I noticed the distinct smell of alcohol, there was the added element of intoxication.

When we first arrived at Mbuyuni Beach Village in Jambiani, Laura and I were a bit unsure given that, besides the man that met us at the entrance, we didn’t see another soul until about 20 minutes after we’d arrived. By the end of the day, we’d concluded that we were sharing that incredible place with a staggering 7 other people; another 10 points for low-season. Besides the one single downfall of the ocean having severe tides that made the water rather unreachable at certain times of the day, the place was superior in every way; the rooms, the food, the service, the layout, the general atmosphere and even the tides were far made up for by the availability of a small, clean, saltwater pool. Additionally, everything – the pool, the restaurant/bar/lounge area, the hammocks, the beach – was a 30 second walk from our room.

For those 2 and a half days, I split my time between the pool and a comfy fabric hammock looking out towards the water and there were hours of time at each location that I was completely alone; especially on that first day. The only sounds I’d hear would be the birds, the distant rolling of waves with just the odd whisper of conversations and laughter drifting by to remind me that I wasn’t, in fact, entirely alone. It was complete, consummate and unparalleled relaxation.

I spent more time alone that first day as Laura wasn’t feeling well and was nursing a rather severe sunburn, but the times we were together were just as relaxing, they were just infused with sporadic comments and conversation that usually involved a lot of laughter.

We didn’t eat dinner in the sand like the first place, but with the tide up, the water was 10 feet from our table and it was dim enough that we could see the incredibly clear and star-filled sky. I know it’s easy to get an idea in your head about how ideal a place will be and it’s easy to be disappointed, but I was not. Especially at Mbuyuni, my expectations were exceeded.
The second day, a few more people had arrived, including a young Canadian women named Nadia, who was travelling alone on a short break from her job in Belgium. Naturally, we befriended her and within a couple hours it was as though she’d been with us all along. The morning before we left, the two of took a long walk out on a sand bar to get to the water and it was a great time with easy conversation and plenty to talk about. We also picked up a random Russian girl on the beach who was vacationing alone; she came with us part way until she stumbled and got her bag wet, which unfortunately contained her iPad. Nadia has plans to visit Vancouver someday soon and as I have already offered a place to stay with me, there is a chance we might meet again in the future.       

Truth be told, I did not want to leave Mbuyuni and the fact that going back to Jinja carried with it a bit of the sense of returning to “hum-drum” regular life, I’m just that much more concerned about 3 months from now when I return home.

We left Jambiani at about 4pm and we got back to Stone Town just as the sun was beginning to set. We spent our last evening in Zanzibar grabbing sweet bananas in market for an early breakfast the next morning, heading back to the boardwalk to watch the sunset and the grandiose display of the local boys and their friendly diving competitions and grabbing another dinner of fruit and bread at the night market. That and the final couple hours in our room spent chatting and having Sudoku competitions, was really the perfect way to end our week together. 

It was a fairly long day getting back to Jinja; first flight at 8am to Dar Es Salaam, then another at 9:30 to Entebbe (with the stop in Kilimanjaro) followed by a private hire to the taxi park in Entebbe, a matatu to Kampala, another matatu to Jinja and finally a boda home. I had to negotiate with the taxi driver and he cracked me up pretty good when we’d set off and he found out that I had already been here for 7 months, responding with a smirk and “So you know our ways…”, or something of the like. He was basically admitting that he was trying to rip me off because he thought I didn’t know any better. Getting to Kampala was an adventure all on its own as the traffic was atrocious because of some political summit of sorts. After 80% of the matatu randomly cleared out in the middle of a traffic circle, I asked the door man if we were heading to the taxi park. He didn’t understand what I was saying so the woman beside me (1 out of the two other people that remained) started asking him in Lugandan. I have no idea what was spoken between them, but she subsequently turned to me and said, “Come, you follow me.” I proceeded to chase behind her, struggling to keep her pace, as she periodically glanced behind to see that I was still following. About 3 blocks later, we entered the taxi park and she insisted on bringing me directly to the sign that says Jinja despite my insistence that I was fine and she needn’t waste her time; sweet lady that she was. Because of the traffic, underneath the sign stood a small group of people where a matatu should have been; something I have never experienced before. As the group slowly grew it was hard to say who had come first, so when the ride did come, it was just a rush of bodies; I didn’t scratch or bite, but I held my ground and got the last seat. It was bloody hot and the taxi park is chaotic so although it wasn’t any cooler inside the vehicle until we hit the open road 30 or so minutes later, I was extremely grateful. The rest of the drive went smooth and besides a quick stop at an African “drive thru” (20 or so people with a selection of food and drinks shoving their products through the windows and waving them in your face), resulting in a snack of beef on a stick, we made good time.

Any reluctance I had about returning home was eradicated the moment I entered the gate. Within seconds, two of my favorite mommas, Sarah and Rehma, ran towards me yelling, “Auntie Stacy, welcome back!” They each proceeded to hug me, pick me up and spin me around and if that wasn’t enough, sweet Zuena, who sat on the mat eating her dinner, started laughing and doing her own version of a happy dance when I came near to give her a cuddle. I hadn’t thought much about it, but it was a particularly wonderful reception.

For those 5 or so days, it felt as though I had entered the pages of a travel magazine advertising dream getaways and tropical paradise vacations and I can honestly say that it was both of those things. Besides Laura not feeling well, there was hardly a hitch to this trip and to say that I feel incredibly lucky to have seen that beautiful island is an understatement. I still get a rush of excitement and gratitude just to get to fly, so experiencing paradise on earth brought on a distinct sense of undeserving. But I will not over-analyse that and will choose to instead be eternally grateful for this life I am living; a life that is real and complicated and at times difficult, but is none-the-less and maybe most predominantly, charmed. 

Click here for slideshow.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Zanzibar - Part II

Kendwa -

The next morning, just after breakfast, the four of us headed to Kendwa. Trevor and Wendy came along as they wanted to spend their last couple days on the beach and it just made sense that they benefit from our research and planning. We had made reservations at a place called Toits de Palme but when we arrived, we liked the neighbouring White Sands Beach Hotel much better as the rooms, the beach and the restaurant were much more appealing; plus I was able to haggle a bit and got us both air-conditioned rooms for less than we were going to pay for a room with a fan next door. One of the great things about low-season is prices are negotiable, especially when you pull the “Well, we already have a place next door so…” The normal price for the room we wanted was $80usd and at one point during the negotiations, I said to the manager, “I want to pay more like $50…” to which he responded with a sly smile, “You are a business women, yes?” Without words, I subtly tipped my head back and raised my eyebrows; a common Ugandan gesture used as “yes” or “I agree”, but in this case I feel I effectively translated a more straightforward, “damn right, I’ve been in Uganda for 7 months negotiating prices on a daily basis; don’t mess with me.” We paid $55.

We set down our stuff in our room, sweating profusely, and didn’t waste any time getting changed and finding a spot on two wood and thatch beach recliners underneath a square, four post thatch hut just a handful of feet from the shore. Another benefit to low season: quiet, no competition for chairs and shade and just the right amount of people so that you don’t feel quite alone.

The next couple of days were spent reading on the beach with classical music playing softly from my iPod with a good breeze blowing through, accented by the sound of gentle waves while locals wandered by selling wraps, jewellery and excursions and responding cordially with “Hakuna Matata” when we’d shake our heads to say we weren’t interested. The sand was soft and plenty, a beautiful shade of opal beige, clean but with plenty of shells to collect and wooden canoes in clusters near the water waiting for the best tides for fishing. The water was calm and ranged from light blue to a deep turquoise depending on the time of day and where you were standing.

Besides the peacefulness and the beauty of those two days, a couple highlights were dinner on the beach on small tables with candles and torches in the sand and snorkelling with Trevor. It was the one activity I was determined to do as I had never done it before. The second morning during breakfast, Trevor and Wendy walked by our table and Wendy mentioned that Trevor had wanted to go, but that she was too congested. Given that Laura also had a cold, had gone before and was also nursing a decent burn from the day before, she was only going to go for my sake so as we were finishing our meal, I approached them and asked my friend, Trevor (as I had begun to call him) if he would like to join me. We went just after breakfast that morning to catch the low tide and to avoid the hottest part of day. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how I would handle the snorkel but it only took a few minutes to get over the “panic breathing” and then suddenly the ocean floor was mine to behold. It was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. The goggles didn’t fit great and I had to hold them to slow the water seeping in, but it was so incredibly freeing and peaceful as the level of buoyancy required no effort from me to stay afloat. The coral was beautiful and I set my eyes on many different fish including, but not limited to, angel fish, ones of similar size in the most amazing shade of blue and schools of smaller black and white stripped fish that were more inquisitive of me then fearful. At the end of the hour and a half, I was satisfied and quite content to head back as the goggles were bruising my face and I had rinsed out my nasal passages with plenty of salt water.

The other highlight was sunset when time just seemed to slow down as though the sand in the proverbial hour glass had been turned to honey. The temperature would become more tolerable and the water would take on the appearance of blinding white shattered glass when the reflection of the falling sun would lay across it. Though the usual sounds could hardly be considered intrusive, the sounds of the waves, distant music, the local boys playing soccer on the beach and conversations in languages I didn’t understand took on a particularly muted tone. As the breeze would pick up, we’d start pulling our chairs back, chasing the shade, and enjoy the feeling of the cool air on our sun-scorched skin; taking inventory of which parts of my body had been spared from the harsh effects of the sun and which parts I had failed to adequately protect. In those last moments, the sky and the sun would take on a deeper and deeper shade of orange and Laura and I would compete to see who could get the best photo of the traditional dhows, with their canvas sails silhouetted as they’d pass between the borders of the suns reflection. Those moments brought with them a particularly fantastic sense of contentment.

Trevor and Wendy headed back to Stone Town that second evening to catch an early morning flight back to the mainland and ultimately home to Australia, but we exchanged info and I was assured I’d be receiving a rather fantastic photo of me in my snorkel and flippers. We were sad to say goodbye to our surrogate Tanzanian/Australian parents and were grateful for the ways we were able to help each other out; not only did they insisted on buying us desert that first night for letting them tag along, but Wendy left me her sunscreen as my supply was greatly decreased by airport security. 

Those two days were, no doubt, amazing, but we were excited about the next day when we would be making our way down to Jambiani on the lower east coast of the island for some more of the incredible beauty that Zanzibar had to offer.

Part III to follow...with slideshow...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Zanzibar - Part I

Stone Town-

Is this real life? That’s the thought that went through my head repeatedly throughout my week in Zanzibar…

My trip started with a farewell as George and I shared a taxi to the airport; oh, how I will miss her. It also started with the rather thick headed mistake of putting an aerosol sunscreen can in my backpack (I had no checked luggage) and having my bag rummaged through, resulting in its removal, making me feel like a rookie traveller; which I certainly am not.

I flew from Entebbe to Kilimanjaro to Dar Es Salaam, where I met up with Laura, then on to Zanzibar and my flights were fabulous; nice small plane, hot tea that actually tasted good, a packet of cashews, a rainbow in the clouds and plenty of turbulence, especially during the descent; it was like a roller coaster ride that I wanted to do over and over again. To top it off, I met an older Australian couple named Trevor and Wendy who had been in Uganda for a couple months and were ending their stay with a stop in Zanzibar. As they had yet to book any accommodation, I invited them to join Laura and I at the Pyramid Hotel in Stone Town as I had already arranged a pick up from the airport and, given that it’s low season, I was sure they’d have an available room.   

Not only did it work out wonderfully that Trevor and Wendy came with us to the hotel, but the place was amazing; 4 stories including the rooftop terrace, all accessed by a tightly turning staircase including a section that would have been more accurately described as a ladder. It was a bit after 7pm and we hadn’t eaten, so after we’d settled and gotten a good solid lesson on how to avoid getting your purse snatched by two local gentlemen at reception, we weaved our way through the alleys back to town paying close attention so as not to get lost on our way back. We ended up at this neat pace called “Mercury’s”, right on the beach, and ate pizza while listening to the waves and live musicians playing middle-eastern style music. Side note, I had no idea that Queen’s Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar; given name, Farrokh Bulsara. Fortunately, Trevor and Wendy ended up at the same place so we were able to walk back with them; walking through the somewhat creepy, dimly lit alleys, just the two of us, was something we were open to avoiding.

The next morning, we met up with our new friends on the terrace for our complimentary breakfast and made plans for the day. They had already inquired with reception about enlisting a guide for a short walking tour of the city, so we decided to tag along. He met us outside the hotel and for the next 2 hours, we explored the main market (including a fish auction), the old fort, a park built along the boardwalk by the water, the place where the slave trade was conducted and where there is now an old church that was built as a sort of memorial just after the slave trade was abolished. There were many aspects to the church that pointed towards the things that occurred there including an inlaid piece of red granite-type stone at the front of the church which symbolized blood and a small round circle of white inlaid within that to symbolize the whipping post that once stood in that very spot. We also spent a good amount of time wandering through the network of alleyways peeking into what seemed like an endless amount of curio shops along the way. The alleys were all rather narrow, flanked by 3 or 4 story buildings, all aging stone and the air was constantly filled with the smell in incense and spices. It was definitely strange to be there and be such a tourist as I haven’t felt that way in Jinja for a long time.

Once the tour was complete, we got chicken and chips for lunch at a kiosk in the park by the water before parting ways for the afternoon. Apart from needing to use the bathroom, Laura and I wanted to cool off a bit in our air-conditioned room (as we were literally dripping with sweat) before heading back out to explore. As we were making our way back through the maze of alleys to our hotel, we were stopped short as we turned a corner to find a group of about 7 Tanzanian police officers and a small handful of young men in the midst of a tense situation. To get to our hotel, the only way was through and since the situation seemed contained for the moment and there were other people that were walking through them, we pushed aside our hesitation and carried on. Just as I had made it to the other side of the small courtyard, I heard a commotion behind me and before I even had time to turn around, someone body-checked me into the wall. Whether an officer or an accused, I don’t know, but it became clear very quickly that someone had tried to escape and the last thing I saw was 3 policemen with batons taking him down in the alley before Laura and I got the heck out of there. Our hotel was just down from where this all happened and, Sahiba, the sweet lady at reception who may have seen what happened apologized for the disturbance and explained it had something to do with a crackdown on drug addicts who had been caught stealing purses to finance their next fix. The fact that that man was so outnumbered yet still attempted to run makes me wonder what detainment leads to in that country. We were both a little rattled, but we carried on and spent a couple more hours wandering the city before enjoying an ice cream by the water and going back to our room to shower and spend some time reading, drinking spiced tea, on the terrace just as the sun began to set.

Thing I love about this city? The architecture, the aged look of the buildings, the history and the Arabian flare; this place had a such a strange and wonderful mixture of African, Indian and Arabic culture with women in Burkas sharing the streets with Maasai warriors dressed in traditional garb and the combination was really quite beautiful.

Things I dislike? Aggressive vendors, overly friendly men who follow you around making rude comments and asking all sorts of questions and the fact that unless we were in our hotel, neither Laura or I felt 100% safe.

After a day such as that, with the heat and the altercation, we were certainly looking forward to our 9:30am taxi to Kwenda, on the northwestern tip of the island, and the beach that awaited us. But not before going out on last time to locate some dinner.

The sun was just going down as we walked along the water, silhouetting the mass amounts of boats anchored near the shore, from small wooden canoes and Tanzanian dhows to luxury yachts; an interesting contrast. The shore and the boardwalk became livelier as the light faded; tourists and locals taking in the sight, boys playing soccer in a small patch of sand and a large group of young men crowding a large retaining wall where they all took turns jumping into the water. Each boy tried to out-do the next by diving and twisting and belly flopping with increased extravagance.

Each night at about 7, the park near the boardwalk becomes a night market filled with tables of all sorts of foods, from bread and fruit to all sorts of meat, plus samosas and falafels and many other creative creations; some made fresh in front of your eyes. At the beckoning of those that oversaw them, we perused a number of tables before sitting down on a stone bench with a plate full of fresh fruit and some coconut naan bread.

The only thing more staggering then the variety of meat you could get on a stick was the number of stray cats that came out to enjoy the bits that people left behind. As good as it looked and smelled, we had been told to avoid the meat during low season given that the turn over isn’t what it usually is. I wasn’t going to test that theory as armed with that tidbit of information, my neurotic little brain would have had me nauseous regardless of its quality.
But all-in-all, it was a great atmosphere; tourists and locals eating together, steam rising and the constant sizzle of the cookers and everyone happy with their full bellies.

We went home satisfied and settled in for an early night; sadly early actually. When we were showered and changed and in bed to journal and read, I looked at my watch and discovered that it was only 8:30. And to make matters worse, we bumped into our elderly friends on the way back to the hotel where we were informed that they were just coming from happy hour at Mercury’s, were headed for dinner at a swanky place called Monsoon and would then be heading to Livingston’s for some live music; talk about feeling old. To be fair, our apprehension to stay out late was partly due to our uneasiness about wandering the streets alone at night, but I’m pretty sure we were lights out before they’d even finished dinner.

Part II (& pictures) to follow...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Friend, Butler

An excerpt from an email that Cheryl sent me back in the beginning of 2011 before I had any clue where I was going… "Maybe one day we can boot around Kampala on boda bodas together....that'd be sweet! ;)"

One of the most exciting things to happen in Jinja: the arrival of my dear friend Cheryl Butler. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon when I drove up to Flavors Café to meet her; I hadn’t been that excited in a long time. It was a beautiful reunion; tears and laughter…. Cheryl spent a couple nights in Jinja initially and we took that time to catch up, spend some time at the pool and even took a couple shifts at Al-Shafa hospital together with a new, very sick, malnourished child who has since come to live at the house…but that’s a whole other story.

She went back to Kampala but the following Saturday afternoon, I hopped on a matatu and we met her at Garden City Mall in the centre of town. After a quick dinner, as the sky was just getting dark, we hopped on a boda and made a quick stop at my favorite bakery for a chocolate croissant. The bakery is beside the entrance to the US embassy and since we knew our guesthouse was just behind the embassy, we thought we’d get a bit of exercise and walk. There were a few things we didn’t realize when we made that decision: it was a long walk, it was a fairly narrow road with hardly any lights and a fair amount of traffic. We were being cautious and sticking to the edge but at one point while I was looking down watching my steps as light was fleeting and the road was uneven, I sensed headlights coming my way and looked up just in time to see a car coming directly for me. I instinctively turned my body away from the car and it hit my back pack instead. That got the blood pumping to be sure.

We eventually arrived safely to Adonai House, a really cute place that afforded us a bedroom with two little single beds with mosquito nets with frills that opened up like curtains on the side; and the shared bathroom had a tub. I hadn’t been in a bathtub since being here and after the walk I was so sweaty so sitting in a few inches of lukewarm water was at that moment, the most wonderful thing in the world. We had a really great night just hanging out and couldn’t stop remarking on how it just felt so natural for us to be in Africa together.

The next morning, we headed to a church in town that Cheryl had been to before. It was on the third floor of a building in town and had a great view and even though I couldn’t understand the Ugandan pastor very well, they had a full band with drums and bass and as I hadn’t realized how much I had missed that; it was so nice to hear worship like I’m used to at home. From church, we walked directly to the taxi park to catch a matatu to a place called Mpigi. I had been warned about watching your bags in the taxi park as theft is rampant, but that was surely confirmed that afternoon as someone opened a zipper on both our bags. I whipped around when I felt a tug, so there wasn’t any chance to do any digging but the person who went after Cheryl got her headlamp…she was not impressed.

Mpigi is home to 10 acres that was donated years ago to my church, Peace Portal Alliance, and is now home to a church building, a few children’s homes and a clinic. Cheryl has spent a significant amount of time there, as well as a number of close friends who have gone for short term visits on teams with the church, so it was really important to me to spend some time there as well. We dropped our bags at the Wilson Inn up on a hill in Mpigi, went straight to the 10 acres and spent the whole afternoon on the compound. Not only was it beautiful but it was so great to meet the pastors and mamas and the kids that I had been hearing about for years. As cheesy as it sounds, it even struck me how cool it was to be walking the same paths that so many people I know have walked; I felt very connected with home being up on that hill. After meeting everyone, we spent a good amount of time playing with the kids and then ended off just sitting in the empty church building just talking and enjoying the peacefulness of the place. The acoustics in there were pretty amazing so despite the fact that I was recovering from a cold, I took the opportunity to stand in the middle of that simple structure with its cement foundation and sheet metal roofing and sing Amazing Grace at the top of my lungs. I suppose even that, just worshipping in that place, made that connection I felt even more apparent.

We got a ride back into town from one of the men that run the place on his boda and settled into one of the two restaurants in town for a fresh plate of chips (fries), We talked about the afternoon as the sun slipped behind the shops and the streets took on that dusty twilight haze and just enjoyed spending time in a cute little town that felt so much more like Africa then Jinja sometimes does; Jinja is also known as little America given the large amount of NGO’s and the number of white people that have taken up residence; in Mpigi, we were the only white people that we could see.

Before heading to the inn, we stopped into the small market to pick up chapatti and bananas to subsidize our dinner and met a couple interesting people along the way. One man, while we walked by, touched Cheryl’s arm and jumped back in mock terror and with a chuckle told us we looked like ghosts…like I said, the only white people.

The next morning, we stopped into a house down the road from where we were staying that houses a guitar building project called Duncan Africa. It was started by a guy that both Cheryl and I know called Jay Duncan who currently runs it from Canada. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into getting that place up and running but all the work is done by Ugandan men and women in town who were taught, by Jay, how to build these beautiful instruments. They are built exclusively in Uganda, but are shipped to and sold in Canada. That was another place I’d been hearing about for years so it was really neat to see.

From there, we went straight up to the 10 acres so I could say goodbye (Cheryl stayed an extra night) before heading back down and dropping me off at a matatu in town to head back to Kampala. It wasn’t the smoothest of travels as 20 minutes outside the city the driver stopped and kicked everyone out. The guy wanted the full price, which I refused to pay and the lady beside me vented, “Those men are thieves…”, as we walked down the road to see about catching a ride. Luckily, a partially full coach just happened to be going by and we flagged it down.

As we were heading into the taxi park where I would be switching from the bus to a matatu to continue on to Jinja, I finished off my water bottle and was left with an empty bottle that I didn’t want to carry around with me. As I will never adopt the Ugandan way of just throwing your trash out whenever and wherever you are, I thought I would test a theory. I put it in the mesh pocket on the outside of my backpack and made my way through the taxi park. Sure enough, when I climbed in to take my seat, my “garbage” was gone. Way to work the system…
The rest of the trip went smoothly and Cheryl came back to Jinja a couple days later. The first time she came, we spent a lot of time doing our own thing, but the second time, she was much more like a volunteer then a guest. Not only did she come along when we all took a bunch of kids into town one afternoon (she took Jojo on the boda with Paul and I; a first for her), she used her nursing skills to help me, Emily and Annelise (another nurse) take blood from all the kids in our house for some testing. I have successfully taken blood from 4 kids now. There 
were a couple missed veins along the way, but I’m getting better.

All in all, it was so incredible to have her here. As special it was for her to have me come see Mpigi, a place that means so much to her, it was the same for me to have her share this place with me. On top of that, I know that having her to talk to (someone who has been here and understands life here) will help the transition of coming home.  

There are too many pictures, so here’s a quick slideshow…click here

A few other notables:

I drove the car into town the other day with a total of 12 people, including Tasha in a carrier on my lap in the driver’s seat. That sure wouldn’t fly in Canada…

We had the most AMAZING storm a couple weeks ago. I had to drive to the clinic in town to drop off some blood to be tested and I was drenched just from running from the porch to the car. I couldn’t see anything and kept getting wet every time I would break as the the water would pour through the sun roof. It had the same intensity as driving in the snow back home, I loved it.

Also, Emily came back from America on Sunday; Jessica and I went to the Airport to meet her. When she came through the gate, Jess ran up and they had a less-then-subtle reunion. While that was going on, I snuck behind them, ducking behind people until I was standing just beside Emily. I stood there silent for a moment, until she noticed me…a double take that ended in more screaming and hugging. I got her good…