Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Along with the birds, I was awoken to a soft, gentle, and invisible chanting this morning. It
drifted into my room on the cool early morning breezes that are typical for Uganda.  Starting
before 5:30 AM, these haunting sounds crossed my balcony, floated into my room, alerting
me to another new experience.  The crescendo of this chant rose as time passed until it was
coming through a loudspeaker announcing the rising of the sun.  This is the Muslim call to
worship.  Uganda is @15% Muslim,

After breakfast, which included some of the sweetest, most delicious pineapple I have ever eaten, we headed off to the morning market in Masaka.  This market was a lot less colorful and exciting and a lot more eye-opening, practical and depressing.  It served the local community.  Gone were the colorful garments, music, and the push of the entrepreneur.  Replacing it was a monochromatic display of homemade pots, tools, sensible items such as recycled gas burners, pieces of hardware, fruits and vegetables, live chickens, fish, and some old jeans.  Most of what we saw was of a utilitarian nature, with nothing frivolous or catering to tourists.  There were many recyclables - items once used for something were now being made into useful items with a different purpose.  We were told that this market is usually much busier and diverse and there were children scampering about everywhere!  If they could walk, most were without accompanying parents or adults and they loved to chase the "mzungus”.- that would be us - the white people. 

While in the market, Michelle commented to a woman how cute her baby was.  The woman immediately took him off of her back, out of the sling and handed him to Michelle.  She then walked away without a word (either Ugandan or English) - disappeared - gone.  We all congratulated Michelle on her good fortune but after the laughter died down, the mother was still no where to be found.  This little boy settled right in, put his head on Michelle’s shoulder and seemed perfectly content.  Michelle, on the other hand, was getting a bit concerned, as were we all, when finally the mother reappeared and collected her baby.  This whole scene pretty much illustrates the attitude towards children - there is little concern for their whereabouts or of strangers and safety seems to be forgotten altogether.   While this is difficult for me to comprehend, it is a different mindset of a culture where life is tentative and unpredictable.  I will never get used to that perspective.
A group of students from the Blessed Sacrament School arrived to do some community service.  They were celebrating their Silver Jubilee and decided to honor it with cleaning up the market area.   I must say it is a bit distressing seeing so much garbage and general trash here.  Ditches are filled with plastic bags, paper, minimal food garbage, and the general detritus of a community.   There doesn’t seem to be any awareness of this litter and garbage, yet people can be seen sweeping the front of their homes and washing their steps into their homes whilst they are otherwise surrounded by trash in the surrounding ditches and alongside the road.  If it cannot serve another purpose, it could be found discarded and ignored. 

We proceeded to Tekera, another school located outside of Masaka.  It is run by two Canadians, who came to Uganda and then couldn't leave without doing something.  Tekera is located far off the main road, unlike Mbiriizi.  After driving down bumpy, red clay, dusty dirt roads we arrived at an oasis.  Tekera is a working farm school with small fields of pineapples, banana trees, and vegetables.

They also have a little store where handicrafts made by the students at the school are sold.  A very large percentage of their beautifully made baskets left with me!  Evidence below...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Since we had no internet access to speak of while in Uganda, here are the posts I kept.  I will add photos as we go along but wanted to get some text here ASAP!
Friday, June 15, 2012:  Molymotea!  Hello!

We arrived at JFK yesterday for our flight to Entebbe via London along with our 15 pieces of luggage.  Aside from the one personal piece we each had, we brought suitcases filled with medical supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, underwear, small toys, pencils, and candy to be given to the children in Mbiriizi.  All tolled, we were bringing almost 500 lbs. of supplies to the school.

For entertainment purposes, I followed the flight movement map to track our route and so I wouldn’t forget the spelling of some of the places we passed over.  It's always interesting to see names of unfamiliar, along with familiar, places and I thought I would share.    Here is a list of some of the places we flew over: Cork, Blois, Istanbul, Newquay, Ajdabiya,  Mwanza, Khartoum, Ionian Sea, Sahara and Libyan Desert, Bahir Dar, Dar Es Salaam, Nile River, Lake Victoria, Jeddah, and Bujumbura, Addis Adaba, Jeddah... notice some people were able to get more comfortable than others!  :)

I learned and confirmed a few things on our flights today: 
 1. 7 and 8 hour flights are simply too long for babies and for many self-serving adults.
 2. Tolerance and patience are necessary companions in all circumstances.
 3. It is always…ALWAYS…better to fly first class.

But, we’re here!  We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda before 8:00 AM today, Zulu time.  Of course, the process of retrieving luggage is always an exercise in hope but when you are looking for the timely arrival of 15 pieces of luggage, you have entered into international challenge territory.  We only managed to retrieve 12 of them… and Michelle’s luggage is still in London for the weekend...hopefully just the weekend.   However, she did manage to find an enviable print over tie-dye dress to compensate for her inconvenience!  It would have been Nicole’s had I bought it when I saw it!  :)  More opportunities will present themselves!

Some history of the Entebbe Airport:  36 years ago, on July 4, 1976,  elite Israeli Special Forces rescued 105 Jewish and Israeli hostages from the hands of the Arab Palestinian terrorists from the airport here in Entebbe, Uganda.  Leaving the airport, we saw huge white United Nations helicopters on the grounds.  These helicopters were used to deliver aid to the Ugandans and the UN still has a strong  presence here.  The United Nations has it's largest African facility here in Entebbe.  

The first thing that caught my attention when we arrived was the ominous presence of armed guards…and they are everywhere.  Uniformed, gun-toting, unsmiling individuals ranging in age from (looking like) 12 to @40 cradling menacing-looking weapons.  I was to find out that this is not only in the city but in small out of the way places, too.  I asked Ronnie, our driver, about them and he told me that, "Yes", we would find them all over Uganda, more of a leftover from tougher times than a necessary presence today and that you will never hear any shots fired.  The gun was just for intimidation.  They have bullets and are authorized to shoot.  Ok.  Goal achieved.
We managed to exchange our money at the airport and found that exchanging $100 bills carries less of an exchange rate than do $50's and, their least favorite, $20's.  The money is interesting and colorful, so much more so than our beloved USD's!
We found a busload of children in the parking lot on a field trip to the airport making them our first new "friends" in Uganda.  So beautiful and full of smiles!

Our ride to the hotel qualified Ronnie as a veteran Nascar driver.  Due to the people of all ages walking on the side of the road, bicycles and boda-bodas (motorbikes), narrow and inconsistent roadways, an apparent complete absence of driving regulations and other drivers hell-bent on playing chicken with every other car in sight, he easily and calmly delivered us safely to our home for the next week and a half - the very practical Golf Lane Hotel….more about that later.

We passed countless stalls displaying their wares: handmade cooking pots and tools, plastic products, toys, neatly stacked and arranged piles of fruits and vegetables, clothing - used and new, beautiful, colorful fabric, and much more that was unknown to me!  There were also a few live chickens among our sightings.  Upholstered furniture and wooden bed frames could be found everywhere, as well as, doors…metal doors and gates.  We would find them to be the door of choice (or availability) on most homes that had doors. 

Background noises were aplenty, including music, megaphone announcements, animals, horn beeping and the voices of people…everywhere there were people of all generations.   Frustration was rampant as I was sitting in the middle in the back seat and unable to take photos!  Of course, the roads are so bumpy and Ronnie did have to make quite a few swerving detours to save us from certain death that any photos taken would have been lucky to have been clear and steady.  After much consternation about this injustice, I was assured that the opportunity would re-present itself on our market visits tomorrow.
We stopped at the equator and had a lunch of  chapati and avocado spread and fruit smoothies - all delicious - and did a little shopping before we were on the road again headed for our hotel.  Lots of baskets, items made from cow horns, clothing, cloth bags, art work, soapstone bowls and boxes, wire and bead sculptures, and clothing made from traditional fabric are among the available purchases.  And...that armed guard was there protecting the midpoint of the earth.

6 weary travelers arrived at the hotel and had a delicious and delightful dinner giving us all an opportunity to get to know each other a bit better and I can say with solid confidence that this is going to be a  remarkable and unique experience. One note about the menu:  although Sylvia said we would be ordering off the menu she also informed us of what was actually but all good.  We made our decisions accordingly.
We finally got to bed (under necessary mosquito netting…another first for me) after @40 hours of traveling….a welcome and much needed rest.  Looking forward to seeing and learning more about Uganda.  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…………………..

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

First things first:  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Nick!  Love you A+F! 

It is with great anticipation that we will be leaving in a few hours for a journey I have been looking forward to for a year and a half!  So much to learn and lots of unknowns, but isn't that the whole purpose of exploring the world and heading into a journey of discovery - an unveiling of not only a country whose history may cause some consternation in a traveler but also the divulgence of forgotten parts of your soul?  I welcome the disclosure! 

We fly into London to connect with our flight into Entebbe, arriving at @8:00 AM, Zulu really...Zulu time!  The plan is to head to the equator and get a taste of this country that, despite its distracting history, presents some tantalizing possibilities.

Paraphrased, Neale Donald Walsh said that true life begins when you step over the edge into uncertainty - "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."  Uganda, be patient with me as I step over the edge into your country straight out of my cushy, secure, predictable, and certain little comfort zone!

"Safari njema"  to us all!   (Swahili for "good travels"!)

Monday, June 11, 2012

What is it about packing that is so difficult for me?!  You would think that after all the times I have done this it would become routine...but NOOOOOOO!  No matter how careful and conservative I try to be, I always end up taking more stuff than I could possibly use.  George Carlin said it best when he referred to a suitcase as just a smaller version of your house...but isn't going away partially to get away from all of your stuff?!  Then why do I need to take so much stuff with me when I go?!  A question for the ages...If you are so inclined, see a video of this comic routine by Carlin.  Just don't be too sensitive to his street language!  After all, it IS George Carlin!

So I continue to try stuff on, move stuff from one place to another, put stuff in one suitcase, decide I don't need it and take it out again...look for more stuff to bring along.  Since I have to have clothes, etc. in a carry-on due to a large degree of lost luggage for this destination, the stuff has managed to show up in at least 3 of our bedrooms trying to find a home with the stuff that they are comfortable with...enough about stuff...but it is multiplying!

I have to go to the bank tomorrow.  Since it was impossible to exchange USD's for Ugandan shillings at the local bank, we will do this upon our arrival.  We have been advised that any money (USD) we bring to exchange must be issued from 2006 or later.  Once I reveal this stipulation to the bank tellers, I am certain that they will all become my very best friends.  :)   I guess Ugandans don't like old, worn out money?!  I'm not sure why we have to do this but I will find out and get back to you.

For those of you who have traveled with me before or have heard the Tales of Mater, you will notice in the picture that he has settled close to my passport so he is not forgotten or lost among got it...stuff!.  Look for him in future posts!  This little guy really gets around!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The land-locked country of Uganda is located in eastern equatorial Africa.  Her infamous neighbors include the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Sudan to the north, Kenya lies to the east, and Tanzania and Rwanda are her southern borders.  It is an area that has been dealt a harsh blow when it comes to human rights and violence, social upheaval and colonialism, struggles for political power, challenged and changing traditions and, for most, an economy incapable of sustaining a quality of life that the largest percentage of our country enjoys. 

No doubt you have heard of Joseph Kony, Omar Al-Bashir, Idi Amin, Joseph Mobutu, and Uhuru Kenyatta, just a small sampling of "leaders" who have used their power to establish and contribute to their own personal wealth via unthinkable and condemned acts against the very people they are meant to represent. 

Unfortunately, most of our knowledge is based on what sells and supports newspapers, magazines, and the media.  After all, in the eyes of this media, stories of human kindness rarely meet an enviable financial and exclusivity status in the industry as do reports of genocide, violence, and corruption.  

But, surely there is also much good in these areas that is simply not reported - not unlike in our own country- and while I will only be in Uganda, I am certain I will find that goodness!  Stay tuned. I promise to share it with you!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"I haven't been everywhere but it's on my list." 

So, I'm off again and it's about time, in my eyes!  My passport was feeling neglected!   But, this time I am embarking on a different kind of adventure.  On June 14th, I am headed for Uganda to volunteer in the village of Mbiriizi for a couple of weeks. 

I am joining Sylvia's Children, a non-profit group headed by Sylvia Allen, a kind, determined, generous, feisty and driven woman, whose goal is to create a self-sustaining community out of Mbiriizi.  After that, she will take her model of success and move on to another community with substantial challenges and continue to change lives!  To give you an idea of what she has accomplished thus far, click on this link.  It will be much more comprehensive than my memory and will motivate you to find out more about Sylvia and her efforts.  I also hope you will decide to get involved!

As I am counting down the days until our departure, I realize that there are a lot of unknowns this time around and that my excitement level is building faster than usual.  Preparing for international travel brings with it the anticipation of new and exciting experiences and the sudden development of the unexpected, quite possibly in a foreign land where communication is mainly experimental! 

There is no parallel in getting swept up in the miracle and delicious surprise of travel!  I love the process!  I always meet new and engaging people, have wildly interesting conversations with strangers, and find each day to be filled with the possibility of satisfying some of my insatiable curiosities.  

While I have been to the continent of Africa before (South Africa), I have not been to Uganda nor have I spent an extended period of time in a mostly undeveloped village with 1,100 children!  Note to self:  "Buckle up, baby!  It's going to be a wild ride!"