Monday, June 28, 2010

Caught in the Rain and in the Dirt

In the early afternoon of June 17th, Gwen and I jumped on a boda boda with Freddie and experienced what Africa is really like. We spent all afternoon visiting extremely rural schools to do research for my TOMS project. I’ve been out to villages before, but the villages of Misindye and Bukere are so far away from mainstream Uganda that it’s as if you are entering a different world. In and around Mukono all the children get very excited when they see us, but out in those villages, everyone is happy to see us. I spent 75% of my boda ride waving at people. It was really quite exhilarating and beyond beautiful. So many people were eager to meet us and know us. And even the people who didn’t meet us had a welcoming air about them.

This next part might not be funny to you, but to Gwen and me, it was absolutely hilarious. The poorly formed, narrow, dirt roads in the thick of Uganda are incredibly hard to drive on, even with a boda boda. Anyways, at one point Freddie had to pull over to let an oncoming truck get past us. Gwen and I seeing the impending dust storm quickly buried our faces and waited for the truck to rumble past. After the dust settled Freddie kicked his boda back on and tried to get up the small slope we had gone down to get out of the way, but he couldn’t. Supposedly it’s because the dirt was so thick on the road, but I think that was Freddie’s polite way of saying, “You two Muzungu are too fat”. Anyways, Freddie had us hop off the boda so he could quickly get back onto the road. Gwen and I scrambled back onto the road and right as we were about to slowly and gracefully get back on the boda, I looked back to see another truck behind us. Getting stuck behind a truck was the last thing we wanted so Gwen jumped on the boda and tried to scoot as far forward as she could so I could get on, but because of the lack of seat and nothing stable to grab onto, I managed to swing my leg over before bouncing off of Gwens backpack and thus off the boda boda. I totally lost my balance and almost fell flat on my face. In my moment of stumbling, the truck had caught up with us and stopped so that I could get on the boda in a slower, safer manner. This time I was successful in mounting the boda boda. Freddie tried to drive fast but getting up to speed took us longer than it took the truck. All I hear is a truck revving its huge engine very close to us. Freddie waved at them to tell them to pass us thinking they were being impatient, but I turned around to see the truck cab occupied by 3 young men with big smiles. They were obviously laughing and thought it was the funniest thing ever to come up real close on our tail, honk, and then slow down. I’m also fairly certain that those truck drivers found it highly amusing that a Muzungu totally fell off of a boda boda that wasn’t moving at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire village of Misindye heard about the Muzungu falling off of a boda boda.

Next story: (Sorry this is such a long post).

In the early afternoon of June 18th, I got on a taxi to Najja. Najja is a small village between Lugazi and Jinja and is situated within spitting distance of Lake Victoria. As I mentioned before, I love venturing out to small villages because they offer a different perspective of what life in Uganda is really like. Anyways, we were out in Najja to build a square foot garden at a local school. The goal of the square foot garden was to teach the community about using their land more effectively and to provide another source of food to the school. We gave a short introduction to the teachers before heading outside to address the entire student body. I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t understand a word of what we said, but that’s okay because the following event totally prevented us from building the garden anyways. Right as we concluded talking to the kids, the sky grew dark very quickly and the rain started coming down in buckets. We took refuge in a classroom for about ten minutes before deciding that this rain storm looked incredibly fun. Within two minutes of Jenessa and Angie running out to the field to play in the rain, all of the Muzungu were outside. Jenessa, Kaile, Rachel, Nicole, Angie, Jessica, Blythe and I were running all over the field jumping through puddles and getting insanely dirty. We played an intense game of tag and enjoyed the gleeful laughs that came from our young onlookers who must have been thinking we were crazy.

In those few, precious moments in the rain I felt alive. And even more than that, I felt like a child again. It didn’t matter that I was soaking wet and that I was going to miserable for the 2 hour taxi ride back to Mukono and it didn’t matter that we didn’t get anything accomplished in Najja. What mattered was that I, we, had fun and experienced the joy of living and not taking life to seriously. Spontaneous moments like this one are what life is all about. I had a fantastic time and that was one of the happiest moments of my life and I will never forget how wonderful and happy I felt. Because we were so cold, Angie called someone at the house to turn on the water heaters. The hot shower I had that night definitely added to my joyful nature :)

Over and out

Picture 1: Family photo taken on saturday!
Picture 2: Beautiful child
Picture 3: Dang cute child
Picture 4: Jessica, Nicole, and me. They flew home yesterday :(

Monday, June 21, 2010

Top Ten of Uganda

10. Taxis These classy, broken, musty vans will get you anywhere in a new york, er I mean Ugandan minute. Designed to seat a mere 14 passengers, your expert conductor will often seat 20 people and 4 screaming chickens in your taxi. Impressive, right? Your personal bubble cannot exist in these wonderful vehicles. Also, beware of dirt roads and speed bumps. More often than not you will hit your head on the ceiling of the van.

9. Schweppes Novida Orange Soda. They don’t sell this in the United States and I already know I’m going to go through withdrawals. There’s also no description for it. It’s not like other orange sodas out there that have too much syrup. This delightful drink is lighter in flavor and has ten times the fizz of other sodas. An ice cold Novida is just what you need to cool off after a long day in the African sun.

8. The Nile I thought I had seen the river of all rivers when I lived in Richmond. I mean every one knows the James is the greatest river in all of the United States, and possibly the whole world. But, the Nile takes first place. It’s wide span and breathtaking waterfalls are quite possibly the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen. (Sorry Niagara). After fetching water in a bucket from the Nile and then proceeding to carry it on my head, I feel incredibly connected to this 3,000 mile long river. And, after drinking half of the Nile while white water rafting, the Nile and I have become one.

7. Sunsets The sunsets here are incredible. Maybe I just notice them a little more here because I have more time, but regardless, they are breathtaking. As often as I can I climb up our water tower to take in the unique colors of the sunset each day. From the water tower your look out and see the countless, green, rolling hills of Uganda combined with a sunset behind large, fluffy clouds that act as a pallet for the reds, oranges, and purples of an African sunset. Pictures do not do these sunsets justice.

6. Rolex
This delightful treat is heaven on earth. We’ve all had delicious, vegetable-filled omeletes before, but a rolex takes it to a whole new level. Chapatti, the staple food of my diet, is similar to a tortilla but so much better. The simple flour dough is rolled into a circle and then cooked on an oil covered skillet on a charcoal stove. Yes, it is another fried food that I’m adding to my diet, and yes, I have gained weight in Uganda. So, imagine an tasty omelet rolled up inside of a delicious chapatti and then you have a rolex! It’s also a steal at 40 cents a piece

5. My HELP Team

I could write an entire blog post about my team. Well, I have written an entire blog post about them, I just haven’t posted it yet. Stay tuned for that post so you can understand what I love about each and every one of my teammates. They make life fun and teach me so much.

4. Boda Boda
Come one, come all! To the lovely land of Uganda to enjoy a once in a lifetime ride on a motorcycle. Boda Boda was originally derived from “Border to Border”. This handy dirt bikes were used in smuggling ventures between Uganda and its neighbors. Simply riding a motorcycle will not suffice. You must bump knees with neighboring cars, carry a pregnant goat, and almost get squished by a giant Mercedes semi truck that does not see you in order to get the full effect.

3. The handshake. I wish I could demonstrate but I will try to describe it. You shake hands like normal people and then you grab hands just like when two men get together and decide they want to do the one arm grunt hug. You know, the part where their two hands are clasped together between them when they hug? Yeah that’s how you grab someone hand after the regular hand shake. But, don’t actually do the man hug. Then return to the regular hand shake. So, its shake, clasp, shake, clasp. Repeat as often as the native Ugandan wants.

2. Rainstorms There is nothing like an African rainstorm. The only thing I’ve seen that comes close to a downpour here is the monsoon season in Arizona. But, even that doesn’t compare. A Ugandan rainstorm stops everything in its tracks. Classes stop and streets become deserted. The banging of quarter sized raindrops on tin roofs is as loud as a band tuning up, but as peaceful as the sounds of the ocean. It’s always a warm rain.

It’s a rain that can only be found in the beautiful jungles of Uganda.

1. The People These people may be living in a “third world” but they certainly don’t act like it. I’ve never met a more welcoming group of individuals. Everyone I interact with always asks “How are you?” and it’s always a sincere inquiry. Everyone holds hands. Everyone is connected. The meaning of love is something the people of Uganda have discovered and embraced. Their entire culture is based around how they interact with each other. They are dependent on one another in every way.

Over and Out


Picture 1 - Angie and I at some waterfalls in Jinja (where the source of the Nile is)

Picture 2 - Crane school student

Picture 3 - Farmer who lives next door

Picture 4 - Waterfalls where Angie and I are pictured

Picture 5 - Little girl in a village called Najja

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


One thing that blows my mind every day are the sheer number and size of anthills here. I’m not talking about those puney little ants that invade the pantry. I’m talking about the beefed up, size of my pinky toe ants. They are so big that you can see their nasty pincers without a magnifying glass. In Uganda, the red anthills get to be the size of bears. And, thousands of giant ants inhabit them. Since I’ve arrived I’ve wondered exactly how ants build these things, more specifically how much time it takes and how many ants it takes.

This morning I got my answer.

I was reading in the front yard and bonding with Aberforth and Wendy when I looked at the ground and noticed a lone ant. I visually followed him for a few moments and discovered a small, quarter sized pile of red sand about a foot away from where I was sitting. The ant placed another grain of sand in the pile and then disappeared under the gate for several minutes before returning. His sand gathering process was immensely intriguing. There was plenty of sand and dirt nearby that would have suited his needs, but he chose to trek to who knows where for several minutes to get sand from a different location. Why? If he continues at that pace, with no help, it will be years before the ant hill is completed. For a reason unbeknownst to me, the sand nearby was not good enough to make a solid ant hill, so the ant was willing to take the time to find the best sand to construct his home. But that leaves another question unanswered. How will he convince other ants to help him build a home all of them can thrive in? I think that other ants will only come if the one ant can build a good, solid foundation.

Then my thoughts turned to development. And again to what makes development “successful”. Each step in the development process is a grain of sand. If I build my process with the closest sand I can find instead of the best sand I can find, my ant hill won’t last very long. But, if I do build my ant hill with the best sand, then others will want to join me in my quest. As time goes on and as my ant hill gets bigger, responsibilities will be delegated and sustainable skills will be learned. Ideally, everyone benefits because of the initial quality of my ant hill. In my mind, the grains of sand represent the relationships I can develop with those around me. The stronger the relationships, the stronger foundation. The stronger the foundation, the more sustainable it will be. The more sustainable it is, the more people will want to join me in my endeavor to build a strong, prominent ant hill. Everything moves in a cyclical process with results and consequences that become eternally intertwined.

I know I talked about development and relationships last week as well, but it is something which resonates in everything I do here in Uganda. My grains of sand are those relationships and if I don’t take the time to seek out the best grains, I will eventually fail. It is my duty to my fellow main to drink those three cups of tea and become family in their eyes. I will strive to listen and understand what the truly need. I want to fulfill those needs in whatever way I can.

Forgive me for being repetitive, but realize that the people and the relationships are often far more important than the task at hand. Without the relationship, the accomplishment means nothing.

Over and Out.

1. Kaile and Blythe at the source of the Nile
2. Ant hill
3. Fisherman on the Nile

Monday, June 7, 2010

Caught in the Rain

Thursday afternoon I played soccer with the kids at Crane School. They were running all over the place and had about 20 kids on each team. Somehow they were able to keep all of their own teammates straight, but I still have yet to figure out how. Their precious soccer pitch was an open dirt patch next to an abandoned building. Chunks of brick marked the goal posts and bare feet pounded the ground as a herd of boys chased after the soccer ball. In a matter of minutes the horizon changed from a picturesque blue sky with white, fluffy clouds to one with dark clouds foreshadowing a storm. I took refuge under the overhang of that abandoned building. The boys did not stop the game, even for an instant. Water continued to pour from an invisible spickett in the sky. Each quarter sized drop hit the ground with such determination that indentations remained in the rich, red soil. Before I had the chance to take in the power of the rain, I looked up to see fifty elementary school aged boys playing soccer in the hammering rainstorm. All had shed their shirts and embraced the warm, summer downpour. One particularly focused boy kicked the ball so hard that his yellow rosary spun all the way around his neck. With each intense stride his rosary bounced against his chest. It was almost as if God himself drove this boy’s passion to keep the ball in the possession of his team. After a successful round of passes resulting in a goal, the boys came together to congratulate each other. Genuine compliments were exchanged between everyone, even the littlest boy who was simply tagging along. The storm itself lasted only for a few short minutes, but the image of pure happiness and comradery between children has forever been committed to my memory.

This kind of happiness and success is attributed entirely to one’s priorities. The relationship one has with a fellow human being is far more important than the task at hand. It is my responsibility to the world to establish lasting relationships with everyone I interact with. They need to feel needed and important in order to achieve success. And, this mentality continues to the world of development. In my mind true development is about people and relationships, not necessarily how much is accomplished on a timetable of tasks.

This first month has been really interesting for me. All the revelations and insights I write about on this blog are not new discoveries. They are things I’ve been taught or understood since I was a child, but the situation I am in is enabling me to rediscover simple truths about life. So often we, as humans, fall into a recurring cycle of life and lose sight of the important things like establishing relationships or simply taking time to laugh. When that cycle is interrupted, whether it is by one’s own device or an unwanted change in habitat, it allows a person to reflect, readapt, and rediscover life and all of the beauties that come with it. Our lives are a never-ending process of learning, but at some point in one’s given lifetime, there is period where you learn the same simple truths that have been recognized since the beginning of time. That is the amazing thing about human life. The consistency that resides in ever changing nations is what makes the world keep going around.

Picture 1: boys at crane school

Picture 2: soccer in the rain (photo credit to scott)

Picture 3: nicole, me and angie with aberforth wilberforce!