Thursday, May 26, 2005

Now that you've read Steve's post about the last two days and the bus ride, you know our current state of mind, and state of bowels. But we shouldn't let this end overshadow the other experiences we've had that we haven't had a chance to write yet. By the way (this is Emily) thanks so much for all your comments on our last post. It's really good to hear from people.

I was going to start out by talking about the drive to the northeast to visit Daniel. But you've heard enough about awful driving experiences. Let me just add that on this trip, from Kampala noth of Soroti, the road work had been left incomplete because of lack of payment. So our driver and other drivers would change randomly from one side of the street to the other, looking for the best roads. We went from pavement to dirt constantly, and from side to side. It was dangerous! We even had several times when cars were passing on both sides of us. Just wait till you see the video! We were not sick yet then, so we were laughing and filming, rather than wretching. On the way our driver stopped and bought us some burnt maize on a stick and cooked bananas to eat on the way--their version of take out! All you have to do is pull over and kids will flock around your car with things to sell. We have already noticed a major difference between rwanda and Uganda, however. In Uganda they never begged, and were polite and took No for an answer. Here, the opposite is true in every instance.

The visit to Daniel's village was quite different from the visit to Joyce's. The villages in the northeast are basically starving, partly from famine but also largely from the threat of the nearby Karamojong. This tribe on the eastern border of Uganda is a traditional cattle tribe, who believe that all cows belong to them, and must pay each other 100 cattle for each good wife (and they're polygamists). So, they constantly raid neighboring areas like Daniel's. They steal the cattle, rape the women, and generally terrorize, even kill. They are well-armed. Daniel's people are now mostly gathered in camps with armed soldier's guarding their cattle, but the threat is little diminished. When we reading Daniel's file, we saw that he listed his worst memory of the past year as a Karamojong raid in which 8 women in his village were raped. His village is very small and his mother and sister both had new babies, though neither has a husband. I think it's very likely that one or both were included in those 8 women.

The lack of cattle causes starvation, a lack of nutritious milk, and also lack of income potential. the Climate up there is also more arid, less tropical, so you don't have bananas growing everywhere. They plant groundnuts (like peanuts) and live on these, chicken (though Daniel's family doesn't own any), some eggs, and millet bread. They also grow some other beans and vegetables. When I asked Daniel his favorite food, he said peas and beans. They also grow sorghum (sp?). I'm not sure all the reasons why the villages are so much worse off up there, but I know water is also scarce, which it isn't in the South. But the difference was obvious to the eye. Daniel is about the size of an American 9 year old boy--and he is 16 years old. They asked me to pick him out of a crowd and I couldn't. Everyone is very thin. I have never seen such emaciated women nursing. As you see them nursing, you also see their ribs--every one. they look like starvation victums.

Daniel's village was also smaller, as I said, much smaller, and seemed to have less community support. There was no way they could have put together a program for us. Most peo0ple in his village are his relatives. He is blessed to have many uncles to look out for him, though his father died many years ago. His eldest uncle stood and told us the story of their family. He thanked us and expressed concern over Steve's job loss. Apparently everyone reads our letters (and we send too few--we felt pretty pathetic!). Daniel also had two living grandmothers, which was notable. Because of HIV and other factors, you see almost no elderly people here.

Daniel's school is a good example of how hard they are working here to combat AIDS. They have sayings painted all over the walls that say things like "Don't accept gifts for sex" and they have a curriculum which is very frank which they study once every week. In the textbook are printed questions like this, an example from a 9 year old girl: "I had sex with my brother. Am I still a virgin?" We were extremely impressed with the frankness, honesty of the text, which is used in all Uganda schools, and of the openness of all teachers and adults we encountered in disgussing the problem. I know we hear in the media that Africa's problem is that they don't disguss AIDS enough because of shame, but we didn't encounter that. The things they discuss would make Americans blush. Still, will the paternalistic culture and many longstanding moral oddities in tribes, it is an uphill battle.

Though in Joyce's village, some families like Joyce's lived in buildings while most in grass huts, in Daniel's area pretty much everyone lives in grass huts. This includes the teachers and headmaster of the school, most of whom have university educations. Still, though, they staff schools and CCF with local people who speak the local tribal language, and it was clear that in Daniel's project they don't have the same exposure to western professionalism that they had in Joyce's project. (I don't know if I've made the language situation clear--they are so many diff. tribes, all with their own languages. Though English is the national language and is taught to all children in school, the village children have no where to practice it, including no paper to practice it on, and most don't speak a word. Daniel is exceptionally good at English).

Speaking of exposure to westerners, we visited the nursery school near Daniel. The adorable little children ran away when they saw us. Once they were reassured by their teacher, they wanted to touch my skin and see what it felt like. They were something else--a class of about 100!

Also speaking of exposure to westerners, they really can't comprehend our life in these remote villages. Daniel's mother gave us some wonderful homemade gifts, including a half kalabash (like a dried squash) to use for spreading our seeds. We brought many gifts, and the kids took an immediate liking to the lollies (oh, I've gotten so British! Suckers, or lollypops is what I mean). I also told the women I wanted to learn how to wear a baby on my back, so they thought that was great and took great pleasure in showing me. Everywhere you see babies on backs and pots on heads. The women still do most of the work.

One thing here that is difficult for us to comprehend is that parents try to send their kids to boarding schools as early as age 5. This is all over the country. This is because often the available or better schools are not walkable, and they can't afford to pay their kids transportation to go to school everyday. So it's cheaper to have kids, even tiny ones, board at the school. This is very common. Since we were here at the end of a holiday, we saw scores of children transporting their mattresses on their way back to boarding school. That's all they take with them, rolled mattresses. Daniel, at 16, is finally finished primary school this year after being much interrupted by the Karamojong. His only chance at secondary school is via boarding. I don't think his uncle can afford a mattress. As I left, we made a deal that if he passes his primary school exit exams, I will buy him a mattress for boarding school. This will cost me a measly 25 bucks or so, but will be a huge benefit to him. This is one of the awkwardnesses we continually felt here--they feel like we've done so much for them when we've really put in very little effort and don't deserve their gratitude. These are people who will likely work harder their entire lives than we ever will, and earn less than we did in one summer in high school, and yet are equally intelligent, passionate, and God's children. But because of their constant effot to show gratitude for tiny gifts, you can see how many white or western people through the years have developed the haughty Missionary Attitude of thinking they have come to enlighten and "save" these peoples, financially and spiritually. We asked if they regretted Colonialism, and they said No, because it brought Christianity. And Africans are devoted Christians, much moreso than your average American. It does cut both ways, though--some people here also have the wrong attitude about us, thinking we have so much and should just give them money for everything. They don't appreciate how expensive our own lives are in first world countries.

After visiting Daniel, we were dropped off n Jinja near the source of the Nile and spent a half day whitewatering on the Nile. This was great. We cleared two grade 5 rapids, and many smaller ones. This was in the small rafts where you all paddle, not the big ones like we did with Western River Expeditions. So you're much less stable, and prone to flip. We flipped entirely in one Grade 5, and Steve fell out two other times. He got pretty beat up. But they have the nicest Ugandan guys in Kayaks who come rescue you. They also prepare your lunch. Can you imagine getting cool American Kayaking teanage boys to also prepares your lunch? They just don't have too much vanity here. IT's great. Also, one guy is the top Ugandan Kayaker, and 27th in the world. very nice guy. We'll watch for Jeffrey in the 2008 Olympics.

On the rafting trip, we were with some English people who had taken two years off to travel the world. Can you imagine? So unAmerican!
even wealthy Americans believe in work!

We would tell you about the food we ate in Daniel's village, but the thought makes our stomaches turn right now. It wasn't unpleasant to eat so much, but the aftermath was very unpleasant. Also, they fed us 3 TIMES IN 6 HOURS! It was so hard to be polite and eat, yet be totally nauseated (Emily was really sick by this day) and also having dozens of starving people watch you. Yet they want you to eat their food to bless their home. With the food, travel, etc., we've experienced on this trip, I feel like I've gotten a taste of a mission.

We're really grateful to have had such an off-the-beaten path experience here. In addition to the village people we met, we also met some great people as we mentiond, one young guy in particular (actually about my age) named Nick. Nick works at a travel place and deals with a lot of Westerners, so has excellent English and much more of an understanding of our world, so it was easy to talk to him on equal footing. I didn't make it clear in my last entry: His dad died of AIDS, and he desperately wanted to finish secondary school. He did all sorts of things to earn the fees. finally, the last semester, he traded his one valuable possession, a radio, for a bull. He walked the bull 60 KM to his school, and they accepted it as payment for the rest of his schooling. Even at age 27 or 28, Nick is still hoping for university. But it costs 300 to 400 a semester, and though he tries to save, he keeps having to pay school fees, etc., for his little brothers. We would love to help him if we're ever able. He wants to study statistics. What a fabulous person! And we can call him on his cellphone--everyone has cell phones here! Even Daniel's uncle in his remote village, and there is coverage everywhere! Such juxtaposition.

We love and miss you all and are ready to come home. Sara and Dave, we can never repay you but will always keep trying./ Thanks so much for making this possible, and for your frienship for the entire past year. Dad and Grandpa, thanks for teaching me to Love Africa and want to come for as long as I can remember. Jasper and Ruby, we love and miss you and can't wait to see you soon. Thanks for staying alive! Your mother worried so!

Love, Em and Steve

Diarhea and potholes

Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda. We wrote an update on Tuesday night, our last night in Kampala, but the computer crashed at the internet cafe and we were too tired and sick to try and re-create it. We both have horrible diarhea and Tuesday, I (Steve) had a fever and chills that made me good for nothing. We are actually excited to be nearing an end to our trip so we can return to normal roads, western food, and our native language. Not to mention, of course, we desperately miss our kids.

We are staying at the Milles Collines Hotel, which is unfortunately not as nice as the one in the movie Hotel Rwanda. The service staff is fairly unfriendly and few speak english, so it has made it less than the perfect end to our trip we thought it would be. We had also planned to either go trekking to see gorillas or yellow monkeys, or even head out to see the genocide museum. But after yesterday's bus ride, we are in NO MOOD WHATSOEVER to travel for one more minute on these roads! All of these things are a ways out of Kigali so that has precluded seeing much more than what we saw on the way into town and from the taxi stand to our hotel (although Steve did walk to the Kigali Bank today, past the gauntlet of armed security guards and begging/hawking people). Frankly, we're enjoying having some time to rest and relax after th frenetic pace we've kept since arriving.

Now the bus ride. The WORST nine hours of our lives, hands down! We were already sick (which may be a result of eating the hairy goat meat served to us in Daniel's village, or the chicken that was tougher than leather, or perhaps from swallowing too much of the Nile during our rafting adventure) which made sitting on the back row in non reclining seats while the people in front of us lay in our laps while we worried whether there would be frequent enought toilet stops for our diarhea. Fortunately we had no accidents, other than missing the hole in the ground when squatting, but the feeling of clostrophobia was inescapable and grew worse with each passing hour. There was a man sitting on a stool in the aisle next to us (his ride may have been worse, but he didn't look green like we did) and the woman across the aisle from us kept asking us to close our window. Without the air, or knowing there was an open window close at hand to puke out of if necessary, I don't think we would have made--Emily for sure anyway. The roads here are in the worst condition imaginable. You have probably never seen roads like this in all your life--at least we had not. The are riddled with potholes (suspension-ending in depth) and then there are massive speed bumps in every village you pass along the way to slow down the crazy drivers here. But, if you remember from you school bus days, when the back seats were coveted for the extra bounce you received from every bump, these were the LAST seats that we wanted. I suppose we were fortunate even to get seats, though, since they had given our reserved seats up in the middle of the bus away since we were a few minutes late. Why can't they be that meticulous in their road care?! We also had to endure a stretch of dirt road that was also more suited to a 4X4 than a bus. As a result, when we finally pulled in last night, we both flopped on the bed and talked about getting up and doing something more, but other than runs to the toilet, that was where we stayed until morning (Sylvia, thanks for the Imodium in the first aid kit you sent us with to London, the sutff we bought must be sitting back in our flat along with the gum we have been longing to chew). So, with that bus experience so fresh in our minds, the thought of traveling even a couple hours to see either the genocide memorial of even further for the gorillas is an unbearable thought.

At the risk of losing this entry like the last one, I'm going to post now and let Emily share some of the other details from the last few days with you.

See you all soon! Hooray!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunday, Day 4 in Uganda

Thanks, Sara and Karl, for commenting on our last post. We weren't sure if anyone would be interested in reading these, but a blog is a really convenient way to write our experiences and let everyone read them if they want to.

It's about 11:30 AM on Sunday, and we just arrived back in Kampala from Murchison Falls National Park. We have had a great three days since we last wrote, and very different from our first day. We did a little bit more of the touristy type things, but interestingly still didn't feel much like tourists. We were with other non-Africans, but they were all people who live and work here, with the Peace Corps. or other NGOs. So it was very interesting to talk with them about their experiences and impressions. We have also made some outstanding Ugandan friends. (This is a very Christian country, and while I sit in the internet cafe writing this, they are playing some very nice Christian music. We have also seen people dressed up for church, so it does help it feel like Sunday.)

We got back from Joyce's village late Thursday night, the night I wrote the last blog and the night of our first day here. We had thought we were free until Monday, but CCF informed us that they felt we needed to take three days to visit Daniel, so we would have to leave on Sunday. (They don't seem to want to drive at night, and after having driven home from Joyce's at night, I don't blame them!) We suddenly felt quite panicked at the idea of only having 2 1/2 days to do a trip, since all of the national parks are quite far distant from Kampala. And because the tourist industry is in its infancy here in Uganda, because of the violence that tore the country apart up through the mid 80's, there are no national buses or city buses or easy shuttles to get out to these national parks. this is not Kenya!

Anyway, our only options for getting to a park were hiring a private car, a charter flight, or trying to find a tour company that would take us. I won't get into the reasons why we hadn't booked this in advance. Anyway, to get to the point, at about 10:30 PM we found this tour company called Red Chilli Hideaway who had a tour to Murchison Falls park including the drive from Kampala. We called them (and they were open that late--everything here is!!) and their trip was full, but we said we would pay the custom trip fair if they would take another van for us to go. We needed to come home early, so we sort of needed a custom trip anyway.

We had to pay double, 510,000 Uganda shillings each (about $275) for three days, but this is still WAY cheaper than any other company we've seen. But of course Red Chilli is owned by a Brit--one of the problems in Uganda is that all the businesses are owned by foreigners. Anyway, after almost no sleep in coach on the flight over the night before, we had to peel each other out of bed Friday morning to make it for the trip by 8:30. We had to "hire a private car" as they call it, which means a guy outside with a car who is happy to take you somewhere for money, and leave about 40 minutes early to get to the Red Chilli. This may sound dangerous to you, getting a car with a stranger, but it's actually something suggested in the guidebooks. Two things you should know about Uganda. One, the people are so EXCELLENT here, they really don't try to take advantage of you for the most parts. The guide books even note this. That doesn't mean your watch won't get stolen if you hang your arm out the window. But people who are selling some thing or some service don't try to get you. IN fact, so far every single price we've been charged has been exactly the price we were told to expect by the book or our trusted friends. And every person, including our "private driver" sTeve, tells you their name and says they hope to meet you again. They say you are "very welcome to Uganda."

The second thing you should know is that DRIVING HERE IS MAD!! There are only two rules: 1. When driving in Kampala, it's a traffic jam. 2. When driving outside Kampala, it's not a jam so drive as fast as you possibly can!! IF you encounter another vehicle, PASSSSSS!!!!! If you encounter a biker or a pedestrian, HONK@!! and PASSS!!!! I'm not kidding--when I looked over the shoulder of our CCF driver, he was going about 110 KM/hr on a two lane country road with pedestrians, goats, cattle, and the kitchen sink (literally). And he's our safe driver! Our driver up to Murchison falls, about 5 hours, went even faster. They do have traffic lights here, but no one pays attention to them. The other night we were caught in a jam where we counted at least 8 different directions that cars were facing. And the taxis . . . oh my goodness. They work like stagecoaches. They are nine-person minivans. The drivers yell out where they are going, or the people yell out where they would like to go, and then people heading in the same general direction get in or get picked up on the way. They SMASH as many people in there as they can. It is hot and smelly (deoderant is not a big seller here) and there may be up to 14 people in there. Then they sit in traffic, drop people off, and wait while the drivers try to squish in more people. YOu can see why when we were in a hurry and had our big backpacks, we chose to take Steve's private car. It was either that or the back of the scooter the other guy was offering us.

But, I digress. So we were thrilled to get on the Murchison Falls trip. We got our own van, with our own driver, Mosa. We drove 3 precarious hours north (seatbelts that work? are you kidding?) to Masindi, where we were shocked to see other white people at a cafe serving some western food. We eventually found out that these people were the other Red Chilli tour group, heading the same place we were. At first we thought we had finally found some tourists. But no, they were all working here, either with Peace Corps or other NGOs. We found a tiny little run down pharmacy with a really nice lady who sold Emily her one old pack of maxi pads. (Lizzie, don't they have a shot to stop periods for a year when you're in a developing country?)Then we were off to the park, another 2 hours north.

Once in the park we saw our first great animals, Uganda Kob (the national animal, a type of antelope), and baboons crossing the road. We spent three days in the park, where we stayed at Red Chilli's rest camp. The first day we saw the falls themselves. They say these falls are the most amazing thing that happens on the great Nile River. The entire river passes through a gap only 6 meters wide. It is different from what you'd expect--it doesn't have a great vertical drop like Niagara, but rather falls slowly put powerfully. It was beautiful. There is a second falls, which has broken off from the first and has a neat story. IN 1962, when Uganda won its independence from Britain, there was a great rainstorm that swelled the river so much that a second, great Falls formed right next to the original one. They call this secondary falls the Ugandan word for Freedom/Independence Falls, because it formed in honor of their freedom.

The second day, we took a 4 hour driving safari where we say beautiful antelope of many different species, giraffes, and elephants. Though we have both seen these before, it was so wonderful to see them in the wild. The giraffes, which may look awkard in the zoo or a small park, looked beautiful and graceful wandering in large families across huge plains. Here the species is the Rothchild giraffe, which is quite beautiful. IT's spots are darker, more copper brown, and stop at the knee. Our ranger guide told us the greatest compliment a Ugandan boy can pay a girl is to say she looks like a giraffe.

After lunch, we then took a 3 hr boat ride where we saw the falls from the bottom, and observed literally hundreds of hippo, crocodiles, and beautiful species of African birds. Dad, I so wished you or Grandpa were here to help identify them. The birds co-existing with the large game were just breathtaking. Heron, eagle, cattle ibis, kingfishers, etc.

Today we had to leave early, rather than see the chimps. But the greatest part about our trip to Murchison was the people we met. While back at camp, we spent much time talking to two amazing young men named Nick and Edward. They are both young Ugandans facing the problems all Uganda faces, such as fathers and mothers who have died of AIDS. Some workers estimate it's over 40% of the population. They work so hard and want so much to go to university. But its a difficult dream. After Nicks dad died, he had to sell his stereo for a bull to finish highschool.

We love it here!

Please comment.
Love em and Steve

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Day 1 Uganda: Is this a dream?

Words cannot describe today. We had no idea what we were about to experience. We made it through all of our flight connections with no problems and arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda exhausted but fine at 9:00 this morning. (Time is just two hours ahead of London.) All of our luggage even made it. We were pretty panicked about this, because though we had packed all of our essentials and a change of clothes in our day pack, my luggage was entirely filled with gifts for the children. We realized that if our luggage didn't make it, we would have nothing to give Joyce for sure, whom we were visiting today.

CCF has taken great care of us. They picked us up at the airport and dropped us by our hotel (which they had booked) for a bath before we left for our visit. The drive into Kampala from the airport was amazing--green, tropical, beautiful, and a scene of abject poverty. Kampala itself is less poor and more modern, but the craziest city you've ever visited. We were caught in a traffic jam with cars literally going every different direction--and this is apparently normal! And the people--the friendliest I've ever met.

Before we left For Joyc'es village, They took us to the CCF Uganda office. We didn'
t understand why. Well, they took us around and introduced us to every person there, including the national director who looks just like Sydney Poitier. Each person sat down and talked with us and thanked us for our sponsorship. They were so kind! Then, the director invited us to lunch with him and his managers! Even our driver and escort did not attend this lunch. It was wonderful--we had interesting discussions about politics and economics in Uganda. But apparently the director's impromptu invitation messed up our schedule because we were supposed to eat lunch in the village and were a couple hours late. It ended up being dinner.

We first were taken to the project headquarters for Joyce's particular project, where the director there told us all about Joyce and the projects they're doing. This was an hour drive outside Kampala. Then they took us to her village to meet her and see her home and family. That is all they told us. We drove a few more kilometers up some awful dirt roads, and suddenly around one corner was an entire village of 200 people dressed in their finest singing and dancing to welcome our arrival! It was overwhelming! We couldn't speak. They had planned a whole program for the whole day for us. Children sung and danced, the town elder gave a speech, and the headteacher of the school gave a speech. They had built a shelter just to host us in. They didn't speak English for the most part, but Nelson the project director translated. Joyce's father (we sort of sponsor the whole family through her) showed us all around his farm, his crops, cattle the mosquito nets over the beds, and every little thing that CCF has given them to change their lives. Then Nelson and the headmaster, a very distinguised older man dressedin his best suit in the sweltering heat, showed us the newly completed school building. The whole village literally followed us wherever we went. Then they all waited outside Joyce's house while we ate the delicious food they had prepared. Joyce was quite shy and afraid, only 5, but I think she liked the doll we brought. We gave our gifts which had felt like a lot when we packed, but when we saw the whole village, all so kind and polite and happy to see us and dressed in rags, we so wished we had brought so much more. We should have brought all the clothes of Jasper's and Ruby's that we just got rid of. We easily could have. They kept thanking us for all we had done, and we felt so undeserving, knowing we had done nothing more than send a check every month and write letters. But I guess they were thanking us on behalf of all sponsors because the rest never visit. You WILL NOT BELIEVE IT until you see the videos we took. What an amazing experience no tourist gets! Thanks to Sara and Dave for making it possible! (By the way, they thought we were bringing our children and were very disappointed we didn't.) Love, Em and STeve

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Wow. I forgot I actually created a blog for us. So, here I am 3 months later just remembering. I'll write this to keep it active for the future.