Saturday, June 26, 2010

Once You Know Something, You Never Won't

I love Salt Lake summers. Just returned from a late night at the Arts Festival with my favorite people in the world - Diana, April, and Nina. Diana totally rocked it as the under the ocean sea queen in the performance with Children's Dance Theatre. After eating some yummy food and quickly realizing all jewelry and art were well beyond our price range, we sat down to watch a lil' something that I became hooked on at the art market last year... poetry slams. Just left a totally amazing poetry slam. The things that people write poems about are so remarkably touching... emigration, patriotism, trust, the love you place on others even when they let you down. I'm constantly getting the chills and sometimes brought to tears.

In much more eloquent words a line in the poem came up that touched me. Once you know something, you never won't. I thought about my trip to Uganda. Once you know what poverty looks like, you never won't. I can go into details about all that I saw... eventually I will probably write about it... but not tonight. All I know is that I hope I will always think about what I learned and saw on this trip for two reasons. First, it makes me think about how remarkable lucky I have been in my life and even though I've faced some difficulties, really my life has been easy, and I'm more fortunate than most. Second, I can't fix poverty on my own, I know this, but I can make small differences... and you can too. And even if you haven't seen poverty firsthand... hopefully you can imagine its difficulties after talking to me.

Because once you know something, you never won't.

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup

There is a big game tomorrow - USA v Ghana... and as much as I love my home country, the good ol' US of A ... I'm totally cheering for Ghana. Black Stars, all the way baby!

I realize people might find me a bit unpatriotic here... especially given the fact that the USA team has made it much further than was expected, but I have some very valid reasons for my pick... and here are just a few of them.

1. I have a Ghana jersey.
2. I love the country of Ghana, and my trip there changed my life.
3. Out of the 3 television channels you can get in most of Ghana, 2 are entirely devoted to football (soccer) all day, all the time... not just when the World Cup is happening. Soccer is not a big deal in the USA - you rarely see coverage of it and I'm struggling to watch the World Cup right now without cable!
4. Ghana is the last African team still in, and the host continent is Africa.
5. All of Africa is behind Ghana. In Uganda people living in poverty gather in the streets to watch the games on tiny television sets... and cheers erupted when Ghana won their first game. (Ghana and Uganda are on opposite sides of the continent... but they still support each other... pretty cool... can't picture us supporting Canada like that...)
6. The people of Africa have a pretty rough go of it most of the time. Our lives are much easier than theirs. This is something that is important to them that they are good at... they downright deserve to win.
7. The USA is a world power that tends to dominate in everything. We have a lot of other sports that clearly keep us more entertained the rest of the 4 years... we can afford to lose one.

Don't get me wrong. I am very proud the USA has made it this far. And part of me will be very excited if we move on... But we don't care about the sport enough as a country to win this sucker. When we have a soccer 24/7 channel, and poor kids in our streets are making soccer balls from old plastic bags, and soccer stadiums start getting more packed than OUR football stadiums... then we can talk.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Uganda - a brief summary

OK, so I have returned. I have a full 8 hours of peaceful sleep under my belt sans stuffy bug net (first time in a while). I am also showered and smelling oh so fresh and so clean - first shower in a month with both decent water pressure AND hot water and no bucket involved! This is my attempt to do a quick sum up of the trip before I forget- although I have a feeling it won't be as quick as I intend. Here it goes.

Pics from my favorite ridiculous day... bus break downs and mystery creature poo in our room...

It all began with a flight to San Francisco and then a 16 hour flight to Dubai. (In the future I would much prefer two 8 hours with a layover- 16 hours is killer- my bum still hurts!) We were lucky enough to have a 10 hour layover in Dubai which allowed us enough time to take a 2 hour bus tour, some showers, grab some food, and snag about 4 hours of sleep in an actual bed! Our 2 hour tour took us to see some amazing architecture, wicked awesome buildings, the Atlantis hotel and aquarium,the largest mall in the world, a building that has indoor skiing, and a night trip to the beach to dip our toes in the water of the Persian Gulf. The flight the next day was an 8 hour process with a stop in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia and finally landing in Entebbe, Uganda.

The plan was to spend our first night in Kampala, the capital city, to recover from a long journey but found that our hotel there had no water or electricity that day. So we piled ourselves and our luggage with impressive skill onto the bus and had our first drive with Mr. Baker, our amazing driver for the trip. He didn't speak much English, but was by far the most impressive driver in Uganda- reassuring since you are more likely to die in a car crash in Uganda rather than any type of Malaria/ Yellow Fever/Parasite you could catch. The drive onto Masaka took much longer than expected because we were so weighted down- and it felt longer since it was our first experience in the packed van and we were fresh off an all day plane ride. We finally made it and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful Maria Flo hotel and the charm of Masaka.

We spent about 5 nights in Masaka visiting schools such as Byana Mary Hill, God's Grace, and Blessings of Joy. We mainly were grouping and organizing. We also took a night to go out and see Radio and Weasel - a very popular Ugandan band. This was also our first introduction to standard Ugandan foods like Chappatti (picture a tortilla with darker dough) and Matoki (boiled mashed bananas) along with lots and lots of rice, potatos, kasava, goat and of course.... pineapple (heaven).

After Masaka, we spent one night in Kampala to regroup and stopover on our travel. Then onward to spend 2 nights in Katosi - a small fishing village on the shore of Lake Victoria. Here we spent our time doing eye exams, handing out glasses, and conducting women's health seminars at a school just outside Katosi and on Bubwa Island a remote peninsula in Lake Victoria. We got to take a boat to Bubwa where our boat drivers were all too excited to carry us from boat to shore. I stayed completely dry!

Then we returned to spend another night in Kampala and regroup. After our very "primitive and rustic" hotel stay in Katosi eating entire boiled fish complete with eyeballs... we took advantage of the big city and made our first stop at Nano's for some pizza. Pizza never tasted so good! This was also the night we discovered Yovani- the mouse, complete with mouse mansion whose grand entrance was in my bathroom.

We woke the next morning and left as the sun was rising so we could make the long drive into Northern Uganda for some tourist fun... Murchison Falls National Park where the rich can go to Safari! We spent our first day there taking a casual boat ride down the Nile where we spotted hippos, crocodiles, monkeys, some elephants, water buffalo, and many many birds. The boat ride's grand finale was a stop at Murchison Falls- the most amazing and powerful waterfal I've ever seen! We hiked maybe a mile to get to the top. While it wasn't a difficult hike, the humidity killed us and we were all drenched in sweat by the time we reached the top... but that just made the spray from the falls all that much more enjoyable! At the top of the falls we met Mr. Baker and our van and drove back to our camp just as the sun was going down. Poor planning on our parts. This is when the Titsie flies are out... whose bite carries African Sleeping Sickness. For the first time, we had to pack all our hot sweaty bodies into the van with all our windows CLOSED. We joke that this was our unplanned spa day... the bus sauna... yum. It was pretty comical looking at all of us wilting away, the windows steaming up, and flies attacking at the outside of the bus... just another adventure.

The next day we loaded into a Safari van and drove through the game park where we saw many elephants and giraffes AND (drum roll please...) a leopard. Apparently leopard's are very very rare- we were lucky to see one! When our guide spotted it he became so excited that our van busted into off- roading mode as we followed this leopard around. Good thing we didn't make him mad!

After this we returned again to Kampala for another night with Yovani the mouse and some pizza!

From there we drove on to Iganga where we spent almost a full week devoting our days to making bricks for Hope Children's Center's new dorm and our nights at the Sol Cafe watching the World Cup! (Man do I miss having the games play in the evenings... and not needing cable to see them!) We took one day's break in the middle of the week to drive to the nearby city of Jinja where they have bungee jumping and class 5 rapid rafting for a hefty price. While my trip mates flew down the Nile I enjoyed a lovely day lounging in my swimsuit with a great book and the perfect view of the Nile... and amazing food- I'm now addicted to Kiwi burgers and plan on putting eggs on my burgers from now until forever! My friends returned with some nasty sunburns, but mostly in good spirits apart from one case of heat stroke!

From Iganga we drove to Kaptorwa- more of a mountain town where there is a lot more rain and many waterfalls. What an experience we had getting there! On the way our van kept overheating. They don't use coolant in Africa ... just cold water... good thing we were near so many waterfalls! Ever half hour our so we would have to pull over and give our van a 30 minute break- so it was much slower going than expected. Finally we stopped again to check the engine... just as we opened it up... the radiator blew sending hot water and steam everywhere... while we were inside. Quite the startling experience. Once we finally all trouped out of the van we wondered over to chill with the cow figuring he had a pretty good chill spot on the edge of this mountain. As Ashley walked through the grass to take a picture of Mr. Cow she was attacked by a swarm of massive ants biting her feet. She was fine after we dumped some water on them and deet-ed her pretty well. After that we were all a bit jumpy. Finally a bus came to rescue us and we spent the next day without Mr. Baker as he tried to find a place to get the van fixed.

At our hotel in Kaptorwa we had a pretty decent sized walk through massive amounts of mud to get from our room to the restaurant's dining area. As we were walking back that first night (never have I ever been so grateful for my headlamp!) the hotel bus drove by offering us a ride. We all preferred to walk. As the bus drove off it got horrible stuck in the mud. It took all of us plus some very kind gentlemen just walking past to get that sucker out. When me and my awesome roomie made it back to our room we discovered poo on all our stuff... what animal made it we had no idea. (Since we've been home I google imaged it and am nearly convinced it was a bat.) Oh what an adventurous day.

We spent two days in Kaptorwa in the hospital interviewing women who had complications from female circumcision leading to problems with incontinence (inability to control your urine). The hope is to bring a doctor or two back next summer to work with the doctors at the hospital and find a way to treat these women either with prescription medicines or surgery. The saddest cases were when you saw young girls who suffered from the problem and were then made fun of in school. School is already so difficult... it shouldn't have to be that hard.

On the way home from Kaptorwa we stopped to eat in a place with a beautiful view of Sippi Falls. MM MM awesome! Then we headed out for the very very VERY long drive home to Kampala. We spent 3 more nights in Kampala packing up, regrouping, eating pizza, and doing lots and lots of shopping at the Kampala craft markets!

Finally we headed of the the airport in Entebbe and spent a few hours there before our flight to Dubai - about 8 hours with a stop down in Ethiopia. We then had an 8 hour layover in Dubai where we opted to stay in the airport and give up sleep in an attempt to beat our jet lag. We spent the night exploring the airport spa we could not afford, trying to sweet talk our way into the first class lounge, buying a few things, and taking full advantage of the first Starbucks we'd seen in a month! We also braved the public showers... and not one of us slept! Mission successful. We then made it on to our 16 hour flight from Dubai to San Francisco, had an 8 hour layover there and made it into Salt Lake City just before midnight last night... phew. All around... about a 48 hour process trying to get home.

I've completely hibernated today... unsure if I'm ready to face a slew of Salt Lakers yet... but I'm thinking I'll have to venture out to the grocery store some time soon! I'm just pumped I don't have to worry about buying all my water any more! WOOH!

So that was my trip to Africa in a nutshell. Of course many more reflections are still to come!