Sunday, August 24, 2008

holland etc

Hey guys!

This will be a short one I think. I'm in the airport again with a little extra time. It turns out the airport is a really good place to use the internet. Better than some of the other places I've been anyway.

So, I have a new uncle. That is, my aunt got married last weekend. The weather was beautiful and the place where they held the ceremony was really something. It was a 17th century mansion that belonged to some baron or other and had been converted into a hotel and conference centre. My aunt looked beautiful in her long white (very expensive) dress. We ate dinner outside at an enormous long table. Everyone conversed in Dutch, which I can undertand some of but not enough to really join in the conversation. Then after dinner they had a DJ and we all danced, which was pretty fun. Even my parents.
It was a fun day. Quite extravagant, which was a little different for me, but I got used to it. Too fast in a sense.

It feels really weird that my trip is over. I'm not back yet, but I'm not in Africa anymore, so its over for most intents and purposes. I don't really know what to make of it. It was an adventure I was in the middle of for so long that now it feels strange that its something that happened in the past. Luckily, the reverse culture shock I was anticipating comeing back to the western world has not been as bad as I expected. I think it helps that I am not just returning to the life I was living before I left, but moving forward in other ways - like going to a new school, starting a new job, etc. Plus I have this trip to Holland as a buffer. I'm getting used to all the white faces the same as I did going the other way, and as for overconsumption/unfair distibution of resouces, opportunities, etc, I don't feel any worse about that here than I did in Africa, so at least its not a big shock. The biggest thing has been missing the culture and lifestyle there, and my friends, and not knowing when or if I will see them again. But that's always an element of traveling.
Its been really nice to see my family too. I only get a chance to connect with my dutch relatives once every couple of years. They were very patient and happy to listen to my long stories about Africa. I played soccer with my younger cousins (who are growing up really fast) and had some good talks with my aunts and uncles and my grandparents. This time, I will keep in touch with them when I get home!

Anyway, I'm on my way back to Canada and I should be there in about 12 hours. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with everyone, Starting school etc. And I'm sure in a few months I'll be looking forward to my next trip.

Oh, as for pictures, I should have a few up on facebook soon. I have so many and they're all disorganized so I'll need a little time to sort through them at home. In case you're not on facebook, I'll post the links here.

When I get home, I'll have to call Africa and see what is going on with Nuru. It was very expensive to call from Holland so I'm not sure exactly what's going on right now. If all is well, they should be registered properly now and starting to get things going. Exciting!
If you guys are interested, I will post a little update now and then.

See you all soon!



So, I guess I can't call it my African Blog anymore cause I'm not in Africa anymore. But since this is probably my second last blog (I'll write one more after my aunt's wedding and before I go home on the 1st) I'm not going to change it. After all, most of it is still about Africa.

Right now, I want to tell you all a bit about the organization we are starting (me and my Kenyan friends). I'm really excited about it. Its called Nuru, which s Swahili for light, and its aim is to help the families living in the slums - in abject povery - in the area of Mombasa where I was staying. This can include everything from sending children to school, feeding programs, proper latrines, clean water, even microfinance in the longer term. If things work out, we can expand into other areas and tackle other issues like family planning, medical treatment, etc. The great thing about this organization is that we can do as little or as much as the money we have allows. at the beginning when we have a little, we can do a little and things can always grow if we get more sponsorship.

The idea came, as I mentioned, when we were in Moshi and Bobo decided he wanted to get his group of friends to help the people in the slums in Chuda (particularly the children) the same way that the organization "Training for Life" was helping students in Tanzania. During my last weeks in Uganda, after rafting the Nile, I spent some time in Kampala during which I visited some street children's organizations in teh city with Kay, an English woman also working with Edirisa who is planing to start a project for the street children in Kabale, and Emma, one of our translators for workshops at the primary schools, who used to work with street kids in Kampala, and indeed was once one himself. I leanred a great deal from the tours we took. Emma even brought us into the "field" to meet some street kids and taught us how best to approach them and speak with them. We got an audience with the director of a project called the Tigers Club, where we got some quality advice, and samples of materials like brochures and newletters to copy ideas from. I will be staying in contact with all those people and getting advice from them whenever we need it.

When I got to Kenya, we had a meeting with me, Bobo and two Jays (big Jay and small Jay). Big Jay has some experience working with organizations, so he has taken over a lot of the directing of the organization. We decided that we would start small, with a feeding program and helping with uniforms and books so that the children of several families can be sent to school. The next day, we went into the slums and interviewed several mothers, as well as the elder and a community childcare worker, asking what are the biggest problem facing people living in the slums, and what they would like to see from an organization. School was the common denominator, cause everyone wants to see their children into a brighter future. Clothes, financial stability and prevention of diseases like cholera, tb and aids were others. We decided to start by sponsoring the school-aged children of three families, each of which is living with no income, little or no support and existing with a mother and up to six kids in one room.

I took the guys to visit Kodonde, the director of WOFAK, the organization I worked with while I was there. He explained the best way to register the organization and offered to hook them up with some other local organizations once they were registered. That way, if they don't have the resources to help someone, we can send them somewhere that does. Like HIV positive people can be sent to WOFAK, who can give them the help they need much better than we can at this point. I am very grateful for Kodonde's support.

I think the best thing at this point is to get the input and advice of as many people as possible and to put together a good constitution and proposal, get registered and get everything going. If you guys have any ideas from personal experience of starting up an organization, I would love to hear them. Fundraising ideas would be greatly appreciated. ;)

Can't wait to see you all in a week!!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good Bye Africa

it is 7:24 in the morning and I am sitting in Jomo Kinyatta International Airport, waiting for my flight to Amsterdam which is scheduled to leave in an hour and a half. Having been here for a short stop over on my way to Dar es Salaam six months ago, I have started to realize just how much my perceptions have changed since I came here. For example, last February in Amsterdam when I transferred onto my flight to Kenya, I remember thinking how odd it was to see so many African people in one place. Over half the flight was filled with Africans. Now, coming into Jomo Kenyatta, I'm struggling to deal with how many white people there are here. I can only imagine how things will be when I get to Europe.

I also remember getting to Kenya and feeling so hot I could hardly stand it and wondering how I was going to spend six months in this sweltering heat. Right now, I'm wearing a sweater.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Africa. I mean, I can't wait to see my family, Ian, my friends. On the other hand, I nearly started crying just now when I wrote that title. My friends here were sad to see me go as well. They told me if it was up to them, I wouldn't be leaving at all, let alone coming back. I'm going to miss them a lot. I also didn't get the chance to do a lot of the things that were on my to-do list for Africa. But once you cross everything off that list, you have no reason to come back. One thing I know for sure is that this is not my last time in East Africa.

Some last observations about Africa:

The amazing experiences and opportunities I've had here have made me grow a lot. Not just in weight either. I've learned so much about adapting to different cultures, been thrown into situations and learned to deal with them, and been given opportunities to try things that I would never have tried if I'd stayed at home. It's made me feel more capable and more powerful than I ever have at home; I feel like I'm somebody here. I hope that feeling lasts when I get home.

Another observation, the people here are amazing. I'm not just saying that. They are so open and friendly. The are very emotionally open and honest, which can make them very vulnerable. A child who has no family and no home will come up to you and hold your hand, ask you to teach them something. They don't close themselves off to the world the way people tend to do at home. And they understand the incredible value of opporunity that we take for granted. They may be terrible at saving money as a rule, but that is a by-product of lack of greed. A person that has no job, no family to support them and is struggling to survive will still invite you into their home and offer you a meal. And they are not unhappy. It sounds strange, but even though poverty and disease don't bring people great joy, they still manage to find it. Obviously they have stress, but they have fun, too. They find it where they can. I think everyone in the Western world could do with taking a lesson from these people.

This is obvious, but there are a lot of issues here that need working on. Some are getting better slowly, but most are only starting to be addressed. Things like gender equality. I have a friend in Mombasa whose husband wont let her leave the house on her own. She told me once about a time that she triend to go meet a friend who was visiting from abroad and he locked her in the house until the friend left. At the clinic I worked at, some women were forbidden to come in for examination during their pregnancy because their husband disapproved of a doctor touching them. Those are some of the nice examples.

Then of course there's disease, poverty, conflict. I passed an internally displaced persons camp yesterday. Imagine being a refugee in your own country.

Corruption, I think, is one of the worst issues. Money comes in to deal with issues from so many sources and it ends up in the wrong hands all the time. I mean, everywhere you go it is happening. The principal of one of the elementary schools in Kabale embezzled a ton of money we had gotten from a donor in England and were trying to use to build a nursery school. The building is still unfinished, and we had more than enough money to build two.

I haven't decided yet what is the best way to tackle these problems - from teh government or via NGOs and ouside aid. There are good arguments for both. At this point, though, I only have experience with the latter, so I'll stick with that until I learn better. My friends in Mombasa and I have started an organization for the slums in Chuda where I was living, helping with feeding anf clothing children, sending them to school, supporting mothers in business and all that sort of thing. Trying to do something about the incredible poverty there. We had some meetings and there are a lot of great ideas. I am very excited about it. When I come back, I will be looking for funds (my favorite) so if anyone has any ideas for fundraising or knows anyone with money to give away to a good cause, please please please let me know, cause I'm out of them after the whole Pole to Pole debacle.

I have to go cause I need to check in with my flight, but I have a whole novel to write about Nuru (the organization), so I'll have to do that in another note when I get to Holland. Can't wait to see you all in a couple of weeks!


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Post Birthday

Hey everyone!

I want to say a big thank you to everyone that commented on my last post in the various ways they did. Its good to hear that people identify with how I am feeling and good to read the insights people have shared from their own travels and experiences. I have to say I feel more motivated than ever to use my opportunities and privileges (be it education, money, mobility, support network, etc) to the best possible ends. 

And thanks for all the birthday wishes! I feel special. 

I think more interactive blogs are in order, cause it was really quite something to hear from people like that. :) I'll have to put my thinking cap on...

In the meantime, I'll brief you on my last week, which has been a very interesting one. Last weekend, I went with a few friends to Jinja near the coast of Lake Victoria where we went white water rafting on the source of the Nile. It was crazy! And by crazy I mean really fun. We went through four different grade 5 rapids, flipped over twice, fell over on numerous occasions... We even paddled through a thunderstorm. At one point, someone on one of the other boats got stuck in a waterfall and the kayaker who went to help him got stuck as well. The rafter got out okay, but the kayaker was struggling for ages and no one really new what to do. Eventually he got out of his kayak and it floated away down river and he got pulled out by the safety raft. 
Our guide Juma was a great guy, who told awesome stories (lies) about himself, which we later found out that he is well known for doing. He told us that he had moved to Jinja from up north cause he was a drug dealer and the rafting guides were some of his biggest clients. Then they decided to teach him to guide rafting and he gave it up to earn an honest living. I will note here that he was quite serious and believable (and it wasn't just me that believed him). It was one of those things where you assume that if it was the truth, he wouldn't have told us, unless he assumed that on one would believe it was the truth even if he told it to them. Anyway, he also told us he had been guiding for four months and hadn't quite gotten the route figured out yet. Turns out he's been doing it for ten years. And he's a musician, which he failed to mention. He said he was a pimp too, which I am happy to say we didn't believe. But he very seriously said it was an ok job, but he did it cause the money was good.
When we asked Juma about parasites in the water (there were crocodiles. too), he told us we just had to drink ten beers when we got back, then we would pee out all the parasites, and if we were hung over the next day, we should go jump in the Nile.
On the last rapid, Juma flipped us over on purpose, cause we had only flipped once and apparently that wasn't enough. When we went over the waterfall and he told us to get down and hold on, he also told us to enjoy this flip. We flipped back over front and everyone got pushed really deep by the waterfall pressure. I was down long enough that I ran out of breath and almost inhaled a lung-ful of water. When I came up I was gasping and coughing and out of it for a while as I tried to navigate through the waves and rapids. It was pretty scary. The others in the boat had similar experiences and we all got out shaken but soon were laughing and wishing we could do it again. When we reached the buses, we couldn't find one of our friends. She came up almost ten minutes later. It turned out she had been under the water for about 200 metres and couldn't reach the surface. She said she had actually thought she would drown and had started thinking she wouldn't make it to South Africa and would never see her boyfriend again. She didn't know how the kayakers found her, but when they pulled her up, she had her shorts and bikini bottoms around her ankles. Oh man.

Even though I didn't get a chance to do a bunch of the things I wanted to do while I was here, I'm really glad I got to do that. They are planning to dam the Nile 

That Monday, I spent the day with my friend in Kampala and in the evening Emma, a friend and Edirisa employee, came to show us around a couple of the projects for street children in the city. More about that soon, but I have to go for dinner. Rolex....mmmm.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Time is moving quickly.

Hello all!

I just counted 16 posts. In five months, that's only about three per month. Not too many, so I figure I will right another one now and try to bring it up to three and a half.

I only have a week and a bit left in Uganda. Then, I'm going to head back to Kenya for ten days before leaving for Amsterdam on Aug 19. It has gone by so quickly I can hardly believe it. I'm already starting to think about home, but I know I will miss Africa terribly. There will definitely be an adjustment period.

All the friends I've made here and the things I've done with them have been incredible. There is always something different and exciting happening. Celebrations, trips, activities, and of course work. But my work is guiding trips and teaching amazing, well-behaved and eager-to-learn children, which is hardly a downer. So when I have downtime, I of course have to spend it thinking about negative stuff. While there is no doubt that I am doing something here, chipping away at the cultural and educational issues in Uganda, I can't help but wonder if there are more pressing problems that I should be thinking about. Here almost everyone has enough food, and a place to live and we can concentrate on things like teaching students creativity and self-esteem. But when I know people are dying of AIDS and starvation and living with war or as refugees, I wonder if I am doing enough.  I guess nothing will ever be quite enough.

I've had a lot of conversations lately about these things, reached a few conclusions and come up with a few conundrums. For example, should someone feel guilty spending more in a weekend (on food, a few drinks, transportation) than some people make in a month? Especially people who are your friends. I know I feel guilty, but its not my fault. And should I stop living my life because other people can't? I don't know. Similarly, when someone asks me for money (on average a couple of times a day) I say that I will pay them for something, but I don't give it out for free. When the street kids come by with baskets of bananas or mangoes, I buy them, but I don't give money. Is it fair of me to demand something from people? Just because I have the money, do I deserve it more than them? Do I have the right to decide who should have it and who shouldn't? I mean, you can say you're teaching them business values and ultimately contributing to development, but what makes me think that I can be so high and mighty as to assume I can teach lessons to people who work at least as hard as I do in worse conditions and still end up in abject poverty?

As great of an experience as I am having here, sometimes I feel guilty and I can't help it. My friend Laura said that we should just live our lives and give back as much as we can and not feel bad for what we have. But how much is as much as we can? Is it possible to live our lives and give back as much as we can, or are they mutually exclusive? I ended up in tears that night cause I couldn't get over the feeling that if I agreed with that, I would be making excuses to make myself feel better. In the end, I concluded that I didn't have to give up everything I have and live in a little hut somewhere for the rest of my life, but that it's not a bad thing to want to do more than I am. What if I decided I have done enough? I've ticked all the boxes and now I can just sit back and feel good about myself. Even though that is a feeling I really really want, the idea that there is always something more that I could do will continue to motivate me, and what could be better than that?

And now that I've barfed out everything on my mind, I would welcome any comments people have on this subject. I know most of you guys who are reading this are very socially conscious, and working hard for things you believe in. I welcome any insights.

In other news, I hiked up a mountain last weekend. Its called Muhavura, it is a 4127m dormant volcano with a cater lake at the top, and it sits on the border between Uganda and Rwanda near Kisoro Town. 
The ascent was fun, with some incredible ecosystems which changed drastically every 500m or so, similar to Kilimanjaro. we all got mild symptoms of altitude sickness - fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, headache -  every step felt like a five minute sprint. It was quite funny actually. cause we all felt a bit drunk, and had to stop every few steps to catch our breaths with heart rates of like 180 bpm (yes, we counted).
We ate lunch in Rwanda. I was trying to get everyone to speak French there, but it didn't catch on. There are enough languages here without adding French. 
On the descent, a fellow volunteer, Biggi, tried to learn the Canadian National Anthem from me. He didn't, but it led to each of us singing our national anthem to the group, which was quite fun. Among the 8 of us, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Slovenia were represented. Quite a variety. 

On Friday, we went to a concert with a popular Ugandan band. The Mzungus all ended up dancing on the stage with the band in front of hundreds of people. Except me cause I was getting a beer when they went up. That was pretty funny. Once again I am amazed by what we can get away with just because of the colour of our skin. 

This weekend I am heading to Jinja to raft the rapids at the source of the Nile. Supposedly it is one of the most fun things you can do in Uganda and I am really looking forward to it. Next year, they are planning to build a dam there to provide some much-needed power to the country, so this will be my only chance. How can I not? 
After that I'l' be in Kampala for a couple of days and then I'm coming back to Kabale for a few last preparations before I return to Kenya. I'm sure I'll have lots of stories then, so tune in next week for another exciting entry ;).

Happy August.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Finally another post is up!

Hello all. It's been a while since my last post and I wanted to let you all know about my most eventful week. Actually I think it's been more like two weeks now. I've been trying to post this for a while, but the power and internet have had other plans.

Anyway, it all began the Thursday before last, shortly after I returned from my trip to Tanzania. As I may have mentioned, I have begun working with the Travels (cultural tourism) program at Edirisa, where I am guiding canoe treks on Lake Bunyonyi where I live. That Thursday, I went trekking with a group of teenagers from an international high school in Kampala. It was an interesting canoe trek, with a much more high school type atmosphere. Plus many of them came from rich families and were more... lets say sheltered than the other people I had met there. There were definately some interesting people though, inlcuding a half Canadian girl who had grown up in Kenya and a kid from Sudan who had not seen his family in nine years. There was about ten of them, including two teachers, and they had two guards with them, one of whom was armed and the other in plain clothes. I wish I could show you pictures because those last two men looked like they meant business. At the time, I assumed that they were there to guard the students, but it turned out that one of them was the king of a kingdom in Uganda called Batwara. He had been the prince, but recently his father was assasinated and now he is the king. The guards were for him. I didn't find this out until a few days after and I absolutely couldn't believe it. He was such a normal kid. I would never have guessed... I still can't believe it. The worst thing is that the plain clothed guy, who said he was a friend of this kid's father, asked for my number so I could come and visit them in Kampala. I assumed he was hitting on me so I didn't give it to him, but in retrospect that would have been quite a neat connection.
The Sudanese kid who hadn't been home for nine years turned out to be the son of the former President of Sudan who is now dead. I am not going to mention any names, because they are both clearly in hiding. It still feels strange thought that I spent two days with these kids, talked to them, played football with them, and I didn't even know who they were. Maybe it's better that way, though. Otherwise I might not have treated them normally.

Back at Edirisa that Friday, it rained so we didn't get a chance to go into town for our usual Friday festivities. On Saturday, however, me, fellow volunteer Hannah, two student doctors who are operating a temporary clinic at the lake, and Dennis, the first black Mzungu, paddled out to Bushara Island where I had lately discovered a gigantic rope swing. Again, you will have to see the pictures. There is a platform there and the rope is tied high in a tree so that you have to swing out over some land, the reeds and out over the water where you let go and fall into the lake. It was amazing fun.
That night, a pregnant mother turned up at our dock in a canoe with a newly born baby. She was semi conscious and bleeding profusely. The student doctors ran down from dinner and hooked her up to an IV drip, and wrapped her in blankets to protect her from the cold. The placenta had not come out and they tried to help her, but were worried about tearing an artery, in which case she would have bled to death. The called the only ambulance in Kabale to come out to the lake and pick her up. The slope from the lake up ot the road is very steep with make-shift dirt steps that make you out of breath at the best of times. In order to get her up to the road, we had to use a door that the guys had found somewhere. We all helped to carry it up the crazy slope, those who could not reach part of the door pushing the people who were carrying it. We were exhausted when we finally got up there. After some time, the ambulance, an old white van with the Red Cross symbol on the side, zoomed around the corner. In a hurry to turn around, it drove off the road and down the slope. Had it managed to stop a foot later, it would have tumbled all the way down to the lake and probably been destroyed. We all stood there frozen in shock as some of the local guys attempted to push the ambulance back up to the road. It lurched a few times and threatened to run them over. Then finally it was back up. After it turned slowly and carefully, we loaded the woman in and her friend with the baby and they left at top speed to Kabale Hospital. We gathered all the blood-soaked blankets and burned them and Caroline, one of the volunteers, bleached the door and the dock. Blood contact is not a good idea in Africa.I am happy to say that the midwife at the hospital was able to get the placenta out of the woman with little difficulty. She stayed at the hospital for a few days to recover and then went home with her baby. It was definately an intese evening.

On a happier note, on Sunday after church, we started up a Mzungus vs Muchigas football (soccer) game. The pitch at Bufuka is totally uneven, with half of it at a 45 degree upward slant, and all of it uneven with holes and patches of grass. It was really fun though. We played for hours, and of course the Muchigas ran circles around us. We managed one goal, scored by Tomaz, one of the student doctors, and even when we recruited Dennis and Comfort, both of whom are honourary mzungus, we were unable to get ahead. The game ended, with all of us stiff and exhausted, when Comfort took a ball to the face and ended up with a bloody nose. It occurs to me how lucky we are to have doctors around.

Last week around Wednesday, a group of about ten new volunteers arrived and about six left this weekend. The changeover has been fun. And sad, cause some of the people I have become friends with are now gone and chances are that I will never see them again. In honour of the week, we had an open mic night at the lake. We had some people read poetry, tell jokes and stories, sing, dance, etc. It was a very high energy and fun atmosphere and we all had a really good time. I took a bunch of footage with someone's camera and I plan to get a DVD of it to bring home. I won't try to capture it here cause there is no way it will be the same. A couple of highlights were a Kabale rap done by the volunteers from Teach Inn, the mzungus from the lake trying to do a traditional Bachiga dance, and Comfort dressing up in drag and doing a strip tease with Caroline. After that, we had a camp fire where we danced to the locals' drums and music and sat around talking for ages. I had a great talk with a new volunteer, Linette, who is from South Africa. There are a lot of interesting people who end up at Edirisa. Sometime after midnight, a bunch of people decided to go skinny dipping. I opted out cause I was just getting over an ear infection (once again someone got well thanks to the doctors) and I didn't want to push my luck. In any case, it was a late night for everyone.

On Saturday night, in honour of many people's departure, we went out to the local bar, Match and Mix, where we drank Waragi (gin made from bananas which tastes beyond aweful) and danced to popular local and American music. Then we slept on the floor of the Edirisa hostel cause there were no beds left. In the morning, I left on another canoe trek with 8 of the new volunteers and 2 Canadians who were along for the trip. We had a really fun time, although a few of us were quite tired (and possibly a little hung over). I am well versed enough with the trek now that I feel like an actual guide, which was enjoyable. I even got paid a little money for this one (40 000 shillings which is a bit less than $30. 'mrich!)
I also got to know the new folks a little better as we talked and sang in the canoes, trekked up a mountain and visited several villages and communities around the lake. Every time people leave, I think the next people are never going to be as fun as the previous people were. But they always are. I can't wait for the next couple of weeks.

I know that was a lot of info, and if you guys got through all of it, congratulations. The internet has been tempermental lately, but I will do my best to update you again soon. As always, there is more to say. I hope you are all enjoying your summers back home. I can't wait to see you all in six weeks when I get there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Rest

I'm back. So, I had a few more things to say about Tanzania for those interested parties. The first thing was that after that amazing workshop day, Moses (Bobo, but he asked to be called Moses in front of all those Mzungus) was inspired to start up some socially conscious work of his own. Of course, he had never done anything like that conference before, and he told me after that he had talked to the people from Training for Life, and he wanted to start up a similar program for the street children in Chuda (Mombasa). I like to think that we inspired him a bit as well. As I said, it was good energy that day.

The best part, and this is a good story, is that he and his friends at Ruff Howz already have a registered organization. In Kenya, one can be arrested for being idle. In fact, a few people I knew got arrested for sitting around while I was there and Bobo and some other people had to go and bail them out. In any case, some time ago, the Ruff Howz gang decided to register themselves as an organization so that when the cops came around, they could say they were having a meeting. Then when they demanded to see the registration, they would actually have one and no one would get arrested.

So Bobo said he's going to talk to Jay, who is their chairperson, and incidentally has some counseling experience and see if they can actually use the organization for something. He asked if I would help and I said absolutely. I'll keep you all updated on how that turns out.

Anyway, that weekend we went to Dar es Salaam for a few days and visited people we knew. I met some friends of Bobo's and went to see the Minhases, some family friends from Vancouver who moved to Dar about a year ago. It was interesting to talk to them, especially the children, most of whom had spent the last year attending African schools. They have definitely struggled with it, but they are all awesome kids, and all the more mature from that experience.

I also got to meet a very big deal music producer from 41 Records in Dar, who is an uncle of a friend of Bobo's. I want to write an article about the Tanzanian music scene for the online journal here at Edirisa. Bongo music as it is known is popular all over East Africa, and it's a lot of fun. I know it from the radio and clubs and stuff in Mombasa. I left Ambrose my e-mail address and hopefully I'll hear from him sometime. I'll let you guys know what happens with that article as well.

Currently, I am back home in Uganda. It felt like too short of a time to stay in Tanzania, but I couldn't justify taking more time off. I was a few days late as it was, cause I accidentally left my passport in Moshi and had to get those guys to ship it to me. I couldn't leave until I had it back, and I ended up taking a plane back two days later for an exorbitant amount of money.
I've now started working for the Travels (cultural tourism) program at Edirisa because we have a bunch more volunteers here now who came specifically for teaching, and Travels needed help. I will keep teaching when I can, but in the meantime, I am assistant guiding on various treks and helping with organization and prep. There should be some good stories from that, but it is getting late, so those will be for another day.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Back from Bongo

Hey guys! It's been another long time, but I've been really busy. I had an incredible week in Tanzania (alias Bongo), which was actually almost two. Then I had to catch up on work stuff here and now I finally have some time for blogging.

My original plan in going to Tanzania was to visit some friends who I used to work with for an international organization called Pole to Pole Leadership. I won't go into that whole story here but suffice to say that our project did not work out in spite of a great deal of time and effort on the part of the international staff of volunteers. Four of the more dedicated of them rebounded by coming together to work on some other smaller projects and hope to start their own organization called EarthLasts?. They are currently on a biking expedition across Tanzania (check out and stopped to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and hold a small conference, or summit, at the summit. 
No, it wasn't really at the summit, but close enough. It was in a hotel in Moshi called Kindoroko, at the very top floor of like six and it took about ten minutes to climb up every time we went. We spent the better part of three days in that "Summit Bar" after I arrived on Tuesday almost two weeks ago. Present were expeditioners Dave, Jon, Aukje and Angus, from New Zealand, England, Holland and Canada, Marius from Lithuania, Myself, and later in the week, several local East Africans.

The first day, on which I arrived at 7am after two days and a whole night of... lets say interesting... busriding across Western Tanzania (I don't recommend it by the way), we started with a bit of a Pole to Pole debrief. It was very interesting because when the project went down, I was ready to move on, and I did. Others had a much harder time letting go, something I did not realize at the time. We moved on to talking about the EarthLasts? idea, and prospective and current projects, other ideas, experiences etc. It was good getting to know each other again after most of a year. For me, it was also really amazing to be a part of that group again. The energy those guys have is infectious and ... refreshing. Even though they understand a lot about global issues, they are not down or cynical about it, but excited and dedicated to doing their part. I found myself feeding on it, because after you experience those seemingly insurmountable things like poverty and disease and violence with your own eyes it is easy to lose that mentality. I wouldn't say I dispaired but I was just a lot more cynical and critical than I once was. The week reminded me of what we say at the Red Cross: I cannot do everything but I can do something; I will not refuse to do the thing that I can do.

On the second day, we filmed a short movie about the whole Pole to Pole experience poking fun at all the shortcomings and problems and remembering some of the fun things we did together. It was really really fun, and I can't wait to see the finished product. I will post the link as soon as they have it all edited and finished. My friend Bobo also came to visit me from Mombasa which is right across the border from Moshi. He helped us with the filming and got to know my friends, who he got to like very much. I'm sure he was infected with the crazy, fun energy the same way I was, not something you get from every Mzungu tourist who comes to East Africa.

On Thursday, the workshop day, the seven of us were joined by five local Tanzanians from an organization called "Trainig for Life" that counsels and teaches young people to make the most of their careers and lives. The six Mzungus conducted a series of workshops during the day on leadership, global issues, etc. Some highlights were us writing down the barriers to our goals and breaking them with our bare hands, singing in New Zealand Aboriginal language, listening to everyone's hopes for the world in the next twenty years, trying to make a paper house with a partner using one hand each, and discussing how our individual actions affect the world and ways of maintaining integrity. 

For me, the most incredible thing was having such an international group. People from four different continents and seven different countries, two of which are third world. When you talk about global issues with people from home, you cannot help but maintain a limited view based on your own country's perspective on the world. When you get many of those limited perspectives together, you really get something new. I did a variation on a workshop I learned at the Red Cross called Building a Culture of Peace. When I asked people to come up with international examples of themes of peace like acting out against injustice, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, etc, we got some very interesting stories of African politics and conflicts from the locals. I tried to explain that we have to adopt those themes in our own lives before we can expect world leaders to do so. We got a great story from a girl in the Tanzanian group who had just finished climbing Kilimanjaro with her friends and how they had all supported and encouraged and even carried each other up to the top and what that had taught her about the importance of helping others in your life rather than living for yourself. Similarly, a leader who leads for his people rather than for the power of it - who has a statue built for him rather than building one for himself, will be the more valuable and better remembered in the long run. We talked about the concept that one man's rebel is another man's freedom fighter and the complexities of building peace as well. I think we all learned a great deal from the day and I'm hoping we'll all stay in touch and keep the international community thing going.

Ahh, this always happens. I have to go. But I'll be back in town in a couple days and I'll finish about my week. Always too much to say. There's more about that day, written by all of us, at (remember the older stuff is at the end). Talk to you soon!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Challenges and Successes

One of the things I love about Africa is that an experience I would be talking about for months at home is just one more day here. Opportunities that would never come up at home happen all the time.

For example, two Thursdays ago I went with two other volunteers to Kabale Hospital where we helped out for the day in the operating room. Not everyone's cup of tea, but it was an amazing experience. None of us were qualified health care professionals, but we learned quickly. And we weren't entrusted with anything too arduous, just getting gauze and syringes and that sort of thing. The surgeons were very good, and arrogant and darkly sarcastic like surgeons all over the world I think. They often conversed with the patients during the surgeries, all but one of which were conducted under local anesthetic, and were very amusing. The one surgery that was done with general anesthetic (a man had fractured his leg and it had not been set so it was healed badly and was getting infected) he did not fall all the way asleep and we had to hold him down. I privately decided not to get any operations while I'm here. I have a really great picture of the three of us in our scrubs.

What we couldn't get over was how we would never have been able to do something like that at home. Not without extensive training. I'm sure it had a lot to do with us being white, but it still goes to show how easy incredible opportunities are to come by.

Another example: last week I helped teaching English in a grade 1 class. I was not planning on it, but the teacher pulled me in and told me to go ahead. Imagine 60 small black faces looking up at you expecting you to teach them something, when you don't have a clue what to do. We started talking about the weather and I drew some different pictures on the board and got them to repeat teh names of clouds, sun, etc. Then I got them to name various objects and actions, such as stirring a pot and asking them what I was doing ("you are cooking!"). Then they sang me a couple English songs they knew and I left.

This last week, we painted two of the classrooms at Kyabahinga Primary School where we conduct workshops two days a week. We did a couple layers of white, and then got the kids to put their handprints around the room in various colours. It was great fun. When we still had some time left before break, the children did a traditional dance for us, which we joined in on as we figured it out. They sang and clapped in time while a few danced. It was really special. None of those children have electricity in their homes, no radios or TVs, no CD players or iPods, but they are certainly not music deprived.

This week in swimming lessons, I helped teach a group of grade 6 girls the breast stroke. I'm getting the hang of teaching swimming and we had a really awesome lesson plan figured out. By the end, a bunch of them were really doing it.
It feels really good to see successes like that, and so much better when you know you had to figure it out on your own. At home, it would take a lot of training to be able to teach swimming, or design workshops for children or help manage a program for a non-profit organization. Here you are thrown in, and it can be daunting, but its amazing when you find out that you are up to the challenge. People believe you can do it here, so you do. At home, I think we are conditioned to assume we cannot do something until we are properly trained and ready, but I think we would all be surprised at how fast we can learn when we need to.

This week I am taking some time off and going to Tanzania, where some friends of mine are holding a conference. They asked me to do a workshop there, then I'll hang out in Tanzania for the week and head back to Uganda next weekend. When I get back, a bunch of the volunteers who I have gotten to know over the last few weeks will be gone and new ones will be here. I'm going to miss them. As I haven't mentioned them much, I would like to write a post introducing you to them. It'll be something for me to remember them by as well. And I think you'll like them. I have a pretty horrible busride ahead of me, so I'm going to go get some sleep.
I'll write again very soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leaving Again - part three (of three)

I am on a roll! I know its only been a couple of days, but I have a holiday today, and I'm in town, and the internet and electricity are both functional, so I cannot pass up this opportunity.

So where was I? Leaving Mombasa. I think one of the most difficult thing about traveling is meeting new people and getting to know them and then having to leave. The great thing about traveling on your own is that you really get a chance to branch out and meet people adn have experiences you wouldn't have if you always stayed with the same group. The bad thing is that once you move on, you're alone again.

Bobo accompanied me to Nairobi, cause he had to visit his cousin who had been jailed for accidentally buying a stolen car, and to help look after the cousin's wife and children. I said a difficult goodbye to him before getting on the bus to Kampala, and gave him a bit of money to get a passport. There are no jobs in Mombasa and he doesn't make much, but he wants to go somewhere where there is work os he can help support his family, especially his mom who has lost her job and is living in th slums. I told him maybe he could come and visit Uganda if he gets his passport before I leave, and if he can get the $40 for a bus ticket.

The ride to Kampala was hair raising. Including Momasa to Nairobi, I was on the bus for 26 hours, during which the bus driver rarely stopped long enough for the bathroom let alone food, and twice left without me, once when I went to pee and once at the border where I was arguing about the abysmal exchange rate and ended up paying the official almost twice as much for my Visa as I should have. Luckily they stopped not too far away and I was able to catch up within 15 or 20 minutes both times. Very luckily as my bags were still n board.

The road was also not very good and we were often jolted around in our seats, or tipped alarmingly as we passed petroleum tankers on the shoulder. A few times, I was holding onto the seat waiting for the thing to tip right over. Luckily I couldn't see the driver, so I could tell myself that he knew what he was doing.

I got to Kampala at about 11pm, with no guidebook (I lost it the day I got mugged in Mombasa), no Ungandan money, and not knowing anyone there. I got off the bus last, and a little nervously. A taxi driver saw me and said "Ahhhh! Mzungu, where are you going? Backpacker's?" I said yes, and went to collect my bag. I had to stop at the bank machine to get some cash, and I am glad to say that the man did not drive away with my luggage in the back seat. I stayed the night in the backpackers and got a ride to the bus station the next morning so I could get to Kabale. The receptionist had heard of Edirisa and told me it was run by Slovenians and I'd better not become a communist down there. I also met some other travelers and studnets there and a couple of American soldiers who were on their way to the Congo. I had some interesting conversations.

After another 8 hours on a seriously crowded bus, I arrived at Edirisa in Kabale, a small but clean and well-equipped hostel. I met some of the staff there and was told I would have to wait until they could meet and figure out the whole missing LFA thing. I had some food and spent the night there. For 5000 shillings which is a little under $3 Canadian.

The next day I went to the lake where many of the international volunteers and local staff live. It is indeed a commune, though there are only two or three Slovenians. It is ridiculously gorgeous there.
I was actually quite taken aback by the climate in Uganda. After the hot, dry coast, the lush greenness, coolness and hilliness were quite surprising. Its amazing to see the forests of Papyrus and Banana trees and the rolling hills covered with crops and dotted with farm houses. It rains often and is cold enough to wear a fleece jacket, especially in the evening. Lake Bunonyi (which means Lake of small birds in the local language, Ruchiga) is very quiet and calm and the view from the commune is incredible.

I moved my stuff into a small terra cotta house near the lake thatched with Papyrus. There was not very many people about, but I explored the place. They have three of four traditional dugout canoes and a a floating dock, a make-shift pool in the lake for swimming lessons, a canteen and a kitchen with minimal electricity that comes from a solar panel, a bar (that's right, with beer and everything), and several more huts where people sleep.

I am happy to say that my stuff is still in that my stuff is still in that hut. I was allowed to stay even though I had no training. That weekend, I made up for it in part by going with a few other new volunteers on a canoe trek around the lake, visiting some of the islands and small villages nearby. That was really amazing and I thankfully got a lot of pictures from both my camera and the others'. I also got to know John, from Ireland, Jamie and Carson, also from Vancouver!, and Moses, the local who was our guide. It felt strange to be in the company of Westerners again. All of my time adapting to Kenyan culture made me feel like a bit of an outsider there with both the locals and the Mzungus. I am over that now, but I still feel the separation of my white friends and I from the local Mchiga culture. I don't think there is much to be done about that while I am saying with Edirisa. At least, I am getting to know some of the local staff.

For the last week and a half, I have been helping with the Smiles program doing creative workshops with primary school kids near the lake. Last week we taught hygene, this week art and next week will be games and sports. The kids are amazingly cute and excited to learn as long as we can keep their attention. They love the Mzungu teachers. We also teach swimming, which many of the kids can't do despite the fact that they cross the lake on canoes daily. I don't really know how to teach swimming, especially to children that don't necessarily speak English, but they are eager to learn and we do our best. It can be quite rewarding actually.
I've learned about the commune as I go, helping to cook, doing laundry and looking after the compound. When I have free time, I take the 45 minute ride into Kabale and run errants, use the internet, and go out for food and drinks with the other volunteers. It is relaxed and social and fun.

Well, that about sums up my adventures to date. I'm going to continue with workshops and swimming lessons until more volunteers arrive min-month, at which point I will probably more on to another program. More news on that as events warrant.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leaving Again - part two

The internet is working today, so time for another entry.

I believe I left off with going to Katherine's village on my last week in Mombasa. I really want to tell you a bit about that. Pictures would be best of course but my luck with pictures in Mombasa was beyond abysmal. But first things first.

Katherine's parents live in a village about two hours' bus (matatu) ride from Mombasa. They have a clean house with a palm-frond roof, two bedrooms, a store room and a dining room. They cook on a gas stove outside and the shower room and toilet were in separate small buildings. Because they had a gas stove, we were able to heat up some water for showering, which was incredibly relaxing. I hadn't had a hot shower Anyway, we did a little tour of the village, and I got to meet everybody. A lot of them were related to Katherine, whose grandfather (now passed away) had had three wives. We got to visit a mother with a newly born baby and took turns holding it and exclaiming over its cuteness.

There were a lot of kids in the village who wore disheveled school uniforms or ripped, dirty pants and dresses. Some of the families had difficulty feeding their children and Katherine's mom would feed them tea and bread in the wornings. One family in particular consisted of a bunch of children whose parents had died of AIDS and their grandmother who looked after them. The oldest boy made money for the family taking other people's animals out to graze everyday. He was about 13.

The Fondos owned a Shamba outside the village, which is an area of land in the surrounding forest of coconut trees, that a family can cultivate. We spent most of the morning after our arrival in the Shamba eating sugar cane, drinking the liquid from unripe coconuts and walking around to visit the people who lived close by. They also grew mangoes, oranges, bananas and pinaples, which were not ready, and maize, rice and casava in small plots. we took some sugar cane and casava back with us. What I liked the most was the fresh palm wine (mnazi) that the village boys would climb up the trees to collect. It is sweet and fizzy, unlike the more bitter palm wine we drank in the city. The longer it sits, the more bitter it becomes. We brouht some back to Mombasa at the request of Bobo and Jay, my housemates.

We were delayed in coming home because the Matatu never came, and we ended up calling Katherine's brother for a ride. We got home very late, and went to Katherine's where we met Bobo and Jay. Katherine's housegirl had cooked us dinner which we ate and then sat outside near the chicken coops drinking the wine we had gotten. I got eaten alive by the mosquitos.

The two days in the village were work-free because my colleague at WOFAK had told me he didn't need me. It turned out that Kodonde, the regional director had been expecting me in tthe office the second day. That was the beginning of a stressful few days.
I phoned and apologized profusely to Kodonde, feeling unprofessional, and told him I would be in with my final report on Sunday. That gace me two days to write it, but I didn't want to tell him I'd send it later cause I was already feeling guilty for missing my meeting with him (and supposedly some other people who had come to say goodbye to me). I spent Friday and Saturday evenings compiling a 12-page report of my entire stay with WOFAK and missed the Saturday night festivities cooped inside typing on a borrowed laptop until after 1am.

Meanwhile, I e-mailed Edirisa in Uganda to find out where I had to be in Kampala on Monday. A woman named Angelica promtly replied telling me that I had gotten the date wrong and was supposed to be there a week ago. I had missed the training and was not at all sure I would still have a position there. So I got a little more stressed.

The only upside of the whole thing was I gave myself an extra day in Mombasa to get my report in and say goodbye. I booked a ticket to Kampala for Monday night. I finished my report early Sunday afternoon, and went with everyone to a local soccer match. They were drinking and I joined in. After all, this was the last afternoon I would probably spend with everyone. In fact, by this point, leaving was starting to sink in and I felt pretty sad. I had gotten to know all these people really well. They had accepted me into their lives for the last month, which was an experience I could never have imagined before it happened. Just thinking about leaving the place I had gotten to love in Chuda, Katherine and my conversations about everything, Mweni and Bonge's pub in Mtwapa, Jay's crazy, bubbly personality, Bobo's shy enthusiasm under his tough exterior, and all the Ruff Howz gang who I had had some great conversations with and who had gotten me out of more than one tight spot... I knew I would miss them all. Even though it was strange to be a Mzungu in that setting, I felt like I really belonged there.

After the game Bobo and I, his friend Pain and a couple of girls Pain was entertaining went to a bar. I had a beer there, which was officially a bad idea. At some point in the evening, I dropped my camera amd had to put the batteries back in. The next morning, my memory card was missing. It did nothing to make my leaving easier. All the photos from weeks of working and living there, being in Katherine's village, all the faces I wanted to remember... Now I had to leave and I didn't even have the pictures to remember them by. That sounds melodramatic, but I was really upset. Still am, actually.
I wanted to go back and retrace our steps the next day, but Bobo told me, quite reasonably, "This is Africa, Bana." It wasn't the first time he'd said that.

I think, all in all, that the powers that be did not want me to leave Mombasa and made it as difficult as possible. But even if I had wanted to stay, I didn't have the money and Edirisa was offering free accommodation and food for up to three months (assuming I could still work there). I told them I would try to come back and visit before heading home in August.

And so ends part two. A mong part, I think, but as Ian wisely advised me, writing about what happened in Mombasa will help make up for the lack of photo documentation. I did take a few photos on the last day, and I will do my best to get them up online soon.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leaving Again - part one

Hi folks. I want to say that I really appreciate when you e-mail me telling me to hurry up and write another installment. I must admit I wondered whether people actually read my blog, but since they do I will make a better effort from now on. I promise. And if I slack off, just keep on asking.

I have so much to say. The last two (three?) weeks have been crazy. And with my friends and my work at WOFAK it's been like two different lives, both of them jam packed. I'll start with When my last entry left off. I was going to Nairobi for a show with my friend Boboshanty. It was a reggae show with an artist called Turbulence (I'm sure some of you know him). It was really fun. I went with Bobo and his friend Jose who is a press photographer and a few of their other friends from Nairobi. Jose sent us a CD of pictures he took the day before the show, so I'll have to try and post those. The next day, we went with Jose and the two announcers from Metro FM, a big radio station in Kenya, to Turbulence's hotel to interview him and his band. The band was pretty special. They're called C Sharp, they have very heavy Jamaican accents and are very good at interviewing. They even sang a couple bits of songs for jingles on the radio. They even agreed to pay Jose for some of the photos of the show cause he's freelance and won't get paid any other way. Turbulence was not as friendly. He brushed Jose off several times, then finally came down from his room for a photo. When Jose offered him the DVD he had made of the show for $140, he got really angry and demanded that he should get one for free because it was his show. Jose explained that he had not been paid for the days of work since Turbulence had arrived in Nairobi, he wouldn't listen and went on about how he would go back to Jamaica and tell them that Kenya didn't love him. Then his people came in and he told them what had happened. They pushed Jose around and stole the DVD. The whole episode was pretty upsetting, and I felt badly for Jose, cause I knew he would not have asked for the money if he didn't need it.

I also lost my camera and phone that weekend. The camera Bobo had gotten back from the thugs at considerable personal risk early that week. He was holding on to both for me at the show cause we both assumed he was less likely to be robbed. No such luck. He said he's never been robbed before, so I figure it was because he was with me. He felt really awful about about it and appologized for several days after that even though I assured him I did not blame him.

The busride home on Sunday night was hair raising, cause the driver went really fast and all the bumps threw us into the air. I was very tired for work the next day.

I spent that week working in a clinic called Port Reitz Health Centre outside Mombasa about 45 minutes on teh way to Jomo Kinyatta Airport. It is the district hospital, so it was significantly better equipped than Likoni, where I spent my second week. Still not quite equipped enough however. I was not giving vaccinations here, but I still felt my lack of medical experience. WOFAK was responsible for the Antenatal Clinic and I helped out there taking information from new patients (mothers) who were being tested for HIV and counseled on preventing mother to child transmission. They also have a Comprehensive Care Clinic (CCC) where people who have HIV are taken, a file is opened for them and they are given appointments for checkups. I helped there weighing and recording and such things, nothing too involving. One of the major differences I noticed from Likoni was that Port Reitz has the capacity to give prescriptions for food and water to to mothers with undernourished babies. The food and water is supplied by USAID, and is pretty amazing, considering malnutrition is one of the most common problems in children with HIV positive mothers (mothers risk transmitting the virus if they breastfeed).

One of the most intense experiences at the hospital was actually the Palliative Ward, which is where they admit people who need serious medical attention, most often because they unknowingly have AIDS and have gotten an opportunistic infection. That is, they have progressed to the late stages of AIDS and have little or no immune system to speak of. Then, a disease like TB, pneumonia, etc, will attack their bodies and hey have no immune system left to fight it off. Before they can start ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) for the AIDS, they have to take treatment for the infection, which can wreak even more havoc on their bodies. The worst part is that the hospital does not have enough trained doctors and some patients can go for days without even being diagnosed. I met a woman there who had gotten TB and came in so emaciated that she couldn't even walk. Another woman was lying in bed trying to breathe with great difficulty. No one knew what was wrong with her. There was a man there who I never saw awake, but his friends would come and visit him and hold his hand. We (the other WOFAK employees and, as much as I could in Swahili, I) talked to them for a while one time about HIV and prevention and ART and they thanked us profusely. It was hard because I wanted to help these people more and I knew they needed it, but all I could do was give my condolences and leave. And when people thanked me, I felt so guilty, because they thought I was there to really do something, really help, when the truth was, I hardly know the first thing about medicine.

The next week, I was supposed to be working with the OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) program, but because of a misunderstanding, I ended up having the week free. I went with my friend Katherine to the village where her parents are living for a couple of days. That was really incredible.

I'm still not even close to caught up, but I have to go. I still want to share with you all about Katherine's village, about my last weekend in Mombasa and my trip to Southern Uganda, where I am now. This will have to be part on, with part two to come in the next few days. I am living outside of town and can't always get to the internet. Plus if I wrote it tomorrow, you wouldn't have time to read this past first. I promise I will write it as soon as I can, though. Thanks again for your interest. You're all awesome!


Friday, May 2, 2008

Hey everyone!

The internet seems to be working marginally well today, so I'm going to attempt a post. Sometimes, I write a whole big thing and then it doesn't send, so I hope it works out today.

I have a lot to report, cause I know it's been awhile, so I'll start with after my "run in" in Chuda. The next day, as I mentioned, I noticed that my camera had disappeared. Moses, who had brought me to a hotel when I was scared and lost the day before, had left me his phone number, I called him to see if he knew anything about the camera. I had deduced that I original thief had not had the time or wherewithall to stash my camera, so it must have been one of the soccer players that rescued my bag who had slipped the camera out inbetween. Hypocritical, but like Moses says sometimes, "People here in Africa, they do whatever they want."
He told me that he had heard a rumor that someone had it, and he would look into it. In the meantime, he took me back to Chuda, where I got to meet some of his friends. You might think I'm crazy for going back there, and I thought so too for a bit, but if you met him, you would know I was safe. He's a good guy. Anyway, his friends are a gang of 20-something guys that call themselves Ruff Houz. Because that's graffitied on the concrete wall at the place where they hang out all the time. They each have a nickname like rappers in the States, and crazy handshakes and slang sayings like What's up, but in Swahili. Hapo vipi? Hapo poa! Nicofresh lakini? Nicofresh. Moses is called Bobo Shanti, because of his dreads. His roommate is J, then there's Prince, Pudus (which means well dressed), Bonge (which means fatty), etc etc. A lot of them have girlfriends and wives who I've also gotten to know. They all go to the clubs on the weekends and try to teach me how to dance (imagine me dancing in a club full of Africans), and sometimes they go down to the water in the slums here in Chuda and drink palm wine. It's good stuff, but it will wreak havoc with your digestive system if you've never had it before. Just a heads up.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Bobo (Moses) found the guys that had my camera, and tried to get it back, but they wouldn't give it to him (surprise!). He was going to go to the police, but I talked with his friends who told me that he would be in danger if he went to the police, because the thugs would know who tipped them off. And they would not be happy with getting arrested. I didn't want anyone getting killed over it, so I told Bobo not to go to the police. He didn't like it, cause he didn't want to protect them. I didn't like it either cause I didn't want them to get away with it. PLus that's my second camera! But lives are more important than cameras.

So, after a week of staying dowtown and getting to know the gang in Chuda, I recieved word from an organization called WOFAK (Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya) that they wanted me for a one-month internship. They are a really awesome organization, that does work all over the country for people with AIDS, orphans, pregnant mothers who are infected, etc. They do counselling and provide vocational training and funds for a lot of great things. I am super happy to be working with them. I only with I had more than a month, but I've committed to being in Uganda the end of May. I spent the first week of my internship here in Mombasa working at a clinic helping with their program of preventing Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV. I was giving shots, filling out charts, helping give out test results, etc etc in teh AnteNatal Clinic. It was nerveracking to have so much responsability when I had no actual medical experience, but I learned quickly and I feel pretty good about that now. The trick is to take your own initiative. If you're worried about hygene cause you have no latex gloves, wash your hands with an alcohol swab, rather than sitting there fretting about it and wondering why someone doesn't tell you what to do. If you've never given a shot before, just think about how they do it on Grey's Anamoy. Or Scrubs. I like that show. But don't worry, there were other nurses there and they helped me out. They were pretty amazing actually. This week, I was helping out with a training seminar for people with HIV to learn how to counsel those who are going for or coming from testing. It's a good group to teach those skills to because they have teh added insight of having been there themselves. Plus it's a good way for them to find work. They were really great people. I'll send a picture if I can sometime.

After my first week of staying downtown, I moved in with J and Bobo. They offered, and it is much cheaper than renting somewhere and having to find furniture and everything. Or staying in a hotel. I've actually quite enjoyed living here so far. There's no running water, so I have to shower out of a bucket, and the toilet is outside. I do all my laundry by hand and cook on a one-burner kerosene stove, which by the way does not simmer. Its a great experience though. The real Mombasa, not what you get in the hotels and tourist hangouts. I stick out there because I'm white, but mostly its good attention. Plus most people know I'm friends with the Ruff Houz gang now so they don't bother me.

Tonight I'm going to Nairobi to spend the weekend. Next week, I start at a hospital in town similar to the one in Likoni I was at two weeks ago. Likoni is an area, like Kerisdale or the North Shore. So is Chuda. Chuda is like East Van.
I'll write again next week, cause I have a lot more I'd like to say about WOFAK and the amazing people I've met in the last two weeks, but there's only so much you can include in one post and this one's pretty packed already.

Talk to you all soon. Have a great start of summer!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Did it hurt your mind?

Hey guys.

I know its been awhile again, I've just had so much happen lately. I haven't even written it all in my journal yet. But, I have to start writing about everything now cause otherwise I will get too far ahead to effectively retroactively story tell.

Okay, I'm going to start with the day Steve left. It was April 9th, and Steve had to get back to the realm of peace (Dar es Salaam) for his flight to Australia. I saw him to the bus, then I went back to our hotel so I could pack. I had seen no other Mzungus (white tourists) in Mombasa, and so I decided to head into the town centre to find a different hotel. Like a backpackers hostel or something, where I could hopefully make some friends. Using the map in my Lonely Planet guide, I headed in the direction I thought was town with a great big pack on and a small shoulder bag underneath the shoulder straps. I went the wrong way and ended up in an area of town I now know as Chuda, on the bank of an inlet that extends around Mombasa kind of like the one in Vancouver. I asked for directions and a man pointed me in the direction I had been walking. I kept going and came across a path with a sign that said beach. I decided I would go have a look at the beach and stop for a drink cause I was hot and tired.

I'm realizing right now that I really don't want to talk about this, and I'm procrastinating with all the descriptions. I'm going to cut to the chase.

I got down the path to the brink of a leafy ravine that let down to the water, and I guy came up behind me. He introduced himself and showed me his identity card. Unusual, but whatever. He tried to "help" me with my bag, but I told him no, I was fine. He tried to get into my shoulder bag and I pulled it away glaring at him and telling him no, that was not okay and I want you to let go of my bag. He was blocking my way back, so I pulled away and walked along the edge of the bank and down into the ravine. Stupid, but I honestly wasn't scared until I started hearing him follow me through the bushes. He cut me off with a glass bottle in his hand and said in a harsh voice "I can kill you anytime!" He was right in front of me, and I couldn't do anything cause I had this huge bag on my back. I couldn't even give him my little bag cause it was tucked under the straps, and didn't want to take my attention away from him long enough to take it off. Acting on fear, I grabbed his arm with the bottle and tried to hit him with my other fist, but I had no strength with that stupid bag. We struggled, and he threated to hit me with the bottle. I couldn't think to do anything but protect myself, and I couldn't really even do that. He hit me with the bottle on theside of the head. Hard. I still can't open my mouth all the way two weeks later. I grabbed the bottle and tucked it under my arm and held it there. The man took my shoudl bag and ripped it off, then ran away up the ravine.

Angry and scared, well, mostly scared, I screamed at the top of my lungs. Several times. A confused minute later, a herd of guys who had been playing soccer on the beach came running up. They hardly saw me, but ran past to catch the thief. They caught him and beat him up and gave me back my bag. The last I saw of the thug, he was spitting blood, struggling against an angry circle of fit African soccer-players. Vigilante justice is common here.

One guy, Moses, took me back into town. I was a wreck, chaking with adrenalin and a bloody lump on the side of my head, and needed all the help I could get. He was awesome and comforting and has since become a good friend of mine. It wasn't until I checked into my hotel and opened my ruined shoulder bag that I realized my camera was missing. I think that is a story for the next post. Not a good one really, but I don't want to tell it now.

A couple of days ago, I was telling someone I had gotten mugged on my second day in Mombasa and he asked me if it had hurt my mind. It took a minute for me to realize that he meant had it hurt me emotionally. I was definately unnecessarily afraid of even leaving my hotel room for a couple of days, but I phoned to my boyfriend, Ian, who of course had the right thing to say, and forced myself to get out of the hotel for meals and stuff and pretty soon I was back to normal. I'm still more careful than I was before, which is not a bad thing, but I've also made some great local friends and I know that there are a lot of really great people here in Mombasa too. Far more great people in fact than bad ones.

Thanks for getting through all this if you did. If not, I'm glad I finally got it down, anyway. I don't like reliving bad things, but it helps to get them out of your system. Plus it was an important milestone on my trip and worth remembering however bad it was.

I'll try and write again in a few days. A lot more has happened since then.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I suppose I better stop the suspense, but before I do, see if you can guess where Steve and I are now:
A week ago, we spent a few days in a absolutely beautiful canyon, with bright green grass and hundred foot high walls of stone, sprawling yellow fever trees and rolling hills. The antelope and zebras grazed in the vast fields, and buffalo eyed us from the trees. giraffes stopped their leaf-munching to stare at us and ran away gracefully as we got close. In the early morning, a baboon visited our tent to see about sharing some food. The second day, we explored a volcanic gorge, which we had to navigate carefully as it had flooded recently, and we had to watch out for poisonous green Mamba snakes. We found a great spot and spent a couple of hours bouldering.
A few days after that adventure, we took a 7-hour bus ride to the East Coast where we spent a few days on a small mostly Muslim island where there are no cars, only donkeys for transportation. The white stone buildings are carved in intricate archways and wide open terraces and the streets are gravel and cobblestone. We took a Dhow (a fishing sailboat seen often along the African coast) to a remote beach where we camped over night, cooking over a fire, swimminng and lying on the beach trying to fend off the sand flies. At night, a guard on patrol came and chatted with us. He was a Somali man, and had grown up in the bush. He commented on our freeze-dried camping food, saying only soldiers ate that kind of thing. We took the Dhow boat back the next day and spent the evening wandering the island, and drinking tea on the dock. Early this morning, we ferried back to the mainland and bussed down the coast to a city in the South East from which Steve will shortly be leaving.
Any guesses?

I'm in Kenya. The park is called Hell's Gate National Park, the Island is Lamu, and we are currently in Mombasa. Good job if you got it!
I was nervous to let the truth out, because I didn't want anyone to worry unneccesarily. The truth of the matter is, though that the violence is over, and especially in the places we\ve been staying. In fact, other tourists have been laughing at me when I've expressed worry about coming here.
We decided to go because Steve had about 10 days between the end of his internship at AMREF in Dar es Salaam and his flight home, and it was the only country we could get to cheaply and quickly in order to have enough time to see some of the sights before he had to be back for his flight. He'll be leaving in just a couple of days and I am sorry to see him go. I'll have to find some new travelling companions.
Actually, I am currently looking for short term volunteer opportunities. I'm enjoying travelling, but I want to give back as well. And it's been six weeks already. I have a few leads, but I'll say more when things are solidified. I might be doing some pretty neat stuff.

As for pictures, I have some good ones. I got a camera from home in the mail to replace the one I lost hurray(. It'll have to be later that I post them, though, cause the internet is just too slow! I've already spent an hour just on this. Hopefully I'll have time in the next few days.

Talk to you all soon!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Hey folks!
Good news on the picture front. Steve has put his photos of our adventures together on a page that can be viewed by people who do not have a facebook account. Here are the links:
Also, I have just recieved a camera from home, cunningly packaged by my mom so that it was not "lost" in the mail. So from now on, I will be able to upload my own pictures onto a slideshow on my blog. It is most exciting.

SO that's all for now. I'm in Dar es Salaam for the week, and plans for next week are as yet not solidified. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Hope you all had a wonderful Easter!


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Hey all! It's been a while again, but I think posting once a week or so will be about as often as I can manage. If that. But there's only so much you guys want to read about me anyway, I'm sure.

I'm having a really good time right now! I'm staying on Zanzibar for the weekend - an island off the coast of Tanzania which is well known for it's beautiful beaches, and coral reefs and that sort of thing. It's very relaxing. In fact, if anyone needs a good honeymoon destination, I found it.

Here's my day so far: slept in, had some bread and fruit for breakfast and went swimming in the Indian Ocean. We (Steve and I) had to dodge around the local women who were chasing fish into a huge net. We didn't have to worry about the Dhow fishing boats today, cause they tend to leave earlier in the morning. They dotted the water further out though. I'm hoping to take a ride in one at least once before I leave the coast. At about noon we went for lunch - rice and beans and fish for the equivalent of about 80 cents. When it got hot (that is, hotter than we could really deal with) we went inside to use the internet. Then we'll go swim some more, hang out on the beach and go for a beer at the local bar. Tomorrow we are planning to go snorkeling.

Last weekend I went on Safari in Arusha with a group of characters who are living there teaching English, friends of my former workmate Madeleine. There were 7 of us, all late teens and early 20s and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
In Swahili, the word Safari means "travel" or ""trip". More general than the common meaning of a trek through a national park where we get to encounter exotic wildlife. We participated in the latter, though I suppose we were all msafari (travelers) as well.
We spent two days in the Serengeti and on in Ngorogoro Crater, a huge area of land protected by crater walls as well as the Tanzanian government. We drove around in a huge jeep with seven seats and a roof you could raiseThe driver was also a guide and very knowledgeable about Tanzanian wildlife. We saw Zabras, giraffes, hippos, elephants, alligators, baboons, many kinds of antelopes, buffalo, lions, warthogs, a cheeta and a leopard (very rare apparently. Lucky us!). And a large variety of strange birds. Pictures will explain them better than I will, but unfortunately I will have to wait for the others to send me theirs, as I still have no camera. I intend to rectify that soon.
At night we camped in park campgrounds and watched the sun rise and set over the plains. We had a variety of wild animals visit our camp including a lion and a hyena on the first night, looking for hunting, but unable to see us in our tents (thank goodness!) and an elephant and a herd of buffalo on the second night. And always these enormous birds would hang around the camp looking for garbage. They were up to our chins standing with huge beaks and enormous black wingspans. Apparently they don't attack humans usually though. I don't think much of my chances against one of them. Or three.
If anything, the weekend ended too quickly, but in is close to $150 a day to visit the parks. I did get to spend some time in the village they teach in this last week and visit a couple of schools for the day, which was pretty cool. I also visited the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda at the Arusha Conference Centre. Also very interesting, though most of the exciting stuff happened in a closed trial.
I got to bond a lot with the gang in Arusha and was sorry to leave. I'm hoping to stay in touch with all of them.

Well, that's all I have for now. I hope you all have a wonderful Easter weekend. I'll be missing Turkey and Easter egg hunts, so please eat some chocolate for me. And Turkey. Just generally eat a lot.

Till next time!

PS. Other pictures (Kilimanjaro, etc) are up on Facebook and I will try to get them onto my blog next internet venture. Should be this coming week. Sorry it's taking so long!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Post Kilimanjaro

Hey folks!

Sorry it's been so long. I got down from six days of climbing Kilimanjaro last Friday and have had a hard time getting on the internet since then. Or rather, I've had a hard time finding an internet connection that will allow me to access my blog account. I finally found one at a rehabilitation centre for the disabled in the village I'm staying in outside Arusha. Unfortuntely, Steve, who has all the pictures from Kilimanjaro and the week before, had to go back to Dar es Salaam for work early this morning, so the pictures will have to wait for a later date.

In the meantime, I'll tell you a little about my experience on Kilimanjaro. We arrived in Moshi on Friday Feb 29th, and spent most of Saturday shopping around for a good tour company. We finally settled on one called Crown Eagle, because they offered us a reasonable price and were very professional.
On Sunday morning, we left on a six-day trek up the Marangu Route, a winding but scenic variation on the traditional way up. It was a beautiful hike. Although it rained consistently for a couple of hours every day at about 2:30, we generally had good weather and gorgeous views. And we did our best to be at camp and in the tent by the time the rain started.
There are several species of plants and trees that grow only on Kilimanjaro, so there were times when the surroundings felt very foreign even for Africa. The static electricity in the air often made lightning strike even though there was not a cloud in the sky. It was fascinating during the day, learning about the vegetation and weather from our guides Losobo and Ezekiel. Once we were above the rainforest, teh nights felt a little eerie, as if we were at the bottom of the ocean.

The food was also amazing! We had four porters and a cook with us (who all carried huge loads on their backs and heads in a most incredible display of strength and fitness) and we had huge meals every breakfast lunch and dinner ready prepared. Things like pasta, chicken, ragu, potatoes, spanish omlet, sausage, fruit. It was like a five-star hotel. My only regret about that situation is that we didn't get much of a chance to connect with our porters, even though we camped with them every night. They kept their distance from us and treated us like very important guests at their restaurant.

On the fourth day of our trek, we circumnavigated the mountain so we could approach the summit from the other side. We climbed down into several beautiful valleys with rivers and waterfalls, and up the side of a canyon at one point, which was slippery with ice, but otherwise really fun! We finished the day at about 4600 meters. At this point I was feeling less than well, but I passed it off as symptoms of the stress on my body and the altitde. I had no headache or any of the common reactions to altitude, so I just brushed it off.
That night, the guides woke us at 11:30 for our overnight ascent. I had overheated in my sleeping bag and I was feeling a little weak and feverish. I was very slow to start. All the same, I pushed on for about three hours up the steep zigzagging path in the freezing clod and wind. I had to stop every now and then to catch my breath, at which point I would get very sleepy and almost pass out. When the guides asked me how I was, I lied and said I was just a bit tired, that I'd get better if I kept going a bit more. Eventually, Steve suggested maybe we should go down. I fought it, cause we had come all this way and payed all this money and we were so close. Maybe an hour and a half from the summit. The guide looked at me, and told me that the insides of my lips and gums had changed colour and my pupils didn't dialate when he shone his light at me. He told me I had Altitude Sickness and I had to go down. I didn't want to, but my body really did. When I argued, Ezekial asked me which was more important, the money or coming down alive. So I went down.

I convinced Steve to continue to the summit, although he didn't want to. I think he's glad he did. His pictures are pretty amazing. I wish I had made it to the top, but I also think that I made the right choice. That night, a man died on the summit from Acute Respiratory Edema, because his guide had not recognized the symptoms of Altitude Sickness.

When I got down, I did some research. I learned a lot that I wish I had known before about aclimatization and keeping your body healthy while you climb. Things like how much water to drink and how much weight to carry. Kilimanjaro was an extraordianry hike, and maybe another day, I'll have a chance to do the last 500m.

So, that concludes my Kilimanjaro adventure. This week, I am staying near Arusha with a girl I know from working at MEC. She is teaching English in a small village, and today I went to visit and help out. School is very different here.
I'll be in Arusha for the week, then off on a Safari with six other young English Teachers from the area. We'll be going to Ngorogoro crater and the Serengetti, so I'm sure I'll have a lot to talk about after that.

Until then, hope you are all well and thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I'm Here!

Hello all!
I've made it into Africa! I'm currently staying with my friend Steve, who lives on a beautiful beach outside of Dar es Salaam. He is working for a world health organization called AMREF. I followed him to work this morning and borrowed the computer briefly so I could update my blog.

My first few days have been an experience in themselves. Most notably, it is stiflingly hot here, and coming from February in Vancouver I was not entirely prepared. I am so sunburnt, I feel like a great big tomato, and that's just from a few excursions around the airport and on the beach, sunscreened and all.
Most people here are very polite and well dressed. Suit pants and button-up shirts are common for men and vibrantly patterned dresses for women. School children are all uniformed.
Swahili is the most common langauge here, and communicating can be difficult. I'm starting to learn some of the language (simple greetings, numbes, how to order food), so that shouldn't be a problem for long.
Cars drive on the left here, and the transit system is hectic at best. There are a ton of cars rattling and honking their way in and out of the city, along with tiny three-wheeled "tuktuks" which carry up to four people on their tiny back seats. Luckily, traffic never goes too fastand people are friendly, so there is little danger even if the roads seem chaotic.

The place where Steve is staying is right on the beach with many of the expensive hotels. We've been doing a lot of swimming in the warm-to-hot ocean. Steve's neighbour Ken is from the original Baywatch boat, which the TV show was based on. He's been teaching us to use his kite surfing gear. I'm really excited about that.
Yesterday we went to a small island on a little wooden boat with a bunch of tourists, and went snorkelling. It was amazing! I took a bunch of pictures with my underwater camera. There were some amazing tropical fish and other sealife living around the coral reefs. Lots of Jellyfish, which I must say freaked me out a little.

We're eating well, too. Lots of very flavourful tropical fruits and intersting local food - mostly fried fish, beef, chicken, rice, beans, etc. The average meal costs between one and five dollars depending on where you go.

Sometime this week, when Steve sorts out some Visa issues, we will be travelling up to Moshi to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I've been talking to other travellers who have dome the climb and heard many great stories. I'm looking forward to it!

I'll post another update after Kilimanjaro and let you all know how it went.
Thanks for taking the time to read!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My First Post

Hey everyone!

Thanks for checking out my blog! I'll do my best to keep it up to date during my six month stay in Eastern Africa, so please feel fee to check it out again. I'll be putting pictures up too when I have them. Those people who have facebook, I'll be updating that as well, so i'll see you there!

Now, for those of you who I haven't told this to a hunded times already, here's a brief summary of my plans, subject to change without warning.

Upon arrival, my friend Steve and I will be heading up to Moshi to negotiate our way up Mt. Kilimanjaro. That will be quite a start to the trip, I imagine. It's the best weather we'll have for the next few months, so we decided we'd do it right away.
I'll be staying in Da es Salaam, the capitol of Tanzania with Steve for about a month after that, during which time I plan to visit Zanibar, explore, and possibly find a short term volunteer job. Then Steve is off to Australia in Mid April.
I am planning to hook up with a really awesome oganization in Uganda around mid May, so I will be making my way up to Uganda, visiting and touristing along the way. I assume I will find fellow travellers who also want to explore.
The organization in Uganda is called Edirisa, and if I like it there (I think I will), I may stay there until my flight leaves on August 19.
Then I'm going to Holland for my aunt's wedding and home on sept 1st.

I'm currently on my way to Dar es Salaam airport. I'm sad about leaving my family and friends (and of course Ian) fo so long, but I'm also exciting fo what I'm sure will be a really big adventure!

That's all for now, but expect further bulletins as events (and internet access) warrant.