There was a gap. The gap was filled by early morning, busy days, cultural exchanges, work, children, amazing programs, absorbing commonalities and differences of two new countries, digesting being in the heat after many days of cold, smiles and laughter, traffic, exhaustion, stuffed bellies and hungry bellies, very long car rides, water consumption, reading, and late nights. It feels so great to hear from folks who ask where the blog is. It’s hard to write post a long trip, but I’ll do my best. Like my last post, I’ll have to omit some things because I would like to keep this about my experience outside of work.
The trip was the longest we’ve ever taken as an organization, 16 days including travel. We stayed in a total of 5 cities and visited countless programs. Every time I travel for work I reaffirm that it’s so important to see programs in person, if not just to hug the people leading them, and meet the kids whose lives we change. It is so powerful to be a part of such positive transformation. There’s more to say on that, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
In Nairobi we went to an elephant orphanage. The elephants there are orphans due to elephant poaching and parents who have died natural deaths. I learned that elephants grow 6 sets of teeth, which last approximately 10 years each. After the 6th set falls out they slowly die of starvation. Some of the elephants were no taller than my waist. Because elephants are so familial it can take up to 10 years to reintegrate the orphans into a herd. The elephants came out in groups (by age), tempted by huge bottles of milk that they took from the workers, wrapped their trunks around the bottles, and chugged. After, they dipped their trunks in the water troth, sprayed mud and dirt on their backs, rolled in dirt and mud, or took a dip in a huge puddle provided for them. Some people even got sprayed, walking out with a splatter of mud all over them.
A funny story. I posted some pictures of the Elephants on Facebook and mentioned where I was. In a few minutes I got a message from a friend of a friend of mine asking when I was in the sanctuary because she was there that morning. I’m surprised we didn’t see each other there because there were no more than 100 people there that morning. Small world.
After we went to an giraffe sanctuary. You can kiss them! Some people put pellets in their mouth and the giraffe will lick your face to get it off. Ew! I saw it and was quite grossed out. The giraffes were friendly if you had food, otherwise they would move on. We sipped chai with our friend and driver, and bought some souvenirs from a few places, and stopping at many shops where we didn’t buy anything. One such shop was quite interesting. Two women found that there was a problem with discarded flip flops appearing in the ocean. They decided to do something with these colorful pieces of trash and made a business out of it. After a long cleaning and categorization process, the flip flops get turned into sculptures, jewelry, art, and household items such as pencil organizers. It was quite impressive. After making a huge purchase at a local shop we decided that it was probably time to head home.
Besides getting to spend time with the kids and women in our programs we get to spend time with the people who implement the program, the folks that and my coworker Skype with on a regular basis. Being person, seeing someone in the flesh, getting an uninterrupted conversation with them, seeing them without a screen that delays words and sounds, makes so much of a difference. I wish I could meet everyone who runs our programs. It’s amazing.
Nairobi has a dry heat, even when it rains, it doesn’t feel humid. We went to a few smaller villages, one was on an island, exploring the countryside in the process. Many days were spent in a car, getting to one remote location after another. The traditional huts are made out of dung, but many buildings are made out of brick. It’s obvious if a man has more than one wife because there are different houses on the property to indicate. The first wife will have the house in the middle, the entrance faces outwards. The following wives have houses to the right then left, their entrances also facing outwards. The sons houses face each other, and are closer to the main road. They come before the main house, and the wives houses because they are there to protect their families.
To get to one location we ended up driving after dark. It was pitch black out, the road was a dirt road with rocks. Kenyans do not drive slow. I can imagine driving on such a road in the US with an American driver and we would probably do 15mph. We were doing between 60-80kph. It’s just the way driving is done. The other car, with some of our partners in it, got a flat tire and we had to stop and change it.
The incident that it the main culprit for the lack of blogging happened because of a boat ride. For one program we went to an island on a small passenger boat. We were in the middle of Lake Victoria (which seems far from a lake because it is so huge) for a few hours in total. We took the passenger boat to one part of the island, and transferred boats to a smaller fishing boat (still not too small) to take us to the other side of the island where we would visit a school. It took a little longer than intended to get there so we had to rush through our program at the school so that we could make it in time to catch the ferry back. Our partner was in contact with the ferry and about 10 minutes before we reached the boarding point, we saw the ferry slightly in the distance, leaving us on our fishing boat. Without batting an eyelid, our driver said it was fine and he would refuel and take us the whole way. Besides wanting to be on the ferry, it was important that we get back early because later in the afternoon the water gets choppier and the ride back could be less than pleasant.
The ride was lovely. It was nice to be in a smaller boat that contained just our team. The landscape was beautiful. And who doesn’t like to be in the boat in the middle of a beautiful lake? So we traveled in our smaller boat and rode out the waves with the skill of our driver, slowing down and speeding up to bend with the wind. We all marveled at his skill, noting that this was skill built over time, growing up with the lake as your friend and companion. The hiccup came while attempting to dock, we only attempted because we never really made it to docking. The water was quite rough at this point in the inlet and as the waves pushed us in, the boat got a little shaky and as we approached the sand, I jumped out as the boat rocked away from the shore. Some escaped with a splash, and some got soaked, and some of our computers also got wet. Our driver also lost his rudder, which he ended up finding after doing some diving.
The next day we drove to our next location which was also a smaller village. The hotel consisted of small cottages for one or two people. It was rustic. You could hear crickets and see the stars. It was lovely. The next day we drove across the border, which makes me feel a little badass. The process was pretty seamless; our passports got stamped, the car paperwork got process, we exchanged money and were on our way. The Ugandan landscape wasn’t much different at first; both countries have landscape that changes quickly, from red mud, brown mud, and luscious green grass and fields. At some point in Uganda there was a forrest where baboons lined the road throughout.
One of our partners speaks 8 local languages. These aren’t dialects, but rather, languages. I can’t remember how many languages they said there are in Uganda, but there are definitely over 20. Like everywhere, I loved seeing the kids, seeing our partners in action, and getting to be there in person. We had one day where we were able to see some touristy things so we went to the Gaddafi Mosque and the Lubiri Palace. The Gaddafi Mosque is name that because Gaddafi donated a lot of money to build it. Usually women aren’t allowed into the main part of the mosque where men pray, but here we were, but not before a transformation where we put on a skirt and hijab. The woman who dressed us, Amina, was super friendly, as was Mohammad, our tour guide. We not only got a great tour of the mosque, which has stained glass from Italy, metal from Germany, wood from Uganda, and Arabic art, but also a short history of Kampala.
That afternoon we went to the Lubriri palace that is no longer lived in by the King of the Buganda Kingdom because there was so much bloodshed there. We learned of the various kings and how they each exiled each other and the one king who tortured his opponents. You cannot enter the palace, but the tour takes you around the grounds. There were some dark clouds in the distance as we walked through the living quarters of the king’s servants and guards down to the old dungeon and torture chamber. The closer we got, the closer the clouds got. We walked down to the dungeon and learned how there was a gate that contained electrocuted water and each cell would have over 100 prisoners who died together due to starvation (more or less). The last cell had markings of hands and feet scrapings along the wall. I tried to think of how awful that was and how could humans do this each other so recently, but then i thought that we still do this to each other, all over the world, we’re all guilty.
I know this is a less than complete picture of the trip. There are fun things, things that I felt comforting like driving on the left side of the road, the food was amazing too. We had fish several times, fresh water tilapia, cooked in different styles, each time amazing. They have chapati that are more like West Indian Roti. You can see the influence of India all over. In the 70s the Indians were kicked out of Uganda by one of the kings, but their influence stayed through food. Some words like duniya and kitab are similar in Hindi and Swahili so I felt like I got some things, sometimes.
There’s more, but that’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed!