We headed to Kampala today, our summer project officially starts tomorrow…so we need to get there a day early for orientation and planning. We’ll only be in town for a few days, then 5 of us will be headed to Jinja for our final destination. A packed van full of gear and people…headed into what looks to be a pretty serious storm. We stopped for lunch and you would have thought someone turned on 100 fire hydrants with the amount of rain that came down in a matter of minutes. Needless to say, it made for an exciting atmosphere while we ate :)
It’s been nice to have a little “vacation” in Dubai and Fort Portal, but now the work begins. I’m really looking forward to what this summer has to bring…it’s going to be an adventure for sure!
We spent three days on the west side of the country, on the mountainous border with the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). After a 7 plus hour flight, we hopped in a car at the airport and drove for six hours…finally getting lunch/dinner around 10pm. Needless to say it was a very long day on top of a few previous long days.
With feet finally on the ground, the first few problems on the trip occur. Three of us thought that we could pay for our visas with a credit card. Nope. I agreed to pull out enough money for three of us and I was given a pass to get to the ATM. Now, to use the ATM, you need to pass through security…and to get back into immigration, you need to pass through security…with a valid visa. You can see where this is going. In a precautionary moment, I decided to tell the police that I was just using the ATM to get money for my visa and coming right back -showing them the piece of paper I had. Their first response? How much money are you going to get out of the ATM to give us? To let you back in? After a little back and forth, I went to the ATM. A little backstory: I have been keeping track and telling people what the exchange rate is for weeks. In a fuss, I somehow forgot and pulled out next to nothing from the ATM. Less than US$4. I got back into immigration and realized what I did. Thankfully, between the other students we were able to make up to difference and get our visas.
We drove through some rough areas, rough as in poverty not unsafe. For about 2 hours we went through what felt like a non-stop town of storefronts, mud huts and street markets. At one point we were high up on a road and could see a stream down below…and I could see kids with jerry cans fetching water. We drove past countless people carrying jerry cans, including one child who was about the same size as the can. This is where I wanted to work and the people I want to work with…so it’s time to get introduced to what I’ll see…and think about what I can do to help.
So why Fort Potral? One of our friends on the trip had worked in Fort Poteal before with father Adolf and Saint Patrick’s school. She thought it might be nice for some of us to take a break and vacation there for a few days before the trip started. We stayed with a family that is friends with father Adolf; we have breakfast, lunch afternoon tea and dinner with the family. We have been eating hard core local and other than some heartburn (from the plantains and bananas), it has been AMAZING food. We visited the school, got a tour and spent a little time on the grounds. There are some orphans there, special needs kids and kids who are trying to go back to school after dropping out. They put on a traditional welcome show for us, with drums, songs, dancing, etc. It was pretty intense emotionally, but I kept it together. It was a bright spot on the trip for sure.
Last night over dinner, I was talking to Ronald (owner of the house) about his work in water and sanitation. We had a really great conversation, talking about helping people, etc. He was talking about how he feels good helping his people here and things he could do to help them more. It was a long talk and at one point he said something like “See, this is why we [meaning people] need to talk. We are just two people talking about ideas and maybe we can fix something. You can make a job out of this, people will like the ideas and the talk. We do not need these concessions all the time.” –concessions are usually put in place by companies/developers/etc so that they get something out of it, most of the time they are not helpful to the local people. He continued talking about me in particular and said “We need people like you, to talk to us…” it was really humbling. He finished by saying, “We are all the same, the world is just a bigger village now.”
Roger has been working for NGOs for a while. He has a degree in public policy and he is going back to school to get his masters…he’s 42, married with 5 or 6 kids…and another 10 or so that he and his wife look after (food, clothes, schooling and a home). Needless to say, that conversation will stick with me for a long time.
We landed in Dubai and we were met by relatives of one of our friends. After a 12-13 hour flight, we wanted to get to the hotel, grab some snacks and go to bed. We quickly made plans to meet early in the morning and parted ways.
Our hotel rooms were rented at bargain prices, but they were anything but budget rooms. I walked into mine and saw a kitchen (complete with full size fridge, oven, stove, pots, pans and dishes), washer, big screen TV living room, dining area in the kitchen. The bellhop put my stuff in the bedroom and turned the lights on in the bathroom before leaving. I walked over to the bathroom and was a little surprised to find no shower or bathtub. There was a hose connected to the toilet and drain on the floor…so I thought to myself: is this a bidet, feet washing, shower and toilet? If so, that’s interesting. Nope…it was just the second toilet. There was a shower, toilet, bathtub, shower and sink in the bathroom attached to the bedroom. Nice!
Off to a local market, we bought the ingredients to make pasta, some snacks and breakfast food. After figuring out the stove and sharing some laughs about our trip so far, it was bed time.
I woke up and watched the sunrise through the window…not a cloud in the sky. It’s going to be a hot day in the desert. We headed to “old Dubai” with a quick stop at the Dubai museum -which happened to be closed. We walked around the market, visited the Hindu temple and surrounding market. Then we took a boat ride to see the Khor Dubai (Dubai Creek)…which was wonderful. We headed over to the gold market which was closed for the day, but you could peek in the windows of the local jewelry shops and see were people normally had stands for selling gold and jewels. Next we visited the spice market, which was an absolute sensory overload! Amazing colors, smells and activity.
We moved on to the Arabian Sea…dipped our toes in and sat on the beach soaking in the experience before heading downtown. We were off to the Dubai mall…which was just nonstop luxury and excess. Indoor aquarium, ice rink, amazing cars, jewelry stores, gold vending machines and a fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa building…the tallest in the world.
We packed a lot in and had a long day. Everyone slept well for sure…after all, we had an early morning flight to catch; and 7.5 more hours of flying to do.
May 25th…May 26th (8,878 km to Dubai; speed 1042 km/hr)
Location? Somewhere over the ocean and not quite to Greenland yet. The sky is lit up with the rays of sun that have yet to kiss the coast we just left.The cabin is dark, except for the sun light peeking in through the windows. The stewardess is waking up a few passengers to have them pull the shades down…you might think I’m joking, but the ceiling has lights that look like stars. They even twinkle.
It’s 2am EST, four hours down, 8.5 hours to go. My inner-clock is a little off. We just had our four course “lunch”…at 1am. I’m on an Airbus A380…a massive beast of a plane. I have my own phone, TV with hundreds of channels, hundreds of movies on demand and more music channels than I could even listen to. I cannot believe this is coach. I watched one movie already and started another, but I can’t focus on the movie, my brain is bouncing all around. I can’t read or work on school work for the same reason…maybe a nap is in order.
Not just yet. I still have a few thoughts on my mind…and if you just got here, you might wonder how I got on this plane. That’s the story I hope to tell over the next 11 weeks, along with stories about the work I am doing. The last few months have been a whirl of words and paper. More books, articles, websites…more information was consumed in the last four months than my busiest year ever. So what do you bring on a trip that lasts 11 weeks? Three bags. One hiking backpack with clothes, medicine and an extra pair of shoes (43 lbs). One camera bag, with everything I need electronic (10 lbs). That’s it. Well, that was it, but I had to adjust my plan. One backpack, filled with books a laptop and a ream of paper (14 lbs). The additional bag was not intentional of course, but I’ll explain that another time.
Packing, driving to the airport, boarding the plane…saying good bye. None of it seems real. A continental trip dreamed about for almost three decades is finally coming true. I’m on my way to Africa. This summer’s trip will get my feet wet in field work, both in research and working in an “office setting”…hopefully answering a calling I had long ago, but never thought I would attempt. Taking everything I have ever learned and trying to use it to help people.
To be an active participant in development/aid work, comes the great responsibility of humility. Months ago, a correspondent from the UN asked me what I wanted my role to be, and I replied (with a little less finesse): Our role is to be not just an active participant in change, but a humble tool. We are to become the pencil and paper, not the author and not the muse.
By the end of this trip, I have a feeling I’ll tell you that the people I spent my summer with helped me more than I could have ever helped them.