Jul 14, 2010

So I left Uganda.

It was so surreal to be driving away from Kampala towards the airport. I hope I appreciated it enough. And saw enough. And experienced enough.

I went to bed last night doubting if I should stay or go. I felt safe in the house where I was staying, but felt weary about venturing in to the city and up country, which is problematic when the prisons I needed to visit are in up country.

I would have stayed if the people that are most important to me would not have wanted me to leave, but it is impossible to stay in a far away country who just experienced terrorist attacks with no internet and limited phone connectivity when your mom and dad are freaking out at home. And it was not just the attacks, many rumors were flying around about other bombs being found before they had exploded. Suspects were arrested, but it still felt unsafe.
I was scared, so I left.

From Monday...

In the name of positiveness, I have decided to write about a few non-bomb related things that have happened recently.

First and most importantly, dresses. Handmade dresses. Thats right. Plural. I will soon be the owner of three handmade dresses made from beautiful African fabric. I already have two in my possession and am just waiting for the third which will be ready on Monday! Last week, I ventured in to a market and found a small dress shop with a wonderful and kind woman who tailors dresses. So in true 'Merican style, I bought three.

Secondly and not so positively, Charles is lost. We cannot find him. He is supposedly at Luzira Upper Prison, but they tell us that he isn't there. We have no clue. I understand how they lose inmates here, but I do not understand how they allow a system where inmates are lost to continue. Let me take this opportunity to explain to you and even demonstrate to you how I understand the admission and records process of Ugandan Prisons.

Paper. Pencil. Chalkboard. Chalk. That is all you need. When there is a new inmate, you write his name, offense and sentence on a new piece of paper and you put it somewhere. Every day the inmates are counted and the numbers are written on the chalkboard. Simple. So how do you find out where a inmate is? Or if he has been relocated? You go to the prison and ask. Don't bother looking online or calling. You'll need to visit the prison yourself and ask them to either go through the pile of papers or to go around to the wards and yell the inmate's name. Practical.

Third, during dinner the electricity came back on! I admit it, I am dependent. I have not suffered from blackberry withdrawal, I can deal without constant internet access, but a whole weekend is too long. I was starting to suffer from anxiety. It is one thing if I could just easily and afford-ably call the important people in my life, but I can't. I am in AFRICA! Also, I know I said I wasn't posting about the attacks, but venturing in to the city to find an internet cafe is not the best idea. But guess what? Now I can boil water quickly. I can see while I am using the toilet. And I can update my blog! From home in my pajamas! It is a beautiful thing. Oh electricity please please continue to provide me with overhead lighting, hot water, and, most importantly, the internet.

Jul 13, 2010


In the name of positiveness, I have decided to post double today and to write about a few non-bomb related things that have happened recently.

First and most importantly, dresses. Handmade dresses. Thats right. Plural. I will soon be the owner of three handmade dresses made from beautiful African fabric. I already have two in my possession and am just waiting for the third which will be ready on Monday! Last week, I ventured in to a market and found a small dress shop with a wonderful and kind woman who tailors dresses. So in true 'Merican style, I bought three.

Secondly and not so positively, Charles is lost. We cannot find him. He is supposedly at Luzira Upper Prison, but they tell us that he isn't there. We have no clue. I understand how they lose inmates here, but I do not understand how they allow a system where inmates are lost to continue.  Let me take this opportunity to explain to you and even demonstrate to you how I understand the admission and records process of Ugandan Prisons.

Paper. Pencil. Chalkboard. Chalk. That is all you need. When there is a new inmate, you write his name, offense and sentence on a new piece of paper and you put it somewhere. Every day the inmates are counted and the numbers are written on the chalkboard. Simple. So how do you find out where a inmate is? Or if he has been relocated? You go to the prison and ask. Don't bother looking online or calling. You'll need to visit the prison yourself and ask them to either go through the pile of papers or to go around to the wards and yell the inmate's name. Practical.

Third, during dinner the electricity came back on! I admit it, I am dependent. I have not suffered from blackberry withdrawal, I can deal without constant internet access, but a whole weekend is too long. I was starting to suffer from anxiety. It is one thing if I could just easily and afford-ably call the important people in my life, but I can't. I am in AFRICA! Also, I know I said I wasn't posting about the attacks, but venturing in to the city to find an internet cafe is not the best idea. But guess what? Now I can boil water quickly. I can see while I am using the toilet. And I can update my blog! From home in my pajamas! It is a beautiful thing. Oh electricity please please continue to provide me with overhead lighting, hot water, and, most importantly, the internet.

Jul 12, 2010

last night...

Last night, I walked down the same hill I have walked down everyday since I have arrived in Kampala. I walked with Bea and Jonathan, two constants in my life here. We walked to same bar I have watched every world cup game I have been interested in. I drank a Bell beer Chatted with the waitress who adores me. Smiled at the Ugandans' enthusiasm for football. We watched a messy, yet entertaining game of football and then climber the same hill home.

The electricity at the house has been out all weekend, which is a good enough reason to go straight to bed. I awoke to a knock on my door at 7am like I do every weekday. I answered it, flipped the switch to see that the electricity was still not working. This was a good enough reason for me to crawl back in to bad. I awoke just before nine and was greeted with the news of the bombings.

My first thought was to call my mom. My phone had been off to conserve power so I had received no panicky phone calls from my parents or friends. I immediately called her and could hear the relief in her voice when she answered the phone. I instructed her to call my dad and the Clinton School to let them know I was okay.

I knew I needed to check my email and Facebook to let everyone know I was okay. I knew you'd be worried. But I was a bit anxious about leaving the cozy confines of the APP house. But here I am at an internet cafe in the city center.

It feels as though 64 people did not lose their lives last night in a terrorist attack during an event which was suppose to be celebratory. The matatus still rule the road and I am still called Muzungu. I will still go to Western Uganda tomorrow to complete my last prison visits in Uganda. And I will still be leaving next week.

Yet I am a bit shaken. I have never lived in a city which has been attacked. Ugandans have seen worse, alot worse, and therefore I somehow understand their lack of panic.

Jul 8, 2010

Dear Ben and Mark,

It is really fun to write a blog post to both of you because I know you will never read it.

But I just wanted to let you know that every time I see "entry 2" underneath your blog title on someone else's blog list I laugh.

Way to "try" and keep a blog. And yes I know, "Ethiopia won't let you access blogs..."


"Have you seen darkness?"

Jonathan asked me that question on the way to "up country" on Monday. We had set out for western Uganda with the objective of visiting four or five prisons. Jonathan is now my research assistant for the remainder of my time in Uganda. He also happens to be from western  Uganda, which was a plus for both of us. It was a plus for me because he knows the area well, along with the local language. It was a plus for both of us because we got to visit his family in his village.

Jonathan's mother and one of his brothers lives in a village outside of a small town or trading center called Lyantonde. They live on a small plot of land that is covered in matoke (banana) trees, avocado trees, coffee plants, tomato vines, and ground nut plants. They live off the land.

Lets just say that his mother and I were amazed by each other. I doubt we could have been much different. The only thing we have in common is our common gender. She is elegantly elderly. In her sixties. She has had nine children. Lost her husband in political conflict. She speaks a language that no one outside of western Uganda knows of or uses. Has lived in a village all her life and does not know how to use a cell phone. She maintains her home singlehandedly by hand. She washes and cooks and farms and peels and sweeps and builds by hand. (I watched her cut the peel off of a bowl full of bananas and could not help but wonder how many hundreds or thousands of bananas she has peeled in her lifetime.)

She muttered "momo" for the first 20 minutes after my arrival, the expression of shock and awe in her language. She asked if my hair would gray with age. I suppose, she was awestruck by its color and texture. And she wondered if my skin was too delicate to use a sponge. She was amazed that I was willing to carry bananas on my head and help load our vehicle with produce to take to town. She mocked my loud American laugh. She did not think I would eat the matoke or beans or ground nuts she offered, but I did and enjoyed them. She giggled when she heard I was 23 and still single and without children.

We could not speak to each other, but she continued to speak to me. Even when Jonathan wasn't around to translate. It must be something that comes with motherhood. She needed to tell me things, my guess is that she wanted to tell me what she thought of me. She would just look at me, and talk for awhile, then smile and laugh. Sometimes it was followed by a hug or a touch on my hand.

We spent Monday night in the village. It was truly dark. I have seen beautiful stars sitting along lakes in Wisconsin and from the hills of Arkansas. But looking at stars from a village miles away from spotlights and cars and cities in Africa is not comparable to stars seen in the most rural of rural Africa. It was darkness at its best, not scary but beautiful and calm.

Jul 4, 2010

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I will be boarding a plane for the United States exactly three weeks from today. It is odd to feel like I am going home soon. I have mixed feelings about it.

I am excited. I have missed my friends and family so much. I studied abroad my junior year in college. I was away from home for much longer than 10 weeks, but being in Greece for a semester was an escape from my life in the US. But lets be real, I had nothing to escape from in the US this summer. I truly enjoyed my first year at the Clinton School and feel as though I have met some of my best friends. Who knew I would be excited to return to Little Rock, Arkansas?

I am anxious. For many reasons. I feel like I have been gone for ages. And that I have somehow changed. I have adjusted to Uganda. To Ugandans. To the people I work with and for. It is odd to think that I will have to adjust to my home and my family and best friends.  I am also anxious about my project. I worry that I haven't done enough or that it won't make an impact on this organization that has so much potential. I am sure it is due to fear of failure, but still.

I am sad. I am just starting to feel at home here and now I have to leave. Really. But I suppose most things work this way. You get really good at navigating campus and you graduate. You figure out how to be the best at your job and you are promoted. You realize the value in Social Change class and the semester is over.

I am sentimental. I have decided to make a conscious effort to appreciate the little things that I love about Kampala. The dried jonja (banana) chips. The lingering handshakes. The way they say I look "smart" instead of "nice" or "pretty". The misspelled words on signs that never fail to put a smile on my face. Ugandans' obsession with Obama. The fact that due to my skin tone and alien-like qualities I have the ability to put a smile on a child's face just by waving or saying hello.

I am hopeful. I will miss my access to prisons. They somehow make me hopeful. Hopeful that I have learned of possibilities in prisons. Hopeful for humankind because if mothers can raise children, if inmates can create beautiful things, and if prisoners can praise and preach inside of prison then those of us on the outside should be just as capable if not more.

Jul 3, 2010

Mission: Find Charles

I went to Mulago Hospital two days ago to check on Robert and Charles. Robert was there, patiently awaiting our arrival which meant a nice cleaning and a meal.

But Charles' bed was empty. My heart sank. I knew this did not mean he was off getting care, I knew this meant he was discharged. Discharged although he has three skull fractures.

So Jonathan and I are going on a wild goose chase to find him. This will be an adventure. Old Kampala Police Station here we come.

"Today you are African."

That is right folks. And they were talking to me.Super pale and blonde me.

So he might have been a tad intoxicated and overly enthusiastic about the Ghana World Cup game, but still. He told me that I was African. Although I am still mourning the loss of the United States in the World Cup, it was amazing to watch Ghana play tonight in the quarter finals.

It was amazing due to the Ugandan fans of the Ghana team. The Ugandans continuously referred to the Ghanians as "we".

Lets talk about how far away and how different Ghana and Uganda are.

I was planning on telling you how many miles Ghana and Uganda are away from each other, but Google Maps cannot calculate directions between the two capitals of Accra and Kampala. So I do not know. But I do know that they are far.

East Africa and West Africa are not only many miles away, but their cultures, histories, and languages can barely be compared. Most Ugandans will never reach Ghana and most Ghanians will never reach Uganda. Superficially, the only thing that unites them is the color of their skin and the continent they share. Yet all night Ugandans referred  to Ghanians as their brother and fellow African.

I guarantee Americans would not cheer for Mexico or Canada over a European or South American team because they share a continent. So Africans must share something that Americans do not share with our neighbors to the south and north. Something greater than complexion. If I had to guess, it would be respect. Respect built from similar struggles, struggles only understood by Africans.

The Ugandan fans tonight continually said "This is our only chance!" and "If God is African we will win tonight.". Yes, they were merely drunken cheers at a bar in Kampala, but those chants united individuals across an entire continent. A continent proud of the Ghana team regardless of win or loss tonight.

I now believe that it means more to be an African, than to be a member of any country, even a member of the United States.

Jul 2, 2010


I finally feel comfortable here. I think it is a good thing, but I suppose could also be bad if I feel too comfortable.

For the last month, I have felt like a tourist. Always lost, always being stared at, always having difficulties truly communicating beyond "hello" and "how are you?" with Ugandans.

But I think I get it. I now know how to make Ugandans laugh. They understand my now slower English. I can barter with the rest of them. I traveled alone to three meetings today. And I am having a dress handmade! It is an amazing feeling.

Jul 1, 2010

The day I gave a sermon.

Yeah that's right, I gave a sermon. Take a second. Breathe. Pick your jaws off the floor.

I grew up in a very white Episcopalian Church with a very elderly congregation in Central Illinois, it wasn't exactly fun to go to church. This morning myself, the executive director of APP, and his friend were invited to a service at the condemned section (death row) of Luzira Upper Prison. The service was amazing and very fun.

But try to imagine this. Church in prison. Not just that, but in death row. In Uganda. And not to be stereotypical, but these folks aren't just black, they are African. They can dance. And sing. And play the drums. And they know how to praise the Lord!

It is also worth saying that Ugandans are very religious people. Christianity is by far the most popular religion and religion is taken very seriously. With that being said, when one enters prison, or in this case death row, inmates cling to what remains, and for most, that is their religion.

And although I am not religious, the service was moving because I knew it truly meant something to the people in my presence. They weren't there because going to church is the "right" or "proper" or "moral" thing to do, they went to church because they continue to have faith when there are not many reasons to maintain it. They go to church because the pastor is one of the few people who continue to care for them. Church and God has become their salvation.

Going in to the church service I did not know what to expect, besides the fact that I would most likely be asked to say a few words. (Ugandans love speeches.) I prepared myself the night before because I did not feel comfortable reading from the Bible and speaking of God, so I brought the book of poems that David Montieth gave me.

I read a poem that reflected what I have learned in Uganda and Ugandan prisons. I think it went well, that is with the inmates, they were just pleased to listen to a new face from the outside speak to them. It didn't go over so well with the pastor. He later told me that he thought my sermon was missing something. (God) And I told him the truth. He didn't like the truth that much and blamed my whiteness and Americans' love of material things over godly things.

Oh well, you can't win every battle.

Jun 26, 2010

The Children of Gulu Prison

As I mentioned before, women prisoners often keep their children with them in prison. The staff's children are also around. Instead of being professional and networking like I am supposed to, we played with the children after the ceremony. Claire gave them chocolates. We jumped around. One boy hit me with a water bottle and ran away. It was a grand time.

She was my favorite. Claire gave her a chocolate and she held it in her hand for about 15 minutes. We figured out that she did not know what candy was. So Claire peeled off the wrapper for her and instructed her to eat it with hand gestures. She was delighted.

This is everyone.

Children here don't necessarily grasp the idea of how posing for a picture. They run around. Or don't stand close enough to one another. Or they all stack up in the middle. Or they are hidden behind one another.

And most in rural Uganda don't speak English. So it is not so easy to explain.

This picture is for my dad, who requested I put more pictures of myself on blog as a way to ensure him I am still alive and in one piece.

Because writing the blog obviously isn't enough. Photographic proof is necessary.


Okay, back to prisons.

Yesterday, African Prisons Project celebrated the opening of a health clinic at Gulu Prison. APP sponsored the project and the ceremony was quite lovely.

The best part was the entertainment put on by the inmates. They danced and sang and played drums.

The funniest part was the "guest of honor". Who showed up about 2 hours late. Typical. And fell asleepduring one of the speeched.

The worst part was driving 5 hours there and 5 hours back in the same day. Oh, and Gulu is in Northern Uganda, which the US told me not to visit out of concern for my well-being. (JSN?)

Jun 25, 2010

oh Mulago.

Yeah, I went back.

It is just really difficult to say "No, I won't come help you take a dying man to a clinic to get an x-ray" when the hospital doesn't have x-ray films and haven't provided x-rays to a man who obviously has a broken skull and has been in the hospital for a week. This is also the patient who was found on the floor with one arm handcuffed to the bed the other night. No one helped him, none of the other 30 or 40 people in the ward, oh or the nurses.

So we went. And we took Charles to a clinic outside of the hospital to get x-rays of his head, arms, and chest. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong. We couldn't find a wheelchair (in the hospital). We had to convince the guard to un-handcuff him from the bed. We had to put the broken, near-death man in to a private hire (aka taxi). I held him up in the taxi. Mind you, he has plenty of open wounds that have not been attended to. He also continuously smells of urine. It was a lovely trip. ( I wore gloves and had all my vaccines and will also be getting all of the proper health screenings/tests when I get home.)

We arrived to the clinic and tried to convince them to give us a good price because we were doing charity work. They quickly realized that Charlies was a suspect in an attempted murder case and laughed at us. After some convincing and a lovely performance of  mine that included "Who are you to judge this man? Is that not God's role?" (Be impressed), they lowered the price.  A lovely nurse cleaned his wounds on his head and arms that they said were septic.

We then decided that Charles needed a catheter. Guess who was nominated to go buy a catheter? Guess which pharmacy did not have a bag for the end of the catheter? Guess who watched a nurse insert a catheter in to Charles?

Turns out Charles has a broken hand and three skull fractures.

The trip back to Mulago was accented with me leaving Alexander's phone in a taxi, then chasing after the taxi, then tracking down the taxi, and eventually retrieving the phone.

Jonathan and I then cleaned Robert. I was quite proud of myself as I cleaned his wound and handled the awful smell quite well.

The night ended seven hours later with Edith, a nurse who attends to destitute patients at Mulago day in and day out, taking me around to many female patients. It was heartwrenching because everyone needed something and due to my nice clothes and whiteness they assumed that I could help. Therefore, once I spoke to one patient every patient wanted to speak to me. I heard multiple stories of cervical and breast cancer. About the removal of a woman's uterus. And how the radiotherapy machine in the hospital did not work. All I could do was to promise to call Hospice-Africa on their behalf.

We left feeling helpless and productive at the same time, yet the feeling of utter frustration almost caused me to break down. It just cannot be that hard to keep people clean. That is all I am asking at this point. Keep patients clean and perhaps comfortable.

Jun 24, 2010


This is Robert who I talked about in my last post. I think his England hat is pretty fancy, but an American one would definitely be better!

Jun 22, 2010


Although I am attempting to not compare the United States to Uganda, I cannot help but to note the role I play here in Uganda and how I can never be and will never be a Ugandan, understand what it is to be Ugandan, or truly live in their country as they do. This is due to the color of my skin. The standards and expectations I have due to my culture. The amount of money in mine and my parents' bank accounts.

These facts and the role I play cause many interesting and contradicting juxtapositions in my everyday life.

Last night I went out to dinner with Alexander, his three guests, and our Ugandan friend, Lindsey. The restaurant we selected was an Indian restaurant and was full of non-blacks. I say this because every else I go in Kampala, besides the fancy restaurants in fancy hotels, I am the only non-black person. Seriously. The scene actually made me feel a tad uncomfortable. It felt too posh, which I am not and I did not come to Ugandan to become. Regardless of my discomfort, dinner was tasty and we had a very nice time.

After dinner, we went to Mulago Hospital, the national hospital that is ran by the Ugandan government. One of the other places in Kampala where I feel quite uncomfortable, but for totally different reasons. This seems like and actually is an odd after dinner rendezvous, but over the weekend Alexander and APP received a phone call regarding two patients who needed alot of help and Alexander's guests came to the rescue.

The first patient is Charles. He is an inmate and was somehow badly injured, as in many broken bones and scars all over his head. Up until yesterday he has been handcuffed to his bed in a large ward with many other patients. The other patients were less than thrilled that an inmate was being cared for and expressed that it was probably better we put him outside to die. Regardless of their protests, we cleaned him the best we could. See the hospital had no running water, soap, or rags for us to use, so he essentially received a cold water rub down with an old t-shirt we ripped in to pieces. Charles seemed to have a very bad fever, and also seemed delusional. I am worried that he has an infection that is causing the high fever. We brought him water and put blankets on his bed. It was all we could do.

Then there is Robert. Robert was in a car accident awhile back and had surgery on his pancreas. When the doctors were closing up at the end of surgery they just so happened to forget to take the gauze out of the wound. Sometime after the surgery, the area was infected or something and Robert now has a hole in his stomach near his belly button. I will leave it up to your imagination to imagine what comes out of this hole in his stomach. It was miserable. I could barely stand the smell and the sight of this man who was all skin and bones. Laying naked, letting two strangers clean him. He is slowly dying.

I am not a doctor, but I do know a few things. Patients, human beings, deserve medicine when they are sick. They deserve to be clean and to be helped to the bathroom when they need to go. They deserve somewhere to sleep where there aren't rats and it doesn't reek of urine and feces. They deserve running water. It just shouldn't be so complex, but it somehow is.

So I spent the first part of the night at the nicest restaurant I have been to in a month and the last part in the worst place I have ever been in my life.

Note lack of blankets and the patient's medical notes/file taped to the end of his bed.

Patients or patients' family members sleeping on the floor.

A bloody syringe and blood bag sitting on a shelf in a treatment room.

Jun 21, 2010

US vs. Uganda

It is difficult to not continuously compare life in Uganda to life at home in the United States. I compare the two for obvious reasons. Life in the United States is my default. It is what I know and what I am used to. And life in Uganda is unfamiliar and for the first 22 years of my life, unknown, distant and foreign. I try my best to not create a battle between the two completely different societies. It is not only better for my psyche, but better for my experience to not pick a favorite and to not allow my home to win every comparison.

On Friday, myself and a few of my colleagues at APP visited Kigo Women and Men's Prisons. APP is looking to start a reading group in the women's prison so that the women with babies in prison with them can learn to read to their children. The presence of small children in prison is a very foreign concept to me and definitely comes along with many benefits and many disadvantages. The benefits revolve around the basic principle that babies should not be separated from their mothers, yet children living in prison lack adequate nutrition, socialization, and stimulation.

The men's prison is right next door. They were expecting us, but our greeting was far from friendly or welcoming, which is odd in Uganda where welcoming someone is of the utmost importance. We were eventually escorted in to the deputy officer in charge's office. Our interview with him was fruitful, but the tour afterwards was even more informative and even encouraging. Kigo's mens prison is very overcrowded and lacks basic resources many take for granted, such as medicine, bedding, and books, yet they are somehow making the best of what little they do have.

They have converted a dark and meek corner room in to an arts and crafts room, where four inmates and a few staff members teach candle making, tailoring, papier mache, and weaving. Two inmates have founded a primary school and a secondary school where over 100 inmates are working on a daily basis to gain basic education skills for when they are reintegrated with society. The inmates freely grow vegetables in the yard and have been granted the privilege of accessing individual pots and pans to use the vegetables to supplement the maiz and beans they are served three times a day everyday.

At the end of the tour  the headmaster and founder of the primary school, who is also an inmate, came up to me and asked me about prisons in the United States. My default answer to this questions is "veeery different". He craved more information so I stopped and explained how American inmates are kept in cells, their socialization is limited, violence is rampant, and that they are viewed and treated as dangerous. I said that I thought both systems had advantages and disadvantages. He asked if American inmates had beds to sleep in because most Ugandan inmates sleep on blankets on cement. I answered yes.

He paused and in his quiet and kind English said "I'd rather be in prison in Uganda."

Jun 16, 2010

The "truth"

On Tuesday, we met with Mission After Custody. They are a non-profit that does great work with ex-inmates and inmates. They work to assist inmates with the reintegration process by providing counseling with the inmate and their community. They are currently building a halfway house, which will be a tremendous help to the ex-inmates. They lack funds, but they do not lack enthusiasm or compassion. This is the Mission After Custody family, plus me!

I am pretty sure they now want a Class 6er to join their efforts next summer. No pressure or anything. They are a worthy organization and definitely need the help. And on top of that, they were the most hospitable people I have met in Uganda and that is saying alot. I was fed alot of food and taken care of very well. We even stopped for food from local vendors after they prepared a meal of irish (potatoes) for me. (Which I ate with my hands!)

That is Ronald. He decided he loved me after I took his picture. He is the son of an inmate and was literally left at the front doors of Mission After Custody. They have been taking care of him ever since. Anyone want to adopt him? Because I do!

After lunch, a tour of the construction area, and alot of lively discussion, we were taken to visit a client of Mission After Custody. To be honest, I didn't get why this man was ever in prison or what his story was. It was very confusing and considering I usually only pick up 80% of what is said, I was very confused and just went with it.

Turns out, this man thinks he is a prophet. Seriously. I know that I am not particularly religious and that perhaps this could bias my perception. But this man thinks he is a PROPHET. He has a staff and bishop outfit. His house was FULL of pictures of Jesus and Mary. It was intense. At one point, he turned to me, stared me in the eyes, and said...

"Sister. Do you believe in the truth is?"

I was scared and confused. I mean first of all, I've never been called sister by anyone besides my actual sister. Secondly, I didn't know what he was talking about and didn't know if I should just go along with the "prophet" or not. So I did what anyone would do, I spinned it and asked him what the truth was. He then stared some more as if I was an idiot or as though he was communicating to God that I need to be directed to hell the moment I die. He never really explained "the truth" to me. I guess I will never know...

Jun 15, 2010

I lost flat stanley.

I cannot find him. Well I put a skirt on him so I guess he was a her but now he/she is lost so it doesn't matter.

And the ink ran out on the printer today. Obviously. Maybe I can draw one? I need Becca Swearingen!

I feel as though I am letting First Lady Beebe down.


Matatus are officially ridiculous. Even though the Lion King takes place in Africa and matatus exist in Africa, they have nothing else in common. (Except for the occasional animal found on a matatu) Trust me, these  awful, smelly, crowded 14 passenger pushes have nothing on Pumba and Timon's song.

On Monday, Godfrey (my research assistant/Uganda navigator/translator/lifesaver) and I traveled to Nakasongola prison. This particular prison is located in Central Uganda, 115 kilometers outside of Kampala. Say the roads were paved and we were driving my Ford Focus, we could reach Nakasongola in an hour. But due to the fact that the roads are not paved and the matatus stop every 10 minutes to either let a passenger off or pick one up, the journey all and all took about 4 hours, each way.

One note on Central Uganda, its terrible. Even the people there said so. It was hot. With no breeze. And no water. (And they said it wouldn't rain again until the end of July...)

The visit at the prison went great. The welfare officer and deputy commissioner were very hospitable and quite friendly. They seem more than willing to partner with NGOs and are eager for assistance. They have even conducted their own needs assessment! It was quite encouraging to see prison officials take interest in the welfare of the inmates and to take the time to listen to the inmates concerns and then document them in way to gain partnerships with NGOs.

The best part of the visit was when they brought in twelve inmates for us to speak with. We were all crammed in to a small room and they didn't understand my "accent". So Godfrey did the talking. They were more than willing to share their thought on the conditions at the prison and the challenges they face. They spoke of their desire for more educational materials to allow for more inmates to teach one another. They told us of the injustices they have faced in the courtroom and with the police. All in all, the conditions of the prison were not the worst I have seen, but their complete lack of water and electricity is a huge problem.

The most shocking thing is still the way prisoners are treated by prison officials. They laugh with one another. And trust one another. Handcuffs seem to be barely used. Godfrey and I were left alone in a room with twelve inmates. (I couldn't have felt more like a minority. Me, the white American woman, with twelve black Ugandan inmates, and my black Ugandan research assistant.)

It was then time to endure another matatu ride to return home. We actually got back on the same matatu we rode there in. Yet this time they crammed the 14 passenger van with about 18 people plus a few babies and some chickens! Yes, chickens! And they were under my seat! Tied up and sqwuakking, I was mortified and very concerned for the safety of my ankles! I tried to conceal my fear, but when they had a slight outburst my instinct was to squeal, immediately and permanently remove my feet from the floor and place them safely on the seat. The Ugandans thought it was quite entertaining and I can say as a matter of fact that I definitely furthered any stereotypes they had of Americans.

Besides the chickens, the overcrowdedness barely effected me because the Ugandans decided it wouldn't be right to crowd/squash the muzungu. So every other row in the van had four individuals squeezed in, while my row only had three people. I cannot decide what to call this. Backwards racism? Positive discrimination? Part of me hated it, but more of me loved having room for my entire bum on the seat.

I think I was called a muzungu 445 times today. Everyone thinks I am inherently rich due to my lack of skin pigment. They are a tad confused. Because I actually do not want to or have the means to buy everything at every market. I do not want fried grasshoppers. Or the milk in a re-used oil cannister. Or the day old crumbly dry taste like cardboard cakes. Or a pair of men's socks. Just saying.

Dear Adam,

Remember when you almost got arrested? By the scary Ugandans with a gun? Because you took a picture of a cool tree when there were signs saying to not take pictures.

Remember when we figured out that the building that they were protecting was a US building and that the guards being mean to us were being paid by American tax dollars? (I discovered that the building stores big/scary weapons!)

Remember when they made you delete the picture of the cool tree from your camera?

Well guess what. I took a picture of a similar tree that wasn't being guarded by guns...

(I know the picture is sideways, seriously just turn your laptop on its side)


A Saturday with Biggs/Moreland in Kampala

I definitely should have blogged during the weekend as it seems nearly impossible to fit in all of the funny and ridiculous moments that occurred throughout the 48 hours they were in Kampala. I also doubt that my rendition will be any funnier than Adam's rendition, when I say doubt I mean that it is impossible.

We had a lazy Saturday morning, which allowed for Adam and Cory to enjoy the luxuries of constant wireless internet and a nice shower. After feeling clean and caught up on emails and blogs, we walked down to a local bar/restaurant called Country Gardens to eat breakfast/lunch  and catch the first Saturday game of the world cup, Greece vs. South Korea. (The Greeks unfortunately lost, 2-0.) We had some lovely meat and chips. Cory ordered fried chicken, which came out cold, but he manned up and ate it anyways.

After lunch and some football, we headed down to Lake Victoria per Cory's request. I had warned him that this particular side of the lake was not the nicest or prettiest, but he luckily insisted. We jumped on a matatu and headed towards the lake. At one point, pre-reaching the lake, everyone started exiting the oversized taxi, so we did as any confused foreigner would do, we moved with the crowd, went with our gut instinct and luckily exited the taxi. I say "luckily" because now the three of us are able to tell the "naked man" story.

Yup, a naked man. He was strolling down the street. No big deal. Looking confident. (It did distract the local kids from our whiteness for a few moments, which was definitely welcomed.) We will never now why naked man was naked. Did he lose his clothes? Practical joke? And we will also never know where he was going. To find clothes? To his nearby nudist colony? Who knows?

We reached the lake. And no one was that impressed, but hey now Cory has seen the largest lake in Africa.

(Don't worry, I strongly discouraged Cory's facial hair. Repeatedly.)

The main event for Saturday evening was the much talked about US vs. England football game. Cory and Adam decided that it was a must to go to the muztungu filled bar that is Bubbles O'Leary. (This was a must due to their beloved practicum partner Erin O'Leary...) This seemed to be a great decision. There were plenty of Americans to be obnoxious with and plenty of Brits to banter with it. There were even burgers on the menu. We even got there smoothly and inexpensively due to our keen abilities to navigate Uganda and bargain for a good price while at it.

This decision quickly turned in to a bad one when my purse was stolen. Yep, you heard it. My purse was stolen. I stupidly left it on the floor under my barstool. We were sitting next to a small staircase and some wicked, mean-spirited thief stole me purse. I saw her snatch it, but my reaction time and ability to navigate the crowd was way too slow. There are two things I would like to point out about this event.

1. If this is the worst thing that happens to me while in Africa, I will be a happy lady.

2. I came to Africa to help an organization that works to improve the conditions of prisons, where they send people who commit crimes. And then I became a victim of a crime.

Oh, public service.

Jun 14, 2010

So this one time...

Cory and Adam came to visit me. In Kampala. Uganda.

I cannot describe how nice it was to see familiar faces. I have not seen anyone I have known for more than five minutes in the last 3 weeks. Which I know is not a long time and that I am being a bit of a baby, but when you are the only white person or American in a sea of Ugandans who point and yell their equivalent of "white person" at you constantly, it is very nice to see a familiar face.

Besides the fact that Cory and Adam most likely came to visit to enjoy the luxuries that come along with living in a "mansion", their company was refreshing and it was so nice to be able to commiserate and laugh about the oddities that go along with being a white person in East Africa and the oddities (well what seem like oddities to us) of East Africa in general.

For instance, Adam demonstrated the joy of taking a shower out of a basin of cold water. Cory and I were able to complain about how instant coffee is just not really coffee. I was able to point out how icky the the pile of trash being eaten by goats on the side of the street truly is without worrying that the Ugandan I am with will judge me as an American prude. We could laugh about how even though Ugandans and Rwandese speak English sometimes we have no idea what they were saying! It was comfortable and completely hysterical.

They arrived late Friday night in a "park" in Kampala. I guess "park" doesn't translate well here. Because they were literally dropped off in one of the worst parts of Kampala I have seen, and there were no trees, swings or picnic tables in site.  The three of us then failed to go out to celebrate my birthday,and instead stayed up until 4 am listing the things we miss the most and what our first few days back in the states will be like. All of them included a tremendous amount of food, especially taco bell, pizza, and pancakes. And milk not from a bag.

Tales from the remainder of the weekend, to be continued...

Jun 11, 2010

Its my birthday...

and I am in Africa. Working. It's actually not so bad considering my dear dear classmates Cory and Adam are coming to visit!! I am so excited to see familiar and loved faces!

I am also loving receiving birthday wishes from all over the world! I mean I have to admit that receiving an email from China, a Facebook post from Israel, (hopefully) a video message from Australia, and Skype love from India is pretty freaking cool.

Because it is my birthday I think I will share some of my favorite things about my summer home.

First is Vivianne...

She is wearing a hat today. And I had a photo shoot with her.

I think she is the most precious thing ever.

Second, are all the other babies running around and yelling "Muzungu" at me. I didn't have a camera with me this morning, but I am not exaggerating, as I walked up the hill from Luzira Remand Prison to the APP house there were about 5 small kids standing near the side of the hill just yelling "Muzungu" and waving violently. This lasted for minutes as it started when I was 10 yards away and continued until I was a good 10 yards past.

So this baby didn't exactly yell or wave to me, but this picture totally illustrates the non-chalant manner parents, I mean mothers, treat their babies. Babies just hang out. On the floor. Usually naked.

American babies are definitely spoiled.

This boy just stared at me. He didn't speak English and seemed quite shocked at my existence in his small village in Northern Uganda.

He is standing next to a wheel barrel full of canisters that are used to haul and hold water. These yellow jugs seem to be the universal water container. They are everywhere.

Jun 8, 2010

Who's your hero?

You guessed it. Tomorrow is another Ugandan public holiday. Last week, mid-week we celebrated the martyrs who fought for Christianity in Uganda. Tomorrow we celebrate Heroes' Day, to honor those who have fought to restore peace in Uganda.

What this means for me? Another reason for people to not return my emails or my phone calls or schedule meetings with me. At the same, I did forget all about the United State's version of Heroes' Day last week, so perhaps I will join in the celebrations as a way to celebrate a peaceful Uganda and United States, and honor those who fought and lost their lives in the name of peace in both countries and around the world.

(It also means I get a day to sleep, do pilates, eat fruit and chapatti, and sleep some more...)

Happy Heroes' Day!

Poem 2: Lao-Tzu

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

Jun 7, 2010


Not like Christian Aguilera circa 2002. I mean like dusty, muddy, trash everywhere, no hot water to shower with dirty.

I thought I would be used to it by now. I was wrong. I miss feeling clean. And not being covered in dirt.

It is more the dust than anything. It barely rains here and the roads are not paved, and therefore dust and dirt is everywhere. And due to the means to which we move around the city and to my pale complexion (which everyone in Uganda likes to point out by pointing at me and shouting Muzungu!), the red dirt gets all over and shows up quite nicely on my skin. I think I have permanently turned a slight shade of orange.

And not having hot water doesn't exactly make the situation any better. Now, I am not complaining about my showering situation. I realize the fact that I have running water is a luzury in comparison to many of my classmates around the world and to most living in Kampala and in prisons across Uganda who lack access to clean water, let alone running water. On the same note, cold showers are not fun. Showering with cold water is not only not hot and not enjoyable, it does not get you clean. Trust me. The towel I use to dry off has turned a shade of brown due to the cold water's inability to thoroughly wash off the layer of dirt.

I have reverted to using lots of deodorant, Stridex face cleansing pads, and scarves to cover my not so clean hair. I may not look nice or smell great, but I think I am managing to make the most of it.

Jun 3, 2010

Dear David Montieth,

In honor of your addiction to books and to the beautiful gift you gave me and all of our classmates before we left for all corners the earth, I brought the books of poems you gave me along to Uganda. I have been marking my favorites and reading the poetry on my balcony looking overlooking Kampala is one of my favorite pastimes. I plan to share my favorites on my blog as I go.

I believe the first one that I will share is also one of your favorites...

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make sense."

- Rumi

So I am pretty sure Rumi wrote this poem about our IPSPs. I mean I am sure he could foresee the Clinton School being established and its curriculum way back in the 13th century in Persia.

In an effort to add some kumbayah to my blog and life, I will try to share my thoughts and maybe even my feelings about it. Ryan Olson has spoken of interconnectedness many times and in the Class 4 graduation video, the beautiful Spirit Trickey said that when she returned from South Africa she had a better understanding and grasp of the interconnectedness of all people across the world.

I understood the concept. Duh, we are all humans, we all struggle in our own ways, and we are all equal. Check.

Yeah so I think I might have a different understanding or perception of this concept now. 

I know I have only been here two weeks and have a long way to go. But the differences in the lives of Ugandans from the life I am familiar and comfortable with is not definable, the closest word is opposite. I feel like an alien at times, my blue eyes, light skin, and loud accented English cause me to stand out, but I was expecting that. What I wasn't expecting as much, is the kindness of the people. They are kind even though they have nothing in American measures.

I am starting to feel more at home as I walk on the streets along with the vendors and boda bodas, along with the chickens and goats, along with the dirt and trash. I am starting to feel this way because of the people, their smiles, lingering handshakes, and quiet speech. How they are so curious how I feel about their country. I am starting to feel that although I have a car, iPod, laptop, and all the American "necessities", I might not be so different from the woman living in a one room shanty with her three children who has never been on the internet and will never leave her home country of Uganda.

I think this feeling will strengthen as I move from prison to prison in the coming weeks, meeting with people in prison, and hear their stories and their needs. Those conversations will not only be heart breaking, but also enlightening and maybe even uplifting.

There is my dose of kumbayah for the day, or even the week.

Sincerely and with love from Uganda,

It's Martyrs Day...

So we went to the Uganda Museum!

I should probably take a second to explain what Martyrs Day is and why it is being celebrated. My understanding, which comes from online sources and bits and pieces that Ugandans have shared, is that today is the day Ugandans honor the Christian missionaries who were killed while spreading the word of Christianity in Uganda. There were large celebrations in Kampala, but word on the street is large celebrations come with large number of police and the possibility of violence, and Joe says to stay away from potential riot situations.

So instead I went the safe route and went to the museum. Jonathan joined me. I like bringing him along for many reasons, first being that he is great company and second being that having a Ugandan companion brings a sense of security.

I had very low expectations for the museum, and those low expectations were definitely not exceeded. As I wandered through the not so tidy, not so organized, not so museumy museum, Jonathan kept lagging behind and I had no idea why. I turned around and he was making a video on his cell phone of everything! I mean everything! And let me tell you the museum was not worth documenting. I kept asking him why he was recording everything, and finally put it together. He had never been in a museum before, this was his first time. I just took for granted the fact that most Americans have been to many museums.

So I made the best of it. Taught Jonathan about the amazingness that are star jump pictures and had a good time! The best part was the huts from the different areas of Uganda!

"It's Uganda, chill."

These are the wise words of Lindsey, or as they call her here Kukunda. (People often refer to each other by their surname, but the Brits and the Ugandans seem to struggle with Meyer, so they seem to be sticking with Julie.)

Lindsey moved to Kampala as a teenager and explained to me how amazing it was to be in high school and not worry about bullies, or being teased, or some of the social abuses most go through. What you wear here doesn't matter and you won't be made fun of if you don't have enough money to pay school dues, instead everyone chips in to help.

Lindsey was basically trying to tell me to stop sweating the small stuff because in Uganda the small stuff just doesn't matter. This seems simple enough, but I am not sure what is small and what is not, considering that small stuff in Uganda and small stuff in America must be different.

Even if I am unable to identify the small things, I can confidently say that I can identify the big things that I should worry about, the things Ugandans worry about. Kindness, and security. Respecting those who have earned it. Not wasting, but reusing. Family. And making the most out of the little they have.

So while in Uganda, do as Ugandans do.

Jun 2, 2010

Its a goat.

Yes. That is a goat. On a guy's back.
On a bicycle, in the city.

I wish I could say I took the picture, but I did not. Olive, the APP financial officer, received it in an email.

Oh Uganda.

Don't get me wrong...

I love it here. And am having a great experience and am anxiously awaiting the coming weeks which will involve visiting with people involved at all levels of the prison system here in Uganda and in Kenya. APP is great. The people here are great. But I think I am starting to miss a few things...

My Clinton School People
Yes, you. During my first year at the Clinton School, my life literally revolved around school, but more importantly those at the school. My classmates became more than my classmates, but my friends, colleagues, and family. Now I find myself in a novel country with people who are kind and beautiful, but do not know me or the experiences I have had in the last year. I find myself explaining everything. I definitely take for granted inside jokes and ongoing stories and the social routines of the Clinton School.

Working Out
So I can't exactly go on a job in Kampala. Trust me, it wouldn't really work out so well. I would probably sprain my ankle in a pothole. Or the streets would be too crowded with people to navigate. Or I would be run over by a matatu or boda boda because I looked right instead of left. I haven't worked out in weeks and I'm going crazy. I feel like Erin O'Leary right before Becca kicks her out of the house because she needs to go on a jog!

Feeling Busy
At school, I always felt busy or a sense of urgency, knowing that there was something to plan or an email to respond to or a meeting to attend. Africa time is alot different from Clinton School time. Emails are not a priority. I have to call to schedule appointments, which is unheard of in the states. Meetings run late. People walk slowly. No one is rushed. And yes there are nice elements to this, but I am having a difficult time adjusting...

More to come. Trying not to dwell, but it seems as though today is my first "I miss home" day. I might need to watch some American television via casttv.com to make me feel better...

Jun 1, 2010

Meet Levi

I feel like I must introduce everyone to the Ugandan cast!

This is Levi! He doesn't usually wear a British judge's outfit that I think looks like a Santa Clause costume, but he was nice enough to humor us by putting one on! (The outfit is in the house because it was used in a play put on by death row inmates!)

Levi goes to school in Kampala and works on the grounds of the APP house, meaning that he guards the gate, runs errands, cares for the rabbits and dogs, and puts up with Alexander's daily lessons and quizzes.

Luzira Women's Prison

Yesterday I went along with Bea, an APP staff member, to solidify plans for a knitting course at the Luzira Women's Prison. It was my first real glimpse of how APP's relationship with prison staff works.

The dynamics of working in a prison is interesting anywhere, but when in a foreign country, you not only have to navigate the hierarchy and strict structure of prison, you must navigate the novel culture. In Uganda, prisons are run by the military. The guards live on the grounds in very modest conditions, wear military uniforms, and are trained in a military fashion.

The hierarchy in prisons is very strong and the word of your superior is very strong. Therefore, nothing can be accomplished without permission from those at the top of the hierarchy, which can be difficult to obtain.

Additionally, we are working in Africa where it seems as though things move at a slower pace with less assistance from emails. It can be quite frustrating and very trying.

Nonetheless, APP has accomplished great things in Ugandan prisons and continue to bring meaningful programs and resources to inmates. The knitting class is off to a great start. The women were enthusiastic and excited at the prospect of learning to knit, creating useful and possibly sellable goods, and learning a skill that may be helpful after they are released. Their energy was encouraging and their smiles contagious.

May 31, 2010

My First African Prison

There is a prison complex very close to where we live, it is about a 15 minutes walk and is called the Luzira Prison. At Luzira Prison, there are four separate units, one for those waiting for trials called remand, one womens prison, one maximum security prison, and Murchison Bay Prison. The complex is home to all maximum security prisoners in Uganda and serves as the referral hospital for all prisoners.

The prison population in Uganda is approximately 26,000 Approximately, 60% of all prisoners are on remand, meaning they are being held prior to being convicted and are merely waiting for trial. Most prisons have more prisoners than the intended capacity and therefore overcrowding is the norm. For example, Luzira Prison Complex  is the largest prison with approximately to be 6,000 prisoners while its intended capacity is around 1,500.

It was surreal to visit a prison in Africa. I have visited multiple prisons in the United States and knew that prisons here would be different, but I just expected different to be entirely negative. But the truth is, although the inmates do not have adequate food, educational, or health supplies, they have the freedom of movement and have a sense of community. Inmates in Ugandan are not caged like American inmates. They are not viewed as dangerous or something to fear. They wander around the grounds, were able to come shake my hand, and could gather freely.

African Prisons Project works on multiple levels to enhance the positive qualities of African prisons and to improve the negative qualities. A few years ago, APP was able to build and furnish multiple resource centers at Luzira Remand Prison.

This is the library that APP built. It is quite impressive and is fully furnished with books and three computers. The walls are decorated with inmates' artwork. 

For some odd reason the man in charge in the military uniform wouldn't let me take pictures outside of the areas that APP improved.

May 30, 2010

Meet Jonathan

Jonathan lives in the APP house and helps with the grounds and also volunteers at Mulago Hospital.

He is so helpful to me. He has been my escort, tour guide, and resident expert of all things Uganda. I think he assumes I know very little and points out everything and explains everything. It is fabulous.

In return, I answer all of his questions of the US. He was especially shocked that I do not have a maid at home and that American men do not hold hands.

i stole a baby

Meet Vivianne

She is the resident baby and is sitting on my lap as I type. She was afraid of me for awhile, but I forced her to adjust. If you look carefully she has snowmen on her outfit, most here will never see snow and do not know what snowmen are. Precious.

The House I Live In (with Alexander posing on the balcony)

Luzira Nights

First off, I live in Luzira, a district in Kampala. People refer to it as a suburb, but I do not think I agree. It is more on the outskirts of the city, but not a suburb in the sense of a suburb in America.

Last night on our way to a discotheque, we stopped at jaja's (meaning grandma). There had been lugandan rap music blaring from this party for the last hour. I did not know what to expect as we walked towards jaja's, but honestly, I had no time to develop expectations. We turned a corner and myself and Alexander of APP were rushed by the party goers.

They grabbed my hands and pulled me to the middle of the dance floor. I was greeted with hugs and handshakes that linger much longer than American handshakes and hugs. I felt comfortable instantly even though I was the only white person or "muzungu" in sight and everyone was staring at me.

The rest of the night we danced. Among children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents. The children grabbed my hands and the young men stared. Only one man came to dance with me, which led to an eruption of applause and laughter form the crowd.

There was no alcohol or food. The dance floor was dirt. We were dancing by the light of the stars and a few small lights from inside the small shanties they call homes. There were no decorations or preparations. It was just a simple party where everyone was smiling, laughing, and dancing their hearts out.

And Jonathan even said I was a good dancer...

May 28, 2010

Mulago Hospital

Today I journeyed in to the city of Kampala with Jonathan, who lives and helps at the APP house. Kampala is full of character and charm, but also full of dirt, dust, and lots of people.

Our journey started by climbing in to a 14 passenger matatu, which is basically a large taxi van that is very stuffy and a bit smelly. But on the bright side, they are cheap! We stopped to visit two shopping centers so I would know where to buy things I may need while staying here.

We then boarded another matatu to visit a patient at Mulago hospital that Jonathan had been helping care for. The hospital was not like any I have ever seen. There were patients on the floor on mats. Beds lined the hallways. People were suffering due to lack of blankets, space, medicine, and food.

While there I met a few amazing individuals who work to care for those who cannot afford healthcare. They gave me a tour, introduced me to a few patients, and tried to teach me a few words of Luganda, which I failed miserably at. The first patient I met did not speak English, yet her smile, hugs, and the way she held my hand conveyed that this woman, who was found ill on the streets and was now in a great amount of pain and sitting in the hospital hallways, was one of the kindest and most appreciative individuals I have ever met. She was delighted to be in my presence, her face lit up at my blue eyes, light skin, and youth. I think I made her day, and she made mine.

I have internet!

Being in Africa has definitely highlighted my dependency on the internet and my blackberry. In the states it truly serves as more than a calendar, directions, and communication, but also provides a sense of security.

But since I have arrived at APP's headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, I have stable and hopefully dependable internet. I am free to google and email as I please. Another perk to having internet is I am now able to share pictures with you from the last week.

I stalked this little boy in Hyde Park. He was the cutest thing, ever. He had a thick British accent and was adorned in the most stereotypical British outfit one could imagine. He was also playing hid and go seek with his friend who was not on roller skates and thought it was quite funny to hop fences and hide in places the other boy on roller skates could not get to. I could not help but giggle. This event made me think of Judy and how tickled she would have been by the two youngsters.

Did I mention we saw giraffes? While in Kenya, we stayed on a beautiful piece of land about 2 hours outside of Nairobi. The land serves many purposes and is the largest piece of land privately owned in Kenya. The most interesting fact about the land is that it is home to 10% of the remaining giraffes in the world! I will be returning to this estate and staying for two weeks at the Research Center there. For those of you concerned I would be living in a hut with no electricity this is the bed I slept in during our visit this past week...

May 27, 2010

I left a week ago...

and have more stories to tell then you are willing to sit and read.

I am now in Kenya and I am definitely a complete stranger to the everything Kenyan. I am so stranger to it my body has been rejecting it and has not let me keep many things in my stomach for the last four days. Beyond the few days of nausea and lack of food, it is beyond what I had imagined and hoped for. The people and the land are beautiful. They are both diverse and giving.

My travel companions for the last few days have been two individuals from the organization I am working with this summer, African Prisons Project. It has been amazing to spend time with motivated young people who are making a huge and positive impact in a place so far from their home, the United Kingdom. It is also refreshing to be with individuals who are compassionate about penal reform and are excited to speak of the ills of prisons around the world.

Instead of sharing all of my stories, I will share one. It comes from our visit of the Courson's Secondary School for Boys in Gil gil, Kenya. The three of us were asked to speak to a room of eager and well-mannered Kenyan boys who were brought in to the school by the Courson family due to their impoverishment. I spoke after my two British companions who are accustomed to speaking English in Eastern Africa. Although, English is spoken regularly and fluently by all, it is not American English, but a slower, kinder, quieter, more vowelled English. Needless to say, the boys loved and laughed at my quick, lazy, loud English. As their bright white eyes intently stared at the clueless American girl, I doubt they understood a word or even knew I was speaking English! The erupted in laughter and applause twice during my short speech and I promise they were not laughing because I intended to be funny.

I leave for Uganda tonight where I will meet the remainder of the African Prisons Project staff and become acquainted with the country, its people, and the prisons there.

May 22, 2010

Wanted:a travel buddy!

I know that I have only been traveling alone for like two days, but seriously. Lord am I an extrovert. Now I do not miss all the compromising and crabbiness that sometimes goes along with traveling with someone else, but I do miss having someone to share the small things.

Like the small red headed British child on roller skates yelling at his friend on foot who was totally cheating at hide n go seek by going on to the grass. (Pictures to come)

And when the guy from Mexico asked me the question he has always wanted to ask an American, "Can Americans make a British accent?".

Or the goofy European haircuts and outfits that are that much goofier when spotted with a friend.

I only have one more day of solitude because I am off to Africa tomorrow! Two colleagues, Alexander and Hannah, and I will be spending three days in Nairobi, Kenya before we head to Uganda.

May 21, 2010

Stop 1: O'Hare to Heathrow to Hyde Park

I made it to London. The headquarters of African Prisons Project and the first stop on my multi-destination trip.

I flew business standby from O'Hare to Heathrow. It was almost the worst decision I have ever made, but turned in to one of the better. I literally got on the last flight to London of the day and got the last seat on the plane. And by last seat, I mean a seat in business class. I officially can never fly economy again. I was greeted with champagne. I had a multi-course meal. The flight attendant was friendly. My seat reclined all the way. It was amazing.

I do love to travel, but I must say the actual traveling part is dreadful. The sitting in airports, dragging luggage, figuring out the public tranportation, and walking to the hostel with your 44 pound backpack strapped to your back part is not fun. It is awful. But the relief of getting to your hostel/hotel, taking a shower, and taking your first stroll around a new city is always worth the grief.

I love London already. I spent time in Europe a few years ago and I had no idea how much I missed hearing multiple languages at one time and admiring the architecture and history and diverse people the continent has to offer.

May 18, 2010

Out of Africa

I watched the movie Out of Africa for the first time yesterday. I know, I know its a classic and yes I named my blog after it before seeing the movie. But in my defense, the movie was created two years before I was born!

First of all, lets talk about how dreamy Robert Redford is...

Alright, now that that is out of my system.

Although, the love story was heart wrenching and the scenery and wildlife awe worthy, the part of the movie that caught my attention the most was Meryl Streep's character Karen's sense of ownership over the land, the people, and the continent and the way Denys, Robert Redford's character, called her out on her sentiment, as only a lusty, wise, and rugged Redford could do. As Karen fell in love with the country and it's people, her desire grew to better them through education and protect those who had lived on the land she purchased.

Her efforts seemed ironic to me due to her invasion of their land, her belief that imposing English upon them would "help" them, and her blatant superiority complex. As I watched the movie and as Karen grew to appreciate the culture, I had hopes that she would shut down the school that taught English and realize the people were not suffering or ignorant or what have you. This was not case.

This frustration caused by Karen's efforts will most likely reappear throughout my summer, but who knows maybe I will be happily surprised.

Karen Blixen: Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.

May 15, 2010

Breaking Out of Cheesy-ness

So my dad said that my first post was "cheesy".

I find this ironic and conflicting. Mainly due to the fact that my Clinton School classmates relentlessly tease me about not being cheesy enough or "chumbaya" enough or touchy feely enough. (I apologize for my lack of hugs and limited emotional displays and my pragmatism/realism. Ryan Olson, if you are reading this, I love you dearly.)

So classmates, the man who raised me called me cheesy. I just wanted to point this out to you so that you have a better understanding of where I am coming from.

May 14, 2010

Breaking Out of my Comfort Zone

I lead a comfortable life, especially in comparison to most throughout the world. But when I describe my life as comfortable, I do not only mean in terms of always having food on the table, a roof over my head, and, in all honesty, having everything and anything my parents were able to provide me. I also mean in terms of always being able to stay within my comfort zone. Many would say I take risks and I suppose I have, yet they were always calculated and studied, and on my terms.

The trip I am about to embark on, a trip of a lifetime, is calculated and studied and planned and organized, in true Julie fashion. (I really like Excel spreadsheets and To Do lists) Yet this trip is to Africa. To three African nations. To learn about prisons there and how one organization can work to make them better. And although I have emailed every possible contact person too many times, made as many arrangements as possible, and created a day by day timeline of the next ten weeks of my life, I cannot truly prepare for this trip. I cannot mentally and emotionally prepare for Africa, let alone prepare myself to tour African prisons and speak with the inmates who lack basic necessities and rights. This trip is not on my terms. And I am working on accepting that.

I can only learn and experience and do my best. I will have to stray from my timelines, deadlines, and to do lists and hand the reigns over to my hosts and the people of Uganda, Kenya, and Sierra Leone to allow them to show me their countries and the struggles they face. I will become okay with that concept, even if it makes me a bit anxious. I will step out of my organized and calculated comfort zone to experience Africa and all of its struggles and all of its beauty.