August in Uganda

There is no accurate way to describe the environment of the Bukesa home in Uganda.   Pictures and videos help, but a house full of kids who each have wonderfully quirky personalities has to be experienced in person before the joy of this work can …

This is My Life

Gah! It’s been over one month since my last blog. It is my goal to do a blog update at least once a month. I was hoping I would want to write updates more than once a month but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. That being said if anyone reading this blog would like more updates please …

This is My Life

Gah! It’s been over one month since my last blog. It is my goal to do a blog update at least once a month. I was hoping I would want to write updates more than once a month but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. That being said if anyone reading this blog would like more updates please feel free to e-mail me. It is easier for me to respond to questions as opposed to rambling about my experiences in Uganda on a blog. It’s hard for me to know what people want to hear about. To me this is just my daily life and it seems strange to update people on day to day activities. Anyway, it’s been one month since my last update so I am sure I can think of something interesting to write about…

Really in the last month I have just been trying to live my life because this is my life now. I live in Uganda. This past weekend I moved to a new home! I was living in the guest house below the office in which I work. I moved to a real house in another area of town. My new house mates (3 girls, one guy) are all great people and I could not be more excited to live with them. I think I will feel much more like Uganda is my home once I actually live in a home and not a hotel that people are constantly moving through. I will definitely update the blog on how life in the new house is after a few weeks.

Most of the people I’ve talked to about their transitions to life in Uganda shared similar feelings to mine. They all said that the first few months are pretty rocky and that after three months things smooth out. I’ve been waiting for the smoothing out part and at just past three months I think I made it there. I feel more relaxed and more confident. I know settling into my new abode will solidify these feelings for me. It is one thing to visit another country and it is a completely different thing to make a life in another country and it is even a completely different thing to make a life in another country alone. I have made friends here and my family supports me but my family is on the other side of the world. I made this journey by myself. The title of this blog is “this is my life” because I have found myself saying that to myself a lot recently. Reality has settled in. Good thing I like my reality. Ok enough of that stuff. Let me share some actual details of my reality.

Two major events have occurred in the past month. The first is when my friend got her appendix removed. I guess that is more of a major event for her than me but it’s still a good story. The second is the visit by HALO’s Portland branch directors.

Operation Appendectomy

My friend Jess had to have an emergency appendectomy, and I stayed by her side during that fiasco. Long story short is about two weeks before the appendectomy Jess had sharp pains in her side and generally felt sick. The doctors told her she had a bacterial infection and gave her antibiotics. She took the medicine and felt better in a few days. Two weeks later the pain returned, so she went to the clinic again. This time they held her overnight because they said they needed to be able to monitor her pain. In the morning the doctor said she had to have her appendix removed immediately.  Having emergency surgery in Uganda isn’t so great in the first place but add on the fact that Jess was supposed to be on a plane to the U.S. the very next day and it becomes a whole new mess. I met Jess and our other friend at the hospital for the surgery. We waited with her while they prepared for surgery and continued to wait while she was in surgery. The operation didn’t take very long and soon enough a doctor emerged and told us everything was fine. Jess came out of surgery in a very cloudy state, but we had to transport her back to the other clinic where she would stay overnight. This is when I get to ride in an ambulance. The hospital drove Jess, me, and our friend to the clinic in an ambulance with the sirens and lights on and everything. Finally we got Jess back to the clinic and into bed. She was able to leave the clinic and go back to her house the next day. Of course she had to take it easy and could really only watch movies in bed for a few days, but she had plenty of visitors and we did our best to entertain her. After a week of rest Jess was able to fly home, and all is well.

Portlandia Meets Kampala

Each HALO branch supports a home in Uganda, so all the money the Portland branch raises goes directly to the Bukesa boy’s home. One of the co-directors, Chris West, spent a year living in Uganda in the early 2000s and has returned every year since then. This year he came to visit the Bukesa boys with his new co-director (Clif), Clif’s wife, and a friend and HALO supporter. Chris has known many of the Bukesa boys for many years so they were all very excited to see each other and the reunion was beautiful.

Nothing but smiles 🙂

The boys quickly took to the other three visitors and we all had a great few weeks together. We spent a few days just hanging out with the boys, playing soccer, dancing, sharing meals, talking, and playing games. One day was devoted to the Bukesa version of the Olympics. The kids were divided into four teams and each team chose an African country to represent. They painted their country’s flag on paper. I wasn’t able to attend the Olympics so I’m not sure what events they did but in the end everyone got a gold medal that we made.

Just hanging out.

Two days of the Portland crew’s trip was consumed by the building of an awesome garden. Clif and his wife Sulie kindly donated the money necessary to make a garden happen at the Bukesa home. Because the boys have chickens on their property we could not simply plant seeds in the ground. We needed to build some sort of fence to keep the chickens from eating the plants. The plants also needed to be protected from the soccer ball and the 25 energetic boys running around the compound. Clif and his creative mind decided we could use the broken bed frames to build a fence.

As we were building the fence one of the mentors saw the opportunity to build a bench on the front side of the fence. This is why planting a garden turned into two days of hard work. While the men and boys worked on the fence I spent most of my time picking trash out of the garden area. Uganda doesn’t have a great trash disposal system yet so most people just pile all their trash in their compound a burn it. Our homes are no exception. The boys do have a trash pile but the trash seems to migrate all over the compound. The younger boys helped me with trash removal. Finally after removing most of the trash and successfully building a fence bench we were able to plant seeds. We planted tomatoes, carrots, green peppers, kale, onion, and cabbage.  We had the kids paint rocks and write the names of each plant on the rocks so we could label the garden.

With that project finished we could move on to art. Clif is a professional artist so he again took the reins. One day each boy made a journal out of the papers they had done an art project on a few weeks back but weren’t interested in keeping. The other project was painting on canvas and fabric tiles. Both projects turned out great, and the boys had an awesome time as they always do when we do art.
I had a great time with the Portland branch and look forward to their next visit. I’m sure the kids will be asking about them until they come again.

The month of August was a month long break from school for all of our kids. Most of the Bukesa boys stayed at the house during this break, but the majority of our other kids went home to be with their families. So I got to spend a great deal of time with the Bukesa boys but hardly anytime with any of the other kids. Needless to say I miss them and can’t wait to see them this week. 

All in all, life is good! Thanks for reading!

City Livin’

I hope you all have enjoyed reading about my time living in Kampala. Things are still going well as I continue to adjust to life in Uganda. While the city of Kampala definitely has it’s down sides and negative aspects I overall enjoy living here. I wanted to take some time to explain what Kamapla is like as a city.  …

City Livin’

I hope you all have enjoyed reading about my time living in Kampala. Things are still going well as I continue to adjust to life in Uganda. While the city of Kampala definitely has it’s down sides and negative aspects I overall enjoy living here. I wanted to take some time to explain what Kamapla is like as a city. 

Most tour books will tell you Kampala is a city of seven hills and this is very true expect there are a lot more than seven. The hills and the fact that almost no street in the city goes straight for very long makes Kamapla somewhat confusing to navigate. And by somewhat I mean very. I have no idea where I am going. Thankfully the city is packed with very convenient motorcycle taxis known as boda-bodas. Boda drivers generally know their way to all the districts in Kampala so finding a certain place isn’t too hard as long as you take a boda. 
This is a boda.
Many bodas waiting for customers at a boda stage which is just a designated place a few bodas are permanently stationed. Instead of driving around looking for customers they will wait at their stage.

Walking around Kamapla is an option but not a very practical one. I usually only walk about a mile up my street to a small strip mall area that has two grocery stores, a coffee house, a few restaurants, and plenty of people selling fruits, vegetables, and bootleg movies in the parking lot. This is where I normally do my grocery and movie shopping. Down my street the other direction, around the corner, and down another street are two malls (yes, there are two malls located right next to each other). The malls host a variety of shops and both have one large grocery store. I usually only go to the mall to use the ATM because anything you can get in the mall you can get elsewhere for cheaper. 

There is a city center or downtown area that hosts many tall office and government buildings. Most embassies are also situated in the downtown area. Downtown and throughout the greater Kampala area there are endless strip malls for lack of a better word. Every street you drive down in the city will have stores on top of stores on top of stores…literally. A few streets will only have stores that offer certain products like electronics. If you need any electronic device all you have to do is go to Kampala Road where you will find a plethora of shops offering the exact same products. When I was searching for a camera battery I just got dropped off on Kampala Road went into the first shop I saw that was advertising cameras and asked if they had the specific battery I needed. If they didn’t I simply walked out the door and went right into the shop next door. I went to maybe 8 different stores and a few of the stores had was I was looking for but I was on the search for the best price. I could have gone into 60 stores if I wanted but I eventually found what I needed and at the right price. I actually ended up going to Kampala Road twice because I like to survey my options, gather the information, and then return later because making a decision at the store is too much pressure. At least I know I’m getting the best deal when I do this even if it takes me two days to buy a camera battery.

This describes Kampala so well – please keep our city clean by not littering and throwing your trash away in this non-existent trash can. Thanks!

Can’t wait to celebrate 50 years this October!

So there is the electronic district (I just made that up), the fabric district (I’m pretty sure that is what people actually call that area), the Ethiopian restaurant district, the mall district, and many more of these types of areas that I have yet to discover. To me it seems odd that the same types of stores would gather in the same region but that’s Kampala. 

When you aren’t in one of the above mentioned areas you will mainly see informal used clothing shops, small restaurants, food stands, internet cafes, some very questionable hotels, inns, and hostels, bars, convenient stores, the occasional large grocery store, many buildings that you have no clue what purpose they serve, and oh so much more. However, if you are new in Kampala (or even if you aren’t) chances are you aren’t looking at your surroundings because you are too distracted by the traffic which your boda driver will inevitably be trying to bob and weave through. This process usually includes methods like driving on the sidewalk, the grass, and in the really really too small places between cars. (Don’t worry Mom, I only use the safest bodas in Kampala and you are never travelling fast when doing this.) But, I can guarantee you will get to your destination before the people in the cars and buses. Check out the video below that I took while riding on a boda. The song in the video is really quite appropriate because it will be either this song or some other loud and obnoxious American or Ugandan pop song that accompanies you on your ride through the city via the shops on the side of the road. Noise pollution does not exist in Kampala. It appears that it is completely appropriate to play music or a recording of someone preaching as loud as possible at all times of the day and night. There are even cars that serve the sole purpose of driving down the street blaring music and advertising one thing or another. Quiet time is hard to find just because it is never really quiet. Unfortunately I cannot get the video to load. The internet probably isn’t fast enough. I will try again and add it to the blog if it works later. 
In the middle of the city are the two taxi parks which are constantly crazy busy. There is old taxi park and new taxi park and I have yet to figure out which is which. Taxis in Uganda are not what you are thinking. Picture a traditional white cargo van and add some beat up old seats and windows and you’ve got yourself a taxi. I have yet to take a taxi here because I don’t understand how to tell where they are going. Sometimes there is a guy leaning out the window yelling the name of the destination but I usually don’t know what he is saying. Taxis are the third cheapest method of transportation right behind large buses (buses here are the same as in the U.S) and walking. Bodas are cheap by U.S. standards but a semi-luxury to many Ugandans. They do have what American’s consider taxis in Uganda. They are referred to as special hires and are the most expensive mode of transportation. 

Ugandan style taxi – that guy is the one who will yell out the name of the area the taxi is headed toward.

Along with all the sights I have already mentioned your nose will be assaulted with various smells during your time in Kampala. The two main smells are burning trash and exhaust. Neither are pleasant but you either get used to them or learn not to breathe when behind a large bus. For the other smells well you’ll just have to come visit me and experience them first hand. 

Kampala is very much a hustling and bustling city full of people, noises, smells, and its’ own kind of charm. While it is a very complicated city to navigate I am confident I will know my way around within a few months. Just as moving to any big city in the U.S. it takes time to adjust and learn the ropes, and I think that is half the adventure. Hopefully my descriptions, pictures, and video help you understand what Kampala is like and what to expect during your upcoming visit ;).

P.S. I wrote this blog a few days ago and since then I have discovered the stationary district! Paper needs? Head to Kampala’s stationary district!

One Month Anniversary

Today marks my one month anniversary in Uganda. I can’t decide whether it feels like it has been longer than one month or if I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month. Time is a different concept in Uganda. As someone put it to me last night it is “the African slow down”, and I think I am …

One Month Anniversary

Today marks my one month anniversary in Uganda. I can’t decide whether it feels like it has been longer than one month or if I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month. Time is a different concept in Uganda. As someone put it to me last night it is “the African slow down”, and I think I am having a hard time getting used to the slow pace of life. I know I will soon adapt to this pace but for now I am still in my American state of mind. Let me give you an example of why life here is slower:

Yesterday I went to the mall to print some documents, make a photocopy, and pick up a few things at the grocery store (which is in the mall). In my mind I was going to achieve half the things I needed to do that day before our staff meeting at 11:30.

I left my house, hailed down a boda boda (motorcycle taxi), negotiated a fair price, and then took off to the mall. It was a few minutes before I realized he was going the wrong way and it took another few minutes to explain to him we were going the wrong way and for him to understand where I needed to go. We turned around and headed in the right direction. Once I got to the printing/photocopy place in the mall it took a few minutes to get my documents up and then they wouldn’t print. The employee tried a different computer and a different printer but nothing would print. Then another employee tried to figure out why the document wouldn’t print. Finally we figured out my documents were save in Adobe Acrobat and their computers only have Adobe Reader so they were not going to print. The next closest place to print was in the other mall which is right next door but I didn’t have enough time to go over there. I did manage to get a photocopy of my passport.

After that I went to the grocery store but of course they did not have what I was looking for. So one hour later I am back at the office for our weekly staff meeting and all I have to show for my trip to the mall is one photocopy. I’ll have to try again later. After our 2 and a half hour long staff meeting I ate lunch and prepared to head out and try another grocery store at the other mall. Then of course it started raining which means I am not going anywhere because the only means of transportation is a boda boda. It poured for about an hour. Finally when it was only sprinkling I decided I could face the light rain and go to the mall. So did everyone else in Kampala. The traffic was awful! The roads were also flooding. There was about 4 inches of water on the bottom level of the parking garage. I made it to the store and found the ingredients I needed for our group dinner I was in charge of planning. We fought the traffic again on the way home which was even worse than earlier. My boda driver drove on the sidewalk/grass for a little while.

All in all on Monday it took the entire working day for me to make one photocopy, attend a meeting, and go to the grocery store. If I didn’t go to the grocery store during traditional working hours (hours which don’t really exist here) we would have been eating dinner at 10pm. I still haven’t completely figured out why it takes so long to get one thing accomplished but it can take a whole day to check one thing off your to do list. What I could get done in one day in the U.S. will probably take me a week and a half to do in Uganda.

Welcome to “the African slow down.”

Other than “the African slow down” giving me some trouble I am having a great time so far and I love my job. Sometimes I don’t really know what to do with myself during traditional working hours aka 9-5 because my main job right now is to get to know the kids, the homes as a whole, and the mentors who live with the kids but the kids don’t get home from school until 6pm. HALO has four homes in Kampala and I visit a home every Tuesday and Thursday and sometimes Wednesday and Saturday depending on what is going on elsewhere. Last Saturday I did community service work with the Makerere and Bukesa homes. They cleaned trash out of the overgrown weeds on the side of three roads near the Makerere home and then cleared all the weeds and grass away.
Working hard! Dumping more trash on the pile.

Still more road to clean.
Cleared road


Tie Dye Twins!

There are now three much cleaner roads in Kampala with more room to walk and drive because the weeds are not taking over the road. After community service I hung out with the kids at their house. Since I work at night and on the weekends I sometimes don’t work all day during the weekdays.

Before I give a recap of the month activities I wanted to briefly explain HALO’s relationship with the Ugandan nonprofit Cornerstone Development. Cornerstone is a Ugandan based NGO that has been around for almost thirty years. Cornerstone has many programs in Uganda which includes providing homes and education for former street children and children who were involved in sexual abuse and/or prostitution. Cornerstone has 12 homes for kids and HALO fully funds and does the programming for 5 of these homes. Since HALO is not a register nonprofit in Uganda we run our program through Cornerstone.

Cornerstone also runs a secondary school for boys and one for girls in Uganda and a few other East African countries. Their secondary schools are also known as leadership academies and they are two of the best secondary schools in Uganda. Cornerstone also has a mentor program which takes upstanding university students and places them in the Cornerstone youth homes where they live and work while attending college. The mentors are the daily care takers for HALO children. The work of Cornerstone probably deserves its own blog entry, but hopefully this brief explanation will serve to help you understand how HALO operates in Uganda. My office is in the Cornerstone office building and I live in the guesthouse located below the offices.

Monthly recap:

– I finished training with my predecessor, Dani, and she went back to the U.S. to prepare for her wedding. She is engaged to the son of the director/founder of Cornerstone. She will return in August to live and work with Cornerstone for the next 5 years. I am now taking on all HALO responsibilities.

– We celebrated Dani and Eric’s wedding by throwing a traditional Ugandan wedding ceremony. The traditional ceremony is called a Kwanjula which translates to Introduction in English. Dani and her family are literally introduced to Eric and his family. The ceremony is basically a long play in which the two families are introduced to each other and the man’s family brings tons of gifts to the woman’s family. This was the first Kwanjula anyone who attended had seen done in English. The ceremony was beautiful and fun. Here are some pictures of the event!

The ceremony from above

Me in my traditional Uganda outift! It is called a Gomesi. The Ugandans looooved seeing white people in their traditional outfits. I even walked down the street in it and got lots of compliments. 

Me and some of the boys from Makerere home.

Some of the mentors in their traditional outfits.

– We also had a few bridal showers for Dani hosted by her various friends in Uganda. They were both really fun and actually the first bridal showers I have ever attended!

– I officially went to all the HALO homes and meet all the kids and mentors. I went to Gulu, about 5 hours to the north, with Dani and spent a few days with our home there. I will visit the home in Gulu every other month.

– I started planning my first art program I will do with the homes.

– I have been brain storming ideas for programs I want to create and implement and also ideas for improving our existing programs.

Mostly this first month in Uganda I have been trying to get used to living here, finding my way around, figuring out what to cook, meeting new people, and learning what my job duties are. I am looking forward to what the next month will bring me here in Uganda and the many months to follow.