Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Hour

It's Thursday in the Kampala office which means it's happy hour time! Unlike happy hour at home that usually means drinks after work, here it means as much fried food as you can eat. Samosas (both meat and veggie), crisps (aka potato chips), groundnuts (tiny peanuts), muffins, and of course, bananas. It wouldn't be a proper Ugandan happy hour without bananas :) Happy hour is from noon-1pm, replacing our normal 1pm lunch, and is one of my favorite things about the Kampala office.

Besides the tasty snacks, everyone gets together and just laughs about stuff - today the topic was trousers (don't say pants, that means underwear here) versus skirts. We were talking about how trousers on women are for the most part not accepted in Africa. You can get away with them in Nairobi and Kampala, but that's about it for Eastern Africa. It reminded me of when I landed in Malawi - when you leave the airport, everyone's bags are thoroughly checked/pawed through, but if you are a woman wearing trousers, they give you a kanga, or a cloth, to wrap around you like a skirt. They won't even let you leave the airport without a skirt on! I'll miss happy hour Thursdays when I leave.

I have completed nine articles in the past week which feels like a huge accomplishment. I have one or two more I'm thinking of writing, but if I stopped now, I would still feel good about what I finished this trip. In total, I have 18 stories with photos - hooray! Tomorrow I will finish up last minute stuff and then have a fun afternoon with Carole, the Bridger and my boss here, when we go to the market to do some last minute shopping. Saturday, I'll meet up with Carole and another friend/co-worker Lydia and go to lunch and a movie, and then Sunday I'll leave for the U.S. It should be a good couple of days. This will most likely be my last post before I come home, so thanks again to everyone for your support, prayers and for reading my blog!!!!

Friday, October 24, 2008


Today, I am back in the Kampala office after spending a week in Zambia. Zambia was an experience unlike any other I have had in my travels so far and was a life changing experience. I spent most of my time about 4 1/2 hours north of Lusaka in the Copper Belt with Beki (short for Bektember), the HIV/AIDS coordinator and Enelise who also works with CRWRC in Zambia. The photograph on the left is of the largest open air mine in the world. You can see how barren and stripped the land has become due to the mining industry. As in many countries in Africa, jobs are really difficult to find, so men from all over Zambia travel to this area to work in the mines. The work is really labor intensive, dirty and dangerous. Most miners develop a bad cough/lung problems, and have eye problems from all the dust. They also live under the constant threat of cave-ins. Another source of income in the Copper Belt is the trucking industry. Trucks wait at the border between Zambia and Congo for anywhere from 1-2 months (the photo on the right shows just a few of the hundreds of trucks waiting to clear customs/cross the border.) The men just sit in their trucks in 100+ degree heat, away from their families doing nothing. Both of these industries have created a sort of 'perfect storm' for the HIV/AIDS virus. The men who work in the mines and as truckers are truly surviving instead of living. The darkness that they live in has contributed towards the commercial sex industry that many woman are working in because they also have no other way to provide for themselves and their children. It's a tangled web of darkness and suffering that has led to an HIV/AIDS rate in this area of 20%. In church on Sunday, this hit me the hardest as I looked down the pew I was sitting in. There were five of us in the pew, which meant that according to the HIV/AIDS rate, one of us should be HIV positive. The overall HIV rate for Zambia is around 16% and in Lusaka it is 18% which means that 500 people die per month in the capitol city alone.

CRWRC is working with the Reformed Church of Zambia trying to combat these astonishingly high numbers - trying to not only stop the spread of HIV/AIDS but also care for those who are infected. We spent day after day visiting people in their homes, hearing their stories and witnessing the caring relationships the Home Based Caregivers have established with their HIV positive clients. We spent time with tons of AIDS orphans (remember, an orphan has lost either one of both parents) and their caregivers as well - including this lovely grandmother on the left who is caring for 7 grandchildren. She had 10 children, all of which have died, and their children have been spread out amongst relatives to care for them. Their caregiver, Daisy, is working with this grandma and kids and has established a powerful connection with them through giving support by counseling, some small food support and educating the grandmother on how she can care for her grandchildren. We also had a chance to visit a community based school, where the teachers work for free, the children pay a really small amount for school fees, or none at all if they cannot afford it, and are allowed to attend school without a uniform. The cost of the uniform keeps so many children out of school here, so it was great to see them all learning in regular clothes. We also visited a hospice which was so special for me because of the time I had spent at the AIDS hospice in Pacifica.

I think one of the things I really appreciated about
my time in Zambia was the personal connections I made with people - both staff, volunteers and people being cared for. Even though I was only there a week, I felt like I really got to know people. I don't know exactly why, but I felt closer to the patients we visited more than any of the others I have met. The man on the right lost his sight two years ago after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. When we found him, he thought his legs were paralyzed from the virus as well. He was so scared of what the virus might do to him, he had stopped walking, which in turn had caused his limbs to stop working. He had become paralyzed because of his fear, not HIV/AIDS. Rhoda (in the blue shirt) is trained as a nurse, and helped him to get to his feet and start walking. I had a chance to pray with him at the end, and Beki took a picture while we were praying I am so thankful to have. It was one of many amazing experiences that I know have changed my life for the better.

My week in Zambia was probably the most difficult for me emotionally, but also the best for me spiritually. The things I saw and heard are forever burned into my memory which I am so thankful for - I know that I will leave Africa a different girl than when I came. I will be in Kampala for the next 9 days before I jump on a plane home, and will be furiously typing away for the rest of my time here. I have at least 12 stories I want to write before I leave, and am hoping to finish 15 - a tall order for just a few days. So keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I slave away over my laptop. I look forward to sharing the stories and photos with you when I get back!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mombassa and More

I have traveled many beautiful places in the nine weeks I've been in Africa, but I think this week, I went to the most beautiful of all - Mombassa! Amy (the bridger from Kenya) and I flew in on Monday morning and met Crystle and Dave, our Canadian CRWRC friends, at the hotel. The Nyali Beach Holiday Resort (funny name, huh?) where we stayed was right on the Indian Ocean and beautiful. As soon as we met them, we headed into Mombassa to Fort Jesus which is the big tourist attraction. We hired a guide to show us around the fort who gave us a lot of information and history and was well worth the hire. It was built in the 15th century by the Portuguese and was taken over a few hundred years later by the Arabs. The views from the fort were amazing, and we stopped to take in the view and treated ourselves to a glass of lime juice which the fort is famous for. It was in my top 5 glasses of juice of all time - just sweet enough, so refreshing but not too cold, and served in a clear glass mug. Plus, it was just fun to stand on top of a really old fort in Kenya, drinking real lime juice.

On a more serious note, we learned quite a bit about the fort's history, including how it was used as a holding zone for Africans who had been captured and were being sold into slavery. They would keep them at the fort, load them onto ships to West Africa, and then sell them off from there. We went into a tiny room they would hold them in - it was so dark, no windows, cold and damp and had a horrible smell to it. I had never experienced anything like that before and it was one that I will never forget.

After we left the fort, our guide Mohammed took us through Old Town Mombassa. It reminded me a lot of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland in its architecture. We went to the local market and I bought some spices to bring home with me that look wonderful.
Then we went back to the hotel for a late lunch and our celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving. We went around the table and shared what we were thankful for which was really nice, and something I think should be done more than just on Thanksgiving. I shared I was so thankful that I do not have cancer, and that I am healthy and fully supported by so many friends and loved ones at home in my journey here. Please know how thankful I am for all of you!!!

The next day, we were working all day out in the field. I had the chance to go to the smaller town of Kilifi, about an hour from Mombassa with the HIV/AIDS coordinator, Joyce. We spent a great day meeting with support groups and widow groups, but my favorite part was at the end of the day when we went out with a Home Based Caregiver named Emily. We went to visit her client Joy (both Emily and Joy's names have been changed to protect their identity, but they are fine with me sharing their story and photo) who is HIV positive and is in a public hospital. The hospital was one of the most horrendous places I have ever been - so old and run down, people all over the place waiting to see a doctor, and inside was even worse.
Each room/area had 8 twin beds in it. Bad enough, there was no privacy, but each twin bed was shared by 2-3 people. It was so hot and the smell was overwhelming. The people in Joy's ward were terribly sick - many of them reminded me of my friends at the AIDS hospice and how they looked before they died. I spent maybe just a half and hour with Joy and Emily, hearing about their friendship and the many challenges they face on a day to day basis. It was such an amazing experience, and when I left, it took everything in me to not turn around and go back. Hands down, I have not felt the kind of joy and peace I experienced in that hospital since I have been in Africa.

I flew into Zambia yesterday and am in the CRWRC office in Lusaka today just learning about their programs here and getting to know the staff. The HIV rate is about 16% in Zambia, and in the Copper Belt, where we are going for 4-5 days starting tomorrow, the rate is 20% - 1 in 5! They told me that CRWRC spends about 75% of it's HIV/AIDS resources in Zambia, so I am thinking the next few days will be very informative and powerful as well. I will be traveling with the HIV/AIDS coordinator, another staff from the office here and a partner from within Lusaka. My Zambian experience so far has been great - people here are so friendly and welcoming. I am looking forward to the Copper Belt and about learning more about the environment these miners are forced to work in and how it contributes to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to blog about it next Wednesday. For now, thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A weekend in Nairobi

This morning in church, the pastor ended his sermon by saying, "We are living in a time of grace." I wish I had deep thoughts to share about this statement, but I don't. I just thought that it was really striking. If you have any thoughts on this, let me know.

Thanks to Moi day on Friday (celebrating Kenya's second president) I have had a leisurely three days which has been nice. Friday, I spent the day with Crystal and Dave who are visiting from Canada at the Nairobi National Museum (photo left)  in the morning and the afternoon at a place called Amani Ya Ju. Amani Ya Ju is an amazing project in Nairobi that is helping women refugees from war torn countries learn sewing skills to provide for themselves and their families. We had a beautiful tour from a woman named Maggie and then spent way too much time in shopping in the gift store followed by a delicious lunch. I love visiting these kinds of places; to see women having their lives turned around by something as little as two weeks of sewing lessons and a sewing machine and have a chance to support their work by shopping. Those of you who know me well know I never pass up a chance to shop - especially when it's for a good cause :)

My housemate Amy has not been feeling well since last week, which has left me to fend for myself this weekend. Yesterday and today, I took a taxi across town to a cafe called Java House where they have free wireless! There is nothing that can cheer me up more than a good cappuccino and internet access. So I've spent time working on some articles from the past few weeks and catching up on email which is a treat. Tomorrow, we leave for Mombassa which looks to be busy but good, and Thursday I'll leave Amy, Crystal and Dave (who I've been traveling with the past week) for Zambia. Hope you all had a good of a weekend as I did!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Return to Ulungu

The last three days, I have been in Ulungu, which is about 4 hours east of Nairobi. It was a treat for me, because this is one of the communities I visited last year when I was here on the HIV/AIDS learning tour. It was nice to go back to see familiar faces as well as the developments that have happened in the community over the past year. There were 12 of us who went from Nairobi, Mombasa (Kenya) and Uganda as part of an evaluation team. CRWRC started working in this community over seven years ago, and at this point in time, are assessing what the next few years will look like and if it is time or not to move on to another community. Ulungu has been paired up with a group of churches in Canada, and have been working together on projects like building a borehole for clean water, a nursery school, and a health clinic. (The picture above left is the current church and health clinic and the foundation for the new church they are building.)

I love the work they are doing because it is not just for the church, but it is for the entire community. On Tuesday, we had the chance to spend the entire day in the community.
They built a series of water kiosks where the community can access clean water. The photo on the right is Carole, my boss in Uganda, and I in front of the windmill they built that enables the water to be sent out to 12 water kiosks. A huge issue in the community pre-borehole was that people were having to spend all day walking to clean water and carrying it home. Can you imagine having to spend 7-8 hours every other day just trying to access clean water? The water kiosks, even though some are not working, have been a huge blessing to everyone. When the community realized the water was for everyone, not just church members, it made a big impact on the them in seeing that the local church cares for everyone, not just their own members. So the church has seen a huge rise in attendance, so much so that they have to construct a new building big enough to hold everyone.
Many people are contributing to the new building. People are giving what they can, even if it's not money. This picture is of a woman who was bringing bags of sand from her land to contribute to the foundation of the church. People donate whatever they have - sand, bricks, wood, even their crops that can be sold to pay for other materials. The church in Ulungu is such a
beautiful picture of what the church should be like: a church that is reaching out and caring about their community members, not for the sake of high attendance, but for the sake of loving people like Jesus commanded us to. They care for many Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC's) and the health clinic has benefited so many in that before, people were having to walk 50KM to the nearest health center, which is a challenge when you are healthy, and impossible when you are sick. It was a beautiful day spent with people who are working collaboratively to change their community for the better and was a blessing to all of us. On Wednesday, we spent all day assessing the work we had seen and began the process of making some recommendations to Ulungu and their partners in Canada about next steps.

During our time on Tuesday, we were split into groups of two and matched up with caregivers of local OVC's and sent out into the surrounding area for home visits.
One of my favorite things to do in Africa is to spend the day walking through the countryside visiting people in their homes. The landscape is always so rugged and often times we travel not on roads but small footpaths through farms, dried riverbeds, etc. It's just good to spend time with the people who live there, travel by foot as they travel, see and smell the surroundings they see and smell everyday, eat meals with them - just live life with them. It really is a gift every time I have a chance to do this. Another one of my favorite things about Africa is spending time with the local children. They're shy at first, but an easy way to break the ice is by taking their photo and showing it to them on the screen of the digital camera. Thank God for digital cameras! There's nothing like seeing the smile on a kids face as they see themselves on the screen. After our field visits on Tuesday, a group of OVC's (photo on the right) from different houses followed us back to the village center, and quickly became my new best friends. They couldn't get enough of having their photos taken,
and before I knew it, they had organized themselves into a line to have their individual photos taken. I've included a couple of pictures here, but encourage you to check out my flickr site, which you can access it by clicking on the flickr logo to the right of the screen. I don't know if it's because I had spent time with these kids, or what, but these are some of my favorite photos I've taken so far and can't help but smile when I look at them.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Kenya which is a nice surprise. A couple from Canada, Dave and Crystal, have been with us since Saturday evening, so I think the three of us will visit the Nairobi National Museum tomorrow which will be fun and a nice break. Crystal works for CRWRC in Canada and Dave is just traveling with her for fun. On Monday, we leave for Mombasa along with Amy, the bridger from Kenya, where I'll spend some time with Joyce, who is the HIV/AIDS coordinator for that area. She was at the evaluation in Ulungu this week and I had a chance to talk with her some about our time next week and am looking forward to seeing some kinds of HIV/AIDS programming I have not yet seen. I'm also excited because we'll get to spend my birthday on Monday next to the ocean. There is no place I would rather be than next to the water, so this will be the perfect place to spend my second birthday in Africa. Then Thursday, I'm off to Zambia for a week and then back to Uganda before I return to the U.S. As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


The past few days, I have been on a mini writer's retreat which has been fabulous. I've included a picture on the left of the view from the hotel lobby/dining area of Lake Victoria. It has always been comforting for me to spend time next to the ocean, and I've found the last few days, that a lake will also do just fine. I was surprised how little time I have had to write so far on the trip. Pretty much every day, we are out in the field spending time with people. We usually leave around 8a.m. and on average, don't get back to wherever we're staying until 8p.m. By the time we have dinner and wash up, I'm usually so exhausted I go straight to bed. So I definitely needed the time to write. I have nine finished articles under my belt documenting my first five weeks of travels. Woo hoo!!! I was hoping for 10, but just couldn't eek out the last one. Oh well. I figure nine will keep me humble. Tomorrow, I'll be leaving the hotel and going back to the familiarity of traveling and interviewing people, which I am looking forward to.

It's been somewhat challenging, writing non-stop for three days. I think the part I've struggled with the most was reliving all of the stories I've heard. I still can't believe the things that I've seen and heard the past few weeks. Tonight I was organizing photos to include with my story submissions and just started crying over the photos I took of mothers with their HIV positive daughters. Not so much because it's horrible to think most of the little girls probably won't get to grow up, but I think I was crying because of the overwhelming love these women have for each other and the fact that they were willing to let me in to their world, if even for just a few hours.

So I'm finally done sorting photos and editing stories, and will now begin the task of packing. Staying at this hotel has been a treat for a number of reasons, but I think the best part (besides having uninterrupted time to write) was getting to put my clothes in a closet and on shelves. That sounds crazy, but in 44 days of traveling, this is the first time I have actually been able to somewhat unpack. Most places I've stayed are pretty tiny and don't have a closet or dresser, so I've gotten used to wrestling my behemoth of a bag every morning to find my clothes. So getting to unpack for a few days...heaven.

I almost forgot! This afternoon, I was in an earthquake! Just a little one, but a real, African earthquake. I had to stop and think where I was... Uganda or California?

Tomorrow, I am going to TASO, The AIDS Support Organization, which I am thinking will be great. Friday, am not sure what my schedule is and on Saturday I leave for Kenya. I'll be traveling within Kenya with other CRWRC workers to Ulungu for an evaluation of a community they have been working in for over 7 years. The community is doing great, have met their goals and CRWRC is getting ready to pull out. It should be a really interesting story to write. After that, I'm traveling to Mombasa for a few days, then to Zambia for a week, and finally back to Uganda for 10 more days, and then home! The time is flying by which is nice, and while I love Africa, I have to admit that I miss home. That's all for now. Thanks as always for reading.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Last week I was traveling in eastern Uganda in the region of Teso. I went with Jim, Carole and Allen who all work for CRWRC. I couldn't have asked for better travel mates! It really was a nice week, even though we heard a lot of difficult stories. It took over 6 hours to drive from Kampala to Soroti, which is where we stayed for four nights. So Monday was basically a travel day, but was nice because we crossed over the Nile river at it's source in Jinja. We also stopped for Chinese food on the way, which I had my doubts about at first, but turned out to be great. The restaurant was in a full blown, ornate, chinese style architecture building in the middle of rural Uganda. You would have doubts too, right? Much to my surprise, the food was excellent. I had chicken and cashews that would have given the chicken and cashews at my favorite San Francisco Chinese restaurant a run for its money.

Starting on Tuesday, we traveled anywhere between 60-80 kilometers every
day to the surrounding towns and villages. Tuesday Kaberamaido, Wednesday Katakwi, and Thursday Kumi. We would start our day by going to the offices of the group we were visiting and would get an overview of all their programming. Carole, Jim and Allen would also deal with any CRWRC business they had. Then, into the car and out into the field for community visits.
We always took more people from the office with us as our guides, which meant Carole and I had to ride in back where the luggage usually was stored. (see photo left) We loved it and felt very wild with no seat belts, actually no seats at all, and just an overall feeling of wild, car rebellion. The thing that was funny was the children's responses to seeing us get into the back of the car. After we were done with our visit in a community,we would crawl in, all the kids would crowd around our car and stare. I don't know what they were thinking, but every time they would just stand and stare at us in amazement. Normally, when you see visitors from North America, they are riding in the front seat of the car,
so maybe that was it. Or maybe they were just wondering if we understood the concept of riding in a car (we were always the first one in since Allen had to shut the door behind us, so that might have been it). Finally on the third day
of being the recipient of these bewildered looks, I took a photo which is what you see here.

Overall, the week was really powerful for me personally. Everyone we met was so welcoming and sweet. The groups were so joyful and open about sharing their stories. Every community visit was a treat. I think the thing that made the week so powerful was knowing the history of this area. For over 20 years, the Karamojong have been raiding villages, stealing cattle and sometimes killing villagers, even women and children. The Karamojong are very traditional in their dress, lifestyle, etc. They believe that their god has divinely ordained that all the cows in the world belong to them, hence the frequent cattle raids. Before and during the reign of Edie Amin, the Karamojong only had spears, so their attacks weren't too dangerous. Edie Amin had quite a tight police force and was able to keep the Karamojong in check, but after he was kicked out, the Karamojong were able to get access to automatic weapons and that's where the trouble began. People in the Teso region were under attack/being killed by the Karamojong, and then to add to the trouble, the rebels in the Lord's Resistance Army began attacking them in the early 2000's. In case you are unfamiliar with the LRA, this is the group that has terrorized northern Uganda and southern Sudan by raiding villages to take boys for child soldiers and girls as sex slaves. They have killed thousands as well as mutilated their victims who lived by cutting off their arms, noses, lips and ears. It's truly horrible.

Between the insurgency from the Karamojong and the attacks by LRA rebels, people were forced to leave their homes and move into displacement camps. In the camps, they could protect themselves because many were living together so they had strength in numbers. Today, many have been able to return home because the LRA are in peace talks, but many are still living in the camps because of the Karmojong. Almost every town you visit in this area still has camps that people are living in.

The challenge for people when they returned home is that oftentimes, everything they had was gone. Their homes had been burned, all of the cattle had been stolen, the crops/farms were destroyed. Everything they had left behind was gone. What is amazing is that the people we met with haven't given up. They have returned home and have begun rebuilding, but this time with new priorities. One of the pastors of a village shared with us that the reason they built a school as one of their first projects post-conflict is because they realized that knowledge can't be stolen. Rebels can steal everything, even kill people, but they can't take knowledge, education and information, so they want their children to learn. Amazing.

The picture on the left is of the residents of the village that built the school in Kumi. This is who is left after the years of suffering and terror. What is amazing is how these people are so hopeful and sincerely joyful. The things they told us about, the things we saw first hand, just the entire situation - it would have been too much for me to handle if I had lived through it. And to come out of it with hope that things will be better, even better than before, is mind boggling. I think this is one of the reasons I love Ugandans so much. Sorry for the generalization, but I have never seen a country full of people who have lived through nightmare after nightmare (corrupt governments, massive killings, famine, basically everything horrible you can think of) and are not only still here, but are still here and full of hope. The faith they have in God is amazing and indescribable. But really, you would have to have that kind of faith to still be alive.

This afternoon, I am going to work on writing their stories. Sometimes, I feel like the words I use could never do justice to what they have been through or what they are continuing to live with. I wish that all of you could come here and spend time in the villages. That all of you would have the chance to sit in a circle under a mango tree and spend time these beautiful, strong, faithful people. I don't understand why God would allow me - out of everyone in the world - to be here and to hear these stories. Being here makes me feel small and humble and so incredibly blessed and lucky to be the one chosen to write these stories. I seriously wish you were all here, but since you can't be, I just pray that the stories I've written, the ones I've yet to write and the ones you've yet to read will change your lives the way they have changed mine.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Balance Your Decisions Carefully

Last night (Sunday, 9/21 - sorry for the delay in posting. I wrote this Monday morning before we left for Eastern Uganda, and as I was finishing, the power went out and I haven't had internet access until now.) I went with the Omanyo family and our friend Lydia to see the Ndere Dance Troupe which was amazing! It was a beautiful night outdoors, even though it had been pouring rain earlier in the day. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot and we could hear the joyful beat of the drummers, I could tell we were in for a treat.

The entire night consisted of traditional
dances, music and costumes from all over Uganda accompanied by two hysterical MC's. The jokes and routine they had was great - my favorite joke was when they were talking to a group of Canadians, remembering a trip they had taken to the blustery north and said, "You have the coldest sun we have ever felt in our entire lives" Besides the high entertainment value, they also mixed in some really thought provoking moments, one of which was illustrated through a beautiful dance native to Northern Uganda.

My favorite dance of the evening involved the kind of grace and balance I can only dream of having. It began with one woman (right) who acted as the lead by singing and leading a progression of pot stacking. They started with one pot on their head (picture above) and as they danced and sang, stacked more and more pots on top of one another until they had reached the pinnacle of 8 pots each! The dancing was so joyful and lively, it was hard to believe they were keeping the pots on their head without some sort of magic glue or invisible magnets. No trickery was involved though because when they got to the sixth pot, one girl had to sit out because her pots were so wobbly they were in danger of falling.

When they finally reach the eighth pot, the lead dancer (right) had two pots fall from her head and crash to the ground. You could audibly hear the crowd gasp as they fell and smashed into hundreds of pieces. Two male dancers came out and picked up the pieces, as she continued to sing, even with the sixth pot (pictured below) still perched precariously on top of the teetering tower.

When the song was over, the audience broke into wild applause. The MC came out and interviewed the lead dancer/singer. He began by having her sing the song once more and this time, he translated the words into english. The song lyrics that accompanied this dance translated into something like, "When you are making decisions, balance them very carefully if you want to maintain peace in the world." When the song was over for the second time, he explained that the lead girl is from the area of Uganda that has experienced massive violence from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA - also active in Sudan) who have been terrorizing that area for over 20 years. You might have heard of the LRA before - they are the ones who abduct children to be child soldiers and prostitutes as well as mutilating many of the adults by cutting off their arms, lips and ears, if not killing them completely. The MC talked about how sad it is that many children in this area will not learn these beautiful dances because they are just trying to survive. But then he made the point that made the audience go completely silent. He said, "Why is it that when two pots fall to the ground, everyone gasps in horror but when hundreds of thousands of children are being taken and people are being killed and mutilated, no one makes a sound?"

His powerful words were a reminder of a couple of things for me. 1. What are the things in life that I really value? Are they things like clay pots - my car, clothes, etc? Or do I value most of all human life, justice and mercy? 2. What am I doing to stay educated/informed about what's going on in this world? Northern Uganda can seem far away, even from Kampala. From North America, it can begin to seem like another world away. It is easy for me to choose to either not be informed or to ignore these kinds of things that happen in the world that the nightly news chooses not to report. Finally, 3. What am I doing to make a difference in this world, even if it is in the life of just one person?

They're hard questions, but ones I was glad to be reminded of. It made me wrestle with challenging questions, which isn't fun, but I know are good to wrestle with. So far in my trip, this has been a common theme - wrestling. Lots of good things, lots of hard thing, just lots of things to think about. Hopefully, some of the things I'm writing about are causing you to wrestle too. Thanks for reading and hopefully wrestling.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I just returned to Lilongwe from the areas of Ntcheu and Songa, which are south of the capitol city. I have been traveling with Justin Majawa, the director of Save Orphans Ministries, and three of his workers - Naomi who is the Evangelism Coordinator, Picard the Independant Growth Activities Coordinator, and Lonely the HIV/AIDS Coordinator for SOM. It was a very good week in terms of learning and spending time with people - I met at least 100 people a day if not more. It was very tiring through, so I will be glad to fly back to Kampala tomorrow and rest on Sunday before I leave for Eastern Uganda.

My battery power on my laptop is on red, so I'll just give a high level overview, some photos and will write more later in my articles. The photo at the top is one of my favorite photos I've taken so far, which was taken at sunset next to the hospice SOM is building. In the same place, we made some new friends with the local children who were really excited to have their photo taken, which is on the right. Save Orphan's Ministries (SOM) is working with over 10,000 OVC's (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) in two regions of Malawi. Remember, an orphan in Africa means a child has lost one or both parents. 

Realizing that battling HIV/AIDS takes more than medicine, they are working holistically with the communities. Really, it's amazing and overwhelmingly beautiful what they are doing. School fees for OVC's, starting preschools for kids ages 3-5, Kid's Clubs and youth groups twice a week (like Sunday school or Bible Camp in the US - at the left is a photo of a Kid's Club we visited) Adult Literacy Classes, IGA training, farming techniques including Treadle Pump Irrigation systems, building a medical clinic for children in terminal stages of HIV/AIDS, the list goes on and on. They started in 1995 with just one worker, Justin, and today have 50 employees.

I also met with a group of mothers and daughters who are pictured below. 
All of the children are HIV positive, and some of the mothers are as well. It was such a gift to spend time with all of them - we talked about what they love about each other, what the girls want to be when they grow up, the dreams their mothers have for them, etc. We barely talked about HIV/AIDS because some of the girls don't know they are positive yet. Really, how do you tell your four year old child she is HIV positive? It really was a blessing to spend time with them. Every day, I wake up and wonder what amazing thing I will experience, and every day there is something equally amazing and unexpected given to me which I am so thankful for.

We are leaving the office in just a few minutes and I am looking forward to a nice shower in the hotel. This morning, I washed in the sink, and they day before yesterday, the water was so scalding hot at the hotel I couldn't bathe at all. So after two days of pretty much no water, I'll be glad, as well as everyone who has to be around me, to be clean. Then tomorrow morning I'll leave for Uganda, which takes about 7-8 hours to achieve by flying - we make a stop in Zambia, then I have a layover in Kenya, and then will finally make it to Kampala. I'll be on the road all of next week, but will hopefully have internet now and then for more updates. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Maasai Mara

I just have a minute in the office before I have to run home and pack for Malawi, but I had to write a quick note about my AMAZING safari this weekend. I know, I know - between this post and the last one, you are probably thinking that all I'm doing is having a good time, but I promise, I have been working hard and this is the only fun trip I am taking while I am here. Last week we were in Limuru all week at a conference where there was no internet and no hot water - yikes for both! Monday and Tuesday were focused on CRWRC's work in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and Wednesday-Friday was environmental training which was very interesting (will write more about this later)

Saturday morning we flew to Maasai Mara game reserve, stayed the night and flew back to Nairobi this afternoon. It was truly an incredible experience. So many animals, so much land, so beautiful! This is the season for the wildebeest migration where 
about 1.5 million of them run through the park. We didn't see all of them, but saw quite a few along with lions, giraffes, cheetah and cheetah pups, crocodiles, tons of beautiful birds including an ostrich, elephants and my favorite of all - hippos! You name it, we saw it! I will post a few pictures now and more later. (Only have time to download a few photos of my pocket camera - after I download all, will choose some favorites and post them. Just in case you couldn't tell - the top one is me with a lion, and the second is me with a cheetah)

This week I'm off to Malawi for just under a week. I'll be visiting CRWRC's partners there including Justin and Ruth Majawa's work with Save Orphans Ministry. (If you were at CotC this last spring, you probably met Justin and Ruth.) The taxi comes for my roommate Alice and myself tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. - Alice has been here for a month and is returning to Canada tomorrow.
- Kristen

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some Fun Stuff

We're in the office for just a few minutes before we leave for a conference this whole week, but I thought it would be fun to share a couple of photos from a trip we took this weekend. We had worked hard all week, so to reward ourselves, we went to a place called Kitengela Glass. They make stained glass, blown glass and glass jewelry there, and the woman who started it years ago has trained locals to make all of the products which are beautiful. Besides beautiful things to purchase, all over the campus, there were these crazy sculptures and buildings the woman had designed. Camels and donkeys were running around, they had the most ornate outhouse I've ever seen, and really every time you turned a corner there was something new and bizarre to take in. (During the car trip there, we also saw baboons in the road and zebras in the distance - fun!) On the right is a photo of some of the girls that I went with. I'm staying with three of the girls in the photo, and the other two are friends of another girl. The picture of the tall man on the left is just one of many crazy statues we saw. In all seriousness though, it really was a neat place and a lot of locals have benefited from the training and jobs they've received. It was also great to see so much creativity. One thing I'm realizing as I'm traveling is how thankful I am that I was raised in an environment that encourages creativity. I'll write more about this later.
A couple other fun things I've learned on my trip:
I was told that Ugandan Air only has one plane and makes only one flight a day. Interesting.
When you try and go into Rwanda, you have to leave all your plastic bags at the border. The government is tired of so much trash/so many plastic bags all over the place, so when you get to the border, you have to empty all your plastic bags and leave them behind.
I have a few more, but that's all for now. Thanks for reading! - Kristen

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Western Kenya

We just returned to Nairobi this morning from Western Kenya. We flew in early Monday morning to Kisumu, which is along Lake Victoria, close to the Ugandan border. We then drove to Kakamega, about an hour away and spent time with the leadership of the Western Region Christian Community Services (CCS) They are doing amazing work in Western Kenya with HIV/AIDS, Food Security, Income Generating Activities and Capacity Building. They have very little monetary resources in that area, but believe that capacity building and leadership training is the way to work in community development. After three days of visiting their programs, I have to agree that they are doing amazing work!

Our time in Western Kenya was spent traveling in the rural areas,
mainly the lake area, and visiting differing Community Based Organizations (CBO's). CCS begins by going into a community and spending time with the villagers, getting to know them and discovering what needs they feel need to be met. One of the CBO's we visited was a group of widows. Many of them had lost their husbands to HIV/AIDS and were now caring for themselves and their children, many of which are also infected. The widows in this village gave testimonies about how when they first lost their husbands all they did was stay at home and cry because they didn't know how they would provide for themselves. It can be dangerous for a widow in this area to remarry. Often times, men will marry a widow just for the little money or land she may own and as soon as he has used it up, he will kick her out/leave her with nothing. Another problem in this area is wife inheritance - when a man dies, his brother will "inherit" his wife, and if she is infected with HIV, it will then spread to the new husband and his other wives. On top of all of this, when a woman loses her husband to AIDS, she is often blamed by the community for killing him; accused of witchcraft and bringing HIV to the family. If a woman chooses not to be inherited or remarry, often times the only way to provide for herself is to work as a commercial sex worker.

The widows in the CBO we met with gave their testimonies about how CCS has helped them change their lives. When I asked one woman what she thought her life would be like today if CCS had not found her said "If CCS had not come, I would be dead from prostitution." CCS goes out into the field, finds the widows and starts to counsel them. They provide free testing and counseling for HIV and then get them involved with a support group. In the group, they are trained in Income Generating Activities (IGA's) such as handcrafts, and are also taught the basics of business and marketing. The woman who said she would have died a prostitute told the story about how CCS taught her to farm in a new way - digging holes and line planting instead of broadcasting seeds. They introduced her to new
crops and to seeds that had been bulked (these seeds you only plant once and they will grow three years in a row instead of having to re-plant and re-purchase seeds each year.) From the vegetables she grew, she was able to buy a chicken. She sold the chicks, and was able to buy a goat. She was able to sell the goat milk, and then bought a cow. Now she has a business where she raises and sells goats and cows, is providing for herself and her children and in her own words told us "I am free to not be afraid anymore." She's not only healthy, but is also able to pay the school fees for her five children to attend school.

Overall, it was amazing. We met with groups that had been organized for years, and some that were brand new. They were all in different places of the development process, but what I found amazing was how CCS had helped all these people, trained so many volunteers and touched so many lives all with very little monetary resources. The pastors and workers we spent time with were wonderful and taught us so much. One of the pastors we met with on the first day talked to us about serving people - how they serve people of all faiths, network people together to help one another, all for the purpose of loving people like God loves us. He said "Just because we touch your life does not mean we expect you to come to God, but if we touch your life, know that God is there." Amen.

Some fun things from the trip - we encountered a friendly mob on the road in one of the villages. They were running along and chanting things like "Don't be afraid! Do not shake!" as they waved branches and leaves and ran along side a group of pre-teen boys. They were a circumcision party! They were taking the boys of the village into the forest to be circumcised
and we met them during their pre-party parade. Definitely not something I expected to see! Also, on the last day, everyone in the village we visited were so excited to hear that I am from California. They kept telling me they do their shopping there. It took me a little while to figure out they have a market/store in the village called "California." They insisted I go and visit it, so if you look close enough at the photo, you can see the sign over my head says "California." (BTW, sorry the photos are so small - the internet here is slow and this is as big as I can get the photos to be and upload before I'm kicked offline.)

This next week, I'll be in Limuru at a conference with CRWRC. Hopefully we'll have internet access there so I can post some more. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Coke in Rwanda

I just returned from Kabale, southwest Uganda, right on the Rwandan border, late last night. They call it "the Switzerland of Uganda" and they're not kidding! It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It takes about 7-8 1/2 hours by bus (depending on which bus you're on) to go there, which is an adventure in itself. The ride there was pretty easy, but on the way back, we were crammed three in a seat, really meant for two, the woman next to the window kept getting sick out the window, on my left there was a woman standing in the aisle with a rooster under her arm, and as is with the taxi's in Kampala, the theme of these busses should also be "there's always room for one more!"

It took all day to travel there on Tuesday, and that evening, my guide Lydia and myself met with three of the pastors from the church we were visiting. These three men were amazing! They receive very little salary (if any at all - the funds often don't make it through) and are still in the process of planning/developing programs for HIV/AIDS. About a third of Kabale is HIV positive, and the HIV rate is continuing to rise. Three main contributing factors: 1. They are situated on the trucking line, which creates a place for women who have been widowed or have no other source of income to work as commercial sex workers with the truck drivers and 2. the prominent presence of witch doctors. 3. People live so far outside of town, they can't make the trip in to get treatment/medicines. People will go to the witch doctors and often, their 'healing' will include being cut with a razor blade that is never cleaned, or the witch doctor saying to a woman that the only way she can be healed is if she will have sex with him. One of the things the church is doing to combat this, is to put out a weekly radio program that speaks out against witch doctors. They reach over 15 million people, and what I found was really amazing, was the fact that people listen and believe what they say, even if they are not Christians. They shared that people in Uganda will listen to the church and do what they say, even if they don't believe in Christ, so in turn, the church holds so much power for change. Amazing! (Below is a picture of me and the five pastors who work at the church)

During the dinner, one of the pastors told me he and his wife are HIV positive, and actually let me interview them the following day. Their story is truly amazing and I feel so honored he would allow me to write about it. He has only disclosed his status to the staff at the church and a few of the congregation members, but was excited at the idea that others could be encouraged by his story.

On Wednesday, we had a full day, starting by meeting with the church leadership in the morning and hearing about their programs. After that, went to the nearby village of Katuna and visited a small church there. About 100 people crammed into this tiny, thatched building to visit with me and give their testimonies of how they have been helped through mainly counseling programs.

I think the biggest surprise of the day was when after lunch, one of the pastors asked if I wanted to go have a coke in Rwanda. Thinking he was kidding, I said sure, and the next thing I knew, we were walking across the border and buying a coke - though I had lemon fanta since the pastors were determined I would have something that was actually from Rwanda, and the cokes were from Uganda. You'd think it would be harder to get into Rwanda, but not so much!

After that, we came back to the church in Kabale, and met with a group of about a hundred people that are either infected with HIV or caring for those who are infected. Again, just an amazing time of testimony sharing and fellowshipping together. (I'm getting ready for a meeting and don't have a lot of time to write, but will share more details later)

Over all, Kabale was amazing and I feel so blessed to have spent time with the people there. At the start of my day on Wednesday, one of the church leaders asked me very sincerely, "What do we do when people come for help and we have done everything we can but have nothing to give them?" It really was one of the worst moments of my life. This woman was asking me so genuinely for advice on what to do, and I didn't have a tangible answer. I told her that all I knew how to do now is pray. Pray that people will hear their story and want to help them. So this week, if you're praying, remember to pray for the church and the people in Kabale who are trying their best to fight HIV/AIDS with very little. Be encouraged to know though, that even with little, God is doing amazing things not only in Kabale but in all of Africa, and I thank all of you for sending me here to have the chance to witness it.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Off to Kabale

It's almost the end of week one here in Uganda, and so far, so good.  I've been feeling really healthy and am adjusting to life in a big African city.  CRWRC has hired a girl named Lydia who has been showing me around since I arrived, teaching me a little Lugandan (emphasis on LITTLE...not because of her teaching,  but because of my tiny tiny brain)  I've been staying with the Omanyo family which has been very nice.  Davis works for CRWRC, is married to Beth and they have four daughters - all of which are either in boarding school or university.  So far, I've met three of the four who have all been wonderful.  

Last week I spent a lot of time just getting used to Kampala.  When we travel, we usually take a taxi which is a 14 seater van which picks up people along the way, whose motto should be "there's always room for one more!"  It's an interesting way to travel, and really cheap - anywhere between 35 to 65 cents per trip.  We travel throughout the city spending time with people who are living positively with HIV/AIDS.  All have been wonderful in sharing their stories with me, each one being very different and extremely powerful.  The first lady I met came from a polygamous marriage where her husband and two of the other co-wives have already died.  She is a friend of Lydia's and was so lovely about inviting us into her home for lunch.  I bought a bag she had made to carry my camera and wallet in which was great because later in the day, three times people tried to pick from my backpack.  (Take note, when in Kampala, do not carry a backpack!) I'm almost done writing my first story about her, so keep your eyes peeled for that one coming soon.  

Along with interviewing people who are living positively, I've also had the chance to visit a case worker at a free clinic for people infected with HIV, and just today visited the Public Relations Officer at a program called TASO, which is another program for HIV positive clients.  It has been amazing to hear what people are doing here to fight HIV/AIDS, and also has been overwhelming to hear how thankful people here are for support from North America.  

On Saturday, Lydia took me to her friend's Introduction Ceremony.  This is a Ugandan tradition where a woman will introduce her family to her fiancee for the first time (today though, most of the time the family has met the man pre-ceremony) It was a very swish event in a huge house in Kampala.  I had to wear a traditional Ugandan outfit, supplied by my friend and supervisor Carole, and it was a great introduction for me into an aspect of Ugandan culture.  The whole event was in Lugandan and took almost 5 hours, including an elaborate process of introducing people, the giving of gifts (including a rooster for the bride's eldest brother, and an entire slaughtered cow and live goat to the family) a variety of musical performers including a troop of traditional Ugandan dancers and drummers that enter with the groom and his entourage of about 80 people (think Eddie Murphy in the beginning of 'Coming to America.')  One of my favorite parts was when the speaker (each side has a speaker representing the family) said "we have been talking so long, we need to refresh ourselves" - or something like that, my Lugandan is still a bit weak;) - and then men start carrying in crates of bottled soda on their heads and passing them down the rows for a bit of a break.  Usually, the groom's party would bring the local brew, but because they are Christians, soda has to suffice.  

The best part by far was the blowing of the Shofar.  I learned about the Shofar in Bible college  but had never seen one in real life.  It's a horn made out of a long curly ram's horn that was blown by two guys throughout the ceremony. The bride's brother, Mark, was one of the blowers and after the ceremony came and visited with me for awhile and taught me how to play it. In case you have no idea what a Shofar is, you can see a little of it sticking out of Mark's sleeve.  Who knew I'd have to come to Africa to play a Shofar???  The whole event was great and the family of the bride were so hospitable to me, inviting me to sit at their table at lunch before the ceremony even began, allowing me to sit in the section reserved for close family and friends during the ceremony 

Tomorrow, Lydia and I are going to Kabale, which is around six hours by bus from Kampala. We will travel all day tomorrow, on Wednesday visit the HIV/AIDS programm
ing that CRWRC is working with there, and travel home on Thursday.  Friday, I am meeting up with a guy named Jonathan whose mom lives in Oak Harbor (my home town) an
d is working a few hours outside of Kampala.  On Saturday I will be leaving for Nairobi, Kenya and will be there for two weeks. After that, will go to Malawi for five days, then back to Uganda for another two weeks or so and then onto Zambia and possibly Tanzania, finally returning to Uganda for the end of my trip.  

It's hard to believe that it's only been around a week since I left the U.S. but so far, the trip has been wonderful. Thank you to all who donated the support I needed to get here, and to all of you for your continual support through thoughts and prayers.  Walabe (or something like that in Lugandan, like I said, my language is lacking) for now!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I made it safely to Uganda and am staying with the Omanyo family who are so wonderful. Davis works for CRWRC, Beth is a physical therapist and they have four girls in high school and college, two of whom I met this morning. To say the plane ride was long yesterday would be a huge understatement. From Seattle to Entebbe (including a four hour layover in Amsterdam) it took almost 23 hours to get here.

So far, I'm feeling healthy over all, just a little tired and my stomach is a little off, but I think the most noteworthy thing that has happened in my 12 hours of being here, is me having to face one of my biggest fears within minutes of landing in Uganda.

As we landed, the flight attendant came on the PA, welcomed us to Uganda, gave time and temp and then said "We were surprised as we landed to see a billion bugs outside the plane." I thought that maybe he was exaggerating or that maybe enormity of a billion got confused in translation, but what I saw out the window truly was bugs of biblical, locust-like proportions! Like a snow storm, they had descended on the Entebbe airport; their clicking wings were almost deafening and not only did they almost block the light from the lamp posts with their army like numbers, they covered the ground completely so that every step I took was done with a dramatic and deathly crunch.

The thought of staying on the plane another minute was slightly worse than the bugs, so I decided to get off. I got off and headed towards the baggage claim. It may not sound like a big deal, but having to walk through a sea of them, crunching them underfoot, really was a challenge for me, but one I am proud to say I survived. I made it through and thanked God for the fact they didn't have any stingers, got my bag (which is always a huge victory that it made it all the way from Seattle) found the driver and went to the Omanyo's house. Day one in Uganda, done!

So today is day two and I am at the CRWRC office this morning settling in a little, checking email, etc. It's good to be here. I think Uganda will be my home for a few weeks, and then possibly off to Kenya. I'm really looking forward to writing and having the privilege of hearing people's stories. Internet access is great here in the office, so hopefully I'll be updating my blog often, maybe even daily. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers. When you see a bug today, think of me :)

Monday, August 18, 2008


Goedemorgen from Amsterdam!  I bought a few minutes of internet here in the Amsterdam airport as I wait for my plane to Uganda.  I'd like to report great exciting adventures so far, but so far, it's pretty much just been a lot of sitting around, which is to be expected on a 9 1/2 hour plane flight:)  The good news is, is that I am officially out of the U.S., half way there, and feeling healthy!  More later from Uganda

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Goodbye Whidbey Island, Hello Africa!

It's my last night at home.  The moon is full, off in the distance I hear the melody of our neighbors wind chimes, my bedroom smells wonderfully smokey from the BBQ pit outside my window where we roasted our dinner tonight, and finally, I'm ready to say goodbye to home and hello to Africa.  It feels almost surreal, actually leaving after all this time and after all of my changed plans.  I'm ready to get going though, and know that as soon as I get there, I'll finally feel "ready" and excited for my new adventure.  Please be praying for me as I travel - for health and safety.  I'll be praying for all of you as I go as well - that you'll join me in this adventure, not only in praying and reading this blog, but also by learning more about HIV/AIDS, poverty and injustice.  Look for my next entry from Africa, but until then, thank you as always for your love, prayers and support.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


On a note totally unrelated to Africa, I'm really excited this week because a new podcast that I'm a part of has finally launched!  Check out or search for 'mousetalgia' in iTunes, and check out the new bi-weekly podcast that's all about Disney Culture/Disneyland.  Whether you're a Disney fan or not, I think it's turned out well, somewhat interesting and overall very entertaining. Plus, for all you accordion fans, you can hear a version of the 1932 hit "What!  No Mickey Mouse?  What Kind of a Party is This?" that we arranged/recorded.  Jeff Baham and Dave Breiland are the driving forces behind the project, but they've let Becky (Dave's wife) and I be a part of it which has been a fun distraction while waiting to leave for Africa.  I can't reveal how, but through the magic of Disney, there will be a new episode every 2 weeks, even when I'm in Africa, so stay tuned in. Happy listening!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Questions Needed!!!

Okay blog readers, I need your help!  The past couple of days in training, we have been learning tons of stuff which has been opening my eyes to a whole new realm of story possibilities.  My hope on this trip is to write a series of articles that will not only be interesting/entertaining, but will help North Americans understand what HIV/AIDS looks like in Africa.  This is where I need your help.  

In the comments section of this blog, I would love it if you could write in any questions you might have.  (If you tried to leave a comment earlier and couldn't, try again.  I had my settings all wrong, but it should work now.)  No question or thought is too basic or dumb - I really need your help in getting a grasp on what people wonder about or don't understand.  Questions about how people contract HIV/AIDS, why the infection rate seems so high in some places, how families function with HIV positive family members, what the health care system is like, etc.   Ask your friends, family members, co-workers, anyone - just send in your questions/comments!

I can't promise I will be able to answer everything, but your questions and comments will be a huge help for me as I set out for Africa.  Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Humidity, Humidity, Humidity.

It's sad that one of the things I'll remember best about Grand Rapids after I leave is the crazy humidity.  I took a couple of photos on photo booth to share with you, but decided to spare you the horror for the sake of trying to keep readers on this blog. For some reason, we waited to turn the AC on until just now, and I can already feel it's cool waves of relief which is very refreshing....ahhhhh.

In all seriousness, things are actually going well for my training.  The past two days, I've learned a lot about CRWRC, including two programs I had never heard of before that I would encourage all of you to check out when you have a free moment.  The first is called Partners Worldwide, which matches up businesses in North America with businesses in developing countries to partner together to help each other out/learn from each other (my housemate Melissa told me that the plural of 'business' includes an 'es' not an apostrophe 's' which I'm taking her word for it.  Who knew that word was so tricky???)  Check it out at  The second program is called the Micah Challenge which is an inter-denominational social justice movement to help hold global leaders accountable to meeting millennium development goals.  Here are a few I especially liked: #1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, #3 Promote gender equality and empower women, #6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, #7 Ensure environment sustainability. ( All 8 goals are great, those are just a couple) Want to know more?  Check out  I don't know much about these two programs, but was intrigued, will definitely learn more and thought they might be interesting to some of you.  

I haven't learned a ton more about my trip, except that I have a ticket into Uganda and one out in November.  So who knows what happens in between, but at least I know I can get there and get home.  My supervisor, Ruth, is in Africa now and is working on an itinerary for me which is good so maybe I'll know more in the next couple of days.  I'll keep you posted if you keep reading:)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On My Way...

It's official - Dr. R cleared me to leave the country today at my 3 week/post surgery appointment today.  (Whew and woo hoo simultaneously!!!) I'm on day 24 of my nomadic travels, but hopefully by August 16th, I'll be traveling in Africa instead of the U.S.  Until then, here's an overview of my hopefully non-tentative schedule:

San Jose, CA. July 24-August 3
  While I have been enjoying staying in a variety of places the past couple of weeks, I'm really looking forward to staying put in one place for more than a few days.  Asante sana (thank you very much, in swahili) to those of you who have given me a bed, hot meal and a roof over my head!!!

Grand Rapids, MI.  August 3-7
  I was originally supposed to be back in GR for training with CRWRC in May but had my biopsy scheduled for the same week so I missed out on the first training session.  Luckily, they're having another the first week of August, so I'll be traveling east for a few days for some final training before really heading east to Africa.  

Petaluma, CA.  August 7-9  
  Before heading north to Whidbey Island, I'm coming back to CA spend a few days with my dad's family.  On the 7th, we'll go out to the coast and spread the ashes of my grandpa who passed away this last January.  One of my last memories of my grandpa was showing him my Africa photos, telling him about my travels this last fall and hearing how proud he was of me, so it's nice to get to remember him before going back to Africa.  

Oak Harbor, WA.  August 9-16
  Instead of driving up to WA like I had originally planned, I've decided to leave my car in Petaluma and fly home.  I'll spend about a week up north, and then leave from Seattle for Uganda. When I return in the fall (mid-late October) I'll stay with my parents for a week or so and then head back to San Jose.  

Uganda, Africa.  August 16-mid/late October
  Here's a picture of me crossing the Nile in Uganda last fall...just a little preview of the adventures that are soon to come! Thanks as always for reading.  Hopefully, soon my "Africa" blog will be being written from Africa instead of San Jose:)

- Kristen

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Cancer!

This morning I got the phone call I've been praying for for the past two cancer!!!
It was the best news I've had in a long time.  Really, there aren't words to describe how I'm feeling today - all the challenges of the past few months are out of the way, and now there is nothing standing in my way in getting to Africa!  

I am still having a little trouble getting my meds regulated, but it's slowly getting close to where I need to be.  For the past couple of days, I haven't been able to feel a couple of my toes which has been strange, so this morning I went back to the lab to have more blood taken to see what's going on with my calcium level.  Dr. R told me today that one of my parathyroids accidentally got taken out during surgery which might be causing some of my current problems. I guess my thyroid had grown so big and out of control, it had engulfed one of the four parathyroids, so when the thyroid came out, so did one parathyroid.  The good news is that you only need one parathyroid to survive, so I still have two on reserve.  The whole thing made me laugh and made me think of bad classic movie titles, "Night of the Living Thyroid"  "The Thyroid that Ate New York"  "Thyroidzilla"  etc.  

So now I'm getting ready for Africa, most likely leaving August 16 and will be based either in Kenya or Uganda.  Tomorrow, I'm going to Cache Creek Casino with some family members and am feeling lucky so watch out penny slot machines!  


Monday, July 7, 2008

Attack of the Killer Thyroid

As of 4:00p.m. Thursday, I was officially free of my monstrous thyroid.  My surgeon was AMAZING.  My thyroid had actually grown around my esophagus and pushed it out of place.  One of my main nerves had also become trapped in between two growths that had grown around it.  The surgeon was surprised at the size of it and what damage it had been doing when he got in to take it out, but 6 1/2 hours later, Dr. R had freed me from the attack of my killer thyroid.   The surgery was only supposed to be 3 hours, but because of the size and complexity of how it had grown, and also because Dr. R. knows I'm a singer and wanted to save my voice, he took the greatest care and the good news is that my voice should be just fine - hooray Dr. R!!!!  

So now, I'm on the journey of a slow recovery.  It's been harder than I anticipated.  I only spent one night in the hospital, because I was determined to get out of there as quickly as possible.  I have the world's tiniest veins, so getting stuck over and over every two hours for blood was getting old really fast.  Unfortunately, I was back in the ER yesterday because my calcium level is too low.  It's complicated, but basically you need a lot of calcium after this surgery to keep from having a heart attack.  I didn't have a heart attack, but a lot of other really scary stuff happened, but after a couple of hours, they released me with more medicine.  So I'm up to 6000 mg a day, which is really hard on my stomach (no details needed for that) so please just be praying that my body can adjust to no thyroid and these large amounts of calcium I have to take.  I had to go back and have more blood drawn today, but if everything goes well, I won't be back at the doctor until Wednesday.  

Thank you thank you thank you for your thoughts and prayers.  I'll write another update in a few days:)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Nomad - Day 1

I can't believe it, but I'm finally done packing.  It truly was like a super-sized game of Tetris packing my storage pod, just not as fun as the computer game.  It really has been a strange experience packing for the next four months; the variety of climates (California, Washington and Africa) has been challenging, and for better or for worse, I have packed five suitcases and am feeling ready to be clothed for any occasion in any climate.  I'm also thinking of naming my first book, "Five Suitcases, Four Months, Three _____ (still thinking of this one, and open to suggestions)  Two Continents and One Purpose"  Or... maybe not so much :)  

Today is my first official day as a nomad.  As I drove away from my house this afternoon it was somewhat surreal, leaving behind the cottage that holds all of my tangible memories for a really fuzzy future.  As corny as it was, I played the theme from Indiana Jones on my iPod as I drove away (goodbye local Hooters down the street, I can't say I'll miss you while I'm gone) and hummed along as I drove my overly packed car onto 880 and headed north to Petaluma.  I had an amazing prayer/healing meeting with some friends from church yesterday, and we prayed through letting go of fear, anxiety and worry, so instead of being scared of the unknown, I'm trying to think of it as a great adventure (now does the whole Indiana Jones theme make sense?)  Really, when will I ever have the chance again to be completely free for four months to travel, spend great time with family and friends and go through a surgery/healing process that is going to make a tremendous difference in my health, etc?  Hello great adventure, goodbye fear and timidity.  

Tonight, I am sleeping at my Grandma Virginia's house and am glad to be here away from the air mattress I've been sleeping on the past few nights.  I've decided to keep track of how many beds I'll sleep in during the next four months.  It could be an interesting list, or again, maybe not so much.  That's all for now - thanks for reading.