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:)