Friday, February 20, 2015

Sipi Falls

Last weekend, after a very long week of partner meetings, project visits, and hours and hours of project planning, we thought it would be a fun excursion to hike Sipi Falls. Sipi Falls is about an hour north of Mbale, and it is a series of 3 waterfalls that you can hike to. We took a taxi out there with our whole team and paid 11,000 shillings more than they did back in October when they went (oh well). And we started our adventure. 
The first waterfall we came to we were at the base of the waterfall. Our friend Peter came with us as our unofficial guide, and he said this was the best way to take a shower, so he pranced around in the freezing cold water while we all watched.  
Then as we hiked higher up the mountain, we saw some streams and smaller falls that feed into the larger waterfall.  Our guide explained a bit about the surrounding areas and we spent some time feeling the water, finding leeches, and watching the wildlife (some cows also basking in the sun near the stream).
The water was surprisingly cold, so although we were at a natural pool, we didn't want to go in. 
Dillon and Porter thought the leeches in the water would make nice pets, so they spent a long time searching for a good one. I'm not sure if they actually found anything since we were too busy sticking our feet in to really pay attention to what they were doing upstream. 
At the second large waterfall we walked down to the base of the falls where we could walk into the water and get a freezing cold blast of hurricane wind. Not everyone went down to the base since it was freezing, but it was definitely an experience. 
After the freezing cold falls, we trekked to the last one, which was quite an adventure. There was a HUGE staircase that went down and down and down. It was a little terrifying at times, but it was so fun to trek down. 
At the base, we spent time relaxing, some of us ate some lunch, and we all watched some people repel down from the top of the falls. 
Our group was so much fun to hike with. And the break was much needed. :)
We for sure were a bunch of warriors during the hike. Afterward, we checked our mileage and we went more than 5 miles and a billion flights of stairs.  
At the end, everyone was so tired that they passed out in the car (and I fell asleep in the front seat too).  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Life in a Mosquito Net

Uganda. Hmm... I doubt this post will be sufficient enough to encapsulate all the thoughts, emotions, and experiences I have had in the past three weeks, but I figured I may as well try. If I don't do it now, it will never happen. 
Working for Help International has been like a dream. The development work here in Uganda is so incredibly different than the work I have previously done. Some of those differences are good, and some of those differences are obstacles. But it is all an amazing learning experience. Living in Latin America, we felt as though we really stuck out since we are white. But being in Africa, you are a mzungu wherever you go. Children love to greet you, people watch and stare at you, and of course, communities expect that you have unlimited amounts of money and will try and milk you for it all. That is by far one of my least favorite things. 

I am disappointed in the way that development has been presented in some of these communities. Many community members see mzungus as a paycheck and have therefore lost their ability (or desire) to improve their own lives. They would rather wait for a rich westerner to come in and supply them with temporary fixes, and then wait for more to come later. It is really frustrating to see people who have become expectant on outside funding for them to live a full life. 

But my work here is to try and eliminate a few of those stereotypes where Help International works, and to teach the people here how to become self sufficient and create life-changing sustainable development programs. 

But of course, along the way there is always a time for a bit of fun. When we had to pick up the volunteers from the airport, one of them flew in a day earlier than the others, so we spent the day in Entebbe. We had a few partner visits to do while we were there, but we also thought it would be fun to visit the animal park there. It was so cool to see African animals in Africa, even if they were in a zoo. This zoo is very different than any I had seen in the US. Mainly because they weren't creating artificial terrains, but rather the animals looked like they were actually in their natural habitat. Here are a few of my favorites:
This little guy became my friend and let me pet his antlers and touch his nose. He kept pushing his antlers really hard into the fence. I wasn't sure if it was aggressive behavior, but I enjoyed playing with him for a few minutes. 
This bird looked like it was from Jurassic Park. Such a creepy look on his prehistoric face. I was pretty sure he could see into my soul. :)
The zoo borders Lake Victoria, so we spent a little bit of time at the beach. This is Dillon, one of the volunteers, and Amelia, my coworker. 
And of course, the best part of the zoo was the giraffes. We were so close to them. I really wanted to run and jump on their backs to try and ride them, but I was way too terrified to try. 
We ended our zoo visit with a little bit of monkey fun. Ha! I am actually terrified of the primates in Uganda, but in the zoo they weren't too bad. 
I was so excited to pick up Caitlin (and the other volunteers) from the airport. It had been two very long weeks apart and I was so stoked to see her. I couldn't believe that she was finally going to be in Africa completing one of her life goals. We wasted no time in getting started. One of our first visits was to IUIU (the Islamic University in Uganda). They are working with us to do public health community outreaches. A lot of their work is spent in the largest slum in Mbale, Namatala. We are hoping to work with them on some HIV/AIDS outreaches. 
And of course, we had to celebrate our first week in Uganda with a good chicken beheading. Caitlin was so eager to chop off the chickens head. She was the first one up. The way our cook, Jemima, had her do it was to stand on its wings and feet, cut it's head off, and then stay standing on it until it stopped twitching. It was bloody and disgusting, and delicious. 
Dillon also took a crack at it for our second chicken. It was a pretty intense way to start our Saturday night dinner.  
Caitlin had to clean her toes off afterward since the chicken head squirted blood on her. Ew.
After killing some chickens, we had to learn how to make some other Ugandan treats. We spent a Tuesday morning making "daddies" for one of our partner schools. Basically they are fried dough with some coconut or lime in them. They turned out really good, but were a lot of work. 
You have to knead the dough for a really long time, then whack it with a rolling pin for a long time, then roll it out, cut it, and fry it. The whole process took around 4 hours. 
But the final product was worth it. We sampled a few the day of, but then brought the bulk of them to the Zion school.
At the school, the students sang and danced for us. The administration made speeches, and Amelia motivated the kids to keep learning. We also gave out prizes to the students who performed well the previous term. WE LOVED hearing the kids sing for us. They were so cute and they are so naturally talented. How many elementary kids can sing harmonies? Shoot dang, they were good.
At Zion, the previous team helped build a chicken coop as an income generating activity for the school. We were able to go and check on the process of the coop. There are so many chickens! I can't believe how quickly chickens multiply. 
It is so beautiful up at Zion. It is set on the top of a hill and the views were incredible. 
And then the taxi ride home was crowded and great. We made a friend with our passenger lady. Ha! She laughed when she realized that she was in our photo. 
So things are going really well. We have been getting really busy with our projects as well. I went to work in some village savings and loans groups today. Caitlin is working on some community outreaches and a water filter project. We are also working on starting up a vision camp and a handful of other great things. It is AMAZING. Anyway, I know I'll have a ton more to write about really soon, but I doubt anyone is really reading all the way to the end of here anyway. :)