Tuesday, July 21, 2015

London Baby!

I think my desire to go to London started when I was in high school and the FRIENDS gang went out for Ross' wedding. So I feel it fitting that we include this little clip as part of this blog post. 
London Baby!
Yes, London Baby indeed. 

On my way back to the States from Uganda I had an 8 hour layover in London. What a perfect opportunity, right? I could do whatever I wanted with 8 hours. It seemed almost too good to be true... and it was. I read online a lot of blogs detailing how difficult it is to get into the city and back to the airport in time for your connecting flight, and the minimum amount of time required would be 6 hours. Well, since I had 8 hours, I decided I could make it happen. 

I found a great blog that detailed which trains to get on, which direction to turn on each street in order to do a 4 hour tour of the city on foot. It was perfect. So I printed off the detailed instructions and headed out on the town with my backpack, a few granola bars, and a stack of printed instructions telling me how to find Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. 
When I got off the underground in London, the first thing I saw was the above. Seriously, that is from the sidewalk right outside of the underground. How amazing. It was true, I was in London, and I was seeing Londony things. 
My instructions told me to turn left once I left the underground and cross the River Thames. Brilliant idea instructions! This gave me a great view of Big Ben, a dingy river, ferris wheel, and a million tourists. I can't believe how many people were in London taking in the sights. And I also couldn't believe how many people had selfie sticks. It was incredible. London felt so international because there were people speaking all sorts of languages there. In the US I feel like you will hear Spanish, Chinese, maybe Vietnamese or Korean - but it isn't as common to hear European languages (unless you're in San Francisco, cause we hear them all the time). But in London there were so many beautiful languages, and not just from tourists. I saw families in the park, or going into restaurants on deserted streets (I took some detours and found myself among some locals) who were speaking all sorts of fancy languages. It made me want to learn more languages, since Spanish will only help me in Spain. 
I was able to see so much in my walk through the city: Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, St. James Park, Hyde Park, Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, and so much more. It was literally like a dream come true. I really wish Caitlin had been with me to enjoy it. 
When I was in St. James Park, I went to the bathroom and afterwards I washed my hands and the water was warm. Crazy, right? I know, this may not seem like something crazy - but I had just spent a few months in Africa, and I hadn't experienced warm water in the sink in ages. It was glorious. 
The rest of this blog post is going to be a bunch of pictures of Londony things I saw while in London. I really need to go back and spend more time there since it was like a dream. I was listening to the Chronicles of Narnia books while I was on the underground, and it gave me so much context to the books. It made me want to travel to everywhere books take place. In movies you get a visual, but in books if you have never been to a place, it is hard to imagine what it looks like without a point of reference. 
Oh yeah, I think that something was happening at Buckingham Palace the day I was in London because it was a madhouse. There was hardly even room to walk. I forgot that I was not in Africa anymore and actually squeezed in between two people in a very African style and the girl to my left was appalled. She gawked at me and pulled away. Oops. I forgot about personal space for a minute. Oh well. I'll never see that tourist again. 
After following my tour, getting lost, going down strange streets, and even being asked by a few tourists where a cafe was (which leads me to believe that they assumed I was a local - or maybe that is just my hope), I headed down to Piccadilly Circus to catch the underground back to Heathrow. I must have been exhausted cause I passed out on the train. Luckily it was a long ride and I had plenty of time to sleep without missing my stop. 
So in the very near future Caitlin and I need to make our way back to London, and while we are at it, we may as well explore the rest of England, the UK, and all of Europe. Why stop at just one city, when you can conquer the entire continent? I'm pretty sure that was the thought process of Hernan Cortez and Napolean, so why not us too?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Help International

Working for Help International was a roller coaster. But I did love my time in Uganda. I was so blessed to have both Caitlin and Carley join me out there, and I learned a lot about development work, which will only strengthen me as I continue in my career. One of my last assignments while I was in Uganda was creating a video showing all the work we had done. So here is the video of our time with Help International in Uganda. Enjoy. 

Caitlin's Final Weeks in Uganda

Caitlin's last week was one of the saddest and busiest weeks we had in Uganda. We were trying to get everything done before Caitlin left while trying not to think about her leaving. Here are some highlights of things she was able to do during her last week: 
She went to an orphanage to do a needs assessment and ended up playing with the kids and reading to them. 
She went to the Liahona Education Center and taught a maturation class to a group of young women. They taught them about their period, puberty, etc., and did a demonstration of a pad and how it works to soak up blood. These classes were such a help to the young women since they didn't have any other training to help them understand what was happening to their bodies.
She went with Alisa to present the books they helped make for the primary school in Kyemula. These books were written and illustrated by students in secondary school, then delivered to the primary school for them to use in their teaching.
On one of Caitlin's last days, we were walking through an alley to get to a store, and someone came hurrying up to us from the other end. It was David Zaale! We had stayed at his house and he had been driving in Mbale (which is an hour from where he lives) and he saw us and knew Caitlin was leaving soon, so he wanted to take us to lunch! He was so sweet. We went with him to his car and then we went and picked up his wife from the bank (and surprised her) so we could go to lunch. We ended up going to Cosmo, the Help volunteers favorite place to eat, and enjoyed a quick lunch with them. They are a great couple and really loved Caitlin. They kept assuring her that they would take care of me when she left. 
When Caitlin left I think I went through a phase of depression. It was hard going back to work without her. She had touched so many lives while she was in Uganda, and everyone kept asking about her which made it even harder. But we got to Skype most days, and we kept a running countdown until we were reunited. I think being apart for those 8 weeks made us love each other more, if that is even possible. 

Kayaking the Nile

On Carley and Dillon's last weekend in Uganda, we decided to go to Jinja to do some souvenir shopping and spend time on the Nile. We really wanted to do a river cruise, but you have to have at least 5 people, and we were only three. So instead, we opted to do a kayak tour of the Nile. I'm so glad we did, since it was probably the best way to see the river. 
Our guide took us out and explained everything about the wildlife, the nature, the dam, and the people. I was fascinated with the birds since they were so strange. But we also saw a monitor lizard that was probably close to six feet long. It was intense. 
We started off moving slowly since we were in no rush to get anywhere. But then our guide realized that he was talking too much and we weren't really moving, so we started paddling a little bit more quickly. 

Our guide told us that we were going to kayak down to a cave and then back. I thought we were going to kayak inside of a cave, but it turns out we were kayaking to a cave entrance that isn't really a cave (you can kind of see it in the picture on the left). Back before the river was dammed, the villagers would go to the walls of the cave and scrape out rock to finish the sides of their home. Depending on how high the river was at the time would change the color of your house. Inside of the cave, there were a TON of bats hanging upside down. I didn't know that there were going to be bats, so I kayaked right up next to it and got completely freaked out. I don't think I like bats very much. 
Since it was just a leisure kayak, our guide had drinks that he brought along with him and would pass them out to us, and we had a lot of time that we could relax and enjoy the Ugandan sun. Carley and Dillon were leaving in just a few days, so we really had to soak up as much sun as we could before they left.  
As we kayaked and lounged around on the Nile, we saw some storm clouds in the distance and started getting worried. In Uganda, storms come in in full force, and they can move very quickly. 
We started moving quickly so we could beat the rain - which was a race against time. We were definitely going to get wet.
We could see the rain pummeling the river in front of us like a solid wave of water. It was actually quite terrifying. Soon we were all drenched in freezing cold rain water - and our guide recommended we stick our hands in the river. It felt hot. It was such a strange effect. Since the rain was colder than the river, the river actually felt like bath water. The rain was pouring hard and we were soaked, plus we were rowing against the wind. 
But eventually we made it back to the dock... and then the rain stopped. We were all cold, so we decided to get in the river and swim around for a little bit before showering off and getting dressed. Dillon even did a zip line that dipped into the river. I love the Nile. I love being anywhere close to a body of water. The Nile has magical powers - and all the guides joke that this is the same river that Moses was in. Of course, Moses was in Egypt which is a long way north of where we were, but still it is true that this is the same river. 

Baking with Nuns

Carley is a great cook, so I was really excited when she decided to come to Uganda because there was a previous Help volunteer who had built two barrel ovens, but the people didn't know how to use them. So Carley and I decided that we would teach people how to use the ovens, teach them how to bake, and then help them come up with a business plan so they could sell what they bake and make a profit. 

It was a lot of work for us, since we had never used barrel ovens, nor had we tried to bake anything in Uganda. But we knew it was possible. The first thing we had to do was find recipes. This was actually really easy - and we found two recipes - one for banana muffins and one for lemon muffins. The sisters at the orphanage where we were going to do these classes really wanted to learn how to make bread, but bread pans were so expensive that it wouldn't make sense to invest in them since the payoff would be so minimal. So we opted for muffin tins and muffin recipes. 

Once we had our recipes, we started learning how to use a barrel oven. Kind of complicated, but very simple at the same time. So we set a date with the orphanage, buy wood (from a great guy named Michael), buy the ingredients, and head out to the orphanage. We would almost always take two bodas since we had firewood, and baking supplies loading us down, and we couldn't both fit on one. 
Our first time baking was horrible. We didn't buy enough firewood so the oven didn't stay hot enough for long enough, and our muffins (especially the banana ones) didn't rise or bake all the way through. The tops of them were good (and I ate most of them) but we decided to redouble our efforts and try again with more firewood. We purchased double the amount of firewood the second time and the muffins turned out amazing! We hadn't invited the nuns to participate since we wanted to make 100% sure we knew what we were doing - so we shared the muffins afterward and they enjoyed what we had baked. Since we understood it now, we could go back and teach them how to replicate it. 
The nuns were so excited to learn how to bake. They had never used recipes like this before, and were in awe with how we measured and mixed things. The nun pictured above was hilarious. She kept mixing and mixing and mixing, even long after we said she could stop. Carley was so good at teaching the classes as well. Teaching someone how to bake is kind of tricky, especially if it is the first time they have ever done it before. 
We made both types of muffins with the nuns, and then sat down and had tea with them and enjoyed sampling the muffins. The classes were a huge hit with them, and they were excited to start experimenting and selling the muffins to earn more money for the orphanage. We really liked going there and the sisters were so much fun. We would ask them all sorts of questions about how to adopt children from Uganda, or about their time in the US (one of them had gone to the US to visit a few children that were adopted in Florida and Tennessee - she went to Disney World. Ha! So hilarious). They were so great to talk to and would take a break from their busy schedule to share tea and muffins with us. We tried to set up a few more projects for the summer team to do with them, so hopefully they were able to go back and help build up this orphanage, maybe even teach them a few baking classes as well. 

Weekend in Bubita

Bubita is this great town in the Bududa district. It is very small and very quiet. And it is surrounded by mountains. David Zaale, our partner out there, invited us to spend Easter weekend with him and his family. We were so excited to explore a little bit and enjoy a relaxing weekend with him. 
We left for Bubita on a Saturday and Carley and I went up hiking one of the mountains. Of course, by the time we started hiking, it started raining and was immensely muddy - but we wanted to persevere, so we kept trekking along. There was also a doctor staying with David for the weekend, Archna, so she joined us for the hike. I know I've mentioned in previous posts that the hikes we did in Uganda were basically just trails that people use to get to and from their houses, but these things were incredibly steep. 
And we were the insane mzungus who were out in the rain slipping around in the mud just to get to the top of a foggy mountain. But it was such an adventure, we couldn't say no. One of David's grandchildren, also named David, joined us for the hike and he used a banana leaf for an umbrella. We tried to stay dry by using our raincoats, but it is so hot and humid while it is raining, that you begin to sweat inside your raincoat - so you are wet either way. 
When we finally reached the top, we couldn't see anything. The fog was so incredibly dense. But luckily, this mountain was double peaked so by the time we made it to the second peak, we had a view. 
After finishing our hike, we went back to David's and got dressed in dry clothes and joined everyone else for some games and food. The Zaale's really take care of you when you visit. David also has a dog named Hiker, which if you pronounce with the hard "R" like we do in the US, she doesn't respond to. You have to pronounce it like Hika. She tags along wherever you go, and LOVES mzungus. We had a great Easter morning with the Zaales, and then we went out and explored around the town. 
We decided to walk along the river to see what we could find. Since it had been raining all night, the water was really brown, but we did find a place to relax and enjoy the view.  When Caitlin and I visited Bubita, she said that this is the place she would want to live if we came back to Uganda. And I think I would love living here too. The nature is so beautiful, and I love being up against the mountains. Plus, the people are so friendly, and it is really quiet. But I doubt we will ever move back to Uganda, so I wont start making any plans. 

Bringing Vision to Mbale

Before going to Uganda, we were told that there was a HUGE need for prescription glasses in the area. Now, there are places to get glasses in Uganda - but they are very expensive, especially when you are only living on a few dollars (if that) per week. So we started gathering glasses from everywhere we could. Caitlin got donations from her work, my old optometrist from high school donated a bunch. And then one of our volunteers got a donation of more than 700 pairs of glasses. She literally brought one suitcase that was just filled with prescription glasses, and that wasn't even all of them. 

We had so many glasses it was ridiculous. But we did not have an eye doctor, and more than 100 pairs of glasses were donated without their prescriptions indicated. We definitely had a need in the community, we had the supplies, but we didn't quite know what to do with them.

So we started working with the hospital to organize an eye camp. Well... we thought this would be an easy process since we had worked with the hospital a lot in the past. Well, the hospital administrator had changed at the beginning of the year, and he was not very excited to have us volunteering with the hospital. Actually, he was sometimes completely unhelpful. But we kept trying to work with him so we could go through the proper channels in order to do this eye camp. While we were working with him, we were also in conversations with the staff in the eye department. They really wanted to work with us, which made it even more difficult to jump through hoops. Here we had willing staff, who had the expertise and equipment, but the administrator was dragging his feet. 
Luckily, the staff in the eye department loved us, so they let us come and use their equipment to test the prescription strength of the eye glasses that we had. Carley and I sat there for a long time testing the prescriptions, as well as testing out how the glasses looked on our faces. We had some seriously great pairs of glasses. But even after we tested the glasses, we still weren't sure what we could do in order to bring the glasses to the communities. 

Then one day we had an amazing opportunity - one of our contacts told us she had an optometrist friend who was retired but liked to volunteer and do eye camps. Yes! We were so excited. I contacted him right away and we set up a time to meet and also a date for an eye camp. Long story short, he flaked out. He didn't just flake out in a small little snowflake type way, he flaked out like a snowstorm. We were left without an eye doctor just a few days before the camp. Shoot dang, how were we going to do this eye camp. We had worked so hard to put one together, and now we didn't have a doctor. Well, we started calling around (this was seriously a team effort) and we got the contact information for another eye doctor and I set up a meeting with her (three days before the camp). 
I go to the meeting, and it turns out she works for the hospital. We're not supposed to work with hospital employees until the MOU with the hospital is finalized. I explain this to her, and she says she doesn't care. She'll take a day off work and come as an individual rather than associating herself with the hospital. What? Yes, we had a doctor. And she was good to go. She was super sassy and wanted things her way - which was fun/kind of frustrating. But overall she was a fantastic doctor who worked tirelessly to provide eye care for a large amount of people in a rural village.
Which reminds me, I haven't even began to describe where we did the eye camp or what that was like. We did the eye camp in Buwasunguyi with Dr. Jan. Dr. Jan is a phenomenal doctor from the UK who has been working/living in Uganda forever. She runs a hospice (Joy Hospice) in Mbale as well as a rural clinic in Buwasunguyi. The rural clinic is run so well and the people there can always depend on high quality healthcare. So we go out to her clinic and start setting up for the eye camp. We had been so stressed about getting things ready (remember the story about finding a doctor?) that we hadn't really thought about how we would set up on the day of the eye clinic. Luckily, the eye doctor and Dr. Jan were there to help us, and we got everything fairly easily.
We had a line of people already there who were so excited to get their vision tested. Dillon and I manned the vision examination area. First I started by getting their information (name, age, etc.) and then Dillon performed all the exams and I recorded their score. Of course, we all tested each other as well. My vision is pretty near perfect, thank goodness. :)
After they had their eyes examined by us, they went to see the doctor who examined their eyes for infections and wrote prescriptions for medication and glasses. Carley and Amelia helped the doctor and Carley administered the medicine and monitored the finances. We charged half price for all the medicines so that we could recoup some of the expenses, however, the eye exams were free. 
After Dillon and I finished examining everyone, we joined the girls in the doctors room and helped pair people up with glasses. It was so fun selecting pairs of glasses for people. It was really rewarding to help them find glasses and see them put them on. We had people who were in tears when they received the right prescription. It made everything worth it. 
This lady who worked at the clinic was sad because she got there after we had already finished the eye exams and she would not be able to be tested. But we made an exception for her and gave her a free pair of glasses. She was so excited, she was squirmy. Have you ever seen someone who is so excited that they can't stop squirming with giddiness? That is exactly how this woman was. She was a joy.

And of course, we ended the day by taking a group picture modeling some of our favorite pairs of glasses. This day was seriously one of my favorite while I was in Uganda. It was a lot of work, but that work paid of and we had a great eye camp, and helped 65 people receive vision. 
We left a ton of glasses in Mbale, so hopefully the current interns and volunteers are able to organize more eye camps. The people need them, and doing a vision clinic is one of the most instantly gratifying types of volunteer work that we did.