Monday, April 2, 2007

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April 2, 2007

We are planning a trip to Uganda this fall. We are involved in projects to help with the problems of poverty and disease in Uganda. Through the sale of hand-crafted African crafts and art, we have been able to help those people less fortunate, and arrange for proper care for children who are orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.

When we travel to Uganda, we will be spending much time visiting with our twelve sponsored children, overseeing projects started by our no-interest business loan recipients, and seeing all of the wonders of Uganda. You can see nine of our supported children receiving their school supplies in this photo.

We are interested in hearing any suggestions and pointers regarding preparation for this adventure, as this will be our first time in Africa. More to come!

April 7, 2007

We have purchased our airline tickets to Africa. We will be staying in Uganda for the winter. You are looking at a photo of our friend Ezra's home. Needless to say, we are very excited and counting down the days, as this will be our first time overseas.

There is much preparation to do, such as immunizations, passports and visa applications, and stocking up on everything that we need to take with us for our extended stay.

April 14, 2007

Our good friend and partner Ezra Musobozi has been kind enough to offer to let us stay with him and his family for much of our time in Uganda. He has a lovely home in a very scenic and lush area with a view of the mountains which lay on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although situated right on the equator, on a clear day you can sometimes see the snow on the mountain peaks.

Ezra is our charity partner in Uganda. The goal is to enable vulnerable individuals and communities to improve their quality of life through counselling, education, care and support of the HIV/AIDS infected and affected, and to promote productive self-help initiatives. Ezra and his wife run an AIDS clinic, which provides voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) for HIV/AIDS, and medical care for people living with the disease. There is also a sponsorship program in place for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children, home-based care services for bedridden people living with the disease, training in practical skills such as carpentry, tailoring, bricklaying, etc. They conduct positive living seminars, among many other activities.

Here is a photo showing the NEC computer and Lexmark printer/scanner/copier which we recently donated, to enable more efficient management of the daily operation of the facility.

We look forward to a continued permanent partnership with Ezra and all of the dedicated volunteers who work so diligently to raise awareness about community health, nutrition and environmental sanitation.

April 15, 2007

The main purpose of our trip to Uganda is to visit with all of our sponsored families, loan beneficiaries, charity partners and friends, and to see first hand how our organization's funding is being implemented. We want to do much hands-on work in the community, such as home construction and renovations, building latrines, assisting with the daily operation of the AIDS clinic, home visitations for bedridden patients, etc.
Yesterday I was asked to teach computer training classes, and am looking forward to bringing these skills to such a remote area of the country. We are also planning to go on safari in Northern Uganda, with another game drive in the western region. Sometime in between, we will be chimpanzee trekking in Kibale National Park, which has one of the largest remaining chimp populations in the world,
and is home to twelve other species of primates. In a single day, it is possible to see large herds of elephants, Rothschild giraffes, hippos, water buffaloes, lions, impalas, leopards and the huge Nile crocodiles, to name just a few species. Needless to say, we will be taking plenty of photos and video!

April 23, 2007

We are still trying to confirm our reservations at the two lodges. We have been trying to nail this down for the past few weeks, but the daily email tag back and forth has yet to produce results. Things seem to move at a much slower pace in Africa, and we have to learn to be patient!

Our friend Pamela wrote to us yesterday to say how thrilled she is that we are finally coming to visit her homeland, and made a surprise announcement that she and her husband will be bringing along a baby when they come to greet us. Congratulations Pamela!

Here is a photo showing our friend Marjorie (Ezra's wife) at her home, making some of the handicrafts that we sell at our fund raising events here in Canada, and also a picture of one of our supported children, Amon Friday, standing (with his Mom and brother) by his new kitchen still under construction. It is now ready for plastering. Prior to our donation to build this structure, all of their cooking had to be done outside.

July 15, 2007

We recently received some new photos showing Margret and her family working the land that we provided for them earlier this year. They can be seen tending to their productive banana plantation, and with their newly planted crops of beans, maize and peanuts, which are all coming along nicely. They have expressed their deep gratitude to have been given the opportunity to become more self sustainable.
We can hardly wait to be able to meet Margret and her children in person!
Our huge community fund raising yard sale is all set for July 28, 29 at 8:00 AM sharp. All proceeds go to Africa. We will be selling everything from quality furniture and new clothing, to home electronics, dishes, patio furniture, etc., and of course our great assortment of hand-made African crafts and art. Tell all of your friends and neighbors, and come out to support a good cause. See you there! Not too much else is new, as most of our trip plans are in place, and we just wait until the day of our flight. More to follow...

September 1, 2007

Well, I have certainly been negligent in my journal writing duties, as it has been far too long since my last posting. My apologies.

Here it is, Labour Day Weekend, hard to believe! Where did our summer go? When I started writing this journal it was April 12th, and our trip seemed like such a long way off. The construction of the clinic addition is coming along nicely, with the roof almost completed. The new building will be about four times larger than the original structure, which will allow much more room for office space, a larger area for the practical skills classes, and the new recently opened savings and loan co-operative.

We have purchased two more computers for the computer training course. That brings the total to four.

September 3, 2007

Today we received a phone call from our friend Ezra telling us that the mother of one of our sponsored children has just passed away in hospital while giving birth. Hadadi and his two siblings are now total orphans. Ezra will visit with the children tomorrow to counsel them, and to make the necessary arrangements for burial. He will assess what their immediate needs are, and we will see that everything is done to help these children.

On a lighter note, Ezra expressed his joy at soon being able to meet us in person, after almost two years of corresponding only by email and phone. He is very excited that he will soon be able to take his first vacation in many years, as we have offered him and Marjorie an all expenses paid three day holiday at a resort, to enable them to relax and unwind. Ezra has devoted his life to helping vulnerable people, and will now have an opportunity stop to catch his breath, and recharge his batteries.

The new clinic construction is coming along nicely. With the new expansion, the clinic can now handle 120 patients at one time. Another building is already in the planning stage, which will allow for a resource room, laboratory, counseling, inpatient services and a larger hall.

I forgot to mention earlier that our community yard sale in July raised almost $1,500.00 for Africa. Many thanks to everyone who helped support our cause.

September 6, 2007

Fatima's funeral was held today. Her death has resulted in four more orphans, as the baby she was delivering at the time of her death was saved. Here are some photos taken yesterday showing the newborn and the other siblings, as well as the grandmother who must now try to cope with the new burden of providing for all of the children.
You can see their kitchen structure in the background, with banana leaves draped over the top to help keep the rain off them while they are cooking. We have pledged to construct a new kitchen for them, and our friend Ezra will see to the baby's immediate supplementary needs by utilizing our emergency contingency fund.
He will be closely monitoring their situation, as here fears the baby may not survive without our financial help.

Yesterday a positive living conference for clients affected with HIV/AIDS was held in the new (unfinished) addition to the clinic. Hundreds showed up for this seminar. Above, is a photo taken at the conference.

October 23, 2007

A very generous person in the US has just donated $16,000 which will allow for the completion of the clinic's new expansion, as well as to finish construction of the new staff housing. This is very exciting news indeed, and could not have come at a better time. This means there will be plenty of work for us to do when we arrive in Uganda next month!

With much sadness we announce the death of a beloved staff member at the clinic, Mr. Ibrahim Baingi, who passed away suddenly yesterday due to urinary complications. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife and children. Ibrahim worked at the clinic as a cleaner. He will be deeply missed by all.

We have received word that one of our supported children, Jane Alisemera of Bweramule has come down with typhoid, which is usually caused by drinking untreated water that has not first been boiled. Many people in the rural areas, especially those who are not well educated, don't take the need for boiling water seriously. We will be closely monitoring Jane's condition.

This week we received in the mail our copy of the new KIDA Drama Group music CD, which was recorded in a studio in Kampala recently, to help raise funding for the organization through it's sales. Our friend Ezra produced this album, and we love every song on it. It is a great blend of African vocals and a modern, Western style rhythm.

October 27, 2007

Today we were honoured to receive a special invitation to the wedding of Fred Kabuleeta and his fiance Beatrice, who are dear friends of Ezra and Marjorie, founding members of KIDA, and professional health care officers at the clinic. The very large wedding of over 1,000 invited guests will take place at St. John's Cathedral in Fort Portal, Western Uganda in December. Our friend Ezra, an Anglican priest, will be performing the wedding ceremony. The date of the wedding falls on the same day that we have reservations to go on safari at Paraa Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park, so I have made a request to postpone the date of our arrival at the lodge, to allow us to attend this special event. Hopefully Paraa Lodge staff will be able to accommodate the date change, as it will be such a wonderful opportunity for our family to experience a traditional African marriage ceremony while we are staying in Uganda. The reception will be held at Fred's home in Kiko, which is near Hadadi Mugisa's home, one our sponsored children. Because Fred learned (through KIDA board meetings) that we will be in Uganda at the time, he asked Ezra to pass on his behalf an invitation to our family to attend his wedding. Ezra's family and KIDA staff will participate in the preparations and attend the event, meaning that we will also have the privilege of seeing special performances of traditional African song and dance performed by the KIDA Drama Group, to grace the occasion.

On Wednesday we received our vaccinations. We had some tense moments when our youngest daughter had a bad reaction to the yellow fever shot, but she appears to be doing fine now. We will be seeing our family physician next week, to determine what type of anti-malarial tablets we will be taking for the duration of our stay in Africa.

We will be setting foot in Uganda in only 37 more days!!

October 28, 2007

I figured I would get a bit off topic today, and post something a little different than usual. I recently returned from a short trip to Newfoundland. I have a keen interest in landscape photography, and as a bit of a sideline I enjoy digitally post-processing photo images. Here are a couple examples of some digital artwork that I have produced from photos taken close to the home we recently purchased there. Our family will be moving to Newfoundland. I was amazed by all of the beautiful scenery in the province.
Everywhere you turn, there is a beautiful vista spread out before your eyes, and I found the views of the ocean quite relaxing, and almost hypnotic. I can understand why everyone's stress levels are so low here! But to really appreciate Newfoundland, is to meet and get to know the people who live there.
All of my life I have heard stories of how Newfoundlanders are the warmest and friendliest people on the planet, and now that I have had the opportunity to get to know many of our new neighbors, I know that this is indeed the case. Everyone was so helpful and welcoming, and made me feel right at home.
Every evening I was invited into someone's home for a wonderful meal and great conversation. I know that our family has made a good decision to move here, and we are counting down the days until we get settled into our new home!

October 30, 2007

Today we received an email from the safari resort manager saying that she was able to change our reservations to a later date, meaning that we can attend the large wedding for Ezra's and Marjorie's friends Fred and Beatrice after all. We are so happy that we were able to change dates, as it will be an exciting opportunity to experience an African marriage ceremony, especially one to be performed by Ezra. (see photo) As mentioned, the more than 1,000 guest wedding takes place at St. John's Cathedral in Fort Portal, which has quite a history. It is the church where the Tooro Kings have been crowned as far back as the 1800's, and even the present King Omukama was crowned there on Sept 12, 1996. Below is a photo of the Royal Palace.

Today I prepared two more donated computers for transport to Uganda, and have loaded them with all of the necessary software for the daily management of the clinic. These computers will also be used (along with the one we donated last year) for a computer training course that I have been asked to teach when we arrive. Our daughters spent most of the afternoon sorting through more than 20,000 stickers that they will be bringing to Africa, to give to the children of Kitojo and other surrounding communities.

Only 31 days until we board our plane in Kelowna, then travel to Vancouver, London England, Rome Italy, Addis Abbaba Ethiopia, and finally landing in Entebbe Uganda some 49 hours after leaving Kelowna. I think we may be a little worn out by the time
 we get there!

November 2, 2007

For those of you who like to follow along on this journal, you are likely already aware of the list of "favorite quotes" that we have always kept listed in the right hand column. I am always quite intrigued at how some of the simplest statements can have so much meaning when you really take a minute to ponder them. I can think of four or five other quotes that have stayed stuck in the back of my mind, that I feel are relevant to the work we are doing in Africa, so I will list them here. (and will also permanently include them with the others in the right side column)

"He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own"
Confucius (551-479 BC)
- China's most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist

"Every charitable act is a stepping stone towards heaven"
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
- American politician

“The life of a man or woman consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and willing service"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
- 19th century American poet

"It is more agreeable to have the power to give than to receive"
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
- British Prime Minister

"Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there"
Phillip Brooks (1835-1893)
- Episcopal clergyman

Today we received another email from Ezra's daughter Natugonza, telling us how excited she is to soon be able to finally meet our family. She makes a point of emailing most days to give us the countdown as to how many days remain until we travel to Uganda. As of this morning...28 Days!

November 6, 2007

Today we purchased several thousand much needed parsley, sweet corn, leek, and spinach seeds to take with us to Africa. These seeds are next to impossible to locate in Uganda, and it has been many years since the residents of Kitojo and neighboring villages have been able to grow these types of food.

Last night we received an email from our friend Pamela, who has been kind enough to invite us to visit with her and her family in their home in Kampala. We can hardly wait to finally meet Pamela, her husband Michael, and their new baby Ryan.

Ezra wrote today to tell us that a package of much needed clothing that we sent for a newborn baby who was recently orphaned, (mother died from complications during delivery) has finally arrived in Uganda, and he will deliver it for us. We have also utilized some of our emergency reserve fund for the purchase of special nutritional supplements for this baby, who otherwise would likely not have survived, as these supplements are not readily available.

Work is progressing well on the clinic expansion, with the concrete floor being poured this week, thanks to a significant financial boost of $16,000 from a generous US donor.

Here is an excerpt from an email that we received from Ezra today:

Dear Glen,
"We are planning to commission the pioneer students who have successfully completed their vocational skills training courses at KIDA. The KIDA board wishes to honour your presence here by respectfully requesting you to be our chief VIP guests at the certificate awarding ceremony upon your acceptance to our invitation. Please suggest possible dates which will be convenient for you, so that we may make final arrangements for this important and special event"

We are indeed very honoured to be invited to attend as the chief guests, for this monumentally significant ceremony of achievement for KIDA, and for all of the students involved. We wouldn't miss it for the world!

November 15, 2007

We are now left with only about 13 days until the movers show up, and just 15 days until we board our plane for Africa! Where did the time go? It seems like just yesterday when the sign on the refrigerator door read "Only 251 days until Africa!" It's still hard to fathom that in a couple of weeks we will actually be fulfilling our lifelong dream of traveling to the African continent, and immediately upon our return to Canada, will be moving into our new home on the opposite coast, over 6,000 km's from where we have called home for the past decade. It is all quite overwhelming trying to make all the necessary preparations for the trip and the move all at the same time, getting some much needed work done on the new house before we arrive, making new friends, enrolling our daughter in a new school, new employment, etc; it feels like we are starting over from scratch, which is a bit frightening at our age! Luckily, we quickly discovered that all the stories we have always heard about Newfoundlanders being the warmest and friendliest people on the planet, is absolutely true! Many of our new neighbors have welcomed us with open arms, and we are so grateful to have made their acquaintance; you all know who you are. And a very special thank-you goes out to our new friends the Baileys, who without their help, kindness, friendship and guidance, we would not have even known where to begin. They are doing a terrific job of renovating our home, and have helped us in more ways than we can count. We are very grateful.

We received an email from our friend Ezra today stating that the wedding list now stands at over 1,000 guests! Last week I volunteered my services to be the wedding photographer, and today the groom welcomed the offer and passed on his appreciation to us. The Dec 15th wedding will be a very large celebration indeed, with a big feast, a brass band, and cultural dances, including the KIDA Drama Group. On Dec 8th the groom, with several friends and family members, will travel to his wife's home for a "give away ceremony" which we expect to be a very large event also. I suppose we will be invited to this too. His wife Beatrace does not come from the Mutooro tribe, but is a Munyankole, ethnic cattle keepers in Southwestern Uganda, the same tribe that President Museveni comes from.

On Sunday we were invited out to our friends' farm for the day. We had a nice dinner and visit, then the girls spent much of the afternoon learning to ride the horses. They had the time of their lives! We are hoping to get back out to their place again before we leave for Africa, for some more horseback riding. Above are photos showing the girls on horseback. 

November 16, 2007

This is a sad time for everyone from the community we will soon be calling home. Candace McKenna was a pillar of strength to everyone who knew her. She passed away this week at the age of 18, as a result of a very rare condition known as muscle fibre disproportion. Although severely disabled, and thus requiring 24 hour care since she was born, Candace went on to show her incredible inner strength and willpower by graduating this year.

In her valedictorian address to the graduating class of 2007, Alison Greene had to say the following about Candace and the impact she had made on everyone's life who knew her:

“We do not have to look far to find another inspiration for life. We have had the pleasure of getting to know a wonderful girl in our class over the years. She has been faced with so many obstacles, yet she still sits here at her graduation with the rest of us. Smart and funny, her attitude and outlook on life is amazing. She shows us that we should never succumb to the difficulties we will face in life. Live and do what you love to do. A wise person once said simply, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” If we had half the determination that she has, who knows what we could all do with our lives. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that we should all give a huge round of applause to Candace McKenna, for showing us how to overcome obstacles and make the most of our lives.” 

We did not have the privilege of meeting this gifted young lady, but had written to her just a couple of weeks ago, telling her a bit about our family, and that we would soon be neighbors and looking forward to visiting with her in the new year. She will indeed be deeply missed by all. Our thoughts are with Jim, Alice and family.

November 25, 2007

Last night the movers called to say they would be arriving a day early. As we had not been expecting them to show up until Monday, (were really wishing they would not come until Thursday) it certainly caused plenty of chaos, as we frantically finished packing all of the odds and ends. It's 1:30 PM and I think we are now finally finished, and ready for the movers to begin loading.

So by tonight we will be sitting here, staring at four walls, in a completely empty house, other than air mattresses and our luggage, and we still have five more days until we leave for Africa. Well, we knew it wouldn't be easy trying to prepare for a long distance move at the same time as our trip! We still don't know when our belongings will show up in Newfoundland, but hopefully today the movers will be able to provide a guess, so that our friends there can be prepared for their arrival. We are worried about how some items will fare on such a long journey, such as guitars, computers and other electronics, antique crystal, big-screen TV, etc, but oh well, what can you do! I guess that's what insurance is for.

We can hardly wait until we're finally on the plane, and can forget about all the stress of moving, and try to relax and enjoy ourselves. It's been a crazy couple of months; I would not recommend anyone to attempt a trip and a move at the same time. I am hoping we will never be moving again; we'll be staying put... until we go into a nursing home!

*UPDATE* The movers got here at 4PM, and had loaded up the entire house by 7:30! Everything went smoothly and according to plan. These three guys (Kurt, Joey and Allan) deserve an honourable mention, as they are very professional, efficient and friendly. Thanks for a job well done! Here's a couple of photos of everyone hard at work. Now that all of our stuff is cleared out, I think that it has finally sunk in that we are moving!

November 28, 2007

Now that we are down to just a couple more days before our long awaited departure, I just want to mention a few things about this journal. You may have noticed it has been undergoing a series of changes these last couple of weeks, as I have been experimenting with the overall look of it, and adding various new features, such as a dual clock showing the current time in both Uganda and Newfoundland, (where our new home is) the weather conditions where we will be staying in Uganda, and have included a more detailed description of what our organization is doing to help improve the lives of African children, and of our partnership with the KIDA Foundation.

We have also added a link to our new photo gallery in the right hand column of each web page, to which we will soon begin adding many photos of our experiences in Africa. This will include pictures of us visiting with all of our supported children and families, business loan recipients, colleagues, friends and charity partners, our boat cruises up the Nile River and Kazinga Channel, chimpanzee trekking in the Kabale jungle, traditional African Christmas and New Year's celebrations, trips to the famous Murchison Falls and Bushara Island on Lake Bunyonyi close to the Congo/Rwanda border, the country's capital Kampala, safaris in both Southern and Northern Uganda, our new construction projects, visiting the land we purchased last year for farming, (includes a 400 tree banana plantation) working in the clinic, home visitations of AIDS patients, cultural music, drumming and dance performances, teaching a computer training course at our vocational school, attending a traditional African wedding with over one thousand invited guests, and many other interesting photos. I also plan to post some videos of our adventures, however this may have to wait until we return to Canada.

The photo gallery link is already in place, and we have just uploaded some shots from when I flew to Newfoundland at the end of September. You can see our new home, and some of the spectacular scenery in and around our small fishing community of Island Harbour on Fogo Island, which is situated just off the northeast coast of the province. Starting shortly after our arrival in Uganda on Sunday, we will begin posting photos of our trip. Internet networks are very poor at best in Africa, so please bear with us; there may be stretches of several days where we do not have access to an Internet connection, but we will try to post whenever possible. 

We hope to stay in regular contact with all of our friends back in Canada, so we look forward to your continued emails, and will make every effort to write back promptly.

November 28, 2007

Today we received a letter from Ezra; he will attempt to make his way to Kampala in time to meet up with the owner of Banda Inns, who has arranged to pick us up at the Entebbe Airport on Sunday. Ezra has booked our transport back to Kitojo the following day.

Here is a photo he sent today, showing Kasangaki (one of our supported children) kneeling in his cooking shelter, which is on the verge of collapse. In the background you can see the new latrine that we recently constructed for him and his family. 

One of the first projects we will be arranging once we arrive in Uganda will be to construct a new kitchen for Kasangaki. Hadadi Mugisa, another of our supported children is also in dire need of a kitchen, and possibly a latrine, so we will assess his situation as soon as we get there, and begin work immediately.

Jane's (our second supported child, formerly of World Vision) father called Ezra yesterday to inquire about our arrival date, as they are anxious to meet us. We will have to make arrangements to travel to the very remote and arid Rwebisengo area of Western Uganda to visit with her family, as well as with Grace, our first sponsored child, who lives close by, on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

December 3, 2007

Well, we made it…but it was getting iffy at times, as to whether we would ever get here! What an experience! For our first trip away from Canada, I think the cards were stacked against us right from the start, as everything that could possibly go wrong did. But before I get on with the story, let me just say that we eventually made it to Entebbe Airport on Sunday (Dec 2) and we are now resting at Banda Inns in Kampala. What a beautiful place, with beautiful people. We know that we will be wanting to make this journey regularly. The temperatures are very high (as they are all year round) and the humidity is high, making for uncomfortable days, but things cool down slightly at night, allowing sleep to come easily. All windows and doors are left open continuously for ventilation, and mosquito nets around beds are very much a necessity, to prevent bites leading to malaria.

Now back to the beginning… our friends the Hendersons were kind enough to drive us to the Kelowna Airport early Friday morning, and we managed to get our luggage checked in and our boarding passes in order. The first problem that arose was during take-off, when Allyssia got very light headed and extremely pale. We thought that if she gets this sick within 20 seconds of takeoff, how can we possibly fly another 16,000 kms!! Anyway, we kept a close watch on her, and she seemed to be better by the time we reached Vancouver Airport.

After a lengthy stopover, we were finally on our way to London England, where we found the world’s largest airport to be very confusing, run down, and understaffed. We got lost a few times, had many problems getting our paperwork in order, with everyone telling us something different. We had to stay here for about 10 hours, until we made the connection to Rome. Upon leaving Heathrow, we had an engine failure (YIKES!), and had to return to get it repaired. We finally got underway but were now running over an hour behind schedule to make our other connections in time, so our stress level was certainly on the rise. We then flew from Rome to Addis Ababa Ethiopia, where we were greeted at the door by military personnel carrying fully automatic assault rifles! That was a bit of an eye opener! We got lost again at this airport, and were told many different stories about where to go to re-check our luggage in, and nearly missed our next flight, but luckily it was over an hour delayed as well. Major luggage mix-up, which left us running back and forth across the airport many times. By this point we were all so exhausted we began to wonder if we would ever see Uganda. The plane finally took off, though it shook so violently that we believed our lives were about to end, but we managed to land in Entebbe in one piece! Oh, did I mention the turbulence, in which the plane dropped several hundred metres in mere seconds? Good thing we were belted into our seats at the time, or things could have been much different.

The first thing we noticed was the oppressive heat when we first stepped off the plane in Uganda. Very hot, and extremely humid, as it is all year round. It was just two days earlier that we left Kelowna when it was 6 below zero, with some snow on the ground! Quite a change! Our driver in Entebbe was nowhere to be seen when we got there, and when I left the terminal to look for the man holding a sign with our name, I was not allowed to re-enter the terminal, as Linda had all of my identification with her, so we didn’t know how we would ever find each other again, but in the end, some nice security people reunited us again (Whew!) The drive to Kampala from Entebbe Airport, a distance of about 40 kms, was hair-raising to say the absolute least. I think to pass a driver’s test here, means to know how to use your horn to warn everyone else to get out of your way! I expected to witness dozens of collisions, yet saw none, only by some miracle! We saw everything along the route, from traditional African dancers, to babies riding in the back of pick-ups, everyone balancing things on their heads, to cattle grazing in downtown intersections! Even a guy with a baby monkey in his pocket!

 Banda Inns, where we are staying until rested enough to travel upcountry, is a little oasis in the middle of a huge city. We eat our wonderful meals out on the veranda overlooking a beautiful back yard full of exotic trees, plants and flowers of every description. Banana trees, papaya (pow-pow), a 50 foot tall cactus, and some of the most colourful birds we have ever seen. I am taking plenty of photos of everything we see, and can’t get over the beauty of the place and people. I don’t know how successful I will be in uploading pictures to this website, with such poor connection speeds, but I will keep trying. In the meantime, I wanted to write this much, so no one would have to worry about us. There are many dangers here, but we are not willing to take any unnecessary risks either. We have learned of a big Ebola outbreak in the Bundibugyo District, where two of our sponsored children live, so at this point we don’t know how safe it would be to travel there to visit with them, until it has been contained; will know more soon.

That’s it for now, as I am heading out onto the veranda for passionfruit juice, and chat some more with our friend Ezra. Bye for now!

December 8, 2007

I am at this very moment lying in a bed with my laptop, in a little cottage with a thatched grass roof in the middle of a very remote region of Western Uganda, listening to red-tailed monkeys chattering, little children laughing, and a thousand different varieties of birds singing. This lovely cottage is one of three guest cabins belonging to our friends Ezra and Marjorie. We have never seen a more beautiful place in our entire lives, which is quite a bold statement, as we have seen some very scenic locations, such as British Columbia and Newfoundland, but nothing can compare to what we have right here in Kitojo. Ezra’s home is located atop a large hill, with a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding countryside, overlooking banana plantations, dense forest, and the magnificent Ruwenzori Mountains, the largest mountain range in all of Africa. On the way here we even had glimpses of snow, even though we are right on the equator!

But let's go back to Tuesday when we left the Banda Inns in Kampala to travel west across the country. Ezra arranged for a matatu (11 passenger van very common in Africa) to take us to his home, while he had to stay behind in Kampala for various tests including a CT scan, as he is still having dizzy spells. Prior to leaving Kampala, we had to stop at a Forex Bureax to exchange our funds into Ugandan shillings, then went to a grocery store for a few items, and one last stop at the offices for the two safari lodges where we will be traveling to later in the month, to pay for our accommodations in advance. Kampala is a huge city clogged with people on foot, on bicycles, boda bodas (motor bikes) cars and matatus. The pollution is unbearable, as is the intense heat of the equatorial sun. Here, motorized vehicles do not have any emission control devices, and the result is a huge plume of exhaust smoke belching from every vehicle on the road. And did I mention they all drive like crazed madmen?

It seemed as though we would never find our way out of Kampala, but in awhile the scenery finally changed from crowded markets and total chaos to lush green countryside, dotted with small ramshackle villages every so often. Every time our matatu stopped to either pick up or drop off passengers, dozens of people would advance on us, selling everything from soda, candy bars, and especially “chicken on a stick” Everyone was fighting for space next to our van’s windows wishing for us to buy their goods. We drove west for almost five hours before we reached Fort Portal, the largest town in the west of the country. Far up on the top of a hill in Fort Portal, we could see the King’s palace. We left Fort Portal, traveling south on a poorly maintained dirt road, to head to Ezra’s house. He had mentioned to us that the road was rough, but that was a huge understatement, as we truly felt that we would all be shook to pieces long before reaching our destination. And it certainly didn’t help that I have a spinal injury, which made me become rather vocal with every jarring bump. The road better resembled an animal path, than an actual road; I would have never believed that a vehicle could ever use a road such as this. But after another 45 minutes or so, we could up ahead see Ezra and Marjorie’s large and majestic guest home at the very top of a hill, with the three small grass-roofed cottages lined up in front of the main house. 

Needless to say, we were very much relieved to finally get here, and very happy to meet Marjorie and her staff face to face after so much time. She showed us to our cottages, where Linda and I settled into one, and the girls in another. They prepared a feast for us, consisting of toast with mushrooms/mushroom sauce, chicken, rice, peas and carrots, and apple cake… Delicious! While we were eating (all meals are taken outside on the veranda) we could here African drums off in the distance. As it turned out, the drumming we heard was the KIDA drumming group practicing for a performance. When we are eating, we get our entertainment by watching all of the different varieties of lizards that can be seen skittering around everywhere you look. All sizes and colours, some very tiny, perhaps 2 inches in length, others very large, (well over a foot long) with bright blue heads. They are always seen on the ground, sunning themselves on rocks, on the exterior walls of the cottages, and even inside the rooms!! They are actually very welcome inside, as they eat the malaria-carrying mosquitoes, while the lizards themselves are completely harmless. Mind you, it takes a while to get used to waking up and looking through your mosquito netting, to see a big critter with a blue head, buggy eyes, and a long tongue staring back at you! 

Yesterday we awoke to the sounds of dozens of red-tailed monkeys jumping on the metal roof of the main house. While sitting on our little deck at the front of our cottage, we can watch the playful monkeys alternately sitting and watching us with curiosity, and jumping from limb to limb. They have cute little impish faces with a fluffy button nose, and very long tails of several feet in length. We have taken many photos and video of them. 

We walked to the clinic in the morning, before the sun got too hot. We were warmly welcomed by all, and were told over and over again that none of what is being accomplished here could have been done without our support. It is truly amazing how Ezra has implemented so many of these projects for this poor area of Uganda. We met all of the staff members, and volunteers, and many clients. We saw firsthand how the vocational school operates, such as the tailoring classes, bricklaying and carpentry courses. We saw the gardens where various new agricultural techniques are taught, the savings and loan, and the actual clinic, where life prolonging medicines are dispensed. Tomorrow is VCT day at the clinic (Voluntary Client Testing), and we will be there, dispensing drugs, organizing the appointments, and doing paperwork. (all four of us) There is expected to be over 100 people to process. It will be an interesting and educational day.

Last evening we went along with Marjorie to do home visitations of HIV/AIDS clients. All along the way, hoards of children would gather around us, and come running from their huts to see the muzungus, (white people) a very rare site indeed in this part of the world. We have brought several thousand stickers with us, and we spend a lot of time giving them to every child who approaches us. They love having their pictures taken, and are always posing with big smiles and funny faces. They break into laughter and dancing when we turn the camera around so they can view the photos. Even the adults, and especially the elderly men and women, are wanting these stickers. They really cherish being able to receive something new, when they have nothing. We are taken by how truly happy the children seem to be. These kids have no belongings, live in a crumbing hut made from cow dung, have tattered clothing, and most are orphaned by AIDS, yet they seem quite content and very happy. I guess they have nothing to compare their lives with, and it is all that they know exists. When they greet us (children and adults alike) they bow down and lower their heads as a sign of respect, as if greeting royalty, making us feel oddly inadequate and undeserving of such attention. 

Every so often Marjorie would lead the way into some client’s yard, and we would be invited into their homes, which would consist of a very small mud and wattle (cow dung) hut with a hard dirt floor, mud interior walls decorated with either newspapers or old advertising, and a couple of benches. The host occupants would sit on the dirt floor while offering the benches to us. The rooms are very dark, and musty, as no light ever reaches them. All of the clients would show us the weaved baskets they have made, with the hopes that we will buy them all to bring back to Canada… which is exactly what we do. It makes more sense to pay them for their hard work, than it does to simply give handouts. We plan to continue our periodic fundraiser parties when we are settled into our new home in Newfoundland, and we hope that people may wish to buy some of these items, as all the proceeds will be used to find other ways to help these wonderful people become more self sufficient. For $10 or $20, people back home can get a beautifully hand crafted one of a kind authentic African basket, the person who made it gets paid for their services, and the profits can go back into our projects to help others who so desperately need help. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. 

The home visitations of the AIDS clients was certainly an eye opener for us. Although we have done years of research, and had seen countless photos, video and heard many first-hand accounts from our charity partners, nothing could prepare us for the desperate situation that we saw last night, as we went from home to home. Everywhere, there are homes with no doors or windows or roof, starving children, people trying to find any way possible to get a meal, etc. We stopped in to see one of our own supported children, Moses Asaba, who is seventeen now, and doing well in school, as a result of our monthly support. We learned that he has to walk two hours to school every day, and two hours back home again. We promised him we will travel to Fort Portal soon to purchase a bicycle for him, so that he can make the journey in much less time, which will allow him more time for other activities, such as cutting sugarcane to sell. He had five long poles of sugarcane propped up against the front of his house, that he was selling for 2,000 shillings each, which works out to 50 cents for all five of them, so we bought all of them (plus a very large tip!!). This will give him some money for lunches at school. Linda and the girls will walk to his place tonight once the sun has gone down, to bring the sugarcane back here. 

We next visited with one of Allyssia’s children, Amon Friday, who was so excited to finally meet us in person, and he invited us all into his tiny hut to show us that he had pictures on his wall that both Allyssia and Jacqueline had drawn for him many months ago. It was surreal to travel half way around the world, to find our pictures, photos, and other items we had sent, in a mud hut in the middle of the jungle! 

Today, we decided to stay close to home, as we have had too much sun, and we must be careful to reduce the amount of sunlight, because our anti-malarial pills cause the sun to burn us quicker than normal. Also, we must always be aware that the sun is so much stronger here on the equator. 

This morning, we had breakfast on the terrace, consisting of huge slices of pineapple, a common type of banana grown here, that tastes so much better than back home (they are very small, about 3 inches long!) watermelon, scrambles eggs on toast with beans, passionfruit juice, African tea, and toast with jam. The minute we finished this feast, they asked us what we wanted for lunch!! Ugandans love to eat! We said we will wait until suppertime for our next meal. Supper will be served at 8PM outside by candle light. 

Yesterday we had fish with coconut sauce, cauliflower, carrots and fried bananas with cream for desert.

More to follow, whenever we can get an Internet connection. 

PS: we have heard that much of Canada is in a deep freeze with lots of snow. It’s so hard to believe that we are sitting here in the hot sun watching monkeys and lizards, while it’s snowing back home! We miss you all. Please keep in touch… be patient if you don’t hear from us right away. There is no electricity, and I am now on my third and final computer battery, so it’s difficult to stay on here as long as I would like to. Hopefully I can get one of the batteries charged tomorrow at the clinic (solar power)
Bye for now!

December 9, 2007

Linda awoke with a fright last night. While sleeping under her mosquito net, a lizard decided to take a stroll under her pajamas, and she woke up when it was half way up her leg! She yelled for me to come and help her, but I was not fond of getting too near the action, so I kept my distance! By the time we found a flashlight and got the candles going, of course the lizard was long gone, but it was hard to get to sleep after that!

Thursday we walked back to Moses Asaba’s house to pick up the poles of sugarcane that we had promised the night before to buy from him. He had four poles left, and was asking 800 shillings (about 80 cents) for them, so we took three (left one for him to keep) and paid him 20,000 shillings (about $9) which must have seemed a huge amount of money, by the look on his face when we handed it to him. We carried them back home where Marjorie showed us how to peel them, and cut off large chunks to chew on. It is hard to bite into, but very tasty and sweet; we chewed on the sugarcane well into the night, while listening to all of the tropical sounds made by millions of insects, birds and monkeys!

Friday was VCT day at the clinic (voluntary client testing) and there was a very large turnout of likely more than 150 people wishing to be tested, and many more HIV positive clients that came for their check ups. A very busy and long day in the hot, hot sun, so I was worn out and quite sore (spinal injury) by midday. Allyssia stayed at the clinic until the testing was complete, as she was in charge of weighing the clients and also documenting their temperatures.

Friday night we got out our four MP3 Players and headphones, so that the children and staff alike could listen to music by Canadian and American artists. It caused much excitement for them, and for us, as they were absolutely amazed that such a sound could come from such a small box. We took many photos and a lot of video of everyone singing and dancing to our style of music. We had also brought along a Velcro catch ball game (consisting of two Velcro hand paddles and a tennis ball) and again this caused a lot of excitement as they were amazed that the ball would stick to the paddles.

Ezra arrived back home late Friday night, after a week of tests in Kampala for his dizzy spells. It turns out he has a damaged nerve in his inner ear that is causing the dizziness, and the hope is that the medication will help. Yesterday Ezra and I walked to the clinic to get my computer hooked up to the solar powered Internet network. By the time we had installed the software and attached the cellular modem, Allyssia came by to say dinner was being served, so I did not get a chance to get online to post an entry to this journal, so I will attempt to do so today. It remains to be seen whether I will be able to post any pictures with such a slow connection.

Yesterday Margret stopped in with her grandson Musinguzi, (one of our supported children) for a visit at our cottage. Margret is quite elderly, but had walked several kilometres just to see us. Musinguzi was so happy to finally meet us in person, and we promised to stop in at their house to visit with them soon. Margret is raising eight grandchildren herself, as the parents have died from AIDS. They recently got removed from their home, but she has been able to buy a small plot of land with money we provided, and we will help her rebuild again.

Another of our supported children, Moses Twesingye, came by yesterday, and he spent most of the afternoon visiting with us on our deck overlooking the banana plantations. He too enjoyed listening to the mp3 player. All of our children come with their latest report cards, and it’s great to see that they are near the top of their classes in rank, and a good feeling to know that because of our support they are able to attend school. Moses said that his family of nine only own two mosquito nets, so we will see that they all have nets. You may remember that he recently came down with malaria from which it took a month to recover, as a result of giving his youngest sibling his net. Although he missed many school days because of the malaria, he still ranks 4th out of 61 students. He is in his second year of secondary school. He walked over 12 kms to be with us. All of the children have left our cottage with many small gifts, such as Canada pencils, balloons and of course many stickers.

There is a big Ebola outbreak in this area which has killed many people, and appears to be still spreading, so we have been advised to no longer shake hands with anyone, until the epidemic has been contained. This disease has an 80-90% death rate, so we will be monitoring the situation very closely.

The meals have been wonderful. Ugandans love to eat! We have huge breakfasts of many types of fresh fruit, such as papaya, mango, bananas, and pineapple, followed by sausages, scrambled eggs on home made toast, passionfruit juice and coffee. Lunch (a very large meal) is served around 2PM and supper outside in the dark by the light of a paraffin lamp at 8PM. We have been eating very extravagant dishes of fish, beef and chicken cooked in tasty sauces, with a wide variety of vegetables from their own garden. We have even had chocolate cake for dessert. It seems very strange to be sitting in the middle of this tropical African forest paradise surrounded by dozens of monkeys, in almost complete darkness eating chocolate cake and sipping a Coke!

This morning we awoke to see 9 monkeys just outside our window, (including a baby one) and two squirrels, or at least they appear to be similar to our squirrels back home.

Well, I will head down to the clinic now in an attempt to put this on the blog.

Will post again when I am able.

December 11, 2007

I will attempt to post a few photos we have taken so far. The first picture shows Linda and the girls stopping to chat with some kids at the side of the road. All the kids like to say "how ah you?" and are the cutest kids in the world! The second photo is of some kids putting on a show as Allyssia is about to take their picture. One even brought along a wig!
The third photo shows one of the cabins we are staying in at Ezra's place. It overlooks a valley of forests and banana plantations, with the Rwenzori Mountains in the background. From our deck we watch many people walking down the road carrying large baskets of produce on their heads. Everyone stops to wave to us.
If you look closely you can see two lizards on the wall to the right of the window. The next photo was taken while sitting on the terrace, where we have all of our meals. The views are simply spectacular everywhere you look. From here there is an endless variety of very colourful birds of all sizes, and many red-tailed monkeys.
Today we counted 15 monkeys at one time! And lizards (very big and very small) are always seen every way you turn, and are also very colourful.


Yesterday we attended the wedding of Fred and Beatrice, with over 1,000 invited guests. Ezra performed the ceremony in grand style, and afterward we attended the reception at Fred’s parents’ home. There was a live brass band, a singer, DJ, and even a terrific performance by the KIDA traditional dance and drumming group. It made for a very long day, but it was a lot of fun, and it was great to experience a traditional wedding ceremony of a different culture. We drove to the cathedral in Fort Portal in Ezra’s truck, but Ezra is still not feeling well, so a friend drove, and Marjorie and Ezra rode in the back (box) with many other wedding guests for the many miles of dusty roads, which more resemble cart tracks. The bumps were very hard on my bad spine, but we eventually got there in one piece, though it was quite a site to see a priest riding out in the open truck bed like that! I was dressed in a traditional outfit (of which I forget the name) that resembles a woman’s long gown, with a suit jacket on top. It felt very strange, but I was told by everyone that it commands respect, that I was “very smartly dressed”, and “You look very regal, like a King” Ezra took a photo of us with the wedding party, so I will attempt to post the photo next time showing me wearing the gown. (I am sure you will all get a kick out of it!)

On the drive from the church to the reception we came across a very large king cobra on the road that we estimated to be at least 10 feet long, but Ezra said “I would say it’s only 8 feet long” All I know is it was huge, stretching from one side of the road to the other! We were warned that a bite from it is almost instantly fatal. Later, while driving from the reception back home, we saw another large one on the road. We have since become extra careful while walking along the roads. On the way home, Allyssia and Jacqueline insisted that they ride in the open truck box, allowing Ezra to ride in relative comfort inside the cab, as he too was suffering from spinal problems.

On Wednesday we spent the day in Fort Portal, picking out clothing for Saturday’s wedding, as well as grocery shopping, plus we took Marjorie and Ezra out for lunch to the Rwenzori Travelers Inn restaurant, where they ate traditional Ugandan fare, and we had good old burgers and fries with Coke. Delicious! We then went to the King’s palace, a huge round structure (there is a photo of it in an older post) at the top of a hill overlooking Fort Portal. We were met by a UPDF (United People’s Defense Forces) soldier with an AK47 assault rifle to say that photos of the King’s house are not permitted. Little did they know that my camera is equipped with a powerful lens capable of taking very detailed pictures from a distance!

Fort Portal is a bustling large town, where there are a lot of open air markets, and hundreds of boda bodas (motorbike taxis) buzzing around like madmen. We got into a small grocery store, and were ecstatic to discover Mars Bars, Dairy Milks and even Pringles chips! It was the longest we had ever gone without junk food! We have been eating Ezra and Marjorie out of house and home, so we thought we better get stocked up on many items that we have made large dents in, such as coffee, peanut butter, jam and bread, among many other things. On the way home we stopped at Rhaihamba , a very small dusty trading post consisting of naked children and ramshackle buildings selling a wide range of products, where we stocked up on case after case of pop, of which we all drink in large quantities. Pop (called soda here; they have never heard of pop before) is usually only consumed at Christmas here. We had no difficulty finding Coke and Sprite in large quantities. The popular soda here is called Krest, (made by Coca Cola) which is much like Mountain Dew

Today we stayed close to home, as we were very tired and badly sunburned from yesterday’s all day wedding. We had breakfast with Fatuma, who is the medical officer of the clinic, and got to know her much better. She has a very cute little girl, who wore her hair in braids and beads at yesterday’s wedding. Today she spent a couple of hours braiding Jacqueline’s hair in a African style. The entire KIDA staff contributed to buy the wedding gift, a prime heifer, but was 200,000 shillings short, (about $100) for which we made up the difference, rather that having to go out and buy a separate gift, so we are being much talked about here, for such a generous offering. At the wedding, as well as at the reception, we were greeted by many people (clergy and family of the wedding couple) and very much was said about the “Canadian friends”, and all are very thankful for the work we have done and for the hope we have brought to this area. It made us feel a little awkward, yet proud of our achievements, all at the same time.

On Thursday Adadi (one of our supported children) and his brother came to visit us. We had been to their house the day before, but he was not home; we had a nice visit with the rest of the family that day, as we now support the entire family because (as I have mentioned in an earlier posting) his mother died recently while giving birth, and the baby would have died also if we did not provide special supplements. We all took turns holding the cute little girl, who is now 3 months old. The day before, someone had dropped their large thermos they use for keeping the baby’s milk warm (they call it a flask here) so we picked up a new one in Fort Portal the next day. Anyway, Adadi and his brother stopped in at the clinic where I was working on my computer, then we all went up to our cottage, where we spent the day getting to know each other better. He is 12 and his brother is 14. Ezra’s cook gave them a nice meal and passionfruit juice, and they were so excited to receive lots of stickers, pencils, balloons, etc. It turns out that they had ridden a neighbor’s bicycle 2 hours (each way!) to come see us. And they brought a chicken as a gift of thanks for us!! In Uganda, it is very rude to not accept a very special gift such as this (just imagine the importance and value of a chicken, for people as poor as this, yet they love us and are so thankful for what we are doing here, that they would offer this to us) so naturally, this very moving gesture was a very important one indeed, and we could not bring ourselves to eat it, so it now roams around Ezra’s compound, where his kids fuss over it as if it is one of the family. We had chicken for dinner last night, so we first had to make sure that our chicken was OK, and was not the main course!!

After visiting Hadadi’s house, we decided to begin construction of a new kitchen building, as theirs was ready to collapse. We hope to have it completed by the time we return to Canada. We are compiling a list of other things we have to do, and are determining how many mattresses to buy, amount of bedding, clothing, cooking utensils, latrines and most of all, mosquito nets. We have not yet been able to buy a bike for Moses Asaba to get to school, but will make sure he has it before the new school term begins.

The Internet network is so bad here, but I guess we should be thankful that there is any Internet at all. We are so accustomed to high speed, that it takes a little getting used to the very slow connection here. Tonight, as I type this, the Internet is not working at all, so I hope to be able to post this in the morning. Because of the poor connection, I am having a terrible time trying to email everyone (though I am still able to receive emails), so just let me say here that we wish we could write back to our friends such as Daphne and Lloyd, Shannon and Martin, Glen and Deann, Gail and Rod Henderson, everyone in Cobourg, Katelyn in Armstrong, and all the rest of you who are following along on our adventures, and to say we are doing great, having an absolutely fascinating time here in Africa, and wish you were all here to experience the wonderful Ugandan hospitality. We have learned that our belongings have arrived safe and sound at our new home in Newfoundland, and a special thanks to the Baileys for everything you have been doing for us with the renovations, and letting in the movers. We could not have managed without you. We will be seeing you very soon, and are counting down the days! To Katelyn, it’s great to see you returning regularly to our journal; thanks for showing such a strong interest in our work here; please try to start kicking some butts at DQ for supporting some kids!! To the Henderson’s, we are thankful for the taxi service, and your offer of a place to stay when we arrive back in Canada, to allow us to rest up for our cross-Canada journey. To Glen and Deann for keeping us up to date with our mail; you too, feel free to kick some staff butts at DQ for sponsorship! And to all you others (for which there is not enough time to mention) we are thinking of you all, and please keep in touch.

On Tuesday morning, we are heading to Northern Uganda for our safari in Murchison Falls National Park, where we will be able to get up close and personal with giraffes, elephants, Nile crocs, water buffalo, leopards and lions. The drive to Murchison will take 10 hours on very rough roads, so we will be exhausted by the time we get there. I may not be able to post on the journal until I return on Thursday, but I will try my best. We don’t know how far into the north of the park we will be allowed to go, as it depends on the level of recent rebel activity (LRA) there has been, though we will have a heavily armed military escort wherever we travel in this part of the country, so that will make us feel a little safer.

I will also try to post some more photos next time.

December 21, 2007

Just returned from our safari adventure, bad internet still, will attempt to post all about it as soon as I am able. To summarize, had a fantastic time, and can hardly wait to tell all about it. 
Stay tuned!!!

December 25, 2007

Last Tuesday we headed out to Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda, with the hope that the rebel activity was calming down as a result of peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan Government, as there has been many attacks in the past, with many thousands of lives lost, and two million people displaced from their homes. We hired a driver to take us in Ezra’s 4X4 Toyota, and he got us there in ten hours, on very rough roads; at times it would have been quicker to get out and walk, as the roads were in such terrible condition. We finally arrived feeling half dead and completely covered in red dust (the dirt here is red) at Paraa Safari Lodge situated on a bluff overlooking the River Nile at about 4PM, and while crossing the river by ferry, we saw 15 elephants in front of the lodge, and many hippos and baboons close by! (we had already come across many families of baboons on the way to Murchison.

We were greeted in the lobby of the lodge by our hostess who provided us with cold wet towels and a glass of ice cold, fresh squeezed passionfruit juice, and then were shown to our rooms which were very fancy indeed, very African in style, with many extra touches such as marble and mahogany, and with a view of the River Nile that was out of this world. We sat for a while on our patio watching the elephants feeding on the trees, then went for a refreshing swim in the pool (it has a swim-up bar!!), before heading to the terrace dining room for a spectacular buffet style dinner with many other guests from all over the world. There is nothing like eating while watching the sun setting over the Nile, surrounded by huge elephants, and listening to the hippos snorting in the water!

That first night, we heard a terrible commotion outside our patio door at about 2AM, and discovered that 5 elephants had broken through the compound perimeter, had gotten into the pool, and then decided to start pulling down trees around the pool. They were very angry and made sounds exactly like very loud trumpets. Although it stays extremely hot all through the night in this part of Uganda, we had to keep all doors and windows closed to keep out the elephants, hippos, lions and leopards.

Next morning we had an early breakfast, then were off on our game drive across the savannah in Ezra’s truck, with a guard we had hired for security, an officer with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority who works with the UPDF (military) to help protect against rebel attacks. We felt a little safer, as he carried an AK47 assault rifle, and assured us that he had everything under control. Linda and the girls rode in the cargo area with the guard, standing up and holding onto the roll bar, allowing them to best view the abundant wildlife all around us. What an experience! Everywhere we looked, there were giraffes with their babies, elephants, water buffalo, hippos, monkeys, baboons, waterbucks, bushbucks, kobs, hartebeests, huge prehistoric looking birds, and many other varieties of antelopes for which I have forgotten their names. We were driving across the savannah when we came upon three lion cubs, so the guard immediately yelled for everyone to get into the cab of the truck as fast as we could, because we didn’t know where the mother was, yet she had to be close by. We found the large mother nearby and then discovered four more cubs, so that meant a second mother was close. We sat and watched the six lions from a distance of only 10 metres, from the safety of the truck cab, an experience that we will never forget. I hope I will be able to post photos on here. After about four hours and many miles of driving we returned to the lodge for a great lunch, followed by a swim to cool us off. At 2PM we headed down to the dock for our boat cruise that would eventually take us to the base of Murchison Falls, the most powerful water force in the world, as the entire Nile River gets funneled into an opening in the rocks that is only 20 feet wide! On the way down to the water’s edge we came across a huge hippo munching the grass at the side of the road. We were all surprised at the size of every animal we saw, as they are all much bigger than they appear in pictures and on television. We could easily understand how hippos are considered the most dangerous animal in Africa, as their sheer size, and enormous teeth, are beyond belief.

The boat had two levels, and we started out on the upper deck, but soon relocated to the first level in an attempt to escape the oppressive heat. We saw many HUGE Nile crocodiles, some as long as 20 feet, and weighing over a ton!! And we were at arm’s reach to them! We also saw many elephants, buffalos, warthogs, monkeys, baboons, kobs, and even an eight foot long monitor lizard! (Linda was glad it was not what got into her pajamas one night!)

By this time we had become good friends with our driver, a man that Ezra’s family knows well, so we invited him to join us on the game drive and the boat cruise, as well as to join us each day for breakfast. He too was very excited to see the animals; he said that he had only seen a lion on one other occasion, about 30 years ago, and so he was thrilled to be sitting just a few metres away from six of them!

We went to bed early, as we were tired from our busy day in the hot equatorial sun. The rooms were very hot, as the temperature in the north does not cool down at all at night; luckily we had a ceiling fan until 1AM, when they turn off the generator. Next morning we left the lodge and began the long journey back to Kitojo. We passed through many run down villages filled with smiling and singing kids, who would all gather at the roadside upon seeing the Muzungus (whites) and would shout “How ah you” or “Give money!” sometimes they would ask for money, and when we drove past them, we would turn around to look out the back window, to see them crying. It made us so sad to see them in such despair and poverty. We finally got back to Ezra’s as it was getting dark, and his whole family said they missed us very much and were so happy that we had returned safely.

It is now Christmas Eve, and I am typing this at the clinic. We have been having some problems with the solar power, so I narrowed it down to a bad fuse, for which we have no replacement, so have wrapped wire around the contacts to provide a better connection. So far, so good. I am way behind on the journal, please forgive me, but without power, we cannot charge the batteries, and the Internet is so bad that at times I feel like throwing the laptop out the window in frustration! I wish I could post pictures on here by the hundreds, as we all have taken many beautiful shots, but I fail more often than not at uploading them to the site.

There is much excitement around here today, as everyone runs around gathering supplies for Christmas Day. There are many people pushing bicycles loaded with cases of pop, as it is the only time of year it is purchased, due to the high price of 30 cents a bottle, extremely cheap by our standards, but unaffordable here. There is also lots of people from the elderly right down to 2 and 3 year olds, who are carrying huge stacks of various types of grasses on their heads, that will be taken home to decorate their places for the holidays. Ezra’s family has decorated our cabin, as well as the girls’, and also their home, including a Christmas tree decorated with balloons. Tomorrow we will be having a big feast, with 6 chickens, beef, pork, goat, and even a turkey, much of what will be barbequed outside. We wake up each morning to Murungi, Ezra’s oldest son, (age 18) singing Christmas carols while he sets the breakfast table on the terrace overlooking the banana plantation.

On Boxing Day we will travel with Ezra and Marjorie to visit the three remaining children who we have not yet seen, then we can sit down to prioritize how best to help them with their needs, such as bedding, mattresses, clothing, cooking utensils and mosquito nets.

We were ecstatic yesterday to receive an email from Linda’s brother’s family who has pledged to support five children!! We are so very grateful for their compassion and their offer to help us get closer to our goal of supporting, and thus placing 100 vulnerable children in school this year. Thank-you, from the bottom of our heart!! We are gathering info on the five new children for them, and will go Wednesday to visit with them, and take plenty of photos and video. I will keep you posted, Michael. We broke the news at Ezra’s breakfast table yesterday that five more kids have been sponsored, and everyone was very happy and excited to hear that more Canadians were getting involved in our project.

We attended the year-end board meeting at the clinic, and it was followed by a large dinner cooked by Marjorie. All of the board members gave us their heartfelt thanks and appreciation for what we have been doing here to help with the poverty situation, and we have promised to continue our work in this community.

On Thursday we will be heading south to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Ezra’s truck, with Fred as our driver. You may remember that it was Fred’s wedding we recently attended. It turns out there was 1,600 guests, not 1,000 as earlier reported. He is a very nice man, and a member of the board. We will be staying at Mweya Safari Lodge for two nights, and will again go on a game drive as well as a boat cruise up the Kazinga Channel between Lake Albert and Lake George.

Well, I will now attempt to post this on the blog, and I will take this time to wish all of our friends back in Canada a very Merry Christmas, and all the best in the New Year. There have been many people that we have been unable to email, with such a poor connection, but please remember that we are always thinking of you all. We can receive emails, but have difficulty in replying. Dawn, if you are able to reach my parents to let them know that we are all doing well, it would be very much appreciated. I see that you have been following along on the journal, and possibly either your Mom or your Dad, so hopefully one of you can get word to Mom and Dad to put their mind at ease. We have no other way to reach them as they don’t have Internet. Shannon and Martin, we received your email today, and we too wish you and your family a great Christmas and Happy New Year! I will write more when the connection is better.

Well bye for now, everyone have a great holiday, and I will write again after our big day tomorrow. It’s so strange that it is Christmas, yet we are sweltering in the heat of the tropics! Well, I sure don’t miss having to shovel snow!!

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