London 2012

3 Aug

The classic phone booth photo shoot!

We were going to call this blog “Safe and Scammed” because upon arriving here we discovered that the Olympics tickets that we bought over a year ago were in fact from a company with a history of scamming people and never delivering tickets. “Gutted”, as people might say here, we kept things in perspective. We are so fortunate to have done everything we have done this year, and the Olympics were really a bonus at the end of an amazing year. Had we travelled here from Canada just for this reason, it might have been a different story, but it has been really great to experience the energy in the city in this time, so we are glad to have had the ‘carrot’ to bring us here in the first place.

Beer at 10:30am? Why not! Had to get in the spirit!

In the first two days we sought out the free events, including seeing the men’s and women’s cycling road races. Indeed, our tickets to Beach Volleyball on Monday never materialized, but we actually managed to buy last minute tickets to Beach Volleyball for Tuesday instead. We had great seats- just four rows back, centre court, with the gorgeous view… no- not just of the female players in their bikinis… I was referring to the view of the London skyline behind! We secured the tickets at 1:30 in the morning after much hand wringing, and after a short sleep, we were off to the Games! To make matters better(!), we got home at 11:30pm that night to find that- against the odds- our tickets to diving the next day had arrived by Fed-Ex!  After yet again donning our red and white, we made our way to Olympic Park to join thousands of other viewers in the massive aquatics venue to see the final for men’s 3m synchronized diving.

We thought that visiting the Olympics Games might cross an item off our ‘bucket list’, but it has left us looking forward to visiting future Olympics Games! There is such a positive energy amongst the crowds- both in the venues and on the streets, and watching the athletes really is inspiring.

Patrick leap-frogging Big Ben!

That said, London is not a half bad city to be acting as host! We were truly impressed by the cleanliness, efficiency, and beauty of England’s capital city. We managed to maximize our five days by seeing the classic landmarks such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral; being totally touristy and riding on the London Eye as well as double decker buses; seeing the musical ‘Blood Brothers’; visiting the Royal Opera House to see their exhibit about the history of the games…. and of course taking photos in a red phone booth!

Our lovely hosts- Gay and Oliver

We were generously hosted chez Gay and Oliver, family friends of Patrick’s who live in a beautiful house near Hackney, East London.  They spoiled us with home cooked food and a home away from home, which is just what we needed! We also were able to meet up with Emma and Steve, friends we made in Thailand at Christmas, who generously treated us to a yummy dinner on the Thames. Then we spent our last night (and delicious dinner) with Patrick’s friend Jasper, who he hasn’t seen since living in Japan in 2004.

All in all, a great last stop on our epic adventure. As we read in the book Catfish and Madala earlier this year, “Adventure is but a collection of detours”, and we have loved every detour.

As we write this, we are sitting in our very own house, basking in the sun, drinking tap water just cuz we can, and thoroughly enjoying being home sweet home again at long last! Last night we slept in our very own bed for the first time in thirteen months- divine!

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Going out in style… literally!

26 Jul

Well, another big chapter of our trip has come to a close, as we have had to say goodbye to all the people who have made our last month and a half so special in Lira, Northern Uganda.

Hanging out with our new friends in Barlonyo outside their house (all seven of these kids are looked after by one woman- some are her grandchildren, some are orphans she has adopted)

Our last week was a busy one, as we rushed to fit in all the things we wanted to do before leaving. We had the opportunity to visit some more caregivers of the students whose kids are sponsored by Children of Hope Uganda; we went to Gulu (another Northern Uganda town) to see a much larger NGO in action and to visit St. Mary’s School from where many girls were abducted in the LRA insurgency; we harvested ground nuts (peanuts) from the garden of the family we have been living with; and we enjoyed our last few days of riding Bosco before letting him be adopted by his new owner.  We gave our beloved Bosco to Milton- a cousin of Solomon’s who has endured illegal land claim issues in his nearby village and is having to start over in Lira, so he will now be able to earn a living and feed his five children through being a boda boda driver.

A good full length view of the matching outfits|- oh yeah!

On our last night, our hosts Solomon and Esther- and the whole team at Children of Hope Uganda- organized an amazing going-away dinner for us, complete with a cake and a dance party! Of course, Patrick and I had to go out “in style”, so we went to the dinner sporting the matching dress and sports jacket that we had had made from African fabric! It was definitely a good laugh!

We will really miss seeing the smiling faces of everyone who enriched our lives in Lira, and we look forward to continued involvement with Children of Hope Uganda from the Canadian side. It remains as sobering as it was when we first arrived to think about how every person in the communities in and around Lira were affected by the war for over twenty years, and how important it is to help foster rich and meaningful opportunities for the upcoming generations there.

Special thanks to Lorna, Esther, Solomon, Peace, Eunice, Grace, Consy, Richard, Ambrose, Rajab, Dorcus, Gloria, Sarah, Gumberi, Oliver, and Issac for making us feel so at home!

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A Wedding, A Run, and some Birthday Fun!

21 Jul

Last weekend was a busy one, and we are only now “catching up with time” (as the saying goes here) to write about it all!

The new bride and groom are announced as Mr. and Mrs!

On Saturday, we got to attend an African wedding- so great! There was much happiness and “jubilating”, and we felt very honoured to be included. While many things were reminiscent of wedding at home (the big white dress, the vows, the reception after the service), there were also many fun additions. For example, when the bride and groom were officially announced, the ‘ululating’ was awesome! Ululating is the traditional sounds women make here when they are “jubilating”…. It sounds like a high-pitched, fast-paced “Ay ay ay ay ay!” You cannot help but smile when people are ululating all around you! And then you get to see some of the elders dancing (read: gyrating), canes and all…. indescribable. Then, there is the giving of the gifts. This is a very public affair here, where people are called up in groups to greet the bride and groom, and give their gifts. Some were wrapped gifts like we might see at home, but- in keeping with African tradition- there were also live goats and chickens carried in over people’s heads, mops, straw mats, baskets of produce, bags of beans, and so much more! With Patrick’s sister and Cayleigh’s brother both getting married in the next few months, this really got us in the spirit and even more looking forward to those two big days! For those of you who will be in attendance at those weddings, start practicing your ululating now!

Patrick and his new buddies from Human Technical School

On Sunday morning, Patrick and I got up bright and early to report for the Northern Uganda Marathon that he signed up for. This run was supposed to take place two weeks before, but it got postponed at the last minute. This was for the best, since Patrick had pulled his calf muscle a few days before and couldn’t have run on the original date. We showed up (on Bosco, our trusty bicycle boda boda) at the appointed 7:15am, and it looked like there were going to be very few people running. The place was pretty quiet. Of course that’s because in true African time-keeping style, the runners wandered in over the next few hours, the DJ arrived to set up at 9am, and the race got started at about 9:40am… only two weeks and two hours late! The whole thing was equal parts humourous (the MC in the bright yellow track suit) and heart-warming (the incredible community atmosphere). I will let Patrick describe what it was like to run in this unique setting:

A barefoot runner (ook at the guy in the centre of the photo) approaching the finish line

“I have run many races in my life and the moment just before the race begins is always a stressful and exciting time. Butterflies bounce around in my stomach as I size up my competition and visualize the course to come. Often a quick look at what the other runners are wearing and their body type gives you a fairly good idea of what to expect and who to watch out for. But due to my injury and my lack of training, I was not looking to compete. As I stood at the start line and gazed around I was swept up in the excitement. For most it looked to be their first race and huge smiles abounded. About half of the runners wore rubber sandals, slip-ons, or no footwear at all The next third wore heavy work shoes or worn leather dress shoes, while a minority wore real running shoes with the marks of expensive brands such as Adidas and Saucony. These shoes looked to be heavily used and were quite likely second hand, donated from the West. There were also a handful of professional runners who looked as if they made a living traveling around the world in search of prize money. They were tall and lean with long, defined muscles and slim shoulders. After three false starts we finally got underway. Most of the crowd sprinted away as if it were the 100 meter dash. Flip flops flew of feet and as we thundered out of the stadium in a cloud of dust. Many ran in groups and shouted encouragement to each other with chants and songs. After a short distance we found ourselves in the country side. The beautiful landscape had me longing for my camera. We ran along bright red dirt roads past small clusters of thatched roof huts, with a deep blue sky as a backdrop and an intense yellow sun above. Villagers stood along the road and cheered us on. I was even recognized at one point by one excited man who shouted “BODA BODA!” Obviously this man knew me as the one mono (white man) in town who rides a bicycle taxi. I ended up walking most of the race as my calf seized up again but this gave me time to walk with a group of young men from a technical school sponsored by PLAN international. One of them shared with me that his father had been murdered in the LRA insurgency and it reminded me of the fact that nearly everyone in this region has been affected by the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. As we approached the finish line my new friends willed me to jog it out to the applause of the crowd and Cayleigh waiting for us at the stadium.”

Barbara with her dad and mum

Finally, to top off a great weekend, we were invited on Sunday evening to attend baby Barbara’s 1st birthday party. Barbara is the daughter of Peace, an incredible, loving woman who works in the Children of Hope Uganda office. Because Barbara helps her mum at work every day, we get the privilege of playing with Barbara often. We have officially decided that of all the babies we have met in all the places we have been this year, Barbara is both the cutest and the best mannered! She is precious, and we will miss her so much when we leave! It was so nice to be included in this special event.

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Rwanda: The Land of BBD

12 Jul

Last week we felt that a holiday from a holiday was is in order, so we decided to “pop over” to Rwanda to visit some friends living and working in Kigali. 21 bumpy, sleepless hours later we arrived in “the land of a thousand hills.”

We went to visit Erica and William. Erica is Cayleigh’s friend from Queen’s. She is working for Save the Children part-time, and also spending several days a week volunteering in a maternal health clinic in an un-serviced community. Her husband William is a CUSO/VSO volunteer working for the Rwandan Board of Education. In fact, Erica’s mum has also been in Kigali for the past three months doing an internship also at the Rwandan Board of Education!

Erica and William were amazing hosts… from meeting us at 6:30am to spoiling us with culinary delights (read: yoghurt, real maple syrup, homemade pancakes… not to mention gin and tonics!) to sharing their cozy home with us, it was well worth the bus ride to get there!

The good ol tire and stick game: possibly the world most popular game.

Also, it was yet another glimpse into the lives of friends living overseas, and we were so inspired not only by the work that Erica and William are doing, but also by their efforts to learn the language and integrate with the local community. They were definitely the “hosts with the most..s”- we have dubbed last week ‘Visitor-Fest 2012’! Why? Because we were not their only house guests! We were joined by another Queen’s friend, Emily, who flew in for three days from Mombasa, Kenya. Then at the end of our stay we shared visitor privileges with Jo and Steve, friends of Erica and William’s from Cape Town, South Africa. Erica and William juggled us all with generosity, flexibility… and more than a few laughs!

Midwife at Erica’s maternal health clinic.

We went “for three nights”… and didn’t come home to Lira until 8 days later! We spent our first three days exploring Kigali and seeing how Erica and William spend their days. We got to visit the maternal health clinic on Tuesday with Erica- what an amazing place. She works with a midwife from Canada who has been in Rwanda for six years. The midwife had a beautiful manner with the pregnant mums, giving them a talk about what to expect during delivery, and then having one-on-one consultations with each of them. That afternoon, Erica, Emily, and I indulged in a $2 pedicure date (much needed) before meeting the boys and Erica’s mum to go to a documentary movie night about the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo.

The next day, Patrick and I visited the Rwanda Genocide Memorial. Wow. A humbling experience, to say the least. The day we visited marked the 18th anniversary of the end of the genocide which saw the brutal murder of over one million people in just 100 days. The world watched, but did not intervene.

We knew about the Rwandan genocide. What we did not know was the amazing transformation the country has undergone since.

Erica on a Moto (boda boda) We zipped around Kigali on these all week as a giant pack of Mazungus.

Today, Rwanda stands out as a model of development and governance, with a flourishing economy. This has been achieved through what Erica and William have coined “BBD”: the Benefits of a Benevolent Dictator ie. Paul Kagame. Kagame was the leader of the Rwandese Patriotic Front who took power after stopping the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis in 1994. He has made many laws, including making plastic bags illegal, banning roadside vendors, insisting that motorcycle taxi drivers and their passengers wear helmets (that’s a first for anywhere we’ve been all year!), and even saying that it is illegal for people to walk barefoot! There are also monthly community clean-up days, and every Friday people finish work early to engage in organized physical activity.

Before we came, people told us that Rwanda was “the Switzerland of Africa”. It certainly is very unlike Kenya and Uganda! The roads are beautifully paved and immaculately clean with manicured medians and clipped hedges everywhere. There are a lot of private cars (compared to Lira where most people take public taxis)… and there are even streetlights that would put Toronto’s to shame! A last note: there is a Shoe Shine Union… enough said!

After our first three days in Kigali, we decided to take a holiday from our holiday from our holiday, and spend a few days at Lake Kivu. We stayed at Home Saint Jean, which felt like a converted convent (can you convert convents or just people? But I digress…). The hotel had a beautiful view of the tranquil lake, and it was a nice chance to regroup… and start talking about our imminent return to Canada in just a few weeks.

We got another couple of days in Kigali again after Lake Kivu, taking in the Kigali Up! Music festival, buying some fabric in the market, and returning to Hotel Civitas where we had the most delicious beef brochettes we have tasted all year! All in all, a great unplanned addition to our trip. Despite all the amazing places and things we have experienced this year, people are still what are most important, and it was such a treat to spend time with people who we know and love. THANK YOU, Erica and William.

Speaking of people, we miss ALL of you. If you are in (or near) Toronto, set aside the night of Saturday, August 4th to join us for an all-ages Welcome Home Pub Night! Details to follow, but we can’t wait to catch up with all of you!

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An Anniversary to Remember!

10 Jul

Well yesterday, July 9, marked our two year anniversary date- time flies! Several people have written to ask us what we up to, assuming we had something special planned! Well, buckle your seatbelts (literally!)…. We spent 21 hours in transit, including a full 17 hours on incredibly bumpy buses!

Our next post will detail all our amazing adventures with Erica and William in Kigali, Rwanda for the past week, but yesterday was our return travel day to Lira. They say that traditionally, two years is the “cotton anniversary”. Well, our cotton shirts was soaked through with sweat, for what it’s worth! We got seats at the very back of the bus (read: right over the tires…. ie. BUMPY!) On top of that, the woman beside me was practically sitting on me in an effort to evade the rain coming in through the closed window! With her baby’s feet draped across my lap, I edged closer to Patrick, who was already half off the seat and into the aisle! And then we’d hit one of many potholes, and we were literally getting air!!

It may not have been the most romantic anniversary ever, but it will definitely go down in the annals of history as one to remember!

Here are a few pics as we reflect back on our big day a couple of years ago. For all the incredible, amazing things we have experienced this year, still no one day stands out to us in our memory more than July 9, 2010.

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A profile of Uganda

7 Jul

Hard to believe, but we have now been in Uganda three weeks already. While in some ways that may seem like a lot of time, it is just enough to scratch the surface of learning about this amazing country.

Known as “the pearl of Africa”, Uganda truly is beautiful. The soil here is very fertile, and we pinch ourselves daily as we cycle past picturesque scenes of lush green fields and rich red earth. These visions are further accentuated by strikingly beautiful women carrying huge yellow jerry cans of water on their heads with babies strapped on their backs. These women work hard, but are quick to provide a heart-warming, toothy smile as we pass by. In the area near where we live, many people live in simple mud huts without electricity. The grounds around these mud huts are always kept immaculately clean.

Largely due to the beauty of the land and the people, the stark reality of life here is still a shock to us. Check out the following country statistics which we read in the 2012 Bradt Uganda guidebook :
– Average life expectancy 45.7years  (lower in Northern Uganda)
– Under 5 mortality rate 13.7%
– rate of HIV infection 8-10% (estimate)
– primary school completion 38%
– secondary school enrollment 13%
– adult literacy 65%
– access to safe water 45%
– access to electricity 4%

“Downtown” Lira

Many people here- including the family we live with- use solar panels in the absence of cable electricity.   In the home where we live, there are two small solar panels that power about 6 high efficiency light bulbs and occasionally a small television.  It is remarkably effective although we are often left with no means to charge our computer, cell phone or let alone a fridge.  That said there is a lot that we power hungry Canadians can learn from our Ugandan hosts.

We feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to live here and get to know the people and the place. We have been keeping busy with all sorts of things for Children of Hope Uganda and have been so inspired by the resilience of the people here. It is so unfathomable that such atrocities happened so recently, yet people have such forgiveness in their souls. Parents of the girls abducted by the LRA and used as sex slaves have formally forgiven their daughters’ bush husbands, justifying that peace is what is important, and that if forgiveness brings peace, then justice and retribution are unnecessary.

We have had the opportunity to meet one of the abducted girls and her mother, and they have smiles that could brighten any room. We have also met some of the crafters of the beautiful fair trade products that Children of Hope produces, all of whom are caregivers of orphaned, war-affected youth. Many of these youth are known as ‘child mothers’ because at a very young age they bore- and now love and care for- the babies of their captors. They tell of their hardships in poignant song and dance. Similar performances have been shared with us by parents in the rural community of Barlonyo, who witnessed the rampant massacre of their friends and family members by the LRA in 2004. Somehow they still have faith in humanity and in God.

In other news, Patrick has quite successfully adopted a Ugandan accent, replacing ‘er’ or ‘ar’ at the end of words such as “sister”, “beer”, and “year” with ‘iah’. He might talk about having a “biah with his sistah last yiah” and locals understand him right away!

Just now, we are on a bus on our way to Kigali, Rwanda, where we will meet up with our dear friends Erica and William. For the record, a man just got on the bus in a dark suit, carrying a briefcase…. and two live chickens hanging by their feet! Perhaps they are related to the two at Patrick’s feet that keep pecking at his leg! Live chickens get hawked a every bus stop for 100000UGX, which is about $4. Makes sense, with no refrigeration, to take a live chicken home!

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Oh the hilarity continues!

26 Jun

Proudly holding his new, neon orange license plate!

It’s official- Patrick has his boda boda license!

He got it today, much to the amusement of the issuing officer and the whole town! At first when we asked to buy the license, the issuing officer said, “No. You can’t. You are not strong enough.” But after persuasion (and amusement!) he was granted his license and assured that he was indeed the first Mono (white person) to ever get one! He can now begin giving rides to everyone who has already tried to flag him down.

Check out this video of one man’s reaction to Patrick’s license!


At the Rotary club event


In other news, Cayleigh is turning heads herself, having had the opportunity on Friday evening to don a local dress to attend a Rotary function!



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