Friday, February 26, 2010

St. Mary Kevin Orphanage

Suzanne at the office of St. Mary Kevin OrphanageOur next stop on day 1 in Kampala was a refreshing dose of hope after our experience at Nsambya Babies Home. St. Mary Kevin Orphanage is a home and school for an older group of orphaned  children. In contrast to our experiences that morning, St. Mary  Kevin provided an atmosphere of love and nurturing to its children, along with encouragement to develop creative talents in art and music. Here, the children seemed more peaceful and happy.

An art and quote board at St. Mary Kevin

Everywhere, there were cues to remember the goodness of God, to respect others, to find joy and peace in the struggles of life… The main courtyard at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. Notice the signs in the grass, reminding kids that "God is Great" and to "Respect Elders." :)My personal favorite – “Be silent, or say something better than silence.”

Children’s artwork adorned the walls and shelves, and we were treated to an amazing performance of music and dance by the students, including expressive musical storytelling, a band complete with brass and their traditional percussion instruments and colorful traditional costumes.

We were treated like royalty at St. Mary Kevin. The children put on an awesome performance for us!This girl was a great dancer and always had a big beautiful smile on her face.While the children performed for us, a small group of children came to the door of the pavilion to watch and listen. One small Chandyachild came at my bidding and sat with me. I thought it was a little boy I was holding on my lap. When I asked a caretaker his name, however, she said it was a girl and that her name was Chandya. She was a beautiful little girl. She was missing her front four teeth, so I’m guessing she was about 7 or 8 years old. She liked seeing the pictures I was taking of the performance in the display on my camera.

I was impressed by the opportunities for productivity provided     by St. Mary Kevin. Whether painting a well, caring for farm animals (pigs, chickens, goats and a cow) or making bricks, there were plenty of opportunities for the children to be responsible and develop skills that will serve them in being productive members of society and developing a sense of dignity and self respect.

I think more paint got on this boy's legs and face than on the well... He was all boy, and clearly having fun...St. Mary Kevin's calfThe pigs of St. Mary KevinAs they did everywhere, the kids here loved my sunglasses and my camera. Put the two together, and you get quite an exciting time!The kids loved my Oakleys!

After seeing conditions in the North, those at St. Mary Kevin are quite good. It is hot and dusty and not all of the children have mosquito nets over their beds. Still, it’s obvious that the operation is well-managed and that there are volunteers and Dorms at St. Mary Kevin sponsors who are aware of the need and contributing what they can. Even while we were visiting, in fact, there was a group of volunteers from Denver playing with the kids and working on the facilities – painting, building, etc.

Volunteers from the Denver area at St. Mary Kevin. Playing guitar for the kids All in all, the visit to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage was a positive experience. Although the plight of the orphaned children there The nurse at St. Mary Kevin with Suzywas sad, it was encouraging to feel the love and concern that the    staff obviously had for the children. I felt like they were being given a leg up in a really tough world, and I left feeling uplifted after a downer morning.

The head mother and another caretaker at St. Mary Kevin

Suzy and the head mother at St. Mary KevinNext stop, Reach Out Mbuya – a co-op of HIV+ women in Kampala from whom we bought our shipment of beaded jewelry in the fall.

Beads at Reach Out Mbuya


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Perspective

I want to call out another perspective on our recent experiences in Uganda. Suzy Gillies, APF’s founder and president, has a blog of her own (Suzy’s African Adventure), where she has been sharing her take on the trip.

Good news is that, while I tend to be really detailed and – ok, I’ll just admit it – “verbose,” Suzy’s very conversational/personal. :) She’s also capturing more of the macro view of the trip.

Jason and the nameless boySo, while you’re reading about my experiences, make sure to pop over to her blog as well and read about how she’s coping with the transition back, about day 1 in Kampala (So happy she took a picture of me with the nameless boy at Nsambya – I didn’t have one of those!) and making our way up to Gulu on day 2.

More Nsambya Pics

I had to post a few more photos of our experience at Nsambya…

Shawn at Nsambya

Kirsten dressing a little boy after bath time

Suzanne and Shawn with the Nsambya babies

Curious child at Nsambya

The kids loved bubbles!

Suzy at Nsambya

Everywhere we went, the kids loved having their picture taken...

The Nameless Boy (Kampala – Day 1)

At Nsambya Babies’ Home in Kampala, a polite staff of caretakers busy themselves with various and sundry duties around the home, while we Mzungus (i.e., white people) The children practically climbed up our legs into our arms when we arrived.anxiously await our opportunity to hold the beautiful children we’ve heard so much about. We no sooner get through the door when numerous  children are reaching out for us to hold their hands, pick them up or otherwise  interact with them. Playing is not enough; they need to be touched, held, nurtured.

Attention, however, comes at a price. Their need is so great, and their socialization so lacking, that they fight – literally clawing at each other – for our attention. Sad Nsambya boyTurning attention from one child to another means an inevitable slap, punch or scratch.

While children, Mzungus and caretakers move about in the enclosed courtyard, one small child lays on his side, nearly motionless on the concrete in the hot African sun. He pays very little attention to what’s going on around him. No matter, as the children and caretakers also pay him little attention.

But I notice him, and, once again, my heart is broken. He’s wearing nothing below the waste, and his tattered shirt is soiled with urine. His bald head betrays a history of severe malnutrition; his lack of attention to the people around him tells volumes about a likely pattern of neglect in his first years of life.

I reach down and take the little boy in my arms, forcing myself to ignore my aversion to him in his state. He looks up at me like he doesn’t know how to think of me. Who is this white person? Another new face… What is he doing here?

I don’t even know if I have the answers to his questions.

And speaking of questions…

“Excuse me,” I say to a volunteer – a college student in a nearby town spending three weeks helping at Nsambya. “What is this boy’s name?” I ask. But she doesn’t know. He’s new.

“Do you have any clothes for him?”

She rustles through a pile of donated clothes and finds a pair of old shorts. They’re too big – falling off of him – so she gets a pair of pants. They’re also too big, and they’re pink, but you know what they say about beggars… She finds a clean, pink shirt to match.

I find one of the caretakers and ask again, “What is this boy’s name?”

“We don’t know,” she says. The police found the boy on Saturday, she says, and brought him to Nsambya. It’s Monday today; he’s only been here in this strange place for two days.

No wonder he doesn’t react. If I were him, I don’t think I’d know what to make of this strange world either…  Maybe he’d cried all his tears long ago. A sad thought, considering he can’t be more than two years old.

Kirsten is holding the boy with no name hereI hold him a while longer and then give him to my wife, Kirsten,  and go to play a more raucous game of tag with some of the older kids. She lovingly takes him and holds him.

Bath and potty time… The caretakers gather the children together into a Nsambya volunteer bathing the nameless boylarge “bathroom.” They bathe them and set them all onto plastic potties to do their duty. But once again they’ve forgotten the boy. The kind volunteer I met earlier takes him aside to a small basin and bathes him in the sun.

The kids didn't want us to put them down. Time for us to leave… As we make our way out of the building, we pass by the bathroom. Just around the corner inside the room is the boy, once more alone, this time sitting naked on a potty, looking down with no one attending him. We touch his head – a final attempt at a loving connection.


It’s the last time we will see him, except in our pictures…

The nameless boy...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting To Know You (Day 1 – Kampala)

I love newness. Change, transition, new people, new cultures, new animals, new sites and sounds… That’s why I love traveling, particularly to places I’ve never been before.

Monday morning, we woke early to a symphony of sounds – birds I’d never heard before, a call to a The view from the door of our room at the Red Chilli Muslim prayer service, roosters that I swear forgot to set their clocks back in the fall because the sun isn’t even close to cresting over the horizon.

25 hours travel the day before didn’t exactly leave us feeling wide- eyed and bushy-tailed, but we were excited to be there and awoke Kirsten under her mosquito net in the Red Chilliwillingly. Pulling my mosquito net aside, I braced myself for  everything ahead of me. Two orphanages and a new culture to discover, not to mention so many new things to take in with my full range of senses...

First thing, Suzy and Shawn got out of the 24- bed dorm and into their own rooms. Shawn actually took the double room next to me to share wRed Chilli room - you tie up the mosquito nets during the day so critters don't get inside them.ith Joseph when he arrived, while Suzy shacked up in  Suzanne’s suite. Then off to a hearty breakfast, where we would be sharing the dining room with the Red Chilli’s two oversized (no – fat) dogs, which were lying around lazily on the floor.

Breakfast was fantastic, albeit a little slow coming. Ugandan pancakes (which are actually slightly tweaked Danish pancakes, or larger, thicker crepes), passion fruit juice (“100% pure fruit juice, with sucrose added”) and fruit plates, which included watermelon, passion fruit (which was good, because I didn’t know exactly what a passion fruit was) and some of the best pineapple I’ve ever had.

While the others were getting their things into tSuzy, Kiganda and Suzanne packing the car for a day in Kampala.he car to head out into the city, I took a moment to try and spot some monkeys in the trees. I had been told that there were monkeys. No luck. Try again tomorrow…

Driving into the city, The red dirt seems to tint everything an ochre color in Kampala. And notice the cars driving on the left side. Very cool...several things struck me. First, the red dirt. Everything in Uganda is tinged an ochre red color. And, being the dry season, dusty…

Second, the birds. They’re everywhere. And not just small, colorful ones like I imagined in an equatorial country. (Note – Equatorial is not the same as tropical. Uganda is It's amazing to see these storks in the trees!not tropical; it’s sub-Saharan bush. Warm year-round, but more like a beautiful lush desert than an island paradise.) Of course, there were small birds all around. I particularly liked the little black and white “love birds” that would Everywhere you look, there are storks and falcons circling in the everywhere in twos and “snuggle” when they landed on a power line. What really captured me, though, was the HUGE Marabou Storks. They’re 2-3 feet tall with long  skinny legs and enormous beak, and they’re EVERYWHERE! In trees, on street lamps, rooftops and, of course, circling in the sky.

I’m told the storks are Uganda’s natural garbage disposal, eating everything people toss aside – food, paper, whatever. Which Beady-eyed stork getting ready to flybrings me to my next observation – the garbage. In my experience, most people tossed their garbage aside rather than finding a garbage can. Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw more than a handful of garbage cans the entire week. This was tough for me to take, and I took every opportunity to silently pick up after others when they tossed aside garbage in my presence. (More on that later…)

Half the population of Uganda lives in/around Kampala. ~8 million people!Next was the traffic. Lots of traffic, although I discovered later in  the week that this traffic was nothing. And people walking through the traffic – salesmen, pedestrians and even children. Right down the middle of the road at times, asking for food. 

And bikes… It’s amazing how much stuff – big, bulky stuff - people can carry on their bikes and motorcycles (called “boda bodas,” or “bodas” for short).

And the women carrying things on their Baskets of bananas were probably the most common load I saw women carrying on their heads.heads… Not just little The women wrap a cloth on top of their heads to help balance whatever they're carrying up there. Still, it's amazing how they can balance even top-heavy things, like this gerry can full of water. things, mind you. Big things, balanced with incredible dexterity right on top. Amazing…


Our first stop on day 1 was the bank, to exchange our U.S. bills for Ugandan. This was relatively uneventful, if you don’t count the security guy standing guard outside the bank with a shotgun. A bit shocking at first, but you get used to it, as most of the guards and police officers have guns (usually large ones, often AK-47s or other machine guns) in their arms.

Back to the bank… Exchanging U.S. money for Ugandan is simple –Shawn fanning a load of Ugandan money give them a few U.S. bills and they give you lots and lots of  Ugandan ones. The exchange rate is roughly 1 U.S. dollar to 2000 Ugandan schillings. It gets confusing sometimes when you’re dealing in hundreds of U.S. dollars to talk about millions of schillings, but we weren’t dealing with that amount of money at one time very often, so it wasn’t too bad.

Having exchanged our money, we were ready to dive headfirst into our Ugandan orphan experience.

Next up – a heartbreaking visit to Nsambya Babies Home in Kampala…

Kirsten and me holding the beautiful orphaned children at Nsambya Babies Home in Kampala.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Giving a Sandwich, Getting a Life

My first brush with poverty was unexpected…

The drive from Entebbe airport to the Red Chilli hostel in Kampala was full of interesting things to take in. More than anything, I felt the fascination of a new place, breathed the equatorial air and absorbed what little I could see in the midnight surroundings. At first I wished it were light, then I realized how much of it would have been lost on me anyway, that maybe it was a blessing to be offered only a fraction of what there was to absorb that first night.

Still, there are things I remember… The dim lights in the countless shops that were nothing more than shacks with a few shelves on the wall. The people – men, women, children – that apparently didn’t sleep at night. The rolling hills. President Museveni’s new home in Kampala standing in sharp contrast to the conditions in which so many of his people live, even in Kampala, which is relatively opulent compared to the North. The palm trees. The sprawling city. The stickiness… Our kind driver, Kiganda – an endless fountain of knowledge!

As we made our way through the sprawling city, our “hunger” got the best of In Kampala Trafficus, and we pulled out our snacks. The others hadn’t appreciated the curry chicken salad sandwiches from the last flight and had stashed them away in their bags. I didn’t think they were so bad, so I took one of them. I hadn’t taken two bites when we found ourselves stopped at one of the two traffic lights in Kampala facing a beautiful little girl and her even younger sister reaching up to our open window asking for food. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so hungry. She took the sandwich and some other snacks with a smile and a thank you.

With a half-eaten sandwich, I had somehow purchased a piece of my soul that I hadn’t known was missing…

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Processing - part 2...

Funny how the emotion of such a heavy experience can catch up to you at completely unexpected times... I'm doing my best to keep it together at work today and focus on the task at hand. So much to do! :\

Monday, January 25, 2010

Red Chilli Hostel

Red Chilli Pan (web)

Red dirt, mosquito nets, great breakfasts, bohemian culture, goats, dogs, geckos in the showers and early Red Chilli 1wake up calls from a million exotic birds… That is the Red Chili. It was a good touch-down for the first couple of nights, in Kampala!

It didn’t start out so hot, though… 25 hours of air travel and an exciting drive through the city in the middle of the night will do more than prepare a group of 30-Red Chilli 2something travelers for sleep. It might just get them a little cranky. So it’s no surprise that our first thought was something like “You’ve got to be kidding me,” when we find out that they didn’t have enough rooms for us upon our arrival.

Suzy and Shawn were troopers but none-too-happy about taking a couple of beds in a dorm with a bunch of traveling girls already asleep in the Red Chilli front doorroom. Nothing a good night’s sleep won’t take care of, though. They gave us another room in the morning, which Shawn shared with Joseph (more on him later). Suzy shacked up in Suzanne’s room on night two.

Among other things, I’ll remember the Red Chilli as the place I discovered Ugandan pancakes, our morning staple for the remainder of the week. I introduced them to our boys this morning. I think they will become a permanent part of our breakfast repertoire in the Carson house…

I’ll also remember Red Chilli as the place I first saw a Jack Fruit. I haven’t yet had one, but I’m told they Jack Fruittaste like Pineapple, but not as sweet and with seeds. They look pretty funky on the tree – kind of like giant green knobby warts, often growing right near the trunk and larger branches…


Awer Pan 2 web

After 30 hours of travel – from Entebbe to Heathrow to O’Hare and finally to SeaTac airport – we’re finally home from our week in Uganda. Already, I’ve been asked several times how it was, and I can’t for the life of me decide how to answer that question. “Great!” truthfully doesn’t even come close to describing “how it was.” Beautiful, horrifying, sad, productive, hard, exciting, frightening, hot, sticky, life-changing, too short, long enough, expanding, unsettling, exhilarating, shocking, encouraging, fulfilling, frustrating, touching, edifying… These would all be appropriate words to describe the experience.

Truth be told, I’m tired, and I have a lot of processing Picking stones from riceto do in the coming days/weeks/months. To experience so much in so short a time leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Like this picture of a Ugandan girl picking tiny stones out of a pile of rice, I need to sort through the last 10 days piece by piece until I can truly process all that there is to take away from the experience. And, even then, I have a feeling I’ll be discovering new ways it has changed me many times over in the future.

Stick with me, and I’ll share my experiences as I fill in the blanks, piece by piece, story by story, picture by picture…

Opit Pan 4 web