Saturday, May 1, 2010

sisters are doin' it for themselves!

At Christmas time my wonderful sister Tracy decided to sponsor one of our women to transition from the beading group into the textile training. Every Christmas Tracy makes a donation to charity in lieu of sending out Christmas cards. She's donated to various charities, one year it was basics for babies, another year she sponsored a woman in Romania and this year she decided to donate to Shanti, which meant I was able to choose the woman that I thought would be the best fit for Tracy. We were setting up 4 new women in the textiles training and Natalies parents had chosen to sponsor Lydia because they had made the donation in the name of Nats grandma (whose name also happened to be Lydia). So that left 3 other women to choose from: Teopista (who was 31 yrs old and a widow and mother to 3 children) Jesca and Rose.

I decided to choose Rose.

Rose always had a mischievous look in her eye and she showed up for everything (have you heard 80% of life is simply showing up?) and she was always dressed to the nines in her gomez (big colorful dress with poofy sleeves and a big tie around the waist). Tracys generous donation was for $250 which covers the cost of the machine and a few supplies to get started. The machines are foot pedal machines so they don't need power but they only go in one direction. We have to lock up the machines at night so they don't get stolen so we had some hooks built into the concrete to chain them down so we can keep them in the round hut.

The highlight of this whole process was telling Rose that it was my sister who had made it possible for her to start the training, she let up a big whoop and started dancing - I wish Tracy had been there to witness the joy she created simply by not sending Christmas cards.

love to you all,



"If I'm not there when you get there, send out a search party!" I said with a laugh just before I left the house.
I was quite nervous about the workshop not really sure how it would go ever, if the women would even understand what I was talking about and if I would be able to facilitate it well without getting off topic or having the women getting discouraged. I decided to ride the bike to the site by myself, Nic got me started and then pointed me in the right direction, things were going well until I thought maybe I had missed the turn off, I thought I would keep riding for a bit and turn around if I didn't see it - I knew I was fairly close. Then I saw 2 women walking and thought great these women are probably on their way to the savings training. I tried to talk to them, asked them if they knew Shanti Uganda and they said "yes, we go there now." Perfect I thought I will just follow them, the older lady looked familiar and I asked the younger one what her name was and she said Prosy, wonderful! I knew one of the women was named Prosy. As we kept walking it was very clear that we were getting farther away from the birth house so I started asking more questions:
Are you going to Shanti Uganda for 4 o'clock? Yes
Do you know Natalie? Not yet
So do you make beads or textiles? Not yet
Do you know Robina? Not yet
Where are you going then? We are going home
She also asked me a couple questions:
What is wrong madam? I'm lost
Can I help you madam, you like tired? I'm not tired I'm just worried (I say with sweat dripping down my face huffing and puffing pushing my bike)

I knew I had to keep following them because I would never be able to find my way back through the bush so I kept following them, I knew I was totally late for the training but I could also tell that we were going in a different direction than the way we came. I asked the ladies if they were going to Kasana, they said yes so I hoped I would be able to find my way back home and just wait for Nat, or get a boda boda back to the birth house. We walked for over an hour, I realized I didn't have Nats cell phone number, didn't speak the language and was basically a stupid muzungo!
Finally we stumbled upon our house, I thanked Prosy profusely and gave her 1000 shillings - Nat said this was a bit dumb and unnecessary but I think they went out of their way to take me back to to town and they were actually headed in a different direction and I was just so grateful that I had found my way home.
I hung out at our place and then Nic cam back to drop off his bike and find me on a boda boda. I got to the site and started teaching the workshop covered in sweat, dirty feet and a bit stressy.
Although I had gotten off to a rough start, the training was awesome, way better than I could have predicted.
love to you all,

Friday, March 26, 2010

living in fear

I had been warned about the safety issues in Africa but theres just no way to prepare yourself for this when you are used to feeling safe most of the time. I've travelled pretty extensively throughout Europe, Japan and larger cities in the USA so I know what is like to have to keep on eye on your belongings but this was way different. It started as I got off the plane, went through customs (at 11 o'clock at night) and the officer seemed quite alarmed that I was travelling by myself, I explained that I had friends meeting me at the airport. I got my luggage and as I walked out into the airport I had a bit of a panic attack thinking of what I would do if Natalie, Nic and Kristen weren't there to pick me up, I realized I had made no backup plan and was feeling scared and asking myself "why did I decide to this again?, I could be at home in my warm bed with my family" but no I was in the airport in Entebbe feeling terrifed. I walked out of the airport to this massive crowd, all Africans and I couldn't see Nat, Nic or Kristen. The most emotional part of my whole trip was when Natalie walked out of the crowd and gave me a hug, I thought I was going to start crying and not be able to stop, I could feel it in my heart, I got all hot and was just so relieved to see a friendly face :)

We had to stay in a hotel that first night because its not safe to travel that late at night and for the rest of the trip we did everything during daylight hours because its simply not safe to be out at night. I kind of enjoyed this part, it made things very simple and every day we were all home by 7 or 7.30 and were able to just relax and hang out during the evenings.

Dealing with this constant underlying fear was the hardest part of the trip for me, I made sure I meditated every day and did yoga as much as I could which really helpled. Lots of people asked if I would take my kids there and I'm still not sure about the answer to that one, I can deal with no water, power outages, being dirty all the time and always watching what you eat to make sure you dont get a stomach flu but not feeling safe is one thing when you are by yourself but not feeling safe when you have your kids around is even scarier.

All of the houses there have big concrete brick walls around them so they are safe at night so its very evident as you drive around that this is not a safe place.

When we went into Kampala to buy all the textiles training supplies a guy brushed up against me and unzipped my backback which was right close to me, I didn't even realize it but luckily one of the girls we were with was behind me and she saw it, I checked out my bag and he hadn't stolen anything - thank goodness but I was completely rattled, it really freaked me out. I guarded my bag like a hawk for the rest of the day, I also realized I had all the Shanti money to purchase all the goods so I was totally paranoid that it would get stolen, it would be one thing to have my own money stolen but worse to have Shanti money stolen. I told Nat about this when we got home and she told me the thiefs are pretty slick in Kampala she said she has had guys with their hand in her purse and she didn't realize it.

Next day I got the bright idea to ride one of the bikes to the site, Nic pointed me in the right direction and explained where to turn. I should know better, I'm terrible with directions but of course I was like "yeah ok I'll be able to find it." I was going to the site to put together some ideas for the landscaping and also to teach the savings training to the women. Before I left I said to Nat and Kristen "if i'm not there when you get there come and find me!" I got lost, was totally terrified and had this vision of me wandering around the bush at night until someone came to find me. (to hear the rest of this story see my next post - its kind of funny in hindsight)

Another scary encounter I had was in the latrine when the power/water was out for several hours, I waited as long as I could and then I just had to venture out and go, so I used the latrine which had cockroaches the size of snickers bars! It was totally frightening and if someone told me that I would end up doing something like that I would have told them "no freakin way" - oh how things change. Natalie said she was impressed when I came back in ad retold the story and I was able to make a little funny - I said we wouldn't need to hire bodas to get to the site tomorrow we could just ride cockroaches!

My daughter always says "face your fears" even though its really scary experiencing unpleasant things, it does feel good to get on the other side and realize that you can always learn something from these experiences. Realistically there are people and things to be afraid of all over the world not just in Africa and you can either stay home in your warm bed or you can get out and live. At the end of the day there are always more good people than baddies and more than lightness than darkness.



Friday, March 19, 2010

buying day with the women

today we did the buying day with the women, it was very cool to see the whole process go down. the women gathered in the round hut and laid out all of their goods. We had put together a bit of a game plan of what we were planning to buy and then there were four of us picking out and inspecting the jewellery (sometimes the beads are dirty and the quality isn't very good) some of the women were sick and so they sent their daughters. We placed a large order so we can all bring suitcases home filled with jewellery and bags which saves us quite a bit of money in shipping. The whole thing took 4 hrs and it got dark so we had to send the women home (its not safe for them to be out after dark) they are coming back tomorrow for yoga and vitamins so we can pay the rest of them then. I took lots of pics but i'm not able to upload them with this connection - I will post them later.
we all took bodas (motorbikes) home and came home to still no power or water. the power came on a couple hours after we got home and we all cheered - still no water :( (I guess i'll have to wait til I get back to Canada to have a shower??)
tomorrow is my last day here - planning on putting in a full day of painting and doing yoga with the women.
love to you all,

national lampoons africa

thought we would take a little vacation and go to Jinja to see the nile river and go onto the town to buy some souvenirs. so all 5 of us piled into the car, nics dad is travelling with us (nat and nic are the parents and me kristen and nics dad were the kids!!) we had a good old fashioned road trip complete with funnies and maybe a few squabbles. driving through kampala is like nothing i have ever seen before, all dirt roads, no street signs and overall chaos but an experience nonetheless. when we got to Jinja it was well worth the wait, the view of the nile from our hotel/tent was amazing. We took a boat tour on this old wooden boat, saw lots of interesting birds and also saw where they are building the new damn which will basically wipe out the resort we were staying at. There was also some boys fishing for Tiliapia in the river and there are a lot of people kayaking apparently its some of the best kayaking in the world. It was so hot and the water looked so refreshing I wanted to go for a swim but Nat advised against it, I guess there is a good chance you will pick up a parasite if you swim in it. We stayed in this tent with beds in it and there was a huge storm overnight which was kind of exciting and actually cooled things down. We woke up to find monkeys climbing through the tree and I also enjoyed pineapple/passionfruit smoothies on the deck in the morning.
love to you all,

muzungo, muzungo, muzungo!

so everywhere we go all the kids run out to the street and yell "hi muzungo, muzungo, bye muzungo, bye muzungo!!!" (muzungo means white tourist or white man) They don't stop until you wave at them, I thought it was kind of cool at first, its kind of like being a celebrity (Angelina if you're reading I know how you feel :) ) What I dont really like about it is they have this look of expectation in their eyes. Nic put it perfectly he says if you are in a good mood it feels like they are cheering you on, if you are in a bad mood it feels like they are heckling you.
I have been painting the outside of the birth house for the last 4 days, 8 hours everyday in the heat is kind of brutal but i'm not complaining people here do it everyday and it feels good to work alongside the Ugandans at the birth house. After all this painting, in the dusty, dirty site it would be nice to have a shower but we haven't had water or power for the last few days, power is out all the time here but its not like it is when the power goes out at home, everyone here just gets on with things, they arent really too dependent on power. I have a whole new appreciation for the water that just comes out of the tap and the light switches that always work at home :)
love to you all,

Friday, March 12, 2010

a different kind of shopping than what i am used to?

today we went with one of the women (Robina) to purchase all the sewing supplies to get 4 new women set up in our textiles training program. this was my first trip into the big city and i admit i experienced some massive culture shock. we took a matatu into the city a vehicle not much bigger than my minivan but with 17 people crowded into it. We got dropped off in the taxi park and walked through the crowded streets (it was more like a maze than a street) we were the only non ugandans there, it was really noisy and crowded and there was a not so pleasant smell in the air. we purchased everything from buttons, thread, zippers, scissors and fabric. Every store went into we had to sit down and barter to get a good price, it was fun watching the bantering back and forth and i think we got some good deals but who knows?
One thing i hadnt thought about was what we purchased we also had to pack back through the streets to the taxi park. We had probably 200 metres of fabric plus a big roll of foam and all the notions. Needless to say i was a bit exhausted when i got back into the matatu and settled in for the 3 hour ride home.
It was such a great experience and the fabric we picked out is amazing, I can't wait to see the finished back back in canada