Thursday, September 27, 2007

Delhi, a city that hurts

Hi all, I just came across this article & wanted to share. It speaks to just one of the many struggles that this city faces. Gosh, now that I've seen this place, I honestly can't erase it from my hurts.

Here's the article: Picking Up Trash by Hand, and Yearning for Dignity - The New York Times

At least they're making steps...even if they're the baby kind.

Bragging Rights...

Can I just tell you about something Eric did the other day?...Okay, thanks.

So he joined me for a men's group discussion the other day (he posted a picture of it). As we were discussing some of the challenges the men are facing in their community, they mentioned that they had not seen any impact from the project thus far (in their schools, on their roads, in their water supply, etc.). That was frustrating & we felt bad for them, but I figured this was something that we could not control, that eventually, the project would reach this community & they would benefit.

Eric, on the other hand, had a different idea. He asked James, the Gender facilitator whom I work with, who asked another person, who asked another person in charge, if it'd be possible to get the road-grater out to that community soon, so that they could see some changes & thus have some hope. To which the person in charge said, "No problem." (!!!!!!!!!)

SO, just because Eric decided to try to do something about it & not keep quiet, they're going to have a better (i.e. somewhat driveable) road WAY sooner rather than WAY later. I was (& am) so proud of him...Let's hear it for the boy!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A day in our lives

"So", you're asking, "do you guys ever do any actual work?" Well, yes... if you call walking around fields and talking to kids work!

Here are some of our daily activities, volunteering in and around Ruhiira.

Meg "working" at the field office in the Ruhiira trading center.

Attending an adolescent "training" at a local Catholic church. This is a video about preventing HIV-AIDS and healthy living.

Meg meeting with a local men's group to discuss gender issues.

The small "forest" and surrounding crops that Eric will be studying over the next 6 weeks.

Adaptation to drought - by harvesting rainwater from roofs.

Lake Bunyonyi photos

Still feeling the relaxation of our weekend a few days later... we stayed at an eco-tourism camp on Bushara Island, in the middle of Lake Bunyonyi, near the Rwanda border (though we didn't actually cross, yet!). Lake Bunyonyi is known for its birds, the checklist we were given had over 200 species... we probably saw about only 40-50 in our 3 days there. It was amazing.

So, enjoy some of our pictures!

Lake Bunyonyi from the surrounding hills - there are dozens of islands out there, waiting to be explored (by us)!

Lake Bunyonyi at sunset.

Early morning mist over the valley

One of the 7 volcanoes near the Uganda/Rwanda/DRC border (this one I think sits exactly on the Uganda/DRC border)

A malachite kingfisher... the first and probably most beautiful bird we saw, even before we boarded our boat to the island!

Our campsite (great view!)

Meg, on a trail on Bushara Is.

Meg relaxing (it was nice to be able to just *walk* w/o people looking at us like we were crazy!)

The surrounding hills, with terraces and hedges. Notice the dugout canoe in the corner!

The saturday local market at the lake - we tried some sorghum porridge there - tastes a bit like sour 7-up!

Pygmy men carry these 70kg (>150lbs!) sacks of sorghum over 5km (~3mi) to their village on market days. This was the most impressive thing I saw all weekend.

Cold volcanic gases being emitted from the swamp on the Uganda/Rwanda border.

Meg trying to "hold up" Rwanda (the hills on the other side of the swamp)

The pygmy dance - even though they are traditionally forest people, they have been forced to make permanent villages due to encroachment in the forest and government policy. They are some of the poorest people in the world - and now depend on tourism to survive.

some of the pygmy children rushing to greet us - their greeting sounded something like "WIIWIIWIIWII!"

A pair of cinnamon-chested bee eaters... probably at least the second prettiest bird(s) we saw!

Meg shopping in the fair-trade shop that our camp ran... 15-year-old Ella, watch out!

Eric attempting to carry his purchases traditionally.

Meg and Eric in the canoe.

Homemade macaroni and cheese! (Yes, this place was founded by Canadians! We enjoyed a lot of food from home with a Ugandan twist... like popcorn, banana pancakes, lemon scones, pasta primavera, and tuna sandwiches!)

Meg in the dugout canoe.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The results are in, update on the mouse, and a beautiful weekend in Kibale!

Hi all...happy Monday!

So, I know that the suspense has been driving you crazy, so alas, here are the answers to the ten mysterious previously-posted "riddles." Thank you all for your participation, and know that no matter what the results are, you all did a wonderful job. So...

1. Mouse after a very messy affair (due to a VERY determined little rodent), the mouse is gone. Sad, but relieving.
2. raspberry scones...Eric. Such a romantic.
3. Forcing their team member to post on their blog...Eric again (sorry Lisa! :)). I don't feel like there's a lot to say when I've just posted the day before, but Mr. Holthaus begs to differ. I guess there could be worse things. ;)
4. "scarlet ankles, scarlet toes"...pure folly, although Eric is starting to enjoy it.
5. NO flip-flops: Eric! This is something we have HIGHLY differing opinions on.
6. Buying miniature speakers...mmm, both, but technically Eric, as the MP3 player is mine... (do you guys hear the "suicidal,'re just a beeeeaaauuuutiful girl" song??)
7. lawn chairs...both...there's just something about having mice/rats crawling around in the couch you're sitting on (and hearing them!)
8. "Marvin the Easter Rat"...definitely Eric (you should hear the voice!).
9. Brady Bunch theme song/dancing...folly-filled fierceness!

So we just returned from a weekend trip to Kibale, which hosts Africa's second deepest (900 meters!) lake, Lake Bunyoni. We put our incredible tent to use for the second time (was it a "second" themed weekend or what??). It was AWESOME. I have never heard/seen so many different birds in my life. People say that most travellers to UG come only to see gorillas & such, but end up really enjoying the birds...well, count us in that number! I'm thinking we're headed toward professional birdwatcher-ship, though Eric seems to disagree.

It really was such a relaxing, good (and varied!)-food-filled, wake up to the crazy (LOUD, and awesome!) birds at 7am, just good type of weekend. The camp we stayed at (of which I coincidentally met the founder of last week, and hence our staying there!) is completely run by local people from the community, and they offer a lot of eco-tourism tours & fair-trade gifts (watch out, Christmas presents!), and really just work to empower local folks...that was our favorite part. Well, that and the birds. And the food. And swimming in the lake. And the broken telescope...

We hope that the seconds of your weekends were filled with fun too...let us know if not/so! :)
Pictures to come soon!

Flooding in Northeast Uganda

So, apparently the floods in Northeast Uganda have made international news. CNN has an article (thanks Rachel) - and it has been on the front pages of the national newspapers here in Uganda - the New Vision - and the Monitor - for several days now. Just yesterday, the army airlifted about 150 students, and schools have been closed or relocated over a large swath of the country. In all, about 25 districts have been affected, primary roads have been washed out, and several thousand people displaced in the last weeks. Thankfully for us, this is in the complete opposite side of the country (we're in the Southwest) - and despite all the distruction, the bright side is that lake levels in Lake Victoria have been rising - which is good because most of Uganda's electricity supply comes from a hydroelectric dam on the Nile river - which is fed from Lake Victoria. With a coming La Nina, I would expect flooding to continue for the Northeast - and we should stay relatively dry... but for national news in Uganda, follow our two major newspapers on the web!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

some thoughts on free will.

I think that free will is such a beautiful concept, and I am so grateful for people who appreciate this gift. These people may or may not be involved in the following actions:

1. Setting up mouse trips (which may consist of "mouse glue" & cookies/biscuits) in their room because the sound of little mouse feet walking/scratching/doing God knows what else is not acceptable.

2. Surprising one by buying raspberry scones, which are not actually scones, but still pretty good, and a definite change of pace.

3. Forcing their team member to post on their blog.

4. Enjoying the phrase "scarlet ankles, scarlet toes" immensely.

5. NOT liking the feel of flip-flops, and thus not wearing them.

6. Buying miniature speakers for their team member's MP3 player because they want to listen to more music than the damn "You've got me suicidal, suicidal" song.

7. Sitting on lawn chairs instead of a comfy couch because of said hypothetical mice/rats.

8. Calling him/herself "Marvin the Easter Rat".

9. Dancing down the main road of his/her temporary African home-village & singing the tune of The Brady Bunch theme song.

Now, the question for you is, which of these are true (and if so, who is the suspect involved) and which are just plain folly??
Enjoy your day!

Monday, September 17, 2007

the dinner with Esther, our neighbor

As Meg promised, here are some pictures of our dinner with Esther and her family... (mostly her family!!) Enjoy!

Esther and Dismas (her 2-yr old son), and the meal she has prepared for us

the clothesline stretching from Esther's house to her father's house

Daphine, Davis (blue sweatshirt) - both Esther's children, a very excited yellow-shirted neighbor boy, and William - a cousin

the above mentioned's feet.

getting goofier.

Dismas, before he took the following picture...

not bad for a 2-yr old!

Esther, Dismas, and some white girl who joined us for dinner (she's kind of cute)

more sillyness

Karen - Esther's mother - joining the fun

Esther's family (and a very excited yellow-shirted neighbor boy)

Us, with Esther's family (I'm trying to show Henry - the photographer - how to use our camera, and thus have no forehead).

the neighbor kids, seconds after looking at their photo on the back of our camera

Davis and his grandfather, Charles

The entire extended family, including Monica (and her baby Viola), Gadsen, her husband (Esther's brother), and Henry (with the camera). (and a very excited yellow-shirted neighbor boy)

my third blog post since we left the u.s. one month and two days ago (i.e. this is Megan, not Eric).

Nothing too new here. Just living our regular life in rural Uganda...that it really is becoming "regular" is so odd (& amazing) to me!!

We stayed in Ruhiira again this weekend...I feel like we are catching up on a lot of the green & relaxation that NYC isn't the biggest producer of! It's nice! :)

A couple of highlights from the weekend...
*We got to have dinner with Esther, a neighbor who has befriended us, & her family on Sat. night. Man, she went ALL OUT! Chicken (we've left our vegetarianism in the U.S., by choice & necessity), Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked bananas, matooke (cooked & mashed bananas), pasta, and greens (similar to collard)! And of course they bought us bottled water! We also ate with our hands (which everyone here does) for the first time. It was very humbling & very real to be able to spend time with her & her children & brothers. We're working on remembering all of their names, which is quite a task! :) The best part was when they started taking pictures of us (someone from the village brought a camera for them to use) & us of them...we were all laughing SO hard at the kids goofing off & being little characters! I have a feeling that a certain E. Holthaus will be posting proof of said giggles very soon. Esther, her (maybe) 16-year old sister-in-law Monica, and Monica's one month old baby all came over afterward & watched TV (a very bad Nigerian soap opera), while about 10 kids gathered around the window outside to's really sad, but we don't feel like it's our place to invite too many people in to David's house. I wondered if it was Monica's first time watching TV.

*I'm apparently a Rummi pro! Who knew?!? It's been fun playing cards, and winning the games! :) ha!

*Aljazeera has become our regular news source here. Crazy!!!

*I was excited to go to church again yesterday, but mostly because I wanted to see Loucky again...which I did! :) And not only did we hold hands again walking home, but her sister Brigitte also joined in and I got to find out where they live...maybe we'll make a surprise visit this week! (Stalker much?) Church goes a really long time here (about 2 hours) & we don't understand any of's really hard to stay patient!

*We were told about the past 22 years (post-Idi Amin...everyone see Last King of Scotland!) of Uganda's political corruption by one of the drivers for the Project, Martin. He said that the reason it is so hard for Uganda to rise out of poverty is because the president, Museveni, is corrupt & will be in office until 2011! Yuck.

*We got to hang out with David's (for any slackers, David is the person who started the project here in March '06, the person we met in NYC & thus decided to come to UG, & the person whose house we're staying in in Ruhirra) two little girls, Deborah & Hope, this weekend. So cute, so Uganda-accented, so entertaining...they're 6 & 4, enough said. :) Fun sidenote, one of our newly-discovered favorite phrases that Ugandans use is "the what?" (i.e., "People here are so proud of the what?..Their country uganda." or "I was stirring my tea for a long time because I wanted to dissolve the what?...the sugar." Very fun...feel free to try it out! We certainly are!)

*I'll be doing a presentation for the UNDP staff (the people who run the Ruhiira project) within the next couple days about our findings from the men's & women's groups this past week. One of the UN Millennium Development Goals (which this project is based on) is gender equality; however, the project has not focused too much on gender issues in the past year & a half, so they are really hoping to come with a framework to address some of the issues (which may take up to a month to handle! :) month, meaning 72 years...the inequalities are SO engrained!!).

So that's about what we've been up to. As I continue to remind myself, it's not about us, but about the people here who we are hoping to empower in some way. Please keep them in your prayers as they struggle to survive, to have hope, & to receive the justice they deserve.

Be well...and keep us posted!
Much love,

**Oh yeah, it sounds like my last blog post left a lot of people concerned...don't worry, I'm fine...just being honest about some of the struggles here. But those were expected, and like you said Jenn, the good stuff definitely outweighs the frustrating stuff!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Our home in Ruhiira

Due in part to today being the first day of Ramadan (and therefore a Uganda public holiday), I'm stuck in Mbarara tonight - BUT - that means internet access, and a whole lot more pictures for y'all!

Here are some around our house in Ruhiira (we are very lucky, and very thankful - despite some tounge-in-cheek comments below!):

581-our bedroom, notice teh mosquito nets (insecticide impregnated)... it's very fun watching the bugs die when they land on the nets!

573-our living room. (and yes there are mice.)

583-our "shower". really, we just use one of the jugs of water, and some buckets.

580-our jugs of water. brought to us from mbarara (20miles away) by the UNDP drivers. most (well, all) other people in the village have to walk down the
steep hill to the newly protected (clean) spring-fed stream, and then walk back UP the hill with the water jugs. we are protected from doing this by the staff
that bring us this water.

355-our latrine. this is basically an outhouse. there is a hole in the floor, and that is where you go, no seat, no nothing. also, a spider crawled out of the roll of toilet paper the last time i went in there. i guess i should just be thankful there IS toilet paper. (for the brave, ask meg about her solution to this problem) but seriously, we are very lucky to have this latrine, because many locals (men
AND women) just use "the bush" outside.

504-the obligatory "view outside our backdoor" - pretty amazing, huh?

503-the Ruhiira central tree nursery, as seen from our house (this is the same one we visited on the first day)

515-the patchwork fields across the valley from us - mostly women and children work in the fields. the last week or so they have been preparing (weeding and
tilling) fields for planting. everything is by hand.

511-men on a banana truck, preparing to go to market, driving along the road next to our house. we see probably 20-30 of these a day, or more.

522-one of our dinners that sarah (that cooks, cleans, and does just about everything for us) has made - it feels extravagant to us (fresh avacados, bananas,
rice, and peanut sauce) - but normal hospitality for guests here... i don't think it would be possible for us to live "as a normal ugandan" even if we wanted to
- because someone is always trying to give us a ride or do things for us.

574-our kitchen, all the cooking is done from a propane stove

551-our clothes hanging outside... it was a humbling experience to do them by hand

555-another meal by sarah - literally the best pineapple i've ever had.

562-some of our neighbor kids. they are very curious.

561-here's one now, being curious...

898-the local catholic church (only lay ministers, no priest, no eucharist)

901-inside of the church... i tried to upload a video of the women playing the tradional drum music, but blogger didn't like that idea! (so you'll just have to imagine!)

903-meg and loucky, on the way home from church

912-some neighbor kids, enjoying a sunday afternoon

915-meg drying her clothes (i bet she doesn't even know i took this picture...!)