Monday, October 29, 2007

Rwanda, un pays bel is such a beautiful country! I think we're safe to call it the "Florida of Africa," honestly. Apparently many countries have LOADED on the foreign aid in the past 13 years, as a consequence of their guilt from ignoring the 1994 genocide there. The roads are paved SO nicely (seriously like a well-paved road in the US), there are even guard rails on the sides of them, and it's very very clean, and there are palm trees planted on the medians in Kigali, the capital. It is also very mountainous, and people speak french there, which was just plain fun to TRY to speak with them!! One of the assistants at our hotel had a unique name too: Frank O. Fone. Neat, huh?!

Our main reason for going there was to go to the mountains in the west, where the gorillas live (also what Gorillas in the Mist was based off of, and where Diane Fossey's grave is). We decided not to track them this time around, as it is SUPER expensive, but we were going to just climb a mountain/volcano...much more feasible for our budget! Well, if you plan to do the same thing, two pieces of advice: bring enough money, and don't do it in the rainy season! I ended up having a relaxing day lounging around at our retreat center/hotel (which smelled like flowers everywhere!), meditating, reading, etc., and eric basically did the exact opposite, by spending almost 12 (instead of the expected 6) hours on a really really really muddy mountain. Craziness!

After our time there, we went to Kigali. It's probably my favorite big/capital city in Africa so far. very spread out, but surrounded by hills, and like I said, very clean. Just being there in itself was intense, wondering what it was like 13 years ago...if there were dead bodies on the road you're driving on, if the person you're talking with lost a family member/friend/neighbor/or was injured themselves. and the answer, more often than not, is likely yes. We went to the Kigali Memorial Center, which is devoted to honoring those affected by the genocide, which was interesting & heart-breaking & stomach-wrenching to learn more about. It is just unbelievable what happened, & the background leading up to it...believe it or not, the killing of 1 million people did NOT just come out of nowhere, as I thought before this weekend! If you have not seen Hotel Rwanda, please gives a great account of the situation. we also saw The Hotel des Milles Colines, which the movie is based on. so hard to believe.

we also went to some craft shops & had pizza & coffee at "Bourbon Coffee" (yeah N.O.!), which was nice. Overall, I'm really thankful that we got to go there, to learn more about the situation and to honor the innocent people who have lived through something I'm not sure I could. Pray for peace.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

You're not gonna believe this...

This weekend Meg and I took a short 2 1/2 day trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park, just about 2 hours northwest of Mbarara. The Queen herself will be visiting the park later this year for CHOGM - the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that Uganda is hosting this year (signs everywhere - esp. in Kampala - "Are YOU ready for CHOGM?!?"). Apparently she plans to "dedicate" the park, a full 50 years after her first visit to Uganda as a young woman. Everyone is freaking out about her visit, and many a street, runway, or building from here to Kampala is in the process of renovation and touch-ups to make everything as beautiful as possible. It's led to a real boom in development around the country - although arguably only for middle and upper class Ugandans.

But anyway, the REAL point of my story is that we got to go see the national park of her namesake. And it was so worth it. By far the highlight of our trip was the opportunity to track chimpanzees in Chambura Gorge. I'll speak for both of us when I say that it was probably one of the wildlife highlights of my life (our lives)... we got to see two males, and the video below speaks for itself.

The human resemblence, watching them in the wild - scratching their arms and looking right at you - is unbelievable. I'm so lucky and thankful for this experience!

Update: Sox win WS!!

ALCS Game 7 Tonight...
Man, I can't stand it. Somehow I HAVE to watch Red Sox-Indians tonight... probably though it will be the archived version on MLB.TV, so PLEASE(!) no one tell me who won till I say it's ok!!!!

Sox win game 7!!! Although the game was much closer than the score... the Sox pretty much cleaned house over the last 3 games. I got to watch the game on our friend Anthony's satellite TV - ESPN carried the game on MLB International - with Rick Sutcliffe and Dave O'Brien announcing. A far cry from Joe Buck - and they paused several times during the game to explain baseball rules, etc. - but it was nice to watch a real baseball game on a real TV. Totally worth waking up at 3am for!

So the Red Sox will be playing the Rockies, starting Wednesday, in the World Series. First game: Fenway Park. It should be a great series, with the Rockies as hot as any team could be, and the Red Sox with lots of playoff experience. Can't wait!

Sox win the World Series!! Meg and I were gone in Rwanda the whole weekend, so I didn't get to see any of the games, but just reading the game recaps, looks pretty familiar to 2004 when the Sox used my Cardinals as a speedbump on their way to their first WS in 86 years. This time, it was the Rockies. Different team, same outcome. Congrats to the Sox... I bet Amherst is going crazy right now (along with the rest of New England!!) I'd be wearing my Schilling T-shirt today if it was here with me!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Rockies are going to the World Series!

From the AP, about 6 minutes ago...:

Rockies beat Arizona 6-4 to sweep NLCS, Colorado heads to first World Series

Preview - Box Score - Recap

October 16, 2007

AP - Oct 16, 1:10 am EDT
More Photos

DENVER (AP) -- Riding a Rocky Mountain High like none other, Colorado is heading to its first World Series.

With their 21st win in 22 games, the relentless Rockies beat the rattled Arizona Diamondbacks 6-4 Monday night to sweep the NL championship series at a chilly Coors Field.

Matt Holliday's three-run, 452-foot shot into the pine-filled rock pile in center field capped a six-run outburst in the fourth inning, and the Rockies were on their way.

To where, they have a record eight days' rest before opening the World Series at either Cleveland or Boston on Oct. 24. The Indians lead the ALCS 2-1.

The wild-card Rockies joined the 1976 Big Red Machine as the only teams to start a postseason with seven straight wins. Colorado has won 10 in row overall and lost only once since Sept. 16.

Just one strike away from postseason elimination on the final weekend of the season, the Rockies have become a charmed team that seemingly cannot lose.

Colorado had never won more than 83 games before going 90-73 this season and sneaking into the playoffs with a 9-8, 13-inning win over San Diego in the wild-card tiebreaker. After sweeping Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, the Rockies put a purple pummeling on a D-backs club that led the league with 90 victories.

Oh yeah!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Rainy Season in Ruhiira

So we're right in the middle of the rainy season here in Ruhiira... it's beautifully green and full of life. Just thought everyone might like to see what it's like, from a meteorologist's point of view!

Since we're just a bit south of the equator, the prevailing wind is East-Southeast. (I was turned around for the first week or so here because of that!) The mornings are usually pretty clear, or with a few high clouds, and bigger clouds usually start building all around us by around noon due to the heating of the day. Ruhiira and the surrounding area is up on a bit of a ridge, about 1000ft higher than the surrounding plains of northern Tanzania. This also helps form some of the rain clouds as the air is forced upward towards Ruhiira. During these weeks of middle October - about the peak of the rainy season - we have about a 50/50 chance every day. If the rain comes, it's just like a summer thunderstorm in the US... the clouds start getting dark, the wind picks up, and it rains pretty hard for between 10min and 90min, maybe 0.1in to 1.5in. Pretty exciting! Here's some pictures showing the progression of a storm... and some of the cool weather things we've seen here so far!

Clouds building, heading NW toward the equator!


Al Gore, Nobel Laureate for Peace

Joining the likes of Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, and Mother Teresa, this weekend Al Gore was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - perhaps the world's most prestigious award - along with the scientific Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for their work on motivating governments, businesses and individuals around the world, as Al Gore likes to say, "to solve the climate crisis".

What a stunning and emotional encouragement for the environmental community... if climate change was still considered by anyone to be a minor issue, this confirms what so many have been saying for years now - that climate change is the greatest challenge that mankind has ever faced. We must work together - now - to make changes to live more peacefully and simply, on a global scale. I couldn't be more hopeful about the future of our world than now.

Here's the official statement from the Nobel committee, and statements from Al Gore (listen to his comments on YouTube if you haven't already!) and the IPCC.

Here are some news articles on the subject: one from NYT announcing the win, an article by Andy Revkin saying how the science of global warming (led by the IPCC) and the messenger for action (Al Gore) have complimented each other in sometimes suprising ways - despite science being necessarily conservative in its assessment and Gore using sometimes firey language to turn the science fact into action (while driving a hybrid). The NYT also has an article saying Gore doesn't have to run for President - he has just about the biggest platform he could ever have now, AND he can work full time. Still, President Bush has refused to call Gore to congratulate him, and the WSJ editorial page refused to even acknowledge that he won. The Nobel committee is supposed to be apolitical (but it's really not), and in later comments they refused to say that awarding Gore was a criticism of American climate policy, but they did say that they hope all nations would adopt measures to address climate change as soon as possible. The NYT editorial board agreed. But in places like China, that may be easier said than done. Effects of climate change are making news not even just every year, but now almost every day. A new report says that the north polar ice cap may be completely gone in only 20 years, there is speculation that the new IPCC report due out next month may claim that greenhouse gas concentrations, even despite Kyoto, are currently at a level not expected for 10 more years (455ppm CO2e), and closer to home, the current drought in the Southeast US is the worst in over a century of recorded history. There's a lot of work to do.

Environmentalism has everything to do with peace. The Nobel committee has started to realize this more and more in the last decade, making more awards to those working for development (like last year's - to a microfinance pioneer), food security, and the environment. Maybe, just maybe, the world is starting to realize that everything we have begins and ends with gifts from the earth. And the more we work together to take care of the earth, the more we will take care of each other.

Lots to talk about!

Ok, there are a lot of things going on 'round here and around the world, so why don't I just jump right in... get ready!

First and most importantly, sports. What did I tell you about those Rockies?? They're now at a 3-0 lead in the NLCS with no signs of slowing down. In a game displaying all the fine aspects of fall weather in Colorado (39 with fog and light drizzle), the Rocks showed again that winning 20 of your last 21 games should not be just considered "lucky" as perhaps the Diamondbacks and the rest of the known world might want to believe. They'll try to clinch their first ever trip to the World Series tonight. (5am tomorrow Uganda time... Damn that time zone difference!) Interestingly the note at the bottom of the AP article links their current run to a team even closer to my heart:

Before the Rockies, the last team to put together a 19-1 run was the 1977 Kansas City Royals, and Colorado Manger Clint Hurdle made his major league debut for the Royals during that stretch.

Next, college football. Yesterday was the release of the first BCS poll of the season, and LSU (#4) and undefeated KU (#13) are right in the thick of things. K-State actually is also in this week's AP poll at #25 for the first time this season, after beating Colorado on Saturday (and Texas AT AUSTIN earlier this year!)... and LSU is the top-ranked of all the teams that have suffered recent upsets (including USC, Oklahoma, and California). Looks like there might be quite a mix of traditional and non-traditional teams in BCS bowls this year (South Florida and Kentucky anyone?)!

Third, our garden. We ventured yesterday into the world of transplanting - and successfully moved about 10 cucumber plants from an overpopulated hill to 2 hills where nothing has sprouted yet. With the help of our neighbor, Esther, we also were able to delineate where exactly our rows were (some heavy rains last weekend while we were away washed a lot of the topsoil out of our plot) - and noticed that every single type of vegetable we planted has now sprouted at least 1 or 2 plants. Here are a couple recent pictures:

Some cucumber plants:

Our nursery seed bed (with a little help restructuring by Esther):

Last (as a bonus) - Meg's new Uganda cellphone! (p.s. don't you think the picture in the lower right looks quite a bit like Mr. Jack McNulty??)

The new phone... Jack, is that you??

And of course, a cute photo of Meg...


Today is exactly the halfway point in our time outside the USA. It feels about right. Yesterday evening, Meg and I went on a little "date" to celebrate, which involved taking a walk to a nearby hill where we could watch the sunset, and sharing a beer and some matoke chips, (and watching some super motivated ants carry off our crumbs!), and talking about faith and love and God and dreams. With luck, maybe we'll even end up like this couple someday...

I'm so thankful for our 2 months of adventure so far, for the 2 months yet to come, and most importantly, I'm so thankful for her!

Friday, October 12, 2007

a humbling weekend

So you've seen the "literature" with which we ended last weekend in Kampala, but you will not believe all the events that took place while we were in Kampala...we're still trying to ourselves!

While getting in touch with our American pallettes (did someone say pizza--TWICE!--and veggie burgers and salads?!!) was quite a highlight, many of our personal interactions take the bait. We got to meet a woman, Hatifah, whose family makes & sells their own BEAUTIFUL handbags, change purses, aprons, skirts, bedspreads, etc. (more on that later!), & they invited us to their house for dinner. They have a dirt floor house with no electricity, but they of course insisted on buying us cokes & muffins as a snack, before showing us many of their crafts (of which we may have bought a few ;) & sharing their delicious lantern-lit meal of matooke and cooked peanut (ground-nut) sauce with greens. They were just so thankful when we bought some things from them, so proud to show us their home, and so humble overall.

Also, while we were at their shop (after visiting with John Nsamba (a former GSV & Ugandan (well, current Ugandan)!!!) and touching the Parliament Building, which was quite anti-climactic), talking with them and looking at their work, in walks a man with several paintings that he was trying to sell to Hatifah & her sister. "Wait a minute, he looks familiar," said we...and sure enough, he was the infamous "Thomas," the artist who had painted a painting that we bought and LOVE (think HCJ Haitian cross style). We tried to introduce ourselves to him (we were REALLY excited) but had a hard time because he didn't speak English. But then I noticed that he was speaking French & was even able to talk with him a was so fun! He said that he was from the Congo, which hit home b/c we had just read the Congo article that we posted, and he was selling his paintings for ridiculously cheap prices. Again, humbling.

And finally, when we returned to Mbarara we got to spend an evening with Anthony, a friend who works in the Enterprise sector of the project. We talked about so many things with him, like the success of MVP, American movies (he definitely knows more than both of us!), marketing, American & Ugandan politics, etc. When we were on this last subject, he actually shared with us that his father was killed by the Idi Amin regime 30 years ago or so, and that two of his half-brothers were killed in the Rwanda It was overwhelming just to hear...I thought that I didn't hear him correctly at first. I share this not to exploit his experiences, but just to share with you the reality that many of the people here live with. And yet they are so kind and welcoming and happy. Anthony closed our evening by leading us through a prayer, for his family, for all the people here to have clothes and food, and of thanksgiving. It was beautiful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Our 50th Blog post!

We received this "note" from a concerned fellow passenger on the bus home from Kampala yesterday evening... just after we had purchased a children's guide to English-Runyankole (the local language in SW Uganda). We're gracious for his concern! :)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Heartbreak in Congo

In today's Sunday NY Times, there is a truly and completely heartbreaking cover story. It's about the increasing frequency of brutal rapes in Eastern Congo - where rebels and ex-Hutu milita men from Rwanda and god-knows-who-else are acting to create the most hostile environment for women in the world. You'll have to read the article yourselves to understand just how heartbreaking this is - and only kilometers from the Uganda border, where fighting and violence has increased in recent weeks and months. It's not for the faint of heart. If the international community can't respond to crises like these - what is the point of having "UN Peacekeepers" at all??

Friday, October 5, 2007

Our garden

We planted our garden this weekend - a major goal of ours for our time here in the village. It was a few weeks late (so now we might not have time to eat any of the "fruits of our labor"), but better late than never, right? Some of the plants (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage) needed to first be planted in a seed bed nursery, and then later transplanted, so photo 4 is our attempt at constructing a protected seed bed nursury, African style!
We're gonna have a lot of fun with this one!

Help a friend!

Hi all, sorry for the shameless advertising. Please take a moment to help out a friend of mine. This friend (Chris Thomas) is an amazingly gifted young composer, who has an incredible ear - (to demonstrate, he once dropped a spoon and told me the three notes it made (something like B-flat, F, C-sharp) as it hit the tile counter. Amazing.) Now, he is in Los Angeles, trying to make the big time. He is the real deal. He's recently been nominated for the 2007 Film and TV Music Awards - up against some of the biggest names in the industry (the other categories include TV shows and movies I'm sure you all will recognize). So take a minute to vote and help him out! Thanks so much!

Here's his email:

Dearest everybody!

For the 2007 FILM AND TV MUSIC AWARDS Christopher Thomas has been nominated for BEST ORCHESTRATOR against 4 of Hollywood 's top talents. As the youngest contender, he needs YOUR help to win!

To vote, you must register. (No worries, nobody will bother you by mail or phone). It takes 2 minutes.

Please vote before the DEADLINE OF OCTOBER 15!!!

To begin, go to this link:

Create an Account - (Primary Industry - Choose "Other")

Click - "Go to members area"

Click option 3 - "Enter or Change Your Votes"

Under "Orchestration"
1. Best Orchestration: Christopher Thomas

Under "Film" category
1. Best Score for an Independent Feature: Austin Wintory
2. Best Score for a Student Film: Austin Wintory

CLICK - SUBMIT at bottom of page.

PLEASE SEND THIS LINK TO EVERYBODY YOU KNOW! A victory over the big dogs is another victory for our generation of musicians and filmmakers. Vote for the underdog!!

Many thanks to all!
~Chris Thomas

Egg Ball!

Oh, the joy!

It's October, and you know what that means boys and girls... baseball playoffs!!

How enheartened and alive with joy did I feel this morning when I read this wonderful article on my now favorite website ( yes Yankees fans, the article is entitled "An old-fashioned beat down". Much to their dismay, the Yankees could only manage 5 hits in their opening Divisional Series game against Cleveland last night. Take that LaBron! Even though the Post lamented that the Yankees haven't won a Series since 2000 (poor babies!) and have lost 11 of 14 playoff games since their complete collapse against the Sox in the 2004 ALCS (remember that?), they're not looking too healthy this time around either.

A Tribe-Rockies World Series? Those boys from out west are looking pretty good too. Oh to be in the Mile High City tomorrow and watch them clinch their first trip to the NLCS! To me, right now (esp after winning 16 of their last 17!!) the Rockies are the team to beat.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Two Days

Hey's some latest thoughts for you! They sound real sad, & though I had a couple of "funky" days this week, I promise I'm not as down as (Eric & I realized) this poem makes me seem. I was feeling all poetic this morning & this is what emerged! Have a great weekend.

On Friday I feel so thankful to be here, Ruhiira, and two years more's not a bad idea
Monday I crave home

One day I want to bear-hug all the children walking, giggling, whispering behind me
The next where's Ella, Jackson, Maia?

Wednesday the banana trees are the perfect landscape
And Thursday they need to be the Empire State Building

I'm sick of wearing only five outfits and want to go SHOPPING SHOPPING SHOPPING in the evening
By morning all our money belongs to our neighbor

At times the slow pace three hours' lateness is the natural order of things
At others punctuality is key and why don't people here get that it's disrespectful to not be there on time when people--people who need and deserve to be shown respect the most--expect you to be?!

September, Rukiga
October, English

Yesterday I thought the church we walk to isn't so far away
Today we'll never reach it

To just be is to embrace both
That I want on Sunday and Monday.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Tribute to Lilo

Hi all...
I just received news that Lilo, my fish-companion for 2 1/2 years of my 3 in NYC, has died. I am sad, but so thankful for his time here & for the love he's received in my absence.
Here's to Lilo and all the animals in our lives that provide fun, companionship, and love!