Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Joy is a net of love...

...with which we can catch souls."

One of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa, which I wrote down in my quote journal at least five years ago. But seeing it written on a chalkboard that's being hung up by a Missionary of Charity Sister at the Mama T-founded House for the Destitute & Dying is a WHOLE different story.

Today was another amazing, humbling experience, guys. Since we only had one day in Calcutta, we tried to fit a lot in. We started off "touring" a Hindu temple, where we had to take off our shoes, received red dot blessings on our foreheads & were handed lots of red flowers for praying, were shown the goat sacrifice area (with a goat waiting in line & blood pouring down the drain (sorry if that's too graphic!)), etc. Like Eric said, even if he could have taken a picture (no cameras allowed!), no pictures could describe this incredible cultural experience...we're both still processing it...

especially because that was immediately (i.e. next door) followed by another intense experience, visiting Mother Teresa's House for the Destitute & Dying. Hard, hard, hard. It's right in your face the moment you step in, beds everywhere, people with bandages on the backs of their heads, casts, super skinny, etc. It was really hard, but inspiring to see a huge diversity of volunteers helping out.

We also got to go to the Mother House, where the sisters live & where M.T.'s tomb is. Just resting & praying there (esp. as a quiet refuge from a really crazy city!) was wonderful & peaceful. And we walked through an exhibit that had her life story posted, & cool personal items, like her last handbag, last pair of shoes, several of her writings, including a journal entry on who Jesus is to her (about 25 descriptions on her was like I could FEEL how much love she had for Jesus ("I am His & He is mine"..."I am for Jesus & only Jesus," etc.) & her work with the poor. Seriously. SO inspiring!)

Definitely a life-marker to be able to do all of these things. We're so lucky.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

India itinerary

Ok, I lied. This is the for real last post from Africa. We're at a ridiculously cheap internet place right now (50 Kenya cents/min = 35 US cents/hour), so I figured I might as well post our itinerary for the next 19days in India, so yall can keep tabs on us till we get back to the US in mid-December. Here it is so far: (SUPER subject to change)

Nov. 27
Arrive Mumbai, 5am
Flight (SpiceJet) to Calcutta, 2pm

Nov. 28
Walk around Calcutta, visit Mother Theresa's house
Train to Darjeeling

Nov. 29
Sunrise view of the Himalayas
Walk around Darjeeling (Tea, Tibetan refugee center, Buddhist temples)

Nov. 30
Darjeeling to Cherrapunjee (the wettest place on earth)
Walk through a rubber tree forest

Dec. 1
Cherrapunjee to Nepal border

Dec. 2

Dec. 3
Daytrip to see Mt. Everest?

Dec. 4
Kathmandu to Varanasi

Dec. 5
Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu cities
Morning boatride on the Ganges River to watch people pray near the river

Dec. 6
Daytrip to Gaya, the "Vatican of Buddhism" with temples from all major Buddhist countries (I made up the thing about the Vatican...)

Dec. 7
Varanasi to Delhi (SpiceJet - $25!)
Delhi to Dharamsala

Dec. 8
Sangla Valley
Tour of traditional himalayan villages

Dec. 9
Sangla Valley

Dec. 10
McLeod Ganj - home of the Dalai Lama
Himalayan International Festival

Dec. 11
McLeod Ganj

Dec. 12
Amristar (Pakistan Border)

Dec. 13
Agra - Taj Mahal

Dec. 14

Dec. 15
Delhi - Moscow - Atlanta!!

Last post from Africa!

It's so bittersweet, but tomorrow afternoon we're leaving Africa. We're in Nairobi now, after a 2-day overland haul from Dar (16hrs on a bus and 2 matatus). Our time in Zanzibar was unforgettable, and the trip back wasn't too taxing (plus I got this awesome sunset shot of Kilimanjaro before we arrived in Arusha last night). This evening we're just relaxing, hoping to meet up with a few friends we know here in town but otherwise planning our India trip and soaking up the last moments of acacia trees, ugali, and Tusker.

We'll miss you, Africa.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Our Thanksgiving: the beach and seafood

Meg and I spent probably the most relaxing Thanksgiving of our lives (no offense to our families) yesterday relaxing on beach, looking out at the beautiful turquoise colored sea, and feeling the cool breeze of the Indian Ocean blowing on our faces. For awhile, we didn't even know if it was Thanksgiving... we knew it was always on a Thursday, but the last or 2nd to last one... we didn't know! So just in case, we thought about what we were thankful for, and thought about our families at home celebrating the traditional way.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wrapping up our time in Uganda

We're down to hours folks.

We're flying out of Entebbe tomorrow morning at 10:20am, heading to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar for about 5 days on the beach (yeah, I know....) and checking out a few contacts for crafts along the way. After next week, we'll be making the 11+ hour bus ride up to Nairobi, where we fly out for Mumbai and points east on the 26th.

On an interesting note, we're flying Air Uganda to Dar, which was just launched for the first commercial flight on Thursday (tomorrow is day 4!). We'll give you a review of our experience on Uganda's new national airline when we arrive in Dar. I'm sure everything will go fine (the guy I bought our tickets from told me so!), and the woman that helped us get the 50% off promotional fare (yes, 50% off!) remembered Megan's name when we came back to purchase, so we already have a nice family-run feel about things.

In about a half-hour we're also conducting our first Connect-related job interview, to hopefully find a coordinating and shipping agent based in Kampala that can perform as a Megan-and-Eric-stand-in here in Uganda indefinitely. We're so excited!

Signing off from Uganda-
Peace and Thanksgiving blessings to all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Top 10 Moments in Africa

If you would've asked me a year ago if I'd be writing a "Top 10 Africa Memories" list on Nov. 11th, 2007, I would've slapped you in the face! Or maybe just said "No I won't." But whattya know, here we are, nearly at the end of our 3-ish months in Africa. Our favorite times here are a-plenty; we won't bore you with those (for now :)). Instead, here are 10 times--some specific moments/days, some consistent happenings that count, we think, as one--that won't be leaving our memories! Of course, no particular order. Enjoy!

1. Total Oprah moment. Being surrounded by 50+ 6/7/8 year old school kids, grabbing our hands & singing a song for us.
2. On our 2nd day in Uganda, seeing a national performance group, the Ndere Troupe, and dancing on stage at the end, with people from all over the world.
3. We both got to go to my first women's group discussion. Afterwards, the women did a traditional song & dance for us...a very different, authentic feel compared to the stage performance of #2.
4. Having dinner with Hanifah (formerly known to us as Hatifah...sorry!) and her family, and picking out our first set of Connect goods afterwards! Their gratefulness was man, just beautiful.
5. When we were on the dhow in Lamu, and neither of us had bathing suits on, we asked if the boat could drive us closer to the shore. Not wanting to be viewed as lazy Americans (termed here as "fat Wisconsinians"), Eric noted that this instance definitely landed us in that category and I found it pretty hilarious...and still do. Every time.
6. The recent wedding-cake-cutting escapade. Did that really happen??? (Scroll down a bit if you don't know about this one). HILARIOUS.
7. Spending time with, and often imitating, Gabula, one of our favorite friends here; he is a VERY competitive card player and a big fan of beginning his comments to me with, "Madame Megan..." in his very Gabula-ized Ugandan accent.
8. Seeing the chimpanzees in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
9. Daphine, Esther's daughter, looks away any time we say her name, look at her when she's following us, or simply acknowledge that she exists. Apparently she thinks this makes her invisible...we don't mind; it's super cute & funny!
10. Last but not least (although this will be least missed), when attempting to order at a restaurant, we always have to ask what they have, instead of just assuming they have what's on the menu (why would they do that?)...this has saved us ungodly amounts of time from having to say, "I'll have the egg sandwich. Oh, no? The pumpkin and vegetables? Oh, not that either? Okay, rice and beans, please. Matooke then. Matooke and beans is fine."

Friday, November 9, 2007

it's almost that time...

So, we've grudgingly set our exit date from Uganda - next Tuesday Nov 13. It's come SO fast... and so hard to believe. We've learned and experienced so much in our short 10 weeks... I'm smiling just thinking about it all! We've been drafting a "best memories" post that we'll share soon!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Prayer

I feel blessed. Very blessed, by the green grass, by the soft rain drops, by the dirt road, by the mothers and their babies, by the endless fields of bananas, by the fog, by the earth itself. And those songs - hearing the women, children, aand men singing - singing loudly, with their hearts. The drum beats, the clapping, the harmonization, the joy of forgetting what's outside and being thankful for now. The smiles of belonging to a community. In one glance, seeing children, innocent, blue clouds and green banana trees outside, the red dirt road - sticky with lifegiving rains. And us here, not you and me, but us, on simple wooden benches in this simple building giving thanks for life.

Monday, November 5, 2007

C-O-N-N-E-C-T, find out what it means to!

As many of you know, Eric and I are both big fans of fair trade. When we came to Africa, we began to discover a HUGE array of beautiful Ugandan/Kenyan/everythingAfrican crafts, and were hoping to somehow link folks up with fair trade programs in the U.S. We had no idea, at that time, that the owners of that fair trade program would be us (us in the U.S., selling U.S. (Ugandan Stuff), that is).

That's right...we've decided to pursue opening a non-profit fair trade store in none other than New Orleans! You also may know that we've been through about a hundred different plans at this point, but we're thinking (and hoping, funds-pending) that this one's the real deal! We're in touch with lots of artisans (those are easy to find in these parts), an email account, lots of contacts, and a potential sponsor in Millennium Villages. It's coming along!

The name of it is/will be Connect. Connect with the artisan(s), connect with the owners/workers, connect with Africa, connect the struggles in Africa to those in New Orleans, connect with local (N.O./NY/my sister) a disconnected world, let's connect. You get the picture.

The birth of this idea was on October 5th (perhaps over pizza & beer in Kampala ;)), and it has been growing ever since (you should see it crawl; and it's starting college in December (that's a bit ahead of Harper, right Julia?!)).

Anyway, we're both really excited about this & wanted to share in that with you. We'll keep you "posted!"

Update: an article was recently published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the emergence of local fair trade stores. Sounds like a great time to join in on the fun!

Our First Wedding Cake!

It's not what you think. It's hard to believe it happened. And it's pretty freaking ridiculous.

Saturday afternoon, we were excited to dress up (which meant a skirt-turned dress for me & a tucked-in shirt and belt for Eric) & make the 5 minute trek over to Esther's house. Her brother was getting married...a cultural experience we had not partaken in yet.

So we go around 4:00 (1 hour past the original invite time of 3:00; we had been told to wait a while as people weren't showing up yet). We get seated, of course, in special chairs...almost everyone else sitting in benches. We get brought local porridge (Eric's description of it as "warm puke" was unfortunately fitting) in ceramic mugs, everyone else's plastic, and eat dinner amidst the toilet-paper covered banana trees, serving as posts to hold up the tent (coffee-drying fabrics), subtle African grooves playing in the background. It looked beautiful & we were happy to be there; the only question was where are the bride & groom...

...a question that lingered on for about 4 hours. It was so odd to be celebrating this occasion without the guests of honor present. Well, around 8:00 they showed up, and walked around the tent to some not-so-subtle (to be honest, it never was) music. But wait a second, why does the bride look so sad? She never looked up, only at the ground, as they walked together. We even started to wonder if she was disabled because she really didn't seem like she knew what was going on, & it seemed that people were helping her walk. We had heard that her parents didn't approve of the marriage, so maybe she had been arguing/struggling to leave her house all day?

Well, that question had to remain unanswered for a while. In the meantime, we "muzungus" were thanked for being there (why we're VIPs is hard to understand), a goat was brought out to basically pay the dowery to the wife's family, and we were told that when the cake was cut, we were welcome to have some. Or so we thought.

The knife is brought out, the 3 cakes put onto plates, and in a blur Eric and I are placed on either side of the bride & groom (he by the groom and me by the bride..note the use of "bride" and "groom" as an indication that we don't even know their names). We are told to place our hands on theirs & help them cut the cake! WHAT???????!!!!!!!!!! I felt SOOOO bad b/c I was just CRACKING UP laughing~I couldn't help it! I kept looking at Eric & he just looked so confused. It was totally surreal...sad too b/c this all happened b/c we're white & they wanted to have us in their pictures, but just super super surreal & hilarious.

As for the bride, it turns out that she didn't want to be married, not at that time, not to that man. That is why she looked SOOO sad. Gosh, to know that hurts. The next day at church, I wondered how many women had that experience as their reality.

We had a lot of laughs, and the cake was good, but I'm not sure if this young woman tasted it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Some recent photos (by some, I mean a lot!)

Ok, we apologize for not doing our photo-sharing duty lately... but here goes our attempt to make up for it.

Also, there's a surprise involving something one of us happened to see but weren't supposed to in Rwanda... here's a hint:

More later.

Flickr photos are updated. And now time for "the great gorilla story of 2007", which is what I like to call it.

1961, 1963, 1969, 2151, 2177 (also, fyi, these numbers are just reminders for me of pictures I want to post... when blogger messes up and won't post pictures right! which is often... bear with me!)