Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Beginning to beginning

Howdy. Sorry I've been slow to write. Our days are super long. We don't get back our hotel rooms until about 10 pm. I've been so jet lagged that I could barely talk comprehensively at dinner last night, much less make a post after downloading images and archiving them.

Our Ugandan hosts love to talk about politics. It's embarrassing when from lack of sleep I'm talking about (and like) Bush - and I'm nodding... but not because I agree with everything being said.

I took a sleeping pill last night and finally slept well. I was a back to 100 percent today and full of energy.

We've been visiting some programs where Compassion International gives health classes, food, and medicine to the poorest of the poor mothers who are expecting or have children under three. Compassion starts connecting children with sponsors for schooling when the kids reach the age of 3 or 4.

In Uganda, 1 in 6 children die before the age of 5. In Uganda, 1 in 6 children die before the age of 5. Yes, that's the double take that happened in my mind. Did I hear that right? Holy cow. That's a statistic that you don't here on CNN.

The goals and success of these projects are to supply heath to the child before it is born by classes on vital nutrition education, mosquito nets, food, home nurse visits, medical attention, and encouragement. The prenatal care evolves into post partum care thru the age of 3.

When we visit the projects, beautiful singing and dancing greet us. There are always formal introductions... something very important to the Ugandan culture. We then break up into teams of about 6 and visit the different classes. Finally, the mothers tell us their stories. If you want to cry, come to Africa and listen to these stories. Unless you've experienced this in some capacity... you would not believe what I'm hearing. Snap. Poverty sucks. Where's the hope? Keep reading.

Compassion supports kids all the way through the university level. The other night we had dinner with about 10 graduates that had made it through. They were the most amazing beautiful young men and women! They were so eloquent. So full of joy and gratefulness for all the help they had received. Again, they told their stories... and I had to take pictures. How am I supposed to work when I can barely see because my eyes are full of tears? Again, I say SNAP! From the poorest of the poor, bare foot and naked in the slums- to the top of their class and looking "smart" in nice suits. They are the future of Uganda and Africa; and they are equiped to start a new life after university as educated and empowered individuals. Beginning to beginning.

Monday, October 22, 2007


This is the Masai church that we visited. Church here is very different than in America. After over two hours in church, with different aged choirs singing and dancing, and after about 10 different people getting up to speak, we left to go to the homes and visit the families of some of the sponsored children. I was exhausted and ready to go. That's when I learned that the church service was just starting! It's an all day affair. People walk for miles and miles to come from all over the area. Nobody came in cars but us.

Since all the many choirs of the church shared their music with the group, the group was asked to get up and share a song with them. I don't think anyone was expecting that! It was hard to get out two verses of "Amazing Grace." Here, music is a way of communication. It's social and educational. It's valued as a gift you can give. You should hear the beautiful harmonies. I'll try to find a way to post a recording.

This is my roommate Ken. He is looking down at his sponsored child. Though he has three boys of his own, his family supports several children around the world through Compassion.

This is typical of what Compassion calls a "home visit." Donors will travel across the world to meet the families of the children they support. This family visited their boy who lives in a tiny mud homestead called a manyatta with his grandmother. Because she is a widow, she has no social status and little value in their society. As a small example, the orphan boys were introduced to us first, because they are of higher social "value" than the grandmother.

Compassion's children are the poorest of the poor of the world. They are often orphans, like this boy. They are often the lowest in their social structure. I didn't realize this before this trip... the fact that someone cares enough support them financially helps them survive through the basic needs of shelter, food, and water - but it also gives them something else... the feeling of value. They are transformed from being neglected, isolated, and discarded to a person that is worth investing in. It's a concept that I take for granted.

I won't pretend to be an anthropologist, but I'll share a few interesting things I learned about the masai:
-I often saw masai with their two front teeth missing. I was told that when they get very malnurished and dehydrated, their jaws won't open. They knock out the front teeth to poor porriage in to save them. Often, the poorer masai have missing front teeth
-The masai culture revolves around cows. They believe that all the cows in the world were created for them. The number of cows a family owns determines social status
-FGM (female genital mutilation) is common. It is performed two days before marriage. FGM causes many infections and deaths.
-If a masai man wants to marry a masai girl, even as young as 9 years old, he plants a spear outside the family's door and it's done. Men can have several wives.

This is one of the race cars in the rally through the desert. We would se a cloud coming behind us and we would have to pull off the road. The road conditions were horible. We saw one car recently rolled and smashed in the rocks.

This is a Masai warrior. In the background are a few buildings in a compound being built by a Compassion sponsor. It will be a school for girls.

At age 13, a group of boys will be sent to live in the bush for 3 years. Mentor warriors will visit them and teach them how to hunt and survive. The boys create a very tight friendship and brotherhood. They will even share wives. The first to kill a lion becomes the leader of the pack.

Now we're rolling!

I’m writing on two hours of restless sleep after a long day, it's midnight, so this ain't nothin' deep.

Today we went to a remote part of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, a geological fault zone where the Masai live.

On the way to our destination, we were right in the middle of a mad cross-desert motor cross rally!

I don’t have much steam to recall all I learned today, but I’ll tell you that the culture is very colorful, interesting, and full of symbolism and tradition.

Even though western ideas and religion have entered the culture of the Masai, they hold on tight too much of their old school ways.

Our objectives today were:
-To visit a church with many Compassion children who are Masai
-To see the progress of a boarding school for girls that is being funded by compassion donor
-to visit some of the homes of Masai children who were sponsored by people on the trip

I think I did a good job documenting all of the above. I did not get a lot of free time to photograph Masai individuals with good lighting. I photo graphed two mothers and printed pictures for them as I was dashing to the car to go to the “home visits”

I feel honored to be here and to witness such a unique culture. The colors are so vibrant.

We were just leaving the Great Rift Valley as the sun set.

If I can get to it, I’ll post some pictures.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Made it!

Good news. I'm here. It's 4am and I just got settled in my hotel room. We didn't get in until 2:30am. I'm here, I'm safe... that's what really matters. Up at 6:30am.

"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it."
My mom used to say that.
Words to live by.