Monday, May 20, 2013

Skipping in Gulu

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend whom I met on my last trip here and a new friend that works as a nurse at a hospital in Gulu.  She has been in Uganda 7 months now and expressed some frustrations with the inefficiencies at her workplace.  I can only imagine how difficult it is working in a hospital in a third world country; the lack of cleanliness, reliable utilities, education, and proper supplies must be completely overwhelming.  As we were eating, I mentioned that I was helping my friend Joe Brocato (Unlikely Hero Productions), who was recently in Northern Uganda to film some of the work Aid Africa does in rural communities, and his colleague Tim Heath Leuzarder with a documentary about skipping.  The topic allowed the three of us to easily slide into a fun conversation about skipping and we all agreed that it was impossible to skip and be in a bad mood at the same time. My friend took the thought a step further and suggested action - she should skip into work at the hospital the next morning. She smiled and excitedly agreed to the task!

We met the next morning around 7:30 AM to drive her to work and experience what was to be the simplest magic I’ve ever seen. In the car, I asked her a few questions Joe had suggested to me, like “why do you think adults don’t skip?”  To that she replied, “I think it’s because they’ve forgotten, and that if you remind them, they will.” It was a perfect response because I think that’s exactly what happened with her; she had been immersed in work and all it’s difficult intricacies and had forgotten about some of the joys in life. She was smiling from ear-to-ear with anticipation when she got out of the car and this previously discouraged and energy-depleted nurse was suddenly full of energy as she began skipping toward the hospital where she was about to begin a long day at work. Her colleagues, I assume equally as frustrated as her, all started smiling and laughing and were obviously surprised by this high-energy output with which she was starting the day.

When we met the next Sunday for lunch, with her work colleagues that saw her skipping, they were inspired and made plans to skip to work together.  The conversation that had started the previous Sunday went so much further than I ever expected.  Oh the joy of skipping!

Soon after this, Maron (the volunteer from the USA) and I were working with Aid Africa in one of the rural villages outside of Gulu and experiencing a few of the many challenges that occur in the field - so, we decided it was a good time to get some of the village kids skipping. Since the best way to get kids to do anything is to do it yourself, we skipped around to get them to follow us. Not surprisingly, we experienced the same transformation from stress to pure joy. More importantly, we discovered a deeper bond with these kids. We were transported back to our childhood, a time free of our adult burdens and, if just for a few minutes, we experienced pure joy. My only question afterwards was, "Why haven’t I been skipping more often?" I think I simply forgot.

The kids looking at pictures of themselves and the skipping video we had just taken (photo by Maron)

Back at the office, I interviewed Isaac. When I asked him if he’d like to skip, he was hesitant, but agreed to skip if I would do it with him.  We laughed, both feeling very silly, which made us laugh even more.  Then Peter, the Executive Director of Aid Africa, walked out after we finished and I asked him if he’d also like to skip - he started skipping instantly!  With each new opportunity to skip, to feel the unadulterated joy, I am now convinced that skipping is a powerful and transformative tool. Taking only a few minutes of my time to skip and talk to people about skipping has brought so much joy to my journey in Uganda.  Thanks to Unlikely Hero Productions for working on such a great project and sharing it with me so that I can share it with others!

To read more about the documentary, visit

Monday, May 13, 2013

Documenting Stoves in the Field

Today we worked in the village Arworti-Omya in Opit.  It’s located in a beautiful area with greenery all around and a nice view of a nearby “mountain.”  It was my first day in the field without teaming up with an Aid Africa staff member.  I was very lucky to have a young man of 17 years old to assist me in finding Six-brick Rocket Stoves to document (record information about the stove owner and take GPS coordinates). He had a good idea about which households had stoves and even knew English well enough that he helped me spell the names I was unfamiliar with.  It went smoothly and I was grateful things happened that way, though I was a bit nervous at first.  It’s an uneasy feeling not being able to communicate effectively with others, especially when there’s a job to be done and more importantly done well.
Picture of me next to a Six-brick Rocket Stove taken by my wonderful guide

Along the way I asked the young man what he would be if he could be anything in the world, and he replied that he wanted to be a radio presenter.  We talked about a few other “life things” and I was very happy to have that chance to talk one-on-one with a young person living in the village.  It was a very pleasant experience!

Maron, another volunteer from the USA working with Aid Africa, also had her first day without teaming up with a staff member.  She was also very lucky to find a knowledgeable guide.

Maron's guide with some of the children (photo taken my Maron)

Maron with her guide and some of the children

I had a heart-warming experience when I came upon an elderly man in one of the compounds.  He greeted me and said, “you have come to help us?”  You could see the gratitude and understanding in his eyes, and I cannot explain with words how deeply it affected me.  It warmed my heart to see how happy he was that I was there.  For me it was simple; all I was doing was walking around in the bush talking to people and writing words down on a piece of paper.  It really is simple to help others.  It’s not always easy, but it is simple.

At one point, once we reunited with Maron and her guide, we had a group of lovely children following behind.  They were chattering behind us in a funny tone, trying to copy our English.  It was wonderful to have such bright smiles all around us.

Maron's guide, Maron, and children following behind

It was a very productive day.  By splitting up, we each were able to document many stoves and interact with many more community members than if we had moved around the village in teams. 

I am truly enjoying my time here; I miss friends and family back home but know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Feels Like Home

The power went out about an hour or two after I arrived in Entebbe last night, and it hasn’t come back on even though it’s now the late afternoon.  It usually goes off when storms come through, and one did about 40 minutes after I arrived here to the Backpacker’s Inn.  One of my favorite things in Uganda is the storms; they are quite magical and peaceful, as long as you’re dry!  And luckily, the tent I slept in stayed dry throughout the storm. 

Here’s a shot of the Inn, with tents similar to mine in the background.  Beautiful!

I’ll be spending the next few days here until Peter Keller and Joe Brocato arrive from Los Angeles, California, USA.  Then we will go to Kampala so that Joe, who is a documentary filmmaker, can interview some people for the documentary (brief explanation here).  Then we’ll make our way up to Gulu, about a six hour drive on the bus.

Being that this country is relatively “pure,” I am especially mindful of how tourism and “first worlders” are changing things here – both directly and indirectly.  Today I saw several cans of pesticide spray and a few chemical cleaners for the bathroom.  I wonder how much of that would be here if only locals frequented this place.  It’s not that I enjoy ants crawling on me in the night, but when I truly think about the long-term consequences, I’d rather deal with the nastiest of bugs than knowingly and willingly introduce harsh chemicals to this beautiful pristine-like environment.

I also heard and saw quite a few weed-wackers as I walked around town today, the sound made me cringe a little.  I don’t remember seeing that many the last time I was here.   Many people here use hand tools that don’t require electricity or fuel, and I very much appreciate that.  I think all of our convenient inventions could be the death of all that is beautiful in this world if we’re not careful.  Cutting down grass with plastic and metal machines that use fossil fuels doesn’t make much sense to me.  We are slowly removing all the natural beauty in the world and replacing it with plastic, concrete, and pollution of the air, land, water, and wildlife.  I think we need to realize how we’re affecting the ecosystem and look at things more critically to see if we’re really happy with the direction we're heading. 

Even with all the pesticides and weed-wackers, I’m happy to be back!  There are many more positive things I will focus on in the future, these thoughts just hit me like a freight train and I feel the need to share them.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the documentary works out, and also seeing all my amazing and resilient friends in Gulu.  The excitement is uncontrollable!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Welcome to this new blog, I hope to have the first entry up very soon.  Please visit if you'd like to see some of the pictures from my first trip to northern Uganda.  I will fly out of LAX tomorrow afternoon and will be in Entebbe, Uganda late Tuesday night (they are 10 hours ahead of California).  I return July 11th.  Thanks for checking out this blog, please come back soon for some actual content!