Archive for November, 2016

November 29, 2016

Strandzeiling

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Els and Ron surprised me by taking me beach sailing or “strandzeiling” in Dutch. It was their first time to try it too. It must have been a good day for it because the beach near Ouddorp was humming with activity! It felt very different than two years ago when Tante Els took me earlier in the year and the beach was as almost deserted and we saw only one person kite-buggying. I learned that beach sailing is when the buggy is attached to a sail on a pole and kite buggying is when the buggy is pulled by a person holding a large moon-shaped kite. Kite buggying is more complicated but can be done in lighter winds, whereas beach sailing requires higher winds but is easier for beginners. We were taught by instructors and it was way easier than I thought it would be. You simply steer with your feet and control your speed by tightening or loosening a single rope that pulls the sail taught or lets it go. The biggest challenge is to pay attention and always know where the wind is coming from. That task was made easy for us as our instructor had us drive between two pylons. It was important which way we turned around each of the pylons in order to catch the wind in the turn. I’m guessing this is something that you would eventually get the feeling for with practice. We took turns in the buggies so that there was someone to push at either end in case someone got stuck in the turn! At first the wind was strong and sometimes you could even feel a rear wheel lift when making a turn (I loved that feeling!), but later on the wind slowed down and we had to stop a bit early. I enjoyed beach sailing and hope I will get the chance to do it again (I would like to try regular sailing too)!

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On our way home we stopped for tea at my Oma and Opas. Then we headed back to Ron and Els’s and Opa and Oma came a few hours later for dinner the second day in a row. I feel so blessed to have been able to stop in and visit my family every year or so for the last several years!

 

November 26, 2016

Rotterdam

Upon arriving at Schipol Airport I took the train to Rotterdam. I had arranged to stay with my cousin Geertien for the first night in the Netherlands. I found my way right to her house which is in the city proper. Oh how I love how easy it is to get around the Netherlands without a car! The flight was a red eye and so I was running on only a few hours of fitful sleep! I enjoyed breakfast with Geertien, cleaned up, did some research to decide what I wanted to see, and then Geertien generously offered to take me to see some of the places I had on my list. I also asked her to take me to one of her favourite neighbourhoods!

It was fun to experience Rotterdam by car. First we drove down to the center and visited the Markthal by MVRDV and then went to the Central Library across the street so that we could get a view of the square. I can’t decide what I think about the area. In one way I like it because it is an architectural laboratory of creativity and experimentation, but at the same time I wish that the designs were less alien and responded more to one another! Because each building is so self-focused, the space in between feels very accidental and without meaning. Next we walked to Timmerhuis that was designed by OMA. I thought this building responded well to the surroundings and has a form and facade that are beautiful but not overdone. Lastly we went to the Luchtsingel bridge that is an urban infrastructure project that was crowd-sourced and provides a backdoor access that connects three or four converging neighbourhoods while reinvigorating what was a more deserted, “sketchy” area. We met a man on the bridge who could tell we were tourists and wanted to know what we thought of the project. He used to work at the city and we learned from him that the project was quite controversial. From there we walked back to the car and Geertien brought us to the riverfront where we could get a good view of the Erasmusbrug. Beside it is another building by OMA called De Rotterdam. It is part of the redevelopment of the old harbour district on the southern side of the river. By then I was beginning to fade, but still wanted Geertien to bring me to one of her favourite neighbourhoods where a lot of Turkish immigrants live. It is a place where she has been engaged in community projects as a social worker, and she shared with me about a community project that was recently completed to transform an old church into much needed housing for Turkish girls in the community. I really liked the look and feel of the place, and think it is a great thing when a community takes it in their own hands to improve their neighbourhood.

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View of Central Rotterdam and the Markthal

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Timmerhuis

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Erasmusbrug and De Rotterdam

The following day I took the metro and wandered around Rotterdam on my own. I brought my bags with me and put them in a locker at Rotterdam Centraal so that after exploring I could head to my next destination that was my aunt’s place in Middelharnis. To get there I had to take the metro and then the bus. Again, I found my way to her house and as I walked up I could see Tante Els, Ron, and my Oma and Opa sitting down to dinner! It was wonderful to see them all again! Els informed me that she and Ron had something special in store for me the following day! We were going to try an activity called beach sailing!

November 24, 2016

Past Halfway

The next day we headed back to Uganda and were thankful for a smooth journey. When we were at the border we had to take bodas to get the other side because our driver did not have a permit to bring us across (it’s actually where the name “boda” comes from: “boda-boda” or “border border”). When we approached the Uganda side two guys started running up beside the boda and tried to get a hold of the bag I was carrying. I shouted at them and kept an iron grip! The boda driver slowed down and I got off. They were saying “But I am a nice guy!” We later discovered that they were Uganda boda drivers who just wanted us to choose them to bring us the rest of the way. We did go with them in the end, but when the guy said “See? I am a nice guy.”, I responded with, “How am I supposed to know if you are a nice guy if you run up beside me and try to take my bag without asking?” After passing through the Uganda checkpoints we hired a driver to take us to Kampala. We stopped to pick up some grilled meat kabobs and chipatis to eat for dinner during the ride. We didn’t arrive in Kampala until late and so we directed the driver to Bushpigs Backpackers where I was planning to stay for the next two nights. Othy left me at the gate and headed back to his friend’s place. Bushpigs was a cheap and clean international hostel. I went straight to bed but woke up in the early morning by the sound of pounding rain. Because it wouldn’t stop raining, I ended up hanging around for most of the morning in a small little lounge at the hostel. I met an american and a dutch guy and girl and we shared about our various travels. Finally the rain stopped and I headed out to meet Othy. We hung around again for most of the day and I met Sudi who is a friend of Othy’s.

The next day Othy and I took a taxi to downtown and then caught another one to Jinja. I had promised Othy a long time ago that I would take him to Jinja because I had so many fond memories from there and he had never been. It was fun to fulfill my promise and introduce him to a few of my favourite places! We walked down the main street and looked into some of the craft shops. I took him to a restaurant called Ozzie’s where four years ago I had eaten the best burger in my life! The burger wasn’t as good as I remembered (it was missing cilantro which I am convinced was the secret ingredient that made the first one so good!). Still the food was delicious and we had a good time! Then we hired a driver to take us to an island up the river called The Hairy Lemon. This was another place that I went to my first time in Uganda and loved it. It is way off the beaten track and I had to chuckle as we went down another dirt road that became narrower and narrower. A staff opened the gate for us and Othy gawked as we got into the big canoe that would take us through some fast moving water to get us to the island! Othy was pretty excited by this point! When we arrived we discovered that there was only one other person staying on the Island! We would have the place almost to ourselves! We had tea while we waited for the rain to stop, and then went to go and explore the island. After walking around the perimeter of the Island, admiring their method of pumping water (a big wheel that rotates through the water to create pressure), we chilled for the rest of the evening in a wonderful gazebo full of pillows listening to the sound of rushing water and monkeys jumping around in the trees. The next day we visited the farm that is on the mainland, and on the way there and back one of the staff taught Othy how to pilot the canoe! The rest of the morning we waded in the water, played badminton, and another one of the staff offered to take us to a place called The Jacuzzi (I think we really benefited from the place being so quiet). We found out that you actually have to walk through a small tributary of the river to get to this place. At first we tried to go in the kayak with the staff pulling us, but it was too tippy and so we decided to get our shoes wet and walk (it was impossible in bare feet because of the rocks). We trudged to this area of rocks where the water falls into it and stirs around in a spot before falling out again. We climbed in and and hung out there for a bit. Our guide said that if I swam swiftly I could go to the other side, but I underestimated the power of the water and it started to pull me away! I managed to grab a rock and climb out but was tired out after that! We headed back to the beach and Othy tried out the kayak close to shore. Even though our stay at the Hairy Lemon was short, I was thankful that it felt long because of how peaceful it was and how many activities we did. There is also no power outlet or cell reception which can be a good thing now and then!

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We left the island right after lunch and the trip back to Kampala was loooong. We didn’t arrive until almost 7pm because of crazy traffic. I had plans to have dinner that night with my friends Matt and Ashley who live in Ggaba, so as soon as we arrived in the city Othy arranged for one of his boda driver friends to come and meet us to take me there. I had some crazy instructions to follow to get there and it got dark which made it hard to look out for signs, but after turning around a few times we made it! I know Matt from Grace Toronto church and he grew up in the church my cousins go to. He did the EMI internship a year or so after me and then became a long term volunteer at EMI. He got involved in the Doors Ministry where he met Ashley. It is so awesome sometimes how are all connected! I enjoyed catching up with them and met the two boys who recently began living with them. After dinner Matt drove me to Mallory’s place where I would spend my last two nights in Uganda. It was wonderful to see Mallory again and I was introduced to her three housemates. It was already late and so we chatted for a bit and then turned in. The next morning I walked with Mallory to visit Monica, a good friend from my time as an intern at EMI. She used to work at EMI, but similar to Matt became involved in the community of Doors and now works for them as a farm manager. I met Othy in town at around noon and we went spent the day running errands until the early evening when we went together to Doors for their worship night. Once again I got an unusual set of instructions and my phone was out of battery. We got lost on the way because I didn’t know where the turnoff was to a specific resort (after which we were supposed to look out for three palm trees… typical Kampala instructions!). Othy let me charge my phone a bit with his computer and we figured it out in the end (and I don’t think I will forget again)! The Doors school was as packed full with people as I had ever seen it. It is amazing how God has grown this ministry over the years! To see how they are bringing God’s kingdom to Kampala, check out their ministry website and blog.

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Finally came the day for me to leave! Othy and I went to Watoto church, and then hired a driver in the early afternoon to take us to the airport in Entebbe. We had some time to spare and so I took Othy to Anna’s Corner, the place Jon and Lauren took me to before flying out on my last visit. We learned that Sunday nights are salsa nights when a couple turned on some music and began dancing nearby! Othy’s brother who studies in Entebbe later came to join us. Then it was time for me to go and catch my flight! My time in Uganda and Congo had felt so long and short at the same time. When people asked me after returning home how the trip went, my most common response was that the trip was wonderfully full of good people and experiences. I don’t think I had ever packed in so much before! I am thankful to God for directing my path and keeping me safe. Next stop…. the Netherlands!

November 21, 2016

Visit to Butembo

The main purpose of going to Butembo was to visit Othy’s family. I was also interested in seeing a bigger city in North Kivu. The journey took about two hours down a winding bumpy dirt road. We stopped on the way at a place called Panorama that offered a magnificent view of the hills and savannah (Othy informed me that the treed areas in this region are not forests… go to central Congo and that’s where you find real, dense forest!). Othy directed us to a hotel called Auberge Butembo because it isn’t far from where his family lives. After dropping off my bags we went to Othy’s family’s home where I met his grandmothers, parents, and most of his siblings all at once! It was a bit overwhelming, but I think it helped that I was in a go-with-the-flow mentality. They were very warm and welcoming, though there was a bit of a language divide. I had fun trying to string together sentences from my very limited Swahili! We shared lunch together and then in the afternoon Othy and I went to a wedding of a family friend. We accidentally went to the wrong service (there was more then one at the same church that day and we read the time wrong!), but we did manage to find the bride and groom where they were taking photos and then we went to the reception. This was my second experience of a Congolese wedding and so I was already familiar with some of the traditions. One main difference from weddings in Canada is that there are more formalities at the reception that are performed before the dinner begins. One interesting one is that the bride and groom offer cooked chicken quarters one at a time to people that they want to recognize and appreciate. There is also a time when people come forward and bring their gifts/monetary contributions for the couple. A Congolese wedding is also full of music and dance! There was a beautiful performance of traditional ethnic dance that I very much enjoyed. Even though we left the reception quite early (around 8pm), I was absolutely drained and Othy could tell! He brought me back to the hotel and I went to sleep very early!

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The next day Othy, his sister, his cousin, and I went to church together only to find that the sanctuary was full. So we went instead to visit with his aunt and cousins who live nearby the church. After that Othy surprised me by driving us to one of the high areas of Butembo so that I could get a view down over the city. It was a beautiful view and also reveals how big and spread out Butembo is! It is like a gigantic village because all but one of the roads are unpaved and there are no high rise buildings despite having a population of over one million people! While we were walking around and taking photos we had a bit of an audience of curious children who were wondering what we were doing! I got compliments on my skirt from some ladies nearby (it was the bottom part of a dress that Othy gave me the day prior). Apparently I dress way better than most foreigners (meaning more Congolese)! Next we went to a restaurant where we met up with a few of Othy’s friends. We ordered drinks and food and I listened intently trying to understand the group as they dove into political discussions in fast-paced french! I probably got about half of the conversation! Our last stop of the day was to visit another family friend. I learned a bit about Congolese hospitality when what was supposed to be a quick mid-afternoon visit turned into a longer stay that included dinner! Othy and I had intended to go back to Beni that very evening, but in not wanting to rudely refuse our host’s generous offer of hospitality, we decided to postpone our journey until the next morning. Again by 8pm I was absolutely exhausted! The following morning I said my farewells to his family, we stopped in for a short visit to his older sister’s place, and then headed back to Beni. Othy’s parents provided me with a bag of delicious fruits and avocados to take with me, and I discovered upon arriving back at Jessica and Mary’s that they had also given me a live chicken that had ridden the whole way in the trunk!

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I only had one day in Beni before heading with Othy back to Uganda. In the morning I visited my friend Bethany who I knew from my first visit to Beni with EMI. It was wonderful to catch up and also meet her two daughters. I then went to UCBC to catch the last hour of the first day of “UCBC for You” that was a program for the faculty that reflected on understanding and improving bilingual education at the university. I was interested in getting a taste of the discussion, and it was also a way for me to say goodbye to many of my friends and colleagues at the same time. That evening Jessica, Matt, and I went to Othy’s house for a jamb/worship session. We ate some Congolese street food that consists of grilled meat and onions served with fermented cassava. It was tasty! Hanging out with good friends was a nice way to conclude my time in Beni!

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November 12, 2016

Back to Beni

The drive to Beni was smooth and I enjoyed traveling in the company of Jessica and Mary. My short stay in Beni was heavier emotionally than my more care-free time in Uganda.  The day previous to our departure I received a text from Othy saying that there was panic in Beni. Several hours later he texted me that it was a false alarm. Word was that two soldiers who were out of uniform were drinking and took a few shots into the air, causing people to flee in fear that there was an attack underway. Even though it did not turn out to be an attack, we learned upon our arrival that in the chaos several people died and children were misplaced. It broke my heart to hear of such a needless event. It all comes from the deep fear that people feel by not having any form of protection by the government or the UN. I can’t even imagine not feeling safe in my home or neighbourhood. Nevertheless, life goes on in Beni. When I was there things felt pretty normal. I only felt the tension, frustration, and sadness when I started talking to people. I think that everybody by now has lost a friend or loved one in the events of the last two years.

We arrived in Beni in the late afternoon, and since we had no desire to cook, Mary and Jessica decided to take me to Ishango, a new restaurant/bar establishment developed and designed by our mutual friend Leon. The place has a great atmosphere! The program surrounds an open courtyard with picnic tables and bright pillows. There is also a Cafe Kivu tucked in the corner with a nice work/study area. We sat in the courtyard and enjoyed a delicious pizza! The following day I headed to UCBC to begin consulting on their two mapping projects that are underway: Sharing The Land (STL) and Agribusiness. Mary and Jessica just recently purchased a vehicle and so we were able to drive to the school. I should mention that Beni has recently introduced several sets of speed bumps on the one paved road in the city… or perhaps I should say “speed ruts” because most of them are indents in the road instead of bumps. The contractors must have gotten carried away because the indents are so big that they are dangerous! Mary informed us that there had already been a few accidents, particularly for moto drivers. So you can guess that we drove very cautiously whenever we were on the main road! Mostly we laughed about it because it isn’t the first interesting urban initiative that has been implimented in Beni (the last being helmets). On the way to the school I was introduced to Matt who carpooled with us. He is staff with EMI and is managing the construction on the community center that has made significant progress. I found out that IRI was temporarily occupying one of four finished classrooms and that is where I spent most of my week. I met Kyle who is the director of IRI and was reunited with Serge and Juhudi who were involved as volunteers back when the BeniAtlas project was launched. It felt good to be there again and I jumped right into learning where the projects were at and planning out what I could offer with my time for that week. The week passed far too quickly but I managed to consult at several meetings, refined and updated a tool catelogue, created a procedures document, and developed the BeniAtlas website further.

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Ishango

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Beni’s speed ruts…

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Completed classrooms

On the Tuesday evening Jon and Kate invited all of the international staff over for a dinner of Congo-style tacos. Our gathering was the day after the first debate and so we watched some of it on Mary’s small phone because no one else was able to connect! It was interesting to hear their views on the American election (they were for Hillary… if they haaaad to choose one…). The debate was bizzare to say the least. Hillary was stiff but at least she knew her facts. Trump was like a child and all that came out of his mouth was broad generalizations. After the first half hour we had already had enough and knew that the rest would be very much the same! On Thursday Othy returned and we had two nice evenings, one spent with Mary and Jessica over dinner at their home, and the other at the Albertine with Jessica and Matt. Jessica and I realized it was one week until Canadian thanksgiving and we recalled that we had celebrated Canadian thanksgiving at the Albertine two years ago. We therefore attempted to recreate the photo that we took last time so that we could share it with Lauren! The next morning Othy and I headed off to Butembo!

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Sunset on the drive to Jon and Kate’s

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Canadian Thanksgiving… Albertine style!

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November 2, 2016

Uganda Congo Trip 3.0

From mid September until mid October I took a three week trip to Uganda and Congo. The main purpose of my journey was to visit my boyfriend Othy but I also decided to pair it with consulting on the mapping projects that I helped to launch two years ago with the IRI at UCBC. It also felt like a big deal because I took one month leave from my job to do it! But after communicating over long distance with Othy for so long, the time had come to go there! I was thankful that the process of obtaining a visa for Congo went smoothly. I went on the trip with the knowledge that I might not even get to go there despite getting the visa because of insecurity in the region in recent months. Our back up plan was that if I could not travel to Congo, we would spend the entire time in Uganda.

Upon arriving in Entebbe very late on Sunday night I had my first funny moment when my friend Steve from EMI who had offered to host me forgot to pick me up at the airport! Luckily Othy had just arrived in Kampala and I called him with the phone of a taxi driver! I took a taxi into Kampala, met Othy, and we found a hotel for me for that first night. The first few days in Uganda were spent hanging around the apartment of the friend where Othy was staying, or else going on errands or visiting people in and around the city. It felt good to be reunited with Othy and to spend time together! On Wednesday I took Othy to visit and have lunch at the new EMI office in Kajjansi. It was so great to reconnect with the few people I still know there (Phil in particular!) and also see their wonderful new facilities. I saw Steve and he insisted to pay the cost of my first night at the hotel because he felt so bad about forgetting to pick me up! Phil gave us a tour of the office and Othy and I were both impressed by the construction and feel of the space. I left the office a big bag of M&Ms because I know from my time living in Kampala that chocolate is scarce!

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Reunited!

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EMI office

After that first night at the hotel I was couch-surfing with a Ugandan family in Ggaba for five nights. I had decided to couch-surf already before leaving on the trip and was pleasantly surprised to find a large number of hosts in Uganda. I chose to stay with a Ugandan guy named Paul who is married and has two little girls. He was fun to surf with because he is down to earth, is an entrepreneur who is full of ideas, and has hosted people from around the world for many years already. I enjoyed talking with him and his wife and interacting with their kids. On my final day in Ggaba I walked the short fifteen minutes down to Lake Victoria to see the market and the view of the lake and also to buy fresh fish fillets. I picked out a tilapia fish and then they filleted it in front of me! We ate the fish with rice that night.

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Couch-surfing hosts

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Lake Victoria

Similar to my last trip to Congo, there was some good timing because of overlap with the travel plans of some friends and colleagues. It so happened that my friend Jessica was in Kampala to run some errands and so on Thursday Othy and I met up with her at Acacia mall for lunch. She informed us that Mary was also arriving in Entebbe and that they were planning to travel to Congo together on the Sunday and that we could join them. Othy decided that he needed to go to Beni early to help out a friend, and so we agreed that I would join Mary and Jessica.  My final night of my first week in Uganda I spent at the EMI intern house in Kajjansi. I hired a driver to bring me down from Kampala because I still had a lot of bags. I had brought very few personal belongings on the trip, but was on a mission to deliver two bags full of gifts to the families of two friends I know from Toronto! At the intern house I got to reconnect with Maggie who is the office grandma and who I knew from my time as an intern. I also gave Brittany, my former EMI mentor, a call, and we went out for dinner with the two current interns. We went to the restaurant at a place called Malakai Eco Lodge. It was typical Ugandan in that it was located in what felt like the middle of nowhere down a bumpy dirt road, but then upon entering you discover a mini paradise. Brittany described it to me as coming straight out of “Alice in Wonderland” and she was totally right! The place had an other worldly, mad hatter feel with gigantic orange chairs, ornate rugs, hedges, island pavilions, and yes…. a giant glowing mushroom.

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The next morning I was up at 5am to pull my things together for the next leg of the journey: It was time to head back to Beni! That about sums up the first week of my trip that was spent in Uganda!