Posts tagged ‘eMi’

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!



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.



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 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.




Beni’s speed ruts…


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!


Sunset on the drive to Jon and Kate’s


Canadian Thanksgiving… Albertine style!


August 15, 2015

Elisabeth and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Air Travel Experience

So I have to share this story because after the fact I can’t help but laugh about it and want to remember what happened. It all started when I was packing my carry-on suitcase at my parents house before leaving for Nepal. They both warned me that my suitcase might be too heavy. I shrugged them off because I had flown many times, and no one ever weighed my carry-on. Off I went on my journey from Toronto to Chicago, to Abu Dhabi, and finally Kathmandu. Everything went smoothly until I got to Chicago. Yup, all of my problems occurred in the US. I arrived very early to my gate because I had a five hour layover. They were asking everyone to go up to the desk to verify peoples’ passports. This is where I made my only mistake…. I went up to the desk…. early. I should have known that the clerks would be bored and would target me. They weighed my bag and low and behold it was almost double the meager 7kg limit. They told me I would have to check it for an additional fee. Luckily I knew I was allowed two checked bags (I’m sure they wouldn’t have informed me of this if I didn’t know). I asked them to please please reconsider because I was going to be doing disaster response and could not afford to loose the bag. The male clerk responded by saying that it would not get lost. I asked how he could be so sure. I transferred a few necessities from the suitcase into my purse, and grudgingly let them take it. Then I got to sit back down and watch bitterly as the gate got busier and they didn’t weigh anyone else’s bags that were certainly just as heavy as mine. Then I got on the plane to discover that the flight was far from full!

Fast-forward to Kathmandu. There we were waiting at the baggage carousel and, low and behold, my carry-on suitcase was nowhere to be found! The following week was a lesson in patience and willingness to ask others for help and accept their generosity. Since the baggage claim folks in Kathmandu weren’t being very helpful, I called Abu Dhabi and, after a half hour of listening to the “sparkly” Etihad theme song, I finally got through and located my bag, which for some reason had not been loaded in Abu Dhabi. Even though it arrived in three days, I didn’t get it until a week later since we were away in Makwanpur for the field research. I borrowed shampoo, soap, hiking boots, a rain coat, a notebook, phone charger, and some drafting stuff!

The rest of the trip went smoothly but on the journey home I had another, far worse experience. I think that I had food poisoning from something I ate on the first flight from Kathmandu to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi I was feeling queasy, but since we were flying to the US, instead of having time to rest we had to go through US customs and then a long line of security (if I had been flying to Toronto I would have avoided all of that). What made it worse was that there was no washroom near the customs and security queue. I had to walk 300 meters to get to a bathroom and then by the time I was back at the line I needed to go again. I’m glad that my colleague Dan had gone ahead of me in line at that point. I knew I was going to be sick soon and so I asked a nearby attendant if I could fast track through security some how. She said I had to go back to the far washroom. I didn’t have that much time. A few minutes later I puked on the ground in the customs line. I felt better for a little while and so kept going, but then puked again right before putting my suitcase on the security conveyor belt. It was so embarrassing! An attendant at security wanted to direct me back to the far washroom but I put my foot down and told him I had come all this way and I was going to go through security and go to the washroom that was immediately on the other side! After that I felt okay again. I didn’t feel bad at all about the mess because they deserved it for the poor airport design! Luckily I had some water tablets so that I could rehydrate myself. They wanted me to wait until a medical team came and checked me out, but no one came and so I left for the gate. Later at the gate the same attendant was there and he held my passport because he wanted me checked out before getting on the plane! The medical team was apparently too busy (I think there were other cases of people being sick) and so eventually they let me go after I told them it had been two hours since I was sick and I was able to hold down water. I’m so thankful they let me on the plane; I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise!

I stuck to bread and crackers on the following flight and was fine. The next problem that arose was that I had a bout of restless leg syndrome that I get on rare occasions, usually because of low iron levels. I had never had it on a plane before though and it was horrible. I could not sit still for the life of me and so for the next sixteen hours I was shifting positions, doing stretches in my seat, standing up and walking up and down the aisle, and going to the lavatory for the sole purpose of doing squats. I am usually a big fan of window seats, but I am so thankful that I was on the aisle and had no one sitting next to me! Because of my restless legs I couldn’t sleep even though I was completely exhausted. It was the worst flight and longest 16 hours I have ever experienced!

Finally we arrived in Chicago, and upon exiting the plane, who was giving directions for transfers but the same attendant who made me check my carry-on thirteen days prior. I wasn’t going to say anything, but he recognized me and asked how the trip went. I told him that my carry-on did not arrive and he said he was so sorry. As we walked away, Dan and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Dan commented on how this was the moment of closure for the whole saga. I am thankful that despite the terrible air travel experience, I made it to and from Nepal safely. This experience gets to be added to my suite of memorable travel stories!

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August 6, 2015

Final Days in Nepal

The final days in Nepal were a bit of a blur as we switched into deadline mode to produce a draft of the training guide to present before we left. I hand-drew all of the drawings, scanned them, and then added the text and dimensions in InDesign. It was fun to draw by hand after so long! It also allowed me to produce the drawings fairly quickly. I drew mostly in isometric so that people unfamiliar with technical drawings would be able to understand the details. On Wednesday afternoon we presented, and that same evening we caught our flight home. Photograph of table covered in drawings

Team photo on the roof of Tearfund HQ: Howard, Dan, and myself

August 5, 2015

Patan Durbar Square

On Sunday we took a day off. In the morning we went to the same international church we had gone to the week before. During the service, a Napali pastor came and shared about a ministry for the blind, and a group of blind people performed traditional Napali music for the congregation. For the first two songs they played a harmonium (like an accordion but set on the floor) in a style I’ve never heard played before, and for the final song played a traditional stringed instrument called a Sarangi. The music was beautiful!

In the afternoon we grabbed lunch and then went to see a few sights and do some shopping.  Ben generously offered to be our tour guide! We chose to go and see Patan Durbar Square and then go to the Thamel district. Patan Durbar Square is at the centre of Lalitpur city, one of the three kingdoms that were situated in the Kathmandu valley. The square is full of Newa architecture, which is an indigenous style of building used by the Newari people in that region. The style is marked by intricate brickwork and wood carvings and is typical only to Nepal. I haven’t seen such beautiful architectural scale carvings in my life! Some of the temples had a similar style and then others were in what is known as Shikhara style and built out of stone. Two of the temples had completely collapsed during the earthquake, and the others were significantly damaged. There is also a palace in the square that was converted into a museum. Inside the courtyard there were a collection of carved windows and brackets that came from the collapsed temples and other buildings. We went to a cafe that had a rooftop terrace where we could sit and look over the square. Afterwards we walked some of the backstreets. I was kind of amazed by how many shops there were that sold all of the same brass plated hindu and buddhist statues and other symbology and wondered out how they all stayed in business! The streets were narrow and other temples could be found on street corners. Many of the buildings had the same style of carved windows, doors, lattices, and large overhands with carved brackets.

After wandering around the backstreets we grabbed a taxi to the Thamel district. It is the tourist shopping area and is an interesting mix of mountain equipment, souvenir, and clothing shops. Howard bought a small “khukuri” knife that is a type of knife still used by the Gurkha regiments in Nepal and around the world. I found myself a lapel pin of the Nepali flag to add to my collection. We went on a bit of a goose chase wandering through town to find a square by a fountain were Ben remembered a group of merchants sold yak wool blankets. We asked for directions a few times and were led a little astray, but I didn’t mind one bit because we entered a neighbourhood that seemed to be the hub of local activity. The streets were so narrow and there were so many people in this area that few cars passed through. We did find the square in the end and I bought a yak wool shawl. I also came across a wonderful shop that sold paper of all kinds. I bought several large sheets that included plain paper, traditional stamped patterns, leaf prints, and embedded flowers. I think the total I spent on all of the sheets was the equivalent of $3.50. I was hoping to find carved wood window frames or the traditional trousers that the Nepali women wear, but unfortunately we ran out of time and I don’t think the guys were as interested in shopping as I was! We had experienced so much in just one afternoon! I hope that there will be another opportunity for me to visit Nepal and have some time to explore Kathmandu and the surrounding region. The textures and historical layers and surprises reminded me somewhat of Rome. I could spend weeks walking the streets of Kathmandu and taking in the architecture, culture, and general activity! IMG_1554








July 29, 2015


Above the cloudsOn the fourth day of the trip it was time to split up with the engineers for a time. I went back to Kathmandu to get a head start on the drawings while they went to a region called Dhading to do market research and look at more houses. On the drive back it was still quite cloudy and we got a magnificent view of clouds gathering above and below us. So even though I didn’t get a glimpse of the Himalayas on this trip because in monsoon season it is rarely clear enough, I was put in awe by the clouds. As we got closer to Kathmandu the drive felt a bit like a video game as we cut in and out to pass large, slow moving trucks on the twisty road. Back at Tearfund headquarters I put together a makeshift desk and began producing rough drafts of the drawings. It was fun to hand draw after such a long time!


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July 28, 2015

Day 4: Agra

On our third and final day in the field we visited a region called Agra. This time we were a bigger group because Rita, Tearfund’s new shelter advisor, joined us. It was another journey down a narrow, bumpy, and curvy road. On our way there we drove into a cloud. While we walked around the sun would occasionally find its way through, but for most of our visit we remained inside the fog. At times it gave an eery feeling to the surroundings, especially when we came upon the ruins of a house. Once again we were welcomed by the people we met. The people kept wanting us to go further to see more houses, and eventually I think half the village were following us down the hillside!


Photograph of villagers following the team down the hill

Photo by Ben Keenan

We left early from the field because the wind started to pick up and the fog was getting wet. It was possible that rain could create bad road conditions. Getting back to Palung early afforded us some time to develop the list of drawings we thought needed to be included in the manual. It was a challenge to stay within our original scope so that we could accomplish the work in the week we had left!

Photograph of EMI team working at the hotel upon returning to Palung

Photo by Ben Keenan

New experiences:

– I ate a peach and pieces of pear (naspati: it tasted like a cross between an apple and a pear) that were offered to us by some of the villagers. Even though I knew I might regret it later, I decided to accept and eat them. Lo and behold I had some indigestion later on as a result.

– I learned how to say thank you in Napali, which is “Dahn-ya-bahd”. The group quickly came across a great way to remember how to say it: “Dan ya bad”. Dan wasn’t such a fan of this discovery and we would jokingly remind him of it for the rest of the trip!

July 26, 2015

Day 3: Tistung

The following day we headed out to Tistung, another region where Tearfund has beneficiaries. This region was a bit more out of the way and we needed to take a narrow dirt road that wound up the foothills. In some areas the houses showed significant cracking and so even though they were still standing, people were not living in them since another earthquake could bring them down. In other areas the houses were completely collapsed, probably because the forces of the earthquake were greater in those areas. The people we met were very welcoming and eager to show us their homes and share their stories. We found out that the earthquake actually happened during the day on a Saturday which was probably the best possible time since most people were not in their homes. We began taking note of common characteristics across the traditional houses that would inform the training guide. On our way back to Palung we stopped to see a waterfall and a small footbridge that were near the road. We encountered a woman shepherding a herd of goats across the bridge.

All of the houses are built on the hillside

All of the houses are built on the hillside

Proof that the guys were working very hard! On this house the outside wythe delaminated from the inside, something that through stones would help to prevent

Proof that the guys were working very hard! On this house the outside wythe delaminated from the inside, something that through stones would help to prevent

An image that shows how life goes on in the midst of calamity

An image that shows how life goes on in the midst of calamity

Photo by Ben Keenan

Photo by Ben Keenan


July 17, 2015

Day 2: Palung


Early in the morning on our second day we left Kathmandu and drove three hours south-west to a town called Palung. After getting out of the bad Kathmandu air the drive was very nice. The road curved out of the valley and twisted and turned through the foothills offering amazing views of the tree-covered hills and stepped farm terraces. On the way there we stopped at a cluster of houses on the roadside to begin our task of studying how they were originally designed, how they failed structurally, and what peoples’ plans are for rebuilding. The destruction was hard to see. We learned quickly that people are fearful of rebuilding with stone. It is unfortunate since stone homes can be earthquake resistant if built properly. Stone is also a free material, people have a large amount of experience building with it, and it is also suitable to the Nepal climate. People are considering building out of timber and corrugated metal sheets for the roof and walls, but it would do little to protect against the elements and would probably only last a year or two. Tearfund has quite the task ahead of educating the builders and homeowners about the improvements that can be made to stone masonry construction. The goal for our team will be to make the manual as comprehensive as possible and communicate the key elements of the building that need be addressed.

House that second story was being rebuilt out of wood

House that second story was being rebuilt out of wood

New experiences:

– I came across a gigantic cockroach in my hotel room.

– In Palung we had the traditional Napali cuisine of rice and dal (lentil soup). It was delicious and very spicy!

Rice and dal

Rice and dal

View of Palung from the Shankar Hotel

View of Palung from the Shankar Hotel

July 15, 2015

Disaster Response

I can hardly believe that I am writing this post from Nepal. I arrived late Saturday night after a long flight with stopovers in Chicago and Abu Dhabi. If you asked me a month ago what I would be doing in mid-July, this would not have been my guess. The opportunity came last-minute when I received an e-mail from Engineering Ministries International (EMI), an organization I have worked with in the past, calling for volunteers for a Disaster Response (DR) trip to Nepal. I was on the DR e-mail list because I did DR training at EMI’s ACDP Conference (Association for Christian Design Professionals) back in 2012. Since I had finished school, I decided to respond with my availability. I flew out two weeks after finding out I would be going on the trip. During those two weeks I did a lot of research into stone masonry construction. I am in a team with a project leader and structural engineer to propose improved construction methods for a housing rebuilding project that is being implemented by an organization called Tearfund. The issue that we are addressing is that people are already starting to rebuild their homes, but are often using the same methods as before. We intend to propose very simple solutions that work with their current methods to make their homes more earthquake resistant. We will develop a manual that will be provided in training to local builders and homeowners.

We spent Sunday in Kathmandu at the Tearfund headquarters. We went to an international church in the morning (apparently Nepali Christians worship on Saturday) and then met in the afternoon with the Tearfund representatives to plan out the next several days. On Monday morning we drove three hours to the Makwanpur region where we are spending a few days to study materials, costs, current building methods, and where the houses failed. Please continue to pray for safe travels, good health, and effective work and interactions. I pray that even though we are doing very physical work and won’t have time to develop deep relationships, that through our actions people will experience God’s grace. I look forward to updating you on how the trip goes! If you are interested in learning more about EMI or supporting them, check out their disaster response page on their main website.

View of Kathmandu on the drive out of the city

View of Kathmandu on the drive out of the city