Posts tagged ‘Uganda’

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!




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.


Couch-surfing hosts


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.


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!

January 6, 2015

Layover Jaunt to Amsterdam

On my way home to Canada before Christmas, I had an eight hour layover at the Schipol airport in Amsterdam and so decided to go for a quick jaunt into the city. Even if I could only be there for an hour or two because of the time in transit, it would still be better than sitting for hours in the airport. My only pair of shoes were left in Beni so I sported socks and sandals with my winter running jacket. The thing I didn’t really count on was how late the sun rises and how late the old town wakes up. At first I thought I had the time wrong because it was seven thirty and the city was dark and deserted. I walked into the old town in search of a cafe only to discover that most cafes don’t open until 10. It was strange to be surrounded by dense infrastructure again! Right when I was at the point of deciding to give up and go back to the station, I finally came across a cafe that was open. The place had a great atmosphere. One architectural detail I was very pleased about was a foot rest at the bar that was also a radiator pipe. I warmed my feet while munching a fresh croissant and sipping a cappuccino. I hung around for an hour and then already had to head back. At nine I was already waiting for the train to go back and finally saw the sun rise! It was a wonderful jaunt that reminded me of the many times I have enjoyed travelling alone in Europe.

Deserted Streets


Proof that I made it as far as the Torensluis

Proof that I made it as far as the Torensluis

Sunrise over Amsterdam

January 4, 2015

I’m gonna miss these guys…

I had the “baaaaaaddest” time with these guys when they were in Kampala. Even though it was two weeks of intensive training, we still found some time to just hang out. One treat was going out to see the Hobbit in 3D!Archip

At the movies

Posing on the Roof

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January 3, 2015

10,000 Reasons

It’s funny how memories are often tied to songs. My time in Uganda and DRC had the theme song 10,000 Reasons. I kept hearing it again and again while I was there like an anthem, and how appropriate it was for the circumstances. It was six year old Graham’s favourite song and he would often sing it.

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes


You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find


And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name


Matt Redman, Kingsway Music




“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!”

– Psalm 103

January 3, 2015

Prayer of Serenity

I’ve been putting off this post because frankly it’s easier to write about the fun things I did in Uganda than about the hard times. I want to share the challenges though because they are an important part of the story and grew me in many ways. I’ve been slowly adding to this post over the course of two months, and now I’m finally publishing it even though I am already home in Canada. It’s probably one of the most difficult posts I’ve written.

These past weeks/months have been quite an emotional roller-coaster. I have felt great joy and great sadness; great hope and great discouragement. This journey began when I decided last year that I would pursue thesis research in the DR Congo. Even though I could do a simple architectural project, I decided that if I was going to spend this time to do a thesis, then I would take it as a chance to learn something new and do something with physical impact. My interest in the DRC came from when I was there two years ago and began pondering on the question of what design could offer that community. My preliminary research lead me to mapping as a key design and communication tool to impact positive change in a community. I saw God working in many of the logistics that followed. I reached out to see if UCBC would be interested in partnering in the research and it fit well with their own schedule and ambitions. Finances were working out because I was given a scholarship from Waterloo and my tax return covered my plane ticket. All of the doors were opening to make this research happen.

Then two weeks before I was supposed to leave the doors began closing. My university informed me last minute that they could not support travel to a region with a level four travel advisory. My heart was breaking because I had already invested a year in the research and this trip was the crux of it. I decided that I would pursue the research whether or not it could be counted as work for Waterloo. I got on the plane uncertain of what direction the research would take and whether or not I would have to withdraw from the program. I held so much resentment inside because I had never felt so rejected before and so powerless to do anything. All I could do was submit a lengthy grievance and hope that this mammoth institution would even take a second glance at it. In the meantime I lost my OSAP funding and the scholarship that I was supposed to receive for the international experience; I would be riding out limited funds for the next four months.

Arriving in Kampala and then in Beni felt a bit like coming home. I settled in very quickly and already on the second day I jumped into some field research that a team of students were already doing in Beni. I could once again see a purpose to being in this place. The following weeks were an incredible blessing. The students were very interested in the project, I received a small sum of funding from one of the research institute’s grants to cover logistical costs for the mapping (because I was no longer receiving funds from Waterloo), and even the mayor of Beni was on board. In mid-October we devoted four days to completing the greater part of the data collection for the base-map. In rainy season it normally rains every day in Beni, but miraculously we had four days with no rain so that we could maximize the time in the field.

Then the next wave of challenges came. I was still pursuing my ethics application with Waterloo for the field research because I was expecting that my grievance challenge could be accepted and that I might still be permitted to continue with the research; however, Waterloo International tipped off the ethics board about my situation and they put up the red flag stating that it was high risk research and needed to be reviewed by a sub-committee. This was two months after I had submitted my original application and after I had gone to a personal consultation and gone through two rounds of reviews. The subcommittee reviewed my application and tore it to shreds. They wanted to find things wrong with it and so they jumped to many false conclusions in the attempt to justify their decision. It was another low move from the university and made me lose all hope for the institution.

Another challenge was a petrol strike that began in Beni the week we started work on the base-map. Moto fares were quickly rising even while we were doing data collection, and near the end we were paying double to get the volunteers around town. My patience was tried as electricity was off much more often, which caused our work to slow down. At about the same time the first attacks began several kilometers north of the city. I remember that on the day of the first attack a colleague told me that I should get home before five. The reason was because a wave of refugees were coming to the city for safety, and many of them were gathering at an intersection I had to pass through to get home. I was never in any danger from an attack; I lived in a secure compound and the violence was directed at vulnerable civilians in villages outside of the city. The bigger danger for international staff was in the resulting tension in town and the negative feelings towards the UN because of their perceived inaction. The international staff at UCBC had a few very difficult meetings to discuss whether or not to leave. We came to the decision that it was important to stick together and that it would be good to leave for a week even just to recuperate from the stress. I was one of the few who wanted to stay. I think deep down I knew that if we left we would not be coming back. Once again I felt like I was being tossed around by the waves with no choice but to let them carry me.

My intuition proved correct. What was originally considered an isolated set of incidences began to reveal itself as a pattern of events with deep political motives. One week turned into two, two turned into four, and four turned into eight weeks away in Uganda. The first weeks were mentally exhausting as we went through a cycle of preparing to go back and then being disappointed when something else happened and we were advised to stay away longer. It was difficult to hear bad news from Beni and be unable to be physically present to share the burden with our friends and colleagues there. Even though we are brothers and sisters in Christ, as north americans we were set apart because of liability issues. Another struggle was to have the desire to serve people there but feel an equal responsibility to friends and family back home. I went through a time of being mad at God. Since the moment I began contemplating doing work in this place I have prayed for peace there. God promises so many good things for his children; why can’t he make his glory known in this place? I’ve always been an initiator and someone who is not afraid to take action, but in this case I was helpless and there was nothing I could do. I’ve never felt as restless in my life as I did in those few weeks. I felt trapped and useless and it was discouraging to think of how much work it takes to build something up and then how easily it can be torn down.

There were small moments of blessing and joy in the midst of the discouragement. My time in Uganda was not wasted. I spent some of the days learning how to fly the quadrocopter drone that the research institute had purchased for GIS research so that I could later teach others how to use it. I also spent a significant amount of time developing the Beni Atlas website, something that I thought I wouldn’t do until I was back home. It was a blessing to live in community with the other UCBC international staff. I learned how to pray in community as we gathered and prayed for Beni every morning and evening.  I feel like everyone in the group had something to teach me: Mary taught me wisdom and facilitation; Jon taught me leadership and connectivity; Kate taught me love and servanthood; the kids taught me imagination and truthfulness; Jessica taught me devotion and encouragement; Lauren taught me sincerity and thoughtfulness. I learned what it meant to accept the things that I couldn’t change but to intentionally do the small (and yet significant) things that I could – like pray, or give a word of encouragement. I realized how selfish it was to have my own plans so central in my perspective when God’s plans are all encompassing.

Another blessing was to have Othy and Archip come join us in Kampala for intensive training when I reached the point of knowing that I would not be going back to Beni. I was teaching them but at the same time learned so much from them. These two guys taught me passion, joy, and hope. Despite growing up in challenging circumstances they persevered by God’s grace. I am excited for what the future holds for these two. If everyone in Congo had as much hope and initiative as these two, there would be peace tomorrow! Even though I didn’t accomplish all of the physical objectives I had originally set, I am content knowing that the most important objective was met, which was to equip people at UCBC and to develop a partnership that can continue past this point. I finally felt some peace about the changes to my thesis research and the situation with the university.

It felt like this project was quite literally attacked on all sides. One final blow came when I had already arrived home in Canada. When Othy and Archip were on the way back to Beni by bus, the backpack with all of the GIS equipment got stolen. The GIS computer, external hard-drive, Archip’s passport, and other money and valuables were lost. What was worse is that when they stopped at a checkpoint and Archip didn’t have his ID, the police arrested him. We found out later that he had been left out in the rain, put in prison,  and mistreated by the guards and other detainees. He received some physical injury, but God kept Archip safe and he was released and made it home safely the next day. Mary describes more about what happened in a post entitled “In all, we bless the Lord”. It is true that there is no way to understand what has happened, not just for this incident but this whole story, however we must continue to hold fast to God’s promises. That’s why I think it is important to tell the story: because through it we can bless others with our testimony. Archip and Othy are back in Beni and have not lost one bit of stamina. Their hope is in the Lord and they are continuing to persevere for His kingdom here and now in Congo.


Prayer of Serenity:

God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference



December 23, 2014

Unastahili Kuwabudiwa

Climbing the Water Tank


Unastahili kuwabudiwa

Unastahili ewe yesu

Unastahili kuwabudiwa

Unastahili e

You are worthy to be praised

Worthy O Jesus

You are worthy to be praised


December 22, 2014

Jessica Pizza

One evening our Kampala family went out for pizza at an Italian restaurant beside Village Mall in Bugoloobi. Walking to catch the matatu was fun because we passed a herd of steers, which is so typical Kampala! The entrance to the restaurant was a bit obscure (it looked like a bus stop on the street), but then it descended into a wonderful little oasis of gardens with seating and stage areas. There was a really awesome stage that was in the shape of a sailing ship. It was clad in small bricks and built around two palm trees that served as the masts. The kids are really into pirates and had a fun time playing on it! When we looked at the menu we discovered that there was a “Jessica” pizza, which made us think of our colleague who recently departed to the US. Of course Archip decided to order it and we had to take a photo! We were missing you Jessica!

Lauren and Gloria

Lauren and Gloria

Port Bell

Pirate Ship

Lauren, Archip, and the "Jessica" pizza

Lauren, Archip, and the “Jessica” pizza

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December 20, 2014

Around Kampala

Lauren and I spent a Sunday afternoon hanging out with Othy, Archip, Sagesse, and Kevin. We lazed around and watched movies, then went to town and grabbed dinner and watched a basketball game. Those are the best kind of Sunday afternoons!With the guys

Ice creamNapkin hat

Hanging out

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December 13, 2014

Abandoned House

Behind the wallDuring my time in Kampala I have been living with the other UCBC international staff in a house that we found on AirB&B. It is owned by a really friendly German man named Klaus who lives in one part of the house and rents out the rest at a very affordable rate. It has been a great place to live because it was able to accommodate Othy and Archip when they joined us for the last two weeks. We are in the neighbourhood of Port Bell which is a quiet peninsula on Lake Victoria. Port Bell is an interesting area because there are many large houses that were built in the colonial period but since then have been abandoned. There is one particular house that is a few doors down from us that I find particularly beautiful. The house is white and has a very modern style. Walking by it often looks deserted and the gate is always open but at times you can hear kids playing inside and see laundry hanging out to dry. My guess is that squatters have settled into the house. Finally the other day when Othy, Archip and I needed a break from working on our computers, we decided to go for a walk and try to get in and take photographs of the place. I knew that if I didn’t try that I would regret it! When we went in the compound we saw a group of children sitting in the grass. We asked the eldest girl if she would be willing to show us around and she obliged. We didn’t know this from the outside, but the house is actually a group of apartments (or hotel/guesthouse) with a communal area on the main floor. Structurally the house is sound but there is a lot of water damage. The curved wing is still inhabited by families and the other side is empty. There is access to the roof that opens up to an amazing view of the lake!

Front View

The building has two wings: one with a single and the other with a double loaded corridor. The single corridor has nice brick lattice openings off of the hallway. The units in that wing fan out in a curve that opens up towards the lake view. On the other wing a series of bachelor units project out from the form. They are single rooms with with large glass sliding doors opening to covered balconies. I like that the units that face the street are raised to a level to see above the wall of the compound.

Cracked Paint

The center window that lights up the stairwell

Patio Front Patio opening up to a yard in the back

Public Hallway SpaceThe corridor between the units is very spacious and I can imagine it being used as a communal space. It is also lit by another open lattice and transparent corrugated roofing.


When on this expansive roof I imagined that I was on top of a building designed by Le Corbusier! It definitely has the right look! I’m so glad I got to see this building close up, in all it’s sad beauty. I wish I knew the story of this place! Who lived here? What memories are within these walls? Posing on the Roof

Can I just take this building and do something awesome with it?!?

November 27, 2014

Nomads in Uganda

I have now been in Uganda for five weeks. The team of international staff came here for what we thought would only be a short time, but our stay was extended as insecurity in Beni region persisted with additional attacks against vulnerable civilians and increased tension in the population. What we thought was a single cluster of events has turned out to have a much deeper political underpinning. The reason for the attacks and who exactly is behind them are still very much a mystery. The attacks have mostly been attributed to the ADF NALU rebel group, but a string of other theories proliferate. There are rumours of political parties financing unrest to suit their purposes, since there has been alleged involvement of army personnel in the attacks and a string of arrests of prominent business leaders in Beni. My stay here sort of feels like a strange dream. It has been a challenge to continue with my work, but I am trying as best I can to keep moving along with the research. Last weekend I made the very difficult decision that the rest of my time would be better spent in Uganda rather than trying to go back to Beni. I realized that even if I did go back, the city would be in no state to support the research, and also that it would be more productive for a few researchers to come to me for training in Kampala where there is a certainty of electricity and internet. The decision was a hard one and I am sad that my time was cut short. A few days later the leadership of Congo Initiative and UCBC both in Beni  and the US advised that the international staff not consider returning until the new year, when hopefully the situation will become more clear. I’m frustrated that my three months was cut to one month, but I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for the full-time staff who call Beni home and have left a close-knit community behind.

Even though it has been a period of discouragement, I couldn’t have spent my time as a nomad with a better group of people. The rest of this post is devoted to remembering some of the moments spent here in Uganda this past month. To summarize our time in Uganda, the team arrived on October 22nd and spent two and a half weeks in Fort Portal in Western Uganda. For a week of that time we stayed at a guest house called Rwenzori View and then for the rest of the time moved into a more affordable guesthouse called Golf Course View.

Memories from Fort Portal:

  • We went to a hotel called Mountains of the Moon to have our own little sunday worship time. We ordered tea and orange juice only to discover afterwards that the juice costed 15000 shillings per glass which is often the price of a whole meal. From that point on all things expensive were compared to “the glass of juice”. Fun fact: “Mountains of the Moon” is actually the meaning of “Rwenzori”.
  • Lauren and Jessica and I went exploring in Fort Portal one day and happened across an adorable little bakery called Sweet Aromas. We were surprised to see a “mzungu” american come from behind the curtain. She started the business as a bakery at ugandan prices and plans to pass it on once it is established. The baked goods were delicious!
  • On halloween we bought a bunch of candy, made our own costumes and decorations, and had the boys go door to door in the guesthouse to go trick-or-treating. To add more doors to trick-or-treat from, I occupied the washroom.
  • I have good memories eating at a restaurant called Dutchess. The price was right and the food was delicious. Their pizza was particularly good and they had a few dutch delicacies, my favourite being bitterballen! I also tried a croc burger there!
  • We have enjoyed many fantastic game nights including Bang, Speed Scrabble, and Dutch Blitz! I got the ladies into watching Broadchurch.
  • At dinner time we made the habit of speaking french just for practice. The meals at Golf Course View were delicious. Breakfast always included a spread of fruit, toast, pancakes, and omelettes. This felt strange after my tea with bread and butter in DRC!
Stopping to pose by some cute art while exploring the town

Stopping to pose by some cute art while exploring the town

In-house trick-or-treating at the bathroom door

In-house trick-or-treating at the bathroom door

Team shot on the day we left golf course view. L-R (front) Jessica and I (back) Lauren, guesthouse staff Charles and Charles, Jonathan with Graham, Kate, guesthouse manager Paul with Elliot, Mary

Team shot on the day we left golf course view. L-R (front) Jessica and I (back) Lauren, guesthouse staff Charles and Charles, Jonathan with Graham, Kate, guesthouse manager Paul with Elliot, Mary

When we learned that we would be staying in Uganda longer, we decided to move to Kampala where we found a more affordable housing rental option on AirB&B that had a kitchen so that we could cook for ourselves. What has been a blessing about being in Kampala is that I have been able to visit eMi on occasion and even use their office as a place to work a couple days in the week. Although it’s a much crazier place than Fort Portal, there are many people and places to see. On different afternoons we have brought our work with us to different cafes in the city. Almost all of us have friends and contacts in Kampala who we have been able to reconnect with.

Memories so far from Kampala:

  • A bat got into Jon and Kate’s little guesthouse and it took a fully mounted expedition to get it out. My role was watching from the sidelines and providing moral support…
  • One Sunday we went out for breakfast with the Greenes and then went to Entebbe to visit some friends of the Shaws who they know from Congo. They treated us to a lovely lunch and then took us to the Entebbe Wildlife Park.
  • We went to Entebbe again a few days later, this time to visit David and Kaswera who are leaders of Congo Initiative and UCBC and are just returning home to Congo after their year long sabbatical. It was wonderful to share a meal and receive encouragement and wisdom from them.
  • We were all stuck in rush hour traffic on the way back from Entebbe on the day that Jon and Kate had planned a dinner out and we had offered to babysit the boys. Solution: Lauren and I each took a kid home on a boda, Jon and Kate left for dinner on bodas, and poor (but amazing) Mary drove the two hours it took get home (normally a fifteen minute journey).
  • Just this evening I shared american thanksgiving with the team. We cooked up a delicious array of food! I feel so blessed to have had the support and fellowship of such a great group, even only knowing them a short time.
Posing in front of our new home in Kampala

Posing in front of our new home in Kampala

A really awesome tree that was at the Entebbe Wildlife Park

A really awesome tree that was at the Entebbe Wildlife Park

A wonderful visit with David and Kaswera Kasali

A wonderful visit with David and Kaswera Kasali