Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lucas, the Tico-American

Costa Rica claims Lucas as one of its own. When we toured about, the rest of us would pay the entry fee for foreigners, while he would pay the entry fee for a Costa Rican citizen, which was much cheaper. People who learned he was born in San Jose were thrilled to welcome him back and called him a "tico," which is the less formal name for "Costa Rican."

One day Lucas and I visited Clinica Santa Rita where he was born in 1990 (see photo). The guard at the front door was more than happy to admit us so that I could show Lucas more than just the outside of the building. The nurses made us feel most welcome and allowed us to tour the room where I was in labor, the registration area, and the baby nursery, but not the delivery room, because it's now the C-section room and off limits for other purposes. What fun!

Departing Costa Rica took an extra hour at the airport, where we presented the official copy of Lucas's birth certificate, photocopies of our passports, government stamps, and a completed permission form. Both Jens and I signed, as indicated, in front of the immigration official and she stamped Lucas's departure card, allowing us to then check in for our flight.

The trip to Ecuador was easy - a flight of less than 2 hours - and we were happily reunited with Helen, Gene, Eric, Ellen, Will, and Jesse. Now we're becoming reacquainted with Ecuador after a 3-year absence and looking forward to a few days at the beach on the Pacific Ocean. We're sorry you're getting hit by one snow storm after the next and will try to bring back warmth and sunshine to share with you all when we return.


Writing statements of conscience

Saratoga Monthly Meeting invited Jens Braun, member and co-founder of QIVC, and Nadine Hoover to share a potluck and help them write statements of conscience on December 9th after meeting for worship. Nine participants (six from Saratoga meeting and three from a local peace group) welcomed the opportunity to focus on where their consciences are leading at this critical time in the life of our nation. One participant pointed out that Frederick Douglass had spoken in the Saratoga meetinghouse and that today they continue that same tradition of Spirit-led activism. Friends at Saratoga Monthly Meeting were grateful to Jens and Nadine for their willingness to travel from afar to help them in their journeys.

Friday, December 21, 2007

All Around Costa Rica - the Brauns

Our time in Costa Rica is already coming to a close, alas. We have had a wonderful time learning about Costa Rica as it is today and seeing a few old friends. One of these was Adrian, who worked with us 15 years ago as Save the Children’s Program Manager on the Pacific Coast. We were surprised to find him no longer in the social services sector, but running a small store called Mundo Electrónico. We walked in unannounced and all he could say at first was what a gift it was to see us. Jens and I were also thrilled to find him and enjoyed a visit with him, though it was too short because Adrian couldn’t leave the store and business was brisk with Christmas shoppers.

Thanks to sleuthing on the Internet, we were able to find in the San José area our friends Javier, an architect, and Maria Luisa, an environmental biologist. They welcomed us in their home for lunch on Wednesday, greeting us with joy and showing the photo album in which you see very cute 4-year-old Natalie and 1-year-old Lucas on either side of Maria Luisa. The photos were from when Javier and Maria Luisa joined us in 1994 on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Certainly, it was a memorable trip for us, but especially for them.

In Monteverde we visited with Ricky, the brother of Jens’s good buddy Carlos, who grew up in that Quaker community and attended Earlham. Ricky is a tour guide (biologist) and has seen tourism explode from fewer than 10,000 visitors per year in their small cloud-forest community in 1985, to 30,000 in 1992 when we were last there, to 200,000 this year. Monteverde’s emphasis, you may already know, is ecotourism. We had a great time taking advantage of new tourism infrastructure: a walk on bridges that brought us up into the canopy of the cloud forest. Wow!

We also enjoyed a wonderful visit in Monteverde with a former Westtown teacher and his wife. They are now into their second year teaching at the Friends School there and are loving it. We brought dinner to their home and had great conversation for a couple of hours.

Conversations with these good people helped us understand Costa Rica today. Some quick impressions:

- The country is still absolutely beautiful, with volcanoes and other mountains, picturesque villages, gorgeous coastline on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides, rainbows after afternoon showers, lots of forest, and beautiful and plentiful birds. Over 40% of the country is preserved in national parks and other nature reserves. We’ve enjoyed seeing monkeys, iguanas, colorful fish, and other wildlife.

- Tourism now brings 2 million visitors each year. Imagine how that feels in a country the size of West Virginia with a population of just over 4 million people.

- When we lived here there were about 250,000 cars on the road. Now there are over a million plus all the tourists’ rental vehicles – and as far as we could tell, there are no additional roads or even lanes added to roads.

- Pineapple has become a big export crop, but does not yet surpass bananas as the #1 export. Pineapple plantations are as damaging to the environment as banana plantations can be: the pesticides and fungicides leave people sterile, pollute waterways and kill wildlife, etc. The fruit companies have done a lot to move toward being a green industry for bananas but not yet addressed pineapples.

- The only sign left of the major earthquake we experienced in 1991 (7.4 on the Richter scale) was the exposed coral reef right off the Caribbean beach (now dead). It was lifted out of the ocean when the land was heaved 3-4 feet upward by the earthquake.

- Costa Ricans, like Americans, are thinking about organic food, global warming, peak oil, and other global trends, and some are living differently because of their awareness in these areas.

Tomorrow we’re off to Ecuador, hoping all will go smoothly at the San José airport when we try to extract Lucas from his “home country.”


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Surprises in Costa Rica - the Brauns

No sleep Friday night, as we drove off to JFK airport at 12:30 a.m., arrived at 3:00 a.m., found Lucas who had waited 6 hours patiently for us, checked in for our flight, sat for a while, said good-bye to Matthew, went through security, boarded the plane, and finally snoozed at 8 a.m. in our seats. We had some good views through the clouds as we landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, just after noon local time. We had our first surprise when we went through passport control.

“Lucas was born in Costa Rica?” asks the official.

“Yes,” Jens replies.

“How long are you staying?”

“One week.”

“Well, you know you can’t take him out of the country unless you have the proper paperwork,” the official informs us. “You need a copy of his birth certificate, a photograph, and a completed permission form signed by both his parents. Are you his mother and father? Good, then that part will not be so difficult, since you are both present.”

Ah yes, the Costa Ricans want to make sure no child is taken out of the country without the prior consent of both parents. I remember that we had to go through this procedure back when we lived here from 1989 to 1992. First on the agenda for Monday morning is to go to the Registro Nacional and obtain a copy of Lucas’s birth certificate. We hope it’s not too difficult, as we’d like to leave for Monteverde tomorrow afternoon.

The second surprise came when we went yesterday evening to explore our old neighborhood. Jens drove right by the house we lived in for 2-1/2 years, not recognizing it one bit, but at Spee’s instructions stopping further down the street across from the park where Natalie loved to play on the swings and slides. We got out and walked around. Our house no longer had a grassy front yard or metal fence with yellow flowers covering it. It’s a commercial enterprise with parking up to the front door. We visited the basketball court around the corner, passed by the home of Natalie’s friend, whose name we all forget, and enjoyed just looking around a typical middle-class neighborhood. We went up to the main road and searched for the pre-school. It had had a long, sloping front yard and two modest buildings. In its place today is a large modern building.

Next we went by the old Save the Children office, which was in a house just a few blocks into the next neighborhood. It looked exactly the same except for the sign on the building. We drove around that neighborhood, buying lunch supplies at the same old Automercado (supermarket) and noting that many of the same businesses are in operation.

We’re having a lot of fun showing ourselves and the kids all of this from our lives during those three years. Lucas and I went into the Clinica Santa Rita, where he was born, and the staff greeted us warmly and let us see the room where I was in labor, the entrance area to the delivery room, and the baby nursery. This morning we went to Meeting for Worship, where we were kindly welcomed. The two old-timers whom I recognized did not remember us and alas, the mainstay and our good friend Erna Castro died over 10 years ago (probably at age 80, so not surprising).

We’re also enjoying beautiful, interesting, warm Costa Rica. This morning we went to the old capital city, Cartago, then up to the rim of the Irazu Volcano. It was spectacular. In San Jose we visited the National Museum and learned more about how and why Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948. We’ve walked the streets of San Jose, which are full of Christmas shoppers. There are bits of white paper all over the sidewalks in the downtown pedestrian area – confetti, thought Caleb and I, but fake snow, said Natalie, right on the mark. We’re not missing the real snow that you’all have back home, but hope you’re getting in some fun sledding and skiing!


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Day 4: Are you ready?

The workshop is over and the participants are scattering to the winds. I just ran into the Armenians and Azeris talking in the lobby. They said they are enjoying each other's company and finally having a moment to learn about one another’s countries. For decades, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting off and on over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh, so it’s great to see these individuals building a bridge through their Save the Children work.

Day 4 was as intense as the first 3 days of the workshop. The focus was on carrying out a distribution of relief items in a community: planning, organization, security, set-up, and execution. The trainers supplemented by a few trainees were the beneficiaries, and we arrived at the distribution point with exaggerated stories of our plights and testing the security and logistical procedures. In the end, some "beneficiaries" left with just their share of blankets, food, and tents, while others snuck out with more than their allocation, and still others left with nothing because of bureaucratic red tape. It was a good learning exercise for the trainees - I'm sure they'll do better next time!

Every morning, first thing, I'd asked the participants if they were "REDI" (they are part of the team for the "Rapid Emergency Deployment Initiative"), and they would respond with more or less volume, "Yes!" The photo is from a session where they brainstormed about what they would need to have ready both personally and professionally before the call came to head out immediately to an emergency response and what they would need to do after the call came. Answers included having prior arrangements for childcare and long-distance bill paying, and having a current will and one's vaccines up to date.

During the closing session, we heard from participants how much they had learned and in what areas of humanitarian response they have gained confidence. We hope they can put their new learnings to good use - well, actually, we'd rather they didn't have to, because that would mean people are suffering from one disaster or another, but such is the world in which we live.

This evening I finally made it into the hot springs, where I tried not to relax too much, knowing that upon exiting, I'd have to climb the 100+ steps back up to the hotel. Still, it was wonderful.

Tomorrow I head to the airport and take the long flight to the U.S. I'm ready to be home.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Day 3: The Lights of Jerusalem

Day 3 was packed with action. Even the morning classroom sessions were fast-paced, as we covered how to set up Safe Spaces for children, Save the Children's Child Safety Policy (e.g., at least 2 adults with children at any time), maintaining staff well-being in the face of extreme stress, and much more.

This afternoon during the simulation, the trainees set up two Safe Spaces on the hotel premises, complete with registration tables and stations for quiet play, reading, etc. Save the Children's "President" and "Angelina Jolie" came for a visit and were interviewed by "CNN." We caused quite a lot of commotion in the hotel - especially earlier when the staff who went up the road to "procure" items for the Safe Spaces were "taken hostage" on the way back. It looked so realistic with people lying flat on the ground while men in kaffiyahs brandished sticks over them that hotel security tried to come to the rescue. You should have seen the looks on their faces and those of the few other guests who were around!

Tonight we had a Team Dinner at the fancy Panorama Restaurant, just 10 minutes further down the wadi (valley) from here. The sorry thing was that it was pitch dark, so you couldn't see the Dead Sea just below, Jericho just to the north, and so on. I showed our Central Asian visitors the lights of Jericho, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem and they were thrilled, yet wanting desperately to see the place in the daylight. So close (about 20 miles to Jerusalem, according to the panorama map we read with a cell phone light), yet so far away. I felt those typical Middle East feelings caused by the crazy human-made boundaries. I was reminded of how we often saw the lights of Amman when we lived in Ramallah, yet could not drive over there, send a letter, or even make a phone call to someone on the other side of the border (think what cell phones and the Internet have done to that!). I think I'll try to arrange for the American with a car here to take some folks down to see the view during our lunch break tomorrow.

We shared the restaurant with one other large group that appeared to have a diverse mix of nationalities like ours. The Arab men in that group did some debke (line) dancing and then a few members of our group went next. It was a crazy mix of Georgian, Arab, American, Bosnian, and French body shaking - for example, a belly dancing approach by the Egyptian man, extreme upper-body bust shaking by the Georgian woman, and the arms and hands gliding through the air by the Palestinian woman. We all had a great time.

Three days down and one to go. This is crunch time. I must head to bed, as I have lots of prep to do tomorrow before we start and need a decent night's sleep. When we're done tomorrow at about 6 p.m., I'll have a breather, as my ride to the airport is not until about 8:30 a.m. on Thursday. Maybe I'll even finally get a dip in the hot springs!

- Spee

Monday, December 3, 2007

A couple of pictures from Day 2

Day 2 in "Nooristan"

Day 2 of the workshop went well, without any earthquakes to shake us up. We taught participants how to do an initial rapid assessment, going out to the communities and interviewing leaders, parents, children, and others affected by the earthquake. Then in the afternoon during the simulation, they went out and conducted the assessment. The trainers donned wigs and vests and name tags with designations such as “handicapped child” or “community leader.” We have some good actors on the team and they make it hard not to burst out laughing in the middle of this serious scenario. Next, the team has to review all the data they collected and use it to determine what kind of help to provide to the earthquake victims in the coming days.

We really wanted to get this team out using the GPS equipment and so we sent them on a scavenger hunt this morning, even though that meant we had evening training sessions to make up for the time spent on the game. The clues were laid out from between the new spa under construction about 500 feet down the wadi (valley) from the hotel all the way up to the entrance for this large complex, a good hike. Hana, a relatively conservative Muslim woman from Gaza, changed her shoes twice before heading out, not sure whether any pair would suffice, since she certainly didn’t bring anything like sneakers with her.

Hana is also dealing with security shock. The first day she was confused and concerned when she followed her teammates out of the hotel and down the road a bit to a United Nations coordination meeting, which was held on a lower terrace. She kept asking if they were supposed to leave the building and if there was a possibility of getting kidnapped. Okay, I admit, her fears were well placed, in that today, a couple of the trainers dressed as rebels “attacked” some members of the group as they traveled back to their “office” after conducting the needs assessment in the “field.”

Conversations outside the sessions have been fun, as I learn more from Hana and her colleagues about the current difficult situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, about Save the Children’s latest work in Azerbaijan, about old friends in Lebanon, and about what’s important in the lives of these new folks I’m getting to know.

There’s much more, but it’s late (10:40 p.m.) and I must get enough sleep in preparation for another long day. I’m hearing from you about cold and icy days and feeling lucky, what with gorgeous views of desert mountains and steaming thermal baths all around, with temperatures around 70 degrees and lots of sunshine, delicious Arab food at every meal, and a stimulating workshop. The only thing missing is all of you!


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Day 1: Earthquake!

On Tuesday, we sent all participants the background on the emergency that we're using for the emergency simulation in this workshop. They were asked to read, as they traveled to Jordan, all about the made-up country of Nooristan, which we located between Turkey and Syria, with borders also with Iran and Iraq. We sent them preliminary reports on the massive destruction caused by a made-up earthquake that hit the country on November 29th. We asked that they review all the materials carefully in preparation for landing on the ground and getting right to work.

Imagine our surprise when during our opening sessions of the workshop, we all felt the ground shake - a real earthquake. We couldn't have planned it better!

Check out the news story at-Spee

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Prep Day in Jordan

We had a fine day today, with a scenic ride to Ma’en across the plains and then down the steep and windy road to this resort, the Janna Spa, at about 800 feet below sea level. Janna means paradise, and it sure is beautiful (though I don’t believe they provide the virgins). The hot springs pour out water that comes tumbling down three different waterfalls, one of which is designated “The Ladies Waterfall,” for those women who prefer not to get wet in the presence of men. I haven’t been in the water yet, but my colleagues tell me it’s very hot – around 50 degrees C. Too bad I forgot my bathing suit. If I can find the time, though, I’ll get in anyway, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

It’s fun to be surrounded by Palestinian/Jordanian Arabic, which I consider "my dialect," having learned most of my spoken Arabic when living in the West Bank (1982-84) and Gaza (1987-89). I have a lot of recapturing of vocabulary to do (“I know I used to know that word”), but will likely not have the full opportunity this visit, as we are operating the workshop in English. It’s especially important to be fully inclusive of the Eurasia folks, who are from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan and speak no Arabic, except for one Tajik.

The preparation for Day 1 has gone well. We re-arranged the training room, reviewed the overall agenda, developed the detailed agenda for tomorrow, and assigned tasks and roles. We (mostly I) still have a couple of things to get done before we start at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, but they will not take long, so we’re in good shape.

This is a very fancy hotel and in some respects, not great for an emergency response simulation. There’s no hardship, what with the beautiful setting, very nice, clean rooms, and delicious food and drink. I think we’ll also have a steady electrical supply and around-the-clock Internet access. Maybe we’ll have to ask the hotel to cut the electricity during the simulation one afternoon…?

For the simulation, the compound offers quite a few locations where we can hold meetings, set up safe spaces for children, and conduct a distribution of goods. We’re thinking that even though we only have 4 days instead of the 5 we had in Africa and Asia, we’ll still conduct a scavenger hunt with the GPS equipment – sending them all around, including out to the entry gate, which is probably one kilometer up the wadi (valley) from the hotel.

The training team seems good and I'm feeling very upbeat. Right now, though, I'm getting hit with jetlag, so I'll sign off here and hit the sack.


Friday, November 30, 2007

From near the Dead Sea in Jordan

Hi, all -

I'm on the road again to conduct the 4th and last of Save the Children's regional workshops for their emergency responders, this one for the Middle East/Eurasia Region.

My trip to Amman, Jordan was uneventful, which means it was good and I didn’t lose my luggage. It was crazy flying from Albany to Chicago, only to turn around and fly over New York on the direct flight from Chicago to Amman, but total travel time was reasonable. The direct flight was 12 hours long, but passed quickly, as I slept a straight 7 or 8 hours.

As we were descending into Amman at dusk, I enjoyed the view: first the Mediterranean shore, then the plains and hills of Israel and the West Bank, then the Dead Sea and desert, and finally the lights of Amman’s international airport. I can’t yet tell how Jordan has changed since I was last here in the mid-1990s because we drove through the dark to this Holiday Inn in Amman where I’m spending the first night. My only observation is that not surprisingly, Amman is bigger, more developed with more large hotels like this one, and the cell phone companies are advertising in a huge way, just like in other recently visited countries (Uganda, Thailand, Honduras, and Guatemala).

At the hotel, fellow trainers Deb and Sonia found me right away and we had some amicable conversation before and over dinner. Sonia and I are relieved that Christophe, the logistician trainer, is coming after all. Neither of us could credibly conduct his training sessions, but we would have had to. We’re missing Annie, as she is serving right now as Team Leader for Save the Children’s response to the Bangladesh cyclone, but it’s much easier for us to cover her sessions on management topics and they surely need her to direct that major operation. Tomorrow at 10 a.m. we depart for Ma’en and begin organizing ourselves and the space we’ll use for the training workshop. Since this is the 4th workshop and our hotel facilities are likely to be quite good, I expect the preparation will go smoothly.

The Internet connection is pretty good, so I hope to post more messages while I'm here these six days.

I do appreciate our community's loving support of my calling to travel to far parts of the world to do what I can. With the increasing number of natural and human-made disasters with which we are faced, it seems more and more urgent to build people's capacity around the world to respond to them.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Day 5, wigs, and the Nile

In answer to Ellen's question, yup, I've been wearing a lot of wigs. I didn't mind them much until Michael, a fellow trainer, said something about all our head sweat making the wigs foul by this third training workshop...

I’ve just reviewed the workshop evaluations and they are quite positive, except for complaints about the power cuts, which we trainers also did not appreciate (it also meant lack of Internet access). This Africa team was stellar compared to the other two. Part of it, we realized, is that we were better at coaching them.

My soul is doing well. My body is tired (despite getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night), but I feel really good about this work. Still, I am happy to have 3 workshops down and just 1 to go. I am definitely feeling middle-aged among these emergency responders, though the average age of the trainers is not much younger than mine. I see more and more how global warming and the “War on Terrorism” are creating the need for these Africans, Latin Americans, and Asians to have greater capacity to respond to emergencies. I am glad to do my part.

The Nile pouring out of Lake Victoria was something to stare at for hours on end, as explorer Speke did in the 1800's. The ride back to Kampala was interesting, but the scenery went by too fast until we got to more boring Kampala, and then we were quickly tired of sitting in the Friday evening traffic...

I'm off to the airport tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. and looking forward to being home again.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Day 3

Today, Day 3, we each took out a group of trainees on a scavenger hunt using GPS equipment. The location was a golf course that just happened to be within walking distance of the hotel. It was both stressful and fun. My group did the worst, only finding 3 of the 6 clues, so they were less happy about it all, but still learned a lot and enjoyed it somewhat. We all got a lot of exercise, which was nice, and glimpses of the beautiful uppermost part of the Nile River . One Ugandan trainee said to me, “How beautiful this is! I have never seen this beauty before. I am from Uganda but this is my first time here at the Nile .” Good thing we haven’t kept them totally cooped up in the hotel.

The training team is getting along fine, though I sure do miss Sonia, who was the leader for the first two regional workshops and is taking a break this time. She has a good, positive attitude and that feminine side. (All my fellow trainers are men – two Americans, one Frenchman, one Kenyan, and one Serbian.)

Oops, past my bedtime and tomorrow's another big day. I hope all’s well with you.


Day 2

Have snuck out of the simulation to get on the Internet and send e-mail that I've been waiting to send since last night. The business center was locked 3 hours early and then today there was no electricity...

The conference here at the “Official Source of the Nile ” is going fine. Day 2 (Tuesday) went well, though the trainees are less happy. Still, at the close of today’s session they gave high marks on the first two days on their quick written evaluations. The other workshops showed a pattern where on Days 2 and 3, people get unhappy with the time pressure and the lower standards in the quality of the work they are able to complete. Something like no pain in the training, no gain. The long-term development people especially suffer. They are used to taking weeks for assessment of the population's needs, rather than hours.

This afternoon wore me out. I had to run all over playing so many roles: World Vision rep, Ministry of Health rep, Office of National Disaster Coordination Director, woman who lost husband in the cyclone, young woman with sick baby, not to mention Spee the facilitator and time-keeper. We were all rewarded at sunset, when roiling black clouds rolled toward us from the lake in a spectacular fashion. Many of us watched from the balcony for a long time.

Tomorrow is the outing where we send the group on a scavenger hunt using GPS equipment. The location will be a golf course that just happens to be within walking distance of the hotel. It should be fun. Too bad there are no bikes for the trainers (in Thailand we had rental bikes that allowed us to travel around more quickly than the teams).


Monday, October 22, 2007

Emergencies and a rainy season

The trainees may well go straight from here to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is imploding, or to a flooded area in Ethiopia, or to a flood area in Uganda, or a fourth locale. It's very practical training and there sure are a lot of emergencies to respond to. I really do miss my "boss" and the main organizer of these workshops, Sonia, both her spirit and the workload she covers, part of which I am covering. As Jens says, they are lucky to have me. :)

We had a rainbow at sunset as the rain came toward us from the main part of Lake Victoria to the south. Now it’s raining gently.


Day 1 and Logistical challenges

My suitcase arrived this afternoon, delivered all the way from Entebbe by a British Airways person (it’s about a 2-1/2 hour drive). Because the Save the Children staff in Kampala didn’t believe that BA would actually deliver my suitcase in a reasonable timeframe to a destination that far away, they had kept my lost-baggage official form. When the delivery guy asked me for the form and learned I did not have it, I thought he was going to leave and take my bag with him. Fortunately, instead he took a written statement from me and let me keep the suitcase. What was I most happy to see? My sandals, underwear, pants, flash drive, and train whistle that I use to call a group back into session.

It’s clear we’re in Africa and not another region of the world. The staff are far more experienced in management and emergency response. They are just wrapping up their work for the day at this late hour of 8:45 p.m. We are all managing through multiple logistical challenges: off-and-on electricity, off-and-on water, all kinds of problems with our communications equipment, especially the hand-held radios, etc. There are flying bugs of various sizes and types, geckos, huge cockroaches, and bats inside the hotel. We are trying to avoid getting diarrhea or malaria. But we keep our sense of humor, which is one of the rules we gave the participants today, Day 1. Overall, Day 1 went very well and I'm tired but pleased.

That’s the news for now.


Work, work, work

I am totally wrapped up in this intense training workshop of the members of the Africa Emergency Response Team. While I had one day at the beginning to explore Kampala and get to know a bit about Uganda, now all of my focus is within the hotel compound in Jinja (the town at the "official" Source of the Nile) and with the 32 other participants and trainers. However, from the main training room and my hotel room nearby I have a high-up, gorgeous view of the finger of Lake Victoria that turns into the Nile River . The birds, the boats, the water, and the changing light and color are magnificent. We were speculating that those far-off bumps in the water were hippos, but we have yet to confirm that. (We later confirmed they were not hippos, but floating clods of dirt.)

There sure are a lot of missionaries here, also using this hotel facility. I am reminded that the missionaries around the world have historically given some preference to locations where the climate is less hot and humid (we are at 1, 200 meters above sea level) and the countryside more appealing. I’m also remembering that Hudson has a sister city in Uganda and has recently begun doing exchange visits. I can see why those visits are popular.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hi from Jinja

We made it to Jinja by noon this morning. The ride was very slow along the main route around the edge of Lake Victoria. I was very sorry not to have my camera with me (it's in my suitcase. delayed in airport land), as I saw some wonderful things to photograph, including bicycles loaded with an amazing amount of interesting stuff.

Got to hit the sack, my jet lag is hitting me hard, and I need to be fully ready mentally and physically for Day 1 tomorrow.



I am not too worried about the training workshop because the format is very similar to the last one, but still, there is a lot to keep on top of. It's a complex agenda with a large team of trainers plus a few other resource people. I am sure we will do fine, but I have to be especially diligent about the details since Sonia's not here. Rod is already stepping up to the plate, though.

I'm fighting jetlag seriously and must hit the sack. It's
9:45 p.m. Uganda time. We leave for Jinja at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. I don't have much to pack, but I'd like to get in a walk before we go. I find everything around me so fascinating.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fascinating Uganda

Here in Uganda I find everything around me so fascinating. So far I can see that the topography and flora are distinctly different from the other African countries I've been to. There are lots of green mangos on the trees right now (maybe I'll get to eat some ripe ones :) ) and I saw pineapple, banana, papaya, melon, and other unknown fruit at the market. The countryside is indeed lush, as described in the literature. Kampala is sprawled out in a bowl and on small hills with a center that has a few tall buildings. The air pollution - mostly from diesel fuel (trucks and mini-busses, especially) - is terrible. The stores seem to offer a good selection of items.

The big news here is about the murder during a carjacking in
Johannesburg of a S0uth African big reggae star, Lucky Dube. The Ugandan press says that after South Africa, Uganda has had the must Lucky Dube fans and all are in mourning, while also wondering why South Africa can't decrease its terrible crime rates to low levels like Uganda has.

So far I've been hanging out with the folks who arrived early and are staying at this hotel in Kampala. Only 1 is African - an Ethiopian, and the rest are Westerners with various English accents. In Jinja we will have the full group of 33 with about 7 Ugandans among them, so I expect to learn more about the country, perhaps especially when we go off to some park to have them do a scavenger hunt in teams using the GPS equipment.


Hi from Uganda

I made it to Kampala, Uganda this morning without much trouble, except my suitcase missed the transfer at Heathrow Airport in London and is coming on Monday afternoon. I was the last one out of the airport, but the Save the Children driver was still there waiting for me, fortunately. Today after arriving at the hotel and napping for 3 hours, I went out and bought a blouse, skirt, and sandals to tide me over until my suitcase comes. I had packed in my carry-on bag only one extra outfit. (Funny how while I was packing on Thursday night, Carolyn and I had a conversation about why I was putting so much in my carry-on bags and how often luggage gets delayed or lost.)


Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

Hi, all -

It's Saturday and I’m on a plane to London , where I transfer and take a second flight to Uganda . I’m excited about this first opportunity to visit that country. I’ll be training Save the Children’s emergency response team for Africa – a couple people each from Sudan , Malawi , Uganda , Ethiopia , etc. Should be fun, just like the one we did last month in Asia and the one in August in Latin America. The best part is when the trainees go back to their home countries and put their skills to use right away. The bad part is there are lots of emergencies giving them the opportunity to practice.

More later.


Monday, October 15, 2007


Saturday we celebrated seven years on the land in East Chatham, the addition of a new member family (Scheible/Hanley), our first residents in the farmhouse (Beers), and the building of two houses (Michauds and Brauns)!

Starting about 1pm we worshiped as one, kids included, in the farmhouse, then went outside to play games together. After we laughed and ran around, we settled into the pleasures of pressing apples to make cider. All hands were needed to make this happen and, indeed, everyone helped. Some kids scrubbed the base of the press with wire brushes, other folks washed apples and cut out rotten spots, still others tossed the cleaned apples into an amazing shredding machine to prepare them for the cider press. When the press was full of shredded apples, folks took turns pushing and pulling the handle to squeeze out the last drop of cider.

As the buckets catching the cider filled-up, they were brought to a picnic table where the cider was carefully poured into various containers. Then came the onerous task of tasting the fresh-pressed cider. All were required for this task, too, just to be absolutely sure we were in agreement as to its deliciousness. All agreed!

By the time all the apples were pressed and the cider transferred to containers for folks to take home, it was almost time for dinner. But first there was time for one more game and releasing of milkweed seeds to fly sparkling into the evening sun.

After dinner came the bonfire with cider donuts, marshmallows, and more of our friends to share the celebration. We sang silly songs, some serious ones too, and enjoyed the warmth of the fire and our friends.

See illustrations of all above events on

New Idea! First post ...

Tonight, some of us were talking about how to be more welcoming of diversity in our community and the idea of informally publishing, in more detail, some of the amazing things people in this community do seemed like a 'no brainer' to me.

At this point I should be clear that I am writing from my personal point of view, which may or may not be shared by others in QIVC! And hopefully, if one or more of them wants to add to, modify or otherwise embellish my views, she (or he) will feel free to do so.

That's all for tonight. Just an introduction. More tomorrow, hopefully.