Thursday, July 30, 2009

Next Steps

These six weeks were incredible.  While I am certainly looking forward to hot showers, toilets with seats and raw vegetables, I am really going to miss Gulu and all the friends I have made.  Part of me would love to return to Gulu to teach at Sir Samuel Baker School as a permanent teacher - six weeks was simply not enough.  But then another part of me realizes that it is not really my place to go into that school and "fix" things.  There were certainly aspects of the school that seemed a bit dysfunctional but it seems are slowly improving and SSBS will someday be the great school it once was.  I also think a lot of the problems at the school are a result of a failing system and the teachers were doing amazing things in the face of the challenges with which they were faced.  Also, who knows if the teaching methods I use in the US would have made a major impact on student performance...

Which gets me to my next steps:  I am facinated by international education and what is transferable across cultures and what is not.  What are the commonalities of good teaching?  I know that no matter what education is the key to making the world a more peaceful and sustainable global community.  Everyone needs access to information and needs to be taught to think critically - to ask questions, to challenge the status quo and to engage in constructive dialogue to work toward the betterment of this quickly shrinking world.  Not sure exactly where I fit into this but I'm confident that graduate school is my next step - Comparative Education or International Education Policy will afford me the opportunity to explore and further develop some of these new ideas and understanding.  This trip has given me a whole new perspective on what education is, should be and can be.  I have be re-energized by this experience!

Thank you to everyone that has followed along on my journey.  I have found it nearly impossible to put my experience into words - a lot is missing.  Please feel free to e-mail me questions as I would love to continue to share stories with those interested  -

Much love, 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Adventures on the Nile!

So today is my last day in Africa (for this summer).  After a glorious 11-hour sleep, I woke to a delicious breakfast: coffee, toast, fruit, beans, eggs, and bangers (sausage).  YUM!

I began my day of adventure by bungee jumping.  I cannot believe I did it but it was awesome!  I was the first to go and so the guy in charge told me that I had to stay calm and make this a good jump because I was setting the tone for everyone else (no pressure).  Immediately after jumping I though  - "Crap!, no, no...I take it back" - but then it was over and I swinging over the Nile River!  It was incredible - what a rush...I was ready for the next part of the day.

After bungee jumping we went rafting on grade 5 rapids (that's the strongest, most dangerous level...I think you need several years of training to even be allowed to go on these in the US...oh Africa and your lack of rules)  We spent the first 45 minutes getting trained on how to get ourselves back in the boat, how to help others get into the boat, how to evacuate the boat when it flips, how to flip the boat right side up.  Once we went through all this instruction the adventure began.  We started by going over a grade 5 rapid!  It was crazy.  There was water everywhere! It filled the boat but we all stayed low and there was no flipping.   Down the river farther was a grade 3 rapid with a lot of "flippers".  Our guide said that it made for great pictures to flip the boat on this rapid - so we did.  The boat flipped on me, I felt like I was getting spun in a washing machine but the I saw the light and swam towards.  Nuts!  Unfortunately my friend Catherine dislocated her arm during this rapid.  She was able to pop it back into place when we got her to shore but it will be sore for a few days.  Thankfully it was her fourth time doing this so she was not too disappointed to have to end her day short. 

We continued our trip up the river - hit a few more rapids - on the last grade 5 we had a 60% chance of flipping but managed to all stay in the raft.  We were the first raft to go so it was fun to get through it and then watch as others attempting to pass got tossed from their rafts.  Our guide Tutu was to thank for our successful day.  He grew up on the river and commutes to work by kayak!  During the calm parts of the Nile we were able to jump out of the boat and float down the Nile.  We also practiced flipping off the boat - so much fun!

I was exhausted by the end of the day - especially because we had a 2-hour drive to Kampala for our last night.  I cannot believe that this adventure has come to an end!  
I currently don't have pictures of this but am hoping that someone on the trip got come pics and will post them then.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Will see you all soon!

Sorry I have not posted anything in nearly two weeks. I have SO much to share but have not figured out how to articulate all my experiences clearly. Upon my return to the States I will add several posts to highlight the big stuff.

Tonight is my last night in Gulu. There has already been a flood of tears - I hate goodbyes (and see you laters)! We are having a big dinner and then head to Jinja for the weekend to go rafting on the Nile. I will have lots to share about that experience I am sure.

I arrive in New York on Monday night, will stay the night with my college roommate, KA, and then will be flying into Houston on Tuesday afternoon (7/28).

Looking forward to seeing everyone and sharing lots of photos and stories!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Farmhouse - a different perspective

Twice we were invited to the home of Tom and Rose O'lalobo.  Amy, the organizer of the trip met one of their sons during her planning trip and thought their story was fascinating.  She was right!  
Here's what I can remember - some of the details may be a bit off:
Tom grew up in Gulu.  He went to Sir Samuel Baker School (where I was taught this summer).  As a young adult, Tom was trained in the U.S. to be a pilot.  Later (maybe later 20's, early 30's) Tom moved to Tanzania to live in exile because of political turmoil - many of his family members who did not leave the country were killed.  It was here that he met Rose, they got married and started a family.  Inthe early 80's they returned to Gulu and began building a home.  When the war broke out the left again, this time to London where they raised their 7 children.  During the war Tom's mother and some other family members stayed behind, often using his home as a shelter from the LRA.  Because the home was fenced it served as a deterrent because the young men in the LRA did not want to get stuck/fenced in if 
they need to flee quickly.  He told stories of his mother and family members hovering in the dark while their were gun shots, at one point a neighbor tried to break into the house (thinking that no one was there) and at one point at Tom's mother at gunpoint.  Around 2007, Tom and Rose returned to Gulu.  Over the past couple of years they have fixed up their home and started many business ventures around town.  Rose runs the only bakery in town and you can get CHEESE! and cakes with frosting (delicious!).    [Again, some of these details, dates, etc. might be a bit off - I tried to leave out details if I wasn't sure if I remembered them correctly]

The invitation to visit their home 
was so greatly appreciated.  Aside from the delicious food and beautiful scenery, it was val
uable to see a different side of Uganda.  So often people draw this picture of Uganda being a poverty-ridden nation that depends on the rest of the world for help.  While Uganda does have a long way to go, I have found that this country is made of strong, beautiful, resilient, hardworking people that are ready for Uganda to turn things around.  I think Rose and Tom's move back to Uganda is evidence of the direction that Uganda is moving.  There has been so much economic development in the past two years and it continues to grow.  

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ft. Patiko

Today we traveled with the Ugandan teachers and their families to Ft. Patiko.  Ft. Patiko was once a place where Arabs traded African slaves.  Sir Samuel Baker (my school's namesake) was the man responsible for ending the slave trade there.  This was good news because I originally thought that my school was just named after some white guy that settled in Uganda but it turns out he may actually have been a pretty decent guy. :)

At Ft. Patiko we had a potluck lunch so each school was responsible for br
inging something - Sir Samuel Baker School was responsible for fruit, probably the easiest thing.  Gulu Secondary School had side dishes so I ended up helping one American teacher make guacamole (my
 favorite food - why this is not as popular in Ugandan as it is in Texas I will never know).   This was a rather messy venture since we had limited utensils - I ended up just squeezing the avocados because I had no knife or spoon handy.  Needless to say, it was DELICIOUS and I ate it with chapati chips until I couldn't breathe - there was plenty of it because the Ugandans didn't touch it.  

The most difficult part of the lunchtime was the children from the local village that came to watch us.  They were all in tattered clothes, several had ringworm, none had shoes
 and it was clear that hadn't eaten much in a while.  While there is certainly poverty all around Gulu town it is far worse in the more rural areas.  The park asked that we not give away food because it makes begging a bigger problem.  This is something that we talk about a lot at Invisible Children - making sure that the aid or assistance that we offer is sustainable and not just a short term solution.  HOWEVER, there is also just something very inhumane and completely unbearable about stuffing your face while starving children watch you...and we had plenty of leftovers so we broke the rules.   In the first attempt to pass out chapati the children were grabbing and trying to hide the piece they were given so that they could get another.  A Ugandanteacher, however, then told them that if they could sit down in a circle and not grab we'd have more food for them.  The first thing they did?  Ran to the jerry can and helped each other wash their hands.  My heart broke.  In the midst of their hunger and excitement these children - some as young as 3 or 4 years - remembered to follow the proper customs for their meal.  So often people in these dire situations of poverty are viewed as less than human but here was a perfect example to the contrary.

After our meal together some of the village children helped us to make a path up to the top of the nearby mountain.  We trekked through grasses above my head, individual farmers' gardens and scaled rock faces to make it to the top.  On my way there all I could think was, "Oh please God let me not come across a snake" and "How are these children doing this with no shoes?!?!" and "Ouch, ooh, oh, ah, augh...really? is this worth it" ...but it was!  The view was amazing and it was quite
an adventure.  It was a great day of bonding between the Americans and the Ugandans.

Monday, July 13, 2009

6 weeks is just not enough time!

I am in love! This country and the people are teaching me so many lessons about myself and the world daily that I just do not want to leave in 2 weeks time. If I could stay and teach at Sir Samuel Baker for the next year I would. I love the staff at the school. They are hilarious and seem to have really welcomed me into their lives. Already they are talking about how they will miss me and cannot even remember their lives without me – I feel the exact same way. I’m just starting to develop bonds with my 150+ students and would love to stick around and see them progress even further. They work so hard to impress me with their abilities and I just know that we could really kick butt together if I were to stay. The beauty of living here is the balance. I can plan and work my butt off in the classroom but then I come home and the pace of life is much slower – there is more time to reflect and to enjoy friends and to appreciate the little things. I want to take this back with me but fear that I will get swept up into the normal fast pace that my life follows back in the States. Someone, in September when I am stressed out, please remind me I said this.

I think next steps are grad school and then hopefully working on education policy internationally. It is fascinating and there is so much work to be done. I’m not an expert but I can certainly see myself spending the rest of my life trying to become one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

This weekend we went to Murichson Falls for a river and land safari. It was a very relaxing and much needed respite as I am struggling to get over a cold (it’s just a cold, despite the Ugandan teachers consistently mentioning that I might have “a touch of the malaria”). The park was huge and I was amazed out how plentiful the wildlife was. On Saturda
y we drove 3 hours on a dirt “road” – it was extremely bumpy and several people ended up vomiting but I think in the end people would agree it was worth the agony. We arrived at the park and headed to our river tour. We spent the entire afternoon riding along the Nile River observing the wildlife. There a ton of hippos – an extremely dangerous animal but fascinating to watch, crocodiles, and birds. There was also the falls which was a pretty beautiful view. By the time we arrived to our camp I was ravenous and dead tired. We ate chicken curry and then I showered and attempted an early bed time. The only challenges were the warthogs pigging out outside of my tent and the large group of Brits that were singing Disney songs at their campsite until midnight. It’s funny looking back…but at the time I was not a happy camper.
On Sunday we woke up at 5:45 am to take a drive through the park. Through the park we rode in the luggage rack on top of our mutatu (van). While we used pillows to cushion our bums the padding was simply not enough. Again, however, it was worth the slight discomfort. We saw literally hundreds of elephants, giraffes, deer-like things (oribi, Jackson heartabeast, cob, etc.), Cape Buffalo, more hippos, birds, monkeys, baboons – incredible! I’ve tried to include some pictures – there will be more when I can share those my friends have taken with top-quali

ty zoom lens cameras.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Saturday was the greatest party ever! Invisible Children hosted a 4th of July bash for all the teachers and IC staff (Ugandan and American). It was held at Acholi Inn - a high end hotel in Gulu town. It began with the food - we had CHEESEBURGERS!!!!!!!!! That's all I have to say. After 3 weeks of pure Acholi food, this American goodness was heavenly!
Once we ate the celebration began - we danced outside under the stars and the nearly full moon from 7 until midnight. Everyone was full of energy and I'm pretty sure that not a single person took a break. The Ugandans were very interested in how Americans celebrate this big holiday of Independence. It was especially humorous when they asked to learn our traditional dances for this day. We did not want to disappoint but the best we could come up with was the electric slide...thankfully they loved it!!!! We also listened to a LOT of Michael Jackson (I think I heard "Billy Jean" 8 times and it never got old) We also got to practice some of the Acholi traditional dances including the Raka Raka (no clue how it is really spelled) I think I held my own but I will NEVER be able to dance like the Acholi - they've got a special jean that helps them to shake it like no other.
This will definitely be a night that I will remember for a long time to come!
Picture: Sharon, me, Lisa, and Ryan (the American teachers at Sir Samuel Baker School)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Student and Teacher Empowerment Conference

Not much teaching going on yet. This week was midterms so I only had to be at the school on Wednesday morning to proctor the S3 mathematics exam. I did get to mark (aka grade) them afterwards which has kept me busy. I was shocked at how low the scores were - the highest was a 36/60! The confusing part is that my team teacher, Acire Simon, seems to think that these are pretty good.
Friday and Saturday were the Annual Invisible Children Teacher Exchange Educational Conference. It was really fabulous except Acire could not make it because his one-year old son had Malaria and he needed to help out at home. I understood his reason for being absent from the conference (obviously) but it was a disappointment because I think his presence at the conference would have helped us to build a stronger working relationship as we discussed the topics at the conference. The first day was filled with presentations from each school. Each school had an issue that they shared and for which they presented solutions. We discussed communication, student motivation, curriculum, managing with a low teacher salary and more. It was all very positive an uplifting. On Saturday we observed several workshops for students. The workshops focused on student engagement, positive reinforcement and student empowerment. Afterwards we met as a school team to discuss what we'd observed and how we could implement some of the facilitation strategies in our classrooms. The Sir Samuel Baker School teachers were enthusiastic, looking forward to group work, games, and relationship building with the students.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Posse

So, there are 18 people in my group. They are all very cool. I have not taken the time to write about them, however, one of the guys, Ryan, inspired me to introduce this group to my family and friends. I have taken Ryan’s description of them and pasted it on my blog (there have been some minor edits because he can be a bit inappropriate at times and I’m trying to keep this kid friendly). Ryan is CRAZY! He is from Rhode Island and is loud and always putting on a show. We all love him though because he keeps things from getting too serious. He also has a very big heart. He finds the good in everyone so how can we not love him? (Even if he often wakes people up at odd hours with his shenanigans) Here is Ryan’s description of the group – keep in mind he’s FUNNY/sarcastic…he’s not really a jerk. (thank you Ryan!):

“There are 18 of us in group 2 and we have all bonded more than I thought possible, or ever expected…four of the 18 of us go to Pabo from Monday to Thursday each week. They are only with us Thursday night to Sunday night, and we make the most of our time together during those three nights. Stephanie and Tammy are two of the girls that are there, and they are both great. Tammy used to be a swimmer and lifeguard like myself, only I am a surf lifeguard and she was not. So my summer job position was a little more impressive than hers. After church last week I found out that Stephanie was going to be in nun and actually was in the convent for a little while. I could not believe it. She still says that it is not totally out of the question. She is very sweet and is missed when she is in Pabo.

Lance and Justine are the married couple of the group and they are like my big brother and big sister. They are extremely generous, and more importantly hilarious. I have so much fun when I am with them and all of us on the trip look up to and admire them. They are hands down two of the greatest people I have ever met in my life. Justine always asks the questions that get the group to have a great conversation. She is also an unbelievably great photographer and I cannot wait to see her pictures of the trip. Lance owns a bar in San Francisco called Blue Light and we already have plans to visit them very soon. My parents should be able to sleep a little easier on Thursday – Sunday nights knowing that they are around.
The Atanga boys leave on Monday mornings and return on Friday (although Thursday this week.) It really sucks that they have to leave because they are some of the people that I am closest to. This is Big John’s 3rd summer in a row coming here and he is like a celebrity in Gulu. The man is literally 6’11” and you can see him coming from a mile away. He is the funniest man on the trip (besides myself obviously) and can really hold his own when we are all out. EVERYONE loves him, and I would not believe someone if they said they did not love him. He would do anything for anyone (and has done a lot for a lot of us.) I look forward to spending many Kentucky Derby’s with him and I am never worried about getting lost when he is around because he is so massive.

Kevin and Bill are the two other guys in Atanga. They actually met in college and have been lovers ever since. Just kidding. Kevin now lives in Colorado and Bill in Washington DC. I actually changed my plans on the way home and I am going to Amsterdam with the two of the when we leave here next month. Kevin is absolutely hysterical and loves to be silly. He always talks in a ridiculous accent when he is talking to the Acholi people because it makes him feel like he is speaking in a different language. Bill is hysterical too, but in a different way than Kevin. I am actually the only person on the trip that likes Bill. Just kidding, Kevin likes him too. He is very nice and has a very dry sense of humor, which I love. We have already made plans to visit each other on a bi-weekly basis, but then realized that that was ridiculous and not necessary. We then changed it to a monthly basis and realized that even that was not necessary and finally decided on a bi-monthly basis which I think is perfect and very reasonable. I am sure we will call each other bi-hourly every day though. We all miss these guys terribly when they are gone and I even sometimes stand at Bill’s door and knock on it asking if he can come out and play, obviously getting no response. It makes everyone laugh and it never gets old.
The other 11 of us are permanently living at Katharina’s and are continuing to bond every day. We all had a very great conversation last night before and during dinner about relationships and personal experiences. We were all sharing and comfortable to tell each other personal stories as if we have been friends for years.

The 3 girls that are at St, Mary’s Lacor school are Wendy, Lindsey, and Mandie. They are all special in their own way. Wendy is also in her third summer coming to Gulu and is extremely generous and giving. She seems to have a genuine concern about us and is always willing to help someone or lend advice. It is wonderful having her with us and sharing her past experiences in Gulu. Lindsey is hysterical and by FAR my favorite things about her (although there are many) is how hard she laughs at my jokes. She always laughs the longest and the hardest. Every time she laughs I say to the group “That is why Lindsey is my favorite. All you have to do is laugh very hard at my jokes, harder than Lindsey, and you will be my favorite.” Nobody really seems to be too concerned about being my favorite anymore and most of the time people just ignore me when I say that, but Lindsey knows how much I appreciate her. Finally, Mandie is absolutely awesome. She has three kids and her oldest is 21 years old. She has the best taste in music in the entire group besides me. She is very funny, extremely nice, and an absolute joy to have around. The trip would not be the same without her and I am so happy she is with us. She has had to deal with my whining and complaining more than anyone (except Michael my roommate, but more on him later) because I always sit next to her on our long journeys because she lets me sprawl out wherever we are. On the 6 hour drive from Kampala to Gulu she must have heard “I’m tired” “I’m hungry/starving” “I’m uncomfortable” “My butt hurts” “I have a headache” or “I’m bored” AT LEAST 5 times each. She handled it like a champion and definitely deserves a medal. This weekend on the mutatu to the Rhino Sanctuary there was 12 seats. There were ten of us. Everyone had their own seat and I had THREE seats. I was lying down on 2 and had my big bag on a third, which I was using as a pillow. This extremely selfish decision on my part forced Mandie to squeeze into the corner of the mutatu, but she never complained once. She even took a picture of me after I realized what I was doing and thought it was hysterical. Poor Lance, had ZERO leg room, and was in pain the whole time. I feel bad about it now, but I was real tired and needed my rest.

The three girls I spend the most time with are Lisa, Sharon, and Kate because they are with me at my school. I am very happy with my group because they are all wonderful girls and a lot of fun to be with. Lisa and Sharon are both from South Carolina. We have so many laughs together based on some of the ridiculous, unbelievable things we experience on our way to school and once we are at school. Sharon actually just learned how to play poker this weekend and already won Sunday night’s poker game. I was pretty mad, but she won fair and square and deserved the recognition. She also came to Kat’s with Bill, Michael and I on Sunday night to watch the Brazil and US soccer game. She even outlasted me, as I came home at half-time. Very impressive Sharon. Sharon and I also are usually home when the Atanga boys leave and we stand outside waving and we always joke that we are like a mom and dad waving goodbye to our kids going to college. Sharon was also part of the most frightening Boda Boda ride I have had yet. We shared a Boda Boda coming home from school and I was LITERALLY holding on for my life. I seriously thought I was going to fall off and Sharon was laughing, which made me laugh and thus made it that much harder to hang on. We have since decided that things will work much better if I put her backpack on my backpack when we share Boda Boda’s.

Lisa had the unfortunate duty of sitting next to me during the VERY LONG handover ceremony at our school last weekend. We were laughing so hard, but had to hide our laughter because we were the guests of the ceremony and were basically on stage facing hundreds of people. It was very difficult to do, and we have a lot of great quotes from that day. I am very happy Lisa was next to me, because she totally appreciated my reactions. When I was pulled onto the dance floor forced to try and dance the Acholi dance, I saw Lisa crying because she was laughing so hard at me. I basically was jogging in place and I am sure that image will forever be etched into her mind.
Kate is the other girl that is at school with us. She is originally from Connecticut but now lives in Texas. I am very happy that Kate is here and we have gotten pretty close. From day one people were saying we were like brother and sister, or like a married couple. Either way, we have a pretty cool relationship which I am sure will continue for quite some time. She was one of the first people that I bonded with. When I met the crew at JFK she was the first person I saw and she had a “beverage” in front of her. By that point (after checking in, security, customs) I needed to relax with a drink and seeing Kate was like seeing an angel. We have been close ever since, and Kate will be the first to tell me I am too loud or I need to stop doing something. She is very open and honest and I respect that. Everyone needs a Kate in their life.

The final group of us is the Gulu High group. The four people in that group are Matt, Annie, John, and Michael.

Matt is back this summer for a second year in a row and I actually read Matt’s blog about last year before I even knew him, so it was kind of like meeting a mini-celebrity. Matt is such a nice guy and since the Atanga boys have left (matt and big john are close because of last summer) Matt and I are getting closer every day. He really steps it up when we go out and sometimes is actually a bad influence on me, which I LOVE. Just kidding. He has a lot of knowledge about the Acholi culture and always has some information to share with us. With only four of us guys left here during the week, I am very thankful that Matt is back this summer and can’t wait to get to know him more over the next month.

Annie is back for her second summer as well. She lives in New York and is going to be a movie star one day. She is an amazing artist, actress, and person. She is so deep and intelligent and I love to just listen to her talk. She has a huge heart and seems genuinely interested in all of our stories and all of our past experiences. It seems like no matter what we are talking about she has something profound to say. She is a fantastic person and I am sure I will take the short drive to NYC to visit her often.

John (or Little John as to not confuse him with Big John) is someone that I look up to. He is 31 and the father of 2 beautiful little girls. He has dedicated so much time and energy into Invisible Children. He could possibly be the nicest guy I have ever met and is here for absolutely all the right reasons. He is making a difference in so many kids lives and has selflessly left behind his family for 6 weeks to make a difference. It is much easier for someone like me to do something like this because I do not have the responsibilities that he has. He has already formed many close relationships with Acholi students and the Acholi people in general. I really admire the guy and for those of you that know me, know that I do not say that too often.

The final person in the group is Michael. I could literally copy and paste just about everything good that I said about everyone and it would pertain to this guy (except that he does not own a bar in San Francisco). After 2 and a half weeks with this kid I think of him like a brother. I know that I may not be the easiest person to live with in general let alone sharing a SMALL BEDROOM with me for 6 weeks. Michael has taught me so much already and shared his personal stories with me, which inspires me to be a better person. I have never laughed so hard with someone and then immediately after have a totally deep, serious conversation which could go on for hours. The rest of the crew often complains that they hear us talking like little school girls at night, which makes it difficult for them to sleep. I always tell him to quiet down but he is too loud and can’t seem to whisper (or maybe that is me.) Anyway, this guy will be a life-long friend and that is an absolute fact.

We also have Catherine living with us who is our leader. She is really cool as well and extremely talented. She is doing some amazing things with her life and is also someone that I look up to. She is also based in NYC and I hope to see her often.

As you can see his description was very thorough and dead on. I am so lucky to be living and working with such an amazing group of people!
Pictures: 1) Ryan - the brains behind this post dancing with Catherine our kickbutt leader; 2) Bill and I; 3) Kevin and Annie (my roommate); 4) Sharon and 5) Lisa (the other teachers at my school with me) - I will work to include more pictures (the blog only allows 5 per post!)