Saturday, October 12, 2013

Walls of Death – Sipi Falls pt. 2

The third waterfall of the day and our final hike was to the 'biggest waterfall' on Mt. Elgon. Saving the best for last, or so we thought.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. . .

Our trek started out with our guide joking about how hard this final hike is and did we all think we were tough enough to do it. All of which was said with a big grin and a lot of chuckling. ‘Of course he’s messing with us,’ we all thought, though not completely convinced.

He wasn’t.

What started out as a nice easy journey quickly turned into a hike from hell as the trail took a downward turn, literally. We were no longer hiking a mountain, we were scaling a cliff! And that is NOT an exaggeration. I went down twice. The first because we were attempting to walk down an especially steep area and the dirt started rolling under my shoes and I couldn't get any traction - a few seconds later 'I can't stop!' Luckily, Danielle was in front of me and threw out an arm for me so I could stop. If I thought that was bad, I was in for a rude awakening.

Enter the ‘Walls of Death.’ A rickety wooden staircase/ladder mutation that becomes completely vertical about halfway down. Descending the contraption was not so much difficult as it was frightening, due to the fact that if you slipped you’d fall to a ton of broken bones, at the very least.

So far throughout our hike we’d had a few rain showers, using banana leaves as umbrellas. Now however, there were no more showers, just a downpour. Through this we made it to the bottom of the falls.  While enjoying the view, which was incredible, we couldn’t help but dread the answer to ‘how are we getting back up to the top?’ To our monumental disappointment our fears were confirmed. The only way back up the mountain was the exact way we came down.

Going back up the sheer mountainside was pretty much the worst thing ever. Imagine the worst, most exhausting workout of your life and then double it – at least.

 My second fall of the hike I think Karma played a hand in. Earlier in the day (during lunch after our morning hike) I made a comment how I was glad I didn't 'pull an April.' Which means going for a walk before dinner and coming back all muddy . . . because you fell down . . . in the mud, or in our case, falling on the trail and getting all muddy. Needless to say, this comment was followed by peals of laughter from me. Fast forward to going back up the mountain, in the pouring rain. There was a particularly slippery spot where even our guide had trouble. I started up it and even with his help I still ended up dirtying my pantaloons! (ok, in reality they were jeans – for any of you who look up the real meaning of pantaloons)

It was a really hard struggle to the top, complete with frequent breaks, dread of the climb remaining, and many attempts at self-motivating internal cheerleading. I was so tired afterwards! My clothes were drenched and muddy and we were all soaked to the bone.

I think it’s safe to say that this is an experience I will never forget, and truth be told never want to repeat. But hey, it makes for a good story!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Say Cheese

Last Saturday Katie and I went to eat lunch at Moti Mahal, a really good Indian restaurant. They have an awesome meal deal where you can get unlimited rice and naan! Anywho, we go there quite often, but this last visit we had an experience unlike any of the others. 
We sat down, ordered our food and drinks, and shortly after an Indian family comes in and sits at the table diagonal from us. Our food comes and we start eating, occasionally taking note of the nearby family when they are yelling to the waiter. Then I notice that they have moved on to taking pictures of each other around the back of the restaurant. A beat later I see the mother make a motion as if pointing to us, and I let out a laugh thinking she was making a joke of taking pictures with me and Katie. 
It wasn't a joke. 
Before we knew what was happening two GROWN women come over to us, sit down, and start taking pictures with us in them. No hello, no asking if we'd mind being in a picture with them, they just did it as if it was completely normal. Then they switch sides so they can both get a picture with me and with Katie. Once the pictures are done they walk back over to their table as if nothing had just happened, still not saying a word to either of us. 
Still in shock and a mild disbelief at what just happened we finished our food. As we were waiting for the bill the family left with only the mother saying 'bye' to us. One single word from one lone member of the group, and she didn't even take the pictures! It was bizarre. I mean, it occasionally happens when some random person comes up to you and asks to take a picture with you. Or you catch a random person trying to take a stealth picture of you. But to blatantly go up to a person, SIT DOWN, and not say anything to them before taking pictures without permission was mind blowing! Especially because Indians in Jinja generally don't give Mzungus much attention at all, at least not like Ugandans do. Needless to say it was a strange experience.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sipi Falls

A few weekends ago the gang and I took a mini-vacation to Sipi Falls. Sipi is located high in the mountains of Eastern Uganda (on Mount Elgon, to be exact), near the Kenyan border. Here the temperatures are cooler, the air is fresher, and the sights are stunning.

Though a last minute trip for Katie and me -
Lori: "Hey we're going to Sipi Falls with a friend of Vanessa's and two of her friends, you wanna come?"
Us: 'Sure! When are you leaving?'
Lori: "Tomorrow afternoon"
- it proved to be a wonderful getaway and a nice change of scenery from Jinja.

Thursday afternoon after returning home from sewing class, Lori, Vanessa, Katie and I loaded up our stuff in the private hire car we'd called and set out on the 3.5 hr journey to the mountains. Along the way we were blessed (for the majority of the trip) with incredibly good roads and got stuck at the tail of a funeral procession for some political figure going somewhat slowly and preventing anyone from passing around it.

Once we made it to Sipi we were a bit confused on where exactly we were staying because the hotel  has 3 different locations, ALL with the same name! Eventually we got everything figured out (after deciding to change locations the next morning) and settled into our 'home' for the next 3 days - Noah's Ark. Did I mention it was complete with somewhat creepy stuffed animals in the 'lounge' area?

Our first day was filled with hiking, Hiking, HIKING!!! Before lunch we hiked up the mountain to see two of the three largest waterfalls at Sipi. As I'm sure you can imagine, they were amazingly beautiful - and thanks to the invention of the camera, you can see for yourself with the photos below!

The lovely ladies of Lubogo Road - pre-adventure

View from the bottom of the mountain

BEHIND the waterfall!

Learning about the man-made salt caves behind the falls.


Katie and my 'first day of school' picture of the trip

Above Waterfall #1 - Overlooking the Karamojong Valley
Waterfall #2

That is one big waterfall . . .

The Sipi gang - minus the photographer

For scale - we look so tiny!
At lunch we headed back down the mountain to Sipi Falls Lodge (directly across the road from Noah's Ark) for some food and to gear up for the last waterfall of the day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Scarves For Sale - Get 'em While They're Hot!!!

You want to look cool?
You want to look stylish?

You want to have fun?

Then allow me to introduce . . . 


After a long blog absence I'm excited to announce that the handmade batik scarves we've all been working so hard on are officially for sale online!!! They went up September 7th (i think it was) - sorry about the late notice - and hopefully will be available until the end of the year. Unless they sell out of course, which would actually be pretty great for us, but sad for you if you can't get one. BUT fear not because we have an additional purchase order in place for this line and another for a new spring line! Wow-ee!!

The Details:
If you would like to purchase a scarf, thus supporting mine and Fount of Mercy's work, as well as help raise money for orphans all over the world (who knew a scarf could do so much, right?) click your mouse on this link:

This link takes you to our Fount of Mercy GO Shop, where you can learn a little more information about our project and how it helps Ugandans in the local Jinja community. ALSO - and this is the really important part - ANYTHING you buy through this page (just click the orange "Shop the GO Exchange Store") will support us with 25% commission!  If you don't use that link, you can type "fount of mercy" in the affiliate line at checkout which will give us the 25% commission as well. This is awesome because the commission money goes directly to Fount of Mercy to help keep it running!

Sound like a win-win? I thought so too. Now go on out there share the news, share the link, and let's buy some scarves!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting Up to Speed – Scarf Project

For the past month and a half or so Katie and I have been helping with Fount of Mercy’s latest project –handmade batik scarves to be sold in the good ol’ US of A.

The Scarf Project is our first attempt at selling goods made by Ugandans in the US market, and it is certainly a learning experience to say the least. What makes this undertaking possible is that the scarves are actually being sold by an organization called The GO Exchange.

What’s The GO Exchange? I’ll probably get this wrong, but here it goes. The website explains the organization as ‘a living and active global marketplace that changes lives; ALL PROFITS go to help care for orphaned and abandoned children’ ( So basically it’s an online marketplace selling goods made by people in other countries, with the profits going directly to helping orphaned children. We sell the scarves to GO then they resell them on their website as well as at home shows – so if, come September, you feel like buying a scarf, you can! Just make sure you type ‘Fount of Mercy’ in the Affiliation box on the billing page so we will receive an extra 15% on anything you buy from the website! . . . and you probably want to really try to make sure you do that, seeing as we’re not making any money off of this, but simply breaking even – hopefully. . .

So what exactly does it take to create a one-of-a-kind, beautiful, hand batik scarf? Allow me to try to explain.

First you wash the fabric to preshrink the scarves. Next you cut to size and batik, as you can see Esther measuring a piece out below.  

The batiking is accomplished by painting melted paraffin wax onto the fabric. Making batik look good is actually way harder than it looks! Katie and I tried it for a couple of days and our scarves didn’t look nearly as good or get completed as fast as those of the seasoned Scarf Gang. That’s just a name I’ve taken to calling the employees at the scarf workshop (though they don't know it).

Once the wax has been applied it’s time to dye the fabric! Depending on the color, the scarves will stay in the dye bath for varying amounts of time. Below you can see Janet stirring the bath to insure an even dying of the scarf as well as what the bath looks like just after adding the dye.

After the dying is finished the scarves are hung on the line to dry and then boiled after that to remove the wax. Below, another of our interns, Yevette, takes the boiled scarf out of the pot.

A final rinse to get the wax pieces off follows the boil and then another round on the line to dry.

Next, the scarves are ironed between sheets of newspaper to get rid of any remaining wax off of the scarves. Hemming up all four sides comes next and then a final once over with the iron.

At home Katie and I apply iron-on transfer tags, then fold and package the scarves. And voila, a handmade batik scarf is complete!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beauty and The Hairy Beast

Ok, completely random topic, but I swear, Ugandans have virtually no body hair. Really, it's like it's not even there! At least for the women . . . and with regards to their arms and legs (it's not uncommon to see a woman, young or old, with some whiskers on her face. But that is usually caused by a genetics or hormones, so it's completely different). You can pass them every day on the street, many different people, and the result is always the same, seemingly smooth arms and legs.

Now I'm not an overly hairy person, but put my arm next to a Ugandan woman's and I start resembling a Grizzly in comparison. Exaggeration? Maybe a little bit, but it paints a pretty nice picture. I know that these physical differences stem from different groups living and evolving in very different places, near the equator and very far from it. However, it is still comes as a shock to see how different we are, skin color aside.

Another seemingly small difference, but one I noticed nonetheless, is the curliness of Ugandans' eyelashes. Those things are curled! And I'm talking pull a U-turn and go straight back to the eyelid curl! If I had a good picture to illustrate this, I would show you. But I don't, so you'll just have to use your imagination.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Class is in Session!

Looking into the classroom
Eight students sit in pairs behind four treadle sewing machines. Two teachers stand or sit at the front of the small room, next to the chalkboard.  And two white girls sit off to the side observing the classroom and its happenings. What does all of this mean? The time has finally come (well, actually it came about 2 weeks ago). The beginning sewing class has officially begun!

As most of you know, this sewing class is the butter to my bread, the main reason I wanted to return to Jinja and resume working with Fount of Mercy.  Having written the curriculum and trained Sarah and Margaret to teach it, I was very eager to see how my hard work would actually play out in the classroom.  This wasn’t however, without a few unexpected turns.

Sarah (r) & Margaret (l) in action
The first occurred before I even arrived in Uganda.  Upon my ‘homecoming’ I quickly learned that Margaret would not be available to co-teach our first round of classes. I was very disappointed at learning this fact, as I had taken quite a liking to her last February during training. Despite this setback, I was informed we had already found a very capable replacement teacher whose name, wouldn’t you know it, was also Margaret.  

With the teachers in place, the next step was arranging a start date for the course.  Originally we were told early August, and after shifting the date a few more times we had it. At 9am on Tuesday, July 23rd Sarah, (new) Margaret, Katie and I met at the office then walked over to class, where we would meet every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am – 1pm for the next twelve weeks. 

I was a bit nervous to see how class would go. I was preparing for the worst (i.e. each class being a near if not total disaster and having to make monumental revisions to the curriculum) but hoping for the best.  I had no idea how it would go - I’d basically just met Margaret and had no idea of her teaching style or how she’d work with Sarah, among a number of other reservations I had
Learning how to thread the machine
weighing on me. But at the end of class that first Tuesday I couldn’t have been more pleased. Sarah and Margaret worked so well together!!! I don’t think I could have planned it better! When one teacher was lecturing the other would be writing on the board or demonstrating and vise versa.  To summarize, the first day of class could not have gone better!

 As mentioned at the beginning we have 8 students, 7 women and 1 man. We also have a ‘teacher-in-training’ named Sylvia. She is a member of the group but already has tailoring skills and will be learning how the class is taught from Sarah and Margaret so she can teach it to future groups. The classroom is small and each sewing machine is shared by two students.  The group varies in age, but I would say the majority of the students are pretty young (at least in comparison to the business classes, where most of the students were significantly older).

So far the four classes we’ve had have gone well. All of the students seem to be very smart and eager to learn, which is exciting and encouraging. However, it became quite clear this last week that learning measurements and how to read a ruler/tape measure is much harder than I remembered.  The result of this is getting behind schedule. My goal
was to get through at least 1 lesson each day,
Explaining measurements
but so far we've only completed 2. Only time will tell how long the course will actually take to complete.We estimated 12 weeks,but I don’t have much faith in finishing up that quickly. Things tend to take much longer than anticipated, especially when two people are sharing a sewing machine. I’m just hoping we can finish up before 16 weeks (especially because if we go much longer than 12, we’ll need to scrounge up more money to pay Sarah and Margaret with!).

Until next time . . . 
Leaving after class

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy Birthday America - She Has Come!

July 4th.            The 4th of July.           Independence Day.          America's Birthday.

All good reasons to celebrate no matter where you are, even in Uganda. Since we had a lot of work to do we couldn't take the day off, but that doesn't mean we didn't do anything to celebrate. In fact we got pretty wild.

What did we do, you ask? Ate hamburgers and milkshakes, of course! Well, we WANTED to eat milkshakes, but the restaurant we were at didn't have all the ingredients for them so we had to settle for smoothies.

While sitting at the table waiting to get our patriotism on we are spotted by Ali, the man who teaches language lessons to most of the Mzungus in Jinja. Katie and I hadn't seen him yet this trip (though we'd often heard him downstairs in the mornings for Lori's lessons) so Lori asks if he remembers us.
"Do you remember Katie and Sarah?"
"Of course!" he replies as he shakes Katie's hand, not quite convincing anyone of complete recognition. Then he reaches over to shake my hand, a perplexed look on his face.
"Do you remember me?" I ask. His face falls into even deeper furrowed thinking and then -
"Ah! She has come!!!!" Click. Ali has now locked into who I am and, apparently, how much he likes me, rushing over to my side of the table to shake my hand again. This time with GREAT enthusiasm.

"How are you?! How is America?" he peppers me with questions. By this point everyone else at the table is just watching, dumbfounded by what just happened.

After Ali left, we fell into a fit of laughter.
"Whoa, I had no idea Ali liked you so much!"
"What'd you do, pay him extra?!"
"Geeze Katie, what does that make you? Chopped liver?"
And many more similar comments flew back and forth across the table. A short time later our food arrived and we tucked right in, finally leaving with full bellies and satisfied airs.

Happy birthday America, it was one to remember.