Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day What Ever!

It has been a couple of days since I was able to write. We have not had Internet access for several days. Let’s see…where do I start? We had the best time white-water rafting in Jinja. You would not believe how hard the rapids were. I suppose the real question is why they let beginners, like us, go over Level 5 rapids!!!!! We had three of them on this trip. There were a couple of 4’s and the rest were 3’s. They were a blast. This would never happen in the U.S. There is not a chance any rafting company would take folks like us over that kind of water. But, we prevailed. “We came, we saw, and we conquered.” I suppose this would be a good time to tell you that our guide did most of the work. Actually, our guide did all the work! When we went over the 4’s and 5’s, he made us “hit the deck.” I guess the only thing you might say about us is that we stayed in and never flipped, unlike the raft in front of us. We did the half-day trip and it was perfect. At times, we got out of the boat and floated down the river. It was such a great time. He half-day trip was great; we had several things to do in Kampala before we headed off to Paraa Lodge. The most important thing that we had to do was find epoxy for the bicycle training. We looked at a couple of places and were quite discouraged when everyone told us it could not be found. I knew better. We had not come all this way for one simple thing to stop us from doing one of the most important things we came to do. Deo thought for a moment and we stopped at a store that was one block away from our hotel that is an automobile repair shop. He had exactly what we needed!!! One block away…imagine that! We bought the epoxy and headed back to our rooms for a much needed bath. The Nile is certainly not the cleanest river in the world and we were covered by red dirt. We had a late dinner…again…and went to bed only to get up at 5:00 to head to Murchison Falls National Park and the beautiful Paraa Lodge. The trip to the lodge is long. It took us nearly seven hours to get from Kampala to the Lodge. We stopped at the usual places; first, to see Irene’s mom and Jovia. The Antonian crew who might be following this blog will know who I am writing about. Irene is Deo’s girlfriend. She is a beautiful gal…inside and out! Jovia is her little sister. Katie Gazda and I went shopping for a backback and some goodies for Jovia before we left. I have a picture of that beautiful little girl with her gifts…she was quite happy! Our next stop is always in a town called, Luwero. We buy fresh pineapple and chapatti bread. The young man we buy the chapatti bread from was just setting up so we stayed and watched him as he made the dough, rolled it out and slapped the tortilla-like dough on a skillet. The folks who are lucky there have charcoal to cook with so the process went quickly. Bryan even tried his had at making the delicious bread. I have a video of his culinary feat! I’ll save it for his fiancĂ© to show her that he really CAN cook!? The rest of the trip was wonderful…at least I think so. I am so used to the bumps in the road that I am not troubled by the rough road. There is one part of the road that is being worked on right now and we counted 176 speed bumps. Now, that might not sound that bad, but when they are placed less than 40 feet away…it can become quite challenging to keep a smile on your face. The road into the park is long and very bumpy. There are miles that we had to roll up the windows because the van was swarmed by tse tse flies. That made for one hot ride. We were all a little testy when we arrived in front of the wonderful Paraa Lodge. We were greeted with very cold face towels and passion fruit juice. Our rooms are on the first floor, so we have lovely balconies that look straight into the Nile River. This is really one of the best of God’s perfect paintings! We had a quick lunch and then collapsed in our rooms for naps. We had gotten up early every day and we were still trying to recover from jet lag. We took an evening ride through the park that was not too fruitful, but it was great to get out on the savannahs and see what we saw. We were back at the Lodge in time for a wonderful three course dinner and then bedtime. We had a big day planned for today. The main thing planned was to sleep in…well, we were going to sleep until nine. We hired a boat to take us down to Murchison Falls and it was leaving at 10 a.m. We had their breakfast buffet and headed to the river. The trip was super. We saw “lions and tigers and bears… oh my!” I was wrong about that; however, we did see lots of hippos, elephants, crocodiles, birds of all kinds, water buffalo, wart hogs, and deer. There is a beautiful fish eagle that resembles our bald eagle and they are plentiful. It is amazing to see how many animals cohabitate. We saw pools where hippos, cranes, and crocs lived together in harmony. We could all learn from nature. Our destination was a hike to the top of Murchison Falls. Our boat driver was great…he gave us tidbits of information about the river and the animals and then let us ashore to climb a very, very steep path to the top of the Falls. The views were all spectacular. There is so much energy from those falls. Interestingly, this is one place that all the Nile Rivers (White, Albert, Queen, West, Victoria, and so on) converge. It is powerful! We took lost of pictures there as there really wasn’t a bad photo opportunity throughout the entire hike. Our guide met us at the top of the falls and didn’t understand why we didn’t want to pay his fee. And, it got worse…no one came for us. Deo finally was able to get in touch with a friend who was serving as a guide in the park, too, and he drove 45 minutes to pick us up. Apparently, when people, like us, come with drivers, the Lodge assumes that the drivers are going to pick us up at the top. What they don’t know about us is that when Deo is with us, he is family. He is NOT just our driver…he is our son, brother, and friend. We made it back, in time, to catch the ferry that brings cars and people over to the Lodge side of the river. If it were not for Jackson, Deo’s friend, we would probably still be there! It has been a lovely stay here. The ambiance is wonderful…the food is classy…the service is lovely…and the scenery is breath-taking. But, it is time to do what we set out to do and that is go to Gulu and start the bike training. I think that all of us are looking forward to serving the people of northern Uganda. I know I am! We have so much to do and not a lot of time to do it in. For my precious Antonian team…I miss you all very, very much. I think of the trip we made in March and wish you were here…constantly. I know the people of Gulu will be sad when they realize you are not with us. But, there is always another time. E.P.I.C. is going to do great things here…I just know it. Well, it is time for dinner so I’ll close now. I just wanted to update you since I have been unable to write for a couple of days. The best part of the trip is yet to come.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day One in Paradise

Day One in Paradise! After I made the post yesterday, it was time to board the plane for the eight hour flight to Entebbe…or so we thought. A man in the row in front of us had a heart attack and so the plane was diverted to Rome, Italy! We spent a couple of hours on the ground there while the crew readied the man for the trip to the hospital. We ended up landing in Africa over two hours late. I felt so badly as Pastor Chris, Deo and Stella. They arrived at the airport at 7:30 in anticipation of our arrival. It was great to see them and I know they were happy to see us in more ways that one!? Stella stayed in the room with me last night and we had an awesome time talking and reading. Today has been awesome. We got up early and took Stella to her school. She has done very well there. When I first met her, less than two years ago, she could not speak English. But now she is doing so well! We left her and headed on the boat across Lake Victoria. We met up with the “boda bodas,” which are motorcycle taxis that took the six of us across the red dirt “road” to the orphanage. I video taped the entire ride…I think it will be quite shaky, but very funny! We had a blast going over the African trail roads littered with pot holes. Finally, we ended up at Bethany Village Orphanage. It was beautiful! I know it is some of the prettiest land on this earth. The lush foliage of the jungle, coupled with the quaint buildings of the orphanage, is a beautiful site. It is Africa at its finest. We stayed at the orphanage for a few hours; we visited the children’s’ homes, the clinic, and the classrooms. There are at least 50 children in each room, but they are, indeed, the lucky ones. We took a leisurely boat ride back to Ggaba and started the trek to the Equator. Most everyone slept in the van during the two hour driving trip. Jet lag has “reared it’s ugly head,” and we are tired. But, once we were there, we were so glad that we made the trip. It is a bit like going to the Alamo… “this is IT?”; however, it is so “cool” to say that we have stood in both the northern and the southern hemispheres. Bryan was doing push ups in both hemispheres at the same time. Now…I bet there aren’t many people who can brag about that!!!!! We stopped at a spot along side the road that we saw in March to look at the hand-made drums. We found a couple of beautiful instruments! The folks there promised me that the hides of the cows used on the drums came from animals whose meat they had used for eating! Swell…and how about that swamp land in Florida for sale? It is only about 9:30 here, but we are all ready for showers…hot or cold…and for bed. We have to be up early to drive to Jinja for the white water rafting on the Nile River. They boast Level 5 rapids. I hope the Level 5 rapids here are NOT what they are in the U.S. If they are…it is possible I’ll see you on the other side of Heaven. It has been a great day. We are happy, while tired. It’s time for bed. I am going to put this on my memory stick and upload it in the morning. There are no Internet Cafes close to this hotel and the day has been full. Wish you were here!!!!! And, I really do mean it. This is my “home away from home.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day One of Travel

Today has been quite a day...and it is only 4:30! At least I think it is only 4:30...we have been in the air about one hour with seven more to go until we set down in Amsterdam. We really needed Dave this morning; no one really took seriously my pleas to 'get moving' so we didn't leave San Antonio until around 10:30. Yes, I know it is crazy, but there are some things, like packing a Pathfinder, that are totally out of my control. We finally left and I did have a sense of foreboding about me. I tried to 'chalk it up to" leaving late, but I sensed it was more than that. The trip to Houston really went fine; we stopped at a Dairy Queen in Flatonia and the wait likened the layover in Amsterdam. Again, my anxiety level began to rise when I realized that we were way behind the schedule we normally keep, but, I kept positive to cheer myself more than the others. We hit the Sam Houston Tollway in Houston and I must admit that I sighed a sigh of relief when we stopped at the first toll booth. While I realized we were still miles away from the airport, I knew, at last, we were close. For some strange reason, thank you God, I just happened to look back at exactly the time a suitcase broke loose fromt he top of the car and plunged onto the highway. It did not make any noise so I am wondering if we would have known it was gone until we arrived at the airport. The worst part of the entire thing was realizing it was MY bag that lay in the middle of the road. I am really not sure what I screamed, but I am sure that it was NOT suitable for young ears. Barr was finally able to pull to a stop and he and I ran about 1/4 of a mile back to get my bag that lay smack dab in the middle of the tollway. I was at my anxious best! A Good Samaritan did some blocking for us and we were able to haul it off the freeway and get it back in the car. I didn't even want to think of the damage to the bag...we only had 15 minutes to get to the airport to make the one-hour rule of check-in. But, there was plenty of damage to the bag. This time, I got in the driver's seat and drove like a proverbial "bat out of hell" to the airport. When we pulled up to the terminal, I barked orders to anyone who would listen and then took off for the Park N Ride. I had no idea how to get there from the terminal, but I had to and I did it! When I got to the terminal in the shuttle, I found the group checkin in and halling over the price of the bike frame that we are taking with us to teach the people in Uganda how to make a bike. It was turly a "nightmare of epic proportions." So, here I am on the plane. The delightful young man next to me just spilled my entire glass of red wine on me and I have been fortunate to be given a pair of sweatpants from one of the KLM flight attendants. You may be wondering what else could go wrong. But, I know this is all part of the wonder of the trip. The kids had an aisle to themselves and I am sitting on the back row of the least I have an aisle. It is, indeed, the little things in life that make me truly happy. More tomorrow!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Totday's the Day

We are all running around trying to get ready to go. This is hardest part of any trip, but it is worse because there is a lot of apprehension in the air. We have two long flights ahead of us...24 hours in total...but, the time does go by quickly on the plane with the right medications and some wine!? SMILE. I am trying very hard not to anticipate. I want to let Africa surprise me. And, in my last seven visits, it has not let me down. I am at peace...I know all the places we are staying and I know the people who will be caring for us there. Hakuna Matata - literally, this means "No Worries" in Swahili! Pray for us for safe travel and good health! Sally