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July 31 – Murchison Falls

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We awoke early today and my stomach felt much better. We were packed and on the road by 7:30 AM and headed to Murchison Falls. We have been told that the falls are amazing and the park is beautiful. Deb asked us if we would take Robert, one of the sponsored students from Gulu, with us. We were happy to do that as the kids have enjoyed their time with Robert. Robert met us at our hotel at 7:15 and we were all off to see the animals. Sampson was right on time and it was time to get some gas and get on the road.

Our next stop was for breakfast. We stopped in Kamdidi on the roadside and ordered some Chapatti with eggs. Now, if you meet my kids tomorrow and ask them what their favorite food in Uganda is they will say Chipatti. It is basically fried bread that looks a bit like a tortilla but tastes like bread. We have had it 4 or 5 times already but never with eggs. When we stopped on the side of the road to get the Chapatti the young man did not have any eggs and he asked Sampson to get some eggs and he will make them. Sampson gave the young man a look and told him to go get the eggs!

When the young man came back with 8 eggs he started making the food. It smelled really good and by the time everything was done the kids were digging in. For those of you who know our daughter Drew, she is a pretty picky eater. She finished her Chapatti and egg sandwich faster than anyone, she loved it! I am sure we will have Chapatti and eggs a few more times before we leave.

It took us almost 4 hours to get from Gulu to the paid entrance of the Murchison Falls National Park. We drove through the park for at least an hour before reaching the paid gate. On the road to the main gate we saw a family of baboons just hanging around on the road and some monkeys that we can to learn as Patas Monkeys. They were very cute and their faces looked like they had sunglasses on. When we got to the gate of the park we were met by a guard and he said the money man will be here shortly. A man came walking toward us and asked us how many people and how we wanted to pay. We could pay in Uganda Shillings, US $, Euros, he didn’t care, he had a price for each one J

Once we entered the park officially, which was about 11:30 AM, we had planned to drive straight to the river boat which was scheduled to depart at 2:30 PM. It takes about 1 hour to get from the entry gate to the river boat so we had some time to spare. Well, we passed another tour bus and the driver told Sampson, our driver, that they had spotted a family of lions not too far from where we were and it was worth taking a look. So, Sampson set off to find the lions. It turned out to be a 1.5 hour excursion and we did find three female lions on the prowl for something to eat. Watching the wildlife respond to the animal that is at the top of the food chain is really interesting.

We saw every animal within a few hundred yards perk up and take notice of these three female lions looking for food. Many of the animals were making noises so everyone else would know what was happening. It was truly amazing. On the ride we also saw dozens of giraffe and a number of elephants (Noah’s favorite animal). I got some amazing pictures that will be posted on an album when we get back (hard to upload pictures when mobile do to such slow internet connections).

This post is starting to get long so I will discuss our river trip in a separate post.

‘Til next time ….

July 30 – Gulu Belly

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I am not sure if it was the meat on a stick, the chicken on a stick or the fact that I brushed my teeth with tap water by mistake, but at about 10:30 AM this morning I started to feel pretty bad. My stomach was rumbling and started to feel like crap, and Ilise said that I looked pretty bad as well (not unusual in some cases). I started to sweat and sat in the toilet for a while, it was not going to be a fun day. This all started after we had arrived at the AMREF facility in Gulu and Deb was in full swing working with the students putting together a video to promote U-TOUCH.

I ended up going back to the hotel to lay down and took some of the medicine we had brought with us. Thank god for smart doctors who recommend we take certain medications with us. I got back to the hotel and slept most of the afternoon. I ended up meeting the kids and Ilise at the local market around 5 PM. They had spent the day with a young girl named Rachael, who was the child of the founders of a non-profit installing solar suitcases around Uganda. The kids got along extremely well and they spent some time in one of the schools outside of town. They also spend some time in the hut of one of the local women that make beaded necklaces. Deb is very intent on turning these local products into fundraiser products for kids.

Once we got to the market the girls were so excited to meet the dress maker and bag maker that Deb knew. Drew found a bag that she really liked and asked the women to add a pocket on the inside. Ilise also ordered a custom made dress and both will be ready on Thursday since we will be heading to Murchison Falls tomorrow and Wednesday. Noah was very patient all day and was anxious to get a Uganda soccer jersey. I was not with them but Ilise said that Noah was very well behaved all day even though the focus was on girl stuff (jewelry and handbags).

We had dinner at a local dive called Mama’s. I wish my stomach was in better shape and I would have eaten more of the local food, but we will go back there before we leave and I will try some of the meat and the beans. At dinner we met Laura and Hal who started the Solar Suitcase project. Laura is a doctor who went to Sierra Leone to help and realize that they didn’t have to basic necessities of power to do their work. She was working on infant mortality and realized that without power they couldn’t do anything. It turns out  that her husband is a solar power expert and together they came up with a solution to use solar power in a very controlled environment to power simple tools to help with childbirth. In the first year of use the infant mortality rate fell by more than 70%, that is just amazing work!

In talking with Hal and Laura, their growing pains are no different than U-TOUCH. They have lots to do and not enough resources to accomplish their task. Finding a finance person to help with the books is an issue along with many other tasks that Laura is straddled with. It seems like they are doing amazing work but it is definitely not easy. This whole issue of helping non-profits run more effective businesses is a path I must pursue. People are doing amazing work yet they don’t have the skills or access to the right resources. 4-Profit needs to do something about this!

July 30 – The Brilliance

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We have been here less than a week and I have met a number of young, ambitious and motived young people. I have always been fascinated by individuals with great intelligence, and they live as much in Uganda as they do in the US. The only difference is that here they are trapped in situations of poverty and neglect that they struggle to overcome.

I have known many people that have excellent brain capacity and I enjoy talking with them because they see the world so differently than I do. They are able to understand concepts and technologies that most of us can’t. Over the past week I have met Saddat, Armstrong and Robert; three young men that are obviously intelligent beyond the average person. They have a different drive and motivation than most yet they are trapped, trapped in a culture that doesn’t value their brilliance and an educational system that doesn’t work well at all. In the end, it is the poverty that keeps them from reaching even a fraction of their potential. U-TOUCH is looking to change this and that is why we are here. Looking forward to helping in this effort to initiative change. This is fun!

July 29 – Random Thoughts

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As we travel from Mbale to Gulu on such poor roads it makes you think about what you have and how much we are spoiled in the western world. We have so much, and many people I know want even more, which I don’t understand. Our culture in the west is so focused on things and acquiring “stuff” when you travel this countryside and see the average person just trying to survive, it makes you think. I have been on this path to learn what is really important in life and what makes us happy and the more I travel the more I am certain it is not the way we look for it in the US.

I have been thinking about the concept of wants vs needs and have thought about writing a book titled “When Wants Become Needs – For very important busy people.” The book would be about how our society has turned wants into needs. When you have a need, your happiness is dependent on fulfilling that need. When all you need is to wake up in the morning and whatever happens that day is a blessing, than happiness is easy. When you need to live in the right house, have the right career or job, have the perfect wife, the ideal kids and belong to the right country club, than happiness is so much harder to achieve. Bigger boobs and fuller lips will not make you happy. And, if you do achieve those things they can be destroyed in a moment by so many outside factors.

So, how does this effect my life? For me, I look to live each day and just enjoy as much as I can. Not too many highs and not too many lows, each day brings its own opportunity for joy. To be joyous is something I have looked for in my life and something I want to see in others. The most joy I have gotten in the past few years are related to my family and the ability to give to others, especially those in great need. The work we are doing with U-TOUCH can change lives in ways you can’t imagine, and it is not complicated. When we return to CA I look forward to spreading the word and turning U-TOUCH into an organization that can make significant change around the world.

Here are some pictures for you to see the world they live in.

‘Til next time…..

July 29 – Goodbye Abayudaya, Hello Road Trip

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We had planned to leave Mbale at 8 AM sharp, yet I found myself waking up at 8:10 and the rest of the family was still sleeping. I hurried out of our room and found Sampson and Deb in the front of the Guest House waiting for us. We gathered everyone and ate a quick breakfast. Drew was able to say goodbye to Binah and we took some pictures with Rachael and her family. I was able to go up to the facility that will house the U-TOUCH Center and take “before” pictures to compare them to pictures we will take when the computers are installed.

In speaking with Rabbi Gersham last night he thought that the plan was excellent and was excited to move forward. The only challenge is that he doesn’t have the budget, it needs to be approved in San Francisco by the non-profit that runs the community. Deb and I agreed that the $2,300 investment up front would be laid out by U-TOUCH or our family to make this happen ASAP. Deb would like to come back before she leaves the country to take pictures of the completed center. We know that once we say go they will get this project done extremely quickly. They are very motivated to make this center work.

I am writing this post as we are driving from Mbale to Gulu and a young man just crossed the road in front of us with about 10-12 cows. The sites, the smells and everything about this country is different than anything I have experienced in my life. We have been traveling for more than two hours on a road with more potholes than the Cross Bronx Expressway, time 100! It is truly amazing how underdeveloped this country is, yet most people seem very happy and connect4d. I have known for a long time that happiness has nothing to do with what you have, and this trip is reinforcing that tenfold. The sense of community and belonging is something we miss back in the US.

I am looking forward to our time in Gulu and getting to see an area of the country that is even further behind than where we have been. Deb keeps telling us about all the kids that she has worked with over the years and who we are going to meet. I am looking forward to meeting them all.

What I am most happy about on this trip is how Noah and Drew have behaved and handled themselves. They were amazing on the plane trip and even these long car rides have been enjoyable. We have been told by all of the people we have visited how wonderful a family we have. I look forward to many more family adventures like this one in the future.

‘Til next time …..

July 28 – Last Day w/ Abayudaya

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We started our last day in Mbale with a wonderful breakfast from Rachael, Halima and crew. I must say that I really enjoy the food here, especially the vegetables, beans and the chicken. I am looking forward to more food on the street in Gulu, Deb says it is really good there. Noah is excited about the bbq on the street as well. He has enjoyed the chicken the few times he has had it. After breakfast we headed to Shabbat services at the temple. I haven’t been to temple this much ever, but it was a different experience for some reason. I might actually go to temple if I lived here since it is the center of the community.

The children had a wonderful day playing with the other kids here. Drew met a niece of the Rabbi named Dinah and they became fast friends. Noah was also extremely welcomed by Dinah and they all played from the moment they met. As we are preparing to leave Dinah just wrote a note to Drew telling her how much she will miss her and how beautiful she is. She even stated that she loved Noah as well. Ilise also got a note from one of the small children that we gave some clothing to. Ilise seemed like she was ready to cry just looking at the note.

During the day Deb and I worked with everyone involved in the U-TOUCH Center to get budgets for each component. We discussed the furniture, the network, the electrical and we put together a complete budget. The budget for the entire installation is going to be less than $2,300 to establish a lab for 20 computers. This project will be one filled with love and passion that can change the landscape of this community. The ongoing costs to maintain the center will be less than $600/month, of which the community will pay $225/month for one trainer. U-TOUCH will fund the internet and our family has committed to supporting a second trainer. This will be great for everyone and will allow our kids to stay connected to this community moving forward. Drew is especially excited about finding ways to help here by sending shoes and clothing. According to the Rabbi it is better to send money and let them use it in the community than sending goods. The goods are taxed upon entry to the country so sending goods is not the best option.

Tomorrow we are planning to leave around 8 AM for a 6 hour drive to Gulu on some crazy roads. Should be an interesting trip.

‘Til next time …..

July 28 – Another day with the Abayudaya

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We awoke early and went for a walk in the neighborhood where the Abayudaya live. We walked past home after home built out of bricks and mud with tin roofs. The children were barely clothed and just sitting around playing together. We passed a few homes that were much more lavish, but still nothing that would compare to any home in a normal US town. To say this is an example of poverty is an understatement. The scary part is that we have been told that it is worse in the northern part of Uganda, where we are going next.

When we returned we were asked to visit with the Rabbi, who had invited his team to come to discuss how to set up the U-TOUCH Center. We had a carpenter, Arthur, and electrician, Alex, the network guru, David Armstrong and the proposed trainer, Saddat. We talked about how to set up the systems and what they needed to be successful. We asked everyone to come back with budgets so we can secure the money from the non-profit supporting the community. Everyone is extremely eager to get this project started and we are excited as well. Drew and Noah are so happy here and they are meeting some wonderful children.

The roads are all dirt and the Haddasah Primary School is about 1.5 miles down the hill from the Abayudaya Guest House. After meeting with the Rabbi and before lunch we decided to head to the Primary School to look around. The walk was the same way we had gone earlier and we passed many of the same kids. When we got to the school they were letting everyone out for the end of the semester. We were able to see all the buildings and took lots of pictures. Most of the important lessons were painted on the outside walls of the buildings since they don’t have text books. To imagine that this situation exists in this day and age is amazing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Mbale getting some things for the workers at the Guest House and waiting for the driver to deliver our bags. We kept talking with the driver and he was scheduled to arrive at approximately 5:30 PM. He had left Entebbe at 10:30 AM, that is a long day!  After getting the bags the driver was planning to drive back to Kampala that day. The interesting part about getting the bags was the moment when our driver, Sampson, tried to start the van we were driving and the battery was dead, ouch! I had visions of being stuck in Mbale for the night, but moments later someone came with a new battery and we were off to the Abayudaya community for Shabbat services.

The services on Friday evening were extremely enjoyable. There was lots of singing and everyone was engaged, even the children. The community is very cohesive and seems to be connected in a way you don’t see in the US. The families are all together and they help each other in every way. There are large families and there are children supporting their parents since the parents can’t do it anymore. The education level is higher than expected for selected individuals, as we have always discussed at U-TOUCH, brilliance is equally distributed; opportunity is not!

With help and support we can help these people improve their lives, with such a small investment. All of us can make a difference, and it doesn’t take much.

‘Til next time ….

July 27 – The Abayudaya

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We arrived at the Abayudaya community on Thursday early evening and were taken to the guest house. For this part of the country this place is extremely nice. The Abayudaya are used to housing people from all over the world and we have been treated like family since we came here. The guest house is managed by Isaac and the cooks/house women are Rachael and her daughter Halima. They have been so nice and they are amazing cooks (according to me and Deb, not sure Ilise and the kids are enjoying the food so much).

The night we arrived Deb and I were able to meet with Rabbi Gersham, who runs the community. He was very excited to have Deb here and talk about opening a U-TOUCH Center on the campus. They have a building that is only used from 9-12 every day. So, the Center could be open from 8-9 in the morning and from noon to 8 PM at night. The Rabbi also talked about a young man named Saddat who could be the trainer for the center. It turns out that Saddat is Raechel’s son and very excited about this opportunity. We had a conference call with Danielle in San Francisco about the concerns that they have about the center. Danielle works for the non-profit org that promotes the Abayudaya in the US. They had tried to build a center a number of years ago and it failed. She wanted to make sure we didn’t make the same mistakes.

Rabbi Gersham said he would ask the carpenter to come in the morning and when we arrived in the morning to discuss the project the carpenter and the electrician were there. We discussed the layout of the center and how we would use the space and they promised to get back to us with budgetary estimates. It turns out that they had estimates the same day. This place is set up for success!

Thursday Afternoon; July 27 – Kampala to Mbale

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We planned to leave Kampala at 9 AM and spend some of the day in Jinja, but with the baggage situation we didn’t leave until about noon. We met our driver, Issa, and he was very nice. It is a 4 plus hour drive to Mbale and we needed to be there by 5:30 PM. So, not much time left to spend in Jinja. The drive was extremely interesting. The traffic in Kampala was extremely heavy and it took us some time to get into the suburbs of the city. Now, when I say suburbs they weren’t what any person I know would consider suburbs. They were mud buildings with some store fronts and lots of people mulling around. We even saw a cow in the middle of the street at one point.

We saw some amazing sights, including a Bota Bota (a motorcycle that transports people and things) with a box of chickens attached on the back. That was amazing but I didn’t have my camera out. I wish I could have gotten that picture!

We did stop in Jinja to see the Bujagali Falls, but they recently built a dam below the falls and the falls are now a lake. Progress sometimes destroys the most beautiful natural environments. Deb had some pictures of the falls from a few years ago and they looked amazing, but not any more L

We stopped for lunch at The Jinja Nile Resort, which is a high-end resort, but the restaurant was only serving a buffet of local foods, not something that Ilise or the kids would eat. We ended up stopping at a grocery store and getting some basics and then stopped along the highway for grilled chicken and beef on a stick. Noah and I ate the chicken and I had the beef. They were actually really tasty. Noah loved the chicken and I am sure he will try it again.

We continued our journey and arrived in Mbale, which is the town where the Abayudaya Jews have they community. I had heard about this community through my involvement with U-TOUCH, but since hearing about them I have run into many people that have told me about them. Once we got into Mbale the roads were getting a bit less comfortable, lots of potholes. Little did I know that we were just beginning the portion of our journey on the real roads of Uganda. To say that they are not paved is an understatement. We must have driven for 3-4 miles on a road that no car in the US would dare go on without 4-wheel drive, but these guys do it everyday.

It turns out that after speaking with Sampson, Issa’s boss and our driver to Gulu, that our drive from Mbale to Gulu on Sunday will take us on roads like that for over 100 KM, OUCH! That is going to be a long drive.

Thursday; July 27 – Picking up the Bags

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Well, this day started off very early after a late night with Joshua and Deb talking about U-TOUCH and the challenges we are facing, but that is not the story. The story was my ride back to Entebbe Airport at 4:30 AM to pick up our bags before our drive to Mbale that morning. We were promised that our bags would be at the airport at 3:30 AM and they promised that they would deliver them to us. I told them that at this point we didn’t trust them and we would pick the bags up ourselves. So, Amin Mohamed picked me up at 4:30 AM to drive to the airport in the dark. Remember I said I never wanted to make that drive again in the dark!

So, we arrive at the airport at 5 AM and the person who spoke with us in Kampala from Turkish Airlines, Stephen, was walking out of the airport to go home. I asked if he could take us to the baggage area to help us find our bags. He just said go downstairs and ask the person in baggage handling and they will get them. By now I am sure you have realized that our bags were not at the airport, Turkish Airlines messed up again, and Stephen just wanted to avoid a conversation.

I arrived back at Joshua’s house at 7 AM and Joshua was awake. We talked for a few minutes and he took the business card from me for the Director at Turkish Airlines. Joshua was able to get Erbil on the phone and the conversation did not go extremely well. Joshua was very angry and was ready to jump down this man’s throat. After Joshua threatened him with lawyers getting involved we agreed to meet at their offices at 9 AM. I headed to Kampala with Joshua and we went straight to the Turkish Airlines offices. Before entering I told Joshua that he was the bad guy and I was going to be the good guy. Erbil was waiting for us and was actually very apologetic. He offered to compensate us significantly for our lost luggage beyond the original amount given the day before and was willing to upgrade us to first class on our trip home. Only problem is that we are not taking Turkish Airlines home from Nairobi.

Anyway, the solution was for Turkish Airlines to ship our bags to Mbale the next day so we could leave as scheduled. This plan actually worked out extremely well because the car that we were taking to Mbale was just big enough for the bags we had. If we had received our bags that day it would have been a miserable drive for all of us to Mbale. I truly believe that everything, I mean everything, happens for a reason. In the end we lived in a couple of sets of clothes for 4 days and those clothes were a bit over worn, but in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal! Life is good!

‘til next time …..