Monday, June 15, 2009

Grand Canyon and Beyond

I do not want this adventure to end. The last month and a half has been full of excitement: I spent 18 days on the Grand Canyon with some dear friends of mine. It was a mini reunion of sorts, as 5 of us were in the same WEMT course in fall 2007. We always talked about doing a big adventure together during our course, and what better opportunity could we get than doing an 18-day private Canyon trip? The Canyon was amazing, yet again. Although it was my 4th trip down, every trip is a new experience and a trip of a lifetime. This place opens my mind and amazes me every time. It feels so magical and indescribable; there are new creeks and canyons to explore, new hikes, and new people for sharing the experience. We had great weather, and clear water until the last few days. When we pulled into South Cove, almost 300 miles downstream, we all wanted to drive straight back up to Lee’s Ferry and do it again. Aside from the Canyon, I had a great road trip. Brian and I did some flying at Woodrat in southern Oregon, then packed up our creek boats for some California creeking on our drive to Vegas. We stopped at the Forks of the Kern on our way down, and hit up the South Silver and EF Kaweah on our way back north. I am pretty sure I have some new creeks to add to my top 10. We also visited Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. So after rowing the Grand Canyon, creeking in California, flying in southern Oregon, exploring 4 National Parks, and spending time with dear friends and family, I would say this trip was alright. I do admit that it is hard to leave again. I am heading back to Uganda now for my next stint. It will be good to get back to work and spend some more time on the White Nile, but the recurring goodbyes are becoming too familiar now. Until next time.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Holiday Time

I am sitting here in Entebbe about to board a flight back to the US. The last 6 months have flown by, but it also feels like I have been here forever. Back in February, I got invited on another private Grand Canyon trip and I could not turn down the opportunity. I am now headed back to the US for a 6-week holiday. I am excited to have some time off, but most importantly, I am excited to get down the Grand Canyon again. I have realized that I should never pass up the opportunity for a Canyon trip with some dear friends of mine from back home. I may be stressing a bit more right now if I were leaving Uganda for good. However, here I go for a Grand Canyon trip and a road trip south, hopefully with some creeking and flying along the way. Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Letting Go

The last few months have been sobering. We lost a few patients, a few staff members at NRE, and even one of our own staff members who used to work for us. Some deaths were expected, and others were not; it was a reminder of the fragility of life.

There is always one guarantee in life: death. Unfortunately, Judith was a healthy, 26 year-old clinical officer who was just about to finish her master’s degree in public health. She suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. She started feeling sick late Friday night, and within a few hours, she was dead. There was no blood for her at Jinja Hospital and she died on the way to Nyenga Hospital to get a blood transfusion.

It is a sad story, and something none of us were expecting. It was a tough week, but as usual, after a day or two, everyone gets back into the swing of things as if nothing changed.

Anyway, things are still up and running, but it has been a bit busy and hectic lately. The kids were fun, but exhausting, and then Judith’s death. I think I am ready for a break.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Inner City Kids Come to Volunteer in Uganda

The Inner City Kids camp has been running since 2002 after Jessie found the funding to do a kayak school in New York with a group of kids from Upward Bound, a high school program for first generation potential college students from low-income families. The kids are from the Harlem area and have never been out of the big city. This year was the 3rd Uganda trip for the inner city kids. Most of the kids had done the kayak school and Rogue trip last summer, but it was everyone’s first trip to Uganda, let alone, out of the country. This year, we had 7 kids, from sophomore to senior year students, and 2 returning chaperones, Rosanna and Lee. I realized I have been working with Rosanna for the last 5 years after the first kayak school I helped teach back in summer 2004. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves. It definitely was not a typical spring break for these Harlem kids. The students had a great time volunteering; they helped teach malaria education sessions, completed follow-ups, learned a lot about malaria and even looked at blood slides infected with malaria, and most importantly, they kept the Ugandan kids entertained by teaching them some new dance moves. The kids also went for a rafting trip on the White Nile toward the end of their time here. Not a bad trip, eh?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fresh Air Malaria Conference

I just returned from a 3-day conference in Kampala called “Counting Malaria Out.” It was long, but interesting to see what other organizations are doing in Uganda. Although it can be pretty brutal to listen to 3 days worth of Power Point presentations, I survived.

The most interesting part was seeing how many people are giving out free nets without any education or follow-up. The other disturbing part is the money. Being at this conference held at the fancy hotel in Kampala, I realized how much of this money going toward “malaria” is wasted. Much of the money goes toward the administrative side or big, fancy conferences like this, and may never actually reach the ground. It made me feel a little better that we do not even have an office. The “office” is in my banda, or wherever I want it to be.

Most importantly, I became somewhat grateful that none of our funding comes from big organizations, like the World Health Organization, President’s Malaria Initiative, or USAID. Because of this, I do not have to deal with the bureaucracy of people sitting in a nice office in New York or Washington, many of whom have never left the country, telling me how I should run a program in Uganda.

Aside from my ranting about free distribution, it was somewhat comical to be at the conference. I have never been one known for networking and dressing up for fancy conferences, but I did feel somewhat official. I have never been a good city girl, but I even returned to Kampala a few days later to enjoy the city life with some friends: ice skating, sushi, a movie, bartering cops after running a red light, and a trip to the airport to pick up a friend. Yes, I did have to remind myself we were still in Uganda.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Full Moon Paddle

There is nothing like paddling a run in the dark to see how well you know the lines. A full moon was the perfect opportunity to do a fun Silverback run. As I dropped down the entrance of the Hump, I realized it was probably the highest water level I have seen here in a long time. It was all good to go, but funny as I watched a friend disappear into the big foam pile down at the bottom.

After Bujagali, I floated on down, enjoying the view of the stars and the moon rising from the east. I thought back to all the fun full moon night paddles I have had over the years: midnight sessions on the Special, night rafting trips on the Nugget-Powerhouse run, or even kayaking the entire 34-mile wild and scenic Rogue River in one night. It has always been a test to see how well I know the lines, or just go with it, and hope for the best. Sometimes not being able to see things makes life easier.

My starlit daydreaming was put on hold as I floated through 50/50 to be greeted by spotlights and trucks hard at work. It was a reminder that Salini never stops. They are working 24/7 on the dam and it is one of the few Uganda projects that is actually making progress rather quickly. My friend and I looked at each other, wondering what kind of security they might be having on a night like tonight. We just realized we had to be faster than the one next to you. I figured if they did start pulling out guns, I would just flip and hold my breath as long as I could. We made it out alive, with a fun line down the new Silverback rapid at high water. No guns, no security that saw us, just maybe a few Salini workers wondering what these crazy kayakers were doing on the river at such a late hour. The first few rapids were under the moon, but the rest of the run was fully lit from construction work. Well done.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Staff Rafting Trip

After all these years of this project, which mainly employs Ugandans, none of our staff has ever been rafting before. Most do not even know how to swim, and generally still think we are crazy for being in the river. Some people avoid getting anywhere close to the river after the Idi Amin administration murdered thousands of people and threw the bodies in the river back in 1970s. The river was red with blood as the bodies floated downstream. I understand how these dark memories could haunt someone forever. Anyway, we finally managed to do a staff rafting trip. Everyone was invited to come, but only the brave ones were willing to go for the challenge. We took 8 of our staff members down the day 2 stretch, a mellower big water class 3 section. Only 2 of them know how to swim. However, by the end of the day, I managed to get Livingstone to jump out of the raft and swim downstream in the flats with me. I was impressed. They all had a great time and have already been asking about the next rafting trip. Who knows! Maybe everyone will leave us soon and start guiding for Nile River Explorers.