Tuesday, July 27, 2010


In these last couple weeks in Santa Barbara, my mind is full to overflowing.

But it's not so much with wondering, questions, ifs and whens and whos...

My to-do list is of course crowding my thoughts. But my mind is most full of moments, each dashing through, wanting it's own image to stain me with it's meaning. These moments are past memories, things of the present and anticipation of the future.

I think about moments that changed my life. Sitting in a Westmont dorm for preview days as a senior in high school, looking at the late night madness around me, and passionately scribbling down what was to be my entrance essay for that college. Picking up a description of the trips that the summer missions teams were going on through Westmont when I was a sophomore, seeing the description of the Thailand trip, and without knowing anything about the student leaders or the country, knew I was going. A late night conversation with a tall blond boy the year I was an R.A., who looked deep into my eyes and heard every word I said, in a way that few had before and since. The day a certain curly haired girl moved into my house after graduation. The text that came that said, "Let's do New Zealand this February." Standing on the dancefloor, waving the ridiculous ribbons of white from the smoke machine out of my face when a tall guy with a mischievous smile started waving it away for me. Opening my email to discover all the good news these past couple months.

I think about these things and how hard work and drive has come between all of them to get me to where I am now. To a place where I finally know what the next year will look like, and it looks exactly as I am certain it should. Everything's been so up in the air.

Now all that's up in the air is how amazing it will all be. How much I'll learn. How cold I will get but how beautiful it will be. It's the best up in the air I can imagine. The certainty of growth and discovery... I'm finally there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out of Africa

It's amazing how things loom on the horizon and then all of the sudden they've come on gone.

Such was my trip to Uganda. I can't believe it happened and I've been back for a few days. One minute, I'm dancing at a party in a museum with all my friends downtown, the next, I'm in a village where women carry babies tied around their backs and baskets full of food on their heads. And then, I'm back again. Looking at the high heels in my closet and trading them for flats because I still need to debrief mentally from my trip and high heels just won't help.

The posts I wrote about Africa are originally at the family website I set up for the trip, Roots of a Tree. That site has the photos if you want to check them out.

I think my trip will forever be seen through the lens of the fact that a few days after I left, there were bombings in public places in Kampala where people had gathered to watch the World Cup Final. At least 70 Ugandans and and other international residents and visitors were killed. I can picture the types of people who died while enjoying the soccer game... older brothers taking care of their family, young women who just finished their waitressing jobs and wanted to join in on the viewing, aid workers from abroad. It wasn't, but could have been, Ambrose, Georgina, Lonna, or Francis. It wasn't, but could have been Kacie, Sarah, Kate, or my aunt. And even Kevin and I could have been there, as we spent so much time watching the World Cup in public places while in Uganda.

Please keep the people of Uganda in your thoughts and prayers as they deal with the pain and fallout from these terrorist attacks. It could be just this incident, but it could be the beginning of a streak of these cowardly and devastating acts.

Fitting Finale

"You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was."
-Irish saying

Our time in Uganda ran out all too soon, but as it ended we still fit in some of the best moments with people there we'll never forget.

I met my mother's friend, Dorothy, whom she met when she visited Uganda three years ago and has corresponded with ever since. Dorothy hurried to meet Kevin and I as we pulled up to my aunt's church on Sunday. She was so easy to talk to right away, and we carried on chatting and I gave her a gift from my mother (the novel Little Women, some candy, and a card). At one point she paused and said, "It is so strange to be talking to you now, you look just like your mom, it's almost as if she's here." She seemed to have tears in her eyes, and of course then so did I. I understood why my mom always spoke of her with such tenderness.

My aunt and Kevin and I had lunch with Kevin's student, Ambrose, and the student that my mom and stepdad sponsor, William. As soon as we met William I could tell he had a fun and hilarious personality. Over lunch I had the privilege of getting to give him a new backpack packed with fun presents from my mom and Brad. I wished that they had gotten to be with William to do this, since they've never met him and I knew they'd love him. As he opened the backpack he first spotted a card from each of them, and read them thoroughly first without even touching the candy and gifts, and then grabbed a stack of photos my mom included of various family members doing fun things, and had me explain who was in each photo and where it was taken. William's amiable curiosity and confident caring nature is going to take him wherever he wants to go... it was a such joy to meet him.

On our last full day we went bowling with my aunt and the Hope Alive staff. The skill level was wide-ranging but the smiles never stopped, and after every turn, there was always someone cheering you no matter how you did. There was a dj playing a wide variety of 80s and 90s dance hits, and between turns our Ugandan friends would bust some serious moves. Kevin and I were so impressed, and Kevin decided then that he needed to one day come back to Africa for a few weeks just to study dance moves... "there was so much to learn from them..." he said in awe. Totally true.


Then we flew away... but before our journey was completely over, there was still something left we had to do. As we touched down in Dubai for our overnight layover, Kevin asked, "Did you bring your paintbrush?" I grinned. "Yep."
"Good, because I've got my roller," he replied. But we didn't quite paint the town.

Our cabbie drove us through the glittering city in the middle of the night. The streets were quiet but the skyscrapers lit up the middle eastern night sky. Nothing was open at this time, so we had him drop us off at the beach right in the heart of Dubai. Kevin and I tore off our shoes and ran through the sand. We stepped into the ocean... and just started laughing. It was so warm. Warmer than the humid desert air. And the fantastic and very foreign scene was just too incredible. That famous hotel, the one that rises up in a curved arc with a tennis court hovering in the sky, was just to our left, looming over us and illuminating the gentle waves of the Persian Gulf. We bodysurfed and picked up shells and floated easily on our backs in the very salty water. It's a euphoric feeling to be in a moment that you are confident will stay with you for the rest of your life. As we drove away, the sun rose and we could see the city come to life. Kevin and I knew there could not have been a more fantastic finale to our African adventure, and when we landed in San Francisco eighteen hours later, with sand still in our hair, I know we could not have felt more grateful when we saw our Grandma waiting for us, sweet and excited, eager to hear our stories.

"The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break. "
— J.R.R. Tolkien

Crossing Hemispheres

We spent most of the weekend in Masaka. Although the road there was rough and bumpy, I knew as soon as we pulled into our site there that this part of Uganda was my favorite. The hills are green and rolling. The air is still warm but not nearly as gripping and humid as it can be elsewhere... at times it almost felt cool. The atmosphere of the town is more relaxed than Gulu, the other smaller town we've been in, since Masaka is in Southern Uganda and not affected by the rebel activities that had been going on in the north. Whenever I'm in a new place, be it a city, state or country, I like to imagine where I'd live if I settled down for awhile there. In Uganda, it would be Masaka.

There were so many highlights to the weekend...

* We visited the classes at a primary school and were there during one of their hour breaks. Some of the boys in the Hope Alive program practice their drumming during htat time. Kevin went over to join them... and soon there were dozens and dozens of kids around, because as someone said, "There's a muzungu (white person) playing the djembe!" Boys were authoritatively pounding their respective drums, fiercely hitting their shakers, occasionally looking up at each other to acknowledge or adjust the beat. Beads of sweat dripped down the face of each person. Some of the girls started dancing, swaying their hips to the sounds, looking like they were born to do it. I don't know how they learn to do that by 8 years old... they truly must've been born with the skill. Then a dance-off evolved from that... muzungus vs locals. You could probably have scooped up in handfuls the joy that was pouring out from everyone all over the place.

* The next day the kids of Hope Alive put on a fantastic dance and drumming program for us. It was a more polished, more passionate, and amazingly impressive version of what had happened spontaneously the day before. They work on their music program all the time, and treat visitors to their talent when they pass through their Masaka site. The girls in their native dress costumes shook their bodies like crazy, worked their bare feet over the floor- paying no attention to the 2 inch deep and probably 1 foot wide holes dusty holes in the facility floor. Kevin and I clapped our hands and cheered and thought the same thought many times... "I wish I had moves like that."

* We watched the USA vs. Ghana game on the outside patio of our Hotel Zebra on Saturday night. The full moon was out and so was our patriotism in support of our team. All two of us... surrounded by Ugandans, cheering on the last African team left in the World Cup. We were sorely outnumbered. Kevin and I would gasp quietly at all the close calls for a goal for our side... and on both of Ghana's great quick goals, we looked down in disappointment as cheers rose up all around. We laughed at the setting and couldn't be too bummed about the USA loss... we've loved our African World Cup watching experience and are quite happy for them.

The time here in this country has almost run out...but I think it's been lived to the fullest. Still a bit more to share with you before the end though.

A Dad's Gift

"You have a nice home," I said.

"Not really," he replied, his tone matter-of-fact but laced with a hint of sadness. We were spending some time visiting the homes of children in the Hope Alive program. This was the fifth house, and the first time we had encountered a father. Usually it was a mother or the older sibling heading a household. His home was nice, relative to so many others; I hadn't been transparently trying to flatter him. The house looked like many in this poor area of Masaka; the roof was made from tin shingles and the walls from maybe some native bricks and the floor was concrete. But there were no chickens running around inside or posters taped up on the walls, and the floor was swept clean. It was spacious, there were at least three rooms and the couches were very worn but comfortable, and they even had a tiny TV.

Ronald spoke of how difficult things had been lately since he was out of work. His wife occasionally worked as a cook, which brought in some money, but he still was very concerned for their situation. Several times he said the words, "I just want to provide for my family." I wanted to do more than listen. I wanted to say that he was doing so much already just being there for them. That he was doing a great job for his kids, and that as they grow up they will benefit immensely from having had a dad. So many kids in Uganda may have a father, but he is often absent, for every reason from not wanting to be involved, to having found another family, or having passed away, or having to live in another place for a job. Ronald is providing, and I wanted to tell him that. But for that time, it was best to just let him share.

His darling daughter, a primary student who wore a pink dress and had greeted us with a hug, waved goodbye as we set off for the next home. She's a lucky girl, and I hope one day she realizes that. Her name, by the way, is Gift.


"I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids... But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their family, and they go looking for an easier story."
-Donald Miller

Give & Get

From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.
-Arthur Ashe

Kevin met the student he sponsors on Thursday.

We went to Ambrose's secondary school to have Kevin visit him at lunchtime. The secretary had Ambrose pulled out of class a few minutes early. He walked into the office and then there they were, student and sponsor, grins a mile wide, giving each other the Ugandan handshake, and then, a hug. I bit my lip and stood to take a photo of them. We walked out to the schoolyard where they got to talk for quite awhile.

I try to put myself in the place of the students who are sponsored, to imagine what it would be like to meet in person the one who is putting you through school. Especially the older teenagers, who are close to graduating and being able to take their qualifying exams for college... they are so aware of how the support is allowing them truly move forward. Ambrose doesn't have parents, he lives with his older brother. It has to be overwhelming, to meet your sponsor, to know what to say, how exactly to say thank you, and all in your second language. And I know that sponsors are eager to convey their care, their interest, their desire to see the student thrive...It's true that their lives are separated by obviously so much more than a continent and an ocean. But you learn that often, that separation doesn't matter at all.

It was awesome to see Kevin and Ambrose dive right in to exchanging stories and discussing sports and video games and school. We'd heard Ambrose is quite smart and driven, and that was evident. I know they each got to express the depth of their appreciation for the other. And past that, I watched them become friends, the seventeen year old and twenty seven year old, laughing and posing for photos in matching aviator shades, as girls looking on giggled.

Brushfire Fairytales

I was heading back to my hut at the safari lodge we were staying at on Sunday night. It was very dark but as I left the main lodge, I was sure of where I was going and was a little startled when an elderly man dressed in the lodge employee outfit came out of the shadow, pointing away from us and looking at me. He was calm but saying something in a low and forceful voice. "Bathroom," it sounded like he said. I paused... "No, no I'm going to my hut," I said quietly back. He shook his head. I leaned in.



About ten feet from the path that led to all the huts stood about six massive dark buffalo. We'd actually been told to expect this, and that it wasn't too dangerous but you should just be cautious. Hearing about it is of course quite different from encountering it. I walked slowly, reverently, past. And obviously, made it safely back to my place.
The next day we viewed dozens and dozens of them from the safe and assuring enclosure of a hardy safari van. Along with giraffes, bucks, a lion and her cubs, and a lot of other things. The feeling of standing in a vehicle, your upper body out through a hole in the top, racing past the landscape, wind on your face... doing that every day would most certainly be incredibly good for the soul.

Other highlights of the last two days out on the game reserve by the Nile...

* Our safari guide setting fire to the tall golden grass and then having us drive away. Um, aren't you about to burn up thousands of acres of African landscape? No, it's not dry enough here? Okay. Santa Barbara would light up like a Christmas tree in January, but we'll take your word for it.
* Watching the World Cup games with Ugandan locals and international lodge guests on a sweet flatscreen by the bar. Geckos crawling on the wall, bats flying by the ceiling, Ronaldo drilling the ball into the net after it bounces off his back. Epic.
* Scrambling around on the wet rocks surrounding Murchison Falls on the Nile. Hot air, cool water spray, rainbow over the gap... can't wait to share all the photos.
* Food from the street vendors while on the road... its official: Meat on a stick is fantastic no matter what corner of the world you're in. Thailand, Greece, Uganda, Sharkeez in Santa Barbara... All delicious.

Miss you all.