Friday, June 20, 2008

Visit my web site WHAT THE?

I have enjoyed writing this blog for my trip to Africa. I have created a new web site called WHAT THE? and will continue to write about the everyday ridiculous things that happen. Visit me at the new site with the link below:

Going Home

Well I thought going home would be easier than our trip here to Africa. I thought I would give it one more try and see if my missing luggage had ever made it to Uganda. In the missing bag were 60 pair of flip flops, 2 cases of dental floss, and 200 tooth brushes. Upon arrival to the airport there was a line out the door to check in. I told Andy to take my passport and check us in along with the others of the group while I checked the “lost luggage” desk where I spent approx. 2 hours upon arrival 2 weeks ago to have them give me a slip of paper and make an entry into a spiral notebook (how high tech).

I was told I needed a pass to enter the arrival portion of the airport to visit the “lost luggage” desk. I had to go to a special desk to get “the pass”. As I made my way to an area of the airport that was ummmmm lets just say “SCARY”, the airport lost power and it was 9 pm which means IT WAS DARK! Ok, I have made it 2 weeks in New York City and some very scary areas of Africa, but now just before boarding a plane to a to Starbucks I’m going to meet my maker in an alley of the airport getting a pass for a lost piece of luggage. Luckily the power came back up and I approached the desk and the lady wanted my passport before she would even talk to me about a pass. I explained my passport was in the airport with my son checking us in for a mercy flight to Starbucks. I was able to talk her into allowing me to use my Arizona Drivers license to get the coveted pass. I again had to make an entry into a high tech spiral notebook. I then went down to arrivals and had to walk past a sign that said STOP NO ENTRY. Needless to say it looked like the way so I did. The only obstacle that stood in my way to getting to the Lost Luggage forever in Uganda desk was a man wearing a tattered polo shirt sitting in a lawn chair with a Boston Red Sox cap. As I passed him he yelled “WHERE ARE YOU GOING”? To the “KEEP MY LUGGAGE FOREVER DESK” I replied. He said I needed a pass. I proudly showed him my pass. I then approached the desk to find over 30 people with lost luggage that just got off a flight from who knows where. It would be literally over 2 hours before it was my turn so at this point I tried to do the right thing and bring this bag here and give these things to the people who needed it but I was about to miss my flight to a Venti Latte and I had to go.

I went up to retrieve my license, sign out, and get to the gate. I signed out and upon entering the airport ticket counter I was stopped by security because I had no luggage. I told them I had luggage which was being held hostage downstairs and wish I had luggage, but they would not help me. They then dispatched an airline rep to check the missing bag for me. I then made my way to the ticket counter and met up with Andy who was now just approaching the ticket counter. What timing! The entire group we were with made it through with no problem. As we however told them our names and presented our ID’s there was typing, typing, typing, and more typing, typing. She then said I don’t see you on this flight. WHAT THE? She then called over Suzy, and Tom, and Frieda and there was more typing, typing, typing. If I had to rent a plane I was getting out of Uganda tonight. They then hit the magic key and found us. We would be making it out. I then was notified that they found the bag. I then went downstairs to get the bag at arrivals. I went with the church rep who I was giving the bag to so she could distribute the items to the people. Upon arrival downstairs I saw that Uganda customs was now interested in the bag. WHAT THE? I could see them through the glass window open the bag take out the flip flops and tooth brushes. They put them all back and the airline rep came out and advised me that Customs wanted me to take the bag and it contents back to the US. WHAT THE? She said customs think you brought these items to Uganda to resell. Ok I fly 10, 800 miles and spent $150 just to get this bag here and I was going to sell 50 pair of flip flops and 200 tooth brushes to make a killer profit in Uganda? Oh by the way the bag I brought was a brand new black suit case and the bag that the stuff was in was a tattered green broken suit case and approx 10 pairs of flip flops and 50 tooth brushes were missing. I took the suitcase said ok and then went up to departures with the church rep. Upstairs I handed her the suitcase and said thanks and please leave the airport now with the stuff. I felt like a drug dealer. I then went through security and finally made it to the gate. As I sat there I again felt like drug dealer and thought what if customs saw me give the bag away and they are going to arrest me right off the plane. How many years would they give me in a Uganda prison. I thought of Midnight Cowboy and thought what would I say if a fellow prisoner asked me why I was in the slammer, the rock, the big house? Would I say I smuggled flip flops in or make up a taller tale to make myself look tough. I struggled with this and could hardly wait till I was on the plane and they shut the door.

We finally boarded the plane and they finally shut the door. After shutting the door they made an announcement that before take off they would be coming through the cabin and spraying the cabin for bugs and not to be alarmed. They then spray this heavy spray to kill any mosquitoes in the plane so they don’t get into the country the plane is going. WHAT THE? Anyway we were “wheels up” (that’s airplane talk) right on time and I was now only 23 hours of flying time from a Starbucks.

8 hours and 5 minutes later we touched down in Brussels Belgium. I always wanted to have a waffle in Belgium. We then learned our flight to Brussels was delayed to New York. So delayed that we would then miss our connection to Chicago. We then waited in a very long line to rebook another flight from New York to Chicago. We then boarded the next 8 hour flight to New York. Upon arrival to New York JFK we had to shuttle over to LaGuardia to catch the only other flight to Chicago. This is no easy thing to do with 8 people and luggage. We then made it to LaGuardia only to find out the flight to Chicago was delayed and possibly going to be canceled due to weather. This would mean we were stuck in New York again but this time we would be on our own. We boarded the plane and finally we were headed to Chicago. My flight in Chicago was delayed 1 hour (of course) and finally said goodbye to the group as they were headed home. I still had another 3 hour flight to Arizona. That last 3 hours seemed like forever. I landed at Sky Harbor and found Maureen and the puppies waiting for me. IT WAS GOOD TO BE HOME. Maureen had no idea that just 23 hours earlier I was very close to being imprisoned for years of hard labor in a Ugandan prison. I told her of my close call and asked her if she would have “waited for me” on the outside while I was in prison. Being the good wife she is, she said yes, but deep down I knew she was thinking “PARTY”. I let her think her thoughts privately and I just had to let it go. It was then I knew Africa had changed us both forever.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Good Bye Uganda

The last day here in Uganda for me it met with mixed emotions. I always wanted to do something extra ordinary in my life. I wanted to do something that when you told someone what it was, they would be amazed that you did it. I think this was it. I will miss this place when I return to my normal life. It certainly was not the luxury vacation I could have gone on for the money I spent, but it was truly a trip of a lifetime. These people are so poor and so remote. I asked our group a question. I reminded them of a lady we met in a remote village we met earlier in the trip. I asked them if they were dropped off there today and would not be picked up for a year would you do it for a million dollars. My answer would be no. Its unbelievable conditions and I really would not do it for a million dollars.

The city is dirty filthy and packed with people and cars, trucks, taxis, that belch out diesel fumes that would make anyone choke. You drive past street children as young as 4 years old begging in the street with no one around. You drive deep into the jungle and meet people with nothing except a yellow water jug that they have to walk miles to get muddy dirty water that we would not even touch let alone drink. They have clothes that we would throw away. The live off the land and eat food that they have to go far to get. They never go to bed without the fear of starving, illness that will kill them, and being attacked (animals or people). Many are sick and will die because they cannot afford less than the $100 it would cost to cure them of such things as Malaria and other curable diseases. There are so many orphans that are left to fend for themselves because both parents are dead of aids. However they go forward everyday and yet when we encounter them they smile. Every village every time the people smiled because we showed up and spent time with them. Most of the time we had nothing to give them except our time and they smiled. It is those smiling faces that I will miss.

I hated the fact that I had things to give to some and not to others. I hated giving money to those who needed it most but not to others. I hated that when we went to a village that knew we were coming they set up a make shift shelter for us to sit under and had food and drinks for us while they sat in the hot sun and had nothing. I hated that there were people that for $100 or less would be cured and could not give them the money to do it. I hate that there is so much of this. I went to just a few tiny villages in a very small country. There are thousands of these villages and there are so many countries in Africa just like this. The governments are corrupt and offer almost no help and in fact deny access for groups like this to come into their countries. I used to see programs and commercials on TV about Africa and its problems. I also am afraid that when I get home it will be very hard to explain it to everyone. Being here using all five senses is the only way to effectively experience it. I can describe it as taking a picture while at the Grand Canyon. You stand at the edge of the Canyon and see this amazing thing right before your eyes and take a picture of it. You then have the picture developed and show it to your friends. As you show it to them although it’s a great picture, it does not capture what you saw when you stood on the edge that day and took the picture. I took some great pictures that I hope have captured my time here. I hope you have enjoyed reading my adventures, but it’s not the same as being here. I’m not sure really what to do when I get back home. I know I want a Starbucks right away with a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. I know I want to be greeted by my wife and my puppies at the airport. What I don’t know is what will happen to the people I met during these last 2 weeks. What I miss already is those smiling faces.

Safari Day 2 By sea

Safari by sea

Again it was a 5:30 wake up call. I got up and let our pets out (snake & bat). We then went down to the river and boarded two small boats to go up river toward the falls. These boats sat about 10 people each and they were smaller than the hippos that were wading just a few feet away. I thought of the movie Jaws when he said “I think we are going to need a bigger boat”. We motored up the river and saw amazing hippos and saw the largest crockodile of the Nile. We defiantly need a bigger boat. The giant crock was basking in the son on the bank and was at least 100 feet long (it probably was really only 16 feet but seemed like 100 feet long) and it then jumped into and under the water. Hmmmm where is he? I shouted “let’s go” and we motored away quickly as this is no Jungle Cruise at Disney world.

Just before the falls we also encountered a dead hippo that had just come over the falls. It looked like a giant blow up hippo. As we approached the falls the river became very fast and the currents swirled around our little boat and it was then I noticed that we had no life preservers. I’m sure it’s because if you fell into the river something would eat you anyway. The falls were really beautiful and made Niagara Falls seemed tame. Then it was back down river and get on the bus to go see the falls from the top.

At the top we saw the falls up close. This is very dangerous and the sight was amazing. This was the most violent water I have ever seen. The river narrows to a very small opening and crashes against the rock walls to the river below. It was here that it was the hottest it had been on the whole trip. It was hot and very humid. We got back into the bus for our very long bumpy trip home. It was over 6 hours on the worst road I have ever traveled. It also is the most dangerous road I have ever traveled. The dirt roads are narrow and pot holed and trucks with unsecure and heavy loads race by narrowly missing us. Well this is the last bus ride until tomorrow when we go to the airport.

Six long hours later we arrived safe at home. We ate dinner and met as a group for the last time and talked about our time here. We were all very tired and went to bed. I was lonely without my snake and bat though.

Safari Day

We left Gulu very early for our Safari location 3 hours away. I was glad to have this village in our rear view mirror. I felt bad leaving these people, but I felt un safe even at the hotel. I’m sure it was not as un safe as I imagine, however I had a very sleepless night thinking that every noise I heard was someone coming to get us for going into the camps and talking to the people.

We got on the bus (I was the first one on) and then had to drive 3 hours to get to the safari lodge. We drove about an hour until we got to a very very remote road that I would not take a 4X4 quad let alone a bus. We then drove 40 miles deep into the jungle to our destination. The jungle was at times just what you would think, lush deep trees and vines filled with baboons. They are considered the rats of the jungle, but I thought they were interesting. The jungle at other times were also what you would think high grass plains with the occasional big shade tree (think Lion King). About 20 or so miles we spotted our first large game sighting, a giraffe. It is so strange to see these animals out in the open just feet from you and not in a zoo. We then saw so many giraffes, water buffalo, antelope, and other animals they became common.

Before long we got to our safari lodge called Para Lodge. This is in the middle of no where and located right on the Nile River. We crossed the Nile originally after leaving our last destination and as we crossed one in our group took a photo on the Nile while we crossed the bridge. As soon we crossed Uganda army came out of the bushes and stopped us and made us delete the photo. You are not allowed to take pictures in Uganda of bridges, police, military, embassies, and many other things. Very scary!

We checked into the lodge which is one of the best hotels in the country. It’s very old and this is where famous explorer Stanley Livingston was made famous. This is decorated in old antique Africa explorer memorabilia (I thought how much I could make on ebay). We got our room and the key to our room had a wooden hippo attached to it with the room number. The hippo was as big as Buick. There was no way you could lose this key. It however was a problem when you put it in your pants to go out for dinner. Whether you had it into your front pocket or back pocket it looked bad (well maybe good in the front).

We then were treated to a buffet of great food for lunch. It was the best meal I had here. It was real food. After lunch we had 3 hours until our land safari so I just pulled up a chair and sat and watch the Nile roll by. By the lodge the river is very wide. But just 2 hours up stream is the raging Murchison Falls. The river narrows to a mere 7 meters and the water is very violent and beautiful at the same time. While at the Nile you get all the Nile Jokes just like when you go to Hoover Dam. Queen of “DE Nile” stuff like that.

At 4pm our land portion of the Safari began. We then drove out into the open looking for big game. We encountered elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, wart hogs, all kinds of antelope, but never found a lion. It however was a thrill of a lifetime to get out of the bus and stand mere feet away from these creatures. You however would not want to do this with hippos. They kill one person a week in this region even though the are vegetarians. They charge you and then bite you in two and then run down to the river to wash their mouths out as your blood is distasteful to them. What the? We sadly did not find a lion, but it was amazing to say the least.

Back to the lodge for another amazing meal for dinner. We ate outside at sunset on the veranda overlooking the Nile. The sun set and there was nothing really to do but sit out on your patio and listen to the sounds of the jungle and Nile river. It was quite the symphony of sounds. I thought I might get eaten alive by mosquitoes, but I never saw one. I did however see plenty of bats. They flew by every few minutes. One then flew into my open patio door into my room and now could not get out. It was soooooooooo creepy. I finally open the door wider and he finally flew out. It was the end of a very interesting day. Even the bat I later name Morris (Morris the bat) was interesting.

Wait I thought it was the end. My son Andy shared a room with me on this trip. He came back to the room and went right to sleep. During the middle of the night he woke up sat up in bed and very loudly said there was a snake in the room and it was attacking him. Now let me paint the picture. The jungle/Nile river is very very very very dark as was our room. I mean lo light at all. My son is telling me that he is being attacked by a snake. I had no idea where the light switch was. I love my son but I am figuring he is he will be dead soon so it’s every man for himself. He then tells me that the snake was given to the group as a gift last night. I’m thinking my son who is being killed by a snake and it was a gift? I found the floor and ran into the bathroom prepared to do battle with the Anaconda that ate my son. I peered into the bedroom expecting a giant snake with a belly that had an outline of Andy. Instead he was sleeping and was dreaming this. I was relieved he was alive, but now I was going to kill him. I had my first heart attack in Africa.

Good night!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Danger Day

Thursday we went to Gulu Africa. This is the site of several camps in which people have fled during the past several years from attacks by rebels. These camps are mostly young mothers and their children. During these raids many people were killed and children from the ages of 5 years old to 15 years old were taken and forced to join these rebels. The woman was raped and many had children from these attacks.

I thought the people we were helping before were poor. These people are the poorest of the poor. These people make the homeless in America look like millionaires. They have nothing. They have no food, clothing, and sometimes the shelter is just a hut with a dirt floor. We then asked a several people to describe their lives during these attacks and most were very afraid to talk about as they feel they may come back. People who talk about the attacks have been found and their tongues cut out. One old woman told us her son was taken in a raid on the village 5 years ago when he was about 10 and she has no idea if he is dead or alive.

This is the only time I was uncomfortable and un safe on the trip. We were deep in the village and a long way from our bus. I kept expecting someone to come and get us. Somehow in Africa I don’t think that “I want to see my lawyer” works.

We then met about 25 very young mothers from the ages of 15-20 and their children. I gave one girl the Hotel Valley Ho doll that I took to Africa “Dia-Ho”. Look at her picture. She was so proud and happy to get this doll. I thought the most interesting thing happened here when we were talking to these poor mothers with no food or anything for their kids. They were asked what one need the had they felt would help them most. I thought the answer would be FOOD. They almost all together said “EDUCATION”. I was floored. Here they starving and they want education even before food. I also included a picture of this boy and his smile. The photo is great!

We then went to our hotel and spent the night in the town just outside of these camps. The hotel was pretty bad and again wanted the night to pass and go to our next stop which was a safari very far from here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Here are some additional pictures. The signs here are really unbelievable. There are even "Dudes" here too. I loved this kids so excited to see the White man. Notice he only has one flip flop.