Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Our team has successfully completed three weeks of Music For Life Camp! Each week was different and had its own challenges and successes. We had to continually adapt and change or plans and our minds as we ministered to these people.

Our first week was in the small city of Entebe where the prominent religion is witchcraft. Our second camp was in the heart of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where the kids were noticeably more needy. Our third week was also in the heart of Kampala but in the slums. News about this camp spread faster than any western media could achieve and our original 80 kids turned into 250 by day four.

Our western ideals and attitudes had to quickly change as we were reviewing and planning for each day. Time is merely estimated by most local people here. Therefore, the beginning of camp changed from day to day. Lunch was at no particular time, we ate when it was ready. People are much more relaxed and laid back, it seems as if no one rushes for anything. In fact, if it rains here, it is acceptable to show up late to work because you have been waiting for the rain to stop before leaving home.

(I suppose I can think of a few exceptions. People seem to be rushing if they are driving. The rules of the road as we know them do not apply here. What seems to be 2 lane traffic can easily split into 5 or more lanes depending circumstances. In this city of 1.4 million people there are only 8 traffic lights, most of which also have traffic police standing underneath them. The police frequently override the lights and direct traffic causing huge traffic jams which they think they are helping. The city is littered with crater sized pot holes, and a whole variety of speed bumps. These only slow people down somewhat, in fact, the solution to this obstacle is to buy yourself a 4x4.)

(AND, when kids line up for food, or line up for anything for that matter, there is utter chaos. We had injuries due to lining up. My theory is that normally if they don't push their way to the front, they don't get anything. We, of course, always planned so there would be enough for everyone, including those at the back of the line.)

Cleanliness and hygiene are also things that we have had to become used to being different than at home. Washing yourself is something that doesn't happen often. Laundry happens but it requires getting water and washing by hand. This is extremely hard work so it is only done periodically. Shoes are expensive and unnecessary and are therefore not used by many. This leaves kids pretty dirty. We handed out toothbrushes to all the kids and they were more excited about them than western kids are when receiving a video game at Christmas. Body odour is a normal, socially accepted fact of life. There is no kleenex, toilet paper, or towels here, you can imagine the result...

Safety is an interesting subject here. Every mall, hotel, restaurant, bank, church, etc. is in a gated compound with security guards standing by. The guards all have rifles, and many places have metal detectors, devices to check your vehicle for bombs, and other security equipment. Some of you may have heard that there was a bombing in Kampala about 2 months ago. I find some irony in this considering there are more security guards with rifles per capita than anywhere I have ever seen.

Socially we've adapted quite well. We've learned some Lugandan phrases that, when used, go a long way in making a friend. Generally, the African people have shown us great hospitality, often going out of their way to offer is help. We've learned that when someone raises their head coupled with a long blink, they are actually acknowledging, not snubbing. We have struggled, however, with peoples vocal volume. No one here speaks up! We haven't quite figured out what the reason for this is yet.

We fly home tomorrow. I am sad to leave the team, the city, the country, and the continent, but happy that we had such a fantastic experience! Stay tuned for pictures!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My friend Taylor

There are many things that one should be prepared for when heading to Africa. I spent a considerable amount of time researching and organizing vaccines and health care coverage, buying a mosquito net, packing bug spray and sunscreen, finding appropriate clothes, etc. Africa, in my mind, was a big scary unknown place where a countless number of bad things could happen to you.

After being here for a few weeks, I slowly realized that this is simply another place on earth where humans live happily and comfortably. The local people are not overly concerned about mosquitoes, malaria, sun exposure, robbery, health care, and the like. They simply live their lives. And, after being here for a while, we simply lived ours. All of my concerns faded to a point where sunscreen, mosquito nets, bug spray, etc. didn't seem like such an important detail any longer.

Originally, I wouldn't have dreamed of walking barefoot anywhere here, but, time wore on, comfort levels rose, and I found myself wandering campsites, beaches, and more without shoes on. Everyone was doing it. I know, I know, bad reasoning, but when in Rome, or Africa... Especially when you are staying on the tropical island of Zanzibar, it just seems natural to wander the white sand beaches in your bare feet. Little did I realize that this would come back to bite me (more literally than you might think).

As the island became a memory, my left foot became itchy. I thought it was simply a mosquito bite which needed a moderate amount of scratching. After a few days without change my mind started to drift towards athletes foot. I scratched. My nurse friend took a look, she was not convinced it was fungal. This concerned me a bit, but instead of doing something intelligent, I scratched. Several weeks after realizing my foot was suffering from an ailment that could not be diagnosed using the extensive knowledge obtained from my Bio 30 course, I decided I should have a local medical professional have a look.

I have health insurance. I will leave the name of the company out of this post in hopes they will continue to cover me. I decided I should call Blue Cross (oops) before going to the doctor. My card suggests that I call them collect. It was interesting to learn that the Ugandan telecom company does not offer that service. So after 2 hours of phone drama, I finally reached a human being. She took my information down and I explained, to the best of my knowledge, what my problem was. She politely suggested I see a doctor. After my brain finished calling her names, I used my mouth to ask some further clarifying questions. None of these could be answered however, all I was promised was a return phone call.

My driver and I decided not to wait for the call. At this point I was ready to get this figured out. I scratched. My driver said he knew the place where all the westerners go. Considering my heritage, I agreed this would be a good place for me.

The clinic was called "The Surgery". There were many mzungus, including two white doctors. After about an hours wait, I finally saw a doctor. My ears have become tuned to Ugandan English so understanding him wasn't a problem. The conversation was short and sweet. He asked me what my problem was. I showed him. He asked me if it was itchy or painful. I scratched. He asked me where I'd been. As I was saying Tanzania, he said, "oh, you have a tapeworm. Don't walk on the beach without your sandals on next time."

The doctor's desk was littered with normal doctor things: pens, papers, pictures, a stethoscope, and a few pill bottles of random sizes. He sat down at his desk and asked me if I'd like drugs. YES PLEASE! At this point I thought I'd receive a prescription; instead, he grabbed a huge bottle of pills sitting right on his desk, dumped some into a zip-lock bag, and handed them to me. He said, "take one twice a day. You're lucky, this kind of worm affects dogs badly but in humans it can't get to your digestive system. Your body prevents it." Wow, what a relief. For those nerds out there, I have Albendazole, the same drug used to de-worm just about everything imaginable. I am on a strong dose because the worm is in my foot instead of my gut.

Interestingly, as I write this now, it has become incredibly easy to see the worm under my skin. It is like he has been found out and has no reason to hide any longer. So, you may be wondering, who is Taylor? He is the worm in my foot. I named him Taylor the night before I went to the doctor. There is no reason for the name other than it was the first one that came to mind as I gazed upon the small, but significant eighth member of our team.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Going Bananas!

Uganda is not like the Africa you picture in your mind. It is very green and lush here. Bananas grow particularly well. So far we've eaten the following:

Fried bananas (called gange here)
Baked bananas (matoke - a staple at every meal)
Barbecued bananas (gange)
Mashed bananas (matoke)
Chopped bananas
Yellow bananas
Red bananas (cool hey!?)
Tiny bananas (like seriously one bite)
Huge bananas (2 feet long!)

These people have a banana dish for every time and every occasion. It isn't a normal and proper meal if there aren't some sort of bananas involved.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Uganda has two official languages: English and Lugandan. Since I already have a mediocre command of English, I have been putting in an effort to learn some Lugandan. Here is what I know so far:

Jebale - good work
Mjebale - good work (plural)
Abana - children
Sebo - sir
Setaga - I don't need that Jesu anjagala - Jesus loves me
Kale - alright
Wagelu - higher
Wonzi - lower
Siinayo muwala - I don't have a girl
Sagala - I don't like it
Gende - go
Jendi - good

Each letter makes a sound; for example, "kale" would be pronounced "KA-lay". G's are hard like in "grass", J's are soft like in "joke".

I learned "siinayo muwala" yesterday morning and practiced saying it all day. By this afternoon I had a blind date set up for me. I guess if you're going to speak the local language you better mean what you say!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

African Children's Choir Training Centre

Today we visited the school where the African Children's Choir gets trained. Each year a different group of kids are auditioned and selected to form a choir. All the selected kids move from their villages to Kampala and move into the training academy. For 6 months the rehearse singing dancing and drumming for about 4 hours a day. They also continue their regular schooling, do chores, go on field trips, and have time for the all important pastime, football. The centre has staff from Uganda, US, and Canada and the team is currently training the 36th and 37th African Children's Choirs.
When I arrived, I was greeted with several hugs, and the kids would not let me carry my bag - they insisted on doing that for me. Bob, Joshua, Frank, and another guy whose name escapes me all have me a personal tour of their home. They are very proud of where they stay and the activities they do there. We ate dinner with the choirs - matoke (mashed plantains) and ground nut sauce (something like hot runny peanut butter). This is a meal we have had many times while in Uganda.

Somehow the kids found out I could play the drums so they asked if we could go upstairs so I could show them how to play. It turned out that this group of 10 year olds taught me a thing about playing the drums. They were amazing and they've only been playing for about 6 months. More and more kids came in and it wasn't long before the mzungus were treated to an impromptu show. There are no appropriate words to describe the talent we witnessed.

We were asked to teach a few songs to the kids. Blessed Be and Glory Hallelujah Jubilee are our hits so we taught them those. It was then time for devotions. The kids started singing and drumming with no help from the adults. The sound was fantastic, it was like nothing I've heard before. I looked up at the clock and it was quite obviously stuck at 11:01 but deep down inside I wished that time had stopped for real and that we could sit and listen indefinitely. Watching and listening to these kids could make any skeptic a believer. They sang with all of their hearts, souls, and bodies.

Allison pulled a great little message out of butt. She talking about the singing in the Bible: God created singing, David sang, Mary sang, the angels sang, the first church sang, and now, the African Children's Choir sings! All the adults stayed up late jamming and singing together and sharing stories and enjoying each others company.

It was a cool day!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

MFL Camp; Day 4

By the time we were all up and had breakfast eaten we were finally able to welcome our last 2 team members to Uganda! After a dramatic stolen passport and long unexpected delay in London, they have finally made it. This means that the remainder of our supplies have made it too. We are very happy to have them here!

We all went straight to church. Church started at 7am but we didn't show up until around 10am. Church can be as long as 5 hours so we thought we'd sleep in a bit before showing up. We were actually expected at 9:30 but no biggie, TIA. All of the kids from camp were there waiting for us because we were asked to sing a couple songs for service. So service went on until we showed up, at which point we were ushered to the very front of the church and asked to stand up and introduce ourselves. Soon all the camp kids came up with us and we sang a few songs that we'd been working on during camp.

It is amazing that 4 days of camp have come and gone and that we are now finished our first camp. Tomorrow we head to Kampala for a few days rest before we do it all over again!

Friday, August 13, 2010

MFL Camp; Day 2

Music for Life has a school in Uganda where former African Children's Choir members go when the are finished touring. All of the students have overseas sponsors who pay for them to go to this school until grade 7, and then beyond all the way through university. We were fortunate to be able to visit the school this morning.

It happened to be the last day of school before their short 3 week summer break so we sat through their final school assembly. They began by singing some praise and worship music. All the music was student led. Keep in mind there were no kids older than 15 at this school. It was incredible! I have never heard kids sing like this! And their drumming is second to none. They can harmonize, vamp, and improvise effortlessly. They sang a few songs that were familiar to us, and a few others we didn't know but were stunning, to say the least. The whole room vibrated with vocal sound, drums, and the swaying and dancing of children.

Some of the kids prepared a special song and dance. My initial reaction was one of dread - if this happened at home it would typically be a grin and near it sort of moment. I was more than pleasantly surprised. The only thing more professional looking than their costumes was their act! I guess this is what you get when you have a school full of African Children's Choir alumni! In fact, we were also treated to a song by the former choir!

The principal of the school brought our team to the front of the hall and we all introduced ourselves. Once he found out there was a bunch of musical talent on the team, he asked us to present a song. I was so excited at the opportunity to teach this group of kids some music that I jumped out of my chair and yelled YES in front of everyone. We taught the whole school Blessed Be and within about 2 minutes they had completely learned the song and we're letting it rip so loud that the guitar became useless. The drummers took over the accompaniment and we were whoop-whooping and singing at top volume! Fantastic!

We all had private tours of the school property from the kids themselves. My tour guide's name was Julius; he is a former second grader whose English was too notch. I saw the boys dorm, the classrooms, computer room, library, offices, and kitchen.

We were fed lunch while visiting the school. Sweet potatoes and very salty fish from Lake Victoria which borders the school property. We each had enormous portions which came out of two gargantuan pots. Everything was covered in a very typical Ugandan peanut-type sauce.

The school visit has been a huge highlight of the trip so far. We all enjoyed ourselves there so much that we found it difficult to leave. Our afternoon camp went well, similar to yesterday, but today's high certainly came from visiting the MFL school.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Music for Life Camp; Day 1

We finally found our team yesterday after some waiting. It was generally a joyous meeting, however two of our team mates had their passports stolen on the flight here and they are now stuck in London! We hope we can connect with them this weekend.

We asked the local volunteers many questions and they asked many of us. They took us to see the facility that we'd be using for camp. It is a primary school that is currently out of session. This is the reason that we are doing camps during these 3 weeks. In the matter of about 2 hours we gained a clear idea of what we needed to do to make these camps a success.

To prepare for camp we packed 5 large suitcases from Canada stuffed full of supplies. We packed enough craft supplies, sports equipment, drama materials, paper, toothbrushes, and science activities for 100 kids for 15 days of camp! Since two of our team members got stuck in London, 3 of our supply bags got stuck with them. We hadn't even started yet and we were already missing 2 team members, all of our sports equipment, our curriculum, half of our craft supplies, and all of our science, health, and wellness supplies. We had time for a quick meeting last night to completely revamp our plans and get prepared for camp using the people and resources we had.

I am happy to report that today was the first day of camp and it went fantastic. 94 kids showed up! We began with an opening where we introduced ourselves, the local volunteers introduced themselves, and then we shared songs with each other.

We split the kids into 4 groups and then each of us took a group to a classroom and taught them the story of creation. "It was good!" every kid had these words drilled into them, and it truly was good.

At lunch time we all marched over to another primary school where a few ladies cooked for us all. The kitchen facilities are difficult to describe: as far as I can tell there are 3 cauldron sized stone holes where fires could be started and a few dirty jugs which supposedly contain clean water. Somehow, over 100 people were fed here and although the adults ate different food than the kids, I heard no complaints, only content chewing.

In the afternoon we split into 2 larger groups; one group did sports while the other group did music. In a matter of 45 minutes Allison and I had taught the kids 4 songs and had them singing a round in 3 parts. Of course, Greg had a backup soccer ball and had the kids playing football in no time.

The local volunteers have been very impressed so far and we are feeling content with the job we've done. We are about to have a meeting to debrief about our day and plan for tomorrow.

Other news:

We are staying in the nicest place we've been in since arriving in Africa. It is a convent. The nuns ride motorbikes and talk on cell phones but are always wearing their habits.

Listening to the local volunteers jam gives us all goosebumps.

Greg has played about 5 matches of soccer in less than 48 hours.

Don't assume! One of the local volunteers is a mzungu.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Music for Life mission trip, day 1

It is 9am and Greg, Allison, and I are sitting on the side of the Entebbe Highway in Uganda underneath the Nkumba University turn off sign. We are trying to meet up with the rest of our Music for Life mission team, 4 others from Canada and about 7 others from here. We found some plastic lawn chairs so we helped ourselves, set them up and are now sitting and waiting. We have received many strange looks and lots of staring but little do these people know how used to it we are. So we continue to sit and wait, hoping someone who knows something will find is here!

We have been here for 5 weeks now and have seen and experienced a ton. Today is the first day of our mission trip; we are excited to get going. But, as we have learned in so many other situations, things in Africa operate on their own schedule. People don't wear watches and finding a clock is a difficult task. I have found some clocks here and there, but only about half of them have been operational.

Africa has a certain style of communication as well. Actually, in North America we would simply call it a lack of communication. For example, at one point on our tour, our driver left the group at a museum then disappeared with our bus for an hour and a half and didn't tell us what he was doing or where he was going. I am sure he had something important to do and his intentions were good enough, but we had no idea what was going on.

It is a similar situation now with our mission trip. We have asked many questions about what we will be doing, what we are responsible for, and what we need to have prepared. Most of our questions have yet to be answered, and the information we do have has already changed multiple times. So we have tried to prepare for anything and our plans involve a lot of flying by the seat of our pants. I am confident that Music for Life is a trustworthy organization and that together we are going to do something great. I just don't know what that will be quite yet!

So, we sit and wait (under the shade of s jackfruit tree in a torrential downpour) not knowing when we'll get picked up and not really knowing what we're waiting to do. But, as all the Mzungus (local dialect for "white man") here put it: TIA or This is Africa!