Sunday, April 18, 2010

Don't look up!

Uganda has over 1000 species of birds…. More than any country on the continent of Africa. I was never a “bird person” until coming to Uganda. Most birds are so unusually beautiful that they actually seem like a creation by a talented artist from Walt Disney Studios. One of the most common birds found in downtown Kampala is the Marabou Stork… locally known as Kaloori. You know the one I am speaking of… as children we are told it is the stork that delivers babies. Baby shower invitations and birth announcements will often feature beautifully illustrated pastel colored storks holding a blanket-wrapped bundle of joy. You know me, I love all animals. I’m even fond of snakes and sharks. But, after coming face to face with the real-life stork, I’m confused to why we would choose to associate this bird with child birth. This is a BIG and rather frightening looking bird. The stork is the equivalent to the American pigeon…. They are everywhere. I feel the urge to drop to the ground and cling to a large object when one flies overhead…. At the very least take cover in fear of what might drop from its massive body. I’m sure car wash owners are a big fan of the stork. Don’t get me wrong… I like this prehistoric looking, slightly intimidating bird. I just think we should reconsider its association with child birth. Why not the Turocco, Shoebill or my personal favorite, the Crested Crane. What do you think?

Walking the streets of Kampala

My plan for Saturday morning was to head to the gym for a little cardio before diving into some of my projects. It was such a beautiful day I decided to hit the streets for a good power walk. Kampala is a city of hills… think San Francisco, but on a smaller scale. The streets are very clean. I’m amazed at the number of street sweepers and sign cleaners. My walk started around 8am. It was wonderful to see the city come to life. I love the street hawkers. In addition to your traditional newspaper hawkers, you’ll find a variety of products that can be purchased while driving or walking along the street. Take for instance… shoes. I came across a young man caring around 15 pair of shoes in a variety of sizes and styles. The shoes were displayed on a carrying rack designed with this form of sales in mind. Cars stopped at a red light would be provided with the opportunity to browse his selection from the comfort of their car… talk about convenience. While observing his sales technique, he smiles at me. He gives me a nod towards his shoes and asks if I would like to have a look. I politely decline. He smiles and says, “Have a good day, Madame”. Selling along side of him are others with displays of toys, cleaning supplies, socks, nuts, jeans and my personal favorite bootleg DVDs. I find myself buying “Nine” and “The Bounty Hunter” for 10,000 schillings… the equivalent of $5 or $2.50 each. No one is overly aggressive in their sales pitch. In fact, no one even tries to sell me anything… except for the newspaper hawkers. While walking the streets I come across Small Street stands offering specialty services such as watch repair and shoe shines. As the morning sun continues to rise, I can feel the hot, equator sun growing more intense. My decision to walk the streets of Kampala instead of exercising in the gym was a good one. It’s going to be another beautiful day.

What time is "mid-day"?

If someone of great importance request to meet with you “mid-day”, what time would you show-up? Noon? 1pm? Very seldom do you find me at a loss for words; however, when an administrative assistant informed me that the Minister wanted to meet with me “mid-day” I stared at her with a blank expression as I tried to figure out in my mind the meaning of “mid-day”. Unable to resolve this dilemma I replied, “What time is mid-day?” She stares back at me with the same blank expression. I offer some assistance… “Is it 12pm… 1pm?” Nothing. I decide to call the minister on his mobile for clarification. Mid-dial, I hear her repeat the same message to someone else. “The Minister would like to meet with you mid-day”. Am I missing something here? Is this a practical joke? Am I the victim of Uganda’s version of “Candid Camera”? How can he schedule two meeting at the same time…. At “mid-day”? Luck is with me as the Minister answers his phone. He seems excited to hear from me and exclaims… “I am looking forward to meeting with you mid-day”. Politely I ask, “As am I, but Minister, could you please clarify… what time is mid-day”? Silence. I explain that there is a representative from China who is also scheduled to meet with him at mid-day. At this point I believe he sees the dilemma and proclaims, “I will meet with China at 12pm and you at 1pm”. Now we’re getting somewhere. When I arrive at 12:50pm for my confirmed 1pm meeting, I notice there are about six people waiting in his reception area. I guess they all had appointments scheduled for mid-day. Several people exit his office around ten minutes after 1pm and to my delight, I am escorted into his office. While in his office, I notice there is no computer. This explains why he never responds to my e-mail messages or my “friend request” on Facebook.
We Americans suffer from serious A.D.D. When we want to communicate with someone, we call them on their phone…home phone, mobile phone and office phone. If they don’t answer, we leave a detailed and often long message explaining why we are trying to reach them. Then we send a text message. If we don’t hear back within two minutes, we send an e-mail AND check their Facebook status for clues to their whereabouts. This could not be further from how things are done in Africa. If the person you are trying to reach doesn’t answer their mobile phone, you are basically out of luck because…

1. No one has voice mail on their mobile phone

2. No one has voice mail in their office… not even at the house of Parliament.

3. Emails are rarely responded to IF received at all

For a high-strung, intense American like me this has been an interesting adjustment and a good lesson. Reminds me of the importance of patience and flexibility. In all honesty, it’s been a refreshing change of pace.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

They call me "Mzungu"

I can remember the first time I was called “Mzungu”. It was during my first visit to Uganda in August of 2008. I was staying in Kabalagala, a small town just on the outskirts of Kampala. I would often walk the streets to visit the local market, internet cafĂ©, restaurants or the offices of Great Lakes Safaris and would see the same friendly faces. While shopping in the market, I caught the eye of one local resident. His eyes wide with surprise and a smile stretching from ear to ear he says, “Mzungu, You are welcome!” Within days, everyone was calling me “Mzungu”. After my 3rd week in Uganda, a local actually said to me, “Mzungu, you are Ugandan now!” I was touched believing I had been given a special nick-name chosen just for me. What does it mean, you ask? “White person”. Its how many Ugandans address us, well… white people. It is not said in a derogatory manner, but with warmth and affection.

Uganda has the reputation of being the “friendliest country in Africa”. I would have to say I agree. During my stroll around town today I was greeted with smiles and “hellos” from everyone I passed. It truly is a “happy place”.

As Sunday comes to an end, I am looking forward to seeing my friends and business associates tomorrow.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Has it really been over a year?!

It’s hard to believe it has been over a year since I returned from Africa. As 2008 ended, so did “Kelly’s African Journey”… or so I thought. As best I could, I kept everyone up to date during my journey. What a journey… an adventure of a lifetime. Think about it, I touched and walked along side lion cubs in Zimbabwe, fed a herd of rescued elephants by hand, stood within 30 feet of white rhinos in the wild, felt the mist of Victoria Falls…one of the seven natural wonders of the world, tackled class five white water rafting on both the Zambezi and the Nile, went trekking with the rare and endangered mountain gorillas of Uganda and was even charged by a Silverback, hiked through the beautiful rainforests of Kibale National Park (which has the largest population of chimps and primates in the world), traveled alone on a public bus on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo, camped in the Serengeti, hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro, spent time with the Massai tribe, drove through the Ngorogor Crater in an open roof Land Rover, had a near plane crash (both engines were out at one point and we were instructed to put on our life jackets as we were hovering above Lake Victoria), lived out on Zanzibar Island for over a month where I participated in an International Coral Reef Clean-up program, went scuba diving with spinning dolphins and whales, rescued a dog from being stoned, drove along the coast of South Africa where you could see whales swimming in the ocean from your car window and visited a penguin colony, hiked the top of Table Mountain in Cape town and volunteered at iKaya Likababa, a home for abandoned babies and orphans in Kwazulu National South Africa.

Before leaving for this journey I was approached by many friends and family with concern over how I would adapt to living in Africa. Let’s face it, I was a fairly high maintenance and slightly spoiled American woman… use to designer shoes, business suites, air conditioning and frequent trips to the spa. I was giving it all up to follow my passion… to follow my heart. Did I adapt… very well, thank you very much. What I didn’t realize is my biggest challenge would be adjusting to life back in America.

I sort of abandoned my blog once leaving Africa. A final post to “Kelly’s African Journey” would have meant that my journey had ended. This was something I could not accept. During my time in Africa I was constantly receiving signs that this was exactly where I was supposed to be at this point in my life. I came across many opportunities and knew that somehow I would be coming back….. and now the time has come!

I am sitting in the lounge at Dulles International waiting to board a flight back to Uganda. I have been working in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Tourism Association and tour operators to build their tourism brand and increase visitors to the National Parks. Tourism is one of the top revenue sources and provides many jobs for Ugandans and supports many conservation efforts such as protection of the endangered mountain gorillas. It has been an amazing ride… New York, D.C., L.A. London and now back to Uganda.

I plan to spend about three weeks in Uganda, and then I will head down to Durban, South Africa for Indaba… Africa’s largest travel trade show. I’ve also managed to squeeze in a one week visit with my friends from iKaya Likababa. I really want to visit my friends (and the lions!) from Antelope Park, the African Lion Environmental Research Trust and Zanzibar, but my schedule is just too tight. But that’s o-kay… I have a feeling I’ll be coming back again!

Thursday, December 4, 2008










A Home for Abandoned Babies

South Africa is currently experiencing one of the most severe AIDS epidemics in the world. At the end of 2007, there were approximately 5.7 million people living with HIV in South Africa, and almost 1,000 AIDS deaths occurring every day.

As well as many children being infected with HIV in South Africa, many more are suffering from the loss of their parents and family members from AIDS. It is estimated that there were 1.5 million South African children orphaned by AIDS in 2007, compared to 780,000 in 2003. Once orphaned, these children are more likely to face poverty, poor health, and a lack of access to education or worse, complete abandonment.

Of some 1.5 million AIDS orphans in South Africa, The government provides support to about 238,000. To make matters worse, Child welfare organizations across South Africa have observed a significant increase in the number of abandoned babies in the past year.

Melanie and Sean Grant, a husband and wife team with a whole lot of love and compasion,wanted to make a difference in the lives of these poor little lost soles. The only home available in the area for abandoned babies housed children 0 - 18 and was currently filled to capacity. It was then they started the non-profit organization iKhaya LikaBab, which means "House of the Father" in Zulu. Their mission is to impact the lives of babies from birth up to three years old, whose future is being threatened by HIV /AIDS and abandonment by providing them with a home where they can experience loving relationships and be a part of a secure family environment whilst trying to find suitable families with whom to permanently place the children either through foster care or adoption.

The office is based out of Grant family home and the actually orphange is about a ten minute drive away. When I arrived, Melanie basically chucked me the keys to her house, her car and and the office and said she would see me in two weeks. She and her family had planned a visit to her parents in Cape Town and basicaly turned everything over to myself and another volunteer. Our second night at the house by ourselves the police arrive with a hungry, abandonded baby at 10pm. Two days later one of the babies at the orphanage has a break-out of what we suspect is chicken-poxs. All of the babies are distributed to foster families for the weekend. I get Jabu, who captures my heart immediately. When she arrived at the home this past August she was very traumatized as she had been abandoned at the taxi rank. This was the third time she has been abandoned. She was abandoned previously on a railway track. I was told that she wakes in the middle of the night and cries out of fright. So when this happened I though I would be prepared, but I wasn't. The sound of terror in her voice broke my heart. I instantly broke the #1 parent rule on my first night, "don't let them sleep in your bed". When she woke in the morning and looked over at me smiling, I could have cared less about "the rules". She felt safe and happy and that's all I cared about. I knew at that moment that she was going to be the one to make it hard for me to leave.

Making My Way to Zululand

In my early twenties I came across an evening news program investigating orphanages in Russia. Needless to say, the findings were not good. In fact, they were downright shocking. There were institutions with hundreds of cribs and only two employees. The babies had numbers, not names. They were filthy and their diapers had not been changed in days. Many of the orphans who survived would often run away to live on the streets as young as five. They would do anything, including eat garbage, to survive. They would even sniff glue to numb their bodies so they wouldn’t feel the cold. I was horrified. I can remember thinking I must do something. I actually thought through the process of trying to make a plan to join this private American organization in Russia to help with this situation. No matter how I tweaked my plan, I couldn’t make it work. I had student loans to pay from University, I had just purchased a new car and truth be told, when it came down to it, I just wasn’t strong enough. I made a promise to myself that one day I would do something. My one day finally came.

Knowing the final leg of my journey would be in South Africa, I wanted to volunteer with an organization that was dedicated to helping orphans and abandoned babies. I wanted to be able to take my experience from Cooperate America and help this organization grow. I also want to learn more about non-profit organizations and in particular, the plight of saving abandoned babies and orphans and ideally finding them loving homes. I began my search by using the website You enter all of your parameters… volunteer work, South Africa, orphans, time frame, etc. and a list of organizations that match your search appear. After reading about iKhaya LikaBaba, I knew this was the organization. The phrase iKhaya LikaBaba means “House of the Father” in Zulu. It is an organization that houses abandoned babies and orphans in Empangeni in the heart of Zululand. The organization is only in its first year. They currently house up to six babies and are at capacity. Next year, their plan is to expand to 20. They are also looking to grow Nationally and Internationally. iKhaya LikaBaba is a home, not an institution. Each of the baby’s crib has a colorful mobile; the playroom is full of toys and lots of windows to let in the sunshine. Although their clothes are donated, they are of good quality. They receive the best care from doctors, physical therapists and nutritionist. But most of all, they are loved. They are held, hugged and kissed on a regular basis.

To get to Empangeni, I flew from Cape Town to Durban. I was first told by Melanie, the founder of the organization, that a woman by the name of Renee would retrieve me at the airport and we would drive the two hours to Empangeni straight away. The day before I was to leave Cape Town plans changed. I was now going to be picked up by Ray, a loyal volunteer, and stay the night at his house. Renee would come and fetch me the next evening. I’m flexible, so this wasn’t a problem. Then, while at the airport in Cape Town I receive a call from Ray. He explains that he is going to the big rugby match and that his mother Helen will be retrieving me from the airport. His mother? For some reason I assumed Ray was an old man. When I get off the plane I look around and see no sign that says “Kelly” or “I’m Helen”. Ray had given me her cell number. As I was about to reach for my phone to call, someone touches my arm and says, “Are you Kelly?” It was my new friend Helen! We found each other by simply being the two most confused looking people at the airport. Helen gave me a tour of downtown Durban. It’s a beautiful beach town that has lost its charm. She spoke of the days when as a young girl she could walk the streets of the city at night to shop. “Now”, she expressed with disappointment in her eyes, “you wouldn’t make it to the end of the street without being killed.” She went on to tell me that you can’t even wear jewelry during the day or it will be ripped right off of you.

She explains that we will be picking up Ray and his friend from the Rugby match but will return to the house until the match has ended. Their house is absolutely gorgeous. Helen leads me to the guest house behind the pool and explains that I will be sleeping in Ray’s quarters. As we enter the guest house I am transformed to Wayne’s World… guitars hanging on the wall, CDs tossed about everywhere, hookah pipe on the dresser, surf boards leaning about… I don’t mean to stereotype, but without meeting Ray, just but observing his lifestyle, he just didn’t seem like the type that would volunteer for an orphanage.

After a nice cup of tea Helen received a call from Ray to let us know the match was over. Little did I know that this match was the “Super Bowl” of Rugby. A friend of Ray’s invited him to his company’s suite where they could watch the match in luxury. Ray and his friend were in high spirits. First, because the Sharks won the cup and second, because food and drinks were included in the suite. After visiting Ray’s room he looked like I expected,…a young, attractive, alternative-rock-star-surfer-dude.

When we returned to the house we went out to the surf shack (Ray’s room). His mother gave him a lecture about the condition of his quarters, he laughs it off. As she continues with the lecture, he pulls out a king size mattress from behind his wardrobe and flops it on the floor next to his bed. I help his mother dress the mattress. As his mother leaves she yells out an approximate time for dinner. Politely, Ray asks if I would like to take a shower. “Not at this moment”, I reply. He announces he really needs one and begins to strip off his closes… down to his boxers and heads for the shower. I sit on the nicely made king mattress and I absorb the events of the day. Think about it, I’m in a foreign country staying with people I have never met in my life. In fact, they have never met me yet they are acting as if my presence is very normal… as if I’m a relative they haven’t seen in a long time. While I’m in mid-thought,
Ray does a leaping sideways spiral twist across my king size mattress onto his bed, towel wrapped around his waist. He begins to ask me the questions I seem to get everywhere I go in Africa… where am I from?... When did I arrive?... How long will I be staying? When it was my turn to “interview” Ray, I found out that his role as a volunteer with iKhaya LikaBaba was to retrieve volunteers from the Airport in Durban, let them stay in his “quarters” until he was scheduled for a business trip in Empangeni which was usually within a few days, then drop them off at the orphanage. You’re probably wondering how a rock-n-roll-surfer-dude got involved in this project? So was I. Ray works in his family’s plumbing business. iKhaya called his company to bid on a project. Once he arrived and looked at the job, he realized the project was too small and too far away. You see Durban is two hours away from Empangeni. Although Ray decline to accept the job, Mel, the founder of iKhaya, asked Ray how often he did business in Empangeni. When he said he was there as least once a week she asked if he would be willing to retrieve volunteers from the airport and bring them with him and he said, “sure.” Sometimes there happens to be a few days between when he picks them up at the airport and when he takes them to the airport, that’s when they “crash in his room.” And this is how Ray became a volunteer with iKhaya LikaBaba… and how I became roommates for three days with a rock-n-roll-surfer-dude. I must say, I was very impresses with Ray. He was a true gentlemen and perfect host. He invited me to join him surfing at 6am, when I told him I liked the CD he was listening to he gave it to me to listen to while I was in Empangeni, he would ask my opinion on stock purchases… he clearly had done his homework, he invited me to go to the mall with he and his friend, and even invited me to come stay at his house on weekends when I wasn’t volunteering. I instantly fell in love with the whole family. We stayed up late one night sharing travel stories and laughing until we had tears rolling down our faces. It was at this moment I made my mind up that I would make sure to spend at least a night or two with this family before I head back to the states.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maria and I had planned to rent a car for the day and drive along the coast. Not only are there many quaint sea-side towns, the drive along the ocean is said to be stunning. We were only about ten minutes outside of the city and I had found the place where I could live forever… Clifton and Camps Bay. This was an upscale, beachside community with restaurants, a theatre, and art galleries. Each home was more beautiful than the next and all had views of the ocean. The ocean had big, strong waves and the water was clear. The sand on the beach was like powder. There were patches of large, smooth rocks that looked like they were strategically placed. I could have ended my road trip with this destination if it weren’t for the incentive of penguins in the wild and chance sightings of whales. With that thought we jumped back into our car and headed down the coast. We didn’t get too much further before we noticed whales breaching not far from the coast. There were plenty of pull-off points along the road to park as I can see where this can cause quite a traffic problem for locals trying to get to or from work or home. Every mile of this drive was turning out to be so spectacular, Maria and I were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it to the end of continent… our goal destination. It was at this point we made the decision we would drive straight to the penguins, then on down to the end of the continent… do not pass go, do not collect $200… no stopping at the cute little sea-side towns until on our way back. Although we stuck to our plan, we had a tendency to drive very slowly through the towns with one of us always shouting out “let’s be sure to go in that store on the way back!” It was much longer before we arrive to Boulders Beach the home of the penguins. It was great to see these little guys in the wild and not in a zoo. Watching them swim in the ocean, up to the beach and waddle up to the rocks was a real treat.
After spending time with our tuxedoed friends, we jumped back in the car and headed to the tip of the Africa. For some reason I expected the very end of the African continent to be a deserted place, oh contraire. First, we had to pay to see the end of the continent… the area was a National Park. Then, we pull around to the end where we witness a bit of a circus. There are at least 25 giant tour buses, over 100 cars, two gift shops, a restaurant, a coffee shop and restrooms. The views are stunning, but am I missing something here? There really didn’t seem to be much to the park. It was very flat and dry… bush like, with no trees so you could see for miles… nothing until you got to the ocean. Maria and I didn’t venture off onto any of the many side roads as time was ticking and when didn’t want to cut into any of our “sea-side town shopping”.” So, I can now say I have been to the very end of the African continent, then practically peeled wheels to get out of there and to the cute little sea-side towns for some shopping and a bite to eat. Back North we go!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Table Mountain

Table Mountain is to Cape Town what the Eifel Tower is to Paris, or the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco, but it was constructed by nature. Its beauty towers over the entire Cape luring you to come explore. Going on the expert advice provided at the reception of our guest house, Maria and I checked the weather forecast in the beginning of our stay, identified the day of the week forecasted to have the clearest, least windy day, and planned this day for a trip up to Table Mountain. The plan worked out perfectly… we had a beautiful day for our adventure. Often described as magical and mystical, Table Mountain is visible from almost everywhere in Cape Town and is often used as a beacon by which to find direction.
The mountain rises 3,567 ft. Its flat summit measures nearly 3km and provides breathtaking views over the city and its beaches. Table Mountain is home to a rich fauna and flora, many species of which are endemic and survive only in the unique ecosystem which is contained on the mountain. There are approximately 1470 species of plants, including over 250 different species of daisies! Examples of endemic plants are the rare Silver Tree and the wild orchid Disa Uniflora. Animals such as baboons and porcupines live here freely, as well as furry rodents called Rock Dassies. These little creatures look like plump rabbits without ears - incredibly, their closest living relative is the elephant! The Table Mountain Ghost Frog is an example of an animal found in no other place on the world.

I was shocked when I realized that you could actually see whales breaching. I noticed they were so close to the shore. If you could see them from the top of Table Mountain, imagine how well you could see them from the shore?! We had arranged to rent a car for the next day to drive along the coast…right past the very spot where the whales were breaching. This had me very excited about road trip!

Cape Town

Before heading to my next volunteer assignment my friend Maria and I decided to meet in Cape Town for eight days. Now remember, Maria has been living in the bush in Botswana since March and I have been living in various East African countries in the bush, jungles and even an island where I didn’t wear shoes for over a month. After months of roughing it, we are suddenly thrusted back into a modern metropolitan city. Three words… GIRLS GONE WILD.

We were staying in a cute guest house at the waterfront. It had real duvets and lots of pillows on each bed, and even electricity and hot showers. And guess what? The power never went out! The streets were paved; I didn’t see one donkey only cars, streets lights (which are called “robots”) and tall buildings. I couldn’t believe how foreign this felt to me. It truly felt like a different world. I must admit, it was a world I was ready to play in again.

Our first stop…. the famous V&A Waterfront. This landmark has everything from world class shopping, to casual and fine dining. And we did it all! We both were in desperate need of haircuts and treatments. After spending a few hours at the salon, we shopped for some new clothes to replace the stained and torn clothes we had been wearing for the past six months. The economy may suck in the U.S. but the dollar is very strong in South Africa…. 11.5R to $1. A simple white, v-neck t-shirt set me back 4.95R… that’s less than $3! Certainly worth replacing the one I had been wearing for close to six months with cow blood stains from feeding the lions. Trust me, I bought more than a white t-shirt. We had to take full advantage of this opportunity… just ask Jimmy Choo! We dined on the Capes best seafood and best wine. The next day we went for the full spit shine…. Massage, facial, manicure, and pedicure. If I told you the price you wouldn’t believe me. O-kay, I’ll tell you…. $90! And this was at a high-end hotel and spa. I think I’m going to move to Cape Town!

All I can say is, “You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl!”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dog Gone: Operation Export Locha

The first day I stepped on the beach in Zanzibar I saw her. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. She looked just like my pooch Phoebe… same size, same color, same face, same lopsided ears. She was under a beach bed. There were people lying on the beds so I assumed she belonged to them. It didn’t matter. She reminded me of my dog and nothing was going to prevent me from petting her. When I asked if I could pet their dog the couple explained that it wasn’t their dog. She had found refuge under their beach bed and had been lying there all afternoon. They explained that a group of local boys had been chasing and throwing things at her. I sat down on the sand and called her to me and she came straight away, tail wagging head hung low showing submission. Although she was wearing a collar, she was very thin, too thin for her body frame. She also had a big gash on her right paw that was full of sand. I went to find her some fresh water. She drank for what seemed like ten minutes non-stop. I then gave her some of my left over lunch. She swallowed it without chewing. It was obvious this dog was not being taken care of. She was very dehydrated and starving.
Over the next few days I watched her beg for food from tourist along the beach, she would be chased and terrorized by the gang of local boys and she would seek protection under the occupied beach beds. I started to learn more about this lone beach dog. She was about a year old and her name was Locha. From what I was told, her owner moved away from Kendwa Beach and left Locha when they moved. I had also learned that this was a Muslim island and Muslims in this country did not like dogs, at all. I was informed by several shop owners that the same gang of local boys that torment Locha recently stoned to death another dog.
Locha and I became inseparable. She was now getting fresh water and food from me on a regular basis. She was also sleeping with me in my bungalow. If I went out diving, she would wait at the scuba shop until she saw the boat coming at which point she would run to the shore to great me.
Locha had followed me up to the bungalow one afternoon when I went to shower. She was napping on the bed when I heard someone calling her name outside. I went out to find a young European woman. She informed me that someone told her Locha had been seen with a tourist on this property. I introduced myself, than I let her have it. I explained the condition in which I found Locha. She said she and her boyfriend, a local, live two hours away and only come to the beach on the weekend and that they have someone look after Locha during the week. I told her who ever she had “taking care of Locha” was not doing their job. I also informed her about the gang of boys and how Locha is constantly being chased and terrorized by them. She was aware of this! She admitted that she probably should not have taken Locha as a pet last year when she was a puppy. I agreed. I explained that I could find Locha a good home; all she needed to do was give me the O.K. I told her to think about it and let me know.
As hard as it was for me, I encouraged her to take Locha with her. When she called Locha, she wouldn’t even go to her. She had to physically pull her by her collar. I didn’t see Locha for a couple of days. When I did see her, she had a thin piece of twine tied to her collar. She must have been tied up and broke free. Once again she was very dehydrated. All I could imagine was she was being tied up during the week until her owner returned on Friday. We easily fell back into our old routine.
I was preparing for my return to Uganda. I knew I would be gone for a week and I was worried about Locha’s wellbeing. Many of my friends who worked in the shops along the beach would chase the gang of boys away when they would become a threat to Locha. And, local businesses were starting to provide her with food and water. I was still worried about her safety at night while I was gone. My first day back from Uganda I received a call from a friend who was on his way to work at the scuba shop. He said Locha was being chased by the local boys and they were throwing rocks at her. He had run the boys off and Locha was now with him at the shop. I went to her rescue at once. I found her with fresh wounds on her head from the rocks. I was leaving in five days and I knew if I didn’t get her off that island she would not survive much longer.
It was time to create “Operation Export Locha”.
I know what some of you may be thinking. “It’s just a dog, why would you go through all of that trouble and expense?” I’ll tell you why. Passion. I knew in my heart I had to do something. I would never have been able to live with myself if I would have walked away knowing I could have done something to save her. Sadly enough, I have come across many dogs and cats in need of a good home while traveling through Africa, but there was something different about Locha. This dog was a good pet, too good of a pet to let be tortured and left to die. Besides, she had not been spayed and the last thing this island needed was more stray dogs to torture and kill!
The hardest part about my African journey was the fact that I would have to leave my dog Phoebe for six months. For those of you who know me well know that she is my shadow. Where ever you see me, you see Phoebe. My dear friends Linda and Kurt have opened their hearts and home to Phoebe and agreed to take care of her during my travels. They love her so much that before I left I remember Kurt saying “I want us to get a dog just like Phoebe…she’s the perfect size…” So I contacted Linda from Zanzibar and let her know that I found a dog exactly like Phoebe. If she and Kurt want her, I will ship her to them in two days. It didn’t take long before I had the response I was hoping for “we’ll take her!”
I was on a mission. First, I found out that all she needed to arrive in the US was her rabies shot and heath certificate. No quarantine needed. I took her to the only vet on the island and had this taken care of. Then, I flew with her on a tiny bush plane from Zanzibar to the mainland of Tanzania. My friend Barbara that owned the lodge where I was staying offered up her dog's airline crate. Then, I booked her on a flight with KLM which has an awesome doggy program. The only problem was she couldn't fly until the next day, so I needed to find a hotel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania... a Muslim town, which would allow me a room with a dog. After searching for two hours, a nice Indian owner allowed me to stay in his “hotel”, which actually wasn't too bad. The morning the same taxi driver that helped us search for a hotel the night before, picked us up to take us to the airport. Locha jumped in the car and gave him a swift lick on the face as if to say, “Thank you for helping me… let’s go!” Thank goodness he didn’t mind this show of affection. After completing the paperwork at the cargo department, Locha was ready to go. The flight was from Tanzania to Holland, where she would spend seven hours in KLM's doggy hotel, be taken for a walk and fed... receive the royal treatment before flying to her final destination, where my friend Linda was eagerly waiting to meet the new addition to her family. She was waiting with a brand new collar and matching leash, a plush new bed, fresh water and food. My dear Locha, you are about to be spoiled American style. You will never have another rock thrown at you. You will have regular visits with a proper puppy doctor. Your water bowl will always be filled. You will always have two meals a day, plus lots of yummy puppy treats. You will have toys, yes toys, something you have never heard of before. Instead of being left behind to fend for yourself, you will be included on family trips. And, when it’s not possible for you to go along you will be taken care of by Aunt Kelly and Cousin Phoebe. You will be included in holiday celebrations and taken out on boat trips. You will affectionately be dressed in Halloween costumes, sweaters and bandanas… get use to it, Sistah! You will be invited into your Mommy and Daddy’s bed in the morning for love’ns. You will be happy, healthy, loved and I’ll say it again… spoiled American style! Seemed like a perfect ending until I got the phone call.
One morning I was viewing photos sent to me by Linda of Locha and Phoebe playing together. I was smiling thinking about happy Locha must be. Then, my phone rang with some unexpected news. A friend of mine from Zanzibar was phoning to tell me that Locha’s former owner had opened a case with the police about her disappearance. The police had taken everyone from the lodge where I was staying to the station to interview them about me and my whereabouts. Only one person on that island knows how to reach me and I will never reveal his name. NEVER! You see, as I move from country to country in Africa, I change SIM cards in my cell phone. The number I was using in Tanzania is of no use as soon as I left the country. I am a mystery.
My friends, I am a wanted woman. An internationally wanted woman. Wanted for doing the right thing. Wanted for saving an animal from certain death. Wanted for dog-napping in Zanzibar. Would I do it again? In a heart-beat! I bid farewell to my island paradise as our love is forbidden.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral standards can be judged by the way its animals are treated”

Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Obama!

Before leaving for Africa, I had made arrangements to insure I could vote. Never before had I become so educated about the presidential candidates, their background, policies, the actions they plan to take if elected, the decisions they have made in the past as well as the present. The more I educated myself the more strongly I felt Obama was the candidate to lead the United States of America. The more I learned about McCain the more frighten I became that someone like him had a chance to be president.
I had heard that Obama was popular in East Africa, particular Kenya. Knowing I was going to be spending much time in East African countries I asked my neighbor Libby, a friend and our local Obama Campaign Representative provided me with a stack of Obama bumper stickers. Thanks to her I quickly became the most popular person around. Not only with locals, but with tourist… both American and European. If the locals had a car they would immediately attach the bumper sticker.
I never made it to Kenya, but the support for Obama in Tanzania was amazing. On my way back from the Serengeti I noticed a road-side curio stand called “The Obama.” Knowing we would go this same route to the Ngorongoro Crater the next day I informed Maria about the stand and we both agreed we must pay a visit. While in Zanzibar we also came across the Obama Tree. Under the tree you could find Obama paintings, Obama checkers, Tanzania for Obama t-shirts, Obama 08 key chains shaped like the island of Zanzibar and Obama Jr., a young local in his early twenties who started “Zanzibar for Obama.” When asked why his is so passionate about Obama becoming the next President of the United States he was very clear and spoke with poise. He said, “you may think that I want him to become president because he is black, but that is not the reason.” He explained that America is the leader of the world. The decisions the president makes effects everyone in every country. “Bush and the Republican Party have not done a good job. This war in Iraq was not planned properly. As a result, too many innocent people, both Americans and Iraqis who were anti-Sadam to begin with, have lost their lives.” He went on to say that he was captivated the first time he heard Obama speak. He felt a strong connection because he spoke of the same values that he was raised with by his parents. I asked him if he wanted a career in politics. “No, But I want to be a good Leader.” He even held a Pro-Obama rally on the island that drew in over 150 attendees, both locals and tourists. After the rally he was approached by two American tourist. They admitted that they were preparing to vote for McCain until they heard him speak about Obama. Because of him, passion and his rally, they had changed their minds. They were now going to vote for Obama. Well done.
I would often say, “If Obama doesn’t win, I’m not going back to the U.S.” Well, it’s official. I can now come home.

Near Plane Crash!

October 6, 2008

Pop Quiz Time: I’ll make it easy for you…True or False - To insure optimum safety upon entering the water after an emergency landing, your life vest should be inflated prior to exiting the plane. True or False?

If your plane crashes into the ocean or a Lake, would you know how to quickly and correctly put on the provided life vest? How many times have you heard the flight attendant review the instructions? If you’re like me, about a thousand times. But let’s face it; you need an advanced degree in engineering to figure out how to put this thing on…. One part goes over your head, straps are going around your waist, and you’re blowing in tubes, pulling on strings. Oh, yeah this is if you can release it from under your seat first while your plane is taking a nose dive into a body of water.

This recently crossed my mind on my plane ride from Entebbe, Uganda back to my island paradise of Zanzibar. The plane had just taken off when the engine began to resist power. The plane started jerking back and forth before you could hear the engine cut off completely. Then came the smell. A clear indication that something was burning. It was obvious that something was very wrong. I looked out the window and all I could see was water, Lake Victoria. You could hear sounds of panic coming from all the passengers. The plane felt like it was going down. The pilot makes an announcement that he is experiencing engine problems (really?!) and is going to turn the plane around and land back at Entebbe. One passenger was praying, well screaming, to Jesus to help her. Now I’m a Christian and I pray to Jesus, but I couldn’t help but think there was a better use of time at that moment then to continuously scream his name out loud. For example, I thought about the complicated life vest. If this bird is going down, I’m going to have this vest figure out by time we hit the water. Once my vest is on, THEN I’ll start praying to Jesus. I couldn’t help but think about the victims on the planes during 9/11. I’m sure they were all praying. Jesus, or whoever it is you pray to, cannot save everyone all the time. You need to do everything in your power to be a survivor and let prayer guide you. Prayer alone will not do. If that were the case, everyone on the planes during 9/11 would have survived. Back to my survival plan, I reach under my seat in search on the life vest. The guy sitting next to me anxiously watches what I am doing. For some reason I can speak and I simply point to the sign on the back on the seat in front of us “Life Vest Under Seat”. He gives me a nod and begins to search for his. Once we both have our life vests I begin phase two of plan that now involves the guy sitting next to me who I realize is quite fit and will make a good “plane-crash-teammate.” I lean over to him and say, “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but let’s be prepared. These life vests are complicated to put on and we are over the lake in a plane with an engine that keeps cutting off and is burning. Whatever happens, let’s stick together. Two thinking heads are better than one.” He is in agreement. I look around and notice others are following our lead and getting out their life vests. I had even shared my suggestion for our emergency exit. The exit closest to us was next to the engine with the problems. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that situation. Plus, it was congested with people. On the other hand, the exit in the front of the plane was clear, no one was seating around it and we could get there quite easily. He was in agreement. Our plan was in place. Now I started to pray, although I couldn’t concentrate because all I could hear was the screaming Jesus lady.

The hesitation of the engine seems to calm a bit and the pilot makes another announcement. He informs us that the problem was caused by a bird flying into the engine. That explains the “fowl” smell. Bad joke, I know. This put everyone at ease once we knew more about the cause.
Within an hour after we landed we had changed planes and were ready to take off again. When it came time for the flight attendant to provide the instructions for the life vest, you can be assured she had everyone’s full attention. As a matter of fact, I latterly saw people sitting on the edge of their seats so they could see better.
As for the pop quiz, if you answered True you are going to be trapped in the plane and drown. You are to wait to inflate your life vest after exiting the plane.

Wishing you all safe travels!

Back to Uganda

This adventure took place on October 3, 2008

While in Uganda I became friends with Amos, the owner of Great Lakes Safari. I had used his company for my gorilla trekking expedition because it was highly recommend in Lonely Planet. GLS certainly lived up to their reputation. Amos invited me to come back to Uganda to discuss a business opportunity. He had meetings scheduled and wanted to introduce me to a few people… the Minister of Tourism, the President of Uganda’s daughter, members of the board of the Uganda Tourism Association in which he is the president. He also wanted to show me Murchison Falls National Park. Unfortunately, this is a site I missed my first time in Uganda. As you all know from my previous blog entries, I fell absolutely in love with Uganda and it certainly didn’t take him long to convince me to return. The business opportunity I will discuss at a later time, but I do want to share with you my visit to Murchison Falls. How did I let this slip off my itinerary during my first visit?! Amos had arranged for me to stay at this fantastic Lodge situated right in the park. When I stepped out of the Land Rover my mouth literally fell open it was so beautiful. My cabin was build on the side of a cliff overlooking the Nile. The sun was just beginning to set. On the other side of the bank were elephants drinking along the waters edge, hippos were honking as if to welcome me. The cabin walls were floor to ceiling screen with the bed in the center of the room. I could lie in bed and look straight out at the Nile. I was surrounded by forest on either side and monkeys would scamper from tree to tree, occasionally jumping on my roof top. I have to admit, it felt good to be back. The next morning we headed out early to beginning our safari. Our drive began with an open field dotted with thousands of palm trees. This was something I was not use to seeing on safari. Noel, my guide, explained that elephants bump up against the palms to knock down the fruits so they can eat them. Elephant pooh does not digest so the fruit seeds in the pooh are fertilized and planted and grow into palm trees. The Serengeti and the parks in Zimbabwe and Botswana don’t have this echo system. It’s very unique to Uganda… and beautiful! Throughout our drive we spotted many animals… zebra, buffalo, heart a beast, water buck, elephant, and wart hogs. But my favorite memory was the spotting of the Rothschild giraffe. We came across around eight of them on a hill top. They were glazing out over the Nile as if they appreciated their home and the view.
I was now scheduled to take a boat safari up the Nile. The original plan was for me to join a party of 12 on a large boat. Well, my “party” got on the wrong boat leaving me behind. My guide explained that it didn’t make much sense to use the big boat for just the two of us. I agreed. This was before I knew we were going to cruise the crocodile infested Nile in boat the size of a tin can! Seriously, it was half the size of any hippo swimming along the banks. All I can imagining was how easy it would be for a hippo to flip this tin can and the crocs to eat us for lunch. The guide assured me that using this boat was a special treat as it would allow us to closer to wildlife and the falls. I was still trying to decide if this was something I should be excited about.

My safari down the Nile in the tin can was exhilarating! We were basically eye level with the hippos, which didn’t seem to mind our intrusion. Except for one. We were admiring a mama hippo and her adorable calf. Well, papa apparently thought we were a bit too close for comfort. He took a leaping plunge into the water, which is a sign of irritation and aggression. I tried to capture a photo of his acrobatics but missed the shot. What I managed to capture was the photo of him reappear from the surface of the water only a few meters from the boat ready to attack! The “Captain” kicked the S.S. Tin Can in full throttle and we managed to escape from Big Daddy. But I got the shot!

We also got frightenly close to the crocs. There were hundreds of crocs all along the banks of the Nile. Every one of them had their mouths wide open ready to snap. When we would pull up to the bank they would all scurry into the water. At one point there were so many around the boat the “Captain” turn on the motor to insure they would try to climb in the boat.
After our “to close for comfort” encounter with the crocs we headed to Murchison Falls… the Grand Finale. There was the much larger safari boat packed with tourist. My guide explained to me that because of the size of the boat, it could not get any closer to the falls. Meanwhile, the S.S. Tin Can zipped on by way past the large boat. We were so close to the falls the only thing from keeping us from getting closer was the force from the falls itself. I leaned back and enjoyed the cool mist hitting my face. Once again, the travel Gods were looking after me as they have been this entire journey.