Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Year in Review

Every December, I reflect on the moments that have composed the last year of my life. A few snapshots/sentiments in "top five" format:

Top 5 Amazing Nature Moments 2011 
1. Christmas sunset in South Africa

2. Up close encounter with a leopard in Uganda
3. Lounging on beaches in Zanzibar
4. Walking beside week-old giraffes (that were already way taller than me) in Kenya
5. Watching abandoned two-day-old puppies grow into dogs that people were able to adopt!

Top 5 Strangest Issues to Problem Solve in 2011
Every day in Uganda I am asked to flex my adaptability muscles. Just a few of the year's odd predicaments:
1) Problem: How to get Harriet and Loveline out of a cement/metal barred room when an old lock completely jammed... twice.
[Solution: saw through the metal lock and pry the frame from the door, of course! Time 1: colleague's husband, time 2: locksmith from a nearby market]

2) Problem: How to complete online applications when the electricity was out for 4 days straight!
[Solution: charge multiple computers/batteries at school and then borrow from all my friends when my collection of charged tech ran out... thanks for the people who stepped in!]

3) Problem: How to identify the cause of a week without water/deal with a week with no water
[Solution: fill cans with water for toilets/washing on other people's properties and mooch showers from friends; call National Water repeatedly to hear that they have "men working on the fault"... they "have been working on it for one month"!! Finally, discover that there is a leaking pipe in the yard-- plug it with a maize cob and a plastic bag until a plumber can get there to fix it]

4) Problem: How to find an alternative route through Ugandan mountains when a huge rainstorm closed the main road and our map only included 4 (out of several dozen) villages along the path
[Solution: stop in every village and ask for directions... not an efficient or direct approach, but we got to our desired destination in the end]

5) Problem: How to deal with a stream of safari ants that crawled up my leg while we loaded the car in the dark (and were not discovered until several minutes later when they began biting my legs as I drove)
[Solution: slam the car into park; throw my pants off... on a public highway; and do a literal ants-in-my pants dance until I was free of the pesky buggers]

Five things I am proud of from 2011
Some of the experiences that stretched me the most this year:
1) teaching 25+ new books in one year and re-working curriculum to give kids a more balanced/rounded approach to literature!

2) encouraging students at ISU to respond to global issues

3) coping with the challenges of living in a developing country

4) taking the risk of giving up a job I enjoy to apply for graduate school

5) learning how to be a compassionate boss (it has been a whole new experience having numerous people completely dependant on me!)

Six 2011 moments of worlds converging/reunions!
I couldn't cut one, so this will have to be a top six list
1. Reunion in Toronto with friends who I worked with in Korea who are now scattered across three continents!
2. Sarah Yu (friends since 9th grade) sat in one of my ninth grade classes.... in Uganda! Then we had the chance to travel the country together! She was in East Africa for nearly a month.
3. Good friend from high school, Mori, hosted good friend from grad school, Lauren, and I in Seattle and Vancouver. He was an amazing host and it was fun to bring two worlds together.
4. Weekend in Kenya with friends who I worked with Korea (one flew in from the States, two families live in Kenya)
5. High school reunion for Gail's wedding. It was the first time we had all been in one place in years!
6. Trip to Hawaii with the entire immediate family! Great to spend time with all of us in one place distraction-free.

Five Aims for the New Year
One might call these resolutions.
1) Prioritize people. In the end, people are way more important than my ever-accumulating stack of marking.

2) Learn to be more comfortable being uncomfortable. Press my boundaries-- take a new class or try activities that I have little experience with.

3) Expand my global knowledge through travel, reading, conversations, etc. I have started a new mission, one that will undoubtedly take years to actualize, to read a text (fiction or non-fiction) about every country in the world. I have already read books from 43 nations... I hope to raise my count to at least 60 in the next twelve months!

4) Act on my beliefs:  serve regularly, seek solutions for problems, encourage, and love.

5) Seek balance. This is a consistent area for growth for me amidst the business of life!

Well, if you make it this far, I'm impressed. Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Testing Navigational Skills

Is a flight that takes you southwest to Kigali, Rwanda, then northeast (over Uganda) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, followed by a flight southwest to Johannesburg, and a final leg further west to Capetown classified as "excessively indirect"? [Note: departure time is 2 am, landing 6pm... clearly ideal travel times] Perhaps the amazing deal is not as amazing as it seemed at first...

Just remember: Christmas with penguins, Christmas with penguins, Christmas with penguins!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fling, flung

To "fling" implies a sense of acceptance, a willingness to embrace suspension, an intentional movement beyond the secure present. At this juncture in life, I fling myself into the unknown once again. I propel myself into to the void of subjectivity and hope to fall on soft ground.

The realm of international education is a strange one. My friends in the U.S. maintain stability through long-term jobs, perhaps considering promotions or divergent tracks within reasonably contained spaces. Meanwhile, my friends who are international educators reconsider the gut-wrenching question of "where do I want to be in life?" annually as contracts are renewed and benefits revised.

Sometimes international educators chose to stay another year, two years, in the communities they have acclimated to. They learn a new language, refine curriculum, relish friendships, or explore community offerings. However, equally often, international educators eject themselves into the black hole of job fairs, resumes, and Skype interviews. They uproot themselves and restart their lives on new continents, in new cities, amidst new people. They transition towards familiar. Towards foreign. Towards challenging. Towards ease. Towards unknown.

All international educators know the dizziness of dropping, the uncertainty of parachutes as the world sprawls before you. I am now in the midst of that terrifying free fall stage: I have relinquished a position I love at The International School of Uganda and have released applications for doctoral programs to the whims of admission boards. No degree of grasping at air will reverse my trajectory or maintain my job vacancy until March. Instead, I can simply hope that one of the programs I have applied to will embrace me with my academic interests (the intersection of human rights and education).

When I went skydiving a few years ago I nearly fainted as we flew up to the 12,000 ft drop point. As I watched the trees below me shrink to miniscule dots, dozens of scenarios (many less than desirable) bombarded my mind. Fear clenched my hand tightly. However, when my tandem buddy shouted "Now!" and we propelled ourselves from the plane, a surprising sense of peace transcended. I can't honestly say that I have that degree of serenity yet. But I am eager to see which metaphorical pasture I land on. I have flung myself towards new opportunities and my free fall will be over before I know it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What is at the end of the rainbow?

The answer, I have found, depends on your cultural frame of reference. In the US we suggest that you will find a creepy green man with a pot of gold. In Uganda, I learned today, the rainbow's end points at a white ship (that has a pesky habit of vanishing into Lake Victoria when pursued). Or, to some Ugandans, the rainbow is a message from a higher being that the looming storm will not show its full wrath on the people. Or to the abundant Ugandan Christian masses, it is a symbol of a promise from God. Who knew those technicolor arches held so much lore and symbolism?!?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Exploring Western Uganda

We drove amidst herds of buffalo and lounging baboons, successfully evaded the greedy hands of corrupt traffic cops, and navigated a wide array of potholes, mud pits, and meandering goats. We successfully deciphered webs of unlabeled dirt roads and improvised solutions to road closures. In the end, the views, animal sightings, and stories were worth every safari ant bite and every stretch of shock-eroding gravel! We visited three areas in Western Uganda: Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth National Park (including Ishasha), and Fort Portal. The landscape was stunning and, by the end, we viewed nearly all the major game that Uganda has to offer: lions, a leopard, a hyena, chimps, zebras, mongoose, hippos, crocodiles... truly an amazing trip (made even better by the company-- Sarah all the way from California and a co-worker, DJ). Chimp trekking:
Our room at Mihingo (in Lake Mburo National Park)
10 yards away from a leopard!
One of three male lions we saw in Queen Elizabeth!
Zebras in Lake Mburo area
Crested Cranes doing a dance (Uganda's national bird)
Breakfast views from Ndali Lodge (near Fort Portal)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2 ÷ 2= 1

2 chickens ÷ 2 eggs in one week= only one egg per chicken per week. Not sure what to make of that. My online research has indicated that they should be laying 1 egg each every day! Perhaps I do not have a career in egg harvesting...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Keeping busy

Fast for Famine
I mentioned in my last post that I've been busy. Well, one of the things that has kept me occupied recently has been the handling of logistics for ISU's recent service campaign. I am so proud of the turnout! About 60 students and faculty members joined together to fast to raise money for the World Food Programme and support famine victims in East Africa. In the end, we donated about $5000 as a school which is enough to feed about 10,000 adults! Pretty exciting stuff! It is fun to watch momentum for service and global issues grow in the community!

Kicking off a New Season
I've also been busy coaching soccer! We have a young team this year and so we are still working to get our feet under us. We had our first game last week and have numerous others before our big international tournament in Zambia in November.

I am also trying out a new thing (cause if not now, when?)... this week I bought two chickens and added them to a vacated coop in my backyard. So far, they have laid one egg and managed to avoid the dog's greedy grasp. Meet Kim & Chi, the newest members of my compound:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Plagerizing myself

I have been too exhausted this week to think about writing (I'll explain why at some point). Instead, I'll copy in some writing I had to do for an online course I am taking. The assignment: describe the view from your window. Without further ado... my view:

The mosquito screens that frame my window deter Malaria-laden insects, but ignore the warm Ugandan breeze that freely flows through their tiny braids. As I peer out my bedroom window, I can hear the bleating of cattle and the persistent honks of half-filled mutatus. I watch two sunbirds playfully shake droplets from the vibrant green bush beside my porch. The scattered water drops are feeble reminders of the heavy downpour that unleashed its emotion on the thirsty red roads this morning, the storm that sent the slums downhill into panicked flurry, the same precipitation that announced its procession from Lake Victoria with a heavy drumming and urgent cracks of thunder, and the same rain that accelerated the growth of my tomatoes.

I watch as my cat, always the feisty one, swats at my dog's tail before sprinting across the lawn and diving headfirst into the brush. I notice, with a smirk, that an agama lizard taunts her as it suns on the compound wall-- just beyond her nimble reach. She stalks slowly and crouches in the flowers, ready to pounce should the lizard forget her presence. I sigh, knowing it is only a matter of time until my restless puppy-of-a-dog capitalizes on this moment of kitty indisposition and grabs her tail. I know this dance for dominance far too well.

I turn my eyes towards the valley and scan the hills. I love the crisp clarity of the air after a good rain. As I watch the sun begin to dip into the red roofs and banana leaves, I wonder if electricity will return tonight and unravel the cloak of darkness that will soon transcend.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Portion Control

Today yet another visitor to my compound asked if my cat, Scout, was pregnant. Now I know for certain that she cannot be (as I literally watched a vet disconnect her lady parts on my front patio last year). Perhaps it is a sign, then, that Kitty Weight Watchers time should begin. Sorry, cat, you're being rationed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In the words of Sarah, "We live in different worlds!"

Sunday I got a knock at about eight pm. It was my night guard, Jaqueen. He shared with me that Harriet and her daughter were trapped in their house (on my property). Thus began the four-hour attempt to free the two from their virtual prison. Their only door had closed rapidly with curtains jammed in the springs and somehow the release mechanism malfunctioned. The result? Two humans trapped in a cement block with metal barred windows and doors and no way out. Talk about things that I never expected having to deal with!?! Several sets of benevolent friends and a gamut of broken tools later, my friend's dad succeeded in sawing through metal to release the cheaply constructed (yet somehow highly indestructible) door.

Monday, I had school as usual and then my first soccer practice of the season. One of the girls on the team is coincidently the owner of one of the puppies I raised last spring. She showed me a picture that proved that the puppy did in fact grow into a normal-looking and apparently quite sweet dog (quite exciting stuff). Then I went home to watch the sky and the Ugandan internet news sites for signs of the moon (and the resulting declaration of Eid). The first task was aided by the complete lack of power (courtesy of regular load-shedding), the second impeded by it. In the end, I discovered through text messages from friends in town that I would get a holiday on Tuesday and that the Muslim population in Uganda would join the rest of the world in celebrating the end of their fasting.

Today, during my holiday, I walked my dog through the nearby fields with Lindsay. As usual, half-naked children greeted us with smiles and bubbling enthusiasm. Then I did a bit of grocery shopping and considered buying a giant oversized hat from a boutique to wear with my stilettos and cocktail dress for the weekend's upcoming charity goat races (picture Kentucky Derby style attire while goats are prodded around a ring by a mattress). Finally, I spent the evening grading papers on my porch. That is, until I discovered a swarm of termites flying from a mound that had gone unnoticed in my yard. Thousands of bugs were flying free as my dog and cat swatted and consumed. Harriet explained that these ones were too small to be pleasingly edible. A bit bigger, she explained, a bit bigger.

Tonight, a new night guard begins patrolling my house. The security company my school employs sent him. His name is Godfry and he has a kind smile. However, I am really going to miss having Jaqueen around for his nightly stories, his fatherlike presence for Harriet's daughter, and his amazing ability to catch my cat for her nighttime house arrest. Jaqueen has a new, better job; I am happy for him. I am going to have to get better at this cat-catching business, though.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Semi-Familiar Territory

I still do not know all the back roads to dodge traffic or how to convince my landlord to actually bring me a key to my back door. It might take me three days and five trips to maintenance to get 8 nails in my cement classroom wall. I may still get scammed by muzungu prices. And yet, life is so much more familiar.

I have a house with animals and people who welcome me home every day. I know the neighborhood guards and the patterns of the birds. I am well versed in my inverter's capacities. At school, rapport is no longer work: students know me along with my passions. I have watched momentum build for both global issues and soccer. Most of my classes are familiar and I have a classroom of my own. I have friends who know my stories.

I am especially struck that all the novelty of a new school year is so much more fun when the work of starting afresh is past!

And with that, my new kids:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Photo journey of North America visit part 2

"Moment of magic" (Hawaii)

"One might note a distinct genetic likeness" (Hawaii)

""Moderately strenuous," they say" (Hawaii)

"Taking Artistic Measures" (Seattle)

"The Curious Incident of the Gum in the Ally Way" (Seattle style)

Monday, July 18, 2011

photo journey through month 1 at home

My muse is officially on holiday. In the meantime, please accept a postcard journey through my last few weeks at home instead:

"The spastic family dog during apple season"

"Toronto is in fact quite green"

"I, too, believe I can fly"

"Friends without borders"

"In lieu of socks"

"Reasons it is nice to be in the country"

"Life's still more fun when you're a Sarah"

"Laughter and a bit of caffeine"

"Note to self: cement slides do not yield"

"Even the pigeons in San Francisco like to be different"

More moments to come...