Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I am HOME in Naperville

I made it home - exhausted but will re-energize soon!
I will also post new updates and MORE pictures and stories... so keep checking back, but I need a little bit of rest. Eight weeks in Africa makes my own bed look like HEAVEN...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Elephantitus at Village in Kamwenge

We just returned from a three day trip to Kamwenge district. We did another visit to Torro High School and to the primary kids as well as seeing families. But the hardest thing was the last village we visited. Many of the local people are suffering from Elephantitus. (spelling?) This is a disease which causes swelling of the extremities and these areas to become pus filled blisters which pop and smell unbelievably bad. These people are often shunned by their own family. It's contagious too. There is no real 100% cure, but it can be greatly alleviated in many cases. Medicine will save lives, for about $30 a year. Surgery is sometimes needed. If untreated, the people will die a slow, painful death.

I cried (in the bus, not in front of them) when I saw this suffering.
BUT I have AMAZING friends. I cannot and will not post all of the pictures due to graphic nudity. The man (pictured here with clothes on) allowed pictures to be taken of him without his clothes. His scrotum weighs over 12 pounds. After seven weeks of helping in villages, I am broke, so I sent these pictures to caring people as soon as I got back to Kampala and the internet access, and within just a few hours, enough friends promised to send money by depositing in my US bank account.. I am now withdrawing the shillings here and giving to the community facilitator who will take him to have surgery. Thank God.. and thank you to my friends who reached out to care about these people across the world that they never even met. You have saved lives today- literally

This woman had rags to tie up her feet because shoes no longer fit her.

But she was still able to smile.
She felt beautiful in her yellow dress and I told her she was!

This 18 year old man was in excrutiating pain. His scrotum had swelled to the size of a large cantaloupe.

We gave this little girl some pain medication as well as the Elephantitus medicine.

She had already lost part of her foot. Some toes were gone/badly decomposed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sunday School Spa Treatments Anyone?

Guess what I did today? Again, church was very different today. Sylvia had the idea to show the people here we love them that we should do an old fashioned washing of the feet of all the people here in the church after the services. (like Jesus did to the disciples) To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the idea initially, I'd support her idea because we are a team, and I knew it was important to her. But, you know the amazing thing? It ended up being great. The best part was that Kaden voluntarily came up and wanted to do it with me. And I had already held her for two hours during church. Instead of playing with the other kids, she came up and sat beside me for THREE HOURS helping. (That's how long it took, cause we did about 300 people) Kaden and I did the rinse the feet, dry and add lotion. Kaden was really helping, not just play acting. I have NEVER seen a three year old with such an attention span. (Even my nephew Gabe, who is brilliant.) She is so smart and because she and I were together doing this, the time flew.... we could do anything together and it would be fun - dig a ditch, whatever... and I'd love it simply because we would be together.

She did start out a little tired, but reenergized quickly.

Kaden during church in the dress and bear purse that I gave to her...
Recognize them, Sarah Bachmann? She looked like a princess.

Kaden's hand in mine.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Funny Signs Around Town

Some of the signs here are too interesting not to take note of....

JJ you be Tickles, I'll be Giggles.

You can Eat Smart...

Or eat Goat...

Or have a Sauna or Steam Bath along with your meal.

Or have some KFC...

Furniture delivery guy that SHOULD have a sign that reads WIDE LOAD

Evidently cars need a bathroom?

Interesting services....


Who wants to GAIN weight in the hips?????

Jeff Levitan's All For One Orphanage Project

Michelle and the TJ Miracle School Kids, the orphanage/school funded by All For One

This whole trip has been a very heavy emotional experience. I knew what I signed on for... I'm not complaining, just explaining.

I have passed bricks for hours in the hot sun to build houses for widows and AIDS orphans, my teams and I have worked to carry water for kilometers to mix the cement. We have been dirty, tired, hungry, and even some of us have been injured. But it is nothing compared to what these people go through.
I've held hands with people with malaria, AIDS, elephantitis, and horrible birth defects.
I've seen several people that have to walk on their hands due to disability.
I have spoken with burn victims, raped women and child soldiers.
I have visited schools, villages raided by the LRA, and mothers who have seen their husbands and children killed in front of them.
These are real people living real lives- really, really tough lives.
I've danced with them, worked beside them, and worshipped with these people and even though it's not the same language, it's the same God.
Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes I feel like I am dipping a bucket into the ocean of needs.
We've all had to sit for hours during village welcome ceremonies. And sometimes I do zone out... oh here we go again with the hour long welcome....

But today, it was different. At the orphanage I visited, the kids sang this song that made me realize that each one of the people I am meeting has this incredible amount of dreams, and in a way, are just hoping that maybe these people visiting are going to be the ones that can help them achieve those dreams. It hit me that that is an incredible responsibility... to be a potential instrument of other people's dreams.

You know how some things just kind of work out... and I don't believe in accidents. Well, I have a friend named Jeff Levitan who is the kind of guy that is the instrument of other people's dreams. He's a guy who knows how to make things happen. I know a lot of people who want to do good things... Jeff does them. He is an amazing and rare person, and pretty much everyone loves him. He's one of those guys that you can't believe is for real... but he is. Trust me. I know I have a lot of respect for him and even more so after today.
Jeff started an organization called All For One. And, guess what... All For One is funding an orphanage/school/clinic in Kampala... And he is building a brand new facility to expand and care for even more orphans. I remember sitting in Jeff's office the week he purchased the land... and him sharing his dream with me... I didn't think I'd actually get to see it firsthand, but like I said.. things happen for a reason. Of course, with me living in Kampala this summer, I wanted to go and check it out firsthand, meet the kids and see the progress on the new building.

First of all, I want to thank Renata, Kaitlin, JJ, Fred and Jerome for going with me on what is one of our only days "off"- between Team 2's leaving and Team 3's arriving... You were awesome and I thank you for giving your time and energy once again.

This is Bonnie, the headmistress of the school, showing me the internet cafe in town that she wants to open in order to help fund the continuing needs of the orphanage/school.

Of course teachers would want to see the school... so Kia and Michelle get a tour of the classrooms.

The children sang a bunch of welcome songs and recited poems.

We did an art project with the kids. We wanted them to keep them, but they insisted on using them to create a message for "Daddy Jeff."
Jeff, They remember your visit well, and they must talk about you constantly, because we must have heard them say that they " Daddy Jeff" at least a hundred times.

We made new friends.

Wearing the art project is a creative option!

We did The Guardian Stone Lion puppet show (and let them keep the puppets for future use )

I gave them the Henry the Hand handwashing program (hygiene)
I also passed out toothbrushes.
(Boy, isn't Michelle the fun one!)
But I DID give them candy, too....

The kids with the Henry the Hand puppets, posters, Barbies and soccer ball.

Precious (her name and also what she is)

Allam wants to be a lawyer.

Danny wants to be a pilot.

The soccer ball was a big hit.

JJ blowing bubbles with the kids

We had a lot of fun being with the kids, but we also went to see the new building being constructed. Bonnie says it will hopefully be done by November 2008. The place is huge, and has an incredible view of the valley below. Bonnie explained this building is only Phase 1. There are tiers of other buildings to be built below the main building with classrooms and a medical clinic still to come.

View from the driveway going up the hill.


Me, along with Bonnie and Precious.

Exterior front

Me, exterior front... see the division where the plaster has not been done yet... This is a brick building and is solid.

Exterior, main entrance from the drive.

Entry hall with the dining room beyond.

Michelle, Bonnie, Precious in the dining hall.

Girls dorm bathroom, unfinished.

Girls dorm bedroom (boys have a mirror image one

I thought this was a good way to end this. I see it as a representation of what All For One means to these kids.
This program is off to great start, but I am sure All For One would be happy to have any help that it can get as this program moves forward. Check out their website at

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Brothel, A Bare Butt, and an Avocado

You know how when you start out to do something that you think is totally ordinary- of no significance, so you don't take your camera??? Then later on you wish you had it...

Team 2 has gone and we are waiting for Team3 so we have a day or two down time. After the bus incident and trips to the hospital, I was feeling some stress... but that was nothing compared to how sore Kaitlin is... still, I had heard about this place that had massages, for 15,000 shillings. Ok, so that sounds expensive but converted to dollars is about 9 dollars. OK, that sounds great....and it's definitely in my price range. I love massages, but I should've aimed a little higher this time.

So JJ and I set out to find this place. By the time we ate dinner, and find the hotel, it's about 9:30 PM. So we walk in and there's this Chinese guy and two Ugandan women in the common area. He is the owner. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hi, I hear that you give massages.
Chinese guy: Yes, we give massageees.... .
Me: Great! What kind of massages do you have?
Chinese guy: We have two kind of Chinese massageee. 15,000 and 30,000 (shillings)
Me: Ok, what's the difference? Is one longer, or is it more intense? Do you have hot stones?
Chinese guy: Stones?
Me: Stones.
Chinese guy: Stones?
Me: Hot stones.
Chinese guy: Stones? (He looks confused, so I don't even ask him about Chakra balancing or Reiki)
Chinese guy: Stones?
(I see this is going nowhere, so I start another line of questioning. Back to the "difference" )
Me: So why is the 30,000 massage better?
Chinese guy: It's size of bed. And there is shower in the room. Otherwise you shower outside the room.
Me: Size of the bed?
Chinese guy: Yes, 30,000 is for double bed. (Clue #1)
Me: Ok, well, we only need a single!!! So if there is no other difference, I guess we each want the 15,000 massage.

So JJ and I are taken back into little rooms off of the dining room of this hotel. I am led to a small and dim room, that well, smells weird. There is a single bulb, and I kid you not.. it is a RED lightbulb. That is Clue #2

JJ is led off... I hope I see her again.
There is a massage table, and Faith, the lady giving the massage puts a sheet over it. A sheet... top sheet to drape over me. I guess she isn't going to leave the room before I undress.. Oh well. So, it's Africa.. Roll with it. As I lay there in all my naked glory, I began to channel Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense... as I thought: "I smell stinky people." Still, nothing really odd happens. The massage starts, and it's ok.

JJ is next door, and the walls must be made of Kleenex, because we can totally hear what is going on in each other's rooms. Thump, slap, slap, pop.... you get the picture. It goes pretty normally at first.
Poor JJ, the woman she had tells her that she has medicine she can give her to make her breasts bigger. (Later, JJ told me that her woman peeks under JJ's underwear and GIGGLES audibly.)
By now, I am on my back, facing up. Still naked and now oily- like a greased pig at a county fair.

I feel the table shake a little... Did that woman just crawl on top of the table???.. YEP... I peek open my eyes and the woman is standing towering over me. She bends and reaches over me, behind my back, and in a quick movement, draws her hands forward to the front.
All JJ hears is SLAP, SLAP, SLAP from my room. She later tells me she is thinking: Is Michelle getting SPANKED in there?

I get the giggles. I keep thinking of the avocado I am supposed to bring home for Kaitlin. It's seems to be a place where anything goes here, maybe I can pick one up from the Chinese guy in the dining room after the massage. The avocado... I can't get it out of my head.
So much for pretending not to hear, I say "Hey JJ, how are you in there?" She said "Ok??..." but I heard it more as a question, not a response.
"Hey JJ, can you remind me to get an avocado before we go home."
(I can hear muffled movement behind the wall and cannot tell if JJ is trying not to laugh. I can tell she is doing her best to make her voice normal." "OK..."

I decide to probe Faith a little more about the difference in the massages, maybe she can explain it better. I already have a pretty good idea we are in a brothel, but it is confirmed when she says that the 30,000 massage is the "one that men like" and that the bed is not a whole night's lodging, but just to sleep in "for a while" after the massage.
I'm starting to feel pretty skeeved out now, and the massage doesn't really last the whole hour, but I don't care.
The massage ends, and Faith rubs a dingy grey towel over me to rub the excess oil (Johnson's baby oil and spearmint) off. I dress as quickly as I can, without touching anything else in the room that I possibly could avoid...
I thank Faith, and, as as I pay the man in the lobby, I ask him- "Hey, do you happen to have an avocado I could buy from you?"
The Chinese man looks at me and tilts his head. "Avocado?" he says, clearly perplexed.
Me: "Avocado."
Chinese man: "Avocado?"
Me: "Avocado"
Chinese man: "Avocado????"

Never mind...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bus Accident

* NOTE ADDED AFTER WE RETURNED TO THE USA: when I originally posted this - we thought Kaitlin was ok. After Kaitlin was released from the hospital in Uganda with an all clear bill of health, she walked around Uganda for two more weeks, flew internationally (hauled luggage) and upon returning home, went to her doctor. He discovered she has a broken back (the T9 vertibrae) and told her she was lucky she was not paralyzed!

Saturday night, coming back from Paraa, a car cut the bus off unexpectedly in a construction zone. We did not see a brand new speed bump, and the bus hit it very hard. We all flew up out of our seats. Kaitlin was in the back of the bus, hit her head HARD on the roof, and was slammed back down. She was injured, and could not speak or move, but managed to whisper "Help Me!" Debbie heard her, and got the group's attention. Renata and I rushed to the back of the bus. We got the bus to stop (the road was terribly bumpy as all roads here are) and tried to assess what was wrong. Clearly, we had to get to the hospital ASAP... but traffic was a nightmare and we were at least an hour away.
We had no choice but to try to continue to the hospital while the ambulance (we called on the cell) tried to find us... Kaitlin was in severe pain and shock. Her mom is going to read this, so I am not going to get into the scary details, but we were afraid she had a broken back or spinal injury. All of her extremities were in pain, and all the way to the hospital,Renata braced Kaitlin's body and I was massaging her hands and shoulders to keep the feeling. Others were rubbing her feet. Everyone else prayed. I kept watching her pupils to see that they were normal (and they were I just kept talking to her to try to calm her down and to reassure her it would be ok. There was a wild, frightened look in her eyes and she was crying. All she would say is "Something is NOT right.. Something is very wrong!" So it was a time we could not freak out ourselves. We just kept with her. It was about an hour before we made it to the hospital. We called Herb and Ellen Cook, missionaries that have lived in Africa for over 35 years, and they promised to meet us at the hospital, but were some distance away.
At the hospital, the "paramedics" wanted to lift her off the bus.. I told them NO WAY.. she has to be put on a backboard. They said it was not possible to get it through the bus door with her on it.. COME ON PEOPLE... THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!! I insisted they bring it and told them we would lift her out the back window of the bus. No way were they going to mess up her spine.
Gene, Renata and I put her on the backboard ourselves because these people didn't have a clue.
Everyone helped to lift her down off the bus...
It did get somewhat better inside, but again, it will be Kaitlin's choice on how much detail she wants to give about the treatment. Let's just say that the hospitals here are at least 20 to 30 years behind facilities in the USA... and we were at THE most modern hospital in Uganda. I would hate to see the non modern ones.
The neurologist that was called was definitely qualified, and the good news is that she did not break anything, but had a massive and instantaneous compression which caused such pain. And the body reacted with a great deal of shock. She is ok, and now going to be fine.

Fred is a GREAT bus driver... and a lot of fun too!

I am in LOVE... who would have thought it would happen?

Ok so I was warned that I might fall in love when I least expected it...

And I did....

It was love at first sight, and I am pretty sure it was mutual, although we don't speak the same language. Her name is Kaden, and she is about three years old.

She came right up to me on the first day. And every time I go back, she runs right to my arms...
I do love her... and she was abandoned by her mother. Her father is dead, and her elderly grandma is already taking care of 5 kids.


The first day we met.

The second day...

And every day since....

Kaden and her grandma