I did it. I really went to Africa.
I’ve always thought it was a fairly lofty goal, even considering the intense travel bug I’ve had for most of my life. But late last month, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for the dark continent.
It was a long flight; the world is a big place. And Africa is so completely different from the countries I’ve called home.
After a brief layover in Ethiopia, we reached our final destination: Uganda.
Gulu, to be specific.
Four years ago, Joe spent three months in the city, helping out with a brand new home for virtual orphans. Children of Hope has since expanded to house 15 kids ranging in age from a year and a half to 14. They are beautiful people, and the staff are devoted and amazing.
In all honesty, we didn’t spend thousands of dollars to go for any particular purpose. There wasn’t an intense need we were required to fill. We brought a couple of suitcases full of clothes and other items, but we really just went because we wanted to, we had the time and we didn’t know when the opportunity would arise again.
The kids were out of their minds excited to see Joe again, and I was welcomed with open arms.
Here’s a general overview of how we spent our time:
• weeding maize and beans on 20 acres of land COH owns
• watching the children sing in a special service at Watoto Church, where they are all regular attendees
• bathing in a bucket of cold water
• swimming with the children at a nearby hotel
• falling asleep to the sound of a generator, as there was no power for the duration of our visit
• shopping at a local craft market that supports people with disabilities
• listening to the kids sing at the top of their lungs every time we piled into the van
• visiting one of the few foreigner-friendly restaurants (it even had wifi)
• playing soccer in a field outside the city with plenty of village kids who eagerly joined the game
• welcoming a couple hundred neighbourhood children into the COH compound for an afternoon of games, songs, skits and snacks
It was glorious, but brief.
I caught a small glimpse of what life is like for those children; I caught a small glimpse of the enormous need in the area. Malnutrition, lack of education, disease, poor infrastructure … This nation – and its neighbours – could be so much more. They could have so much more.
And yet. The joy in their eyes is pure, even if it is fleeting.
Though I will be thrilled over every dollar donated to Children of Hope and its vision for the future, this trip made me ache for the world beyond its compound walls. I do not worry for the orphans and widows that have found refuge there; I am anxious for the half-dressed babies I saw wandering the dirt paths, gaping at the muzungo when I drove past. I wonder if they will ever go to school, if they will ever have the chance to be educated, if they will ever have the opportunity to rise above their current conditions. I don’t know if they can imagine a future that is different from their present.
So, I will dream for them.
It’s not about building skyscrapers and shopping malls, but constructing proper roads and sewer systems. It’s not about sending them to ivy league schools, but providing the opportunity to pursue any career they aspire to. It’s not about developing a culture dependent on western charity, but empowering a community in its own progress. It’s not about providing handouts, but equipping those who are eager for the chance to make a difference in their neighbourhood.
It’s not about bringing the American dream across the Atlantic, but carrying the hope that change is possible.
Our goal is to build a Village of Hope. In our vision, the land will eventually house a church, school, and clinic, along with the garden and expanded capacity for children. It will be sustainable, it will be self-sufficient, and it will be our best answer to the need in Gulu.
And I will be thankful for any part, no matter how small, that I can play in making that dream a reality. Not for Eric or Faith or James or Scovia, who are already supported and comforted and cared for; but, for all those nameless children peering at me through the doorways of their mud huts.
I had the best birthday ever this year. Not only was I a newly married woman, but my fantastic husband decided we should go whale watching to mark the date of my entrance into the world. No argument here.
We were on the edge of the ocean for our honeymoon anyway, so we made the short drive over to Bar Harbor for the excursion. While the tour guide couldn’t promise we’d see anything – most of the whales were beginning to head for warmer waters – they took us out to a location where some of the huge sea mammals had been spotted that morning.
It was roughly an hour-long trip through deep blue waves and past the rolling green mountains of Maine’s coast.
After several minutes of scanning the horizon, one of the crew spotted a breath of air in the distance. We headed that direction, and sure enough – two humpbacks surfaced nearby.
Researchers had previously sighted the two creatures and named them Tornado and Lemon Drop, after markings on the underside of their tails.
They were magnificent, really. Though it was difficult, while craning our necks from the deck of a large boat, to grasp how enormous the whales were, our guide suggested they were around 40 feet long.
One was kind enough to show off a sort of tail flip for us, but alas, no breaching this time.
The sunny afternoon at sea also included sightings of porpoises and a host of grey seals perched on a rocky island. Glorious.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a hippie at my core – at least when it comes to footwear. I avoid shoes at all costs, and I wear flip flops from April to November or longer, if possible.
So it’s always been my intention to be married in my bare feet. And despite the damp, chilly weather on September 21, I did just that.
I kicked off my sandals just before heading down the grassy aisle to my groom. We had laid down a white linen so my toes didn’t become too numb during the ceremony. It wouldn’t have mattered, though.
It was a glorious day … and saying my vows in bare feet just added to the perfection of it all.
Within the span of a weeks time, my entire world turned upside down. And it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
On Sept. 15, I said a tearful goodbye to the family known as Harvest Christian Fellowship. I have been involved with the church in varying degrees over the last decade, and my heart will always be at home in that sanctuary.
On Sept. 19, I left my home and native land. I crossed the border into the United States with the goal of becoming a permanent resident of this southern neighbour. Despite the move, I will always be a fiercely patriotic Canadian and devoted Ottawa Senators fan.
On Sept. 20, my three-year employment with the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder came to an end. It was an incredible experience to work full-time as a journalist in my hometown. I thoroughly enjoyed Monday evenings spent at city hall covering council meetings, delving into the arts community, writing about federal and provincial politics, and developing my skills as a photographer and reporter.
But the rainy afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 21, brought the most important change. I donned a lovely white dress, vowed to love and honour until death do us part, and became the wife of the most incredible man on the planet. It was a glorious day, despite the weather – I’ll be writing more about it later.
In the meantime, I’m adjusting to life as a married woman without a job in a new country. I couldn’t be happier.
91. Do a polar bear dip
Note: I plan to return to this blog to provide details of most epic of adventures, specifically those that allow me to cross another item off my life to-do list.
This one has come and gone – and come back again – to my “bucket list”. I watched some friends jump into a seriously cold river last year around this time and figured it wasn’t something I was really keen to copy.
But then I was asked to participate this year, and I couldn’t say no. The Chillin’ for the Children event was raising money for a home in Gulu, Uganda, that cares for kids with nowhere else to go. Talk about a good cause. So I collected a couple hundred dollars and signed the waiver.
To be honest, I was more nervous about this one than most of the other crazy things I’ve done. Diving out of a plane? Sheer awesomeness! Bungee jumping? How fun! But leaping into a freezing body of water? Um … painful.
But it wasn’t as shocking or terrible as I expected. I was pretty numb by the time our team made the run into the Raquette River in Postdam, NY, last Saturday, so the water wasn’t so bad. But then, I didn’t linger. Someone had to break the ice off the surface before the plunge, so there wasn’t exactly space to swim around.
I lost a shoe in the chaos, so I had to run barefoot to the crowded changerooms. I estimate it took roughly an hour before my toes were no longer tingling. Good times!
It’s been seven weeks since I last posted. U.S. President Barack Obama was reelected, the Prime Minister went to India, I took my first week of vacation this year, and a hurricane devastated the east coast.
I haven’t written about any of those or many other significant events. I think it may be a sign.
I love blogging … connecting to the world … sharing the news … ranting about things that matter to me. As a journalist, it’s a great forum to comment on current events beyond my coverage area.
But I no longer have the time or priority for this as I used to. I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not one of those people that starts a blog, writes furiously for two days, and then lets it die a cold death in cyberspace. I’ve been posting consistently for nearly five years.
And so, after more than 700 posts, I’m letting my aspirations of earning a book deal from a blog die for now (kidding). I’m removing myself from any guilt over whether or not I’ve updated in recent days. And I’m turning my attention to other things.
Thank you for your thousands of hits, your hundreds of comments, and your dozens of follows. I feel the love, blogosphere, and I am grateful for it.
Don’t despair; I’m sure I’ll be back again someday.
- Justin Trudeau has officially entered the race to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and I’m already tired of news stories about him. There have been weeks of speculation, which translated into dozens of articles and columns. Now he’s thrown his hat in – only the second person to do so – and will spend the next few months leading up to the April convention campaigning for the job. Which means dozens more articles and columns. I’m hopeful there will be substantial coverage of the Quebec MP’s positions and policies, not just comparisons to his prime minister father or opinions on whether or not he’s the saviour the party needs.
- Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos is undergoing surgery this week for prostate cancer. I know most people outside South America won’t care, but after spending a year in the country – and watching live coverage of his election two years ago – this one definitely caught my attention. Thankfully, the cancer was found early enough that the president is expected to make a complete recovery.
Also in Colombia, the government is launching peace talks with the rebel group FARC this month. It’s a huge step after decades of fighting.
- Remember that massive amount of maple syrup that was siphoned out of a storage facility in Quebec? Well … police found it. They obtained search warrants for a warehouse in New Brunswick and uncovered the thousands of gallons of the sticky deliciousness. Good work.
- This video has gone viral and you’ve probably seen it already, but I thought it was worth posting. A news anchor in Wisconsinfired back against a bully on live television, taking the opportunity to challenge viewers to set a better example for their children. Anti-bullying initiatives are all the rage these days, but I appreciated that this woman asked adults to step up and watch their tongues – kids mimic behaviour they see from us, so really … the change starts here.
I’m a day late in recapping this week’s meeting … not going to lie, I kind of forgot I had this thing. There’s just too many other things going on lately, though sadly, none of them involve me keeping up my running schedule in any way.
So here’s what went down at Monday’s council gathering:
- They were told the provincial government won’t allow a joint city-counties initiative to put up signs with their total population count. Council didn’t take it without a fight; they’re talking about erecting giant billboards along the highway anyway, just not on government property.
- The 2013 budget process was officially kicked off. Council directed staff to start preparing their submissions, with increases of no more than 3%. With fewer dollars from the province and less revenue than expected, it’s going to be an extremely challenging year for the budget steering committee … which will now include all councillors. I can see the merit in having everyone involved in the discussions, but I’m also not excited about how much longer the process is going to take this year with double the number of opinions.
- A travel information centre on Brookdale Avenue was shuttered earlier this year, so Cornwall is looking into buying the property. They haven’t been given a price on it yet but councillors were already throwing out ideas like making it a new tourism bureau or transit depot.
- The Eastern Ontario Regional Network will have help from the city after all. Though council shot down a request for financial support last fall, a new report from their senior development officer convinced them to get on board.
- Council also discussed the pros and cons of a dedicated staff person to help with event coordination. They asked staff to report on the feasibility and necessity of such a position, which would support all the volunteer organizations that put on activities throughout the year.
There’s been some cool developments in my other “beat”: arts and entertainment. At a culture summit on Saturday, a 13-member arts council was voted into existence. Though a formal mandate and strategy for the group is yet to be determined, it’s exciting to see progress being made on the arts front.
It has caused a year-old culture committee to take a closer look at its own purposes, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There is probably room for both, as long as they keep lines of communication open and don’t end up trying to accomplish the same goals.
City hall is back to a fall schedule, which means council meets on the second and fourth Monday each month, and the planning advisory committee meets the week in between.
Last night councillors heard presentations on a local fundraiser and removing fluoride from municipal drinking water. They asked staff to investigate a petition to remove one of Dunkirk Street’s sidewalks, and opted to maintain the current tennis court rental fees despite requests from the public for a change.
One of the significant items was a proposal for a code of conduct. With one councillor absent, the debate ended in a tie vote, which defeated the motion. Some council members said the extra accountability was a good thing, while others said it would give the public the wrong idea.
Social and housing services manager Deborah Daigle had four reports on the agenda, which were all complex and sparked discussion. Here’s a quick summary:
- The department will begin work on a 10-year strategic plan to identify gaps in service and plans to meet those needs, as mandated by the province.
- They’re going to apply for some funding to purchase asset management software to better track all their units and necessary repairs.
- The province has rolled several programs together under a new name: the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. Daigle said the amalgamation is a positive thing, but it came at the same time as cuts to a couple of the funding envelopes. Cornwall is expected to receive just 29% of previous grant totals next year.
- There have also been cuts to discretionary benefits for social assistance recipients, for things like dental care. Again, the city will fall short of what it was able to provide in the past, to the tune of $2 million.
During my Twitter-based coverage of the meeting last night, I shared my 5,000th tweet. For those keeners out there, you can read the entire feed here.
I ran a half-marathon on Saturday. It was my third race of the year – and ever – and the longest distance I’ve run to date. It was also the most beautiful course, through Lake Placid and North Elba. Whiteface Mt. was in the distance for several miles as we ran along a winding highway up and down hills and along streams. Gorgeous.
My time was 2:22 – decent enough but the slowest among the group I was participating with. I had convinced my friend Vera to sign up with us, and despite barely training at all (she hadn’t run more than 10k all year) she finished in 1:38, 23rd overall and first in her age category. My brother also came along, completing his first ever race with a time of 1:55. Impressive, to be sure.
It was a great time. I felt way better than I did during the last quarter of the Boilermaker, though my ankles and feet have never hurt so much. I was pumped to complete the race, but along the way I decided I’m no longer so keen on running a full marathon. Twenty-one kilometers was quite enough.
I’m done formal training for this year – no more races on the horizon for me. But I hope to at least maintain what I accomplished this year, and aim for a couple 5k and 10k events next year. And maybe a duathlon?