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.
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?
Yesterday I ran further than I ever have in my life. Fifteen kilometres. It’s no marathon, but it was definitely a challenge.
On Saturday morning I met up with a few friends and we drove to Utica, NY, for the 35th annual Boilermaker road race.
Compared to Ottawa Race Weekend (the only other race I’ve done), I definitely preferred the expo and organization of the Canadian city. The route in Utica was really beautiful with some great views, just not quite the same as running alongside the gorgeous Rideau Canal. Also not impressed that medals and t-shirts weren’t part of the registration fee; I’ll have to make do with a finishers pin instead.
I hadn’t done an intense amount of training for this, but I did hit the pavement for at least one long run per week for the last month or so. I felt really good for the first 10 kilometres, despite a couple of hills. It was probably around kilometre 12 or 13 that I ran out of energy though. I walked a good portion of the last mile or two, darting into every sprinkler or hose along the way. As a result, my time wasn’t nearly as good as I had hoped (1:48:40), but hey – I finished! And it was with a solid sprint across the line.
I’m pretty pumped I can say I ran the most competitive 15-kilometre race in the world, despite not being anywhere near competitive in it. It was, once again, a fabulous experience to hit the road with 13,000 other athletes, supported by hundreds of volunteers and spectators along the way. I love the race culture and atmosphere – so positive and encouraging. There’s an instant bond with everyone of the other runners, as we have all trained and pushed ourselves to be there. And all – okay most – of us love doing it.
So what’s next? Well, after my muscles stop being sore I’m going to start looking into half-marathons this fall. Why not? I need another goal if I’m going to keep this up. A marathon is on my life to-do list, after all.
31. Visit the National House of Prayer
This seems to be the year of random dreams and goals happening with no prior planning. Today being Canada Day, it seemed a good time to write about my visit to the National House of Prayer in Ottawa a week and a half ago.
I made the trip up to meet with a pastor in Cuba, whom our church has been connected to since I first went to the country last spring. Our rendezvous point was NHOP, where we had a tour and had lunch with the couple who runs the centre. There are interns and groups from all over the country who stay there, visiting Parliament Hill, the MPs, and learning to pray for our government. I’ve wanted to check it out ever since I went to the U.S. house of prayer in Washington.
It was great to see an organization so passionate about making a positive difference in our country, by networking and blessing those in authority – not with angry protests or negative attacks.
I’m so thankful to live in a nation of religious freedom, of prosperity, of health and resources and incredible beauty. What a blessing to be able to call myself a Canadian.
Happy Canada Day.
12. Ride in a helicopter
This was unexpected, to say the least. An association of pilots who fly out of the Cornwall Regional Airport hold a junior aviation day a couple of times a year, to give young children the chance to experience the wonder of flight – for free. As a lover of the air myself, I asked my Little Sister Bethanie if she wanted in. She did, so on Saturday morning we headed out to Summerstown, expecting a brief jaunt over the city in a four-seater Cessna.
When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was the helicopter parked on the tarmac. I’ve wanted to fly in one pretty much since my inaugural trip to the skies, so I asked Beth if she’d mind a ride in it, rather than a plane. She was game, and the organizers were willing to let me go along – despite not being a “junior aviator”.
It was seriously cool. It’s a bubble of glass – no fuselage or wings to obscure views of the ground and skies around us. Liftoff was smooth, a joystick the only real controller as we shifted to the right and then picked up speed and height.
It was a quick flight; we sped over Glen Walter and Summerstown before touching back down. Our pilot, Dave, has been flying the birds for a couple of years. Coincidentally, he was also the guy who took me up last year when I was reporting on the event for the paper.
44. Meet the prime minister
This was a very unexpected encounter.
I was on my way to the NHL All-Star game with two of my brothers last Sunday, when we realized we were passing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s caravan on the highway. I recognized him in the backseat of a black SUV immediately, and we figured he was on his way to the same place we were.
Thanks to a photo tweeted by a journalist I follow, we figured out where the PM was sitting in the arena. So just before the first intermission, we made our way down to his section and joined the lineup for a photo with our national leader. And just like that, another one has been crossed off my life to-do list.
Maybe one day I’ll be one of those cool journalists with the privilege of firing questions at this guy from the press gallery. Hey, I can dream.
One of my major ambitions for 2012 was to run the Green Mountain Relay. However, the team that had invited me to join them couldn’t collect enough committed runners, so most of them decided to run the 15k Boilermaker in Utica instead. It’s a pretty major road race, with more than two thousand athletes already registered.
So, I followed suit. And because I felt like I need something to ramp up to that, I also signed up for the Ottawa Race Weekend 10k.
I’ve talked about doing races for, well, several years. But, I never have, due to cost or schedule conflicts or pure laziness on my part. Not this year. I’ve registered, spent my money, and told a bunch of people … including, now, the blogosphere. I’m determined to make this happen, even though it will probably mean waking up at 5 a.m. to go running before work.
Feel free me to leave training tips and motivating music suggestions, or share your own stories and encouragement, in the comments section.
It’s 2012. I’m pretty pumped about it, though also increasingly freaked out by how ridiculously fast time is whipping by.
I’m not a big resolution person – in terms of starting a new habit or ending an old one – but I do attempt to set goals for each new year that I’m blessed to experience. Here’s a few for 2012.
- Learn to bake bread
- Start working on my book
- Run the Green Mountain Relay
- Be more fiscally responsible … i.e. save some money.
- Go back to Colombia for a visit
- Cross off a few more items from my bucket list. I’m thinking numbers 57, 68, and 97 … to start off with anyway.
- Be deliberate about developing and improving my writing and photography skills. I’m hoping the Lytro will help with the latter.
- Become more radical and passionate in my pursuit of Christ and his destiny for my life
Over to you. What are your expectations for the next year?