Monday, December 14, 2009


Note: This post was written on an incredibly small plane (no Dad, I have no idea what kind, but it did have propellers. No, I don’t know how many.) somewhere over Southern Malawi. In celebrity news, a man who very much resembles Oliver Mtukudzi is sitting across the aisle from me and I really think it might be him. My conviction is based on the fact that it vaguely looks like him and the flight ends in Harare. So it is clearly him, or at least that’s what I tell myself as I unabashedly stare which I think is making him uncomfortable. Sorry Tuku (or random man if that is the case)…

I’ve just arrived in Malawi after a lovely 36 hour jaunt in Kenya, where I attended my friend Jackie’s wedding, caught up with SLU friend John in Nairobi, and successfully navigated the Thika nightlife with NYU friend Mike. More to come on those adventures…

Anyway, this is my first visit to Malawi, and to be honest, I know very little about it. While flying today I’ve compiled a list of the things I DO know for your reading pleasure:

  • 99.9% of my friends/family have never heard of Malawi and it is the only place in the world my Dad can’t pick out on a map, in spite of the fact that I’ve shown him 16 times. So for all of your sakes, Malawi is a long, narrow country in southeastern Africa, bordered by Tanzania in the Northeast, Zambia in the northwest, and Mozambique everywhere else.
  • Those who HAVE heard of Malawi have probably heard about it because of the association with Madonna. Yes, Malawi is the country where Madonna stole bought adopted two children who already had families orphans. However, the Malawians don’t seem too upset over the scandal as child-sized, brightly colored t-shirts with the words “Adopt Me!” and an arrow pointing to the wearer’s face are readily available in Lilongwe airport. I really wish they had one in my size.
  • Others may have heard of Lake Malawi, an aptly named popular tourist destination which lines almost the entire Eastern border of the country.
  • Blantyre, where I am headed for work, is incredibly complicated to get to from Kampala. My route was Entebbe -> Nairobi -> Lusaka -> Lilongwe -> Blantyre. This took approximately 16 hours despite its relative closeness.
  • The people are incredibly nice! The customs people actually smiled, a woman working in a small grocery store in Lilongwe airport allowed me to charge my phone in her stand and was patient while I asked her how to say things in Chichewa (I’ve already forgotten it all which is why that is not included in this lesson), and a policeman proposed to me and was undeterred when I lied to him and told him I had a “very large husband in America.” But he was very friendly about it!
  • Based on the view from the sky and Lilongwe Airport, it appears to be beautiful.

So as you can see, my information is limited. And while I will likely be quite busy with work, I hope to learn a tiny bit more about the country in the next week. And you know what that means—blog posts! I also plan to update about my visit to Nairobi and Thika, so WATCH THIS SPACE!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Development Set

Written by Ross Coggins in 1976 and published in “Adult Education and Development”, this poem was first brought to my attention in a grad school class, Politics of International Development, at NYU Wagner (thanks Gersh!). At the time it already seemed spot on, but now after having lived abroad as an active part of the “development set” for over a year, it’s downright eerie. While I’m not feeling the need to defend or attack the piece in a public forum at the moment (though trust me, I could, BOTH ways), I think it is an interesting read, both for those who like me have lived the expat life and grapple with these issues daily, and those who don’t fully understand my personal conundrums about my life’s work. Perhaps later I’ll tackle some of my personal feelings on the issue, but at the moment, I’ll just share and allow you to form your own opinions. How very democratic of me. Enjoy!

The Development Set

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveler’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution –
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Coming “home” again…

They say you can never go home again. However, in a (albeit quick and not-comprehensive) google search, I couldn’t actually figure out WHO says that. But “they” do say it, and maybe its true. Cliché, but honest.

But given my increasingly nomadic lifestyle (and that of my friends/family), I sometimes question where home even is. Theoretically home is where you were born, so if that were the case, Dallas, TX. Or some might say it’s where you spent your formative years. Ok, so Georgetown, TX. Or where your mail goes—Lakewood, NY. But none of these really seem to fit. If we follow the also cliché adage of “home is where the heart is”, things get even more complicated. Because I am blessed to have a wonderful family and amazing friends, following that logic home is in Chautauqua County, Georgetown, Houston, Uganda, Austin, Boston, South Africa, Dallas, Brooklyn, Washington DC, Mexico, Montana, Ghana, Charlotte, New York City, Cameroon, San Francisco, San Antonio, Afghanistan, Gainesville, Kenya, Canton, India, Copenhagen, College Station, Denton, London, Chicago, Alexandria—the list goes on and on.

Other more practical and less romantic types might argue that home is the place where you lay your head at night, and if that is the case, its unquestionably Kampala, Uganda, in a lovely flat with a view of Lake Victoria, three adorably obnoxious cats (just the way I like ‘em), two fantastic roommates, and the most colorful bedspread you’ve ever seen. And for now, I’m going to be utilitarian and go with that definition. Which means I’ve managed to thwart the system, and have, in fact, come home again. But I think the phrase is not to be read quite so strictly. I think the phrase means that while you can physically come back, it probably won’t be the same. And to be honest, that’s true. While I’ve only been gone for an almost negligible 3.5 months, coming back has been weird. Not weird bad, just weird. Its one of those situations where everything is the same, yet nothing is the same.

I’m living in a new flat, walking in a new neighborhood, working in a new job, learning a new vocabulary of a new development sector, preparing to travel for work to a new country, shopping in a new market, getting familiar with new transportation options, discovering new eating and drinking spots, making new friends, catching up on the lives of old friends that have continued and changed in my absence. And it feels different. Again, not different bad, just different. But in spite of all that, it feels really nice to be home again.

And while I miss all the other “homes” in my life like crazy, for the moment, this feels right.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cairo is big! And other jet-lag induced, non-original observations...

In an incredible stroke of luck, the cheapest roundtrip ticket from JFK to Entebbe was on AirEgypt, and included a 10 hour layover. While most travelers would roll their eyes and find another option, I jumped at the opportunity to visit a new country, especially one that had LONG been at the top of my list of places to go. And trust me, that list is ridiculously long, so being at the top is quite the achievement. Go Egypt!

Anyway, ever the intrepid (read: unprepared and slightly naive) traveler, I got it into my mind that I was going to go see the pyramids. Even though several people told me they were very far and Cairo traffic was horrendous and the hawkers were bothersome and I would be much better doing something else, I tuned out everything except the “it’s possible” part of their advice and planned to purchase a visa at the airport, find a taxi, negotiate a fair price without the benefit of Arabic skills, and make my way to the pyramids with nothing but moxy and two ridiculously heavy carry-on bags.

Luckily, in my jet-lagged haze, I made a wrong turn, missed the exit, and ended up at the Air Egypt transit desk (who knew that existed?) where they informed me that those passengers who have 6+ hour layovers get free hotel rooms and meals (score!) AND Air Egypt just happened to have a reasonably priced in-house travel agency that offered city tours, Nile cruises, and—double score!!!—reasonably priced all-inclusive trips to the pyramids. I decided that this was CLEARLY a better option than figuring it out myself, and signed up immediately.

I was then personally escorted through Egyptian customs (where I was not required to buy a visa, which in retrospect seems a little sketchy, but it worked out, so oh well…) and taken to a comfortable car driven by Khalid, my trusty Egyptian tour-guide. I immediately took a shine to Khalid as he puffed on his cigarette, revved the car much more than was necessary, and laughed at my halting and surely mis-pronounced attempt to greet him with “Marhaba. Kayf Halak?” (“Hello. How are you?” in Arabic according to my Air Egypt in-flight magazine.) While my Arabic is obviously non-existent and I therefore have no real right to complain, Khalid’s grasp of English left a little to be desired. However, his enthusiasm more than made up for it as he pointed out landmarks and used his person and his car to stop traffic so that I could take really horribly backlit pictures of the citadel, the mosques of Old Cairo, the Nile, and other landmarks. And while I probably only understood 10% of what he said, I was able to grasp “Egyptian Museum. Obama came here. Picture!” And really, what more do I need?

After allowing me to put down my incredibly heavy backpack, splash some water on my face, and grab some free rubbery chicken lunch from my hotel, Khalid and I took off for Giza. As we drove through the streets of Cairo, the first thing I noticed was the sheer size of the city. Somehow through non-verbal communication, Khalid informed me that there were over 20 million people in Greater Cairo (though some sources suggest it’s as much as 40% larger than that). The number was almost too large to grasp. That’s like Kampala times 20, almost the size of Uganda itself in terms of population. And for those of you non Africaphiles, that’s like New York City times two with Houston thrown on top just for kicks. And maybe even larger. So in other words, Cairo is big. REAL big.

The next thing I noticed about Cairo was its incredibly beautiful skyline. Admittedly I have a thing for Islamic architecture, but Cairo went above and beyond anywhere I’ve traveled in terms of fantastic architectural eye candy. Everywhere I looked, there were the most gorgeous minarets, domes, and geometric designs for both religious and secular buildings. The landscape is also incredibly flat, so as soon as you ascend one of the town’s approximately three hills (and I use the term “hill” quite liberally), you can see for miles. The sights were only slightly tempered by Cairo’s infamous smog, but I’m pretty convinced that most of that comes not from cars or other traditional sources, but rather from Egyptians and their smoking habits. Seriously, I have never seen so many cigarettes! In the taxis; the hotels; the restaurants; the airport; while burning (literally) up the road in donkey carts, cars, or camels; even the loo at the Pyramids, Egyptians were contentedly puffing away every chance they got. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in America, the land of increasing smoking bans and societal pressure to not smoke, but I was blown away by the sheer amount of cigarettes I observed being consumed in less than 10 hours.

I also observed approximately 10,567 street vendors offering Egyptian flags for sale, which I initially believed indicated a strong nationalist tendency and started to construct sweeping generalizations about Egyptians and their sociopolitical nature, but through sign language with Khalid came to realize were actually being sold due to the Egypt-Algeria World Cup qualifying match taking place the following day in Khartoum. Regional rivals, the two countries were battling it out—diplomatically, on the field, and unfortunately through violence in the streets—to participate in South Africa this summer, and tensions and excitement levels were high, leading to extraordinary demand for Egyptian flags.

Following another stop—this time on a busy bridge spanning the Nile—Khalid once again put his life and limbs at risk to provide me with a marginally exciting photo opportunity (I couldn’t bear to break his heart by telling him that after living in Uganda the Nile had lost some of its mystique), we turned a corner and suddenly the pyramids were in view! I squealed a little bit and confused Khalid, but he ignored me and continued weaving in and out of traffic like a complete maniac so as to provide me more time to wander the pyramid grounds. Dear man, that Khalid. Finally we reached the gates of the pyramids, where Husain, my tour guide and part-time archeologist (yeah right), jumped in the car and immediately started talking incredibly fast and through a thick Egyptian accent about Khufu, Khafre, Menkaure, and other unintelligible things. But at that point I didn’t care. I remembered enough from the Ramses the Great exhibit in Dallas during my childhood that I wasn’t too concerned about the details (except where I might be able to replace a favorite childhood t-shirt from aforementioned exhibit which had a puffy paint mummy with a conversation bubble stating “My Mummy Bought Me This T-Shirt”… classic). So I gave a half-hearted effort to listen to his spiel and ask intelligent questions, but I mostly succeeded in saying “oh, interesting” a lot while actually concentrating on capturing photos of the pyramids with camels in front of them without attracting the attention of the camel’s rider, who would surely accost me for money if he noticed my illicit photo-taking. Luckily my guide’s illustrious archeology career provided him not with actual facts, but instead with firsthand knowledge of the best photo spots, so in spite of poor afternoon light and hordes of tourists (many inappropriately clad in belly shirts and Daisy Dukes traipsing around a conservative Muslim country—I’m so proud to be an American at times like these), I captured a few photos of the amazing structures and the Sphinx, avoided the plastic pyramids and various Arabic headdresses for sale, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit in spite of the overwhelming kitsch of the area.

On the way back we stopped briefly at a perfumery where I lusted over lotus flower essence, a perfume-ish oil made from Egyptian lotus flowers and considered purchasing some until I was quoted a price of about $85 and realized I was once again in tourist hell. Though Khalid kindly offered to take me to a papyrus-making facility, I figured it was likely another tourist trap and assured him that I wouldn’t purchase anything so it was probably best to return me to the hotel. On the long, traffic filled ride home, I dozed and ever so often was interrupted by Khalid’s proclamations of “Al-Azhar Park! Very lovely! Obama went there! Picture?” or swerving to avoid small children or donkeys. But other than that, a fairly uneventful trip back to the hotel. Upon arrival at the hotel, I showered, picked at more free rubbery chicken, and prepared for my return to the airport where I was once again personally escorted through security by Air Egypt officials. I considered stopping to ask if I could at least get an Egypt stamp for my passport but the surly-looking customs officers looked in no mood to satisfy a silly American, so I passed. But while I searched in vain for lotus flower essence for less than $85 in Duty Free and waited for my plane, I started to plan my next (longer than 10 hour) trip to Egypt. Certainly it will involve Khalid (how could it not?), an actual passport stamp, perhaps slightly more attention to what those giant pyramid structures actually represent, and hopefully less exhaustion. I can’t wait!

Uganda Part Deux

So I realize that I'm a woefully unreliable blogger. But that's all going to change! Likely for about three weeks, at which point I'll once again return to the dismal once-a-millennium blog average I've currently got going. But nonetheless you can expect approximately five posts. Or something...

So for those of you who haven't given up on me, I'm still here! And here, at the moment, is Kampala! Back in July, I finished out my contract with the Hah-vahd folks and took a few weeks off to enjoy Kenya. My friend/coworker Anjali flew in from India and my friend Danielle from San Francisco (by way of Sri Lanka, TOTALLY on the way...) We had a lovely 10 days in beach-ing Lamu, safari-ing in Maasai Mara, and transit-ing in Nairobi. Following that I returned to Kampala for about 10 days that were chock filled with goodbye parties, birthdays, and most notably running around trying to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops that were involved with my cat’s immigration to the US. If you ever want to hear me scream, cry, and pull my hair out simultaneously, ask me to recount that story. But all worked out, and at the end of August Nyabo and I hopped a plane back to the US of A.

Following my return, I spent three months job searching, visiting friends and family all over the country, enjoying fall, noshing on sushi and Mexican food, and generally relaxing. Both fortunately and unfortunately, I got hired in October as the Regional Grants Manager for Water For People, a US-based NGO focusing on water and sanitation in 10 countries across the globe. My job is based in Kampala, but will likely include management of various high-profile grants in Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, and India. While I was very excited to get back to work (and paychecks!), I was also sad to leave my friends, family, and adorably obnoxious Ugandan kitty (I just couldn’t bring myself to make her fly back and forth AGAIN, especially given my soon-to-be busy travel schedule for work). But luckily my parents love her; or at least they are patient with her when she occasionally takes a chunk of skin out of their ankles or hands—and really, that’s all I ask.

So here I am, back in Kampala and loving it all over again. And this time I already have wonderful friends and favorite restaurants and trusty taxi drivers, so really it’s like a homecoming. Additionally, my three (and change) month jaunt to the land of plenty has given me lots of fodder for the blogosphere, so watch out! I look forward to getting back to semi-regular blogging, so hopefully my absence hasn't turned off too many of my faithful readers. And if I fall off the face of the earth again, please feel free to guilt-trip me as public humiliation seems to be a most effective motivational tool!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Ugandan Tooth Rat

One of the things I love about living in a different culture is the really random (and let’s say it—WEIRD) things about other cultures’ traditions. So yesterday I was riding in a special hire (that’s “taxi” to all you Mer-cans) and a commercial came on with a small child talking about how much she wanted to grow up and be a dentist. When questioned by an adult if this was because she loved promoting oral hygiene, she laughed and responded that no, she wanted to be a dentist because she would have so many teeth available to her that she could get rich off the tooth rat.

Um, the tooth rat? I—insensitive as always—immediately asked my driver what the heck a tooth rat was. He then explained to me that when Ugandan children lose their teeth they place them in their rooms (sometimes under their pillows) and wait for the tooth rat to visit and leave them a small amount of money or a treat. So apparently instead of a lovely, happy little fairy leaving treats for lost teeth, Ugandans celebrate a dirty, stinky rat rooting around in their rooms (and under their pillows—GROSS!) trading teeth for treats. Awesome. So obviously I find this exchange ridiculously amusing and am sharing my story later at dinner with some expat friends of mine and a Colombian friend says yes, of course, in Colombia they have the tooth mouse!

So I got home and did a quick google search and it turns out we are the weird ones! Countries all over the world (from my search I got Argentina, Mexico, France, Scotland, and Australia) have a tooth rat (or mouse when they want it to sound ever-so-slightly less scary). Apparently the idea is for parents to encourage their children to emulate creatures with strong teeth. I guess this makes sense, I mean who ever heard of Tinkerbell and her nightly flossing? But I—like a good American—am going to go with my way over the rest of the world and stick with the tooth fairy. Rats under my pillow will just never sound like a good idea…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Parental Safari Photos

So it’s been approximately 2 months since my parents left, and while they have sent blog posts, I haven’t. But honestly there’s not much to say. We had a great trip. It was fantastic to see them (and I miss them already!). And it was a great excuse to go to some places that I probably wouldn’t have been able to visit without them. Anyway, I’m going to let some of the pictures from the trip speak for themselves…

Mom and Dad at Murchison Falls


Mom and Dad at Lake Bunyonyi

Sunset from our deck at Lake Bunyonyi

Rainbow over Murchison Falls

Roads of Uganda--awful and overloaded, but always an adventure!

Southwestern Uganda (volcanoes of DRC and Rwanda in the background)

cute kids

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Your Daughter lives in Africa?

Guest blog part 1 of 2 from Dad (otherwise known as Jim Babcock)...

Sherra and I are often asked how we deal with Courtney living in Uganda. This is usually coupled with a question: “Isn’t Africa dangerous?” (Actually it is often more of a statement than a question. Many people think of Africa as one, big, homogenous place.) Also we hear, “Isn’t Africa is a long, long way away.”

My answers are that we deal with Courtney living in Africa the same way we dealt with our other daughters and grandkids in the USA: wherever they live, we find ways to see and enjoy them. Sometimes we visit them, sometimes they visit us, or sometimes we pick up the grandkids and go somewhere else.

In truth, visiting Africa is really not much different than getting to Northern Virginia or Denton, Texas, where we also have daughters and grandchildren. To visit, we need to travel. Getting to eastern Africa takes about 14 hours flight time. While that’s a long time in a plane, it’s a lot less that a road trip to Texas; or driving to some vacation spot in the western USA.

Regarding danger, if you go by the State Department travel advisories, Uganda and Rwanda do seem to be somewhat dangerous. But the State Department also cautions about travel to a number of border towns along the USA/Mexican border! So like I do for most things contemporary and involving my daughters’ generation, I ask their advice, trust their judgment and let them decide what is and isn’t a good idea or safe. And so far, they’ve been correct.

So in January, Sherra and I visited Courtney in Uganda and had the opportunity to visit Rwanda as well. And now WE are asked questions like: How far is it? Was it dangerous? How did you get around? You didn’t go with a group? What did you eat? Where did you stay? Weren’t you afraid of being robbed?

People seem think we are somewhat adventurous and daring. And that’s kind of neat!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kids (and Boda drivers) Say the Darndest Things

Where's Bill Cosby when you need him?

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! Where did that lady's color go?"
-small child to his mother upon seeing me

"You have your own helmet. That is very wise. I can see that you love your life."
-boda driver

"You ask too many questions."
-small child to me after observing my interview with her mother about employment opportunities in Uganda

"You, madam, are worth MANY cows."
-Boda driver pickup line in reference to the Ugandan tradition of bride price

"What tribe is she from?"
-small child asking my Ugandan colleague where I come from

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Me and the Gorillas (by my Mom)

Part 2 of 2 of Mom's guest blogs! And I'm really glad I asked her to do this because she explained our gorilla experience WAY better than I ever could have!

I can tell you about the gorillas much more easily if I can use my hands, which obviously I can’t in a blog. I can stretch out my arms, and tell you that I was “THIS FAR” from the Silverback leader of the troop, separated only by a curtain of bamboo. I can show you how he beat his chest to notify any other gorillas in the area that there is a troop here, in this location in the mountains of Rwanda, and no room for another. I can act out the vision of the baby gorilla learning to swing. I can show you how he held on to one tree with one hand, reaching for the other tree. How he missed a couple of times, and then caught the other branch, holding and swinging and giggling with glee, as he realized that he had succeeded.

Without these visual cues, I must depend only on language to convey what was an amazing, incredible, physical experience.

I became entranced with the African mountain silverbacks when I saw a presentation from a National Geographic Society explorer in 2008. When Courtney told me that we could actually see gorillas in Rwanda, I leapt at the chance. (Little did I know how much more leaping I would do to actually be with them!)

First there was the experience of getting a permit. Courtney took care of the logistics, but we had to decide if the experience was worth $1500 ($500 each for the three of us). Rwanda issues only 40 passes each day, and guides groups of eight to visit each of five habituated troops. (Habituated means that they are not afraid or intimidated by us; they treat us as another friendly animal in the jungle - an odd friendly animal that stares at them, carries a box that clicks every now and then but doesn’t flash – no flashes allowed!) Your permit pays the villages nearby for access and protection of the gorillas’ habitat, and for seven staff members for each group of eight human animals. Two rangers go in early each morning to FIND the gorillas (they know where they were the day before, but can move about a kilometer in any direction in the course of gorilla daily life). Two more rangers lead the group of eight in. A porter’s primary function is to use his machete to cut through the bamboo and other heavy vines so that we can get there. Finally, each group is preceded and followed by two Rwandan soldiers with AK-47’s to protect us from the cape buffalo and elephants who are also in the jungle. (They wouldn’t shoot at these animals – though buffalo are known to be the most aggressive animals in this part of Africa, and elephants who think their babies are threatened can be pretty protective. They would shoot in the air to frighten them away). We also learned that the AK-47’s were to protect the gorillas should any one of us turn out to be a poacher who might have the very bad idea to pose as a tourist to kidnap the baby (worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a “private zoo.”

Kidnapping the baby would require killing the Silverback and the mother first. The AK-47’s will kill the poacher first.) Back to getting the permit, reasonable people would probably work with a safari company. With our own daughter-safari-guide, we wired the money to the Rwandan park service, and Courtney worked with an office in Kigali, who wired the tickets to a woman outside the jungle, who met us in a little hotel in a little town, to pass them to us. This took Courtney several emails, phone calls, and a fairly significant amount of worry.

Then there was the assignment of the group of eight on the morning of the trek. We were told in advance that there were five gorilla troops, and we could choose “easy,” “medium,” or “hard” trekking to reach one of them. In respect for my 60-year-old arthritic hip, Courtney and Jim agreed to the “easy” designation. However, we were not asked to choose. In fact, Jim and I were (of course!) the oldest members of our group, and Courtney, at 27, was next. The other five were Courtney’s colleague Jillian (who is working on another Harvard project in Uganda), a young man from University of Michigan who had just completed an environmental internship in the Democratic Republic of Congo (tall and rugged and did not carry a camera!), and three young women from Australia and Ireland who had just climbed Kilimanjaro together. After three hours in, one hour moving around with the gorillas, and two hours out, with two trips over a volcanic-rock fence, I wondered what the HARD trek would have been like.

Was it worth the money and effort? Absolutely! Looking into the soulful eyes of seven gorillas, the Silverback, two adult females (one the mother of the eight-month-old baby), a “Black Back” (an adult male who may become a Silverback some day), and two juvenile males - this is a spiritual experience! Discovery about the troops, how the females find another troop after giving birth to the Silverback’s boy and raising him to age three or four, thus naturally creating variety in the gene pool of the troop, how the juvenile males beat their chests in practice for the future possibility of leading a troop – this is the way to learn science and sociology! Hearing the bass resonance of the chest-beating of the Silverback vs. the tinny “snare drum” of the juvenile - what a parable for wisdom!

Leaving the jungle and the mountain, I realized that this should probably be my last really physical vacation. The ranger who held my hand throughout was patient and kind, and encouraged me to set the pace. Once they realized that we were allowed to spend only an hour with the gorillas regardless of how quickly we reached them, the kids in our group thanked me for slowing them down so that they could take pictures and enjoy the journey. But the hike was long, the mountain steep, and I’m still paying for the physical effort. BUT WHAT A WAY TO GO!!!

Dean Babcock's Top Ten

On their recent trip to Uganda, I asked my parents to guest blog (because I thought it would be interesting to hear what they have to say AND it allows me to slack a little bit longer on posting!). Apparently Mom took this as an excuse to brag about MOI (I am pretty adorable if I do say so myself...) Part 1 in Mom's 2 Part Uganda Blog Series...

Top Ten Reasons Why Parents Brag about their Children:

10. Their children grow up and do things they can’t do.
9. It makes them (the parents) feel important.
8. They have nothing else to talk about!
7. They think their kids are a chip off the old block.
6. They think they have something to do with the way their offspring are turning out.
5. When they brag about their children, they don’t have to brag about themselves.
4. No one else ever brags about their BRILLIANT offspring.
3. No one bragged about THEM when they were young :((which is not true in my case)
2. It feels good to brag about one’s own progeny.

And the Number One Reason Why Parents Brag about their Children:
1.Their children truly are amazing!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My New Nickname

Coming soon, updates and pics from my Uganda/Rwanda safari and (allegedly) a guest blog or two from my parents! But in the meantime…

A new (and hilarious) trend in Kampala I’ve noticed is that people have given up yelling “mzungu!” (white person!) when I walk down the street and replaced it with “Obama!” I kind of love it…

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Courtney is Lost (Again...)

I feel like I spend a lot of time apologizing for not updating my blog with interesting things or new topics. But I've found that when living in a place (as opposed to traveling) things become very regular, normal, and almost mundane. And therefore in my mind not blog-worthy. But one of my New Year's resolutions is to keep trying to look at things with new eyes and see the interesting things that make living in Uganda different from the US. Because there are MANY, even though sometimes it's easy to forget...

But as most New Year's resolutions tend to work, that starts later. Because now I am just too busy! As many of you know, my parents are currently in Kampala visiting, which has been lovely. We haven't done all that much (except for two weekend trips to the Nile and Mabira Rainforest), but it's been nice to show them how my life happens here. And hopefully they appreciate seeing my life as opposed to just the Uganda travelers circuit. Because trust me, my life is not a constant safari!

But that being said, as of Thursday morning, life will be a safari. At least for the next two weeks! We will be headed to Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda; and then down to Rwanda, where we will visit Parc National des Volcans, Lake Kivu, and finally Kigali, where my parents will fly back to the states. So I will probably be out of blog range for a few weeks, but I promise blog posts upon return, both from me and hopefully a guest-post or two from the 'rents!

Hope all is well and happy 2009. More soon!