Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's all in a day...

It is amazing how many things can happen in one day here. Time seem to have a different rhythm and flow in Uganda, it feels like I have been here so much longer than 5 days. I have to be honest, yesterday was the first day I had real extreme low points. Perhaps I need to process more deeply some of the things I have been seeing, maybe it is a cumulative effect but there were moments yesterday I was worried about how I will handle certain things living here. Here are a few thoughts I had during my 4th day in Kampala...

Today the air quality is very poor. My eyes are stinging and my throat and lungs are burning from all the smoke in the air the last few days. I feel a bit like I am choking. It is the hot, dry season so there is virtually no air movement, no rain and so the exhaust fumes from the heavy traffic and the smoke from the fires all just sits over and around us. It is a bit oppressive today and I am feeling like I want to move away from it only there is nowhere to go.

I spent a bit more time in the pediatric cancer ward at the hospital yesterday. It is so hard to see. There are at least two children to a bed and the families sleep with them and on the floors near the beds. There is no air conditioning or fans like in the hospitals at home so the air is hot and thick. These wards are just big concrete rooms with several rows of cots in them. The windows are open but often covered so the children can try to sleep. The smells are potent and it is difficult to pretend not to notice and smile and offer comfort with your eyes. I try to keep my eyes free of shock, pity, fear or any other unhelpful or condescending emotion. I am really trying to learn to offer help with grace, to not feel separate from what I am seeing but a part of it. To learn to inhabit this world and be at peace with it. I think that is the only place from which I can help.

I went to visit a non-profit organization yesterday. It was amazing and so inspiring! The most exciting part is that now I know I can make my non-profit work, I know it is possible to do. There is still a lot I need to work out but I am so excited about it. I have found several resources here that are willing to offer support and guidance and that is huge! I have also come to the decision that I want/need a partner based in the US to work with me. The lady I spoke with yesterday has two partners in the US and I think that is the way to go. So, now I am going to have to go on a hunt to see if someone is interested in working with me from their home. I am SO excited.

A cockroach ran over my foot as I was drinking my morning coffee. I am going to have to learn to make friends with bugs. There is just no getting around it. No matter how clean your house, they are still there. They are everywhere. As a pampered girl, I generally associate them with camping or uncleanness; they are just a fact of life here.

Ok, I had accepted the fact that power goes out here frequently which I hate but as I said have come to terms with. I was prepared for it. There are mandatory rolling power outages here; generally every other day you have no power. You can buy a battery thing that will give you extra power, maybe 6 hours worth so you only loose maybe ½ day. So, it is not too great but not the worst thing either. However, this morning we woke up to no water, only to find that this is not too uncommon either. Water is a MUCH bigger deal to me, no shower, no toilet. YIKES!!! It is too hot and too dusty not to shower every day. In fact, showering feels sooooo good here ☺

This afternoon was my first moment of really feeling some fear about my ability to live here. We were driving to the CDC for T to have a meeting. I went because their location is on a hill over looking Lake Victoria. T told me it is a beautiful spot and the drive would afford me new views of the countryside, old Kampala and the villages along the way.

As we were headed out of town on one of the busiest streets in Kampala there was a man sitting naked in the street, scooting himself along the ground slowly through a busy round-about and looking ill either physically, mentally or both. It was so sad to see and I was terrified he was going to be hit. I guess it must be relatively common because no one seemed to be paying any attention to him or offering to help him out of the middle of the street. I was shaken and sitting in the car thinking about him and feeling guilty and awful when we were stopped by one of the few lights in town.

I noticed a woman sitting in a chair on the side of the road with a small infant in her lap. We were in a SUV and obviously Misungus (foreigners). She looked at us with an expression of both boredom and something between indifference and dislike. She stood up and casually swung the infant up by one of its arms and walked toward the car. She stood next to my window and held the baby up to me, gesturing to her mouth and holding out her hand for money. The baby had a head wound that was healing and didn’t seem to be well cared for. I wanted to give her something but both T and our driver told me no. That only encourages the behavior and it isn’t really helpful. It was the longest red light of my life! I kept looking into her eyes and looking at the baby and I felt small, powerless, and guilty for not being born into her situation. She didn’t even try to approach the men in the car; she was appealing to me as a woman. My heart was aching for the baby, which she didn’t really seem to have much regard for, it was almost as if she was just using it as a tool. Honestly, the way she swung it and held it, I don’t think she was the mother.

As I waited for T to finish his meeting with the CDC, I sat on the steps and looked out at Lake Victoria and I wondered how in the world I would ever get used to the suffering and learn to set boundaries. To the mixture of emotions it brings to my heart. I have to say, it was a trip low point for me and I am still struggling with it. I hope that by starting the non-profit and working with the children, helping and making a difference I will begin to feel more at ease with refusing to hand out money as I walk down the streets.

On our drive home from Entebbe there was an accident, which has dramatic effects on already bad traffic. It took 3 hours to go 4 km!! You can't get out and walk because there are no sidewalks and the traffic is very dangerous. It is even more stressful because people start yelling and hitting the car in frustration. I could feel the tears that had been threatening throughout the day stinging my eyes.

We finally got to our destination and met some friends for dinner and DRINKS, which helped sooth my frayed nerves. After dinner I started to get really ill and as we had no water it was a problem. I am still shaky and nauseous as I write this but it is a new day. It is day 5 and I am hoping it will be a better one. I woke up to running water and had a shower and a bug-free morning coffee. It is a better day already!


Blogger Susannah said...

Love, this is a baptim by fire isn't it - you're seeing every side of life there, which i think you need to see, in order to be fully prepared for the move... i'm going to email you right now xoo

2:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey there letha. my name's robyn, and i got to your site from boho girl.

i didn't even finish the post before i had to e-mail you. i have non-profit work experience, and would be willing to talk about partnering with you. now, i'm not sure the extent of what you want from a partner, but would be willing to open up dialogue. my heart is with that type of work, and since i was a little girl i have wanted to be part of it. travelling for an extended period of time is not in my immediate future, however. and so partnering with someone "in the field" would make sense.

my e-mail is attached at the end of this comment, if you are interested in at least hearing more of my background and telling me what you would want from a partner.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Peggy said...

Hi Letha,

I also found you via boho girl. Just want to express how inspired I am by your courage and willingness to take action in this time. I think it's great that you can look at the positive "showers here are wonderful" in the midst of everything...that attitude will carry you through I feel sure. best, soliluna

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Letha - I was sent this way from Boho Girl's site. I think what you're doing is amazing and I wish you the best of luck. I admire your willingness to shake off the luxuries of modern life and commit to living differently in an effort to make the world a better place.

I'll be sending good vibes your way!

1:30 PM  
Blogger AMANDA said...

I don't even know where to start. I am in awe of what you are doing. I can't imagine going from life here in the U.S. to a life there. You are a brave, beautiful, phenomanal woman.
I'll be thinking of you and hoping that you enjoy many more "bug free" morning coffees.
All the best ~

5:29 PM  
Blogger daisies said...

i really appreciate that you are writing this down, sharing with us what you see and feel in such beautiful real description ... i went through so many emotions as i read ... you are amazing.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Wanda said...

Hi again! I continue to believe your mission is a "holy" one. I poured over every word in your post trying to feel, smell, and taste what you are experiencing. When I read of the woman and baby, it hit me so hard, as I had watercolored a scene similar to that from a picture on a Mission calendar. You are following your heart, and I know all your needs will be met. You will find a partner in the US and we will all carry you daily in our prayers.
God bless.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Wanda said...

Letha: Would you mind if I referred to your post and the paragraph about the Mother and child you encountered while driving through the streets. I would like to share my painting on my post, but your story brings even more meaning the the painting.
Thanks again for sharing and living something most of us will never have the opportunity to do.

9:39 AM  
Blogger bee said...

hi, letha.


first of all, i came here through boho's site, but i have also lurked here a time or two... ;) i love your art...and the way you live your life is inspiring...
my own is actually calling me to take a journey this summer...either to india or africa, i can't decide yet. i'm looking forward to reading more and more about your experiences in uganda.
this is an incredible affirmation of what one person can do with their life - to change the world. (and of course, it is you and your family!)

sending as much virtual support and love as you need.

6:02 PM  
Blogger gkgirl said...

oh my land.
i honestly don't know if
i could do what you are doing,
i don't know if i have the

and at the same time,
what you are doing is amazing,
is brave and is so giving...
i sit here stunned
and at a little of a loss of words.

sending you the best of luck!

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is so easy to forget in our "pampered" lives that there are those who live life so very differently. I want to help. I want to make the world better. I want to make a difference. We each do it in our own way I suppose. Not all of us will get the chance to go to Africa and help like you are so please keep writing and sharing your experience.

I am a little in shock over the infant and the man scooting around in the middle of the street. I guess all I can do is pray.


6:36 AM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Letha, I've been coming to your blog for a long time now and always love your vivid and descriptive way of sharing your experiences.
I think now is the time for me to de-lurk and tell you just how incredibly amazing I think you are!
We all have so much to learn from you and your journey to a very different life in Africa.
I'll be following everything you choose to share and supporting you and your admirable work all the way.
Love from Ireland on St. Patrick's Day :)

1:53 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

you are doing so much good. the fact that you are putting goodness into the world offers hope for our future...
i read your words with tears streaming down my face as i imagine the impact you have on those around you and them, on you. i look forward to reading your words.

thank you for sharing your strength. it is inspiring.

peace and safety to you.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Deb R said...

I can hardly imagine how overwhelming this whole experience must be. Sending lots of good thoughts your way~~~~~

8:32 PM  
Blogger Michelle (a.k.a. la vie en rose) said...

girl i am overwhelmed by your openness and your beautiful spirit.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous ceanandjen said...

Oh goodness; you are being so brave and you are so full of heart. I know that I would have had the exact same reaction to that woman, and my heart would have hurt. This will be a huge adjustment, of that this is no question....but I do hope that the all of the GOOD that you WILL facilitate will help to ease the transition and lift you to a better place.

I hope that the remainder of your trip was a safe one and that your trip home is is smooth as well.

Sending you peace and love.

2:01 PM  
Blogger M said...

oh Wow! I'm so excited you have access to the internet so you can share your experience with us as it happens. It sounds amazing and scary and life changing all at once and you are so brave and open minded, it's brilliant.
Good luck with it all and I can't wait to hear what you get up to next.

5:53 PM  
Blogger DD/Sandy said...

I came upon your blog through other blogs and I am fascinated by your story. I will keep checking back.


8:25 AM  
Anonymous Frida said...

Lovely, loving Letha,

I thought i left a long comment here last week - and now I can't see it so I guess the connection went out before it was saved.

I'm thinking of you - I still have days when the woman and children begging outside the car window upsets me so much that i want to escape. I come up with policies - i won't give money to a child or woman begging on the street, instead i'll give it to an organisation that runs vocational training or business startups for street kids and women. but then i break my own rules, just because the baby looks really hungry and i have some bread in the car...

i don't think there is any one right way to be - except to resist building up the walls that we could use to protect us. i have been living in conflict-ridden and extremely poor countries off and on for seven years and i've seen lots of people who have built up a disconnection from the suffering all around them in order to "do their jobs".

but I don't want to do my job if i'm not doing it from a place of honesty and compassion and human connection.

i read your words and i know that you are coming from that place. you are and have everything that you need to do so much good in the world.

thanks for sharing this with us. i am with you every step of the way.


11:51 PM  
Blogger chest of drawers said...

Wow, that´s a lot to take in on one day. I spent some time in Nigeria a few years ago and I had similar experiences which left me shaking.

10:47 PM  
Blogger pepektheassassin said...

Letha, I've had you linked to my site for quite a while, but have mostly been quiet, enjoying yours from time to time without comment. But I want you to know how interesting your pictures and posts are, and that I will certainly be following you on this journey, one I will never be able to take. Thank you for sharing!

11:29 AM  
Blogger pepektheassassin said...

LURKING? Is that what I've been doing? Lurking? OMG, that sounds like a terrible, icky, kinda disgusting thing to be doing...I'm glad I finally moved away from the window and knocked on the door....

7:51 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

I appreciated this glimpse into your experiences so much. I am pulling for you--hope it all goes beautifully and that you can get to do the incredibly important work you are looking to do.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Aqua said...

My heart goes out to you and good luck with your journey. I too recent moved to a new country where things are very different. Reading you post took away some of the loneliness I've felt in the last two days. Today is day 11 for me, and I'm missing my home, my family and everything familiar that is so easy to take for granted.

For me it's simple things, such as the taste of the water back home, the air and just differences between cultures.

But, it still doesn't compare to what you have to go through. I congratulate you and take my hat off to you!!! Well done!!!

I come from a 3rd world country and know of some of the things you write about. It's not easy getting used to the poverty, the sorrow and sadly the crime, but that was home for me and I miss home. Here I am and I plan on making the best of it!

Thank you for sharing this. It, for sure, made a difference to my day!

4:09 AM  
Blogger Rob Kistner said...

Lovely site.

I really like your artwork.

My wife and I are in Oregon so we share the Northwest experience with you. We love it here!

Friendly suggestion. When you post your writing, it might prove more convenient for those visiting if you didn't let the entire piece you've posted fill the main page of your blog. It makes scrolling down from post to post exhausting.

It appears you blog is a WordPress blog. If it is, you can insert a very short bit of code while you are in posting in the "write" mode.

If you do so, say after the first two paragraphs -- only those first two paragraphs will fill your main page. If someone wants to read the rest of the very long post, there is a "continue reading" button they can click.

You can ignore this suggestion, I am not trying to be pushy -- but if you want to see how it looks and works, go to my site. There are examples there.

I too write long posts, short stories, and lengthy free verse poetry -- so I use this code. If you like the concept, email me at and I will send you the code back in my email reply. The code is very short.


4:47 PM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

Dear friend, I've just discovered your blog. I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Bulgaria and I'll be taking a trip into Africa soon. Sounds like an exciting first week in the Big A. My husband and I have been there once before and we found a Malgasy phrase: Mora Mora, (meaning slowly, slowly) helped us put one foot in front of the other as we navigated past aggressive beggars and unsightly scenes. You sound like someone who can find the eye of the storm amidst surrounding lunacy, but just an idea ;-) Perhaps we'll see you on our way down. P.S. Amazingly enough, you just get used to the cockroaches. I did (BG has them too). Andrea (

1:00 AM  
Blogger turquoise cro said...

How are YOU GIRL???!!! What's going on in Africa today(August3,2007) Letha? HOPE YOU and YOURS are A-ok!!! Love and prayers, xooxxox Cinda

9:13 AM  
Blogger Alex aka Gypsy Girl said...

Not sure you're getting comments from where you are... Just thinking of you, your journey and hoping all is well. Are you still in Uganda? Missing your poetic voice in the bloggie world xo

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi everyone!
I'm Letha's mom. I can't tell you how proud I am of her and Taylor. I just wanted to let all of you know that they are doing great things and are well.

Letha has started a new enterprise. It's called wrap up africa. Check it out at

She has been very busy and has limited internet access. That's why she hasn't updated her web sites.

Thank all of you for your interest.


12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:19 PM  

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