Tuesday, September 25, 2012

First day in Africa

Team of Six arrive in Entebbe!
There are truly no words for Africa. There are probably a million, bajillion words, and none of them actually would do. I've only been here for a few hours and already I feel very small, and very sheltered. We got off the plane and were greeted by Ben, who is the driver for Shanti Uganda. He picked us and all of our luggage up and toted us back through Entebbe and Kampala, to our guest house in Kasana.
So much to say - how will I say it all??

We stepped off the plane onto the tarmac and it was a wall of wet, warm air that greeted us. We walked into the terminal and all the worries about the people who would greet us being mean, or rude, or unnecessarily 'hassly', melted away. Giant, relaxed smiles on the faces of those who attended our group, issuing visas quickly and without any fuss about our myriad issues. Stamp, stamp, welcome to Uganda - with a warm smile. Delicious! We picked up our bags and I exchanged my money at the airport- which felt a little too convenient to be a good rate but it was handy so I did it. $130 = 274,000 shillings. Sounds impressive - water bottles cost me 4000 shillings. When you're dealing with currencies in the high thousands like that, it seems like it might all go away too quickly. I plan to just not spend money except on water, or the things I REALLY think need to come home. Unfortunately there won't be a buyer's day while we're at Shanti so we won't get to take advantage of that but we'll have a chance to shop a bit. I digress!

My bed with mosquito net
Everything (as far as I can see in the dark) is covered with the red haze from teh dirt that the cars kick up as they drive. Everything is dry, everything is dirty, and a lot of it is quite run down. There are so, so many people out at night- walking, hanging out around tables cooking hot food, burners lighting up the side of the road. The motorcycles go where they want (a little honey badger in those drivers, methinks) and that often means cutting around and in front of the taxis and buses as they quickly navigate down the street.

In the US, there are laws protecting pedestrians and requiring that motorized vehicles stop for pedestrians- and I highly doubt anything like that exists here. Pedestrians get out of the way, fast, because the drivers drive fast and do not slow down for anything on the road, whether it's a motorcycle, a person, a dog, whatever.

There are dogs *everywhere*, usually running in packs of 2 and 3 as far as I could see. They didn't seem to belong to anyone, and it makes me wonder about rabies.

We reached a point just before we arrived at the guest house where there were two men sitting near a giant stop sign, blocking us from going further down the road. Unlike in the US where there are flaggers to handle a one-lane-road, they sort of waved at us, we pulled over and turned off lights, and then we waited. The road was probably a mile long with the tallest speedbumps you've ever seen and finally it was our turn to go. It was just not at all how we'd do it- with emphasis on safety, on efficiency - we're on Ugandan time and it runs slower, and is more flexible, and doesn't have as many entitlements as American time does.

My luggage and room.
I don't want to forget about Napoleon- this very fancy flight attendant with a huge superiority complex. The flight from Brussells to Entebbe definitely was the most comfortable- the flight wasn't full so in a row of four seats, I was one of two passengers and we had the two open seats between us. The food was actually good (airline food, good? No way! But it was!) The flight attendants were quite uppity, and Napoleon got to show off his 'power' by being very testy with the passengers when no one claimed the green bag in the passenger bin. I know, you're thinking, he's just doing his job- and he totally was. BUT, the tone of voice he had was like a teacher with a naughty classroom full of students. A few minutes later a woman was on her phone as we were just preparing to taxi out of Rwanda, and he stood by her seat and said, "I'm in charge of this cabin, and I'm going to need you to turn your phone off. RIGHT NOW." He was really condescending, and it was hilarious because he just looked like he thought so much of himself- Jane and I got a few good laughs at his expense. Everything's funny 27 hours into your trans-continental adventure!

We arrived at the Guest House (the name escapes me, something about Pope John?) and I was greeted with my own room (which I have mixed feelings about- I'm in Africa, and I'm sleeping alone? NUTS!) It's sweaty and hot and the power is out so the fan doesn't work. I'm in the dark typing on the bed with my headlamp for light (thank you, Rachel!) and feeling grateful that I haven't seen any cockroaches. Not sure I could sleep if there were cockroaches.

The courtyard at night.
Our rooms all center a courtyard and my windows are open (and the window screen and curtains are sprayed within an inch of their lives with natural and chemical mosquito repellent, as is my mosquito net, and I am coated in it as well. I hope I don't accidentally suffocate myself.) I hear bugs and bats and the moon in the giant African sky is just as beautiful as it is back home.

Tomorrow we'll get up when we're ready and possibly ride motorcycles (I really, really don't want to do that!!!) to Shanti so that we can do our first session.

I can't wait to see what Uganda looks like in the light of day. I miss my husband, I miss my kids- it's Eidie's birthday and I'm across the world in a strange bed praying no creepy crawlies find me in the night. I can't call home until I get minutes for Jane's phone so I want to do that tomorrow. This will be an amazing adventure but will be just a little easier if I can stay connected with home.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Going to the airport

Going to the airport - an adventure in itself. I felt really good yesterday, just tooling around home, running a few last minute errands, and finally packing my bags. Thanks to my husband who helped me think in a rational manner about how I needed things separated which made packing very smooth. I really feel like I have everything and didn't forget anything. Considering that I'm going away for 10 days, to another country - to Africa, no less, that's kind of amazing all by itself.

We went to bed late and I woke up on the edge of a panic attack, I felt it and I just smiled in my bed because I knew why I was panicking, and I was able to just breathe deeply, even half asleep, and let go.

When we were on our way to the airport I was feeling intensely nervous, quite nauseated and lightheaded. As we arrived at the airport and ran into Jane immediately, I actually started feeling like I was going to faint - sweaty and hot and lightheaded. Through it all, I am having this inner dialogue - I shouldn't go. I have to go, of course I'm going. But I'm freaking out, so maybe I shouldn't go, because if I freak out just a little more, I will probably faint and barf right here all over the airport and miss my flight anyway. I'm not sure I've felt such intense anxiety in a very long time and I'm glad that I don't have to deal with it very often!

The trip so far has been  fun - writing now from the last leg, the flight from Brussels to Kigale, and then Entebbe. I haven't really slept much which really sucks, but I think after I eat dinner here I'll sack out for a while. I did manage to sleep a little bit and I'm quite tired now thanks to the Dream Water (handy stuff!). The flights have been relatively comfortable and this last leg, luxuriously, isn't full, so I have a row of four seats with only one other person in it. I can stretch out a bit which is nice considering this is the longest leg. I can't wait to land,  and see, and touch, and smell. I can't wait.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Red dust

In 12 hours, I'll be standing under the main Departures/Arrivals sign at SeaTac with my travel buddies, Kelli and Jane. In just 12 hours. I should go to bed now, right? Alas, dinner must still be cooked, kids tucked into bed at their regular time, and I will start my journey tomorrow with less than ideal sleep. C'est la vie!

I've packed within an inch of my life. Rather, I've gathered items. They're still sitting in a pile by my TV, waiting for my husband's magic touch. He knows how to make things fit where I do not- his brain is just wired for order, where mine... haha... is definitely not.

I've managed to rustle up a cold- the first one of the year I think, if I remember correctly - and of course it's the day before I leave. I'm not looking forward to being the one on the plane everyone worries about sitting next to but I do have chocolate, and movies, and hopefully that will distract people from my germs. Oh, and hand sanitizer.

Everyone asks with this look of, "Oh my god I can't even find the right words!"-- "How are you feeling?!?!?!?!?!" You can even see the question-mark-exclamation-point-question-mark-exclamation-point as they ask. "Are you so excited? Nervous? Excited?"

I dont' know what to say, because while I do feel those things, I feel like I'm on this giant spectrum of feelings that all rotate around the center where I just feel like I'm ready. That's the heart of it - I'm ready. The things I didn't get to, I've let go of. The things I've pulled toward me are tucked away in my luggage, or on my person, or in my heart. It now, officially, is what it is.

Randy asked a friend who had been to Uganda about things to bring, things to know- the first thing on the list was "bug spray". Oh, goodie. Well, I've got the commercial DEET spray that I will pour into a giant vat and dip myself into. I have mixed up some citronella and tea tree spray that I will douse my bed and mosquito net with before laying down to sleep. It's going to be in the upper 70's/low 80s so I'm not wearing jeans, but I'll keep my skirts long and try to keep my skin covered as best I can. I think that's all I can really do. I considered bringing duct tape and an extra mosquito net to cut up and cover the windows with so that I could sleep with them open- I hate sleeping in a closed up room and I imagine that shutting out the sounds of Africa will be hard to do, but I also don't want to get malaria. Or any other sort of bug-transmitted-funk. And I didn't want to buy another net, so I guess I'll close those windows anyway.

I know absolutely nothing about where we're staying. All I know is that it's called a guest house- and that I will sleep there. I don't know if it's a bed, or a palette on the floor, or if I will share a room, or have one of my own. I don't know if there are toilets, or showers. I don't know anything.

I don't know if I'll have much phone access, or much internet access. I don't know if I'll bother trying, I'm nervous about passwords and internet security and all that, but I also think it would be a blast to be able to blog, or post some photos while I'm there. I also secretly like the idea of a technology black out for 10 whole days.

One of the other things that Randy's friend said was to bring 'closed toe shoes, that red dust gets into everything'. I'm looking forward to that. I see myself walking down the road with the whole bottom of my long skirt painted red with Ugandan earth, red legs and feet - what footprints will I leave behind? Will they be ones that I will feel good about?

The prayer I have before leaving, the thing that I am holding most in my heart, is that I take the best of myself, and of what I do, and that I pour that out while I'm at Shanti. That my heart has room and openness to receive the best that they will have to offer me, and that the impact I leave behind enriches and doesn't damage.

I'm so schooled by the people in my life about cultural awareness, about ethnocentricity, and my own (very limited, but still existing) xenophobia - that I want to start from a place of curiosity.

For example, in Uganda it is illegal to be gay. People are put to death over this issue. While I am and always will be a fierce advocate for equal rights, I surrender to this flow because it is not the work I am there to do, and I absolutely have no right to enter into another culture, tell them they are wrong, and take zero responsibility for the impact of what I say and do while there. So I slip into the dusty road and tread the footsteps of those who came before me, praying for humility and the ability to hear without comparison or competition. I pray to be a listener, less than a talker.

In the meantime, I have to prepare the henna that I am bringing with me, henna myself, pack my things and lay in bed later in wonder that I won't see these walls again for such a long time- the longest I've ever been away. I write dreamy letters to my future-self, wondering who she is, what she'll know, what she'll have taken on, and what she'll have let go of.

How am I feeling? I feel ready. It's time! Let's do this.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One week

We leave in a week.

We leave in a week!!!!

We leave in a freakin weeeeeekkkk!!!!!!

Right now, that actually feels okay. But then it sort of surprises me and I have to admit it- my belly fills right up with nerves and anxiety. I start wondering what I'm nervous about and I honestly don't know, I think it's just coming closer to the energy of such a massive trip.

The trip itself is huge but I've been taking it ever since I had that dream of Shanti, way back when. The dark skinned (indigenous?) woman standing on the rolling hillside, saying her name to me over and over - "Shanti! Shanti!" so that I would remember it when I woke up. I did, and here I am. Listen to your dreams, my friends.

This week will be spent fine tuning the curriculum pieces I'm responsible for. I haven't been able to fully wrap my mind around it in as deep a way as I've wanted because of my other commitments- and now the only thing between me and my flight is my daughter's birthday party on Friday night. When I start to feel especially nervous about going to Uganda, I just think of her birthday- that we need to clean, and plan, and shop, and clean, and bake, and clean. After the intensity of the last many months, that feels like pure heaven to me, and will afford me the time to really nail down my presentations.

One of the things that Jane is organizing is to help facilitate the Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA), Nagawa Florence, to attend our doula training and augment her salary for one year. TBAs have attended births in the village, almost like granny-midwives here in the States. Trained by experience and not books, they're highly respected in their communities and have done their part to increase safety for birthing women all over Africa.

Unfortunately, TBAs are illegal in Uganda, which disenfranchises them from attending births. If they can't attend as a clinician, there isn't another role that allows them to be there. Enter our doula training!

Shanti Uganda has a TBA on staff and we're trying to raise money to help facilitate Nagawa Florence to attend our doula training, and also to augment her salary for a year. The amount needed to do this is $1400 and we're well on our way to raising it. If you feel moved to see how it's going or better yet, to donate, and share this link, please do so!! Our dream is to introduce this concept to the Ugandan culture and help integrate a new role for the TBAs who are left without access to their heart's work. 

Seven days. I have to pick up Malarone today, and that's yet another little hurdle to jump over- how will I feel? Will I be well on it? Should I have chosen a gentler route? Would I have had confidence in that? I'd much rather get malaria and know I threw the book at prevention than getting malaria and wondering if I could have done more to prevent it- so I guess Malarone it is. 

It's so funny how many people I run into who I know, or who I'm related to, who don't know I'm going to Africa! 

7 more days. Wow, that makes my guts churn a bit. I'm going to lose my heart, myself, in Uganda. I wonder who the woman known as Kristina Kruzan will be when she comes back? I can't wait to see. :D

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fundraising: Complete

Wow, the fundraising is done. I'm calling it. I'm tapped out, and I'm sure I've sucked every penny I could from every one of my friends! The total amount I raised was $6230, and holy cow! It's been a shock that a cool $5k wouldn't cover my trip, and worrying that I wouldn't have time to raise it, then shock at the generosity of the people in my life, then navigating trying to come back into my life after cancer while juggling all of this and the other responsibilities I have- what a crazy summer!

I'm starting now to count down the days before I go. Some days I feel very peaceful and relaxed about it. I'm reading The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Never Forgets which is a really well written, compelling history of Uganda written as the setting for a murder mystery (a real life one). I feel a deeper connection to this country and I haven't stepped foot there yet. I am looking forward to being there and touching the ground, to feeling the lingering Spirits, to listen and be touched by the people who live there.

My virgin thoughts are that we have this really interesting attitude here in the West about Africa, that it's just this never ending soup of conflict, genocide, disease and starvation. If the people arent' killing each other, the mosquitos will get them. If the diseases aren't coming out of the bush to take people, they're starving to death. It seems so hopeless, and so simple, and it seems like throwing our old stuff on shipments, and our money at NGOs is the only way to really make a difference.

I feel really responsible to understand the story of this country, at least better than "it's in Africa." I want to be able to speak accurately about my experience, and shift the American lens from my eyes as much as I can. I want my heart open, and so I read the books suggested to me by people on the ground, and I imagine myself as a woman in a country where a military might set up a coup, where gunfire could break out in my neighborhood, where my husband could be taken away in the night and I can't even speak it out loud without risking harm on myself and my children, much less inquire about where he went, how he died, where he's buried. I can't imagine it. I look at my boys, who could be kidnapped and forced to kill their friends, their friends parents, or their own parents, if we weren't so lucky to be born in a country that is safe.

I wonder what it feels like to stand on the cradle of Humanity, the great equalizer, the womb of our species. What does it feel like? I remember when I was in Europe and going anywhere was a heady experience, a constant barrage of spiritual energy and deep, old stories in the trees, in the land, and in the stone walls. It could grow oppressive at times. What will it feel like, flying over the land of extremes? Stepping off the plane, and smelling the smell of Uganda? I can't wait to find out!