5:44 AM. Saturday morning. Its still dark, but I'm awake. In 12 hours I'll be leaving SA airspace. The project ended yesterday.

I grab the last orange Fanta out of the fridge and sit down to blog.

Kind of fell off the blogging horse for the last week or so - its been a bit crazy wrapping up the project, saying goodbye to everyone, packing up, juggling the possibility of 3 more months of extension work here (found out last night that its postponed til July, at best), and trying to settle on where I'm living when I get back. On the last one, it looks like NYC, with Dave, for the next year. After that I'm leaning towards re-igniting my seminary search, to start the following year. And I'm leaning towards the idea of a school near the coast, back in CA. Surf, baby.

The last few months kind of reignited the surfing bug, after many years dormant - specifically Mauritius and Cape Town, where I surfed last weekend, whilst staying with Mike and Kayln, and Gawie, who's living with them. They have a sweet ocean-view place on the atlantic side of the Cape - south of CT and only about 10 minutes north of the actual Cape itself. It is, authoritatively, one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. And there's incredible surf there.

So the plan from here is to finish packing, do some last minute shopping / errands, fly back to SF via DC, crash at Peters, and then get up to Sacto one way or another. Thursday I'll fly back to the city and stay at Dave's parents' place while we try to nail down an apartment. Mid May I'll head back to Cali and drive down the Baja coast of Mexico with Jonny and whichever of the other brothers have their affairs in order to join us, for mas surfing. These are my plans. I have no specific work projects lined up. I'd like to find a commuting gig in Europe, I think.

I'll miss the organic yogurt from Woolworths, the good cheap wine, the Zulu/Xhosa-influenced hip hop on the radio, the beautiful blonds, the great pizza, the game parks, the warm Indian Ocean, the early rising / early setting lifestyle, the almost-always perfect weather, the best client I've ever worked with (hands down), the flat-out sexy accents, orange Fanta, rugby on the telly, the favorable exchange rate, incredibly friendly people, and driving a BMW. I'm sure there will be lots of other things that I realize over the next couple of weeks that I will miss, but that's all I can think of at 6 in the morning.

Coming to Africa has been pretty much the coolest part of my life.

(More follow-up blogging on Uganda to follow in the next few days, as I get chances to do so.)


Day 3 was all in the field, and rather incredible. I'll start with just the morning.

First thing after the morning meeting at the CoW centre, I headed just a few blocks away through town to a building site behind one of the nicer hotels in Gulu (to say nothing of the hotel quality scale in places like these). Just behind the hotel, there was a flurry of activity surrounded by long piles of stacked bricks.

The Kwiri Pe Lok Building Construction Association is a small, private company in Gulu, run by a smart, well-spoken young man (26! I certainly hadn't accomplished what he had when I was 26!) by the name of Santo Okwera. Okwera runs the company, employing 26 full time local young men and women, about 85% of whom are formerly abducted child soldiers / sex slaves - mostly from the Kitgum and Gulu districts. This was my first direct contact with former abductees, and I saw immediately something in their eyes, or rather, the lack of something - in all of their eyes. The physical evidence was there - a gaping cavity in an arm where a bicep had once been, a massive scar down the side of a neck, and more - it was hard to not stare and wonder. But when they looked at me I could see that there was something missing on the inside, too. I don't know what it is, or how to describe it any better than that. It was just a kind of hollow return of your gaze.

Santo organized the association in 2006 from a number of smaller community groups, and WV worked with him to donate a Hydroform brick-making machine sourced in South Africa. In addition to the 26 full-time employees, he employs day-laborers who show up each morning and are paid on a daily-basis at a lower rate. Due to the variations of the working conditions, he can sometime employ more daily works, and sometimes not. The day I was there, there were probably 15 additional workers to the normal 26.

A Hydroform brick machine runs on a diesel engine, and uses high pressure and water to mold essentially rectangular, fitted bricks out of a sand / cement / sub-soil mix. It pops out the bricks on two sides, at a rate of about one every 20 seconds per side. Problem was, that morning, the oil gasket on the one side was broken, so production was cut in half. While the sand and cement are purchased and brought in, the sub-soil is sourced right there on site, so in addition to those working the brick machines, those stacking the bricks, those building the wall, and those actually mixing the brick mixture on the ground, there were a few in deep, wide holes digging up more sub-soil. The majority, however, were working on the mixing.

This, Santo pointed out, was their main issue - he couldn't produce and build any faster, because so many of the workers (23 of his 26, in fact) had to be devoted fully to the mixing of the brick ingredients. With just one basic cement mixer, that number could be reduced to 5, freeing up 18 people to build the wall (or house or other structure, depending on the project). In addition to that, with a mixer they could produce enough mixture to run the Hydroform machine at full capacity, making 4,000 bricks per day - currently they can only mix enough in one day to produce 3,000. Not only that, the uniform mixing of the machine, as opposed to on the ground with shovels, would produce significantly higher quality bricks, and reduce their current loss percentage.

"How much would a cement mixer cost in Gulu?"

"About 7.5 million shillings."

That's less than $5,000 USD, I thought.

"When do you plan to get one?"

"World Vision doesn't have funds to help us obtain one, so we are saving for it on our own. We should have enough in 1 year to buy one if business keeps up."

One year, I thought. I did some quick math: that would cost me about $15 a day. Which means it would cost 10 people about a buck-fifty a day. Which means it would cost 100 people about 15 cents a day. Or $10 from 500 people, just once. File that one away for later...

Right now 60% of Santo's revenue is spent on salaries, roughly 30% goes towards machine maintenance and supplies, leaving 10% for splitting between the administrative costs and the meager savings they put aside for re-investing in the business (i.e. a cement mixer in a year, buying property and a proper building on it to store the brick machine in, getting trucks for the transport of workers - which they currently have to hire out, etc.). Santo also hopes to get a digital camera in the future so they can take pictures of the completed projects and build a portfolio to market their services to other potential clients. But he mentioned that in passing, as if it was years off in his mind and in their budget. Meanwhile I clicked away on mine. Stupidly. Ignorantly, really.

The good news is that Gulu is growing and the business really is there to be had - at least for the time being. The bad news is that for a good while yet, Santo won't be able to keep up with demand, and in the meantime will be limited in the number of local kids he can provide jobs to.


My second day in Gulu started with an early morning run. I took the main road heading south out of town, and ran past literally thousands of other people walking in the opposite direction - into town (there are cars here, but the vast majority of people here have probably never ridden in one). I've tried to get out and go running in the neighborhoods in most of the countries I've visited that it was relatively safe to do so in - Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and here in Uganda. You're the subject of much attention, which feels a little awkward, but its fascinating to see how these people live every day, up close. Breath the same rotten air from the trash heaps and fires, tread the same pothole-pocked road and red dirt berms, hear the same sounds and see the same slum neighborhoods that they live in. It makes you want to be able to do more, when you see these conditions.

Once at the CoW centre I met up with Dora, one of the field-work coordinators. One of Dora's primary responsibility is the coordination and training of the Community Volunteer Caregivers (CVC's) who are conducting what is referred to as Interpersonal Psycho Therapy Groups (IPTGs). This includes the pre-assessment in the community for the need for a group, the identification of CVCs to do the work, on-going status updates with the CVCs, and after-program reporting. I'm sure there's much more involved than that.

IPTG is basically a small group of 8-12 former abducted children, receiving group therapy primarily in the context of talking with the group about their problems, i.e. family problems, recurring nightmares, inabilities to get proper education, inability to find work, etc.. My gut reaction was "how does sitting around talking with others with the same problems help?" and my next thought was "you don't know much about therapy, do you, dummy?" It became quickly apparent that these programs are very effective. IPTG groups are currently being carried out in many different areas across 8 sub-counties in Northern Uganda, and the long-term goal is to move the management of these groups from the CoW centre into the actual field programs, or Area Development Programs (ADPs), as World Vision refers to them.

Interestingly enough, the main problem for rehabbed child soldiers is poverty. There's certainly not the money available to most of the to receive anything nearing a normal education, and one can only imagine the prospects for a generation lacking that basic building block. Bigger problems arise, however, for those who have ongoing medical issues and disabilities - money for basic treatment can often be a problem. Part of the CoW's ongoing community work is trying to find enough support for these children to see specialized doctors, get needed operations, be fitted with specialized orthopedics (one big European org helping out in this particular area is AVSI, providing such orthopedics at subsidized rates for artificial limbs, raised shoes, etc.).

For these unhealthy kids, even if education were a possibility, they likely wouldn't be able to attend as regularly as their peers, and so they often miss out on even the basic vocational skills training that the CoW programme runs. Dora is currently working on a sample proposal for a group out of Australia called Trust Charity Fund (TCF) to support: 1) Ongoing medical support, 2) Seed money for affected children to start small businesses, and 3) Shelter support within the communities for such children.

Dora's work covers a relatively massive area across 4 districts in northern Uganda - Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, and Arua. She pointed out a few more distressing facts about the work in these areas:

- Many of the children returned to the community are actually children who were born in captivity, often returning without their parents, who were likely still part of the army, or deceased. These children are often returned to their grandparents, who because of their age often particularly struggle to support both themselves and these new children. No current funding exists for grandparents like these (World Vision, for one, has more than it can handle just working with the children).

- Funding from the US directed towards formal education totals to a paltry sum - enough for only 20 children a year in northern Uganda. This funding, further, is only applied to through the first year of secondary school, after that the kids are left to their own devices. World Vision secures funding for all kinds of other work, of course - the CoW work, food programmes, etc.. But that's the extent of the education funding. (The cost of the War in Iraq, by the way, is now over half a trillion dollars - that's a 5, followed by 11 zeros.)

- Parental responsibility in the communities is often a huge problem, as the parents often are not taking a pro-active stance in caring for their children. I found this both distressing and yet somewhat understandable for a people in such dire times - often it is hard for a parent to garner enough sustenance for themselves, let alone the child. That would make me struggle with depression, I'm sure. Many of the women do what's referred to as "awara" - buying vegetables and other goods in small bulk in the towns, walking them back out to the camps, and re-selling them there. Many of the men stay home and drink. Many of the children are left alone. Dora felt that in general there was altogether too much dependence on the NGO's to care for the children rather than the families and communities.

After meeting Dora, I met Sam. Sam and I talked for a minute and then rushed off to a Child Protection Committee (CPC) meeting. The CPCs are government-established groups of community leaders in a given sub-county (with a given number of parishes within each sub-county). Sam was helping to facilitate the Bungatira sub-county CPC meeting, along with a counter-part from UNICEF. Different sub-counties work with whichever NGOs in particular are doing work there, hence WV works with a number of different NGOs in the various sub-counties where they have operations. The purposes of this meeting were to do an overview of the CPC, discuss its composition (there have been some recent changes in what type of community leaders should be involved), discuss the current issues (3 of the 7 parishes in Bungatira have still not returned from the IDPs to their villages), and discuss the 2008 strategies for the CPC.

The issues discussed were already becoming commonplace in my mind: young mothers, child-headed households, discrimination, domestic violence, exploited child labor, school drop-outs, suicide, inability to conduct follow-up and reporting, and inadequate numbers committee members to serve the communities. Much of the meeting was conducted in the local Luo language, but I gathered what little I could from Sam afterwards.

Sam works primarily in the technical guidance, administration, and organization of the CPCs that WV is involved with in n. Uganda. His work involves liaising with many of the other NGO's operating in the area (and, thankfully, there are many), as well as government representation helping to organize the efforts. While the CPCs handle some smaller community issues on their own, their primary directive is to identify orphans and vulnerable children for support, and refer them to the proper NGO. In this respect, although the needs vary by communities, its estimated that 70-80% of such children are served at least in some way.

In the afternoon, Dora took me with her for a CVC (keeping up with the acronyms here?) update meeting in an IDP camp about an hour outside of the town of Gulu (by the way, most of the districts are named after the capital city of the district, hence we were still in the district of Gulu). The IDP camp I hope to describe better in pictures at some point than I can in words - basically endless mud huts for thousands of people, clustered together in a large group that you can almost smell the fear in. They are quiet, and they are huge.

The gist of the CVC update: more problems. Everywhere, problems. Problems creating more problems. Children dropping out of school or even out of group therapy, families leaving the IDP camps for midway points between the village and the camp (known as "decongestion camps") - causing the children to have to walk long distances for schooling, a child mother who attempted her own abortion, diseases abruptly spreading in certain communities, at some point its hard not to become numb.

At the end of day 2 I sought out a younger shop-keeper in town named Frederick, one of the very, very few from the community that found a way to move through university successfully and return to the community to start his own business (mainly water engineering, building wells and the like, although he's trying to expand into a number of other areas). I wanted to ask him about where I could go for a good meal in Gulu, and he insisted on touring me around the town on his motorbike, showing me all of the best places, the place I ate at the first night being among them, to my dismay. He insisted that we have dinner together (and he would insist, despite my protests, on paying - in typical Ugandan graciousness) and so we did - a skinny chicken leg and some fries.

It began to dawn on me at his point that there really weren't any fat people here. Anywhere. Hadn't seen one that I could remember. Comparatively speaking, to most in Gulu, and probably most of Uganda, we were eating like kings. And I went to bed feeling what I've always called "hunger," but questioning whether I ever really had experienced the real thing.


It’s the end of Day 1. It's been a long day.

Landed last night in Entebbe, where I met up with Diana, who drove us to her place in Kampala. She had a massive dinner cooked and after that, I went to bed, where I didn't really sleep much all night. Spent the first couple hours on the last of my geographical / historical research on Northern Uganda, and the rest of them tossing around in the heat, under the mosquito net.

Morning came and Diana deposited me at the bus depot in downtown Kampala, which was a complete madhouse - cramming people onto crammed buses, hawkers selling you everything from bread to fake watches to battery-powered fluorescent lights to shoes and flip flops. The bus - regardless of where its headed, apparently - doesn't leave until it is full. And they mean full - everyone's sitting on someone, which is nice, when you're driving 6 hours over the surface of the moon, in heat suited more for the surface of the sun.

Enter Gulu.

The bus drops me at a similarly insane taxi / bus depot, with 80 people screaming at me that they are in fact my cab, my boda-boda. Boda-boda is slang for the motorcycle taxis of death, which are everywhere. It comes from the English slang for border-to-border, back when these guys used to transfer people completely across the country, unbelievably enough. Apparently they still sometimes do. MY BODA BODA, MUZUNGU!

But, no. Nobody was there to meet me in the withering heat, and when I raised Bob on the phone he told me to, you guessed it, hop a boda-boda to his offices. So that was interesting, on the back of that thing with my backpack behind me and laptop case in front of me, and the guy not really "knowing" where he was going, so he could charge me extra. Upon arriving, I met Bob and then Mark.


Bob heads up the programs (all of them) for Northern Uganda, whereas Mark directs the work done specifically by the Children of War centre established in Gulu, for all of Northern Uganda. I felt like I learned so much from just my first brief meetings - Mark gave me a kind of overview of the environment and context they're currently operating in (and was surprised how much I knew already - what follows is a mix of those two sources):

World Vision's Children of War programme is the biggest programme in all of Uganda, sadly enough. As Mark put it, Uganda is still very much a country where changes come via the bullet, not the ballot, and more Acholi people (the main ethnic group under persecution there) are killed with each new strife. The CoW program was first instituted in 1988 in response to Joseph Kony's (the leader of the LRA since 1987) killings. Kony rose to power in the LRA as part of a branch off of Alice Auma's Holy Spirit Movement - a nightmare in and of itself. While no solid information exists, most online resources claim that mass abductions of children didn't start until 1994, however I would come to personally meet former abductees that were "recruited" to the LRA long before that.

The LRA is actually an insurgence movement in Northern Uganda that started in large part in response to Yoweri Museveni's rise to power in 1986 when he overthrew the then-president, Tito Okello (an ethnic Acholi). Thus, the LRA had at least some support from the Acholi community in the north, at first, because the National Resistance Army (of Southern Uganda). The LRA came to adopt tactics of very often attacking civilian targets, raiding them of supplies and often abducting the civilians themselves to carry them off.

In 1991, more concerted efforts were made to do away with the LRA by cutting off what support they did have in the population, but this failed and only served to anger Kony even more - the LRA responded by mutilating any Acholi they thought to be a government supporter. The people now had a failing government and an attacking insurgency, neither of which there was much support for.

After some brief peace negotiations broke down in the early 90's, the LRA fled north across the Sudanese border and established bases there with the approval of the Sudanese government, in response to Ugandan support for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting the civil war in Southern Sudan. A tragic irony if ever there was one.

Kony then got even more brutal, as mutilations became a regular occurrence - the cutting off of ears, lips, and noses being common, but sometimes much worse. This too was when the abductions began to increase sharply, and were sometimes en mass. My experiences in Uganda would lead me to question over and again how the LRA could continue to exist when so many people oppose it, until someone answered my question with a rather blunt question of their own: "If you were fighting a rebel army where the majority of their soldiers were your own stolen children, how exactly would you fight?" As one source puts it: "The moral ambiguity of this situation, in which abducted young rebels are both the victims and perpetrators of brutal acts, is vital to understanding the current conflict."

In the mid 90's, the government began the establishment of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps - supposed safe havens for the hundreds of thousands of people who had fled their villages due to LRA attacks. They weren't safe in the camps either, the LRA would find them there as well.

In 2002, the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) launched yet another attempt to try to wipe out the LRA, which responded by increasing their attacks in northern Uganda to levels of brutality similar to the mid 90's. This would continue for about 2 years until the military pressure on the LRA became enough to drive them back (mainly into Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

No solid numbers exist on the effects of the conflict, but estimates are that at least 12,000 have been killed and almost 2 million displaced from their homes. Even less solid evidence is to be had regarding the abductions, as so many were never to return - according to a recent survey in Kitgum and Pader (neighboring provinces to Gulu), at least 66,000 youth between ages 13 and 30 have been abducted.

66,000. An entire generation of an entire ethnicity, used as soldiers and sex slaves.

The CoW programme still supports many of the families that are still trying to find their children. As the LRA is continually weakened, community resistance to the rebellion grows - but it is still a tense situation, and as Mark put it, they are "still treating the symptoms, not the problem." The good news, however, is that abductions in recent years have been minimal.

The CoW programme operates under 2 main headings - the centre itself (a complex with classrooms, living quarters, a medical clinic, dining facilities, and administrative offices), and in-community operations. As few abductees are currently returning from "the bush" as they call it, the majority of the work is now being carried out in the communities.

The work in the centre has primarily focused on receiving and documentation, counseling, reconciliation (more on that shortly), family tracing, treatment / relief (medical and psychological), and the introduction of educational options (returning to school, basic occupational therapy in carpentry, bike repair, etc.). The average child would spend approximately 40 days in the centre before returning to his community (often in an IDP camp, that is). At their height of operations, there were actually 3 centres, one for young children (where I was), one for new mothers (often victims of rape during abduction), and one for young adults). They remain posed, however, to re-open centers as needed should either a peace agreement be reached or hostilities increase again, the possibility of either seeming eminent. The centre also serves to treat what are referred to as "silent sufferers" - the thousands of children who were not abducted, often because they were too small to be of use at the time, but who may have been separated from their family, left behind often when the family themselves were abducted or killed.

The work in the communities is the primary work still being carried out. It involves, among other things:

- Liaising with local artisans / institutions to set up job opportunities for the returning youth
- Forming small independent groups focused on income generation
- Community Volunteer Caregivers (CVCs) who work primarily with the group therapy of children in the communities
- Forming social clubs (Peace clubs, etc.)
- Continued treatment as necessary (medical, psychological)
- Formal education (to a very small extent, as education in Uganda is priced extremely prohibitively)

Two areas of work that take place across both the centre and the community are reconciliation and truth-telling. Mark couldn't stress enough how vital these were - very often the perpetrators of the crimes were other children returning to the same communities, as in the case of a boy in the centre forgave his mother's killer, also a returned abductee. Mark had further worked with a pregnant mother in the new mother's centre working through the reconciliation process with the man who had cut her lips off. As he put it, the CoW work "cuts across ages and geographies." The truth-telling really runs hand-in-hand with, and is very much a part of, the reconciliation process, however it is clear that the current system cannot support these processes, and locally-grown capacity is necessary for that. Mark pointed out that the government needs to help create this structure, but that "they have a lot on their plate already."

Mark told me a bit more about what to expect of the next few days, and then we talked about the interesting timing of the peace talks, set to take place on Friday of this week, in Juba - Kony himself was rumored to be potentially signing a peace agreement there. Mark pointed out that any such agreement would necessarily precipitate the government, declaring at some point, that there were no more children in the bush. This would create, of course, unrest among those with children still missing - be they alive and still in the bush, or now presumed dead, either way - a difficult situation at best.


I like how I see fit to complain about crowded buses, and the heat, and not being met when I arrive. Like I actually have problems in my life. And yet, in a weird way, I think its kind of intrinsically OK that I have my minor problems, as long as they aren't where the buck stops. I look at the success in my life and the related hassles that come bound in with them, and if you must have the one with the other, but yet still you can be in a position to help - there's something OK about that. So long as you're actually doing something.

After the meeting I found my hotel room, then wandered around downtown Gulu a bit, in the waning sunlight. Got some extra batteries, bottled water, and 20 minutes in the internet café. Had a local beer (about $1.10, exchange rate works in my favor, at least outside the major cities), started To Kill a Mockingbird, and then met Bob for a quick and not very satisfying late dinner.

Meanwhile Mugabe's busy setting up more rigged elections down in Zimbabwe. Did you know that Al Jazeera's the only international news group allowed in that country? Gah.



It all started on Thursday, I realized as I was rushing through the terminal just a few minutes ago. But Thursday seems so long ago. So very long ago.

Thursday I walked out of World Vision's headquarter offices on the northern edge of greater Los Angeles. I walked to my car and drove into the constant traffic that makes its home in that city. I drove south to OC. I saw friends. I crashed at a hotel next to LAX, and then I flew back to Johannesburg.

You never realize it whilst in transit, but you lose a day of your life on the airplane. All of a sudden it was Sunday and I was the last person waiting for bags to come on the luggage belt. Except mine never came.

It was the clueless, unhelpful lady at the check-in desk at LAX. I had told her I was connecting through IAD to JNB. I said "Johannesburg" and she mumbled something about not knowing the airport code, and guessed "JAB." Her co-worker and I corrected her simultaneously: "JNB." Apparently she didn’t listen, and now my bag is on its way to Jabiru, Australia. And I'm sitting on a plane bound for Entebbe.

Having some-teen hours on the ground here in Joburg was vital. I drove home, showered, and went to evening service, even though I was only half awake, because you should really go to church on Easter. I drove home. I got pizza. I didn't pack. I was sure I'd wake up early. And I did - I woke up at midnight on the nose, I took my malaria meds, had a drink, watched something on the still-on TV, and went back to bed.

Then I woke up at it was 10:30am. I packed for my 2+ weeks of travel in under 5 minutes, which has to be some kind of record. There wasn't a lot to pack. And I'm sure I left important stuff behind, but as long as I'm on the airplane with my passport, the rest should sort out.

I rushed to the store for a couple emergency replacement items that the airline would be picking up the tab for (including a rain jacket, thank God). And then to the airport, at about 95mph. Thank God, also, for the lack of law enforcement on the highways here (and thank Hertz for another MB).

I left my house keys in the car when I returned it. After retrieving those, and getting through customs, and calling Diana in Kampala, I bought 2 gifts, toothpaste and a toothbrush (those were not the gifts), and a sandwich. And then I was walking out to the bus that takes us to the waiting plane.

It was so bright and blue and clear out. Its flat at the airport, I felt like I could see most of the way to Uganda, had the world been flat. I paused outside the bus, and then I had that feeling again. I've been having it a lot lately.

There's a part, right at the end of a chapter in the Lord of The Rings trilogy, where Aragorn takes Frodo's hand and leaves a certain place in the Elvish kingdom. Tolkien tells us that "He never came there again, as a living man."

It’s the qualification on the end, that I like. It leaves the door open for him to come again, some time. Some how.

It was like I had pressed the fast-forward button on life on Thursday. Nothing since then has seemed real - everything has been in a haze. Its Jenny's birthday, and Jonny's in a week, too. I left my plug for the video camera in Kruger, or somewhere else, but thankfully I have the big battery with some charge left. I'll wear the same clothes many times this week. My good swim suit is in my lost bag and I'll have to get another one on vacation if they don't get my bag back to Joburg by Saturday, when I come through there on my way to Mauritius. I have two swimsuits, for crying out loud. I have way too much stuff.

I forgot to leave payment for the maid. I haven't read nearly as much as I had hoped to in preparation for this trip. I'm not really sure what exactly I remembered to pack and what I didn't. There's a faint wireless signal out here in the middle of the tarmac. I have a ticket to Cape Town but I'm not sure I'll be able to get there before I leave SA. David's looking for an apartment in NYC for us and will probably get one in the next couple of days, without me ever having seen it. When the project ends in April I have nothing else lined up besides a few weeks of training. My return flight is to SF and I don't have one back to NYC yet - I'm sick of buying plane tickets, I'm traveling about 50,000 miles in a single 30 day period.

These are my kind of problems. But I took this pro-bono project at large, and planned this week in particular, because there are other people with problems in the world too, and some of them in particular make my problems pale in comparison. It was time for me to focus on that for a change.

I'm sitting on a plane bound for Entebbe, and tomorrow morning I'll be on a bus north to Gulu. I'm going to northern Uganda to spend a week with the child soldier rescue / rehab camps there. If you don't know much about child soldiers, I hope you can learn a little this week about the very real, and very horrible scar on our generation's record that it is.

This is the beginning.

(Editor's note: the Uganda trip happened 2 weeks ago. I had little access to the internet to get posts up while there, and a lot of hand-scratch notes to type up that were taken when I was in the field anyway, and then last week I was off to Mauritius. I spent the time in Mauritius thinking over a lot of what I saw in Uganda. I'll be posting my blogs from the week in Uganda in present-tense form, this week, the way I wrote them. But in reality, I'm safely back in ZA for the next two weeks. Also, there will not be pictures with the Uganda post, for the time being, and the reason for that will play out in due measure.)



Have you ever spent an entire week not knowing what time it was?

I have.

I'm on the flight back to Johannesburg and I just asked my exit-row neighbor what the time difference was between Mauritius and Joburg. Turns out its +2 hours (which means we're an hour further east of Baghdad - the MS Windows clock lists +2:00 GMT as "Harare, Pretoria" and +3:00 GMT as Baghdad - which is the same as Kampala, and the rest of Uganda, coincidentally). Turns out that this is the first time in 7 days it became important enough for me to figure that out.

Those of you who are familiar enough with my thoughts on the subject of time will understand the subtle irony and rather expected casual nature of a week without time. It was glorious.

Sans time, I fell into very comfortable patterns. I spent the first two days or so in Grand Baie - a tourist town on the north-west corner of the island, staying in a small B&B of sorts that I found via internet. It was comfortable, and conveniently located next to most of the major commercial stuff, and a short bus ride from incredible snorkeling (most of MRU is surrounded by a continuing coral reef, which makes for the most endless and incredible flat lagoons with little or no current to swim against - hence you might find yourself a couple hundred yards from shore and still an easy swim back). BUT, there was no surfing to be had over the reefs on the northern side of the island, which was my primary goal for the vacation. So once that was deduced I promptly had my host drive me south down the western coast to Flic en Flac, a smallish beach town on the south-western coast. Caught a half-board hotel across the street from the white-sands beach there, and set up operations.

Day 1 (Monday), after dropping my crap in the room, I rented a motorbike and drove to parts further south, finding surfboard rentals in the next town over, the go-to spot for kite-surfing a few towns beyond that, and the most incredible, remote, all but uninhabited white beaches and blue surf beyond that. Beautiful lonesome breakers, some spots with regular 7-10 footers, probably never ridden, but for the fact that there's nobody else out there, and reefs of death should you not ride your wave with sufficient skill. Beautifully fearful.

I spent Tuesday morning refreshing myself on surfing techniques - it had been far too long. The next couple days were a series of chilling on the beach (mostly with Bryson's A Brief History of Nearly Everything, and surfing / snorkeling around F&F. Then it was Friday and I took another motorbike to parts south. It broke down on me, and after a pensive hour and a half on the side of a lonesome road on the southern coast of the island, they showed up with another bike for me, and I shot back north. I spent the afternoon / evening surfing in Tamarind as the sun set behind me. It was the most beautiful sunset I never watched.

Today I woke up and took the bike south again, but this time with the disposable camera (my digital was stolen on my last day in Uganda, at a taxi-stand in Kampala, if I didn't make mention of it yet - it had most of my pictures from the week in northern Uganda on it, but I'm at peace with that, strangely enough). I filled up the camera with pictures of the coast, the greenery, and a couple of myself to prove that I was actually here. Had a hot dog and a last swim across the street from the hotel, then packed and was off to the airport.

I said no more than 3 words to anyone in 7 days who was not either being paid to associate with me (waiters, vendors, hotel staff, taxi drivers, etc.) or attempting to be (namely the annoying jewelry vendors on the beach - no, I don't wear jewelry...no I don't have a girlfriend to buy it for...LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY...). It was an introvert's dream-come-true. Selfish, in some respects, but 168 straight hours of having no one to utter more than a few terse English words at but yourself? Heavenly.

The island is French-(well, really, Creole) speaking, which helped. Oh, and...note to self: if ever on what you've essentially planned as your honeymoon with your single self (novel idea, I know, but that is what this was), try to pick a slightly less European destination. There were a lot of bear female bosoms here, but only a couple of which were a pleasure to behold (mom would be glad to know). I think perhaps the more practical problem was the fact that I was on an island where so many couples come to escape. Before this plane left the ground, the kindly older lady to my right asked me where my girlfriend was. I politely lied "in the future."

I honestly wonder if I'm the first single American to visit this island - goodness knows I was a rarity in being an American here in the first place.

All in all, good trip. I'll land in JNB in a few hours, where I'll hopefully synch up with Sharon in the airport, and debrief on Uganda - she's very much to thank for that working out.

After that, I'm a resident of ZA for exactly 2 more weeks (literally, my flight to the states leaves the same hour 2 weeks from when this flight is due to touch down). I'll return to somewhere in CA (probably LA but that's TBD right now) for a bit, and then hopefully will be moving into an apartment in the West Village with DK come late April.

Its hard to believe its over. I know I'll be back, but still. Hard to believe.

Uganda will be the subject of blogging this week. Enjoy.

didn't get this up til Sunday night but it was written on the plane yesterday.


In Mauritius.

Uganda was incredible and I'm working on typing up my notes from it. Produced a lot of good stuff.

Surfing during the day and sleeping a lot, for a change, during the night. After about a month of < 4 hours a night, this is a blessing.

Not much easy access to internet here so blogging will probably remain delayed until I return to ZA on Saturday.

Also, it occured to me today as I was sitting on my surfboard off the coast, over some low-surf coral, completely alone, that should something happen to me there wouldn't be many people come looking in a hurry. The thought that kicked off this one was remembering Brian when he took his few weeks of travel by himself at the end of his project - I'd get random text messages telling me where he was and if I didn't hear from him by EOD to alert the authorities. I haven't been doing that with anyone - but then there's not really anyone here to do it with. The surfing (et. al.) here is pretty remote, there simply aren't a lot of people around here, and I'm spending pretty much the whole week playing in the ocean, in some form or another.

So, if people aren't hearing from me by next week, start looking in Flic en Flac. Hotel Manisa.