Friday, July 12, 2013

Out of Africa

My ILF co-workers and me at my going away party
It’s true, I’m out.  I wrapped up everything in Lira, danced the night away with my co-workers, settled my account with Peace Corps and jumped on a bus out of Uganda to start my “COS (Close of Service) Trip.”
The busiest street in Lira
The purpose of a “COS Trip” (a trip taken immediately after finishing with Peace Corps before returning to the US) is to get your head out of Peace Corps and ready for the readjustment that awaits you state side.  These trips range from one week vacations to multi-month treks.  Some people circumvent the globe, but most people leaving Uganda go to Asia and travel in groups.
After being in Uganda for 3 years, I needed more than the normal COS trip. I needed a trip that would take me out of my comfort zone and force me to start readjusting to the US before I got there.  Once I combined this agenda with my desire to see more of Africa, the answer was obvious: overland trip to South Africa (not obvious?  Well, let me explain…). 
Me and my 2 Peace Corps Program Managers
I knew I would be traveling alone (everyone else leaving at the same time as me was flying directly home…something I was not ready for) which steered me away from traveling to a very unfamiliar setting.  I wanted to let go of Uganda gradually while at the same time get a small sense of each country and its people as I passed through.  So I went via public transport the whole way, adjusting and readjusting my itinerary to correct for miscalculations, various dangers and personal whims.  At the end of the day, I traveled 217 hours (the equivalent of 9 days) on public transport (buses and minibuses of various conditions and levels of crowdedness) through 7 countries taking me from Uganda to South Africa in 7 weeks.  In this final blog entry, I want to give you a sense of what the trip and each country was like (the good, bad and ugly) and show you some places I visited.
The Itinerary
May 17-19 Kenya
Kenya is similar to Uganda, but more organized.  History of violent election aftermath and crime in Nairobi (also nicknamed Nai-robbery), but I didn’t encounter either.
Imagine going by these guys
and this guy
While you're on this....

·         12 hr bus from Uganda
·         2 hrs within Kenya
·         Hell’s Gate NP (where you bicycle through a game park…with the animals all around you)
·         Nairobi (most organized in-city public transport in East Africa and very helpful people)

  May 20-25 Tanzania
Very beautiful landscape, very aggressive men, buses that like to break down
Hyena in NgoronGoro

Zebras and Wildebeests in NgoronGoro
          6 hr bus from Nairobi 
 ·         Arusha (terrible but necessary pit stop.  Here, I got a Tanzanian sim card (for my phone) with the help of a crowd of Masai men)
·         3 hr minibus to NgoronGoro Crater
·         NgoroGoro Crater (kinda like Jurassic park, but with wildebeests instead of dinosaurs)
My Mt. Meru Hiking Group: 3 Germans, 1 Italian, 1 Israeli, the ranger and me
Me and my hiking buddy Mor at summit of Mt. Meru...we are freezing
·         Mt. Meru (3 days, we reached the summit  (4,565 meters high (14,977ft), 5th highest mountain in Africa) at sunrise on the last day.  In other words, we started hiking at 1am on the 3rd day and finished the day at the bottom of the mountain at 5pm…climbing into a bus the next day was not an easy task.)
·         10.5 hr bus towards the Rwandan border (spent much of this time suspended in the air as the driver raced over the speed bumps)

The view from the summit of Mt. Meru at sunrise (Kilimanjaro in the distance and clouds below)
  May 25-30 Rwanda

Having a beer at Hotel Rwanda
1994 Genocide: Interhamwe (Hutus) killed 1,000,000 Tutsies, neighbors killing neighbors.  Afterwards, the government asked the survivors to forgive one another and today, no one discusses the matter (people don’t say the word “genocide” as a rule).  The city of Kigali is very safe and clean, but the undercurrent of repressed emotions is just overwhelming.
·         7 hr bus/minibus to Kigali
·         Genocide Memorial Museum (absolutely amazing and incredibly moving)
“If you must remember, remember this…the Nazi’s did not kill 6 million Jews…nor the Interhamwe kill a million Tutsies, they killed one and then another, then another…genocide is not a single act of murder, it is millions of acts of murder”
         -Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director, Aegis Trust, 2004
·         Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda)—slightly disturbing atmosphere, seemed as if nothing had changed from before the genocide except that there was now a small memorial erected for the staff members who were killed
May 31-June 8 Uganda
·         11 hr bus to Kampala
·         5 hr bus within Uganda
·         Good people and a little R&R
June 9-11 Tanzania
·         28 hr bus to Dar Es Salaam (very clean feeling city since it’s on the coast, but a lot of crime)
·         Stayed with a cousin I never knew I had
·         Wonderful visit with a friend of a friend who runs a craft shop called Njiana 
      Heard an interesting story about how after the slave trade was abolished in Tanzania, the slave traders dug a tunnel from the coast of Tanzania all the way out to Zanzibar (where slavery was still legal) under the Indian Ocean (46 miles).

Crazy bus ride on Princess Muro (note the writing back of the conductor's t-shirt: hot pink with a princess crown at its takes a very confident man to wear this)
·         Crazy 14 hr bus ride down to Mbeya (southern TZ, near the Malawi Border) on “Princess Muro” bus—vomiting neighbors, 2 hour traffic jam, pulled over on the side of the road to fix an overheated radiator only to have another Princess Muro bus pull over in front of us and start to smoke, causing its passengers to leap out of the windows and crowd onto our bus…spent the last 2 hours on the bus standing up in a crowded aisle…please don't let my public transport stories scare you.  The ridiculousness of public transport in Africa just makes me laugh and lets me feel a bond with the locals around me.  It gave an added dimension to my travels and spice to my life.
June 12-17 Malawi
Malawi is the country that Bob Marley would have created, had he gotten the chance: incredibly relaxed and helpful people, a crazy network of Rastafarians, and pictures of Bob Marley everywhere (even pinned over a picture of Jesus…).  If you want to go to Africa for the first time, I highly recommend going to Malawi.
Lake Malawi at Cape Maclear
Lake Malawi
Tea Plantation (we were not allowed to take photos inside the factory because it was not exactly up to health regulation standards)
A fisherman at sunrise on Lake Malawi
Kayaking on Lake Malawi (the water was so blue it looked like something out of a Pixar movie, but don't be fooled by the blueness of it all, the wind was incredibly strong that day)
·         9 hr bus into Malawi
·         Amazing hospitality of some friends of a friend
·         Took a tour of a Tea Plantation with an anthropologist who has worked in Malawi for 14 years
·         Traveled down Lake Malawi, kayaking and swimming in the Lake as I went (clearest water I’ve ever seen with a colorful and diverse population of tropical fish)
·         Encouraged corruption in a foreign currency exchange shop in order to get Mozambique currency
·         19 hrs on bus/minibuses within Malawi, half of which was spent standing up in very crowded aisles

 June 18-26 Mozambique
Mozambique is a very large country, recovering from a long civil war that crippled its economy.  While I was there (unbeknownst to me until the end of my visit), the opposition group killed 2 civilians, injured 5 and blocked the North-South road in an effort to destabilize the government.  I was safe (having gotten down to the southern coast the day before the activity began), but was forced to go south into South Africa rather than north into Zimbabwe as originally planned.  There are no night buses so most long distance buses leave at 4am…check in at 330…Amazing seafood and fabric.
The Indian Ocean
With the help of my bargaining skills and good timing, I got to rent this beach house right on tofo beach for 2 nights at the same price as a dorm bed in a backpacker's place

Tofo Beach
·         3 hr stop and go minibus from Malawi
·         7 km motorcycle ride across the border into Mozambique
·         2 hrs to northern town of Tete, where since the hotels are exceedingly expensive and my bus was to leave at 4am the next morning, I spent the night here watching kung fu movies with the bus park guys and sleeping on the bus 
·         12 hr bus down to the southern coast of Mozambique the day before rebel activity blocked the road
·         Tofo (clean beach and the Indian Ocean—never seen such a beautiful ocean: turquoise blue and clear view to the bottom)
·         Maputo (friendliest African capital city I’ve ever been in.  Ended up spending an extra day here and did not mind at all.)
·         23 hr bus/minibuses additional travel within Mozambique
Maputo's Train Station, designed by Gustave Eiffel (the architect of the Eiffel Tower)
June 27-July 3 South Africa
South Africa has gone through a long and well publicized movement from the Apartheid era to its present state (similar to our Civil Rights Movement with Nelson Mandela at its head).  It is a very westernized country and so was my last stop in my pre-US readjustment journey.  I was there during a busy time: Mandela was said to be in a critical state and Obama was visiting.

Table Mountain, Cape Town: my last hike of the trip
Statues of the 4 South Africans who have won Nobel Prizes (Cape Town)
Lion's Head (and tail) (Cape Town)
View from the top of Table Mountain
One of the 2010 World Cup Stadiums (Cape Town)
The Limestone Mine on Robben Island where the Political Prisoners worked and in the foreground, the pile of stones started by Nelson Mandela at the prisoners' reunion (each prisoner at the reunion added a stone, each of different size and color, seen as a monument to unity through diversity)
·         11.5 hr bus to Pretoria
·         Pretoria (This is the capital of SA—not overly busy and quite small for a city, former center of Apartheid rule)
·        19 hr bus to Cape Town
·         Cape Town (Very beautiful.  Good food, good hiking and the ocean…really, everything you want on a vacation wrapped into one town.  Nelson Mandela and a number of political prisoners were held on Robben Island just off the coast of Cape Town—Mandela for 18 years in solitary confinement.)
      20 hr bus to Johannesburg
·         Joburg (Very big and busy.  Interesting tidbit: to flag down public transport in Joburg, you have to know the right hand signal (like a gang sign) to get the right taxi to stop). 
Our guide on Robben Island, a former political prisoner on the Island
Nelson Mandela's Cell in Solitary Confinement where he spent 18 of his 27 year jail sentence
Penguins! (Robben Island)
Me with my bags getting on the last (and nicest) bus
The trip was ridiculous in every sense of the word.  Ridiculous in the speed I traveled at, the means I traveled by and most of all ridiculous because of the stories I left it with.
  In my mind, there are three reasons to travel: to relax, to see something(s) you always wanted to and to get stories.  The first and third rarely coincide just like comfort and adventure rarely go together.  For me, stories were the priority.  To go outside of your comfort zone is to have an adventure and adventures always yield stories…always.  I know this type of trip is not for everyone but for me, it was perfect.
The hotel room Qatar Airways put me up in
I flew Qatar Airways home (with an 8.5 hour layover in Doha during which I was put up in a very nice hotel), arriving home in time to see the fireworks celebrating America’s Independence.  I am happy to be home in the US.  I’m moving to Indiana on August 6th, but I hope to see all of you at some point and exchange stories. 
Thank you for following my blog these last three and a half years.  It’s been a pleasure for me and hopefully not too boring for you.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The end is near...

Me and the head of the tinsmiths at the stove factory
“I want to see you one more time before I die”…this was the thing an HIV positive friend of mine called to tell me the other night. Keep in mind: not “before you leave” not “before we don’t see each other for a while” but “before I die”…dramatic? You would think so, but it’s actually not, it’s just sometimes how it is and well, after living with the virus for years now and counseling others to get tested for it, my friend Jane has accepted that. Still, I’m not going to lie, it kind of freaked me out. So here’s the long and the short of it: these next 6 weeks before I leave are going to be hard. After 3 years and 3 months in Uganda, it’s time to say goodbye.

You’re probably thinking, man, this blog entry is just depressing. While so serious Heather?

Let’s just say, leaving Uganda is going to be bittersweet. Bitter for all the reasons you can imagine: the uncertainty of when I will come back here and moreover, the uncertainty of who will still be around when I finally do return to visit. But don’t worry, I’m not leaving this place in tears (that’s just not my style). I’m going to do as any Ugandan would do and tell people exactly what they want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Luckily, there’s no word for goodbye in Luo (the local language) so I won’t need to use one. I’ll just say “Rwate Wanen” or “We will see each other when we meet (again).”

Still, no matter how you phrase it, I hate goodbyes and would prefer to not think about it more than I have to, so let’s focus on the sweet stuff. I have loved my time in Uganda and along with a wealth of friends and slightly darker skin, it’s given me a lot, not the least of which is a next step. I’m starting graduate school at Purdue University in Indiana to get my M.S. in Environmental Engineering. It’s a two year program starting in August and I’m tremendously excited. Between now and then, the plan is to wrap things up here and travel.

My work this year with International Lifeline Fund (ILF) is ending on a high note. ILF is really pleased with the results and well, I just couldn’t be happier. My Institutional Fuel-Efficient Stove Program (the one I’ve been developing and managing for the last year) is up and running at full speed and will be self-sustaining (meaning it pays for itself) with 2 Ugandan Stove Officers managing it by the end of July (this is from being essentially non-existent last June). Schools and institutions throughout Uganda are saving a huge amount of money on firewood including my old school, Y.Y. Okot Memorial College in Kitgum and are singing our praises to other institutions. When the Executive Director of ILF visited Lira the other week, he was shocked at how far we had come (being self-sustaining is almost unheard of in the NGO world) and is starting to plan with earnest his vision for the future of the program. I have learned so much about stoves, finance and marketing in the last year and cannot say how grateful I am to ILF for this opportunity.
I’ll leave ILF on May 13th, spend 3 days with Peace Corps to finish up and make sure I don’t have any remaining parasites trying to jump ship with me, and then I’m off!...for 3 weeks…I’m spending some quality time hiking, swimming, bargaining and seeing the sites in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda before returning to Uganda on June 5th for my friend Bernadette’s wedding on June 7th (she is a Peace Corps Volunteer who came to country with me and is the only one who extended with me for a third year). After she’s hitched, it’s overland (using public transport) to South Africa via Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, stopping on the way to have some choice adventures and acclimate to the cold weather (it will be winter in southern Africa) before getting on a plane out of Johannesburg on July 3rd (my last and next blog posting will be to post pictures from my last weeks in Uganda and this trip).

And so now to the thing you have all been waiting for: my return.
I will be landing at Dulles International Airport at 330pm on July 4th (Qatar Airways 51) to banter with the customs officers, reintegrate and of course, to see you.
A woman using cooking locally (not using a stove like ours)--source: WFP
As I have told my family, the only thing I feel that I need when I get home is to see fireworks (if you have an amazing viewing plan in DC, let me know and we’ll make it happen), but they for some reason think I may need other things. So, if you are an expert in: buying cars, technology (this includes, but is not limited to computers, clouds—not the white fluffy ones—and anything that starts with “I”), pop culture, the canned food aisle, reintegrating or speaking slowing using small words so I can understand, your services will be needed. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to seeing you and hope that all stays well with you between now and then.
My institutional stove construction team


2 other PCVs (Bernadette and Rachel) at Bernadette's engagement celebration

A cook using one of our stoves (compare to the woman cooking above)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Uganda's Golden Jubilee!

 Today is Uganda’s Golden Julibee!  50 years of independence or in the words of one of my more cynical Ugandan friends: 50 years of living in darkness...haha, funny right?  Maybe not, but there is a middle ground between this jubilation and cynicism and it’s the place I’ve been living for the last 2 and a half years. 

On this joyous occasion, I would like to invite you to join me for an insider’s look into Uganda after 50 years of, well, living outside of England’s rule. 

Here’s a brief outline:

·         The English appointed the king of the central tribe the ruler of Uganda

·         In 1966, the Prime Minister, Obote, committed a coup d’├ętat when the king was out of the country. 

·         After a few years, the leader of Obote’s military, Idi Amin overthrew Obote.  Idi Amin had a lot of support when he came to power, although when a number of his enemies started to disappear mysteriously, all the Indians were forced out of Uganda causing an economic crisis, the Israeli captive situation in Entebbe, and well Amin declared war on Tanzania…things changed.  

·         Tanzania and some Ugandan exiles threw Amin out of power and then after a few interim governments, Obote (from before) was elected.  During this period, known as Obote (II), his rule was marked by a lot of violence, particularly in the SW region...

·         He was overthrown by an army led by Okello who then had a short but very violent reign.

·         Then in 1986, the leader of a guerilla army, Musevini came in from the West and overthrew Okello.  Musevini is still in power and well I won’t get into the politics that surround his rule being a PCV and by order, politically neutral.  During Musevini’s reign, however, the LRA ravaged the north in a 20 year war before being forced from Uganda in 2007. 

Do you see the darkness part?  Yep, it’s there, and unfortunately, it’s only these types of things that usually make the paper...   

I am reading a book on Africa meant for people who have never visited here.  The author is a British journalist who has worked throughout Africa for the last 40 years.  He describes a conversation he had with a young man who said that if the press would covered all the happy things about Africa, then the continent would be able to pull itself out of this constant cycle of war, coups, and corruption.  He answered that journalists rarely cover things like that anywhere, Europe, the Americas, and Asia included because it does not sell papers.  More people, however, visit Europe, the Americas, and Asia than Africa, providing an alternate source of information about these places.  Fewer people provide this for Africa. 

Maybe that’s why living in Africa is addictive for certain people.  It’s like being privy to a secret: that Africa is not all war and danger, but that there is another side that cannot travel the miles to other places as well as the other more depressing stories. 

I was talking with my friend and fellow PCV Steve the other day as we reflected on a recent trip through some local villages.  We concluded how wonderful it is that in Uganda you can act as if you are someone’s best friend immediately upon meeting them.  It’s kind of a fake it until you make it idea.  You take the first few sentences to greet and then, before you know it, you have inside jokes and although you may part ways a minute or two later, you part as if you’ve known each other for ages.  Such a phenomenon has little to do with hospitality and everything to do with the immediacy of the culture.  Everyone lives in the now (which is problematic for people trying to plan projects or budget).   All the tears you want to shed for someone must be shed the day of the funeral.  If you want to spend time with your family, you do it now, even if you are supposed to go to work instead.  There’s no holding back, no let’s wait until later.  If people do delay something until later, there’s a 50/50 percent chance it will happen at all.  Obviously, that something was not important enough to happen “now now” rather than “now” aka “later.”

So back to the inspiration of this blog: jubilation of the golden variety.  Today is about forgetting about the “darkness” of the past and the uncertainty of the future and celebrating what we have today: family, food, and sunshine.  So although most of you all are an ocean away from the joyous occasion, I hope you too will raise a glass in celebration of any and all happiness you feel in this moment and in the hope that the next 50 years will be brighter than the last.

Monday, June 18, 2012

You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you have to dress for them all aka There and Back Again, a Peace Corps Extendee’s Tale

If I got to see you during my time in the Americas, let me just say, wow, you look amazing and I can’t believe how wonderful you are. If I didn’t see you, sorry, but time is not always an accommodating mistress and I have returned already to what my father terms as “the bush” in the hopes that I too one day can say “Dr. Livingston I presume?”

While home, I got to visit the bustling city of Bogota, Colombia, the patriotic city of Washington, DC, and the historical city of Williamsburg.

I was shocked and awed by the following things: electricity…all the time…and at times without even turning on a switch, the fact that restaurants almost always have what is listed on their menus (in Uganda, you usually just ignore the menu because 99.9% of the items listed there are not actually available), the diversity, the lack of potholes, the speed and availability of the internet, drinking water from the tap and not suffering later, customer service, and how little people interact when they don’t have to (i.e. walking past each other on the street, being on the same train etc).

The things that frightened me the most: highway entrance ramps (really not a good place for someone who is used to “African Time”) and the canned goods aisle in the grocery store….it just was not natural to have so many options in such little space…it took about 3 times as long and 300 times the level of concentration for me to find a can of green beans as it would take you.

The things that were the nicest were: blending in…relatively at least and, not to be overly corny, seeing and/or hearing about all of you.

On Friday, June 9th, a plane full of smart outfits, bright eyes, and well, me with more electronics in my carry-on than the energizer bunny landed in Uganda around 11pm. By Saturday night I was in Lira, my new home for the next year and on Monday morning, I started working at my new PC site, International Lifeline Fund.

Very exciting things about my new home: electricity and running water, living in town (so it doesn’t take a full day to go shopping, I can actually go out after 7pm (so now I can go see the Euro Cup!)), I no longer fear that my clothes will get stolen off the laundry line, my home is no longer a warehouse for my projects or liquid soap factory, there is more than one room, and there is a front porch. It’s my version of a ex-convict’s half-way house, transitioning me from the village to America.

At my new site, I am helping revamp their Institutional Fuel-Efficient Stove project (large wood burning stoves for schools, orphanages etc.). It’s been basically dormant for the last year and a half because they were building up their smaller stove projects so they let me in like a breath of fresh air…or more likely like a passable rendition of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” to jump start it. While it’s strange for me not to have a million projects going on simultaneously and to no longer have to work before 830 am and after 530 pm, this new streamlined lifestyle may make my future blog entries less overwhelming/confusing to read.

My new mailing address is:

Heather Pasley
P.O. Box 1041
Lira, Uganda

My email is much more reliable here so let me know what’s shaking on that side of the ocean, specifically in your lives.
What I should have painted on my old house.

A happy mother in a nearby village with her ILF "rural stove."

Testing the newest model of the ILF "Institutional Stove"

Friday, May 11, 2012


Currently I am home in the USA for my 30 day leave before extending for another year in Uganda.  This means that I have strong enough internet to upload photos!  Nothing's in order sorry.  If you want to see more pictures and/or the awesome slideshow from the girls empowerment camp I organized, let me know...I'm around.
My neighbors Amy and Emy

My last two stoves at my school, built with a local vocational school (BAM!)

My very shotty least its honest about its safety track record

I just flew home on this...just kidding...Ugandan Fighter Jet in the middle of Gulu...seriously

My new home (I share it with 2 other people so I'm not totally spoiled), but it's definitely an upgrade from a hut

Princess and the Pea in Uganda...getting ready for the Girls Empowerment Camp that I organized/directed called Northern Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

The taxi I took to get from Kitgum to my new home in Lira. 5 of the bags and my bicycle are loaded on top. This is the first of two times that we broke down on the normally 4 hour trip...


From inside the taxi I moved in...20 people in a 14 max person vehicle...very delux and spacious...

Ochido, a fine art teacher at my school working on our East Africa Map Mural

One of my womens groups

Me terrorizing Emy...or defending my coffee mug...really, it could go either way

Northern Camp GLOW