I’m a list-maker. This week I’ve been noticing differences and similarities between here and home, and I decided to summarize some thoughts in list form.

Things I love about Uganda & Watoto:

High emphasis on people, showing respect

Music and singing everywhere

More relaxed pace

Fresh tropical fruit. Everywhere. = )

Stoney Tangawizi and Krest Bitter Lemon (Coca Cola products not sold in the US)

Getting called “madame” on a regular basis

Meeting people from all over the world here to work with Watoto

Getting to be part of an organization that is caring holistically for nearly 3,000 children


Things I miss about home:

Family and friends (since day 1 – of course)

Mexican food

Steak from an American steakhouse


Using my Google Maps app (It’s really a good thing I’m not driving here)

Country radio

Good (or at least safe) coffee widely and easily available


Difficult or frustrating things:

Seeing widespread, true hardship and extreme poverty and not having a quick fix

Trying to think in metric terms. (Petrol costs about 3800 Ugandan shillings per liter. Is that expensive compared to gasoline at home? I don’t know…let me have a calculator and a few minutes…It’s about $5.58/gallon.

Feeling like the dumbest person in the room for speaking only one language


Things I don’t miss about home:

110˚F high temperatures (43˚C)

Hot tempers and stressing about things that don’t matter


Some things I’m learning:

A smile is universal

Black or white, no matter the differences, people are people all around the world

Westerners come here to try to help Ugandans, but we could learn a lot from them


Things I never would have experienced at home:

Tasting water from a clay drinking water pot (don’t worry, Mom – it was clean water)

Purchasing bananas through an open van window

Almost getting run over by a Boda Boda while crossing a street (don’t worry, Mom – he missed)

Eating matooke with g-nut sauce


Funny things about being a (West) Texan here:

Hearing people try to imitate their ideas of a “Texan accent”

Getting into a (peaceful) conversation about US and Texas gun control laws with an Australian in Africa

Getting confused looks when I say “y’all”

Explaining to someone that where I’m from is hotter in the summer and drier and dustier pretty much year-round than Uganda is during the dry season, and laughing when they don’t believe me


[Insert reference to The Lion King here]

Murchison FallsSome of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Uganda were on a youth mission trip from a church in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They came to love on, play with, and minister to the kids in the Watoto villages. I got to spend some time with them last week, and they invited me to tag along on their trip to Murchison Falls to go on safari. They were leaving early Thursday morning, so on Wednesday night they made room for me at their guest house and I got up and stumbled to the vans with everyone else at 4:30 the following morning. We drove past road construction, on both good roads and bad roads, entered Murchison Falls National Park, stopped and walked to the top of the falls, drove some more, got out of the vans and rode beside them on a ferry across the Nile River, then got back in the vans and drove to the lodge where we had reservations. Our first wildlife sighting in the park was a group of baboons. At first, we were excited, because you don’t often see baboons on the side of the road in Texas or Oklahoma. Later, we were not so excited about the baboons. The spunky youngest girl in our group got a little too close to one and she got chased away. At least she is a fast runner. ; ) We learned that one of the main reasons we needed to keep our doors locked at the lodge was to keep the baboons from coming in to steal our stuff. Also, they had to build a fence around the swimming pool to keep the hippos from slipping in for a midnight dip. Anyway, the lodge was beautiful. We walked into the reception area tired and rumpled, and staff members were ready with cold washcloths and passion fruit juice. We checked into our rooms and ate from the lunch buffet set out.

Keep in mind – this was a team of USA youth (ages 13-18) and some parent chaperones, a youth minister, plus some people about my age. References to The Lion King abounded. Attempts from white American kids to sing that one song in Swahili while in the van probably had our patient Ugandan drivers wishing they had ear plugs. Every wart hog was named Pumba. Every sighting of Pumba meant that Timon must be nearby. (For my grandmothers reading this – if you haven’t seen this movie and don’t know what I’m talking about, just ignore this part. I got to see cool animals.)

That afternoon, we went on our first 3-hour game drive, with a park ranger named Sarah for a guide. (It got really confusing for me – people from the back of the van kept shouting out questions like “Sarah – what is the gestation period of an elephant?” and I would think, I’m not sure – I guess I skipped that day in Introduction to Animal Science.) Anyway, after a while I was able to ignore people shouting my name and asking questions I never thought I would need to answer.

Ugandan Kob

On the first game drive, we saw lots of antelope like the Kob and the Oribi. The Kob is one of the national symbols of Uganda. We saw Cape Buffalo and giraffes (lots of them). Cape Buffalo always look grumpy and giraffes are terrible at Hide and Seek.
Giraffes always lose at Hide and Seek
Giraffes always lose at Hide and Seek
Cape Buffalo
Cape Buffalo

We saw elephants from a distance, and learned that elephants only charge at humans because the older ones hold grudges against poachers. The group in the van I rode in for the game drives got to see 4 lions (3 adult females and 1 male) over 2 days. Sarah (the guide) spotted the lions with her eagle-eyes. The rest of us had to squint to see them through the grass with our regular eyes. Speaking of eagles, we saw several African Fish Eagles, which look a lot like Bald Eagles.

Friday we went on another game drive and a 3-hour tour on the Nile. The name of the boat was the African Queen. I wasn’t sure if a reference to Humphrey Bogart or Gilligan’s Island was more appropriate for this part of the trip, but it was fun no matter what. I learned that hippos can’t swim, but they can hold their breath for about 5 minutes and if they want to cross the river, they walk across on the bottom.


Friday evening, the team gathered after dinner and met with the Team Host, Melvin, who had been with them every step of the way during their stay in the Pearl of Africa. Melvin asked them to share their highlights and lowlights – what did they like about their experience with Watoto and what would they like to see changed? I sat in on their meeting and it was obvious that everyone had loved their time working with the Watoto kids. Saturday morning we packed up, had one last delicious meal from the lodge, and headed back to Kampala. The drive was much longer because we stopped more, but it was an enjoyable day with great people. I’m so glad the team adopted me and let me go with them!

This Is Not Good

I am not allowed to drive in Uganda. I am under strict orders from multiple people not to get behind the wheel. So, how do I get around? We’ve hired a car and driver. The driver’s name is Alex. I have yet to come up with a name for the car. Alex has been great! He doesn’t mind picking Steve and me up at 6:30 AM to beat the Kampala traffic, or driving us to farms outside the city and waiting for hours to drive us back to where we stay. He dodges Boda Bodas (motorcycle taxis), bicycles and whatever they may be carrying (people, lumber, bananas, easy chairs, etc.) as well as potholes, kids on roller blades, and livestock. He is the unfortunate and patient subject of friendly interrogation from me. Today, he picked me up from Randy and Judy’s (after a week at a guesthouse, I’m back at my lovely Canadian hosts’ house) and we were headed to pick Steve up at the guesthouse. Randy was driving just in front of us. On our way up a hill, the car died and started slowly rolling back down. Alex stopped the car and tried unsuccessfully to get it running again. I was being overly helpful.

“Well, it can’t be the battery, because the radio is working…and the starter seems to be fine…”

Alex said, “this is not good.”

“It seemed fine just a minute ago…”

Alex said, “it’s telling me it is out of fuel. This is not good.”

“Oh, well that’s simple. We can call someone or we can walk. Do you have a jerrican in the trunk?”

Alex said, “this is not good.”

“Here, I have Randy’s number. Can you call him?”

Alex said, “this is not good.”

Luckily, Randy realized we were no longer right behind him and he turned around to see what had happened. He drove us to a nearby gas station with Alex’s fuel can and then drove me to the guesthouse. Alex picked Steve and me up there after taking a Boda Boda back to put the petrol in the tank. Alex thinks he was cheated by a gas station attendant and that he should have had more fuel than he did, but he only paid for 10,000 Ugandan shillings worth of gasoline (which buys less than a gallon). No harm done – we got to our destinations and we still didn’t have to deal with traffic because today is a public holiday in Uganda (Martyr’s Day).

Alex seemed to be fine for the rest of the day. He waited patiently while I helped deworm goats and made an inventory spreadsheet for supplies at the goat farm. He got to take a nap in the car while he waited, after his laptop battery died. Just remember, whenever you’ve just purchased 10,000 shillings worth of petrol and your car dies going up a hill, it is not good.


– This post copied from my personal blog – written May 25 –

Being a West Texas girl, I am impressed with any body of water that manages to remain in existence, as well as precipitation in any form. Texans tend to be impressed with big things, too – so y’all might appreciate that Kampala sits close to Lake Victoria, which is the source of the River Nile. Living in such close proximity for the last week to the second largest lake on the planet is still a little surprising to me, and it rained yesterday. For all my West Texas readers, in some places around the world, they have this stuff called rain. It’s water (ya know the stuff we have to pump out of underground reservoirs that are quickly running dry?), and it falls out of the sky sometimes. Also, when “rain” mixes with dirt (I don’t have to explain that – it blows around all the time back home), it makes mud. You should see the shoes I wore to Watoto’s vegetable and crop farm yesterday. (I’ll spare you that, though).

Today, I got to see the source of the longest river in the world. In Jinja, Uganda, you can hire a boat and a tour guide to take you out on the Nile and to see the point where the river begins from the gigantic Lake Victoria. After that little adventure, we got back in the van and headed to Wild Waters – a lodge and restaurant situated on an island in the Nile. We parked the van and got in another boat to ferry us to the restaurant where we had a delicious lunch on an open air deck on the water.

Tomorrow, we say goodbye to half of our travelling group – Vicki and Adam are heading back to Oklahoma. They are sorry to leave the pearl of Africa, but must go back to work. Adam is excited to share his experiences here!


Don’t Sit Under the Mango Tree

– This post copied from my personal blog – written May 23 –

I returned today to Kampala from Gulu – a city in northern Uganda. We left early Tuesday morning and traveled about 200 miles. At home, this would take an average driver about 4 hours (or it would take me a bit longer after adding in time for every other Dairy Queen and any historical markers). It took us 6 hours, and it wasn’t because of frequent stops. It was because much of the road between Kampala and Gulu consists more of potholes than pavement. With sweet and capable Simon behind the wheel, we bobbed, weaved, zigged, zagged, and bounced our way to Gulu. Simon often ends up staying with the van while his passengers traipse around villages and farms, and I asked him if he thought his job was boring. He said no, he didn’t think that, so I asked him if it was because he got to meet a lot of crazy “mzungus” (the Swahili term for white people or tourists). He said he considered all the mzungus he met friends, crazy or not!

We stayed at Watoto’s Gulu guest house, which is being redecorated. It has been freshly painted, and our current hostess in Kampala journeyed with us to Gulu to finish helping the guest house staff recover chair seats as well as hang curtain rods and curtains. We even got to help her out a bit.  = )  Directly outside our part of the guest house was a large mango tree, which is a very common site in that area. The courteous, friendly, and helpful staff prepared wonderful meals as well as fresh mango juice for us. I was tempted to climb the tree and try my hand at harvesting mango, but after I heard a rumor that a snake lived in the tree I decided to leave that to Isaac (one of the guest house staff).

Gulu is a wonderful place to see. It was one of the areas affected most during the civil war in Uganda that ended a few years ago. The smiles on the faces of many of the residents speak volumes about their resilience and how far they have come since the end of the war. Our first visit in Gulu was not connected to Watoto, but it was unforgettable and touching. In February, I got the privilege of hearing a seminar at OSU from Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who runs a school for girls in Gulu. She takes in girls with serious setbacks and disadvantages, teaching them skills and trades they can use to provide for themselves and become leaders in their community. Many people around the globe have heard of some of the atrocities that took place in Uganda during the civil war. The rebels killed parents, abducted children and made them child soldiers or slaves as they devastated the country. Many of the girls who came back had borne children to their captors, they missed the opportunity to attend school, and they had no one to whom they could return. Sister

The lighter side of Sister Rosemary
The lighter side of Sister Rosemary

Rosemary took them in, and while the war was still going on, she defended them against the rebels. She told us a story of when she faced a rebel soldier and told him to leave, because the woman he claimed was his wife had been his slave. She said she was not scared until later. Sister Rosemary also takes in orphans. The students at her school were on holiday when we visited, but we got to meet Patrick and Innocent. Patrick is a 10 year old boy who is healthy and happy now, but was dying when Sister Rosemary took him in. Innocent is an 8 year old boy who was born with no arms. His parents abandoned him because they thought he was a bad omen. Innocent is precious and a little mischievous. He loves to run and jump and swing on the swing set outside. The thing about Sister Rosemary that made the biggest impression on me was the obvious joy she had. She talked about suffering and courage during grim times with a smile as big as Texas (or Lake Victoria). She was overjoyed about the work God has done through her in the lives of hundreds of people in a war torn land.

Peanut Butter and Smiles
Peanut Butter and Smiles

Our next stop was at Living Hope – a women’s ministry connected to Watoto thatteaches women in the area how to become more self-sufficient. The women all take a discipleship course and a business course, then they choose a trade to learn. Some learn to sew, others learn to make peanut butter out of the locally grown peanuts (called ground nuts or g-nuts in Uganda), and others use Shea nuts to make and sell Shea butter. Many of the Living Hope women come from the same background as Sister Rosemary’s students, and Living Hope is meant to be a place of healing as well as learning.

The next place we visited near Gulu was a Watoto children’s village called Laminadera. At Laminadera, we met the village pastor, Victor, and his wife, Miriam. Laminadera is still growing, and is expected to have a total population near 1,000 people when it is at capacity. The property on which Laminadera sits has a few extra acres of land that will not be used for buildings. The pastor hopes that the land can be utilized for growing fruits to supplement the diets provided by Watoto for the children. I may get to help research and plan that while I am here! Some trees will grow with no maintenance here. No watering required – just plant a tree and let it grow. Other fruits, like pineapple plants, require more maintenance (but Ugandan pineapples are well worth it – I may or may not have consumed about 10 pineapples in the few days I have been here). The most fun part about visiting Laminadera was meeting George – a 17 year old Laminadera village resident who is currently gardening on some of the spare land and plans to study agriculture in college. He sells his crops and is saving for his own house. George loves agriculture – he says he cannot sleep at night unless he has gone and worked in the garden. He has done an excellent job with very limited resources!

Other than a very quick tour of the Watoto babies’ home at Gulu, the rest of our time was spent at the guest house reading, talking, laughing, listening, helping with the redecorating efforts, and eating lots and lots of mango.

Hello from Uganda!

– This post copied from my personal blog – –

(I’m having trouble uploading pictures to my blog – so I had to type thousands of words to make up for it.) (Just kidding.)

Travelling with three other people (Steve Swigert who has been here eight times in two years working with Watoto Agriculture, his wife Vicki, and Steve’s colleague Adam), I boarded a flight from a Dutch airline on Friday afternoon and flew for nine hours to Amsterdam (arriving at 8 AM Amsterdam time, although it felt like 1 AM to me). After a short layover, we boarded another plane and flew first to Kigali, Rwanda, then on to Entebbe, Uganda. I set my watch eight hours ahead and tried to convince myself it was 11 PM on Saturday instead of the end of a 36 hour Friday. After a short drive on a nice bus with the friendly and capable Watoto logistics guy (Joe), we arrived at the house we get to stay in for the next few days. Four tired people turned in for the night after making plans to get up for breakfast and church.

Sunday morning, we attended the Watoto Church central campus. We waited outside until they opened the church doors and then we were seated in reserved seats in the second row. Church in Uganda is fun. It is an altogether different experience from any church I have attended in the United States. The music is energetic, to say the least!

They asked any first time visitors to stand. I stood. They asked the group of Watoto Agriculture visitors to stand. I stood again. Church was fun in spite of that!

In case you are just now tuning in, Watoto Church based in Kampala, Uganda started the Watoto Child Care Ministry in 1994. Uganda has a huge population of orphaned and neglected children. Estimates vary, but because of the recent civil war in Uganda and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, most of their middle-age range population is missing, leaving something like 2.6 million orphans in a country of 26 million people. The average age in Uganda is 15. Watoto Child Care Ministry is an innovative orphanage model that uses house mothers in children’s villages to raise (currently) about 2,600 children. The benefits of this model are wide-ranging. For example, the kids are raised in a family environment instead of an institution. Schools and churches are on-site in the villages so the children never want for education or spiritual nourishment. The house mothers get purposeful and fulfilling work raising Uganda’s future leaders. Watoto has children’s choirs that get to travel the world touring and singing. However, the costs and challenges are many. As you might imagine, feeding 2,600 children as well as their house mothers and teachers is quite the feat. The purpose of Watoto’s Sustainability project is to make sure that Watoto can keep functioning and creating positive change in Uganda. Part of this effort is Watoto Agriculture, of which I get to be a part this summer. This first week we will be mainly seeing Watoto’s work and what has been accomplished so far agriculturally.

Monday morning, we piled in a van driven by a Watoto driver (Simon) and headed to the Watoto village at Suubi. At Suubi, there is a children’s village (complete with houses, schools, playgrounds, and a medical clinic), Watoto’s fabrication unit, the goat dairy, and a beautiful babies’ home that currently holds nearly 100 babies under two years old. A new worship center is currently being built.

Next, Simon drove us on to the poultry farm and feed mill at Buloba. The poultry barn, when finished, will house at least 7,000 laying hens. The feed mill will be finished in the next few months and will save Watoto from buying flours and meals from external sources. My first two days in Uganda on this trip have been great. Tomorrow, we head north to Gulu, where we will visit another Watoto site and possibly get to drop in on Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who I got to see when she gave a seminar at OSU in February. Hopefully we will get to see the school she runs for displaced girls. Our hosts here in Kampala are wonderful and I have loved every minute seeing and hearing what Watoto is doing in this country!