A Travellerspoint blog

Masai Mara

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A few weeks ago we travelled to Kenya. We took the Akamba bus to Eldoret, picked up Amy and then traveled to Nairobi. The ride took forever, and I am pretty sure I suffered a minor case of whiplash from the condition of the roads. From Nairobi we were picked up by our tour guide Edwin from Azure Safari's (highly reccomended) and went to Masai Mara for Safari. It might have been a bit pricey but the money was well spent. The trip was amazing. On our way to Masai Mara we saw girrafs, and zebras. We stopped along the way to look out over the rift valley. The sight was amazing and words and photos will never do it justice. As we entered the Masai peoples territory we started to see the characteristic red clothing. They are herders and travel much of the land with their goats and cattle. If you looked along the terrain into a heard of cattle you could almost always see a person wearing red carrying a spear or stick. Some of the Masai men and women wore the traditional beading on their heads, in their ears and around their necks. Once you pass the Masai people territory you enter into the game reserve.

It had been a long journey so Edwin and Titus first took us to our "Tented Camp" called Sarova Mara Game Camp. I had never been in a tented camp before but I was prepared to sleep on cots and swat at bugs during the nights. I was in for a suprise. Our "tent" included a four poster bed, hard wood floors, twin marble sinks, two desks, a walk in LARGE shower and bathroom. It was pure luxury compared to the house where I currently live in Mbale. It was amazing. On top of that the food was also very good. Granted, my standards for food have definitely gone down in the last 3 months, but for buffet style food it was quite good with many options.

We went on three safari drives during the next few days. We saw giraffs, elephants, buffalos, crocodile, lions, zebras, baboons, cheetas, meer cats, wart hogs, kobs, hyenas, wildabeasts, impalas , hippos and more. Not only did we see them, but we saw them at a distance so close that I could have reached out of the van and touched them if it wouldnt have meant potentially getting an arm knawled off. We even had to stop so that the elephants and their babies could cross the road in front of us. It was an experience I will never forget. I took over 800 photos while I was there. The landscapes were just as amazing as the animals. The acacia trees were beautiful, especially when set in the background of the masai. I could go on and on but I could never describe with accuracy what I saw. All I can say is that everyone should go at some point in their lifetime. So Brian get used to the idea of a safari because I am taking you at some point!

I was also amazed at how much Nairobi reminds me of D.C. I had heard things about the crime and robberies. All in all I thought it was a very nice city. There were tons of options for food which was great because I eat local or Indian food in mbale every day. The market in Nairobi was also exciting except for the fact that you couldn't look at any item without the seller following you around and trying to convince you to buy it. I did, however, get elephant book ends for a great price of 1,000 Kenyan shillings and an ink pen! But, at least we were well liked because we went the day after Obama was elected as the next president (woohoo!!!!!!). Oh did I mention that Kenya actually had a national holiday the day after the election, called "Obama Day". It was awesome! Sorry all you republicans but it is about damn time Bush gets his ass outta the white house.

On the way home not only was the road bumpy and I couldnt sleep, but the bus got a flat tire at around 3am. Then, after dropping Amy off in Eldoret, the bus broke down numerous times. I think we are lucky we made it to Mbale.

I'll post as many pics as my internet will allow. When I get home i'll post all of them on snapfish or something of that nature.

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Posted by marcelle25 12:47 Comments (2)

Snoopie

Things have been a bit crazy here and not all of it in a good way. First an update on Snoopie. We fell in love with her and she, for the most part, wouldn’t leave our compound. Tom (our night guard) informed us that the owners didn't want her anymore and had sent orders to Kenneth (the guy on Toms compound that takes care of the dogs) to kill her and a few others. We went over to the compound and asked Kenneth if we could have her so that she wouldn’t be killed. We purchased a chain and kept her on our back porch. We made plans to take her home and we contacted the USPCA and purchased her vaccines, and deworming meds. She learned to walk on a leash, sit, wait to eat her food, and was doing quite well. She followed us everywhere and we looked forward to playing with her every afternoon when we came home from work. Stephanies husband came to visit and he brought a crate with him so that we could transport her home on the plane when we left in December. On the Tuesday while Nick was here, we let her off the leash for short call. She was gone for about five minutes and then came back. We let her in the house to eat and play for a bit and then we put her out on the leash for the night. When we awoke the next morning she was missing and there was vomit and diarrhea all over the porch and ground. I went searching for her and found her dead curled behind a bush.

We later found out that Kenneth, after telling us she would be safe if we took her, saw her while she was out on her short call and fed her poison. We have no clue why he did it. He didn't give a reason and didn't really seem to care that we were upset. Most people don’t understand why we care because here most people don't get emotionally attached to their dogs. Stephanie and I were too upset so Nick and Tom dug the whole and buried her. Thankfully, Nick was here to help us out because we were angry and in no condition to handle the situation on our own.

We found out that he also had poisoned our guard dog Foxie on another occasion, but luckily for Foxie it didnt kill him. Because he didn’t die, Kenneth beat him with a stick, threw a rock at him and broke his leg. It is starting to heal but he still has a pretty good limp. I don’t understand how people can be so cruel. Those who know me well, know how much I love animals. It has been extremely hard for me to see the way these dogs are treated. It has made me want to leave so that I don’t have to see another dog suffer and has tainted my time here in Uganda. They have also killed three other dogs on the compound. Monty and Foxie are the only ones left and both are scheduled to die as soon as they find a “good guard dog” to take their places. Monty comes up to us and loves attention but he cowers if anyone else comes near for fear of being beaten. Foxie still won’t let us touch him though he does wag his tail and follow us when we come home from work. It breaks my heart to know how they have been treated and that they too will be killed in the near future.

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Monty and Stephanie
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Foxie, Snoopie and Monty
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Snoopie and Stephanie
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Foxie
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Snoopie Stephanie and Me

Posted by marcelle25 14:03 Comments (1)

Settling In

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It has been a few weeks since I have blogged. I finally have internet at home. It cost a small fortune and is slower than dial-up but at least I can send emails and feel a little more in touch with the outside world. Things are going great. Ryna, Stephanie and I went to Kampala on my birthday weekend. We went for TASO's annual meeting on Saturday and then stayed the night so that we could go out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. We went in search of a restaurant that has cheese. I have never missed cheese so bad in my life! We did find a place and the food was okay. My pizza actually looked like a pizza and didn't come topped with random vegetables like peas and carrots (which we have seen before). That night we stayed at Backpackers. It was my first experience at a hostel and it might be my last. I didn’t mind sharing the room with 12 people and I didn’t mind the bunk beds or the communal bathroom. However, it was loud and cold and our bed nets had holes that were sealed with Band-Aids. I can only hope they were not used Band-Aids! The next day we called our favorite driver to take us to get supplies from a REAL supermarket to bring back with us and then he took us to the bus park so that we could go back to Mbale. We walked into the bus park and men started coming at us from all directions. We said we wanted to take the Elgon Flyer Bus to Mbale. Everyone started yelling for us to come this way and that way. Men started grabbing our arms and pulling all of us in opposite directions and two guys started pushing and fighting over us. I got a "little" angry and started yelling. I might have threatened a few people not to touch my friends again and I think I might have actually scared one because he quickly stepped back. They are not used to women being aggressive. We finally got to the correct office and found out we had to wait 4 hours until the next bus left. So we sat in the office breathing exhaust and dozing off until it was time to leave. Now, we waited for the Elgon Flyer because they are the cleanest and safest buses to Mbale. The others pack people in like sardines and fly down the road. It was finally time to leave and we got on the bus. The three of us were relieved, put our bags under us and started reading our books. That is when we noticed the FIRST of many cockroaches. For the next 4 hours back to Mbale we were flicking cockroaches off of our legs, seats, windows, bags etc. It was a LONG ride home.

Since then Stephanie and I have completed forming our surveys for the clients and our surveys for the staff of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Program. We need to have them finalized with our preceptor and the head of the program but both are so busy they never have time to meet with us. We have also met a few more children from the clinic. There is one 4-year-old girl in particular that I absolutely adore. She comes to visit almost every day. She sits in the chair beside me and colors in our coloring book or draws pictures of the sun. She is adorable and knows it. The only problem is she doesn’t know much English and I don't know much Lugisu so she answers every one of my questions with "yes", except when I asked her how old she was and she quickly told me "seven" with an adorable smile. It makes me sad to know that she is positive, but as of right now she is healthy and may stay that way for a long time if she stays on her meds.

We went on our first outreach on Wednesday. TASO Mbale is the center not just for the town of Mbale but for the whole district which is quite large. Many people cannot travel all the way to the center so the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and counselors pack up and drive to different areas twice a week to reach those that cannot travel to the center. We traveled to Iki Iki and set up camp at a small health center. It was very basic; They had no running water and the toilet was a hole in the ground. We started the day off by helping the pharmacists count and pack the different medications for the patients. There were ARVs, stomach medicines, pain reliever, antibiotics etc. Then we went with the community nurse and the TASO nurse to do home visits. Home visits occur when the patient is too sick to reach even the outreach center. The community nurse is notified before the outreach and she informs the TASO nurse of who needs to be seen during home visits. We went with them into the village. This was the first time we had been into the villages. The roads were absolutely horrible. Some were merely dirt trails wide enough for a bike. That didn't stop Anos, our driver, from plowing down them with the Land Rover. It was interesting to see how people lived. They lived in mud brick houses without electricity or running water. Many had rooves thatched with what I believe was matoke leaves but the lucky ones had tin rooves. They all had dirt floors and some had mattresses directly on the floor or they had bamboo mats to sleep on. The people that we went to see were extremely sick. Yet, all were extremely friendly and were more worried about making sure that we were comfortable than they were about themselves. The last woman we saw was very sick and had a very high fever. It was decided that she needed to be rushed to the hospital. Her family had no means of transportation so we loaded her into the landrover with us and dropped her off. She was crying and moaning and when her toddler son realized we were taking her he started screaming. He knew something was wrong with her and he didnt want to let her out of his sight. It was heart breaking to see as we drove away that he was wailing at the top of his lungs trying to pull away from his siblings so he could run after us. We did not stay at the hospital so I don't know if she is doing better but I can only hope.

On a completely different topic, there are dogs everywhere in Uganda. The people here raise dogs to protect their property and for security. They don't treat them like we do in the states. Most of the dogs fear people because they have been beaten so many times. I was talking to our night guard Tom and he was telling me it is normal for the dogs to be kept in a dog house all day and only let out at night. He said they do this because it makes the dogs bark and growl at everyone except the person that feeds them. Two of his dogs, Foxie and Snoopie (I call her snoopaloops) have been hanging out a lot at our house. The owner of Toms property (he is a caretaker by day) thinks that there are too many dogs on his compound and he thinks they are useless because they don't bark at strangers. He has decided he wants to kill all except a few and buy more to train to be better guard dogs. Tom doesnt really want them killed so he lets Snoopie and Foxie come to our compound. There are holes in the fence so they can come and go as they please but they tend to stay around most of the time. We are still not able to touch Foxie though he does sometimes come sleep near us on the porch. Snoopie we tamed in three days. When we first met her we couldn't touch her. A day later we could pet her but she had her tail between her legs and was nervous. Now when she see us her tail starts wagging and she comes running. If we stop petting her she puts her paws in our lap and tries to lick us. She is currently rolled up in a ball sleeping on our porch. They feed them a little bit of Posho which is a rice flour/water mixture but mostly they rely of scavenging. When they hear us take the trash out to the pit in the back yard they come running. Snoopie is not quite a year old and had puppies a few months ago (spaying and neutering is not a priority when you barely have enough money to feed your family). She was very skinny so now we feed her and Foxie our scraps from dinner and the heels from our loaves of bread. She has put on some weight and looks healthier. She is even learning how to play. I worry what will happen to her when we leave. I am afraid they will kill her. She is so sweet and friendly. Tom says that he will look after her until the next fellows come but I am skeptical. I worry that she won't stay around that long without someone at the house feeding her and giving her affection everyday or that they will kill her anyway. Being an animal lover is hard here in Uganda because they are not seen as pets and are not treated very well.
Sharon.jpg Sharon, Toms 5 year old daughter
boys.jpg Mark and Isaac climbing our tree
climbing.jpg Isaac Mark and Edwin Climbing
Edwin.jpg Edwin being typical Edwin
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snoopie.jpg Snoopie
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Cows_on_my_road.jpg Cows strolling down the road in front of the house

Ryna_and_S..utreach.jpg Stephanie and Ryna counting pills at the outreach

Clinic_at_outreach.jpg Clinic at Iki Iki Outreach
meal.jpg Typical Meal of Rice, Chapati, Matoke, and Gnut Sauce
Traffic_Jam.jpg Traffic Jam of Matatus (Taxis) in Kampala
Hostel.jpg The Hostel
Tomskidsan..nephews.jpg Toms Kids and His Nieces and Nephews
IsaacAngelaSamSharon.jpg Isaac Angela Sam Sharon
IssacSoccer.jpg Isaac Playing Soccer
Me_and_Hedgehog.jpg Hedgehog
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Posted by marcelle25 12:37 Comments (1)

Sipi Falls and Hedgehogs!

We went to Sipi Falls this weekend as well as to Mount Wanale. It was a great time. We went with TASO members and some people from the TEACH program. The place was beautiful. I took some pictures which I will post. I even stood on top of the waterfall and looked down. Words don't describe the beauty and pictures don't do it justice. On the hike up to the waterfall we also found a cave. Now I would love to have turned on my flashlight and explored the cave but I promised my husband that I would not do any cave explorations while I was here. Uganda has had a few Marburg Virus outbreaks that they believe are caused from bats in caves. Many of you are well aware of my fascination with Marburg, Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers but I am not so crazy as to become a victim of said viruses. Kenneth, the boy that was helping me up the mountain, did give me a smokey quartz crystal from the cave though....Which I excitedly accepted. We walked across multiple rickety bridges to climb up and then back down the mountain. I almost fell off one. Luckily I caught myself or I would have rolled down the mountain. I can't imagine that would have been pleasant. Overall it was a great day and I returned home covered in mud and smiling from ear to ear.

Last night we were in the house making dinner when I heard Stephanie let out a shout. She had a baby snake in her room. It was so small that it was actually stuck in a spider web in the corner. Since I like snakes I quickly came to the rescue. I used a piece of paper to scoop it up and stuck it in a ziplock bag. I wanted Tom to take a look at it to make sure it wasn't poisonous before I left it go outside. He informed us that they stay very small and that they are harmless. Everyone wanted to kill it but I refused. I walked down the street and let it go. Then a few hours later I hear a yell from Tom outside. We ran out the door to see what was going on. He had captured a hedgehog for us. We didn't realize it but they run wild all over our backyard at night. I played with two of them and took a few pictures. I am going to go searching again tonight to find some more so that I can take better pictures.

Other than that there is nothing new here. I did find an Indian restaurant that was cockroach free and quite delicious! It is called Landmark Inn and it is very close to our house. I imagine I will be going there often.

DSC00487a.jpgHedgehog
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DSC00476a.jpgSnake
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DSC00443a.jpg Stream on mountain
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DSC00381a.jpgBoys leading us through mountain trail
DSC00422a.jpgPeter standing on top of waterfall
DSC00438a.jpgRickity Bridge
DSC00474a.jpgSipi Falls
DSC00294a.jpgTASO group on Mount Wanale
DSC00337a.jpgCute Baby at Viewpoint
DSC00339a.jpgAnother Cute Kid at Viewpoint
DSC00340a.jpgRyna and Stephanie at Viewpoint
DSC00347a.jpgStream on Mountain
DSC00356a.jpgBridge at Base of Mountain
DSC00357a.jpgSipi Falls
DSC00375a.jpgAnother Scary Bridge
DSC00386a.jpgOur Guide
DSC00406a.jpgTASO Group at Sipi Falls
DSC001770001.jpgHouse Gecko
DSC001810001.jpgView From Our House
DSC001970001.jpgMatoke Tree in Our Yard
DSC002060001.jpgMe holding a Gecko
DSC002120001.jpgOur House
DSC002130001.jpgFlowering Tree
DSC002250001.jpgBird

Posted by marcelle25 03:34 Comments (8)

From Picky Eater to Carb Junkie

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I have had a couple of people ask me about the food in Uganda and what I eat so here is a description. For breakfast, someone brings Tea and a snack to our office around ten. Usually the snack is something like fried dough, chapatti, or roasted groundnuts. At one in the afternoon our lunch is brought to us. It consists of rice, beans, groundnut sauce, what I think is boiled kale, and either posho or matoke. Posho is kind of like grits only so thick that it is almost in cake form. It has no flavor and I usually smother in g-nut sauce. Matoke is a staple here. It is like a banana only it is not sweet and doesn’t really have any flavor. It is mashed together and steamed in its leaves. It is extremely dense and I dip it in g-nut sauce in order to eat it. For dinner we usually have a meal that we make at home consisting of a rice dish or a pasta dish. Yes! I am in a carb coma almost every day!

I do not eat meat here. Not even seafood. If you saw the butcher shops you would understand. The meat is hung up in front of the shop in the open air in the heat. Flies land all over it and the smell is horrendous. The other day we were walking by a butcher shop and there was this almost gelatinous pile of skin lying on the ground. It took me a minute but then I realized it was the skin of a freshly butchered goat.....it made me sick to my stomach.

We used to eat out quite a bit until this week when we had a bad experience. We decided to take a break from the TASO lunch and we went to an Indian restaurant called Dawat (there is a large proportion of Indian immigrants here because Uganda was once used as a trading hub). A previous fellow recommended the restaurant to us. We walked over and found it was in an alleyway. We walked up the stairs, which reminded me of the rickety wooden and rope bridge that Indiana Jones has to walk across in the Temple of Doom. The boards creaked and moved under our feet. They were cracked and I feared I was going to fall through. When we got into the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised. It seemed rather clean and nice. We ordered our meals and chatted while we waited. When our food came, the server sat the tray down on our table and a white roach ran off it toward Ryna. She jumped out of the way and it made its way to the floor. The server smiled and laughed like it was no big deal. She sat our food and baskets of Nan down and left. We began to eat the Nan and about 20 seconds later a baby roach came crawling out of Stephanie’s basket. My Nan quickly dropped from my mouth onto my plate. I searched through my basket and found the tail end of an adult roach in the bottom. Needless to say, I was not eating any more. The girls continued to eat cautiously. After they were done, we paid and all but ran out of the building. We will never eat there again!

We will definitely go out to a restaurant again but not before checking with others about its reputation and cleanliness. I know there are often roaches in restaurants and that is okay as long as they are not running through my food! For now, we go to the market and buy fresh produce. It is kind of like a farmers market. Everyone is lined up at stalls with their tomatoes, matoke, eggplant, watermelons, pumpkin, oranges, pineapple, passion fruit, beans and rice. You have to bargain for prices but they are usually pretty fair with their first offer. For other things, we go to the supermarket. However, what they call a supermarket reminds me more of a 7-eleven and the selection is only a little better.

I have settled into my house quite nicely. The spiders no longer bother me and I have made friends with the many geckos and skinks. My roomate handles the spiders and I catch the lizards and take them outside. The other day I was trying to catch a gecko when it ran into the pocket of my book bag. I scooped him up and, after a few pictures, released him into the back yard. I also have a few bats that live above my bed in the ceiling. They cannot get into my room and I believe they come and go through a hole in the attic. I don't mind their squeaking and occasional thudding on the ceiling and I figure they eat the bugs and mosquitoes that linger near my window. Last night they were very quiet and I couldn't sleep. I was worried something had happened to them, but this morning when I turned my light on they let me know they didnt want to be woken up by squeaking and pitching a fit.
It is strange being one of the few "mzungus" in town. People are constantly staring at us. On our way home, we pass by the children leaving from school. They stare at us as if we have a third eye on our forehead. If we say hi to them, they usually smile and laugh. We have made friends with our night guard Tom's kids. He has a set of 5-year-old twins, Edwin and Sharon, and a 7-year-old boy named Isaac. They have a soccer ball from the last fellows and can't wait for us to invite them in to play. Every day they sit out by the gate and wait for us. We told them that they could come over on Friday after school to play. On Wednesday, we were inside reading when we heard kids yelling and banging on the gate. It was the kids yelling "mzungus let us in" and "dephanie open up". I assume that was their attempt at Stephanie's name. Tom talked to them and explained that they could come over on Friday. I am sure we will have our hands full with a bunch of kids under the age of ten, but it will be nice to play around and have some fun.
We had a brief meeting today with Peter, the Social Support Officer from TASO. He needs to clone himself because he does a little of everything including supporting the orphaned and vulnerable children by getting funding to pay their school fees and helping us with our various questions and needs. He gave us the schedules of the different departments so that we could plan to go on outreaches. We will be attending outreaches for the PMTCT program with the medical staff and with the counseling staff on different occasions. In an outreach the doctors, counselors and other staff go to neighboring towns to visit clients that are too far away to travel to the center for treatment. In some towns, they use local clinics and in other towns, they set up under the shade of a tree and treat clients or go visit the families in their homes. I am very excited to go with them. TASO is an amazing organization and I am enthusiastic to see them in action. They have limited resources yet they have made a huge difference in Uganda and in the health of its people. I am eager to learn all that I can from them.

Posted by marcelle25 23:53 Comments (1)

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