Thursday, January 17, 2008

Last Day and Ashley’s Ego Boost

We awakened yesterday to another beautiful morning. But, I was stressed, USD life was looming on the horizon. Blah. So, Ashley and Raffie did their best to distract me, mainly by making me do dishes and the three of us packed up the lab. We have some minor things left to pack, but we are ready for our trip to Kampala. What a difference! We will be traveling with two empty suitcases on our return leg!!!

Our Business colleagues were stressed as they finished their paper and presentation at the last minute, but they got it done despite a technical glitch when the printer didn’t work. We gave our presentations to the Hospital Committee and they were very well received. Our fecal coliform counts were a “hit.” The Archbishop (The Archbishop and James Earl Jones were twins separated at birth!) commented several times how the chemists made him afraid to brush his teeth! We all exchanged gifts – the committee received USD shirts and we received Ugandan shirts (men) and dresses for the women. We looked hot in our pictures last night!

We had dinner with the committee, and Anita asked us all to comment publicly on our time in Uganda. Raffie and Ashley did great jobs, and everyone spoke about the hospitality we have received. After this, the formal part of the evening ended, and as Raffie put it, the good looking doctor made a beeline for Ashley. However, he was about to be one-upped. Anita called Ashley over to introduce her to the Archbishop. While the Bishop was talking to Ashley, Anita whipped out her camera and got a picture. During the public comments we made, when Ashley stood up, the Bishop asked Anita who Ashley was. Anita commented that she was one of the chemists and one of my best students. He was SHOCKED! She is a scientist? Apparently the Archbishop told Ashley during their introduction that Ashley should be on fashion TV and be a model! Great…Raffie and I get to deal with Supermodel Ashley for the remainder of our trip. There is no way she is getting me to spring for an upgrade on our flights!!!!

We are packed up and ready to go. Time for us to get breakfast and get on the bus for our second to last time. Check this for pics after we get back. We will probably have one last post to wrap things up.

Love to all,

Jim, Ashley, and Raffie

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An Experience of a Lifetime

WOW! That does not sum up the past two days, but it is a start. We finished Sunday night by cooking for all of our Ugandan friends. It was amazing. Think Thanksgiving Ugandan style, with some American spices and innovation. Ashley and I were in charge of toasting the chapate (a Ugandan pita) into something resembling tortilla chips. The mango salsa was to die for. Although, we are not so sure our Ugandan friends appreciated the spicy guacamole. Everyone had an amazing time!

We were off the next morning at 8:30 am for Queen Elizabeth National Safari Park where we had reservations at the Mweya Resort. The drive took us through the mountains that are home to the mountain gorilla and lasted four hours. We stopped at another resort to use the rest rooms only to discover the true meaning of the Rift Valley. What a view. We will definitely post pictures of this one. At that point we were about an hour from our destination.

We started down the mountain and entered the park. As soon as we turned on to the road, we were all amazed at the sheer number of large animals we saw. On that short drive to our hotel, we saw kobs, wart hogs, and water buffalo. We stopped at the main gate of the park, and Raffie took a picture of me that I hope appears in Cardplayer Magazine! We then wandered near the gate and there was a wart hog munching away on the grass. Now, this wart hog was HUGE! Its tusks were probably 6 inches long, and Raffie and I got within 10 meters of it to take a picture. No fences, no zoo signs warning that these animals bite. Just a wart hog and us. Very, very cool!

We continued into the park, through the security entrance to the hotel complex, and Eric (one of the business students) yells, “Hippo!” And sure enough, there was a hippo grazing away just inside the entrance. We proceeded to the hostel in the hotel complex for their lunch buffet and we saw a colony of marmots. Raffie got a ton of pictures. While we were eating lunch two wart hogs ran through the area. They were maybe 20 feet away from me!

After lunch we checked into the hotel and rushed down to the boat dock for a tour of the shoreline of the canal that connects Lake Edward and Lake George. Raffie, Ashley, and their other 4 roommates walked to the dock (due to a miscommunication) while we took the bus. Raffie took a slide on the wet dirt “pavement” but had no real injuries other than mud stained pants. As we got on the boat, Father Bonaventure asked the captain if there were any snakes around. The captain said yes, they often see cobras near the boat launch area! (Sorry Mom!) On the boat ride we saw nearly 100 hippos, several crocodiles (the largest was over 2 meters!), kobs, water buffalo, fishing eagles (one caught a fish right in front of our boat!), many other species of birds, and a fishing village. Upon our return to the hotel, it was time for HOT showers (with water pressure and everything!), and happy hour. Uncle Jack and I got reacquainted! While we were sitting on the balcony, we saw a herd of elephants frolicking in the lake! Dinner was great, but Raffie and Ashley left early because Raffie was not feeling well. We found out the next morning that about the time they walked back to their rooms, 2 lions and 1 elephant were spotted in the hotel complex! Scary!!!!

Our jeep-borne safari began at about 6:30 am, with a 30 minute drive to the main road, and along the way we saw several solo water buffalo (these are usually males that have lost a dominance battle, and are now lion bait), herds of water buffalo (one snorted at me!), more kobs, and the larger water buck. The San Diego Zoo is great, and so is the Wild Animal Park but this trip was so far beyond that. The animals were RIGHT NEXT TO THE CAR!

We started on to even more undeveloped roads. They were really just trails. Within minutes we saw two elephants off in the distance. We got some great pictures. One left right away, but a very large male stayed and watched us for a while. Even at 400 meters, he was impressive. The next 45 minutes or so were amazing. More kobs, more buffalo, and beautiful scenery. As we came around a turn in the trail, there were 5 or 6 jeeps stopped, with everyone taking pictures. LION!!!!! She was about 50 meters from our jeep. She was hidden in tall grass, and definitely in stalk mode. There was a huge herd of kob about 300 meters away. We stayed there for over 40 minutes, waiting for the strike that never happened. However, being that close to a lion was impressive, intimidating, and an experience we would not pass up!

We moved off for some more views and started to see more wart hogs. Kob and water bucks were also everywhere. We saw several animals that had lost dominance battles. One water buck lost one horn and most of his second. He was pretty much lion and/or hyena fodder at that point. As we came back from a view of a volcanic crater lake, which now serves as a salt mine, our guide (Vincent) said, “Let’s go back and see if we can see the lion again.” As we were moving down the trail, Sister Margaret shouted out “ELEPHANT!” And there he was, a big, bull elephant within 20 meters of our jeep. He is an absolutely amazing animal! We stopped there for about 10 minutes or so enjoying the view and taking pictures and video. After we left this second elephant, we were very close to where saw our first lion. There was one jeep there, but looking at the other side of the “road.” There she was, a female lion behind a bush, eating a warthog she had killed within the past hour or so! Vincent was able to get us within 5 meters of her! Absolutely amazing! We stayed there for almost half an hour watching her, listening to her crunch through the leg bones of the warthog. She may have even had cubs nearby. We did not want to leave, but we realized that we had an experience that was way beyond what most people have when they take a safari in the park!

We returned to the hotel, only to discover we needed to be out of our rooms by 11 am (it was 10:55 and we had not had breakfast yet!). We had a nice breakfast buffet, but another shower would have been a perfect end to the morning! We spent the rest of the time buying souvenirs, and watching the elephants in the distance. The elephants provided our drama for the morning. We watched as one of the juveniles lay on the ground, and the other elephants in the herd gathered around. From a distance, we thought it was dead. However, not all was lost. When we came back from lunch, the elephants were all gone, including the one that was on the ground. We later saw the elephants again frolicking in the water. We don’t know if the juvenile was sick, but all the elephants were in much better spirits when we left the park.

To top off our day, we left the park by the back route. We were half way to the main road when we were overrun by a troop of baboons! There were large males, females, juveniles, and babies! One male (the dominant male?) stopped right in front of my window and just sat there! He was definitely keeping an eye on us to make sure we did not do anything that might harm the others! What an end to our day at the park!

Our trip back to Montfort was uneventful, and we are finishing up for the night! We have meetings tomorrow with the community advisory board followed by dinner. We leave first thing Friday morning for Kampala where we will stay overnight before our flight home. We may write a brief note tomorrow, but that will be it until we get home on Sunday. Hope all is well!

Jim, Ashley, and Raffie

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rainy rainy Uganda

Good morning! We were awakened to our third morning of a downpour/thunderstorm. This is more along the line of what I expected coming to Africa during the rainy season. It has awakened all of us at about 5:30 am to the sound of rain on the metal roofs of the building. There are worse ways to wake up. My issue is just that I am wide awake at 3 am…good times.

Yesterday was our last long day in the lab. We finished up all of our analyses on the river water and some samples from the town of Ibanda. Let me tell you, you do not want to drink the water from there…the amount of fecal coliform colonies were uncountable. One of these water samples even came from a supposedly protected spring.

We were invited to Bosco’s house (Bosco is the driver for the Archbishop) for a pork bbq. The hospitality of all Ugandans is amazing. Bosco cooked a pig in the ground, and it was awesome! Even Ashley who does not normally eat pork went back for seconds. We (the whole group) are cooking for the staff of Montfort House tonight. Should be fun!

We leave on our safari tomorrow morning, so we will be out of touch for a few days. Lions and cheetahs and elephants, oh my!

Jim

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I-12-2008

An early Happy Birthday Dad!!!

So, let’s see what has happened since the last time we wrote.

On Friday the 11th, we were supposed to go to Comboni to visit the hospital there. However, Ashley has been fighting a mild cold for most of the trip, and we decided it was in the best interest of the patients at the hospital that she not go. I was uncomfortable leaving a student here by herself, so I stayed behind too. We ended up spending a quiet day reading while Raffie, the Business students, and the Nursing students visited the hospital and got lunch in the town of Mbarara. I must admit, having two relaxing days in a row is somewhat foreign to my current lifestyle. I finished one book, started another, played some poker, and actually slept for 5 hours straight one night. Hmmm, can you say stress related insomnia?

>>Meanwhile, I was on a bus to Comboni, an hour and a half ride. Coming along with us were two sisters from the Archdiocese as well as a young man who I found out later was an electrician coming to fix the water pump at the hospital. The hospital is usually supplied with running water, but will not have that luxury available for the next few days because they need to order and install a replacement part in the pump. Once we arrived in Comboni, Sister Mary, the hospital administrator, immediately greeted us. We were reunited with our nursing friends in a pleasant sitting room where breakfast was waiting for us. I also met a doctor at the hospital who was very friendly: “Hello. Come sit by me. I’m Dr. Moses, and I’m available!” While the nurses went on final rounds with Dr. Moses, we toured the facilities and had a chance to visit the hospital accountant (which was very helpful for the business students) as well as the laboratory (which was interesting for me). Overall I thought that the hospital was very organized and well run. The facilities were clean and the lab was very sophisticated, with all the capabilities of US hospital labs except for PCR and DNA hybridization. Leaving the lab I started to feel nauseous and then very faint, like I was going to pass out (don’t freak out, Mom). Luckily there was a nurse there to support me and after a little fresh air I felt just fine. An old man saw my difficulty walking outside and offered me his walking stick, which he obviously needed himself. I couldn’t accept it, but the generosity of the people here continues to amaze me. Another thing that I liked about the hospital was the singing! Many people in the waiting areas were singing and dancing with one another to pass the time and to cheer one another – something that would never happen in the US!

We got back on the bus and had them drop us off in downtown Mbarara, where we had lunch at a place called Agip Hotel, which was recommended to us by a Peace Corps volunteer that stopped by the Montfort House the other night. The food was amazing! I had pizza with mushrooms, tomatoes, and pineapple…a nice change from fried potatoes and goat meat. We decided to take the long way back through town and some neighboring villages. Everywhere we go here kids run out to greet us and to get a good look at the “Muzungu” (Muzungu is plural and Buzungu is singular). Sometimes they walk with us, or follow closely behind, giggling among themselves. The two hour walk was refreshing despite the hot sun, and we finally arrived back the Montfort House. Ok, I’ll hand the keyboard back over to Dr B. now.
-Raf<<

Today (12th) was our second sampling day. When we woke up at 6 am, it was raining, and none of us wanted to go trudging through those trails, and be soaked to the skin in an early morning African rainstorm. We went back to bed, and finally went sampling about 9:45 am. Our sampling walk was uneventful. No naked African men on this trip, but about 8 naked African boys between the ages of 4 and 10. We ran into our friends Isaac, Boaz, and Brian. They asked that we send them the pictures we took with them, and we will as soon as we get a faster internet connection. We might also give them team shirts too. We also met a Muslim man and his son. They were very interested in what we were doing, and Ashley had a captive audience of about 15 kids while she used the multimeter to get various parameters on the water. The father was talkative and seemed to understand what we told him about the project. He had heard of the project by the diocese and was very supportive of it as he thanked us for our efforts.

We visited our 4 downstream sites first and returned to Montfort House. Ashley stayed behind to start doing the fecal coliform analysis while Raffie and I walked to our one easily accessible upstream site. As we got closer, it started to sprinkle, and the dark clouds in the distance made it perfectly clear that we were going to get soaked. We were able to collect our samples before the rain started, with the distant rumble of thunder. We met a Ugandan gentleman at the site and he wanted to know what we were doing. We told him about the hospital and how we were trying to protect the water in the river. He thanked us for our work. This has been a common theme throughout our trip. I read the comment that “Bill” left on the blog. I could not disagree more. Yes, there is factional strife in Africa. However, everyone we have talked to welcomed Americans for the their help and generosity. We have met no one who was even the slightest bit anti-USA. We should come here as guests with our expertise and a willingness to help, but all the final decisions must be made by Ugandans. Imposing our will on these people will only drive them away. Give them the tools to succeed, and it seems to me that they will.

Back to our rainstorm. As Raffie and I were walking back, it started raining harder and harder. I made a comment that great, I was in another country where I could potentially get struck by lightning. I then added that I could not die today because it was not August 7th (long story for another time, place, and a few beverages). At that point, the African deities decided to cut loose with a lightning bolt! The first one we had seen! Raffie lost it laughing! We made it back to Montfort House looking like drowned rats, just in time for lunch. It is now beautifully sunny, but hot and humid. We are in the process of another set of samples! Here comes a long night!

Hope everyone is well back home. GO CHARGERS!

Jim

PS Sorry Danny, we broke one of the pumps! : ( We are going to have buff arms by the time we leave (from the hand pumps).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day 5 & 6 – Data Collection and Analysis

(by Raffie)

Really feeling the sore muscles this morning! Got up for an early breakfast, then it was back to the lab. We finished up filtering the last of the water samples, prepped the last three solid phase extraction cartridges, and then started up on nutrients. All was well with nitrate and our fancy-pants electrode, but phosphate and ammonia presented some problems. We are using a new spec that can run on laptop batteries (which was useful when the electricity decided to quit yesterday). We eventually figured out the new equipment and were able to collect data for both ammonia and phosphate, but it took a couple of do-overs and a good amount of time. We also counted fecal coliform bacteria that we had filtered for yesterday. Plenty of poop out there in the river Rwizi! Also, just for fun, we had decided to test our tap water here at the Montfort House as well as out drinking water. We found that the tap contains about 180 colony forming units per 100 ml’s of water! Gross! We shower and wash our hands in that water! But we were relieved to find that at least the purified drinking water here is fecal-free. Meanwhile, our friends the business students were out at the local winery and sampling the local food. We’re jealous! At least they brought some wine and chips back here for us to sample. Dr. Bolender and I decided that pineapple and passionfruit flavors are our favorites, respectively (Ashley passed it up due to allergies). We took the rest of the night off to talk with the business and nursing students about their experiences. The nursing school had gone to the neighboring village of Ibanda to visit and observe the hospital there. From what we gather it was a pretty heavy day with a couple of cases that were tough to deal with. It is amazing to think about the almost unlimited resources we have in the US, whereas here life and death decisions are made based on the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Makes me a little nervous for tomorrow, when we will be joining the nursing students in Camboni to see the hospital there.

The remainder of the night was spent teaching Dr. B some new card games besides poker and relaxing with busy days coming up for the others (we might have been a little louder than we should have been). We are taking today off! Time for laundry and maybe some time for reading/games.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

next days




Days 2 & 3

I realized I left out the name of the lake in the previous post! It is Lake Bunyonyi, near the Uganda – Rwanda border. It was formed when a lava ash flow blocked a river, and the water filled up behind it. The lake is the 3rd deepest in the world, with a depth of 925 meters! It is absolutely beautiful, nestled in the mountainous rainforests of Uganda. It is also at a high enough altitude that we did not need mosquito netting that night!

Oh yeah, as I am writing this, I am sitting under an awning, in the midst of an East African thunderstorm! It rivals some of the best I experienced growing up in the Midwest.

We awakened early on Sunday for breakfast and a boat ride through the lake. We stopped at an island (there are 27 in the lake) where there is a small village of pygmies. We hiked up the hillside, surrounded by children. They knew a smattering of English. “Hello. What is your name? My name is ------. How old are you? I am ten.” Yes, every one of them was 10 years old. Some of the older kids were bolder, “give me money.” Now the folks at the island we stayed at warned us, and we purchased things to give the kids and others on the island. We hiked to the village, and the members of the tribe danced for us. Anita did not want them to feel as if we were just there to take advantage of them, just to see an African tribe in some native performance. So, she got the drummer to play, and most of the team ended up down in the center, dancing for the pygmies! Yeah, even me!!!

As we walked back to the boat, I had two escorts, who in the end wanted money from me. They were extraordinarily cute, but the guilt trip was pretty intense. But, they got “their share” from the gifts we brought along with us. Makes you realize how lucky you are. The trip back was uneventful. It was time for lunch, and then we headed back to Mbarara about 3 pm! (NOOOOOO, 3 more hours on a bus!!!!!)

A brief interlude here. Raffie and Ashley have pretty much attracted attention from our flight between Brussels and Entebbe. The three of us were sitting together in a row of 4 seats. Across the aisle was a Ugandan man who starts chatting up Raffie before take off. Hello. Where are you going? What are you doing? What is your name? etc. He asks how she is getting around in Kampala, and Raffie tells him we are using a bus from the Archdiocese. Edward – No, you must call me, I have contacts for you to get around. Let me give you my number. You must call me…and so on. Before take off he backed off and chatted again with his neighbor. But after we landed, he reminded Raffie to call him. Both of the ladies have gotten some stares, and as we were stopped at a roadside stand I even had an offer from someone who wanted to buy Ashley! Ashley also has a suitor in the name of Isaac. As we were walking to scout our sites, several early teenaged boys were watching, and Isaac made a beeline for Ashley. Let’s just say the Ugandan concept of personal space is very different than the American concept. Ashley eventually broke his heart by ignoring him, leaving me to explain to Isaac and about 20 other Ugandan kids that a GPS handset is really not a telephone!

We arrived at Montfort House (our home in Mbarara) in time to find our rooms, get a shower, and relax. Well, everyone else relaxed – Raffie, Ashley, and I had to get a “lab” set up! We got it in good shape relatively quickly, and it will be our second home over the next ten days.

Monday began with breakfast and a walk to the hospital site. I had packed my backpack so that when were done with that, we could go on and scout out our sampling sites. Well, let’s just say our walk turned into a hike to actually do the downstream portion of our scouting trip. One big problem is that we cannot get to the river from the hospital site. It has a significant grade, and is overgrown with grasses and shrubs. To top it off, as Ashley and Raffie were looking for a trail, they heard a snake rustle through the grass, and everyone headed in opposite directions.

Our walk actually took us to what will be our farthest sampling site first. Along the way, I had the pleasure of rolling my ankle along the side of the road…going to make today’s walk fun. Along the way we picked up some followers, Isaac and his two friends. We were able to scout 4 sites downstream of the future hospital site. Along the way we saw four naked boys, frolicking away in the river…

After lunch we went to visit the National Water and Sewerage Corporation, and met the district manager. He arrange for us to have a tour of their water treatment plant. Now, we had decided that we needed to be well dressed to present the proper appearance. Ashley and Raffie even referred to me as Dr. Bolender! The fun began at the treatment plant…Raffie and Ashley in heels in an industrial setting! We only had one minor issue when Raffie’s heel got caught in the grate we were walking on. The sight of the two of them climbing metal ladders was priceless!

The evening was quiet as we got ready for sampling on Tuesday. All three of us are suffering from minor ailments, but will recover. Hopefully by tomorrow!

Day 4 – SAMPLING!!!

Well, we have a ton to do. This is going to be one of those 18 hour Baja kind of days. There are certain professors at USD that think these trips are drunken debauchery. They really have no clue. We were up at 6 am this morning, and out the door by 6:40 am, walking into the African sunrise. It was spectacular. We got to our first site by 7 am to sample, and then moved on to the second of our four sites. We made a couple of minor wrong turns but had no issues finding our sites. The fun really began when we got to our 2nd downstream site (we were going from 4 to 1). There was a “well endowed man” taking a bath in the river, right across from where we wanted to sample. The girls looked at me and said “you do it!” So I did! He called me a “muzungu” or foreigner. So, we chatted while he bathed, and I sampled!

Probably the highlight of my day was my McGyver moment. I had wanted to get a retractable sampling pole to bring with so that we would not have to get into the river (parasites and all). Well, it never happened. But, we did find this long limb from a tree that had fallen. So, I used my trusty Swiss Army knife to saw it in half and cut a notch for a large hose clamp that I had brought with me. Then, the most important scientific accessory known to man is Duct Tape! I will post pics when I get the chance, but I feel it represents the greatness of yankee engineering!


We made it back to Montfort House by 9 am, just in time to drop off our samples and go catch up with our three guides (Isaac and his friends) to find sampling sites upstream of the hospital. We met at the hospital site about 9:40 am, and started walking, and walking, and even more walking. We got to one of the main highways and started trudging down to a bridge. We found a trail under the bridge and got our samples. Now, keep in mind that we had already hiked about 4 miles, with packs full of water samples and other gear. My pack alone probably weighed 20 pounds, and Raffie and Ashley always carry their weight on these sampling trips, so I am sure their packs were nearly as heavy. So Isaac &Co. take us further along the river. Luckily I had the GPS, and found that we were within 100 meters of our 2nd downstream site! Home of the naked man! Well, sampling on either side of the river at the same “site” does not count…so we had to completely change direction, hike about another 2 kilometers or so to a corn field…yeah, a cornfield, and off they go into this field. About 500 meters through 8 ft high corn we finally get to the river, collect our samples, and head back. One of Isaac’s friends is adamant that we sample a third site! After all, we told them that we wanted 3 sites! Well, using my best judgment, it would have been too time consuming and not really worth it based on the locations of our sites. So we head back. We get back to the hospital site, share some snacks with our guides and pay them. But none of us wanted to get up and walk back to Montfort House (MH). Based on the GPS, we walked between 7 and 8 miles to get our samples today! The estimate on the amount of weight the three of us are going to lose goes up on a daily basis…we are now estimating about 10 pounds…

We get to MH, get some water, some snacks and take off our boots…oh it was ugly. We are all sore in places that we did not know existed. We lapsed into coma’s for a few minutes then got lunch. After lunch, the fun really began!

So, whenever we sample, we also have to filter our samples for further analysis…well, river water is full of fine grained sediment. Our first attempt at filtering resulted in about 100 mls of 3 liters of water filtered before the filter clogged….based on Ashley’s calculation, we would need 300 filters or more to do all of our samples from today and next week….we brought 100 (ooops!). We tried everything we could think of. What we really need is a centrifuge…kinda hard to find that in Uganda. So, our sampling protocol has taken a huge hit. Instead of doing our full blown Baja type sampling, we have really scaled back. Instead of having 3 replicates each for heavy metals, and organic pollution, we will only have one of each. Those replicates will have much smaller volumes and will make our analysis back in SD much more challenging. Talk about frustration! Oh yeah, I also nearly spilled 500 mls of water on our power transformer too…that would have been really bad…So, this is becoming more of a survey trip than a full blown analysis trip. We will try to get all we can, it just won’t be everything I wanted it to be. So as I am typing this, the 3 of us have been going nearly non-stop for 12 hours, and we have another 4 or 5 to go. The really good thing is the three of us get along well enough that we can deal with each other’s individual ups and downs, and it rolls off our backs. So, we will probably be giddy together (again!) in a few hours, and who knows what we will decide to write then!

Until then…Jim.

List of assorted injuries:

Ashley: Bruised Achilles tendon, neck strain from backpack, whole body soreness

Raffie: heel gunge (gross!), allergies!

Jim: sprained ankle, stiff back, sore legs from top to bottom.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Travel and our first day in Uganda


If you are interested in the blog for the entire team, it is at usd-uganda-2008@blogspot.com



Uganda or Bust!

Well, I wish I could say the trip was a piece of cake…We departed USD at 4 am on Thursday January 3rd for our uneventful ride to LAX. Upon arrival, time to check in. Raffie, Ashley and I had 7 bags between us…all except 2 packed with gear. No issues with check in for us, except one bag was overweight. Cost $50…ah well. One of the Nursing students (Robin) found her passport expired in February. American Airlines would not let her on the plane! She needed to have 6 months on her passport before they would let her travel. Long story short, a call to the Ugandan Consulate and she was able to travel.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful, except we departed one hour late. And our flight was one plane, flight # 88, from LAX to Chicago to Brussels. So, no big deal, our connecting flight is the plane we are on. Off we go. We have to get off the plane in Chicago so they can clear it for international travel. Ninety minutes later, we reboard the plane, get settled in, and the head flight attendant comes on the speaker. Welcome aboard, but, they have discovered a severe mechanical problem with our plane (this is the plane we just landed in!!!) and need to fix it. Our 90 minute layover turned into a 4 hour delay. Now, this also means that we miss our flight in Brussels to Nairobi and Entebbe. Contact the gate agent (who was the definition of mediocre) and she tells us, oh, your next flight is cancelled! She spends the next hour booking all of us on the new flight that goes from Brussels to Entebbe followed by Nairobi. With all the unrest in Kenya, jet fuel is unavailable, so no flights are using Nairobi as a stop over.

We get airborne again for our 8 hour flight, but as it turns out, our new flight plan will STILL get us into Entebbe at the same exact time we were scheduled. Off we go. We survive the flight to Brussels, late, and have to check in to get our seat assignments for the Entebbe flight. Raffie and I are the last ones off the plane, have to go through security, and of course Raffie’s bags get completely hand searched! We get to the gate with enough time to brush our teeth, get checked in, and board AGAIN! We get our seats…let me tell you, Brussels Airlines is the way to go. Modern planes, comfortable seats, good movies and food (FREE!!!). I slept through most of that flight. I think Ashley and I were asleep before we completed the takeoff! That is usually Raffie’s job!!! This flight was uneventful. Land in Entebbe, and discover all of our bags arrived! All of our gear, in as many pieces as we packed! NO breaks, no losses, todo esta bien!!!!

The folks, Father Boneventure and Sisters Germina and Margaret meet us, and life is good. We get to a hostel for the night, get showers and actually sleep!

Warning, political commentary – we, the U.S. is so short-sighted for more or less ignoring Africa. I walked out of the airport, and the first thing I see is a sign proclaiming Nanjing China Ltd. as the contractors for the renovations of the airport. Japanese and Chinese characters are everywhere on billboards and office buildings. I think we are missing an opportunity here. Also, San Diegans, we should never complain about gas prices again! Due to the unrest in Kenya, and because Uganda is landlocked, all petroleum products come in through Kenya. I saw a sign advertising gas at 7300 shillings per liter! That is about $4.25!!! About 4 liters to a gallon, and you get $17 per GALLON of gasoline! My normal fill-up of my Mustang would be about $180!!!

Uganda – Day 1 January 5, 2008.

After our night at the hostel, we get an early start to the day and get on the road to Mbarara. We go through the outskirts of Kampala, and see Lake Victoria, the head-waters of the Nile on our way. Noisy, crowded, smoggy, and just a tad bit intimidating. But, once we get out of town, peaceful, GREEN, and definitely tropical. I saw my first termite mound! We stopped at the equator for pictures, and guess what, the legend is true! Water spins down the drain clockwise north of the equator, anti-clockwise south of the equator, and does not spin at all directly on the equator!

So, 4 hours in the bus to get to Mbarara. We are all suffering from flat asses. We get to Mbarara, unload, and promptly turn around for another 3 hour bus ride to Lake , on the border of Uganda and Rwanda – (do not freak out Mom and Dad!). We arrive in time for dinner, have a quiet evening, and nurse our sore backs and butts. A very long day.