Friday, March 27, 2009


So it is a bit of a coincidence that I am posting my last photos of Africa on the occasion of my 40th birthday. At the risk of sounding sappy, when I look back on my life so far, going to Africa and hanging out with these kids seems like the only genuinely worthy, human, unselfish thing I've ever done. I think it is therefore fitting, all things having converged at this point, to close out this blog with a few of the portraits that I shot of the kids.

There isn't much more to say. Thanks very much, again, to my wonderful readers, you've made this trip and writing this blog a great experience. And mostly, thanks to you wonderful, bright, beautiful kids from the UJV for letting me hang out with you. Soon you again soon.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I've spent some time uploading my last Africa photos to my Flickr Photostream (where you can see LOTS more photos of Africa if you care to) and updating this blog. I think I'm going to close out this blog with some of the portraits of the UJV kids, but before then I'm posting these outtakes of the UJV kids from my last week in Uganda.

Jack and Ethel: Update, Opportunity

It seems that lots of you were inspired by the story about the Jack and Ethel Educational Center. Well I'm about to give you an opportunity to be moved even further..... and to actually donate. Before I left Uganda I visited the J&E and whilst there they gave me a swack of 10 limited Edition Jack and Ethel bumper stickers, pictured here:

What makes these babies so hot, especially compared to your garden variety 'I honk for Toosh' or 'Plumbers do it with Pipe' stickers, is that NO ONE ELSE in North America has one. That is to say a J&A bumper sticker is a true symbol of your individuality and distinctiveness of character.

I am raffling off the 10 J&E sticks to ten distinct individuals for the lean price of $100 each. All proceeds will go directly to the Jack and Ethel and will be used to buy reading materials, finish construction on a new class room, thereby allowing the addition of new students, and to provide meals for the children. So for a mere c-note you can feel both unique and ethically upright. Please contact me directly if you care to buy one.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

And In The End, The Love You Take....

I wanted to complete this blog in Africa. Unfortunately, because I'll be processing and adding photos after I am back, it will have a bit of a trailing ending.

I'm on the porch drinking my last coffee in Africa for this trip and I'm terribly sad to be leaving. This trip has been an amazing chapter for me, one that has changed me. All the things that people tell you about Africa are true, but that doesn't prepare you for the direct experience of how true they are. Jon, if you're reading, you were right, it gets into your blood.

I'd like to find an organization to work with to keep doing support work in Africa. If you know any please refer them to me. I've also picked up a few good, small, 'on-the-ground' causes that I am going to be supporting, if anyone cares to join in.

Thanks to everyone who helped me get here with donations and support. While I was the person who was 'in-country', this was a group endeavor and I hope I availed myself well.

I'd like to thank all the friends I met in Africa. The amazing UJV staff who put up with the loud, sweaty white guy with the huge camera. Brent and the Mengo White trash, and Leffke. Of course I'd really like to thank Nicole, my travelling partner and the person who got me here. Lydia and Lana, my stylish bushwomen mentors for taking me with them to Acholiland, that was one of the best things that I've ever done. Lydia, good luck with the wedding. Lana, well you know.

I'd like to thank the kids at the UJV. You are an amazing bunch of people and I look forward to watching you grow up and seeing the incredible people I know you will become. You are my little brothers and sisters and I will miss you every day until I return.

I have really gotten a taste for blogging and I intend to keep doing it at;

I'll be posting new photos and words there. If you care to hear about my struggles with culture shock, economic recession, and reintegration into Canadian culture that would be the place.

In closing, I'd like to thank the people who've read or followed this blog. I have no idea how many you were, but based upon the huge amount of feedback I received it was more than I expected. As amazing as Africa is, at times I felt lonely and knowing that someone was reading helped ameliorate that.

Photos Pending.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Gift of Hard Reality

The other night I went to a birthday party. The birthday girl, an impressive person, an Acholi, a survivor of the atrocities of the north, a university educated accountant, turning 23, is an employee of the UJV. This party was different, or rather I was; the only white person in the room, the oldest person ("you're 40 and not married, how is this so?"), the only non-Christian, the one shooting snaps with the big camera. (I also ended up making the cake, my first since I was a kid, an acceptable success).
I must admit that I was impressed with the people. The girls were all incredibly gorgeous, and all the guests were clean cut, stylish, and well dressed. All were university educated and ambitious, they talked, danced, and sang exhuberantly. I was struck by how many truly exceptional people were present.

Much as I like the 'social-circle' acquaintances that I meet, and I'm not talking about my close friends here, I am rarely stunned by them. They might be 'hot', 'nice', or 'cool', but I rarely if ever think them 'great'. These people, on the other hand, seemed all exceptional.

At points, conversation was moderated, 'church group' style, with a leader designating a speaker. Some toasted the birthday girl, others just eloquently spilled their guts. A lanky man, let's call him 'Alex', obviously well educated, talked about the recent death of his older sister, whom he clearly loved and admired greatly, to a sudden, arbitrary, and seemingly harmless infection. It had prompted a strong desire in him to have children, lest some quick death rob him of the chance. The group chimed in with their own multitudinal losses, hardly a soul in the room, myself aside, had not lost brothers and sisters and parents and relatives and old friends and co-workers and mentors and neighbours and fellow survivors.... the room felt thick with ghosts and death sat in the corner.

You and I, we might think we have lost, our grandmas and occasional parents or friends. But if we had truly lost, we would not gather and drink and talk about real estate, or careers, or what we had just bought, or our blogs or bands, or the economy, or new music. We'd, at least for a quiet second, hold each other and honour the dead. The ghosts. The ones who weren't there. The few, comparitively, that we have.

It seemed to me, in that room, that the pervasive presence of death brings something out in the character of a person, like a hard threshing that separates the husk from a person, a cold wind that fills your sails. Maybe it's just that much more appreciation for life. We in Canada, with our low mortality rates and incredible health care system and reliable sanitation systems and plentiful food supply, are robbed of that and I fear that it dulls us.

Alex and his friend Ken drove me home in a lovely, new-model 4WD station wagon, an Audi or Volvo, listening to contemporary African- American soul along the way. When we got to Kitunzi, where I live, they were shocked.... "You live here, in this neighborhood? It's dangerous! You're not scared?"

Nah, it's Fine. Thanks very much for the ride, and the good music. I'll be ok.

Obama Ruined Canada

Dear Mr. Obama. I am currently in Africa, and with all due respect Sir, you have ruined Canada. Allow me to explain.

Years ago I incorrectly guessed that a New Zealander I'd met was from Australia. With beatific dignity he replied " Auz, but bettahhhhh'. Since then I've often used that myself when asked if I was American....."Canada, like the U.S., but.......BETTER!!!!!".

The Bush 'W' years were great for being Canadian, the 'salad days' of Canadian self-righteousness. Everyone hated the US and loved us Canucks, most satisfyingly the few remaining rational Americans. This era saw the rise of the 'Self Hating Yank', an intelligent, guilt-ridden liberal from New York, Northern California, or Seattle. My friend Zach actually flaggellated himself everyday for 8 years, like a prostrate monk doing pennance for the bad voting habits of southern rednecks and soccer moms. For a while, as the US economy crashed like a cheap Pontiac on a crumbling New Jersey turnpike, our dollar was even worth more than theirs. Despite the fact that this resulted in my taking a %20 pay cut, it felt great to watch restaurants refusing greenbacks offered by American tourists. It was like their ears were unable to comprehend the words "your money is no good here".

What a great f'n time for the maple leaf. I walked with my nose high in the air and got used to the adoration, the drinks people bought me, the phone numbers foreign girls gave me, perhaps hoping for a strong Canuck husband who might give them a good home in Montreal, Winnipeg, or Ottobicoke.

Not so anymore. Post Obama, foreigners no longer look at you suspiciously, with slitted eyes, and mutter "American"? They run up to you, bright faced, and hopefully exclaim "American"! When I desperately retort with that impotent NZ line, "No, Canadian! Better!" they slap down "Obama!!!!!" like some kind of sick trump card. F**k off kid, we built the hospital in your refugee camp!

It's not just Barak's fault either. It's Alberta's. Compared to Bush, Harper looked like some kind of bumbling, harmless Gollum character. He was ugly, but you could safely ignore him. But let's face it, with our neighbours to the south having suddenly and unexpectedly gotten their s**t together, and Molmar Quadaffi hanging out with Bill Gates, we are being led by the worst neo-liberal, neo-fascist, carbon burning, goose stepper on the planet. Comon, with a few more seats in the house this guy would be banning Harry Potter books cus they promote sorcery, putting gay people and Quebecers in concentration camps, and outlawing trash recycling and dancing in public (except line dancing, he loves that s**t). People, we need to elect a cool, left leaning, non-white person ASAP (hey Liberals >>>>> Ujahl Dosanj??????) before the rest of the world adopts the 'Ugly Canadian' moniker and I am forced to rip the little flags off my luggage. If not we will be reduced to trotting out Michael Ignatieff in black face, like some kind of twisted, ivy-league Al Jolson.

Mr. Obama, in making America more like Canada, a move I supported you in doing (and props to you for making Canada your first state visit, you are welcome back any time), you have taken away one of the best things about being Canadian.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

All Blogs Go To Heaven

Tragedy has struck and my ambitions to keep photo blogging have suffered a serious setback; my laptop has totally stopped booting up and is completely dead. This means that for my last week in Uganda I am limited in my ability to follow the Vancouver Canucks, keep current with Obama's incredible plans to rebuild the United States, and unable to process and post photos to this blog. I still have my iPhone (the most incredible travelling companion ever, I can't describe how useful it's been here), upon which I'm writing this, so I can still make text postings. You'll just have to wait a week or so till I get back home for me to update it with photos. If it's any consolation, the portraits I've been taking of the kids look pretty great and I think they will be worth the wait.

Thanks to everyone for the great feedback, it means a lot.

If anyone cares to email or FB me the scores of Canucks games, as well as say 'hi', that would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Jack and Ethel

While the UJV is my primary reason for being here, it's pretty easy to find lots of good, grass roots causes to support in Uganda. One morning I was asked if I wanted to see a school just beside Kitunzi where I live. The School, the Jack and Ethel, is a local community school that offers free primary education, kindergarten through Grade six, to 120 under privileged children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to go to school. The school came into being after a woman, Ethel, who had recently lost her husband of many years, Jack, decided to donate their farm to build a charity school. With the largest expense, rent, out of the way, the principal, a teacher and Ethel and Jacks daughter, needed only to secure funding to pay modest teacher salaries. The Ugandan Ministry of Education has provided bare-bones funding and the school has run for several years. Ethel even provides lunches for children who cannot afford to bring their own.

What is so impressive about the Jack and Ethel is the results they have achieved with such little resource. Not only are 120 children getting education that they would not otherwise get, and doing so without proper funding, they are posting impressive scholastic results. You see children who graduate from primary school must compete to enter secondary school and there are far less seats available than applicants. Most people in Uganda pay high private school fees to place their children in prestigious (and thus expensive) primary schools that boast high secondary acceptance rates. But the Jack and Ethel has posted acceptance rates that a nearly equal to expensive private schools.

The Principal of the Jack and Ethel told me what the budget was and its was pitifully low in American currency terms. She also outlined plans that she would carry out to improve the school if she found a source of funding. This included completing construction on new buildings and expanding the number of students to 200, feeding the kids better lunches, and buying reading materials for the children. The latter being a prime concern as they currently cannot afford books for the kids. The staff don't even have a single computer to view the photos I took of them.

As you can see from the photos, the children are beautiful and very happy to be going to school. As we walked about, they enthusiastically recited oral drills, and each class tried to outdo the last.

The Jack and Ethel is a perfect cause for one of my better funded readers to take up and support. For a few hundred dollars per term you could improve the lives of these kids and expand the services the school offers. This is direct charity support work, as I could put anyone in touch with the school administrators and you could donate the money directly to them. There would be no middle man, every dollar donated would go right into valuable community development services. We could even come back here in a year or two and visit the Jack and Ethel to see where the money has gone.