Snow Covered Kilimanjaro and Sunny Dar es Salaam

I intended to see the majestic Kilimanjaro. The mountain I heard so much about from friends who had no problem climbing mountains. It was once in my list of mountains to conquer, when the knees, the weight, and the heart are still in their prime.

Anyway, I had a good time at least, watching the brothers when my plane from Nairobi passed over the mountain, exposing its snow-covered top in the early morning of July last year.

At the Nairobi airport watching the sunrise as our plane gets ready to fly to Dar es Salaam and begin my journey

Kibo peak appeared, and I got excited

It feels like Tanzania is just a dream, and Kilimanjaro is an illusion since I visited the country six months ago.

Zoomed
The Kilimanjaro range is seen from the plane
Kibo (the higher peak on the far end) and Mawenzi (the more rugged smaller mountain) brothers

It will take me two days before I can go to where it is located.

Meantime, I enjoyed the warm days on the beach of Dar Es Salaam doing nothing but watch the sea, read, nap, eat, and drink, taking in all the sun I could bear.

Azure Boutique Hotel was a haven. A welcome respite from the heat of Arua in the north of Uganda, west of the Nile river.

The pool outside room 113
Azure
More huts
The gazeebo
The beach
Hallway
The hallway lights – seashells by the ceiling
View from the terrace
View from the terrace slash restaurant
Walkway to the beach from my room

Even the crab fascinates me.

After a good rest, good food and a good night’s sleep. I was excited to plan my next destination and see more of Tanzania.

Home for the Holidays

Ten months after my recovery from an injury in 2018, I accepted a job to support the refugee crisis in Uganda. By mid-November, 2018, I found myself changing continent once again, and psyching myself to live up north, west of the Nile river. 

Uganda, like the Philippines, is mostly Catholic. They have the same faith practice as us, though we are more into the fanfare, colors, and traditions. Theirs from my experience is mostly tradition and loud music.

When December came, instead of me planning to take my holidays outside of my new country, I decided to spend it with the locals. Thinking that since it’s with a family, I’ll get to experience “holidays a la Uganda.” Of course, I had a bias coming from the Philippines where Christmas season begins the moment the months’ last syllables end in “ber.” 

It was not the same. Instead, I get to live and experience, central Uganda way of life, especially on food and experience my good friends family’s faith practice without the fun-fare, lights, and colors I am used in my country. 

That’s why when I was asked to stay for another year, one of my conditions was to be allowed to travel home and spend my collected leave in my home country. 

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As always, the Philippines did not disappoint. 

I arrived with music and decorations fitting to my expectations. The airport was alive with live music from a chorale while families and friends are eagerly awaiting their loved ones. 

At my home, the motif was blue and silver with LED fairy lights. My dad’s little yellow house is like always on fire when the tree is lighted. Food, of course, was what I missed – the traditional rice cakes and the pork dishes I only imagined back in Uganda. 

Meeting friends was inevitable, and it is still fun catching up on what has happened since we last met, also going back to our kindergarten life. 

I got sick, of course. The change in the weather and long travel made me weak after Christmas, so New Year was a little subdued, but still, nothing beats an hour of fireworks display before I return to a slower welcome to 2020. When I welcomed 2019, I was in bed before midnight, and we don’t have the big table of food and pastries that are served to welcome the year, and I was not part of our family’s welcome photo. But this year, our yellow motif was punctuated by me wearing my yellow and black Ketenga cloth wrap dress. 

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As I continue to enjoy my seven weeks break, the Taal volcano, which is 50 kilometers away from where my dad lives, erupted. One moment was still planning to make a road trip; the next thing I knew, all the places we planned to visit is covered in ash. 

The momentum change. I cannot be idle while on holiday. I was avoiding to work, but I cannot let my friends down. I helped in any way I can. 

Two days after it erupted, I had my eye surgery. A minor operation, but very sensitive. It prevented me from going to ash-laden provinces and be at the forefront. Instead, I used my connections to help mobilize support to the most vulnerable people in times like this – the people with disabilities and the elderly. Pretty much the same as what I am doing in Uganda.

I am glad I have friends that are present on the ground and providing specific support to people with disabilities in the evacuation centers. And those, making sure funds received are provided to those that needed them the most. 

In the end, my holidays turning out to be very enriching. I don’t celebrate the hardship people have now because of the Taal volcano erupting. I celebrate the people that heed the call for help, and the Batangueno affected for trying to help each other out. 

I celebrate those behind the scenes, helping in any way they can to support the efforts on the ground. 

I have a couple of weeks left before I go back to Uganda, but before I do that, I will celebrate my birth month through our yearly feeding program. Isang Bata Isang Tasa (One Child One Cup) started 13 years ago, as a way to thank God for a new year by sharing my blessing to the children in my community. 

We give special attention to children under five and children with disabilities to encourage them to live healthier. We also educate their caregivers – mother, father, sisters, grandmother, etc. on how to continue to live a healthy lifestyle, in body and mind. 

Once done,  I will plan now for the 14th year, looking for sponsors and additional activities to make sure that we bring this service beyond my village and help more kids appreciate growing up healthy and clean all the time. 

Until the next celebration!

This article had been published in World Pulse

https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/coolasas/posts/93687

Living Solo

Most of my adult life I live alone. Except when I am home, I crave the company of people familiar to me, my dad especially.

But when I am out of the country, more often than not, I am alone.

Living in Arua is not any different than any other places I live in. I get to enjoy all the perks of living solo. I get to cook food I like to eat, like when another Filipino brought me dried fish from home, I had a moment of happiness cooking it and eating with my hands.

When I wanted to be away from drama, I have a place of refuge, where no one can touch me. I can decide not even to answer my phone.

I can also choose the people I wanted to invite and dine with me, even to crash just because I know they are good people.

Although there are times, I feel lonely. In cold nights or when there’s no power, and a good chat buddy would be nice to have around. Phone calls don’t cut it. Those times, I needed someone close.

But the pro outweighs the cons of living alone. I wouldn’t trade it if I can avoid it. This is the life I chose to live, the compromise to the kind of work I do. And like, having my me time, I wouldn’t trade the work I do for anything especially the people I meet in the field. To be around them means I am part of the circle of life in Uganda and in anywhere I am then and in the future.

I get to enjoy working with them with my undivided attention; you wouldn’t trade those smiles for anything. And at the end of the day, I can go back home, kick my shoes, put my feet up and enjoy my evenings recalling what I had done and what I will do next or, what I will do for dinner.

Thatch

Home away from home.

For most people in the settlement, this is what they call home.

When before they live freely, roaming the streets without fear.

Finding everything they need.

Where children can play. You hear laughter like no cares in the world.

Now, they live under protection.

Because some people decided a life for them.

Where fighting becomes normal everyday life.

Men become greedy with power.

That they forget that the world is not only for them but for all.

Out of fear.

They run.They fled. They cry.

That one day, their life will be back to the way it was.

In their own home.

In their own land.

An Unusual Christmas Week

These years Christmas is low key.

Veneration of the Child Jesus

Four weeks ago I went back to work and landed myself in East Africa, Uganda to be exact. My work even took me to the north of the country, in Arua. When I arrived I knew that I will be spending the holidays away from home, that’s why I made connections to the only Ugandan friend I have … Silvester.

Sil and I worked for a year in Palestine. Living in Gaza for the whole of two thousand and sixteen, and I got to know his family. From the many stories we shared hanging around the house, for the lack of places to go that is not banned and the lack of other expats who do not have the same security restrictions as us, I got to know them as if we’ve met.

So when I arrived in Uganda, the second day, I met Martha, his beautiful wife and the latest addition to his brood of three boys – Michael. The little tot is special to me … he’s the namesake of my dad and both were born on the feast day of St. Michael September 29, eighty-three years apart.

Miguel and Michael

It has been decided much later that I will be spending the whole Christmas break in their house and with his family in Kampala.

Seguku hills

The view … sunset over Seguku hills in Kampala

In the outskirts of Kampala is where the Kasozi is raising their family. The house is exactly how he described it and from the photos, he had shown when he broke ground.

Coming over though was a bit of a challenge, having driven long hours from Arua that day, I was eager to just get to their home. We set off quite late than normal because of some last minute paper works before the office is officially closed for the holidays. We lost three hours from the usual six-morning rendezvous, we set off at nine and there were near mishaps along the way plus the mandatory lunch and shopping. We reached the city center at the peak of the traffic of Kampala and being the last to be dropped off I reached Martha’s home at ten that night.

I’ve been on the road for over thirteen hours. Felt like I traveled from Manila to Doha all over again 😳.

The house is over the hills, overlooking south Kampala and across other hills. Rough road and uphill I was just happy our driver was game despite the late hours.

The morning after

Martha welcomed me despite the time and showed me where I will be sleeping in the next two weeks – I am roomies with the boys VJ and Mattie, three and two years old sleepyheads. When they woke up they wondered who is there sleeping in what used to be empty bed across their room.

Sweet boys, I woke up with being addressed as Aunty followed by “how are you?” Two sets of eyes wondering who this muzungo is … the white-skinned aunty (although I am more brown than white 👩🏻‍🦱).

Riot everyday

The boys born a year apart are like twins. They wore similar clothes when we go out and copy each other all the time. But more than that they are frenemies. Always someone is crying and calling for mommy but when they are in good terms they are the image of bliss. A sweetheart if you ask me until one bites the other 🤭.

No they are not twins 😜

Good thing mom has the patience of a saint. Never saw her angry, stern yes but not angry nor frustrated. Wondering how some parents react when one and worst three are acting up together making a riot. Waiting to see what Michael is like when he turns two … it would be a noisy house over Seguku hills.

🙏🏼

I am thankful for this experience, an immersion I didn’t plan. In the Philippines, to experience 101 hospitality one needs to be invited to live in a Filipino house, rich or poor the experience will be profound. Same as I have here although I imposed my visit I am experiencing a holiday like no other.

Happy to meet Silvester and Martha’s family including their immediate extended family. It is truly wonderful to live a life like a local even though I am muzungo.

It will be hard to leave but will soon do before I overstay my welcome, but actually to return to work up north.

We Take Care of the Flock

I recently moved for work.

This time I find my self waking up to the vast sky of Arua in northern Uganda.

It’s my first time here, but not in Uganda. I was here over 10 years ago in 2007 and enjoyed the country’s offer of natural parks, safaris, death defying rapids and of course glamping in the #NilePorch. The time when everything seems magical, like out of the jungle book 😊.

What am I doing here?

Not much really, at least for now. But soon work will pick up and will help out delivering rehabilitation services to people with disabilities living in the camps around here.

While work is still slow, I am enjoying my time with colleagues slash friends. We’re living as a small family away from our own.

The flock

I arrived as the third wheel in our small expat group based in Arua. Two others arrived and settled in before me. But I arrived not only to meet people but also chicken and guinea fowl.

Yes, they are our tribe! And we have our guards and cleaners helping out to make us understand the way of our flock.

In the beginning my friends here just want those that lay eggs and eat insects.

So we got roosters and hen. We got the eggs. It comes twice or thrice a week. Then the guinea fowl came next. The more the merrier 🤗.

The fowl we named them Jack and Rose from the infamous titanic just to make the relationship more personal 🤪. The rooster is called Lucky because he was saved from the butcher and also he has two wives. But we can’t seem to agree on the names for the hens.

Finding our little happiness

Arua is not without a fun place to be. But after a long day under the sun, or from sitting long hours inside the car 🚘 and office, a little diversion at home is not so bad.

The chickens and fowls become our after work responsibilities. In fact even before work. They become part of our lives when they start dominating our mornings calling out the sun 🌞 telling us its time to get up and get ready. And I didn’t realise Jack can be so loud anytime of the day😳.

Having them around is such good idea – to kills snakes, or eat insects and more. Plus of course we thought of the meat they can give us. But we hope we will not get to that part and feel guilty eating our pets.

Simple joy, great stress relief

The flock may seem little and odd but in the kind of work we do, all that is good is magnified and all that is not is forgotten.

If we cannot avoid to be cynical, we just have to look at our plucking flocks and we are relieved. We just start laughing 😂.

You should see us fussing about their house, their mating and their foods 🥘.

They are like one of us, they also need TLC because they give us the relief we need to break the stresses of the day, and have a restful evening until they wake us up again and again and again the next day!