Knitting in Uganda

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In the wee hours of the morning, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, I felt a panic.  “I can’t do this!  I want to be at home now!”  A friend asked me the other day, “what was your greatest fear in going?”  My fear, and the reason for the panic, was that I wouldn’t do a good job, that the women I was working with wouldn’t accept me, that I wouldn’t know what to do.  That’s it – I wouldn’t know what to do.

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Uganda is right on the equator and morning comes at 6:30am, sunset at 6:30pm. We rose with the sun and went straight out for our first real Uganda breakfast of matoke, potatoes, chapati, “french” toast, a very white and flat omelet, chopped tomatoes, and pineapple.

After breakfast, Craig and I went back to the room to get ready, and a few minutes later when we came out everyone had already gone to the hospital. Well, ok, we’ll take boda bodas. Boda bodas are the little motorbikes that are the popular mode of transportation. People pile them high with families, goats, furniture, and anything else they can balance on there. These bikes then zip in and out of traffic, traffic that doesn’t seem to have any rules other than drive fast and wherever you want to. Oh and honk horns. I told the young man that I was a Ja Ja (old lady/grandmother) and to drive slow. He laughed and did.

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We arrived at the hospital, regrouped with the others and headed off to our assignments. Deb, a nurse from SLC, Kelly, a doctor from Oregon, and I grabbed yarn and knitting needles and went outside to look for women. Most of the women are outside. Because they are leaking from their fistula, they aren’t allowed to roam about the buildings. That bothers me even to type it. There are a couple dorms set up where the patients waiting for surgery and their helpers sleep. Current patients sleep in the ward.

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I had no idea how we were going to teach knitting, or gather a group of women to participate in that knitting when we didn’t speak the same language. I needn’t have worried. Fiber is a common language that women have been speaking since we invented textiles. We spied a group of women, then decided we’d just go sit down and start knitting and see what happened.

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There was a patio area and steps where women were gathered, we started to sit and the women immediately insisted that we sit on the woven palm frond mats they had. This was a regular occurrence; we weren’t ever allowed to sit on the bare concrete, even though some of the Ugandan ladies were.

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We pulled out our yarn and needles and immediately we were swarmed by women wanting to participate. At first it sort of took my breath away. I don’t respond well to too much movement and many people clamoring for my attention all at the same time. I took a few deep breaths, handed out some woozy (yarn) and m’piso (needles). Now I may have these words completely wrong. This is what we understood from what the ladies were asking for. Who knows? At any rate, this became part of our shared language.

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After that initial mob, which tended to happen every day, we all settled in our spots with our knitting and began to learn from each other.   I was so overjoyed to be a part of that moment, that miracle.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I have a fascination with the connection between women and textiles.  As I said, this is a common language.  For eons we have been coming together to help each other with our textile work.  Women have always gathered together with their handiwork to support each other and offer companionship and community.  Even if we speak different languages and our skin is a different color, working with fiber is a common denominator.

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My other concern, about not being accepted, also turned out to be unfounded.  Before the end of that first afternoon, I had become “sister” and “auntie” and I was so, so happy.

I’m crying again and dinner needs to come out of the oven.  I’ll be back on Wednesday.

Entering a Different World

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I ask your patience as I unfold this story of our journey.  I’m going to go slowly and while telling you the story about the project and the incredible women we met I’ll be working through some thoughts on my own responsibilities to this world and about my path.  I feel a lot of anxiety about writing this down; I’m afraid I won’t be able to express the profound effect this experience had on me.  I realize right now that I’m talking about me me me, but that is what happened; we went to Uganda to give, but received so much more than we ever could have imagined.  I get so emotional every time I start to think of it.  That’s good.  I want to continue to feel that emotion and be pushed into action.

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In the weeks prior to leaving for Africa, I started to have reoccurring dreams about my need to be giving of myself to the community, whether that be this small community I live in or the world community.  Before moving to Utah, I worked in the domestic violence field as a women’s advocate.  I’ve done volunteer work regularly  since my children were small.  That is until I came to Utah.  I’ve done very little since being here.  I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been here for almost 10 years.  That is 10 years of selfish, ego driven behavior.

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As we left here, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I knew what the project was, and I’d read a little bit about Uganda and the history, but that was it.  I wanted to go as a blank slate.  I didn’t want any preconceived notions of what to expect; I wanted to form my own opinions. It was important to me to approach this journey with a wide open mind and heart.  Sponge mind.  I wanted to soak up everything and experience every single moment and smoke-filled breath to the fullest. I’ll probably show you way more pictures than you want to see, and many of these aren’t really very good from a technical aspect, but they will help me to relate the noise, the smell, the frenetic atmosphere.

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After 20 some hours on a plane – I don’t even know how many, nor do I want to know – we arrived in Entebbe late in the evening, around 10:30 I guess.  This was the beginning of my losing track of time.  We hurried through customs, got our visas, and fetched our two apiece contico boxes full of knitting supplies and hygiene kits from baggage claim.  Four of us flew from Salt Lake City; we joined another member, the most adventurous spirit of the group, in Entebbe.  We all met Gabriel, our first new friend and intrepid driver, piled into his van with our luggage piled on top and drove on the left hand side of the road, through screaming, careening traffic to Kampala, our first stop.

I have no photos of this first night, only memories of speeding past squiggly neon lights, music, honking cars, people walking everywhere, the acrid air burning my nose and eyes, and our first near-death experience as drunken headlights zoomed toward us on our side of the road, with my sweetheart sitting in the front seat.  The look on his face here echoes the same, incredulous “are we really here?” that I was thinking.

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In Kampala, we stayed at the Speke hotel.  Our room was beautiful with 12 foot ceilings, tile floor, dark wood, the colonial style a stark reminder of the west’s involvement there, and a reminder to me of what I did not want to participate in.  But the shower was hot and the water pressure strong to wash off the travel dust; we knew it might be the last hot shower we’d have for a couple weeks.  We fell into bed to dream about what the next day might bring.

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After breakfast, we piled back in the van and headed south toward Masaka.  We began to get a glimpse of the world of contrasts that we had entered.  Here in the capital city of Kampala there were tall buildings with storks perched on top, new cars sharing the road with women balancing bananas on their heads.

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As we drove away from the city, we changed from paved road to the ubiquitous red soil that would be our companion for the next two weeks.  The built landscape changed from high rise buildings to smaller structures, market stands, and shacks.

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This is just a gratuitous funny picture.

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Before the trip, we probably were in a bit of denial about our relative safety.  We absolutely denied any danger when speaking to friends and family.  Upon arrival though, it started to sink in just what the political environment was like.  The Kenya attack had happened just a short time before we left, and we started receiving emails from the department of state’s Smart Traveler Program telling us of a possible attack planned for Kampala.  While reassuring friends and family that we were safely away from the threat, we still contemplated the reality of the situation.
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My eyes are still filled with the green expanse of the countryside.  The earth is so big in Uganda, the horizon so far away.

Our first day in Masaka we just got settled in, we made our first visit to the hospital and met doctors and nuns.  Our real adventure began the next day.  I’ll be back on Friday to tell you more.

Home Again

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We are home again.  It feels like I’ve lived seven lifetimes since I was last on this page.  And now to make sense of it all.

I’ve uploaded all of my photos to the computer.  As I sort through them, I will start to tell the story of our journey and what we learned: about Uganda, the women we were working with, and about ourselves and our place in this world.  Craig actually was the major photographer on this trip.  I did take some photos, but I found that when I switched into the role of photographer, it took me outside of the experience.  I realized that I much preferred being right there in the middle of this circle of women.  When I did pull out the camera, the women stopped being themselves and went into posing mode, so I couldn’t get any candid shots.  I decided it was best to leave that to Craig, and he did it well.

I have so much to think about now.  Before going on this trip, I was already reevaluating my life path.  Now, post this incredible experience, some things about that life path have become so much more clear, yet at the same time there are even more questions to answer.  My biggest fear is slipping back into apathy and my tendency to get lost inside my head or in the daily rush through life.  The biggest thing this trip has taught me is that I have to get outside myself.

For now I will unpack my suitcases, wash the red Uganda earth out of my clothes, restock the refrigerator, and wake up my kefir.  I will be back with the first photos on Wednesday.   In the meantime, be sure to check out Craig’s posts over on The Fistula Project’s Facebook page.

Back on the Path

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I’m back, after a couple days in the mountains and several more spent contemplating my path.  It was so good for my brain and spirit to unplug a little from the computer and technology.  I realized that I was really suffering from information overload as well as losing my path.  So while I didn’t unplug completely last week, my time spent on the computer was only a tenth or less of what it usually is.  I don’t want to go back to being plugged in all day.

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I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in my work that I lose sight of what is most important to me.  Even work you love is still work.  There has to be time left in the day to spend just being and playing, and being and playing with the ones you love.

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I started reconnecting with myself last week too.  My sense of self is another thing I lose track of.  I get to a point where I don’t know if I’m doing this or that thing for me or because I think it’s expected of me.  I’m seeking true authenticity of self, dirty camping hair, wrinkles and all!

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Last week I allowed myself to just do what felt right for me in the moment.  I remembered how much I love to putter around the house.  I puttered in the kitchen; I puttered in my studio and my garden; I puttered in the basement, searching through boxes.  It felt so freeing to let go of all expectations, either from within or without, and just float through the days.  I got so much more done when I wasn’t concerned with what I “had” to get done.

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So now I’m back, but like I said, I’m not going back to being plugged in all day!  I’m going to try very hard to stay true to myself and my right path.  I admit I am a very domestic, crafty, homey person, and that is what I will continue to share on here.

I have puttering to do, so I’ll see you back here on Wednesday with more photos of our glamping trip:)

Let’s Have a Tea Party!

I’m back from Colorado and getting back into the daily flow, but first going through my photos from the trip. Oddly enough I only picked up the camera a couple times, so I don’t have as many pictures to share as I’d thought I would. I tend to want to capture every moment in photos; I think that is a symptom of the internet – blogging, instagram, Pinterest.  Just being in the moment and not worrying about documentation is a healthy practice. Some things just call out for photos though.

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We stayed with our friends Lalie and Terence while we were there. Lalie and I are always so excited to see each other and full of ideas. Our first day we decided we needed to have a tea party.

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Like little girls, we ran and put dresses on, but true to our own fashion we remained barefoot;)

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Lalie threw linens and scarves over the backyard table and got out the pretty china cups and saucers, mismatched finds from thrift store adventures.

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Tasty fruit accompanied the tea….

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….along with catching up on conversation.

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It reminded me how important it is to throw together impromptu little celebrations of life.  I know that I often get into the rut of planning and rigidly structuring my days.  I’m trying to learn how to stay on task with running my business, while still allowing flexibility and room for fun.  I think I’ll make that my goal for this week.

How are you letting impromptu fun in?

Clean Up That Mess

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I’ve been trying to encourage myself to spend more time writing or just sitting and sketching. It occurred to me that perhaps if my desk wasn’t such a nasty mess, I’d be more inclined towards these enjoyable activities.

 

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I looked around online for drawer organizers, but couldn’t find just what I wanted for a price I was willing to pay. I usually prefer to upcycle from things I have on hand anyway, so I wandered around the basement, looking into forgotten boxes.   I found some cigar boxes without lids and a whole stack of these berry baskets that I had saved because I KNEW I would find a use for them!  I covered the cigar boxes with pretty paper and Mod Podge.  The boxes and berry baskets fit in the drawer just fine, with a little extra space where I put some scissors and rulers.

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After I finished with the drawer I thought I should carry on and get the desk top clean too.   The finish is pretty destroyed by me painting and using sharp objects without covering it.   I decided a blotter would be just the ticket.  Ever the re-user, I took the cardboard back off a large sketch pad.  Using spray-on adhesive I covered it with fabric and added a pretty ribbon band on one side.

Using the spray adhesive was quite the comedy of errors.  I’ve mentioned before (many times before) how I can’t stand to get my hands dirty.  It’s not really dirt that bothers me, because I can work in the garden and not mind the mess.  But stickiness!  Can’t stand it!  Using the Mod Podge on the cigar boxes was sticky enough, but the spray adhesive was horrible!  My having a little conniption about my sticky hands made it really hard to get the fabric on straight and smooth.   Imagine a cat with a piece of tape stuck to its back.  Yes, that is me with sticky hands.  (What me? put tape on a cat?  Never!)

Now I guess I should clean up my work table.

Flower Love

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I’ve been in a floral paradise lately. Between gifts of flowers, my garden, and the floral department at Trader Joes I’ve been doing a lot of oooo-ing and ahhh-ing. I’ve been doing my best to capture thousands of photos of their ephemeral beauty.

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My son and his girlfriend sent these beautiful roses for Mother’s Day. Usually, the only one who ever sends me flowers is the husband, and I had given him strict instructions not to give me anything, since we need to save our money for Uganda. So when the doorbell rang and there was a box from 1-800-flowers, I about had a stroke because I was convinced that I had entered my own address by mistake when I ordered my mother’s flowers! Of course, once I figured it all out there were tears:)

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I picked up these peonies at Trade Joes. I love Trader Joes, if for nothing else than they sell flowers that I can afford!  I like them for other reasons too, but mainly flowers.

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I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.

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Peonies have always been one of my favorites. They are so lush and delicate and perfectly feminine. I remember as a child putting white peonies in water with food coloring. Funny, I don’t remember if it worked.

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I just opened a new shop on Society6. You can find some of these flower photos there, some other assorted photos and a couple art prints.  I’ll be adding more as the days go by.  Click here to hop over and take a visit!

Magazine Love

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When I found this pretty magazine in my mailbox the other day, I was a wee bit concerned about my sanity, as I had no memory of having subscribed to any magazines lately. I was worried that I’ve been sleep shopping!  After some intense memory jogging, I remembered having come across a request for bloggers over on the FOLK magazine Facebook page awhile back.

 

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Feeling more comfortable with my mental status, I grabbed a cup of coffee and snuggled in with this gorgeous publication.  The folks at FOLK are  taking a youthful approach to the idea of getting back to the simple life, close to the earth.  The magazine covers a wide range, from celebrity profiles, to stories of returning to the country.  There are interviews with artists and makers, marmalade canners and sheep farmers.

 

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The magazine is full of gorgeous photography on slick, glossy pages.

 
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There are recipes and diy projects. I want to eat these fries:)

 
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I can’t wait to try this recipe for Honeydew Cucumber Margarita Popsicles!

 
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There is even more loveliness over on the website. You know how I love food photography. Don’t these brownies by Rikki Synder look delicious?

 
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You will find DIY projects over there too, along with articles on decor, travel, and living the good simple life.  Checkout their website at folklifestyle.com.

What new magazine discoveries have you made lately?  Do you have any favorites?