Knitting in Uganda

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

knitting hands

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.

Road Tripping

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We took a super fast trip down to St. George, Utah this weekend to see my husband’s parents.  While down there, we thought we’d stop off and see Zion National Park since we’d never been there.

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It was a most terrible idea.  The entire world was there.  There was no place to park; we would have had to drive back to town, park there, and take the shuttle back up to the park.  We just didn’t have that much time, and frankly I am more interested in seeing the scenery unmarred by millions of humans.

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So we drove around a little in the area and still got some good scenery.  Southern Utah is gorgeous.  It was an overcast day, so my pictures are not very clear.

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How would you like to live down there?  Not the place to be during a flood I think.  I’m pretty sure the feng shui is off too.

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There was a beautiful sculpture of the Earth Mother in a nearby park.

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We stopped and had a buffalo burger.

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Both the spot and the proprietor were quite full of character.

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Saw some wildlife;)

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the west

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Wagons ho

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I have to say, I love road side attractions.

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I wonder if they ever found that virgin.

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At the end, we found some wonderful pecans:)

Our Next Big Adventure


I’m sitting here fretting over a knot in my back. I’m putting ice on it, and I can take a pill if I need to. If it gets really unbearable, I can go to the doctor. There are so many women in the world who don’t have such a choice, women who suffer a lot worse than a little knot in the back, but have no access to medical care. Obstetric fistula is a condition that thousands of women around the world suffer from, a condition that was basically eliminated in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Obstetric fistula is an injury caused by prolonged labor and obstructed childbirth with no medical care. Hours of contractions, with the baby’s head constantly pushing against the pelvic bone, can create a hole, or a fistula, between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum, and the woman becomes incontinent. Often, the baby does not survive.  In addition to suffering from the loss of her baby and the damage to her body, because of the smell and mess from the incontinence, these young women are typically rejected by their husbands and ostracized from the community. They are forced to live isolated from their families, traumatized, and suffering.


The Fistula Foundation is a non-profit program that educates about fistula and raises money to fund worldwide programs who offer fistula repair, prevention and education. Medical Missionaries of Mary offer health care services in areas of need around the world.  The Fistula Project at Kitovu Hospital is a Salt Lake City based community group that has teamed with The Fistula Foundation and the Medical Missionaries of Mary to help provide fistula repair surgeries to women in Uganda. The Fistula Project works to raise awareness and educate the community about fistula and to raise money for the much needed surgeries. In addition, volunteers with The Fistula Project travel to Uganda to distribute handmade blankets, hygiene kits, and to teach the fistula patients how to knit and crochet, in a caring, supportive environment.


The knitting and crocheting are activities that help to distract the women while they await their surgeries. It offers an opportunity for the women who have been living alone to start to experience community again. These are also skills the women can use to make clothing and household goods for themselves and their families, and can be a means of generating income.

My husband, Craig, and I strive to make a difference in the world through our actions. We believe that every human matters, and we want to do what we can to create peace and help to ease suffering in the world. Sometimes these are very small actions, such as posting about something we believe in on Facebook, and sometimes we are driven to do something bigger. We have decided that making the trip to Uganda this October as volunteers with The Fistula Project is a way for us to give of ourselves, and live our values.

This is kind of a huge step for us. Traveling and learning about the world is a dream and a top priority for both of us. We could go visit a typical tourist destination, but that isn’t what interests us. We want to know the real world, and the real people in it; we want to make a difference in the world. That’s why we are choosing to spend our “vacation” offering service.


This is where you come in. Financially, we can’t do this by ourselves. Let’s face it; I’m a stay-at-home artist. Truthfully, I feel a little squeamish asking for help. I don’t ask for help, of any kind, easily. I worry about how this looks to ask for money, but then I remember that I hit the donate button and don’t find it weird. I have donated to a variety of adventures that I’ve come across on blogs, not a lot, but a few dollars here and there. So I’m sucking it up and I’m asking for your help. Your few dollars can help us to help people in need. If you would like to send us off to a place where it’s really hot and there might be big scary bugs, please click the donate button. If you would prefer to make a purchase that supports the project, the proceeds from sales in both of my Etsy shops, between now and October, will be used to pay for this journey.

To fund this volunteer service, we will need a total of $7,000. We hope to raise $5,000 through sales from my Etsy shops and donations on this site. If you can help with either a donation or by making a purchase from one of my shops it will be greatly appreciated. You can find the donation button over on the right sidebar. Payment is safe and secure.  You can find my Fiber Art shop here and my Mixed-Media shop here

Throughout the upcoming months, we will keep you updated on our progress here on the blog. When we get to Uganda, I will take many many photos, and will be so thrilled to share our stories with you when we return.

If you would like to learn more, visit these sites:

The Fistula Project Kitovu Hospital

The Fistula Foundation

Medical Missionaries of Mary


DH and I have dreams of traveling the world.  Silly us, we both let our passports expire, long before we had finished seeing what there is to see.  He’s been to Japan, and I’ve been to Mexico and Peru.  There is a lot of world to see, and we’ve not seen much of it together yet.

Travel to Italy

So we made a deal that we would start by getting our passports renewed.  It’s been an adventure so far! We went to the government website to fill out the applications online.  We each went through the form, answering all the questions.  Then we printed it out, like they said.  Doing this we discovered that there were more questions on the printed form than what we had been prompted to fill out.  The web site apparently filled it out for us.  It decided that neither of us had ever been married, and we both have two moms, who happen to not be US citizens.  This struck me as super funny: two major issues guaranteed to cause a row in this country.  And I live in Utah, so that makes it even funnier.  

Colosseo, Rome, Italy

The website said that since our expired passports had been issued more than 15 years ago, we had to appear in person at the appropriate local office.  It also said that we could pay with credit card, check, or money order.  Or at least that’s what we thought it said, using our supreme reading comprehension skills.

Waterways of Holland & Belgium: Tulips, Windmills & Canals
Vantage Deluxe Travel

We gussied ourselves up pretty (this photo has to last 10 years!) and headed over.  Upon arrival, we discovered that they wouldn’t accept a credit card.  We looked at each other, “do we even have any checks?”  Since we were already pretty, we thought we should go ahead and get the photos done before the varnish wore off.  Then, further perusal of the forms indicated that we also needed our parents birth dates, cities of birth, oh and exact days of our prior divorces!

Peru - Machu Picchu - einzigartiges Panorama

I couldn’t remember what year my dad was born, and the day of my divorce?????  How should I know? I was too busy partying it up!  The internet is a lovely thing:) told me what year my dad was born, and the Texas divorce index gave me that information.  We did find a check, and ran back over.  I know those poor people thought we were absolutely insane, but they smiled and took our money and said we should have passports in 6-8 weeks!  Yeah!  I’m watching for travel deals now:)

What are you doing on this fine Wednesday?