Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Trip and Intro through 23 January

Entries of 23 January 2008

Greetings All,

This trip must be meant to be, for these notes are being keyed from St Augustine’s Institute in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. One or two things little problems did pop up, but nothing insurmountable.

It may seem minor, but my Sony VAIO laptop died a couple days before the trip. Of course that was right after buying a new battery because electric service is often interrupted in rural Uganda. Then it acted like a pending hard drive crash, so Jerry Waldeck, my brother-in-law picked up a new one for me. It still wouldn’t work! Thankfully, I’m writing on his borrowed laptop right now. Oh, and the new hard drive isn’t going to waste. Compute guru, Jerry, simply put an external hard drive case on it, and now it is a 120 GB data backup unit for pics, digital movies and files.

We had tried to make my pocket PC into a full-function computer by adding a bluetooth keyboard. It was too late when we found out that it needed specific compatibility with Mobile Windows 5. It would have been an ideal work-around for the dead PC.

And then there were the wrong departure terminal directions from an airline rep in Philadelphia. But we were early enough that the lost half-hour was hardly a hiccup. Gate assignments can be fluid too. According to my printed boarding pass in Johannesburg I could have ended up in Singapore. Oh well, maybe next time

I know that nobody reading this has ever missed an exit on an expressway. For those of you who know Aaron, ask him about the new shortcut when coming home from New Jersey. At least that was after they had dropped me off.

The USO in Frankfort turned out to be a lifesaver. They let a dad of 3 in uniform crash in their lounge, and even use the phone, during much of a 14 hour layover. There was good company, even a former 3rd ACR trooper (Joe’s former regiment), and a chance to catch some sleep on their couch. The alternative short stay hotel would have been expensive and it was much friendlier than stretching across linked airport chairs in an open terminal building. Thanks again, USO!

There was a small lesson on exchanging dollars for foreign currency at one of the many walk-up banks. What they don’t tell you in advance is that their rate doesn’t include their commission or their flat transaction fee. So changing $20 into Euros results in just pennies more than 10 Euros. Sometimes credit cards are simply better.

The ride to Africa was wonderful. The very name, South African Airlines, conjured up a vision of a twin engine turbo-prop and a bumpy ride next to my fellow cramped economy passengers. Wow, was the reality ever different. SA seems to be an up and coming international carrier. The equipment was a pretty new 317 passenger Airbus A340-600 with a 2-4-2 seating configuration throughout and actual leg room in economy. Good food, real silverware, helpful staff and the latest in gadgetry (like flight cameras looking ahead or straight down). Since it was a 12 hour night flight, I got a fair amount of sleep. The flight wasn’t completely full, and I really lucked out when the gate clerk gave me a row of 4 seats all to myself! I stretched out as if I was in first class. But that wasn’t before chatting with a lady from Germany who wanted to try out her English against my fumbling German. Oh, and then there was the time I woke up, took a walk and came back to find Goldilocks sleeping in my bed! She only took up 3 seats, so being the perfect gentleman I let her sleep for a while. At least she didn’t eat my porridge.

Sunrise was so brilliant that everyone kept the shades down. And before we knew it we were on approach to Johannesburg. Even though Johannesburg is a modern city, I knew my world had changed the moment we landed. Only the big international flights got jetway parking. Smaller jets got portable stairs and a walk or bus ride from the terminal. There was a security checkpoint for interconnecting international flights. I hope it wasn’t meant to be serious. It was comedy capers, but the guy in charge rushed me right through, more interested in seeing my Pocket PC, than in the other electronics, etc, that was right in front of him. They told me I couldn’t keep my water but looked the other way while I took a sip and put in my pocket. Once inside there were shops that seemed to go on forever, many with statues of wildlife, beautifully painted ostrich eggs, South African art, modern electronics, books, and duty-free shops with signs saying, “last chance for Johnny, Jim or Jack.” I bought cashews and a 3d postcard, which Jan might get someday if the mail works. There was time for a cooked meal that was as colorful as the artwork. Even though English is the main language, it seemed that every staff conversation was held in a different African tongue. The words intrigue and adventure come to mind now that I’ve had the tiniest taste of South Africa.

But there was more to come. A motley assortment of travelers boarded one of many low-slung buses for the ride to our Airbus A319 with its capacity of 95 souls for its weekly flight north to land on the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, Uganda, East Africa. One young sojourner was from Mariousce (sorry, no internet reference for spelling; it’s an island just off Madagascar). She was going to play Olympic level badminton in Uganda. Another lady was dressed in tribal attire and looked very much like a dignitary of another age. Still another was a chief operating pilot for Uganda Airways in his uniform. It’s doubtful if anyone else was from the US. All were warm and friendly, even when they didn’t speak English.

The trip was catching up to me and I slept through the on-board lunch. After my nap I caught occasional glimpses of the lush green African planes as we flew north. It amazed me to see field after field of crops and then forests, mountains and huge lakes. We were over an earlier US, an agrarian landscape of days gone bye, and yet mixed with modern technology. My excitement was growing. At long last this trip was really happening; the flight map showed us approaching Lake Victoria.

Lake Victoria glissened in the late afternoon sun, smooth as glass and bursting with adventure. Small craft appeared as tiny toothpicks on this vast body of water. The northern islands began to take on greater definition, with clusters of camps and vivid green vegetation. My impression was that of entering a forgotten paradise of natural beauty. We touched down on Entebbe’s concrete and a new experience was beginning. I made the sign of the cross on the tarmac, asking God’s blessing on whatever projects might come from this trip. I was actually here, amidst wealth and poverty, education and ignorance, affluence and abject simplicity, about to come face-to-face with “what am I doing here?”

Immigration looked at my papers, stamped them and bid me a good visit. Customs waived me through like I was their friend. My overweight duffles met me within seconds of reaching the baggage claim. There should have been a picture. These wheeled duffle bags, one 50# and the other 70# , now supported my carry-on and my CPAP (breathing machine). I shouldered the same backpack that a few months back had triggered a trip to the hospital. I grabbed hold of the two duffles and proceeded to meet my ride. And I felt great.

The sight was straight out of the movies. Throngs of friends, business associates, cab drivers, security personnel, lots of signs with names of people, tour groups, businesses in a mass of humanity edging toward the exit door. Visibly absent was my name. A security guard saw my plight and brought me a cart, which made moving around about 100 times easier. Another security guard graciously offered me the use of his personal cell phone if I would just replace his minutes. Robert Asaba of the Civil Aviation Authority of Uganda won a gold star for curtosy in my book. I got through to Father Andrew Obel, Secretary to Most Rev Denis Kiwanuka Lote, Archbishop of Tororo (and my offical host for this trip), and discovered that he had just arrived. He was accompanied by Father Leo and Father Michael, who were in nearby Kampala for additional training. This was most unusual; me, a mere layman being met by three young and energetic priests, all products of, and now leaders of, the very culture I feel called to serve. The greetings were joyous, we loaded the car and set out for Kampala.

We stopped at a restaurant for a “snack” and refreshment. Janet, wait until you see the picture of the Talapia, cooked whole and served with “chips” (french fries). Oh, Chuck, the genuine Ugandan beer tasted like the genuine German beer at Hallo Berlein. My education about Uganda was beginning. No, not the beer; about the people and culture. A number of our friends in the US have what are thought by some to be large families. In Uganda this is the norm. Father Andrew Obel is the youngest of 8. Fr Michael is #6 of 11. Most of the rural Ugandan people survive on a subsistence agrarian lifestyle. I’m beginning to think that time machines are real. I had just taken a trip and gone back one or maybe two hundred years in some respects. Maybe even longer.

More as the Ugandan adventure unfolds……….Entries of 23 January 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Uganda Experience

Jan is letting Tom travel to Uganda. Quick, hide her credit cards!

Greetings All,

Today is 17 January 2008 and I'm in the final preparations for an initial trip to Uganda. On 21 Jan my itinerary takes me from Philadephia to Frankfurt; on 22 Jan it's Frankfurt to Johannesburg, SA; and on 23 Jan it's the final leg from Johannesburg to Entebbe, Uganda, East Africa. The trip is officially at the invitation of the Archbishop of Tororo, Most Rev Denis Kiwanuka Lote. His Secretary, Rev Andrew Obel will meet me at the Entebbe International Airport (made world famous by Israel's raid on the forces of Idi Amin). We'll spend the next day in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where we plan to visit the zoo to see some of the most dangerous creatures on God's earth. I'm looking forward to seeing the variety of cobras, the green mambas and black mambas -- from the safe side of strong glass. Father Charles Opondo-Owara, who is from the Tororo Archdiocese, suggested getting familiar with the wildlife before going into the field. Certainly couldn't disagree.

This blog is being established at the suggestion of Mary Pat Hyland, former editor for the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, New York, and with the help of my dear sweet daughter-in-law Amy. It will probably be kept very simple, but it will be a way to communicate with friends and those interested in water development within Uganda as I explore and document my observations in southeastern Uganda. Please keep in mind that any incoherent ramblings are soley the responsibility of the blogger (guess that's me).

Enough for the first entry. More about how and why next time.

Best regards to each of you!
Tom Hranek