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Preview: Hands Full of Heart Stones

Hands Full of Heart Stones

Updated: 2018-03-06T16:04:20.572-08:00


The Man Up Campaign


Since I left Soroti and The Goat Project, I have been working for the Man Up Campaign, meeting with local partners in Kampala, Goma, Kigali, and -- starting tomorrow --Johannesburg. These local partners are small, grassroots organizations working within their own communities, with youth, to seriously address the issue of Violence Against Women -- largely through music, dance, art, film/theater, or sports. I am inspired and motivated by the energy and dedication I see in these programs and the in the people who lead them. This may be the best job in the world! Man Up does not have its website running quite yet, but since I have been asked to explain the campaign over e-mail quite a lot, I thought I might share here a bit more about the initiative, its goals, and the plan. (Note: I did not write the following. It was created as a collaborative effort of our incredible team to share with partners and donors) Man Up is an international call to action for young adults to eradicate violence against women (VAW) using music, sport, and technology. On the occasion of one of the largest gatherings in the world, World Cup 2010 in South Africa, Man Up will host a global youth summit with the goals of supporting organizations tackling VAW, building a network of youth advocates and defenders, and linking the efforts of small local projects and mainstream organizations with the corporate, entertainment and sports communities. The fact that one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime is a reality that must be addressed, forcefully. This is a five-year campaign, but the rewards will potentially extend for generations. Already there's a momentum to make this happen. This campaign will succeed with the support of artists, entrepreneurs, activists, athletes, educators, and concerned citizens "manning up"-whether they are male or female-and saying that gender violence against women must end. It's not just a women's issue, it's everyone's issue. Man Up is a call to action for the next generations to do things differently. The Man Up Youth Summit will bring together a diverse group of 200 young men and women aged approximately eighteen to twenty-five years representing 32 World Cup competing nations and 18 at-risk countries, who are committed to eradicating VAW within their communities. Summit participants will be given the tools they need-and want-to plan and execute proposed initiatives, including seed grants with the support of a worldwide network of NGO partners. A multi-functional website will facilitate communication, on-going training and global advocacy. The Summit is action-oriented. The purpose is to help participants make their ideas into real projects. Workshops are focused on skill building and provide the participants with the tools necessary to execute their projects and be advocates against VAW. The Summit will introduce various training and teaching techniques, particularly those that address and utilize relevant cultural influences and forces, namely hip-hop and sports, both of which have been extremely successful in youth-based development. Renowned speakers and practitioners will join the Summit to promote the Man Up agenda and offer their own experience and perspective to the youth delegates. Following the summit, a global virtual network will launch, providing participants with training, access to experts and additional resources. The network will be an action-based advocacy hub with a myriad of tools to empower GBV youth activists around the world. It is Man Up’s aspiration that year-by-year, through strengthened NGO (non-governmental organization) and governmental partnerships, the number of grantees will grow and that past grantees will sustain their projects with the assistance of Man Up-developed tools and resources. We hope to reconvene in Brazil in 2014, prior to the World Cup. Man Up is led by Jimmie Briggs, a former reporter with LIFE magazine, and now a New York-based writer, teacher and fre[...]

A Pretty Pair: Carla and Joyce



These were taken on my last day in Gulu. Carla and Joyce are a happy duo. Aren't they wonderful together?

I am in Kigali now, after a very fast few days in Goma meeting with partner organizations for the Man Up Campaign. The complexities and messiness of the DRC, the reality of being there, created a kind of static for me, and I need some time to think. We know that the greatest beauty can sometimes be found among the most horrendous pain and suffering. In Goma I was moved by very young Congolese artists, musicians, filmmakers, dancers and painters, working to actively build peace and promote art and dynamic social change in their country. I spoke with women rebuilding themselves and their communitiies after brutal, brutal rape. I met health care professionals treating the sick and the wounded with passion and grace, all while pushing hard to learn more and improve their own skills. At most moments I simultaneously wanted to leave very quickly but also stay, stay, stay much longer to dig deeper, and do more. I will write more about it soon. For now, happy pictures of Joyce and Carla. I'm off to explore Kigali before another Man Up meeting. Love to you!

Goats as a Tool for Child Protection, and the Story of Martina


Martina is 12 years old and she has epilepsy. She wears an emerald green dress, and somehow this child seems to radiate light. She is painfully shy and her cheeks blush crimson as I speak to her. “Yes,” she nods voicelessly, as I ask her simple questions. And when I move to something that requires a true reply, she looks up at me with a bright smile and dancing eyes, still silent, but answering me with a look. “Things are better now.”For several years Martina went to school, always uncertain what the day would bring. Sometimes she would have epileptic fits, convulsing in the middle of class, or in the schoolyard in front of her peers. As her body shook, Martina’s classmates would run after her, hitting her and beating her with sticks so hard that her young body often bruised. They did this for fun and play, but also to chase the evil spirit out of her that they believed lived inside. Teachers stood back. On-looking adults did nothing. Martina said that she did her best not to cry.Identified by TPO Uganda as at-risk, last year Martina received a goat. (If you don’t yet know about the Goat Project, please read about it HERE or HERE). TPO considers the Goat Project to be a child-protection program, and I quickly learned again why. It wasn’t long after the goat was delivered to Martina, during a follow up visit, that the TPO counselor learned about the specific, dangerous trouble she was having at school. A team of TPO staff, together with someone from the sub-county’s child-protection committee went to visit the school. They spoke to all the school’s staff and explained Martina’s condition. They explained epilepsy medically, and the serious physical risks involved with the children’s habit of hitting Martina mid-attack, and then spoke of the emotional impact as well. They coached the school’s staff on how best to explain this to the students, and deal with questions or backlash. And it worked. Martina goes to school now in peace. Her teachers, the students, as well as her family members all know how to help her during an attack. She says that some students still tease her, but that she doesn’t mind because everyone gets teased for something, and no one is hitting her any more. Not one single person. And then, her face lights up. “Do you want to see my goat?” she asks. It is my turn to nod. Yes, I definitely want to see her goat! She leads me past the spacious living area, out into a field of corn and overgrowth. She leads the way, and I can scarcely see her emerald dress through the grasses that brush my forehead. And then she stops, turning to find me. “There” she points, without words, the luminescent grin returning. I look, and tethered to a tree with a long rope is a black and white speckled goat, munching happily on the greens. I didn’t know it was possible, but in a moment, Martina’s face lights up even more. She takes a few more steps and clears the way through some of the bush. There, hidden entirely in the growth, are two kids, little baby goats, bleating quietly. And I know what this means without being told: money for school fees. More goats, more babies, more money, more food, something that this child is bringing to her family, a way she is contributing to her own future. And she cannot hold the pride she feels inside. It spills out of her, into the wild grass where we stand.What do you want to be when you grown up, I ask her spontaneously. She does not wait a moment before answering. “A nurse,” she says. “I want to help people get better and understand.” I think that it is a fabulous plan.(Thank you, sweet Leah, for changing Martina’s life last year with a gift of a goat. In this, as in so many other ways, you are here with us. Thank you from her, from her family, and from us. We love you.)Photos of Martina and her goats to come once I am back home in the U.S.…[...]

Back to the Goats


I was recently in Soroti, eastern Uganda, on phase II of my trip: 4 days working with TPO Uganda, documenting the Goat Project. In the process, my love for this program was deepened. I met with families as their disabled child received a goat for the first time, and ones who had received their goat last year and could speak to the change it caused in their lives. I talked to staff, local officials, health care workers, community leaders, family members, and children, each shockingly honest about the state of disabled children in this corner of the world, and impact and efficacy of the Goat Project. It was fast, and it was whirlwind, but it was very special. I love my work. More soon.

(Thank you, generous friends and family who donated goats for our wedding. You were here with me! I have met some of the exact individuals your kind gift has helped and I have no words to explain how wonderful this was, and how lucky I feel Minh and I are to be surrounded by you in our life.)

First Chores, Then Play



Baby Aber's Photo Shoot



I have a zillion more of this series, but they take 15 minutes each to upload, so they will have to wait until I am back in the U.S.

hugs from Gulu!



Ten days before I left for this trip, my friend Leah died in a car accident in Ghana. She wasn’t yet thirty. She was working on international food policy. She was headed to the beach for the weekend. I only knew Leah for a few years, but Minh used to joke that he was afraid we’d run away together, kindred spirits. To be honest, I always held pride in this little joke of his. It felt like such a compliment, every time. As her dear friend Maria said: “Leah was somethin’ special. There ain’t no more Leah’s in this world.” And that, you see, is exactly the problem. And I can’t sort it out. I can’t wrap my mind around this absence. This fact. And yet, today, here, in this moment now, it feels so real. Too, too real. And I am so mad that I shake. I try to imagine what she would say to me here, sitting under this mango tree, hot tears blazing down my face, children coming home from school staring at the mzungu trying hard not to make a scene in public. “But I had a wonderful life!” she would start, gesticulating with her hands, and tilting her head. “But you are in Africa! C’mon. Get up and go visit your friends, do your work. Keep going! I am fine.” No, I say. It is NOT ok. How is it ok? How can I believe in a world where Leah is senselessly gone? Someone doing such good…real good in this world. Someone with such passion and spirit and life! How can that life be gone? And if it is, since it is, what the heck are we doing here anyway? I feel like her death is supposed to make me feel even more strongly about my work; more committed. We always talked about our work, compared our work, took turns being amazed then wonder-fully jealous of one another’s work. We complained in good humor, and dreamed in good faith. Neither Leah nor I ever knew what was going to come next, but wasn’t that the beauty of it? Leah was ok with the uncertainty and made me feel confident too, proud and more comfortable with flowing with life, asking questions without real answers, and taking risks for the beauty and humanity of it all. I sit here now, and I hate to be this way, but I don’t want to flow or dream right now. Right now I am only asking, really, what is the point? I used to have an answer to that question. When asked about the point of it all, I pointed to my favorite, favorite quote – an Irish proverb, actually: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live,” it says. Take care of one another, love. To me, this seemed so completely crystal clear. This was the point. But now, now….I’m honestly not that sure. God, I am angry. In Jewish tradition, focus is not placed on the afterlife, but rather, the life we are living now. Even the Kaddish, the prayer said for the dead, speaks only of the miracle that is this world, this life. But you see, I whisper in between the lines of the Kaddish, we really need Leah back in this life. We really, really need her here. Surely, there has been some terrible, terrible mistake. Here in Uganda, a country where she has never been and will never be, her absence to me is profound. Perhaps it is because we talked of traveling here together one day. More likely, though it is because this is a place where Life and Death are intimate partners and good friends. Here, the joy and the pain, the ins and outs of a day, they are all raw. There is no pretense of “forever.”. Everything, and everybody will one day cease, and that day…well, it could be today. I feel Leah here as I walk the path in the morning past the chickens and goats and cows, down into town. I feel Leah as the grass tickles my legs and the breeze gives a momentary respite from the searing mid-day sun. I feel her so much as I simply go about my day. I look down. The red dust is swirling around my ankles and knees as a storm brews across town. The road is pocked with holes– the mark of rainy season – and a truck rushes dow[...]

Someone Lost A Tooth Today



Good Morning



The One, Obama


As soon as I left Entebbe airport and was securely seated in the front seat of my guest house's car, my driver had one question. It had clearly been burning on his tongue since he had greeted me, 10 minutes earlier. He was having a hard time containing himself. "So," he said with excitement, "I am hearing that you are from the American capitol, Washington." Yes, I said, I live in DC. I smiled. I knew exactly what was coming next."How is the one, Obama?" he launched in. "Are you knowing him? Are you seeing him? He is so smart. I am reading about all Obama policy. His wife, she is also so, so smart. What is she like in Washington?” Since arriving one week ago, it is not an exaggeration to say that I receive a version of this same, enthusiastic question at least once, if not several times each day – usually, as soon as people learn that I am from DC. I am frequently asked about the president’s personal habits, what they “take for lunch”, and, most often, about the well being of “the ones of Obama” (i.e. the family), and how they are doing. The funny part is, I am expected to hold a knowing answer, like a cousin. I do, afterall, live in the same city. Yesterday over lunch, a colleague here raised the O question for the first time, admitting she had wanted to for some time, but had been waiting patiently. “Well,” I told her with a sly grin, “my husband works across the street from the White House.” “Ahh!” she shrieked. “You are not serious!!! He must be a very important man…” In our beading cooperatives, the interest is most assuredly on our intelligent, compassionate, fashion-forward first lady, a committed mother, like our beaders. They connect with her. They love her. They want to know why I haven’t yet personally delivered one of their gorgeous paper-bead necklaces to Michelle Obama, perhaps over tea. They have spent hours imagining which of their creations would best compliment her neckline, her coloring, her style. “But you live in Washington! So close!!” they say with exasperation. “You take it to her house.” I explain that it is much more complicated than that, but that yes, I would also love to see Michelle Obama wearing one of their necklaces, elegant paper jewels made from the rubble of camp life, made from the hopes of women who are just now, 20 years later, reconstructing their lives and returning home after so much war. Too much war. People ask about Obama here, and they smile. They connect. They understand Hope, and as they rebuild their homes, they are beginning to believe in Change. And, they think, maybe their dreams are possible, too. After all, somewhere out there, far away in America, is that one, Obama. The closest we get to knocking on Obama's door is advocating to our government on behalf of the voiceless. Check out this year's Lobby Days, and come to DC or write a letter to your representative. [...]

A Smile For Your Day


I'm sorry. I didn't fall off the face of the earth. I was just a tad sick and unable to do much internet for the past week. But I'm better now, and I have a little smile for your day. This was taken my first day in Gulu, just after I arrived. Joyce has grown! She is healthy and strong, and sassy as ever. Her shyness has disappeared, and I can hardly sit for 5 minutes with Carla and the other women before being pulled and tugged at with choruses of "Aimee, you just come play! Aimee, you just come play now!" The game of choice is a hybrid of monkey in the middle and dodgeball, played with a soft sock ball, and I must say, I'm getting quite good! Joyce has a killer throwing arm. Carla\s health is good, and the family's most pressing problem now is getting by now that Joyce's father is gone. To my delight and amazement, chickens that I bought last year were clucking away in the yard, and Carla\s structure for the charcoal was built and holds a prominent space in the courtyard, housing the charcoal she has been selling. It is a _very_ slow process, however, and it will take some time before this actually supports the family. (We have been discussing new and innovative business practices, like making a sign for the side of the road, and perhaps selling the charcoal where others are not. Hmmm...) I feel that all these issues are surmountable, though, and overall I'm very heartened. I'll spend as much time with them as I can before leaving for Soroti on the 21st. I'm sorry I have not been in touch. I know many of you have been waiting to hear from me, especially about Joyce. I caught an African Bug...or rather, the bug caught me, and I have been in my hotel room (thank god for my clean hotel room with flushing toilet, hot shower, and mosquito net without holes) for the past 3 days, a sick puppy. Today I'm feeling better and have made it up the road to the Acholi Inn, where I am sitting outside and using their wireless internet -- so fancy -- while I recover a bit. Doctor Jolanna, the Czech doctor I met two years ago while caring for Joyce, saw me this morning and gave me some new medicine and eating instructions, so I"m well on the mend! It was nice to see her familiar and friendly face, too.I have a lot of Paper to Pearls work to catch up on, so it will be a busy week or so, but I'm looking forward to seeing the women I have worked with in the past, again. Especially those at Awer. Most have left the camps now and are back in their villages, working their fields. As always, my objectives for the trip have shifted dramatically since I arrived, but I enjoy the fluid and ever-changing nature of this work (even if it can sometimes be frustrating!), and the kind of thinking and response it requires of me. I learn so much in each single encounter I have here, and only hope I have within me a fraction of as much to give in return.I miss you all and think of you every day!Love and "Greetings" from Gulu,Aimee[...]

Hello From the Future


This poor neglected blog. I haven't written in so long, but I find myself on the road again, and feeling the need to say hello (Hi, Nana! Hi, Uncle Scott! Hi, Mom!).

I'm so out of the blogging "groove" that I am not sure what to write. That, coupled with travel fatigue and a brain of jello, makes it hard to hold a coherent thought. But just wanted to let you know that I am sitting in The Future, and it looks like the Dubai airport. In the new Emirates terminal, light pours in from long, glass skylights and tall arched windows. It is pristine. So much glass makes it feel spacious and open. Cosi (this is new!) sits across from Hermes, next to a prayer room, and I have never seen such a beautiful, colorful mix of people, seamlessly flowing through the corridors to their destinations...

This past week many people asked if I was excited for this trip. I sounded crazy, but I wasn't. There was too much going on, too much to do to be excited. And as great as it is to travel and work, I hate leaving Minh.

But now, backpack strapped on, boarding pass in hand, only one flight away from Uganda and two travel legs away from old friends and my favorite 5 year old, now I am excited! This will be a unique trip for me. Short in comparison to those of the past two years, and much, much busier.

I'll be gone almost 6 weeks in total, in 4 countries, working for 3 separate projects. I'll do my best to stay connected here and let you know how my days are filled (Nana, Mom, Uncle Scott...and anyone else out there :) )

Oh, the plane is boarding, so off to Kampala I go. Thinking of you all.



Stand By Me


This is just awesome. Hang in there past the first few moments. It gets better and better....

Stones and Stars



    Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
    which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
    You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
    one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.

    leaving you, not really belonging to either,
    not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
    not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
    that turns to a star each night and climbs-

    leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
    your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
    so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching

    one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next,
    a star.

    By Rainer Maria Rilke
    Translated by Robert Bly

Can Ribo Mon Matino (or, why I am here in the first place)


If you have purchased any paper bead necklaces from me during this first year, or you have entered my apartment and seen the piles and piles of colorful jewelry spread out on my living room floor (and even if you have not done either of these things), I would like to personally introduce you to the incredible women behind the beautiful and unique beads.These women, from Awer IDP camp, create the jewelry that many of you now wear. Their transformation over this past year has been great, and much of it is thanks to you.Between the time I met them, and now, just one year later, they have moved from making necklaces that I bought but could not sell or really wear myself, to jewelry that moves through trendy boutiques and gets sold when someone asks a wearer "That is so beautiful and different! Where did you get it???"Part way through the year the women became serious about their work. They decided that they wanted more training; they decided to build a workspace for beading together, they decided to name themselves and thus become a true cooperative. Thus Can Ribo Mon Matin, or "Women United from Their Problems" was born.And it is true that their problems are significant. Most of these women care for between 5-10 children and have no income to speak of. Nearly all of them began their childbearing when they were children themselves. They live in a congested and unsanitary camp for the internally displaced and cannot farm their own land. Their husbands, if alive, do not have work. They largely depend on the World Food Program and other aid. Many have lost family to AIDS, or are HIV positive themselves.For the better part of this year, my friend and partner in all this, Tiffany, has continued to visit and advise the women of Can Ribo Mon Matino at Awer. I send her money, she purchases the necklaces, she sends them back to me (and also to her family in Texas). I sell the necklaces to you and send the money back to Tiffany. The cycle continues….Your purchases have allowed them to become businesswomen. Without your support there is no way that their quality of life, and the quality of their work would have improved so dramatically, that they would have a workspace, that they would now be able to build a small, small business. Medicines are now more easily purchased, and small bellies filled. It is still a struggle, but things seem more hopeful for these women and their families.One thing that has moved me greatly is something a bit less obvious. The women of Can Ribo Mon Matino have moved from being simple bead-makers to being creative artists. Their work has developed in color and style. They are taking chances, using their own ideas of beauty, pushing the envelope just a bit. This may not seem particularly incredible or note-worthy. The women are after all in a creative profession now, so to speak. However this move into unique and inspired creations is, in fact, monumental.Camp living is about survival. It is day-to-day, hour-to-hour, what-am-I-going-to-eat-and-feed-my-children-tonight-living. It is praying that a fire doesn't spark and fly across a sea of thatched huts, charring your few possessions: a water jug, a pot, a sleeping mat, a change of clothes. It is hoping against hope that your newborn and maybe even your older child survive the year. In this kind of living, there is little room for imagination.So together with the smiles on their faces and the obvious improvement in their living, the originality of these women and the spirit they have begun to infuse into their work moves me. It makes me certain that something is going right, and that it is worth finding them a more sustainable venue for their craft. This is especially important now t[...]

Books, Afghanistan, Advocacy, and Slowly by Slowly


I lost 2 big posts today to a corrupted flash drive, and I am SO frustrated. I will do my best to re-write them later, but for now I will leave you with a small antecdote from an afternoon last week.

I was outside Charity for Peace giving a short lesson in English "conversation" to the street kids who hang out there while waiting for a meeeting. I had in my hand the book A Thousand Splendid Suns, written by the same man who wrote The Kite Runner. (Incidentally, I tore through the book in 2 days. Anyone looking for a great novel should pick it up). One of the CFP employees with whom I was speaking noticed the book and started asking about it's premise. "This one is in Afghanistan, yes?" I told him yes, it is a fictional book about Afghanistan.

"Ahhh, that place is so sad, just like this place," he told me. "I would like to know that place. It is also a place which is crying. I just pray for them for peace. But," he continued...."for them, they are fighting tribes against tribes, interests against interests. It is complicated and difficult. For us, we are fighting against our brothers. It is our family!! This should be easier, but it is not. I do not know how you end such a deep family problem. I am hoping. I am praying. We might, might be close. We should be close. It is coming slowly by slowly. And maybe those ones in Afghanistan..." he trailed off and tapped my book... "maybe those will also soon know some peace."

If you would like to know what you can do to help bring peace to northern Uganda, visit Lobby Days are almost here, and even if you can't be in DC, you are only a phone call away from your representative. Participate in your democracy and if you care, let them know. You can click here to send a letter directly to your elected official. All you have to do is enter your own address, and the work is done for you. So easy! Send the letter that is provided, or write your own. It is coming, as they say here "slowly by slowly" and that isn't quite fast enough.

Happy Birthday, Mom!



Today is my mom's birthday. Her gift from me is 2 hours + in this internet cafe, as the power flickers in and out, trying to get a few posts up. I hope you have a wonderful birthday, Mom, and a very special year. I miss you! Thank you for your love and support in all my crazy endeavors, and for chatty morning coffee time, across the country and sometimes across the world. I love you. xoxoxoxo (This picture is of myself, my brother, mom and dad, and was taken when my mom was just about my age! It is one of my very favorites)

Love and Joy(ce)


Today is Valentine’s Day and I miss Minh. After a day of working with TAKS and Paper to Pearls, I decided to head to Joyce’s house for a short visit. After all, there is no one in Gulu I love more! I walked in from town and turned down the dusty road toward her home. Four small boys raced bicycle rims past me, pushing the metal circles with sticks and shouting playfully at the funny “muno” (white person), in their neighborhood. In a moment, another child raced out to the road, and seeing me, ran back from where she came, crying “Abalo! Joyce! Abalo! Joooooyyyyyce!!!!!” I slowly made my way up the path, but within another instant there were the children, flying toward me, a tangle of arms and legs and ripped dresses and toothy grins. Joyce was toward the back, but pushed her way up to the front of the pack, and before I knew it she had leapt into my arms, her head on my shoulder, panting and out of breath from the sprint. Her small hand played with my hair for a moment before I put her down. The other children ran ahead to tell Carla that I was there, but Joyce stayed by my side chit-chatting in Luo, so much to tell about the day’s activities! I spent the rest of the afternoon playing with all the children outside. There were many rounds of the perennial favorite: “everybody jump,” which is exactly as it sounds, and which we transformed into a type of “simon says” hybrid. They all sang their ABCs and several nursery songs, and I began teaching “You are My Sunshine” and a version of “London Bridges Falling Down”. For me, though, the best part was watching Joyce return every so often to Carla, just to make sure that she was watching. Carla, preparing the evening meal would smile and nod at Joyce, acknowledging her performance and games and antics, and Joyce would continue, right in the game with the other children. I have thought of this scene all evening long. The truth is, many people have come together in order to ensure the brightest possible future for this special child. We can provide food and shelter, the very best education, mentorship. We can support ultimate self-sufficiency. We can care, adore, pray, and even love Joyce. But this kind of love, this kind of support – the genuine, constant, non-wavering, daily, deeply rooted love of a mother is not something we could ever, ever give her, no matter how much we wish it possible (and if you know me, you know I have wished it possible!!). There was never a question in my mind that Joyce needed to stay in Gulu, with her family, with her people. Despite this knowledge of my mind last year, my heart spoke differently. I wanted her with me. I loved her. Not a day passed in the US when I didn’t think of her, speak of her, yes, at times cry for her. And I think that this is mostly because, although I knew she was being cared for, I hadn’t seen her loved. Carla has changed that. Joyce has a real family now. She has someone who is constantly looking out for her best interest – not because she is obligated, but because she cares, and she loves.I will always love Joyce, but I can already feel a change. Maybe it is the sadness and heaviness lifting. Carla told me that Joyce is “here” – and she placed her hand over her heart. I understood, maybe too well. But the most beautiful part is that Carla is also here, in Gulu, beside Joyce as she goes to sleep and wakes up, prepares for school and returns, suffers from her sickness and succeeds in staying healthy. She is here, and will continue to be here as Joyce lives her life and grows. In as many ways as I can [...]



I spent 4 full days in Gulu before I saw Joyce. I wanted to go and meet her family together with Grace, her mentor, and Grace wasn’t available until Saturday. With so much aid and so many people in and out of their lives, it was important to me that Joyce and Carla, her stepmother, see Grace and I as a team and understand that we work together. When Saturday finally came, I tried to keep my expectations low. Very low. Perhaps Joyce wouldn’t remember me. She is, as they say here, a very stubborn child, and she is four. Chances were high that she would hide behind Carla or not want to interact with me at all, be shy or a bit scared, or just stubborn. For this, I was prepared (or so I told myself). Also, I tried to remember, she could be sick or not doing well. Although I had been told otherwise, I am not sure I really believed it. As Grace, her 4 year old daughter, Laura, and I approached the home, she filled me in on the details of Joyce’s life. Within moments though, I saw for myself. Joyce was outside playing with her friends when we arrived: boisterous, lively, jumping up and down and up and down and up. In an instant we were spotted and suddenly a mess of 3-6 year olds were tearing toward us at breakneck speed. Joyce went straight for Grace. Once in Grace’s arms she looked over at me. Her eyes got big and she smiled, then buried her face in Grace’s shoulder. Grace spoke to her for a minute and then put her down. “Who is this? Grace asked in English. “Aimee” Joyce said with a small smile. Shyly, she walked over, took my hand, and we walked to the house. I had never met Carla before. When I was here last year, her Aunt Mary was caring for Joyce. Shortly after I left, Carla, Joyce’s father’s second wife, arrived and began to care for Joyce. For a short time the two women shared the responsibility, but eventually Joyce was left solely in Carla’s care. Mary went back to Pader, and Carla stayed in Gulu with Joyce, going to Pader every few weeks (with Joyce) to tend her garden there. Instantly, I liked Carla. She greeted us with warmth and hospitality. She smiled. She swooped Joyce up into her arms and absent-mindedly cleaned the dust off he face. She spoke of Joyce with the pride and utter adoration of a mother, adding with feigned irritation that Joyce is, indeed, “a very stubborn child,” and then erupting in laughter. We sat for a long time visiting, Grace translating and chatting between us, Joyce staying close to Carla, moving to Grace, and eventually climbing up into my lap. I noticed that the home was clean. Spotless, clean. Mattresses, clothes, and playthings hid behind a freshly hung, cheery curtain. Pots and a kettle were neatly placed in the corner. There was nary a mosquito to be seen. This was still the same one-room, concrete block, tin roofed place she had lived last year, half the size of most modest bedrooms in the US, and housing 6 people, but somehow for the first time, it seemed like a home. Joyce was clean. The sore on her arm is still problematic, but was covered with a fresh bandage. Her ears were not oozing, her nose was not dripping. She had gotten taller, put on weight. Her eyes shined. Dare I say it? This beautiful child looked healthy. I left with Grace to go run errands and pick up staples for the family. For the past year, we have been supporting (through Grace and Invisible Children), Joyce and her family in their most basic needs: food, rent, and of course Joyce’s schooling and medical needs. This has been fundamentally necessary in order to bring her an[...]

New Vision


I could tell we were getting closer to Gulu as the satellite IDP camps began to crowd the landscape. I anxiously arranged my belongings in preparation for a chaotic arrival into town, and I realized (maybe for the first time), I’m back!!! The bus careened left and then right, and suddenly vast and open land was replaced with brick and concrete, dilapidated storefronts, red and yellow and purple advertisements painted across half completed buildings, and long-abandoned scrap-wood scaffolding about to topple at the next big wind. Men on bikes and women selling bananas, boda-boda drivers and business people counting boxes of inventory scattered to the sides as the bus pushed through the narrow street and screeched to a halt. I knew this place, I had held it in my heart all year hoping for this return. And so, I was utterly unprepared for my own response to this scene. I was, in a word, horrified. I did not have time to consider this visceral response, because before I could register much more, I was off the bus in a sea of bags and travelers and boda-drivers eager for a fare. I quickly assessed my belongings and jumped on the back of a bike side-saddle, balancing my big pack on my shoulders and my small bag carefully beside me. My simple, simple Luo somehow found my lips, and I greeted my driver and told him exactly where I was headed. Within seconds I was flying through Gulu town past familiar storefronts, familiar scenes: the men gathered outside the bike shop, the herd of cows outside the World Food Program tents, the children happily racing out of the schoolyard, the women carrying water back for the evening. The boda-driver chatted with me, and after a moment he paused…. “Wait, you tell me,” he said, “is this Lakica Aimee? You were here maybe just one year ago?” Yes! I replied. “Ahhh, Lakica Aimee, You are MOST Welcome! he enthusiastically re-greeted me. “How was your journey? How is your family?” (Did I know this man?) “Why have you been gone so long?” I hopped off the boda and recognized my kind-chauffer. He had driven me to the hospital many, many, many times last year when I was caring for Joyce. So, somewhere between the bus and the boda, my friends, my vision changed. The dismay dissolved into a warm familiarity and affection. Instead of registering horror, I saw the workings of a day – a day in some ways unlike mine at home in America perhaps, but earnest and raw and true in its drive and ambition and hope. A day filled with stuff to get done, people to love, and things to accomplish. Just that quickly, my eyes didn’t register the poverty in the same way, if at all. Just that quickly, I felt at home.Later that night I sat up in bed thinking about that moment of transition. Which vision of this place was real? Upon leaving the bus did I lose sense of “reality,” or is one only really able to “see” a place by looking past the trappings and into the heart of a day, the heart of the people there? I wasn’t sure. I was jolted by my own reaction yesterday on that bus. Maybe even ashamed. But today, I am grateful for it. I think that maybe we need both – each to truly appreciate the other. If we do not allow ourselves to be moved by what we see and experience, we become complacent. However, to stay in disgust and shock is to possibly miss the heartbeat of a place, and maybe, then, to miss the point. [...]

The Road



Fast food stops: I had almost forgotten the insistent (and persistent!) shouts of the road-stop vendors, trying to sell water, peanuts, bananas, roasted cassava, and goat on a stick (mochomo). The latter is usually beat against the window of the bus as the seller cries: mochomo!mochomo!mochomo!mochomo! For my snack? Roasted cassava and a bottle of water, please.

Chicken to go: Tonight’s dinner gets bought (live) on the road by the man seated behind me.


This morning I boarded the Post Bus (so named because it leaves from the post office and delivers the mail as it stops in each town) at 7:30 a.m. in Kampala. It rained for much of the journey, and the drops seeped into the old bus as it lumbered down the road, swerving to avoid potholes and streams of women carrying the day’s supplies squarely on their heads. I was grateful for a sweatshirt I borrowed in New York keeping me dry (thanks, Craig!) and the relative emptiness of the bus – no passengers or livestock crowding the isles. So nice.

Although I have only traveled this road a few times before, it was familiar and I settled into the ride easily. The sights and smells did not shake me awake with last year’s sense of wonder, electric in all its newness. No, on this journey instead I slept and chatted with my seat-mate, and watched Uganda pass by my window. With each mile I could feel the landscape slowly seep into me, like the rain that turned the road from a billow of dust to a soaked, deep red earth, full of possibility, leading me north.



Hello from Kampala! I arrived safely after a night in Dubai and a quick stop through Addis. After hearing some wonderful news, I quickly decided to stay in Kampala an extra night. I am sleeping at Cornerstone, a little refuge in a very nice area, in the midst of Kampala's chaos. Desiree, Jesse, and James, if you are reading this, the whole gang there sends their greetings and wonders when you will be returning. Thank you for the connection!

Just before I left DC I sent an e-mail to my friends Innocent and Phionah, letting them know that I would be in country. Phionah coordinated the training that I did last year in Arua, and works with TPO in Kampala, so I was sure I would see her. Plus, I had pictures to deliver. Innocent is a trainer and psychosocial worker for TPO Uganda, but he lives in Arua and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would not be making it to Arua. Still, I wanted to let him know that I would be in Uganda. Well, I must be lucky! As soon as I arrived I found out that Innocent was in Kampala for the week for work, along with our teacher Dr. Nancy Baron! I couldn't believe my good fortune. I immediately extended my K'la stay and arranged for dinner with both Innocent and Phionah. I had photos to deliver to both and was able to do so in person! Phionah picked the place, apparently for my western sensibilities, and soon I was introducing them both to Mexican food, Ugandan style.

Seeing them both was a wonderful homecoming. Innocent and I became fast friends last year, and we easily slipped back into conversation, as if it had only been a week. With Innocent's smile and gentle "You are most welcome to Uganda," I did, indeed feel welcome.

Back to Uganda


Dear Friends,

Hello from Dubai! I hope this finds everyone well! This is going to be short, but I wanted to share that through the amazing generosity of a small grant, I am en route, back in Uganda for 5 weeks. Now, a year later, I will be continuing some of the work that began during my time in Gulu last February-March. I feel so privileged and excited to be returning, eager to see old friends, and hopeful about the journey. I will be resurrecting my old blog and updating it as much as possible in order to share my return trip and work with any of you who would like to follow along. I don't have anything up yet, but will post from Kampala as soon as I arrive.

For the next five weeks you can find me here. Please, please leave comments. I love hearing from you - it brightens my day. Sending each of you my very best and wishing you well....





Three Words


Berre sent this to me today and I think that it is too good not to share: a short video of people from all over sharing three words that speak to their moment. All set to a pretty great song. Click here.