The Hairy Lemon

I found one of my new favorite places on the planet…

The Hairy Lemon!
(Don’t you love the name?!)

Located on an island on the Nile River, the only way to access this unique sanctuary is via a small boat. The only way to access my private ‘glamping’ spot, located on a second island, is via a small wooden bridge. I loved the quiet remoteness!!

I fell asleep each night to the sound of the rushing river and crickets, frogs and other creatures serenading me. I awoke each morning to bird songs I hadn’t heard before.

I flowed through my days… soaking up the beauty, taking naps, reading a novel, journaling, laying on the earth, gazing at the river, watching the birds (so many different kinds!) and being entertained by red tailed monkeys. I even went kayaking on the river.

The beauty and peace of this place fed me deeply. I’m already planning another visit before I leave Uganda!

(Oh, and locals will probably consider me bat shit crazy, but I rode a boda boda <motorcycle taxi> the entire way there and home again! <It took a few hours each way!> I got to ride through acres of sugar cane fields and a beautiful forest; got invited to share a papaya fresh from the tree with some locals; had little kids calling out to us in the forest while I tried to pee at the tree line without being seen; and got the joy of a road trip as a bonus to this trip!)

I Wanted To Ask You Something…

‘I wanted to ask you something…’ I said, and then paused.

Was I overstaying my welcome? If I was, would she tell me? What if she said no?

She laughed, wondering why I paused. She continued stirring the grasshoppers over the fire, making sure they didn’t burn.

‘Would it be ok if I stayed longer? Through the holidays, until February?’

I was met with a huge smile and the immediate response of, ‘Yes! Feel free. We love you. You’re family. You can stay all through winter if you like. However long you want. It’s ok with us.’

Relief and joy and gratitude and hugs! We sealed the deal with some ‘hoppers fresh off the fire.

Then she confessed, ‘I’ve been praying that you meet a man here and you end up staying here all the time.’

We’ll see what comes of her prayer. 😜 In the meantime, I’m letting you know it’s official: I’ll be staying here in Uganda till February! What grand and glorious adventures await?!

Me & The Trees & The Lake

You know that quiet soft receptive presence you be in nature?

Yes. That. That was today’s gift.

Botanical gardens. Rainstorm. Drying out while sitting by Lake Victoria. Birds. Trees. Flowers. So many different beautiful varieties of each I just kept melting open to receive them all. Rain forest. Luscious. A Tarzan moment. Monkeys.

Big gratitude for my boda boda driver-friend Chris and our garden guide, Rafiki (means ‘friend’ in Swahili).

Throwing Myself Into Life

Over the past 30 hours…

– I’ve had 1:1 conversations with adolescent girls about… living with HIV… family being killed by Kony’s army up north… parents dying and grandparents not wanting her… a visit from her father’s soul…

– I’ve heard her wisdom of how working together creates something better; her dream of being a heart surgeon; her poem about how she despises and celebrates menstruation; their songs about the power of being a girl…

– We’ve done more photo shoots for several girls that required the art of inviting them to ‘be free’ amidst a myriad of distractions all around (from friends to traffic to locals curious about what we were up to)…

– I’ve participated in an hour-long tweet chat with the Girl Up Initiative Uganda team about ending gender based violence in education…

– I’ve received the gifts of hearing Coach Achom Marion sing, reading an inspiring quote from Coach Choli Caroline, sugar cane from Uncle Mike, and so many other small simple heartfilling moments being with the team…

– I’ve reunited with the kids on my street, handed out pages for drawing and coloring, received drawings of helicopters, cars and houses, taught them a song the team taught me and delivered and received countless hugs, high-5’s, smiles and ‘sula bulungi’s’ (good evening)…

– I’ve seen a turkey in the street, eaten goat, walked alongside longhorn cows, and watched as Vianey untethered his goats to bring them in for the night…

I’m full. I’m happy. I’m tired. I’m grateful. This is my life right now and I’m present to it all knowing there will come a day when this… this place and these people in these daily interactions… will not be my life.

My introverted self is stretching to receive and enjoy the richness of all these relationships and interactions.

My introverted self is also calling out for a weekend away by myself where I will do nothing but gaze at the river flowing by. (Don’t worry, Self… I hear you and that’s coming.)

I’ve thrown myself into life, and together, we’re creating magic.

😘

“The only way that we can live is if we grow.

The only way that we can grow is if we change.

The only way that we can change is if we learn.

The only way we can learn is if we are exposed.

And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.

Do it.

Throw yourself.”

C. JoyBell

I Gave Myself Permission

I gave myself permission to…
be horrible
be terrible
fail miserably
suck at it, and
let go of concerning myself with what others would think of me.

That’s what was required to do my first ever fundraiser.
That’s what freed me up to go for it.
That’s what frees me up to keep sharing and following up with people about it.

What might you choose today if you gave yourself permission to be horrible and fail miserably?

Welcome Back

I got the silent treatment this morning from two of my kids.

I’m referring to the kids on my street who (usually) come running up to greet me every time we see each other and either hug or high-five me. Oh how I adore these kids! And oh how I’ve missed them!

Over the past couple of weeks, I haven’t seen much of them at all as my exhausted body and the rainy weather demanded less walking. So I’ve only caught glimpses of them as I rode by on the back of a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) or waved to them from a car window.

Today, though, the sky was clear and I headed out, excited to see my kids again.

I was totally surprised when the first two kids I encountered didn’t come up to greet me. Instead, Vianey walked away from the road. The young girl with him followed his lead. I called out to him and walked over to where he was fiddling with something at his mom’s samosa stand (she wasn’t there). All I could get from him was a mumbled hello and downcast eyes. What was going on? I got the sense it was not the time to inquire further, so I told him I would see him later and moved on.

Further down the road I got tackled in hugs by my other gang… Rashid, his twin brothers Hussain and Assan, and their younger brother whom I call Baby (he is less than two years old, waddles around and loves stroking my legs and pulling on my skirt).

Assan came running at me and I picked him up and swung him around. Baby wanted me to do this for him, too. Oh, the joy of seeing them again and getting to play and connect in these simple ways that make my heart burst!

On my walk home tonight, it was getting dark. My gang of brothers wasn’t out to greet me, but the women outside their compound wall were roasting corn and I exchanged greetings with them.

Further down the road, where I’d received the cold treatment earlier, my second gang of kids came running out of the dark to greet me. “Magen! Magen!” they called out. Oh the joy! Gregory, Maria, Maria’s younger sister whose name is escaping me, all the faces of kids I know, all beaming up at me, hugging me and wanting me to give them high-fives. Vianey was there too, and while he stayed on the outskirts of this love fest, I could tell he wanted to connect.

After several rounds of high-fives (they never seem to tire of this) and conversation, I called out to Vianey and asked him to come closer so I could ask him something. He hesitated but then came over. “You didn’t talk with me this morning… what was going on?”

He took a step backwards and said, this time making eye contact, “You’ve just been riding by on the boda bodas…”

“Oh… were you upset that I haven’t stopped by to visit?”

“No…” he said, but I could hear the truth in his voice. The truth was, yes.

“Oh… can I tell you something about that?” I asked and squatted down on the ground. All the kids leaned in more, including Vianey.

“I’ve missed you all so much and I’m so sorry I haven’t stopped and visited with you. You wanna know why I’ve been riding the boda bodas so much?”

Heads nodded. They were curious.

A car drove by and the headlights flashed on Gregory’s eyes. He stood right in front of me and was now at eye level with me. He was staring right into my eyes and in that flash of light I got to see the depth of those brown eyes even more.

“I’ve been really tired and my feet hurt and I just couldn’t walk so much. And then it was so rainy, and the road was all muddy… it was hard to walk on…”

I’m not sure who understood all of what I said, or why it felt important to me to tell them this, but what I got, very quickly, was that the words themselves didn’t really matter. What mattered was that they felt my heart… they felt my care for them and my desire to connect. And that, right there, closed any remaining gap between me and Vianey and anyone else who might have felt slighted by my lack of engagement the past two weeks.

I stood back up and there was more play and conversations and group hugs. Eddie came prancing up to us in a huge jacket which made us all crack up. It took at least five additional minutes to extract myself from their arms so I could head home.

I walked onward, a huge smile on my face. A few minutes further down the road, I passed a man who said, “Welcome back,” and his simple greeting brought tears to my eyes.

This is how I’m greeted when I walk home along this red dirt road after a day away. “Welcome back,” people call out to me; some of them I know, others I haven’t yet met, yet they all know this is where I live and that I’m returning home.

Tonight, after reuniting with my kids, these words took on even more meaning for me. “Welcome back.” I’m being woven into the tapestry of daily life around here and I like it. A lot.

(This picture was taken in October yet I’m sharing it again so you can see some of the kids I’m referring to in this story. Vianey is the boy in blue. Gregory, standing right in front of him, is his younger brother. And Eddie is standing right in front of Gregory.)

Girls’ Graduation!

This weekend, ~180 girls graduated from the yearlong Adolescent Girls Program (AGP) and oh, did we celebrate!

The AGP is Girl Up Initiative Uganda’s flagship program that teaches girls all kinds of confidence-boosting practical skills like how to… be assertive, make eye contact, speak up; love and appreciate their changing bodies; make reusable sanitary pads; advocate for girls’ rights; speak out against violence… and more!

The girls were so excited and proud. In a country where the education and equality of girls is not valued by the majority, this is a big achievement worthy of big celebrations!

There was music, dancing, speeches, performances, cake, feasting. Almost 100 other girls who graduated last year were also there to take part in the festivities.

I had the absolute honor of getting to hug or shake hands with each graduate and give her a gift of a pretty bag full of pads. What a privilege! Truly!

At one point when we were all dancing, one of the girls came up to me, crying. I put my arm around her and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ She replied, ‘I’m just really happy…’ I totally got it. Me too, girl. Me too.

These girls will go on to be Big Sisters and mentor other girls in their communities. Their learning and growth is paid forward in big, beautiful, positive ways.

I’m absolutely grateful for the Girl Up team and the great work they’re doing here. This is individual and social change in action, and what a joy to be here, in the midst of it all.

She Teaches Me About Receiving

I hand her two boxes of tea. ‘They’re not the tea we really really like, as the store didn’t have that kind, but this way we can do a taste test and see how these two are.’

She takes the boxes and asks, ‘How much?’

I give her a look that says, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and shake my head.

She gives me a look that says, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and then says, ‘But you gave us tea last time and I didn’t pay you for that!’

‘You give me so much!’ I say.

‘What?’ she demands, playfully yet seriously. ‘What do we give you?’

I lift my hands in a wide circle, implying all that she gives me here on this land where her family home is and the gardens and where I live… from feeding me to caring about me to confiding in me to inquiring about me… she nourishes me in so many ways. ‘To the moon and beyond you give to me,’ say my hands and face, beaming at her.

‘Uhhhh,’ she makes that sound both acknowledging and dismissing what she’s heard me say.

We stretch each other, we do. In our own ways we invite each other to receive more.

I took this picture of her recently, and although she doesn’t like having her picture taken that much, she let me take this one as I was admiring the mushrooms she’d harvested. So beautiful and so many! And there would be another harvest the next day!

This woman teaches me in so many unspoken ways about abundance. And generosity. And kindness. And receiving.

And in so doing, she invites me, unknowingly, into being more of the abundant, generous, kind and receptive woman I desire to be. Thank you, Annette.

splat

That was me yesterday.

After 3 ½ months in Uganda 
being exposed to different stimuli almost
every
single
minute
I hit an invisible wall.

I was hot, sweaty, grimy, gritty,
and exhausted.

A conversation with my sister
who spent years living overseas
helped me melt into the >splat<
with some more grace and ease.

She got it.
She got the >splat<.
Been there, done that,
so she had.

And in being gotten
I got to remember
nothing was wrong
and I wasn’t crazy.

All I required
was some major decompression.

“Go sit and stare at some flowing water for a while…”
was the nourishing wisdom I received.

I knew it was time for another weekend getaway.
I haven’t left Kampala,
the capital city of over 1.5 million people
since early October.
Too long for this system of mine.

But this time
it’s time for a weekend away
DOING NOTHING.
NADA
ZILCH
ZERO
Just gazing at clouds and staring at water.

Although I’m not able to get away
this weekend
I started my decompression
this morning
with some yin yoga
meditation
cleaning and clearing out my living space
and doing laundry.

Then… my equivalent of gazing at water…
I rested on my bed, listening to music…
like really listening to the music
and then turning the music off and
listening to the birds
and gazing at them out my window.

Oh, sweet space of being.

And I gave thanks…

Thanks for the gift of this body
that is so resilient and resourceful.

Thanks for the gift of simple activities
(like yoga, meditation, cleaning)
that restore a greater sense of well-being.

Thanks for this tender heart and aware being that
can perceive and pick up on so much.

Thanks for my sister’s wisdom
that came in the perfect moment.

Thanks for the gift of this place
and all of its colorful differences
that are delightful and intense and beautiful and chaotic.

Thanks for this adventure that is opening me
to knowing and receiving and experiencing
more of me
more of life
more of what else is possible?

Thanks for the people in this place,
in my family,
in my community,
that arise to meet me with kindness
and generosity
again and again and again.

Although I won’t be with my family
in person
celebrating Thanksgiving today,
I am giving thanks
for all the gifts and beauty,
that are my life,
for all the blessings and privileges
that I’m more aware of now
than ever before.

To all of you who celebrate,
I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

May you be nourished by it all:
the moments of grace
and the moments of grit.

It’s all
believe it or not
a gift.

As are you.

 

Grief is Praise

I thought I was kind of immune to it.

It didn’t seem like a big deal to me to miss Thanksgiving. Sure, I knew I’d miss being with my family, but figured I’d talk with them to get my family-fix. I didn’t have any energy (see my earlier post) to make a feast for folks here, so was just going to slide through today as a regular Thursday.

But then… my >splat< from yesterday flowed over to today. I let myself rest and be and hang at home all day and in the resting, I had a good cry.

I remembered last year’s Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. I had just recently moved from CO to NY to be close to family and that was our first Thanksgiving since our mom had died.

And that memory cracked me open more.

**
A well intentioned friend insinuated a month or so ago that there wouldn’t be grief if I knew my mom was still with me… if I could communicate with her.

Well, that’s not true for me.

There is grief. Grief just is. Without story. Without significance.

It’s one of the most beautiful, strangest, wildest energies.

It’s a river to surrender to or wrestle with.

**
I had tears today. And before, during and after… I felt my mom with me.

I felt her presence. I saw her in my mind as the woman I knew her to be yet know she’s no longer in pain like she once was.

The tears just come spontaneously when I’m open and allowing. There’s not any angst or wishing something was other than what is. There’s just acknowledgment: she won’t be sitting at the table with my family this year; and there’s release: tears; and there’s receiving her now as we’re able to commune beyond words.

**

So with my heart open and cheeks wet with tears, I want to let you know if this is your first Thanksgiving since a loved one passed, or the second (like it is mine) or the fifth or tenth or whatever it is… and your heart is feeling tender, too… it’s ok. You’re not alone. You don’t need to hide it. It’s ok.

Grief is a gift we give to ourselves and others. It’s an expression of thanks, and isn’t that what today is all about?

Wishing you a beautiful, nourishing Thanksgiving.