Wednesday, February 25, 2009

there will be snacks

Almost finished chicken and chips, quarter avocado peel, top up bottle in a basket.
Empty, thick green bottle of 7UP with a straw.

This is the detritus on my bedside table at Jojo’s Palace. Got stuck at Nile Computers tonight – first the power went. The generator hum kicked in. Fans slowed to a stop and the mosquitoes rushed in, feasting at my ankles while I sat in the blue glow of my gmail screen (mountainscape) and waited out the token dry season storm.

I walked back to Jojo’s in the dark, my flip flops flapping and sucking at the streams of mud from the sudden and heavy rain. It had already passed, yet the wind was still blowing cool and crispy. The moonless night was somehow brightened by the breeze. Silhouettes of royal palms in the Gulu night sky.

Back to K’la on an early bus. Carry-on baggage = optimism.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

cooking class: bo ki tongweno or gulu frittata

Just before mid-day, Kevin and I set off for Prisca’s house. I tucked my market tote into the basket on the front of Lucy’s shiny pink Smart Lady bicycle and followed Kevin out of town, off the paved road and onto the dirt track to Prisca’s place. I bit it about halfway, in one of the dips in the road where potholes had been filled in with soft dust. I cannot remember the last time I fell off a bicycle, and I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to brush myself off.

Prisca’s youngest, Abey Goretti, was quick to make silent lion roars at me as soon as we arrived, showing me her teeth, pulling on my hands and giggling. Over chai and chapatti, I spoke to her husband, Charles, about architecture. We pored over the plans he’d had made for a tailoring center. He asked me how people in the US get around when it snows.

This being the second visit out to Prisca’s home, I was pulled into the kitchen tukul after chai to help with the cooking. The mid-day sun outside was already beating down, but somehow the kitchen stayed cool. The walls were darkened from the charcoal stove – a curved bump out from the wall with two divots shaped to hold the coals beneath a pot. The embers burned pinkish/coral/hot through a mini-hearth below. We set to work, with Goretti’s giggly help, removing the leaves from the bo or “green vegetables” and putting them into a winnowing basket. Since the bo comes from the earth, it goes outside in the sun for some minutes to let any earthly creatures escape before the cooking begins.

Oil, onions, garlic – we put handfuls of the washed local rice (Kevin and I picked out stones) into the pot to fry it before cooking. Kevin minced the bo and we cooked it with local salt and oil, adding chopped tomatoes and the hen’s eggs I’d scrambled previously.

Prisca took a moment to give Goretti a bath in a basin outside the doorway. Goretti screamed the entire time, furious to have the dust washed from her skin.

We spent two hours in the kitchen, and then feasted in the sitting room:
Bo ki tongweno ki tongweno ki nyanya ki mucele ki layata
(greens with eggs, fried eggs with tomato and oil; with rice and yams)

Next class: cooking chicken.

After eating, Prisca insisted that I bathe before returning to town. She led me to the borehole to fill a basin, and sent me off to a corner of the as-yet roofless house that Charles is building. There is a concrete edge around the wall, and the middle is still dirt, which makes for a nice place to rinse and dump the used bath water.

After bathing, Prisca then insisted on oiling my skin before sending me off to town on my bicycle. Freshly-greased mzungu on a bike in Gulu during dry season. You can probably easily imagine the red dirt that clung to my skin as every car passed by. I arrived in Gulu looking very much like a happy martian with aviators.

tuesday redemption over tea

Though I barely slept last night, I felt a sea change upon waking. Noela caught an early bus to K'la, and I lingered at Jojo's waiting for Lucy and yet another difficult conversation. She arrived in a peach-colored dress. We talked about the past year; all the things we'd achieved in working together. We talked about truth. I inadvertantly channeled Eckhart Tolle, encouraging Lucy to be hopeful about the year - that the way she thinks is that way that life will be - that's why it's so important to remain positive and confident. Early on in the conversation I noticed that something had also shifted in Lucy. We walked to the market together to start the day on a new foot. Another chance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

hitting all the bumps

Okay, so things aren't always so light and inspirational. I do feel inspired pretty often - when reading the Aid to Artisans magazine about organic cotton production in Senegal last night, dreaming up ideas for turning Uganda's organic cotton into beautiful fabrics with natural dyes. I felt inspired sitting in the market this morning with Kevin, Sarah, Monica and Prisca. Learning Acholi and helping Sarah to finish the aprons while Kevin and Monica worked on yoga bags and Prisca made a dress for a customer. The familiar taste of beans and rice - the tea and chapattis this morning to "make me fat."

But, in all honesty, the past two days in Gulu have thrown me, once again, into the all-too-familiar waters of existential crisis. What on earth am I doing here? I'm lying atop the fuzzy leopard-print blanket (a true Gulu blanket - the only sort you find here), semi-comatose and listening to Bon Iver.

What might've been lost
Oh, the crispy realization
Your love will be safe with me

I somehow burned my left arm more than my right, and it's still doing this weird mottled two-toned peel effect, with little flakes of skin around the paler patches. I keep thinking "buck up, there's a bike ride tomorrow!" but can't seem to hold onto the joy that the thought of bicycling in Gulu brought a few months ago - even a few weeks ago.

There some mistruths going on up here, and some short-sightedness. I'm being vague. It's a tangled mess and we need to get to the bottom of it all - to see past the current hardships and instead focus on how far we've come. I feel disappointed - I would say betrayed, but betrayal is so 2008. I'm sticking with disappointment.

I can't put myself in Lucy's shoes. She's anxious. She lost her two brothers to war and AIDS. Her parents are both sick and old, and she has no one by her side to help ease the burden. Her husband abandoned both her and her girls. And she has so many people that look to her for support - even more so with all the success from One Mango Tree. She feels afraid that the successes she's built are fragile, and could break away at any moment.

So, really, I should turn off the Bon Iver and the lights, and breathe myself to sleep. And tomorrow give Lucy another chance. Give this whole huge jumping ship experiment another chance and stop being so sad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

inspiration pieces

Looking up through the lens in the backyard morning light.

It's the day-before-big-shipment here in Kampala. My new home is currently awash with wax-print and batik. Today's major task is to photograph the new products (check out the new garden theme, below) and start updating the website. FedEx comes tomorrow to box it all up and send it off on a metal bird - to arrive in Boynton Beach, Florida, just 2 days later (barring any customs issues).

I've only been in Kampala for a week, but since I'm used to shorter trips, I have had a hard time dropping the "hit-the-ground- running" mentality. I wonder how long that will take. Do you wake up one day and "wait a second, I LIVE here" is no longer a thought?

In the meantime, the days have been spent on fabric research (primer coming soon). Many of One Mango Tree's newest customers are wholesalers who will buy in bulk. Combining the need for bulk fabrics with an emphasis on an all-African supply chain means that we need a new understanding of the fabric markets here in East Africa.

The fabrics in these photos are indicative of a subtle change in direction. On the right is The Original bag in a Tanzanian batik. On the left, amongst the musa acuminata is the Lunch Bag in a Congolese wax-print that Noela was able to pick up.

There's been a push lately for us to move into clothing - first from the Global Exchange buyers in LA, and now here in uganda with potential fashion design volunteers and a growing global market for beautiful, fair trade clothes. I find myself dreaming of kanga sundresses and wax-print wrap skirts - would people buy them?

Here is the proof - a couple of great finds related to African fashion and ethical fashion:

NY Times - Revealing New Layers of African Fashion
Blog - AfricaStyl

Thursday, February 12, 2009


<-- my new home.

Old habits die hard. I took a "lunch break" today at Kabira - an hour and a half of pineapple juice, good-fat/bad-fat salad, and straight up equatorial sunshine. With no sun block. I've gone and done it; roasted myself to a tomato-y shade of mzungu stupidity. I may hide inside all day tomorrow so as to avoid the well-deserved snickering of passerby.

Really though, I'm thoroughly grateful to be here. Even this nasty sunburn is charming. As is the constant parade of tiny ants that march resolutely down my bathroom wall and onto my toothbrush (which now resides in the fridge). Beautiful, BEAUTIFUL Uganda. I've been in the country now for approximately 48 hours. I spent my first daylight hours in the country chasing down internet - finally landing at a compact, hot and dusty cafe in downtown Kampala. Colin and I hit up Mama Ashanti's last night for some of Kofi's awesome jollof rice, chicken stew, plantains and coleslaw, finished with spiced tea and philosophizing.

One of my first stops in Uganda is always to visit Kizito the artist, so we had tea at Makerere this morning and daydreamed about partnerships with his art school, NIAAD, and One Mango Tree. Tomorrow he will lead the world's reddest white girl on a quest to find bulk wax-print fabric for new One Mango Tree orders.

And, perhaps the best surprise thus far in my 48 hours - a trip to Kevin and Gavin's home yoga studio in Munyonyo on the shores of Lake Victoria. Their studio opens up into their backyard, with views of Lake Vic in the distance, and an almost finished thatched-roof banda that will fit about 22 students. I couldn't have asked for a better yoga experience, finished with mugs of tea in their kitchen, meeting this Kampala yoga community for the first time.

So here's gratitude again, as I think about the myriad experiences that made this reality into MY reality - and where two solid threads of my existence - Africa and yoga - have finally woven together.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Northwest/KLM sent me an email the other day to let me know they'd changed my travel plans. They thought I might enjoy a nice little side trip to the Detroit airport - it eliminated 6 hours I would have spent in DC, but I got to experience the magnificent light show tunnel with atmospheric music that connects Terminal C to Terminal A. Most people on the moving walkways were too tripped out by the rainbow lights to actually walk (myself included).

For me it's a strange suspension in the time-less space of travel. I flew backwards to fly forwards - at least that's how my mind is reading it. A DC-Amsterdam flight would have left at 6:30 PM. I took a one hour flight backwards to arrive in Amsterdam at precisely the same time. Such is life.

Nothing really changes, and I arrive in Entebbe at 9 PM local time. I absolutely cannot wait.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.

In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.


Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.



There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.

Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,
if you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd's love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders.
Don't accept consolations.

Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover's mouth in yours.

You moan, "She left me." "He left me."
Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.