our greek holiday…

Currently I am sitting at my computer, getting ready to submit some final project reports to our donors and my mind wanders off to another time and place. The place being Greece and the time, just three short weeks ago. K and I had a wonderful R&R trip to Greece where we met up with my parents and lived out our Grecian dream.

Beautiful lake on the Island of Crete.

Beautiful lake on the Island of Crete.

We explored old castles, forts, temples, churches, wandered down tiny narrow streets, breathed the wonderful sea air, and generally had a magical time.

Parent's toes in the Mediterranean Sea.

Parent’s toes in the Mediterranean Sea.

I know I have mentioned before how much I miss the ocean and having water around while living in a land locked country, but honestly there is no way to describe the feelings of seeing the ocean after being away for so long. Its like I can breathe again. I tell K I do not care where we go in life as long as there is an ocean close.

Beach Kris... nothing better.

Beach Kris… nothing better.

We stayed in beautiful places, and slept in until we woke up without an alarm. We read books and watched movies. We mentally remodeled my parent’s kitchen about 15 different times.

Our little Cretan Villa.

Our little Cretan Villa.

We found cafe after cafe and ordered food that we did not know what it was, we drank good and bad wine, but mostly good.

I dream of this cup of coffee.

I dream of this cup of coffee.

A mountain of fruit, yogurt, and honey.  And my lovely Mom.

A mountain of fruit, yogurt, and honey. And my lovely Mom.

We raved daily about the yogurt, olive oil, feta cheese, tomatoes, wine, and all matter of desserts. (I’m pretty sure I gained a bit of greek weight… and I’m pretty happy about it.)

Some day I will grow a lemon tree.

Some day I will grow a lemon tree.

The landscape was amazing and I am convinced that I will some day have a lemon, orange, and olive tree of my own. In fact I may just move to Greece… it might just be easier.

It was a trip that we will talk about for years to come. Thanks Mom and Dad for joining us, it was wonderful to have two weeks with you both! Love you so very much!

Oh and one last big thing on our trip… I cut my hair. I had been planning it for weeks, but had to wait until I was in a place where I could find someone who knew how to cut white people hair. (Its harder to find than you think) As I sat down in the chair to get my hair cut all I could think about was the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and the big Greek Hair styles in the movie. I had a small moment of panic, but thankful my hair stylist spoke English which I took as a good sign and proceeded with the cut. Lets take a look at the styles that I’ve sported in 2013 so far:

Normal Hair... and a new friend.

Long and normal Hair… and a new friend.

Half shaved head... could have been worse right?

Half shaved head… could have been worse right?

Shorty mc-shorterson.

Shorty mc-shorterson.

Many of you who follow the news know that things are heating up in a several regions of South Sudan. I manage several grants for projects in these areas and daily hear about the craziness that is going on. South Sudan is not out of the woods yet; there is still a lot of work to be done and thousands of people who are daily in danger.  It very hard for me to understand how I am so blessed to take a beautiful holiday in Greece while other people are struggling to find food, shelter, and safety. I do not think I will ever understand this stark difference in life. And honestly I do not ever want to become so comfortable with other people suffering as long as I am not. But this is a topic for another blog post. All that to say in light of the insecurities I felt like I needed to beef up my street cred..

Don't worry Mom, its only hena.

Don’t worry Mom, its only hena.

I am pretty sure that no one is gonna mess with me now.

the first three months…

Its amazing to me that K and I have been in Juba for nearly three months. Some days it seems like we have only arrived yesterday and others it feels like we’ve been here for years. I’ve heard it said that a year in Juba is like seven years every where else. I can not argue with this statement. Life is a bit more challenging here, even just getting the basic things can become a long and trying experience. I watch K as he battles to get the supplies and vehicles for our project and I find myself being so proud of him. He works long days, his phone rings constantly, he battles cultural differences left and right, he has to creatively come up with solutions to problems in transportation, and he has a staff of 30+ always knocking on his door asking for things. Its impossible to watch him work and not be proud. But this guy needs a break.

Boys hard at work.

Boys hard at work.

Tomorrow afternoon K and I will board a plane for Greece for our first R&R. WE CAN NOT WAIT. But wait it gets better. Two weeks ago when we were planning this trip we Skyped with my parents and invited them to join us. It was a shot in the dark and before we spoke with my parents both K and I said that it would never happen. My parents love to travel, but we were only giving them two weeks notice and they have alot of responsibility at home as they take care of my Grandparents who live with them and full time jobs and you know… just stuff that life throws at you. But K and I decided to ask cause we love mixing it up. But I would just like to tell you that I’ve got amazing parents who are constantly surprising me. They said yes. So not only do we get to spend the next two weeks in Greece, we also get to be with my parents. I cannot tell you how great it will be to hug my Mom and Dad and spend time with them. I feel like I have been given such an amazing gift I do not even know how to express how thankful I am.

Our goals for the next two weeks are as follows: greek food, hugging parents, greek food, fast internet, sleep, hugging parents, drinking nice greek wine, greek food, seeing beautiful places, and greek food. Should be amazing.

it smells like…

It has been unbearably hot in Juba the last few days. So hot that your brain runs at a slower pace and smaller tasks seem to take more time and energy than normal. We are entering the height of the dry season, with temperatures around 50 degrees Celsius. It is the kind of heat that you cannot get relief from. You just resign yourself to the heat and continue to sweat because there is no other option.

Our office runs on generator power, so at lunch-time we turn the generator off to rest and cool down for two hours. These two hours are silly hot and super unproductive. Today has been much of the same, crazy heat with healthy portion of sweat. Status quo. But this afternoon as I was working on compiling information for our monthly reports I smelled something. It is a smell that I could place anywhere. A smell that I have grown up with and one that makes me feel at home. It was the smell of rain. I continued working, just waiting for rain.

I did not have to wait long. Once I saw the first few drops I ripped out my ear buds and ran to the courtyard of our office. As the first raindrops fell on me I could breathe again; there is such an amazing calm that comes with rain. All the dust and smog that has been lingering in the air is washed away. The air is cool and clean. My head clears; it is magical.

I am sure I looked like a crazy white girl just standing in the rain, but it was the best feeling. I was standing in the rain about a minute or two when I turned to look and K was standing beside me. We smiled, not needing to explain why it was necessary to stand in the rain. We are Seattle kids, and our hearts are happy when the skies are grey with rain.

There are two extremely happy hearts in Juba tonight.

day to day…

I promised a few weeks ago to tell a bit of what we are doing in South Sudan, and also to share what Nonviolent Peaceforce does. Well I meant for this post to come a bit sooner, but K and I have been under the weather a bit. We both have a better understanding of the “Juba Welcome” that most foreigners experience once they settle into life in the city. To be totally honest I did not feel welcomed, it wasmore like there was something very unwelcomed, which had taken up residence in my body. We spent several hours at the local clinic one Sunday night trying to figure out what exactly K had that was causing so much sickness. It was pretty rough, I have not ever seen him quite so sick and felt quite so helpless. After three IVs and a shot in the rump he was a bit better and I took him back to sleep it off. The next morning in the shower K found the Band-Aid on his cheek and asked me where it came from. I chuckled, and told him about the shot. He did not remember half of our clinic visit; probably for the best. I on the other hand remember everything a little too clearly. 

 

We are now on the up and up and I am super glad to be on this side of things. Juba, we are officially welcomed… thank you?

 

Let me start by telling you what Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) does in South Sudan. We are an organization that works within the Protection Sector of the Emergency and Relief work in South Sudan. You probably heard somewhere that things are rather unstable in South Sudan.  It is true. South Sudan became a country in July of 2009 and has had an up hill battle to establish a government structure and peace. This process takes a long time and is incredibly complicated and often violent. (Watch out here comes a rant) I would love those who say that the US government needs to be reformed and we need a revolution to see what is happening in South Sudan. In a revolution many innocent civilian get caught in the crossfire and become causalities. It is horrible to know how innocent people suffer during this process. Let me clarify that I am not against reformation, and making things better but I would love that the term revolution not be thrown around without knowing the cost. The cost are innocent women and children, who are separated during raids, who have lost their livelihoods because it is not safe for them to work in the fields by themselves, who are raped and those who are murdered. It is an extremely high cost and not one that should be taken lightly. NP works with these civilians, the one whom the risk is so very high providing protection and advocates for stability in these communities. We have programs that provide protective accompaniment, which means that international staff walk or drive with vulnerable individuals to get them to a safe place. We develop local community protection groups to empower each community to protect themselves. We do child protection, which involves family tracing and reuniting children with their families after raids . We do trainings on Gender Based Violence (GBV) to educate communities, men and women on these topics and the services that are provided for them in their community. I have only hit a few of the highlights of our programming, but if you would like more information take a look at our website. We are non-partisan actors in the protection sector; we are here for the vulnerable civilians who are caught in the middle of fighting parties.

 

Okay so on to what we do all day long. Honestly, I should not comment about what K does all day long because I do not know half of what he does. I do know that he is one of the hardest working members of the team, juggling all kinds of information and logistical things. His official title is Operations Manager, which means he over sees all the NP operations in South Sudan. And it is a lot. From tracking cars, to field supplies, to managing staff, to water and food supplies for all field sites. (We have 7 field sites currently, and a few more are in the works) He is a busy man. He is on duty 24/7 all the while putting new policies in place to make the day to dayactivities run smoother.

 

I work as a Programme Officer. (Yes, that is with two M’s) My job is to manage grants that fund our projects. I work closely with the donors that have a presence in Juba and report our activities. I did a bit of this last year and enjoyed it, so I was excited to join the Programming Office in Juba with NP. The first few weeks in Juba I have been reading all the project proposals and getting up to speed on the situation in South Sudan. It is complicated. Isn’t always. But now that I have a bit more understanding I have been involved in writing future project proposals and meeting donors and other actors here in Juba that we coordinate with and work alongside. I am still working to become confident of my role, but I love the challenge it presents and cannot image doing anything else… well there is a Ugandan Bakery job that looks pretty attractive. Who says you cannot have it all?

day to day…

I promised a few weeks ago to tell a bit of what we are doing in South Sudan, and also to share what Nonviolent Peaceforce does. Well I meant for this post to come a bit sooner, but K and I have been under the weather a bit. We both have a better understanding of the “Juba Welcome” that most foreigners experience once they settle into life in the city. To be totally honest I did not feel welcomed, it wasmore like there was something very unwelcomed, which had taken up residence in my body. We spent several hours at the local clinic one Sunday night trying to figure out what exactly K had that was causing so much sickness. It was pretty rough, I have not ever seen him quite so sick and felt quite so helpless. After three IVs and a shot in the rump he was a bit better and I took him back to sleep it off. The next morning in the shower K found the Band-Aid on his cheek and asked me where it came from. I chuckled, and told him about the shot. He did not remember half of our clinic visit; probably for the best. I on the other hand remember everything a little too clearly. 

 

We are now on the up and up and I am super glad to be on this side of things. Juba, we are officially welcomed… thank you?

 

Let me start by telling you what Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) does in South Sudan. We are an organization that works within the Protection Sector of the Emergency and Relief work in South Sudan. You probably heard somewhere that things are rather unstable in South Sudan.  It is true. South Sudan became a country in July of 2009 and has had an up hill battle to establish a government structure and peace. This process takes a long time and is incredibly complicated and often violent. (Watch out here comes a rant) I would love those who say that the US government needs to be reformed and we need a revolution to see what is happening in South Sudan. In a revolution many innocent civilian get caught in the crossfire and become causalities. It is horrible to know how innocent people suffer during this process. Let me clarify that I am not against reformation, and making things better but I would love that the term revolution not be thrown around without knowing the cost. The cost are innocent women and children, who are separated during raids, who have lost their livelihoods because it is not safe for them to work in the fields by themselves, who are raped and those who are murdered. It is an extremely high cost and not one that should be taken lightly. NP works with these civilians, the one whom the risk is so very high providing protection and advocates for stability in these communities. We have programs that provide protective accompaniment, which means that international staff walk or drive with vulnerable individuals to get them to a safe place. We develop local community protection groups to empower each community to protect themselves. We do child protection, which involves family tracing and reuniting children with their families after raids . We do trainings on Gender Based Violence (GBV) to educate communities, men and women on these topics and the services that are provided for them in their community. I have only hit a few of the highlights of our programming, but if you would like more information take a look at our website. We are non-partisan actors in the protection sector; we are here for the vulnerable civilians who are caught in the middle of fighting parties.

 

Okay so on to what we do all day long. Honestly, I should not comment about what K does all day long because I do not know half of what he does. I do know that he is one of the hardest working members of the team, juggling all kinds of information and logistical things. His official title is Operations Manager, which means he over sees all the NP operations in South Sudan. And it is a lot. From tracking cars, to field supplies, to managing staff, to water and food supplies for all field sites. (We have 7 field sites currently, and a few more are in the works) He is a busy man. He is on duty 24/7 all the while putting new policies in place to make the day to dayactivities run smoother.

 

I work as a Programme Officer. (Yes, that is with two M’s) My job is to manage grants that fund our projects. I work closely with the donors that have a presence in Juba and report our activities. I did a bit of this last year and enjoyed it, so I was excited to join the Programming Office in Juba with NP. The first few weeks in Juba I have been reading all the project proposals and getting up to speed on the situation in South Sudan. It is complicated. Isn’t always. But now that I have a bit more understanding I have been involved in writing future project proposals and meeting donors and other actors here in Juba that we coordinate with and work alongside. I am still working to become confident of my role, but I love the challenge it presents and cannot image doing anything else… well there is a Ugandan Bakery job that looks pretty attractive. Who says you cannot have it all?

birthdays in Africa cont….

I started this story a few days ago, if you want to catch the beginning start here.

 

I placed both trays of cake batter on a metal sheet and then the head baker carefully set the tray in the opening of the oven. He took a long pole and pushed it back into the oven into “the spot”. It took him a moment or two to find it, but he seemed to be looking for this perfect spot in the oven to bake. He then covered the opening with another metal tray with some kind of contraption that I cannot begin to explain.

 

I then began waiting on the sidelines of the bakery, to just watch the bakery production. I was in heaven. After a few minutes of standing aganist the wall a plastic chair that was missing its back was brought in for me to sit on. I was really flattered but felt super silly that I was sitting doing nothing, while all the bakers were working so very hard in a very hot bakery. Just sitting in the bakery was enough to make sweat pour down my back. After a few minutes I asked if it was okay if I took a few pictures, and they agreed. I got a bit braver a few minutes later and asked if they would be willing to teach me how to make mendazi and to my great joy, they told me to come back any time and they would be happy to teach me. (there was a small discussion before they agreed about wether I was strong or not, but after I lifted a few trays full of dough I seemed to satisify their doubt) After 25 minutes I asked to take a look at the cake, and the baker brought out his long pole and carefully pulled out the tray with my two cakes on it. I was extremely happy to see that both cakes turned out beautifully. When I looked up from inspecting the cake I realized that everyone in the bakery was huddled around to see what I had asked to bake. A few asked what I called it, and I responded “chocolate cake”. It seemed that most had not heard of chocolate cake, but then they asked me if I could teach them how to make one. I am more than excited to swap skills with my bakery friends in the near future. How great would it be to get my first bakery experience in Juba?!

 

I told everyone at NP that we would be having cake and drinks around 8:30-9pm that evening and everyone gathered together to celebrate K’s birthday. We were also able to find some whipping cream for icing on the cake. After about a half hour of hand whipping the cream was ready to go on the cake. And the party began. K introduced everyone to a few episodes of Portlandia and a few of his favorite SNL sketches… he was in heaven. The cake turned out better than I had imagined and even K was impressed. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but so glad that K had a special day. A little creativity and adventure paid off in the end. Happy 30th K, I am so happy that you decided to join me in the 30’s.

IMG_3218IMG_3217

birthdays in Africa…

Birthdays in Africa can be super great, but you just have to set your sights at being creative, and think out of the box. So when I was packing for Juba in January I decided to add a few things to help me make K’s up coming 30th birthday a bit more fun. I decided to make a cake mix, thinking that I would not be able to find anything close to a birthday cake. I was kind of right, there are actually a few options for cake and other sweets in Juba, but it is really expensive and to be honest it would not even come close to satisfy K’s sweet tooth. So bringing a chocolate cake mix was a genius idea. Well it was until I learned that the NP guesthouse, where we are living does not have an oven. But being determined to make K’s birthday super great and memorable I got a bit creative.

A week or so before K’s birthday a colleague of mine introduced me to a local Ugandan bakery that is right around the corner from our office. This bakery specializes in mendazi. These lovely raised dough balls are deep-fried, beautifully crispy on the outside and nice and fluffy on the inside. The bakery supplies several hotels so they are busy making hundreds of mendazi a day. The bakery also has a large oven where they bake bread and I noted this while I was given the tour of the bakery.

Now if you know me at all, you know that I secretly, or maybe not so secretly love to bake and dream about having my own bakery some day. So not only was I in heaven hanging out in the bakery but I was also thinking that perhaps these kind Ugandans would not mind letting me bake a small cake for my husband. So my coworker and I asked and they were very gracious and agreed to let me use the oven.

So let me paint a picture for you. A normal oven has a door and a number of dials to control the temperature. This oven however did not have those two things, which I normally think are vital for an oven. But I am always up for an adventure so no problem I just decided to wing it. The oven is close to the size of a small kitchen, and is powered by an open fire. Knowing that they bake bread in this oven, I estimated that the temp was at least 350F degrees and that the cake would take about 20 to 25 minutes. With that solved I only needed to work out a baking pan in which to bake the cake in.

K and I have been eating lunch locally at a restaurant a few blocks from our office, called, (I kid you not) My Local. We normally have an order of rice and beans and take half of it back to the office for the next day. It is a smoking good deal as we both can eat two meals for about five or six bucks. I cannot cook for less than that, and honestly it is really good. But these take-away boxes are flimsy metal trays with paper tops. A few nights before K’s birthday I was laying awake, listening to the loud dance music of our neighboring pool hall when I remembered these trays and thought they would be perfect. I would need two trays but I just happened to have two trays of left overs in the frig just waiting for me to use them.

The night before K’s birthday I sent him to our common room for an hour and quickly water-colored several pieces of paper to make a paper chain to decorate the front door of our room. It is all about the color and being creative in your decorating. If money and constant electricity were not an issue, there is a grocery store here in Juba that sells five-foot trees that light up on the tips, and I totally would have bought one, as it would have been a stellar decoration! Nothing screams happy 30th birthday like a fake tree that lights up.

The morning of the big day I woke up early and quietly snuck into the kitchen and whipped up a batch of French toast and surprised K with breakfast in bed. Growing up my Mom used to always give us breakfast in bed on our birthdays. I always remember it being super special and a great way to start your birthday. Breakfast was a hit, as well as the fun paper chain which I hung before I brought breakfast in. However, I’m short and didn’t have a chair or anything to stand on to hang the chain higher… so the lowest part of the chain actually came to K’s shoulder… we both had a good laugh about it.

The day flew by with meetings and the business of being in Juba, but I kept looking forward to my trip to the bakery. When the time finally came I quickly mixed the cake and poured the batter into two trays. I carefully walked around the corner and into the bakery, where I had 20 some Ugandan bakers waiting for me.

More to come…