Archive for November, 2009

We got to the Kigali airport yesterday and were greeted by a Ethiopian Airlines agent, informing us that our bag didn’t arrive. So we boarded our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When we arrived into Addid we were informed that our bag had been sent to Kigali. What?! This morning as we came back to the Addis airport to head on to Gambela (Ethiopia), it was confirmed that our luggage had arrived Kigali the morning we left. It apparently we were at Kigali airport at the same time. So Ethiopian baggage staff here in Addis wanted to send it to Gambella. NO!!! we said. Send it back to Addis and leave it here – we’ll pick it up when we come back through Addis in two weeks. The saga continues. Stay tuned…


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Day seven without my luggage. Ethiopian Airlines still has no real clue as to why my luggage hasn’t made it to Kigali even though numerous Ethiopian Air staff have made requests over the last three days. No one is taking responsibility. We are leaving Rwanda today.
Off to buy some clothes…

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We are Thankful

Our first Thanksgiving together is in Rwanda.  Wow, what a blessing.

To all our family and friends,

Cara and I are keeping a list of things we miss from back home and without a doubt on the top of the list is written, “Friends and family.”

We want to take this opportunity on Thanksgiving Day to tell you that we are profoundly thankful for you.  Deep is our gratitude for the way in which you bless and enrich our lives.  And while many miles separate us from you, you are very close to our hearts (sidenote: that cheesy Hallmark card sentence was for our moms).

The world is a small place.  Thanks for joining us on this journey.  We thank you for your love, support, and prayers.

With much love,

Casey and Cara

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Safari [suh-fahr-ee]: A journey or expedition to explore.

We explored Uganda.  Murchison Falls National Park to be exact.  Here is a short photo safari for you.

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It’s a Small World After All

It can be astounding how small that our circles can be.  Only six weeks into our RTW and we have already stayed in 3 homes that have been opened up to us by strangers who have either never met us, or only met us once. Amazing really. I can’t remember the last time that I opened my home to a complete stranger where I fed them and showed them around my own city and country, often dropping my normal plans.  I certainly hope that we will have this honor in the future, and I already have many schemes to make that happen (Lord willing) in the future; from housing foreign exchange students in our home, to hosting couch-surfers needing to stay a night or two in San Francisco.  So I guess my point here, is that one of the many lessons that I have learned on this trip is that hospitality seems to run freely in this world.  Not only that, is that the world is often much smaller than we thought.

– We stayed 3 nights in a home in Kampala with a couple of whom had never met us. Jim and Esther were friends of a friend that I went to grad school with (Sherri), who opened their home to us after they received an email from Sherri telling them that we would be in town for a few days.  The best part of this connection, was that they shared their home with us during our worst bout of traveler’s diarrhea we have had as of yet.  Let me tell you from experience how much of a treat it is to have a warm shower, a flush toilet and running water at your disposal when you are dealing with explosive diarrhea every 15 minutes (things we take advantage of at home, but make a serious difference in Africa).  We were so thankful to have a real home to be in during a time in which we were both pretty ill…

– Just a few weeks before we left on our RTW, we happened to stumble upon a darling couple from Germany in the middle of Yosemite National Park during a camping trip.  We liked them.  And apparently they liked us too, because about 3 weeks later we were staying in their home in Munich, Germany.  Mathias and Tanja.

– Thanks to my dear colleague and friend Beth Schulz, we were connected with Mark in Uganda.  Mark once worked for my former employer some 10 years ago or so.  Now Mark had never met us before, had probably received one email telling him a bit about us, and then we exchanged two measly emails before my husband and I showed up on his doorstep at 4 a.m. about a week ago.  Talk about hospitality!  He housed us and fed us for a few days, while we rested up from our traumatic Egypt experience, and then we did a bit of exploring the countryside on a safari on our own for some time, only to return to his home for a few more days at the end of our trip.  Mark has a beautiful home overlooking Lake Victoria in suburbs of Kampala, an incredibly darling son named Giovanni, lovely Ugandan friends, and, he works in HIV/AIDS prevention and care (Which of course peaks my interest – For those of you who don’t know me as well, HIV/AIDS prevention work, particularly in Africa, is something I am passionate about.  I hope to be more involved in this area in my future, though I’m not exactly sure what that might look like).  So not only did our new friend Mark open up his home to us, but he also offered to take us to his local district to see some of the HIV prevention projects that he manages.  What hospitality!

All thanks to connections that we’ve found around the world, I am reminded not only of how large our world is, but how small it can really be.

Attached are a few photos from our visit to the Kayunga District to see some of the MHRP PEPFAR programs, which includes a male circumcision HIV prevention project.  Very cool!

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When I was a kid I was a voracious reader of children’s mystery books about a young boy named Encyclopedia Brown.  He was sort of a Sherlock Holmes and he would solve all kinds of mysteries that would confound adults.  The storylines went something like this: something mysterious happened, it created anguish of some sort, no one could figure out what had happened, Encyclopedia rolled up on the scene, Encyclopedia faced stonewalling or some kind of hardship, utilizing the best of Enlightenment logical deduction Encyclopedia would crack the case, perpetrator was apprehended or mystery solved.  All these stories started with something like, “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the…”  I have one for you Encyclopedia Brown.  Let’s just call it, “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Baggage.”

Five days ago we arrived into Kigali, Rwanda from Entebbe/Kampala, Uganda.  To some that sounds pretty exotic and far away but in reality that’s less than 200 miles and a non-stop, 45-minute flight.  These are two of the smallest countries in Africa that border each other.  You get the point: not very far.

So when Ethiopian Airlines lost my bag, I was incredulous.  I mean, we checked our bags in together; they rode down the conveyor belt right next to each other.  How did Cara’s bag make it and mine did not?  It is baffling.  So when we waited for my baggage until the baggage claim carrousel stopped, we immediately went to the lost baggage room and filed a claim.  That in itself took about an hour and a half.  That was five days ago.

Every day since my baggage “went missing” I have called the Ethiopian Airlines baggage people multiple times a day, the airport itself, and even went down and sat in the airport Ethiopian Airlines office until the baggage manager helped me out by calling Entebbe and sending some emails.  The guy was actually trying to help me out, so I was thankful for that.  Customer service is a steadily taking hold in Africa and depending on where you are, “service” sticks in varying degrees.  Luckily, Rwanda is on the up and up in relation to other African countries.

So for the last five days I have been (figuratively) banging on the Ethiopian Airlines door, feeling very fortunate that we’re in Rwanda where our friends the Urquharts live.  Even more fortunate for me, Greg is about my size and has generously offered me access to his wardrobe.  Otherwise this would not have been pretty.  I can’t imagine being stuck like this in Cairo or Addis Ababa.

But I found the key.  Email.  And email to the higher ups.  Yesterday I went to the Ethiopian Airlines website and found the customer service email.  Not only this but I found the Kigali Ethiopian Airlines email.  And, as I can do when necessity calls, I sent a classic Casey “diplomatic” email to the airline’s headquarters and local Kigali office stating my situation and how I know they value customer service but that for some reason I was getting no real assistance from the airlines and was stranded without my clothes, toiletries and other important personal belongings.  And that I was surprised that this was acceptable to Ethiopian Airlines considering the value they place on taking care of their customers (which I read off their website looking for any leverage I could find).

This touched off a maelstrom of emails between Entebbe, Kigali, Addis Ababa and the airlines headquarters.  It even got to the point where Kigali was accusing Entebbe of mismanagement and potential theft, with one email stating, “this is not the first time a baggage carrying valuables has gone missing originating from Entebbe.”  Not necessarily what I wanted to hear but I was thankful at least that someone was kicking up the heat.  Until the emails started flying around there was an overall sense of complacency.  This all changed when a senior officer for customer service got involved.  So for me it was fun to watch people (finally) get moving.  What was it to me that they were stumbling all over themselves because headquarters was now in the loop?

Encyclopedia Brown may have used different tactics but I got the results I was looking for.  Amazingly my bag has been (tentatively, I say) found.  Where has it been you may ask?  Accra, Ghana.  For those of us not up on African geography, that’s a long way from here.  I’m in East Africa – Ghana is in West Africa.  We’re talking about a distance something like London, England to Kiev, Ukraine.  Far.  How it got there I have no idea.  And I don’t get a sense that Ethiopian Airlines does either.  But I will say they responded to my plight after five days by giving me $75 as compensation so I can buy some clothes, to which the woman handing me the money said, “I think this may have been your fault, as you should have notified us sooner and not waited for five days.”  Needless to say I looked at her long and hard and then lowered the boom.  What I said to her was generally speaking, nice.  But suffice to say she sounded pretty apologetic about the whole affair by the time I got up and left.

Come tomorrow afternoon I am supposed to be reunited with my luggage.  Whether or not it actually is my luggage, and if it still has our camera in it, is the wildcard.  Cara’s take is that someone in Entebbe took the camera and tossed the luggage into a bin marked for Accra to get it lost and hide the evidence.  That’s a pretty dire read on the Entebbe baggage guys, but even Kigali thinks they’re shady so it’s probably not too far off.  Others here in the house think it will return to me unmolested, while others (myself included) think it may not be my bag at all.  The heat from headquarters can make some people say anything.  So we’ll see.  I’ll let you know sometime tomorrow when it’s supposed to show.

If it doesn’t, I’m calling Encyclopedia Brown.

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On this trip I have learned (again) how simple it can be to use less than what I think I need – and certainly less than what I think I’m entitled to.  How simple and easy, that is, when necessity requires it.  My life in the States doesn’t require me to do frugality very well.

Simply put, I live in an environment of plenty.  Most of us in the US have a tremendous amount of resources at our disposal without even thinking about how it got there or what goes into maintaining it.  And for those things we don’t have immediate access to (things like fresh vegetables and the latest Esquire magazine) we can easily secure them via the internet or special order service.  The infrastructure that has been developed to get me whatever consumer good I want in as timely a manner as possible is staggering.  If I want something all I have to do is enter my credit card number on a web page and push a button.  It will show up on my front door in two business days.

Not so when you are traveling around the world, and certainly not when you are traveling through the developing world.  There’s nothing like having your only suitcase go missing to remind you how dependent you are on the little you actually have and one’s ability to go without.  There may be some inconveniences but life goes on just fine – as long as your attitude keeps up.

But before the mystery of how Ethiopian Airlines lost my bag on a non-stop, 120 mile flight that took 45 minutes, I had begun to learn a frugality in the simplest things.  Let me give some examples:

My “special” facial scrub (as Cara likes to call it).  Sharps facial scrub, to be exact.  This company called Sharps makes some really good men’s products and their facial scrub is the best I’ve ever used.  After washing my face I feel clean, refreshed, sparkly.  So needless to say it’s a key component of my daily regimen.  And to boot you can’t just go down to Safeway and grab some more should you run out.  You have to plan for this stuff.  So knowing I have to make this scrub last as long as I can, I started using a lot less of it.  Not that I wouldn’t use it everyday but I would squeeze less out of the tube.  And you know what – it still works great and gives me the same clean face even though I’m using about a quarter of what I’m used to using when I’m home.  I’m not in an environment of plenty and so I’m required to ensure what I have goes farther.  My life hasn’t changed one bit when it comes to getting that clean, sparkly feeling.

Dental floss. I can’t say I was much of a flosser before but flossing everyday has been one of the personal hygiene disciplines I committed to while on this trip.  I’m realizing I like it.  Maybe it’s a feeling clean thing or knowing my teeth are a lot healthier because of it.  Either way it’s something every dentist since I was eight years old has told (sometimes browbeaten) me to do.  So if my dentist is reading this, you’ll be happy to know I’m on the straight and narrow.  But what I am coming to pleasantly realize is that I don’t need two feet of floss to clean my teeth.  Because I’m trying to conserve the floss I have (because I really like it) I use it sparingly – and voila!, 10 inches works just as well.  Imagine, saving 14 inches a day of floss equates to a total of 140 feet of floss saved over the 120 days of our trip.  That equates to another 168 days of flossing.  Now that’s a lot of additional dental hygene.

Water. This is a biggie.  Whether it’s water we drink or water we use to bathe, using just enough to get the job done is very doable I am learning on this trip.  In San Francisco water is everywhere, and fresh, clean, parasite-free water comes out of the tap for a long (and as much) as you need.  Conserving water when it is so “plenty” is hard to do.  In the US I haven’t had to be very mindful of how much water I was using – there just hasn’t been a perceived need to.  But this perspective is changing as well.  When clean water is at a premium it’s intrinsic value skyrockets and you take stock in how much you use/consume.  In my Summit Adventure/mountain guide days, I boasted that I could fully wash and rinse my body using less than a half a gallon of water.  I can’t say I’m boasting like that anymore but I can use a lot less now than I did at home, and my quality of life hasn’t decreased at all.  If anything it’s gone up knowing I am doing my part to conserve one of our world’s most precious resources – a resource hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to.

The point in all this, that I’m making most to myself, is that life is still great when I use just enough.  In many ways it is an even better way to live than what I lived at home because it deeply resonates with my values and convictions.  And I’ve found that it is so doable it’s embarrassing that I didn’t do it at home.  Be it facial scrub, aluminum foil (which I’ve learned to reuse at least five times), or whatever it is I am consuming, I need less than what I think I do.  The question for me when I get home is: can I live like I’m in an environment of scarcity (which is reality) in an environment of plenty (which is not reality).  Or simply put: can I live realistically?  I certainly hope so.

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