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Spring is finally making its way to Galway!  This photo was taken over a month ago, on a randomly gorgeous day.  Since then, we’ve had a lot of rain, some snow, a couple rounds of hail, and generally chilly temperatures. But it’s getting better now – buds on trees, flowers blooming, temperatures rising…

To welcome spring in, we’ve planted a little herb garden in planter boxes on our back porch.  I’m terrible with gardens, so we’ll see if we can keep everything alive! Photos to come.

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The fabulous Dunluce Castle, which we visited on a trip to Northern Ireland a couple weekends ago, was built in the 1200s and was inhabited until 1690.

As they say: location, location, location.

creating recycled paper picture frames

creating recycled paper picture frames

On today’s agenda was a visit to Papula Paper, a fair trade paper making outfit that has a very special place in my heart.

Papula Paper was started in 2006 by the founder of Uganda Crafts, Betty. Betty wanted to start a fair trade project in her home district of Mpigi, and was given some startup money for a building. She chose to build a paper workshop and retail space just a minute’s walk south of the equator, a popular stopping point for tourists on their way to some of Uganda’s national parks. In 2006, my friend Muireann and I took a trip to the building site and helped design the building. We also brainstormed names for the new project. My suggestion won in the end: Papula Paper (from the Luganda word for Paper, olupapula.

Coming back to Uganda and seeing the success of Papula has been really exciting for me. So it’s no surprise that today’s trip and meeting with them was a lot of fun.

Lillian, one of Betty’s daughters and one of the managers at the Equator location, took the time to show us around the workshop and explained the paper making process. The papers that Papula creates are all made using recycled or natural materials. Farmers bring the tops of pineapples, elephant grass, and old banana fibers and sell them to the workshop. Individuals and organizations donate old printed pieces of paper. These materials are the basis for the paper, which can later be turned into a bunch of different products: stationary, greeting cards, boxes, notebooks, etc.

cute stationary in a pretty little box.

cute stationary in a pretty little box.

Papula’s products are beautiful and it’s cool to see how discarded materials can be put into use again. Papula is also notable for its commitment to the community of disabled individuals in Mpigi. Several of the full-time workshop staff are disabled, and many others from the community bring their work to the retail shop to be sold as well.

Having watched Papula Paper grow from just an idea to a successful project promoting environmental sustainability and employing dozens of local community members, I can’t help but be optimistic for its future.

lillian demonstrates for us

lillian demonstrates for us

Our dear friend, Adva, gave us a really cool wedding gift way back in June: A weekend getaway at an island retreat in Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda.

Lake Bunyoni is near Kabale, and made for a perfect two-night stopover between our fair trade visits in Masaka and Fort Portal.

The place turned out to be absolutely incredible. We stayed in a “geodome”, a dome hut made out of natural materials with one open side facing the lake. We had a lovely sitting area in front of it, and could read, chat, and take tea while watching dozens of birds fly around. We were lucky enough to see a bunch of Grey Crowned Cranes (Uganda’s national bird) during the trip, including a few close fly-overs. Additionally, we saw an African otter (LAURA!) from our porch, which was awesome!

our view of the lake from inside the geodome.

our view of the lake from inside the geodome.

In addition to birding and admiring our view, we hiked around the island (escorted by the friendly island dog, Jimmy), went canoeing, ate some delicious food, and played a lot of gin (the card game! And I won, by the way).

jimmy loves every inch of his island.

jimmy loves every inch of his island.

sun setting over lovely lake bunyonyi

sun setting over lovely lake bunyonyi

The last really cool thing about Byoona Amagara is that it’s a non-profit working really closely with the local community, especially those who live on the other parts of the small island. They run some educational programming and maintain a really good library and mini-movie theater for guests and locals alike.

All in all, an amazing time. Props to Adva for sending us here!

Our good friend from school, Becca, is currently living and working at Education City in Qatar and decided to use her spring break for a trip to Uganda. Jon and I were really looking forward to having another visitor and we showed her as much of Uganda as we could in a week (with ample time for watching episodes of the Wire, eating Indian food, and drinking wine, of course).

During our time here, we visited several important houses of worship, including the Namirembe Cathedral (Home to the Anglican Church in Uganda), the Gaddafi Mosque (a gift from Libya’s uber-rich “king of kings”, Gaddafi himself), and the Baha’i temple (only one in Africa). We also took a visit to the Kasubi tombs, the burial grounds for the last 4 kings of the Buganda kingdom, Uganda’s majority tribe and on whose land Kampala is situated. Since we live in the Kasubi neighborhood, about 100 meters from the tombs, this was Jon and my third visit, and we’ve learned something new every time!

The main adventure taken during Becca’s visit was a short trip to Murchison Falls National Park. Murchison is home to a variety of wildlife and an impressive waterfall on the Nile River. Murchison is also the only place in Uganda where giraffes are present – very exciting!

To start with, we visited a rhino sanctuary a few hours out of the actual park. We tracked them and approached on foot. Being white rhinos, they did not charge us. In fact, when one rhino started making moves towards our group, a park guide yelled, “Mandy, stop!” And the rhino stopped immediately, patiently, and waited for a few minutes before deciding to go another direction. It was an extremely impressive trick.

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The safari portion of our trip was fun – lots of animals that we’d not seen at Queen Elizabeth National Park on past trips. Lots of new kinds of antelopes, Abyssian Ground Hornbills, and Giraffes! Elephants were also a little more common.

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After two game drives, we took a boat ride down the Nile towards Murchison Falls. On the ride, we saw lots of beautiful birds and a few crocodiles, fully out of the water, holding their mouths wide open. Scary! We finally arrived at the Falls after about 2 hours on the water. The Nile River, which has been making its way from Lake Victoria north, is already a huge river, stretching to 1 km wide at some points. When the water reaches Murchison Falls, it pushes its way through a crevice in the rocks, only 7 meters wide! You can imagine the force that the water has when forced into a sudden drop and such a small space. dsc_0178

Becca left us for Qatar yesterday, so we were sad to see her go! Now we’re really looking forward to making a trip to visit her in Qatar next year. 🙂

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About two weeks ago, Jon and I had the chance to cross the border for a quick visit to Rwanda. We pretty much had to go, as my Ugandan visa was running out and I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the law during my time here.

We decided to fly to Kigali to save a little time and pain. After all, we’d just come back from Gulu on a pretty miserable 6 hour bus ride, and I for one was hating the idea of spending an additional 12-14 hours on a swerving, cramped bus through increasingly hilly terrain. I was not willing, at least not this time. We had a pleasant flight on a small airplane, passing over Lake Victoria and the “thousand hills” that make up the Rwandan landscape. When we arrived in Kigali, we easily made our way through immigration, hailed a taxi and made the 15 minute drive into the city.

Jon and I had heard countless stories from friends about the major differences so apparent between Uganda and Rwanda. We had no idea how true these observations were. Unlike Kampala, we found Kigali to have well-paved roads, no trash on the ground, and a quiet yet lively pace. It felt a little weird, but it was nice. We checked into our charming little hotel and found ourselves exploring the small downtown area. Some of the things we discovered on our walk included the fact that Rwandan ATMs don’t accept American cards, most people speak Kinrwanda, French, AND English, and that there was a much higher number of mzungu tourists walking around than in Kampala.

For dinner, we found ourselves at the Hotel de Milles Collines, best known as Hotel Rwanda. The hotel is currently undergoing major renovation, but it was interesting to see it in real life and compare it to the film. Notably, the Hotel de Milles Collines also had the best ketchup we have ever had in Africa. (Seems like it wouldn’t be important, but sometimes you don’t realize what you love until it is taken away.)

The next morning, after the most delightful breakfast of fruit and FRENCH BRIE CHEESE!, we headed over to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum. I had mentally prepared myself ahead of time for the sad stories of inhumanity and the ignorance of the western world. I was right to prepare myself, as each exhibit offered dozens of shameful stories. However, the museum also showcased stories of strength, resilience, and those who risked and gave their lives to save their neighbors. I found the whole thing to be beautifully done, to be educational, sad, and uplifting at the same time.

Next on our journey was a trip to Gisenyi, which is a small town located on the shores of Lake Kivu in the northern part of the country. We mostly sat around, enjoying the gorgeous lake and the gardens of our hotel, and watching kingfishers dive over and over again. Unfortunately, the weather was mostly cloudy and rainy, so we didn’t get to enjoy the swimable beach (it’s hard to find non-pool places to swim that don’t have either crocodiles or a disease called Bilhazaria).

Beautiful Lake Kivu

Beautiful Lake Kivu

After two nights at our little hotel, we made our way back to Kigali. The rides back and forth were truly stunning, as we drove up and down massive hills through picturesque towns. The memories of the genocide were never too far away; at many of the towns we drove through there were signs in Kinrwanda indicating genocide memorials on the sides of the road. The country continues to grieve.

Rwanda is at an important place in its history right now, recovering from deep emotional trauma, poverty, and disease. The country has recently been acclaimed for its development and stability, but many are wondering if that might come at the price of democracy. Check out this article in a fairly recent Economist to learn more.

As I left Rwanda, I felt sad to have to go so soon. I had barely had the chance to distinguish many cultural differences between Rwanda and Uganda, remember much of my french, or appreciate the country’s ties to french cuisine. I think I’ll just have to go back someday…

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Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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