Friday, August 31, 2012

End of my Peace Corps Journey..beginning of next..Destination Unknown..and POETRY

Well one year ended up being the length of my Peace Corps Journey. On August 24th I Early Terminated (ET'd) from Peace Corps and feel appreciative of the experience and delighted to be moving on...though it comes with some sadness of having to leave the special people I met over the last 12 months. Just before I left my computer was stolen from my hotel room in Kampala. So I lost most of my photos of this life milestone. However, the images are etched in my mind, and its all good and OK. Compared to the emotional devastation and poverty I witnessed, I know I am rich beyond measure and this is just a little inconvenience.

Below is a letter I sent to my classmates and it sums up my sentiments at this time.

Dear PCV Class of Aug friends
Yes I ET'd and its not a sad thing at all. So dont take my experience
to a negative was perfect for me.

My 1 year in Peace Corps was amazing in both it's depths of euphoria
and depression. In my soul I knew I had to come, and In my soul I knew
when I was finished and needed to leave.

I came to the conclusion that the universe was determined to make sure
I did not settle in to my Peace Corps "job". My sites were very
difficult ...resembling bad Ugandan soap operas, my experience with PC
Uganda were at times comical in their mishandling....even when they
tried to handle me well, my body was not cooperating, and my sister
had a family crises in the middle of all this. So an early exit was
the right course of action.

Because I never could get engaged in my work, I was forced to focus
inward and navel gaze a great deal of the time. I was blessed with
uncovering a new passion in writing poetry and given the luxury of
reading and learning more than I likely will ever be able to do again.
These activities occurred in the back drop of a 3rd world country and
left me with life long gifts of understanding and knowledge that were
just what I needed at this time in my life.

While in Uganda I made a few real Ugandan friends, and these are the
people I choose to remember as true Ugandans. The corrupt and lazy
discouraged me, but I know they are not representative of my Uganda.

As an added bonus, I also met some of the most talented, interesting
and selfless Americans. I have new daughters, sons, sisters and
brothers and I will cherish all of your unique and quirky ways long
into the future. Each of you showed me the world through a different
lens and expanded my life.

Try to nourish the noble parts of yourself and not let negativity
reduce your legacies. It is tough at times and we all stumble, but do
not succumb to bitterness and apathy. Each of us has seen beauty
shining through poverty and this has changed us forever.


I am now in Switzerland with my sister for two months before returning home to the USA. I can honestly say I love our country with all its blemishes and quirks, and for me, it is still the best place to live. Over the last 12 months I read a great deal of history and fell in love again with the principles our country was founded on. We must remain diligent in teaching these to each generation or we will end up losing our country to the illusion shown on"reality TV".


Timeout   August 11, 2012 
Sometimes its best
To put ourselves in timeout
To stop
To think
To take a deep breath
To avoid being rash
Following impulses
We likely would regret 

Timeout for Adults
Is more difficult to achieve
This requires one
To step away
From everything 
Most of us won’t do it
Walk out on career,
Home, family, parenthood
Our protected image
Checkout, withdraw
But I needed
To be in timeout 

For me it was
A bit extreme
I’m told I’m overly enthusiastic
However, I challenge the adjective overly
And accept the accusation
Of enthusiastic
I consider it part
Of my endearing charm
Something uniquely me
Graced from above
…But I digress 

My timeout
My year wandering in the wilderness
Took more effort
More courage
More learning
Than I imagined
What I learned is that
It was absolutely necessary
So I could be changed back
Into my essential self
Fall in love with me
My best true friend
Drop the duties
Required by guilt
That were destroying me
And my loved ones
One drop at a time 

The lessons I learned…
Quit the rat race – the rats win every time
Fall in love with yourself
You are not meant to conform to the mean
Change yourself – leave everyone else alone
Don’t buy what they sell on TV – Its Crap!
Be delighted with who and what you have
See the beauty and splendor of your loved ones
Discount their faults – the mirror reflects a glass house
Don’t write your story – it will write itself
…and it will end beautifully, if you let go
Of engineering the ending
The best part of life is the people – the rest is fluff
Without the blessing of a just and healthy civil society – its 100% harder 

Now I am ready
To return
From Timeout
My 12 months
Of navel gazing is complete
I’m ready to enthusiastically
Re-enter the arena
Changed back to
The better distilled version
Of me! 

She Awoke  August 11, 2012

She said I have to leave
Whether he understood or not
That her heart was imploding
And her mind was racing
In panicked uncontrolled directions
That she could not breathe easily
Or smile without breaking into a sweat

She laughed nervously
And said Really, I have to leave
And though she did not know why
Or where she was going
She left
Trusting the path would be illuminated
If she took the first step
To others she appeared disturbed
…And she was

With intention she left
Only sure that leaving was her salvation
And thus began her long walk through the desert
Life reduced to the bare essentials
Even less

Late at night
She faced herself without distraction
She listened and thought and prayed
And did it again
And again
Waiting for direction to be revealed

Until one day
She awoke
And the world seemed settled
And the turmoil was over
And she said I need to go home
And she knew exactly where that was

Sunday, August 5, 2012

1Month in Fort Portal-Mugusu Market-Poetry

August 5th 2012
1 Month in Fort Portal - 1Year in Uganda - Well it’s been a journey to say the least

Fort Portal – I arrived here 1 month ago and have done a good bit. Shortly after arriving I met up with a fellow PCV and we went to Mugusu Market with a local missionary woman whose family has lived here for 9 years. She and her husband are raising two young kids here. I cannot imagine living that life…but I admire them. Mugusu market is a large weekly market about 10 kilometers outside of Fort Portal. If you ever wonder where our donated old clothes go to be reincarnated – its in Mugusu. You can also buy all the local vegetables there too, but I did not get any pics of those. What is striking are the gorgeous flowering trees that no one seems to notice but me.  Robert what do you think of these trees!
Mugusu Market - Keeps Goodwill in business

Mugusu Market-more flowing trees
Because I have dropped so much weight I needed to buy some new pants (actually trousers – pants here mean underwear – so you learn quickly to say trousers). Since I could not try them on, – I bought 3 pairs for $6 total and 2 out of 3 fit me. I gave the extra pair to the lady who drove us to take to her congregation!

I also visited the PCV’s site about 6 kilometers out of Fort Portal – I rode my bike there and we toured her village with her counterpart who is doing the most with the least funding of anyone I have met in Uganda. I have promised to write an article/case study on how to effectively leverage aid here in Uganda. Nothing is wasted, the community contributes, and his heart is in the mission of the program…. and not focused on getting money for himself…which unfortunately has been the norm in my experience. He took us on a hike for a couple hours and it was beautiful. I did not take my camera into the village to photograph the orphans, new pit latrines, gravity flow water taps, and the animal income generating activities though they were very impressive. Some pics from the hike are below.
Fellow PCV and her counterpart-Rwenzori Mtns in Back

Enthusiastic Karla!

Villages below

Robert - what are these lovelies?

And these are amazing!

Little green froggie friend!
 My youngest son, who has been in Nairobi Kenya for the summer, will be here in a week and he is coming to Fort Portal to stay with me for a few nights  before heading stateside. I cannot describe how excited I am to see him.

My work has mostly been getting the place organized and trying to get them able to generate their own income as well as apply for more funding. Record keeping has been poor so we have focused on getting all income, donations and expenses documented from 2011 forward. They had records in 3-4 different places so there was no information to show the big picture, until I got my hands into it. Those who know me well, know how much I love excel and organizing information! I have also entered all the applications they have received from people wanting to receive bikes wheel chairs or tricycles. Also we are trying to pull together the complete list of all beneficiaries to date. Its slow work, like hunting for clues, but slowly it is coming together.
My living arrangements are settling in – not hauling my water and having an indoor bathing room and toilet sure make a difference. My weight is climbing and I am definitely not working as hard to just exist as I was at my former site. We have a hot water heater too and though its temperamental, it is still my best friend. The pipes below it hves sprung a leak twice but these are minor issues.

The young man that lives in the back and is charged with ground maintenance, general cleaning and security has become my friend. He is 23 years old and is always smiling and willing to help me. He keeps my bike in shape and runs errands for me. He gets better pricing at the market since he is not white, so he is doing a great deal of our shopping and in return he makes some small cash and I feed him most nights from my cooking.  It’s a nice arrangement.

I talk several times a week to my buddies at the school back in Gulu district. I miss them more than I imagined and appreciate their enthusiastic calls and texts. I nominated one of my students there to attend Peace Camp – which is beginning next week. For a description go to my friend Nancy’s blog ( – my student is the 22 year old – his response on the application to “how the war affected you?” is below:

Boy, age 22: “The war affected me in the following ways: I lost my father, who was killed. Secondly, all our properties were vandalized.  All our animals were taken. I myself was burned in a grass thatch house and set fire, but I survived. I have only one sister and one brother. The rest of my brothers were killed.  I have an injury from bayonet. My mother was paralyzed. This made me head of household.”

This young man works so hard to raise his school fees and support his family – he often worked in my garden and elsewhere on the school grounds. Here he is in my garden.

WORLD'S LARGEST EGGPLANT!!!!! That is a full sized dinner plate next to the beast!

Peppers+ Eggplant = Payment for a ride from a villager!

Working         August 5th, 2012
I try very hard
To be good to myself
And my fellow time travelers
More importantly, I want to be honest
First to myself, then to the collective you

I have learned this is not easy
To know what is Reality and Truth
We change our stories to fit our definitions,
Our identities
We choose to see a reality
That enshrines us in candlelight
Yet to accomplish the above stated goals
I need a powerful spotlight
So no false assumptions can hide in the shadows

I feel courageous
Most of the time
But I still struggle
Which I think means
I am not facing
My real limitations
So I continue doing the work
To uncover them
I get still, listening to my inner poet
While she shows me the ground
Where the work must take place
I am digging and weeding
And sowing the seeds
As the fruits of this work
Begin to sprout

Our Country              August 2nd, 2012

I love Our Country
Ours because
America is its people
Our intermixed
Melting pot of the shiniest
Precious Mettle
From all over the world

We have blended
The greatest raw materials
And crafted them
Into the most inspired art

The more I study
Our nation’s history
The more awestruck I become
At the insightfulness and Resolve
Of our leaders
The strength and resourcefulness
Of our citizens
The amazing depth of our Compassion
For those less fortunate

My prayer is that
We will not lose sight
Of what makes us great
We will remain vigilant
To protect and be grateful for
The values and culture
That is America

Log Jam         July 28th, 2012

Pressure builds
Increasing stress
As logs pile up
Appearing too heavy
With too much bulk
To ever move

But the undercurrent of life flows on
Silently refusing to yield
To this apparent inertia
Patiently biding time
Perpetually pushing
At every available purchase

Until with tremendous
Groans and creaks
The logs break loose
And the water is no longer
Trapped, nor restricted
Simple swirls remaining
The evidence of struggle
Vanishing quickly downstream

Thank you all for your love – it is felt, and cherished, and needed-Love Karla

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New site, Going Away Party, Prefect Handover, 11 Months in Uganda, Whole Lotta Poetry!
Grab a coffee or tea, a cookie …and get ready to read a long blog update!

Location of my Office and My Apartment
On Friday July 6th I moved from Gulu District in Northern Uganda to Fort Portal in Southwestern Uganda. In a way I think this enhances my Peace Corps experience, as I will have 2 very distinct experiences. I will have worked with war traumatized youth at a school in the North, and then moved southward to work in the disabled and vulnerable youth transportation fields. On the route south, the landscape changes dramatically from flat, dry and hot to mountainous, wet and cool. I moved from a war torn area to an area that has tourism and tea estates! There is also a small golf course in Fort Portal and a botanical garden. So it is very different. You can actually feel the change in the people, as they were not affected by a 20 year war.

Even with all these supposed “upgrades”, I will miss the Gulu area. I have some great PCV and local friends there.  I will miss my garden, some of the students, and most of the staff. Some photos of my old site friends.....
My counterpart and close friend the accountant

The Tailoring Instructor

My Supervisor and House mate in my Garden

Me, The Building Instructor and Australian Volunteer
The Carpentry Instructor and me

The Secretary and me- her baby girl was born the day I left!

The Deputy Director and me

However, due to several factors, a change was required. My new organization will be a nonprofit that manufactures and distributes bikes to orphans and HIV patients to improve the individual’s access and mobility in his/her community. They also provide training and education to these groups to help develop income generating skills.

Since I am moving to a town, my access to food and restaurants will increase; and this is very good as I try to keep my weight up over here. I will also be around more Americans and Europeans as there is a larger expat community in Fort Portal.

I expect my community, both Ugandan and Ex-Pat, will be larger, as more people will live and work near me. Presently I am in a compound with a 4 bedroom house and a small apartment block on the back with 3 men. Inside the house live me, an American male volunteer for the next 2 months, and a young Ugandan man. Another young Ugandan man lives in one of the apartment rooms in the back. The organization is going to partition part of the house soon, so I will have my own little apartment with a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. I have an indoor flush toilet and bathroom with a tub – no shower or hot water, but comparatively it’s D-LUX! We all share the common sitting room.

The compound is also the location of their bike workshop so frequently there are many young men around fabricating the custom bikes and bike drawn ambulances/trailers. The compound is a couple miles up a hill out of town…a nice 30 minute walk down hill in the morning, and uphill on the way home. I love the walk and the chance to observe all the birds and flowers and trees.  This part of Uganda is like a tropical paradise.

I was moved by Peace Corps in one of their Range Rovers and the Ugandan driver and I had some nice conversations. He is a devout Muslim and we stopped for him to pray at a mosque for his evening prayers. About 10% of the population here is Muslim, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet and interface with more Muslims. The ones I have met are nothing like the “terrorists” so many Americans like to imagine.  The drive took about 8.5 hours because we traveled on unpaved roads and therefore did not have to travel through Kampala. I felt like I was on a personal Safari passing villages and beautiful landscapes.  

Wrapping my Present!

Going Away Party
The school hosted a going away party for me – I was sad and a little anxious with the impending departure, but was also excited for the change. The staff all contributed to pay for the going away lunch and for a departing gift – I was mortified they had to raise funds, as some staff only make $1-$2 a day…so I also added some cash to help pay for the meat and rice. The lunch lasted 3 hours and after eating there were speeches by all attendees. My favorite was a young teacher who said “If I were God, I would make Madam Karla stay here forever and become a Ugandan Citizen as she is the first white person I have known.” OK Yeah I admit I cried like a baby a few times. My parting gift was a business suit made in China that is actually very nice. I found it ironic that was what they selected. I suppose I was under dressed for some of the Board Meetings and they wanted to help me out!
Receiving the gift!
The Feast
Co-workers and friends!
My flowers as decorations!
Listening to Testimony Speeches of my impact!

I really made some deep connections there and it was hard to leave in many ways. The day the truck arrived all the students gathered around and loaded my things and asked me to come back soon. It is a 10 hour trip, so it will not be easy to return.

Prefect Handover Day
On June 22nd the school celebrated Prefect Handover Day. A prefect is a British term for something like Student Council.  The handover day is when the outgoing Prefects turn the job over to the incoming Prefects.  At 8:30 am that morning I found out I would be the Chief Guest (AKA Guest of Honor) and would be expected to make a speech in 1.5 hours. So I changed into my best African outfit and started pulling together a brief speech. I think it came out well – Because I am in Uganda, I used culturally appropriate quotes from The Bible and Nelson Mandela, a true hero to all…however because of my love of American Football I also included a quote from Vince Lombardi. All in all I think it went over OK.
Decorations-flowers from my garden in paper vase

Handing over the Prefect Folders

More - Handing over the Prefect Folders

Listening to a speaker off to the right

11 Months in Uganda
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but on July 4th, I marked 11 months in Uganda. …this is surprising to me as I reflect on the things that have taken place in my absence….several high school graduations of relatives and friends’ children, a few 50th Birthday parties, the death of several friends’ dogs, a year’s worth of holidays and celebrations.  However – I have grown in ways that are not possible when you remain inside your safety net. It has not been easy – often harder than I can express – but it has recalibrated and sharpened my definition of myself.  

-it has been a month since I posted – so there is a lot of new poetry!

The Poet                              July 9th 2012
I have fallen in love
With my poet self
She seems to materialize
From somewhere else
Like I am channeling
A beautiful soul
Submerged for too long
Who inspires and delights me
Occasionally fear-provoking
With her clear eyed pronouncements
Yet always joyful and confident
In the knowledge that
Her words ring true
And the weight is lifted
When I listen to her

Becoming a Diamond                     July 9th, 2012
I like to imagine
I am becoming a diamond
Starting as a dark, buried
Shapeless chunk
Of worthless earth
Suffering from unbearable stresses
Pressure sure to suffocate
A weaker element
But not me
I take it
Bearing through it
Like labor
Awaiting rebirth
When I will emerge
The clearest and shiniest
Most perfectly formed
Brilliant and solid
Gemstone of a Human

A Tragic Figure                  July 9th, 2012
A tragic figure
Whispers the stranger
She tries, so brave
Though a bit unhinged
To step out of comfort
Apparently on a whim
Abandoning those she loves
Or so it appears
From the outside
Looking in

She is searching for something
Said the other
But it continues to elude
Always hopeful for the future
Squaring her shoulders
Leaning into another storm
Like some sort of Gladiator
Facing the lions
Hard to believe
Her Luck is that Bad
She must deserve it – somehow
Perhaps she brings it on herself
Refusing to be happy with what she had
Who knows what drives her
Some internal restless demon
Most likely

Nonetheless….I can’t help but admire her
Said the last one with a wistful
Somewhat envious tone
As they continued down the cosmetics aisle

Exquisite Evenings          July 7th 2012
Uganda has no winter
Nightfall is either a cool crisp experience;
Or a gentle, warm embrace
Occasionally punctuated with a thunderstorm
But in general
A lovely caressing night
With breezes that inspire
And a soft darkness that encircles the Soul

Makes a person celebrate
The instant of living
Right there and now
With the awe of beauty
And the importance of our life
Reminding us of the mystery
And supremacy
Of the existence we are given

Forcing us to marvel
At the magnitude of the moment
As we are captivated by the moon
Mesmerized by its promise
As it dances with the clouds
Racing out to lead us
Always just ahead;
Taunting us to follow
Its promise of knowledge
Never yielding its secrets
To us mere mortals

Dancing on this earth
Amazed at its beauty
Like moths to the flame
Hoping we will make
A grander impact
But never quite sure
If our moon dance
Can exist beyond the moment
Of our heartfelt ballet
With the muse of the night

Manhood                            June 17th, 2012

I presume
Being a man is complicated
Often contradictory on the surface
Stoically expected to carry the burden

Never flinching,
Being smart, monetarily successful
Taking command
Protecting, Providing

Yet to be fulfilled
To become a complete man
Takes much more

To be whole
Requires being vulnerable
Open to being wrong
Learning from others
Questioning assumptions
As you and the world around you
Continuously evolves

Taking greater courage
Than most men can bear
This openness entails
Venturing out alone
In uncharted landscape
With no guide except
The North Star
Of a deep knowledge
Buried in his soul
Ignoring societal feedback
Trusting only
Internal guidance systems

Most men pretend
This alternate path
Does not exist
Is nonsense
Scoffing at any indication
Their well-built world
Is made of cards
Belittling anyone who challenges
Their version of reality
Their best defense, a derisive offense
Collecting “Yes” people
To reinforce and participate
In their Kingdom of Machismo

True greatness as a man
Is revealed with a disciplined love
For self & others
Strength is measured
By Gentleness, diplomacy & creativity;
With humor
The icing on the cake

These men
Are beacons in the darkness
Attracting followers
Who intuitively recognize real authority
Craving to awaken it within themselves

True men use their muscle
To build and encourage other men
To join in the journey
Towards a higher calling
Of Manhood

Restless               May 15th, 2012

Driven to change
To mix and rearrange
Unable to be content
For too long

Fighting the familiar
Imagining improvements
Just over the fence
Around the corner

Determined to find meaning
Some larger purpose
The reason we’re here
The objective of struggle

Dreaming of contentment
Unsure what it looks like
Recognizing others
Appear to have found it

Is it in the DNA?
The need for movement
The drive to reshuffle
To relocate
To start anew

What drives those of us?
To leave home
Cross the oceans
Climb the mountains
Looking for what?

This force within is powerful
Pushing us
Until the tipping point is reached
And we submit

To bravely let go of what is
And move apprehensively towards
What is to be
Never knowing where we will end up
Until we are there

In Honor of the Fourth of July
American Heaven                           June 24th 2012

Peering through the window
At my former life
Where once I glided along
With buffeting winds
Like most of us
Of our level of luxury
And privilege

Now longing for the ease
Of my American life
With Knobs, switches, levers,
Buttons and touchpads
Miraculously delivering
Information, water, light, music
Clean clothes and dishes
…Power on so many levels
Not forgetting
The power of also
Miraculously taking away
Waste, dirty water, garbage

What do you miss most?
People ask

Of movement
The joy of driving
With windows down
Going wherever I want
When I want
Because I can

In unimaginable variety
Italian, Tai, Mexican, Chinese,
French, Spanish, German, Irish
Eastern European, Asian, Indian
Central & South American
Barbeque & soul
Every ingredient accessible
At your fingertips

The fabric of what it means to be American
Translated into the culinary palette

Expected, considered a birthright
Sports, live performances, TV, travel
Internet, movies, exercise, hiking

Entertainment is
A gathering under a tree
Singing and dancing
In the dirt
If there is a battery
For the radio
Or a single photograph
A family’s prized possession
Proof of the effort of their lives

Distinct and so comforting
To those of us privileged
To be raised in our borders
Unless you have been here
You cannot fathom the impact
Of good governance
Strong Judicial systems
Societal Support
Of the importance
Of not tolerating

Eyes tearing up suddenly
With appreciation
For our founding citizens
Knowing part of my purpose
On this journey
Is to remind myself
And others
To be grateful
Every day, every moment
For our American Heaven