About scressman

A pacifist, journalist, and traveller. I'm in East Africa until the end of June, learning what I can.

“Disability is not Inability”: Special needs kids in Kenya

Children are expected to pitch in however they can at the PEFA Matumaini Centre.

I’ve visited Kenyan schools before, but last week I met some special students. I spent a week at the PEFA Matumaini Centre (www.pefamatumaini.org) near the small town of Molo, which is home to 23 young people with physical and mental special needs. The centre also supports dozens more disabled children who still live at home or attend boarding schools. The centre works to demonstrate their motto, that “disability is not inability,” to both the children living in their dorms and to the surrounding community.

Mike, one of the older students, relaxes on the centre’s lawn.

During my time here, I had the opportunity to befriend the staff and children. I helped serve a dinner of ugali and beans, and shared a Bible story with the children. We played kickball on the centre’s grass, and later started watching the classic 1980s movie “Karate Kid” (once the popcorn was devoured, most of the audience lost interest and left). A few of the high-functioning boys were always eager to use my camera and took hundreds of photos of themselves, their friends, and anything else they could aim a lens at.

Four o’clock each afternoon means chai (milky tea) in the dining room.

As I got to know the children, I began to wonder just what made these kids “special needs.” For many, I could see why they needed extra care at the centre. Obvious medical problems like spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy made eating, washing, or using the toilet impossible without help.

But others seemed like fairly normal kids. They ran and played soccer, chopped wood for the kitchen, and didn’t strike me as particularly disabled. A club foot or a learning disability meant they had been classified as “special needs.”

Harun squeezes water from a pulp made of sawdust and shredded paper. After drying, the charcoal is used for cooking fires.

Some local families, I got the impression, didn’t need much convincing to send their kids away to a centre that provided school sponsorship and food each day. It was a striking difference from how Canadian families react to special needs children, likely a result of different economic capabilities. But how did the children feel about being separated from parents and other kids to live in a compound with such a range of different needs? I never got the chance, or courage, to ask.

That’s not meant to diminish the PEFA Matumaini Centre’s fine work caring for children who have been diminished and marginalized. I really appreciated the centre’s focused motto of “empowering children to reach their God-given potential as responsible members of the community.”

Phyllis was often the slowest to get to church or meals, but always had a striking smile on her face.

The centre provides education sponsorship for kids to attend the area’s only primary school with a specific mandate to integrate special needs kids into regular classes. The school is next-door, just a few steps away from the dorms (still a difficult distance for some of the children). It’s much more basic than a Canadian special needs classroom.

Back at the centre, a volunteer physiotherapist works to strengthen and relax bodies tensed and twisted by years of seizures. The children learn to grow vegetables and wash their clothes, and to make charcoal from shredded paper.

Wyclef’s epileptic seizures have damaged his brain and his body. He can’t walk very well or eat by himself.

Living conditions for these kids aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t what I would want. As it does for many Kenyans, diet consists of mostly ugali and spinach or other greens. Beans are twice a week, meat is once, thanks to money from outside donors. Some children have no families able or willing to care for them, so they live at the centre full-time. Others live in the shared dorms just for the school year, then go home for holidays.

Many young people have been given staff positions after their school years finish. With more donor support, the director hopes to add new playground equipment and solar panels for power.

The young people seemed mostly happy, but some can also be obstinate and rude with staff. Have they been conditioned to be more needy or demanding by this childhood of special attention? What is the effect when a child is told they can’t learn or play like their friends?

John suffered a brain injury in an accident, but still loves music and sang for me several times. He always beckoned me to come sit with him, then spoke in a very slow, halting voice.

When does a child need special care, and when is it better to be left to adapt in the general population, as tough as that might be? My  uneducated position is that applying a “disabled” label doesn’t help some children. I saw this at the centre, where children who limped with a club foot where lumped together with children with severe epilepsy and serious brain injuries. People had decided they were slow learners, but my impression was that the diagnosis may have been a bit fuzzy. Maybe they had a learning disability, maybe they could have thrived in a typical Kenyan class.

Catalina, a physiotherapist living at the centre, works with the children when they’re not in school.

I am certainly not qualified to make those important medical distinctions. But I did see a committed staff at the PEFA Matumaini Centre trying to improve skills, self-confidence, and ambitions for a large group of young people who otherwise may not have had many opportunities.

Leonida and George play on the centre’s playground equipment.

Centre director Madam Florence baked a tasty cake on my last day in Molo.

Eyes on the small stuff at Mt. Kilimanjaro

Porters carrying food and gear towards the top on Day 3.

Kilimanjaro is big. It’s Africa’s highest mountain, at 5,895 metres high. It takes at least five days for most mortals to scale its sides. Every day, it rejects some amateur mountaineers and sends them back down the mountain on bouncing, one-wheeled stretchers.

These were clinging to a mossy rock like tiny white trees.

I joined the throngs of tourists who each year hike to the top for beautiful views, bragging rights, and a taste of altitude sickness.

Yes, the big picture was impressive. After a moon-lit hike that started at 1:30 a.m., I saw the sun’s orange glow spread over the clouds from Kili’s frozen Uhuru Peak. There were glaciers beside me and snowy mountain ranges below. I felt higher than the sun.

Dew-dotted flowers, called Everlastings, the early morning of Day 2.

But during the days working my way up this massive piece of rock, I often found myself more interested in the tiny stuff right along the path. Maybe it was because my eyes were usually focused down on the rocky trail in front of me. Maybe it was because clouds covered my view of the mountain  for hours on most days.

Ice crystals formed on the ground after a cold night.

Or maybe it was because the small features proved to be just as impressive as the bigger mountain looming in front of me. I found beautifully shaped plants that would grow into odd giant Senecio trees. I found piles of dark volcanic rock shards which nature had somehow shattered like a huge broken plate.

Radial vegetation on Kilimanjaro’s slopes.

On the chilly morning of Day 2, I was transfixed by dew drops on mountain flowers. On the even chillier third morning, I woke up and walked, crunching,  through strange little strands of ice that had sprouted up from the ground overnight.

And on Day 5, I couldn’t see much of the black mountain ahead, but I kept stopping to peer up at the inky sky full of the closest stars I’ve ever seen.

Very green, very graceful.

My hike up the mountain was good practice for me to enjoy the massive obstacle that I was determined to climb, while also keeping my eyes on each step of the way. There were plenty of striking, beautiful things that I might have missed by being interested only in the final, more obvious destination.

Of course, Kilimanjaro itself made an impression. It’s the biggest mountain I’ve ever experienced. (Here, see for yourself below)

At the top, near Uhuru Peak, watching the sun come up.

Walking the last stretch at the top alongside a glacier.

 

 

 

 

During this Kilimanjaro climb, I also registered something I don’t always notice: my ego. Hiking up with five Tanazanian guides and porters to help carry all my warm clothes and cook my food was a somewhat humbling experience.

I only found a few examples of this mountain flower.

I like to travel partly because it makes me feel independent, capable, and adventurous. But I didn’t particularly feel that way when I arrived at a campsite where my tent was set up for me, my food was cooked and served to me, and I slept in one tent while my five helpers shared another one.

Kilimanjaro is a challenge for most tourists, but I can’t imagine climbing the mountain while hauling two huge, heavy bags on my shoulders like the porters. I had to get over my discomfort with receiving all this help during the first few days.

I did, eventually. This is the reality of how people reach the top. I couldn’t have done it without the help of others (or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it much), and once I accepted and felt grateful for that, the mountain became a little more beautiful.

Mountain vegetation gets sparse as we near higher elevation.

Crushing stones in Kampala for 10 cents a bucket

A tool of the trade, which I wielded like an amateur.

The “clink, clink” of hammer hitting rocks is the soundtrack of the Acholi Quarter. Like an unsteady metronome, it counts out hours and days here in the Kampala slum.

Churchill breaks a rock from the quarry wall in his corner of the Acholi Corner’s biggest employer.

A rock quarry cuts through this hilly neighbourhood of tin-roofed wood and mud shacks. The steep canyon of brown stone and dirt runs alongside homes and streets where children play. It’s interrupted by a main city street leading to Kampala’s large Nelson Mandela football stadium, where the slum fades into urban development.

For most men in the Acholi Quarter, extracting stones and turning them into gravel for construction projects is the best work available.They break rocks with sledge hammers and steel wedges made from old car parts. Then, they carry the chunks to other workers sitting by the roadside who bash the rocks into gravel. They’re paid for each 20 litre plastic jerry can filled, with prices ranging from 200 to 300 shillings (eight to 12 cents) depending in the size of the crushed stones.

Finding the right crack to attack takes a practiced eye.

The first refugees who arrived here from northern Uganda, running from the atrocities of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in the 1980s or 1990s, claimed an unofficial share of the quarry on a first-come, first-served basis. Division lines are marked on the rock walls with black steaks from burned rubber tires. Those owners now hire others to help bludgeon the earth into measly profits.

Carrying a piece of future gravel towards its close encounter with a hammer.

During my time in the Acholi Quarter, I spent a few hours with the men doing this job. For someone raised in a developed, industrial country, where so many jobs involve air conditioning, computer screens, and barely breaking a sweat, it was hard to comprehend that some people broke rocks all day to provide for their families.

My new friends, Churchill and Jovino, demonstrated their work for me. I was hoping for a fully hands-on experience, an expression of solidarity with the men who did this job for so many years. I did carry a rock chunk from quarry to roadside, then sat down for a few minutes to smash it into gravel. I managed not to crush my thumb, but my technique was poor and it would have taken me all day (at least) to fill one plastic bucket and earn my 10 cents. The experienced workers can fill a dozen jerry cans in a day.

The black ash from burned tires marks the borders of each person’s area.

My hosts didn’t let me get too dirty by working for long. I was also the target of some strange looks as passers-by observed this visitor with a hammer in hand. This is what workers here do in the hot Ugandan sun for nine hours a day, six days a week. If they’re less lucky, they are hired less regularly and can’t earn money each day to pay their rent and children’s school fees.

Jovino demonstrates how to break stones into smaller stones.

It’s not safe work. There are no hard hats, safety goggles, or fences around the quarry’s high edges. Churchill has a gapped smile after a chunk of rock flew into his face and knocked out a tooth. Jovino’s hand was grotesquely swollen and when I first met him, a somewhat common injury that results from the constant pounding of hammer on rock.  It had to be drained and infected tissue removed. Another man’s foot was bloody and bandaged after stepping on a sharp shard. Men have died when an unstable rock wall collapses and crushes the workers at the bottom of the quarry. Even worse, playing children have run off the edge and fallen to their deaths.

Churchill has slowly chipped away at the quarry for 14 years.

Although the job is hard, the men I met wondered what they would do once the rocks were finally all gone. Each year, the quarry is dug deeper and available rock shrinks.

Seeing this work made me overwhelmingly grateful for the job opportunities back home. I can be confident that as an educated Canadian, I will never have to do such dangerous, boring, difficult work to survive. The industrial world’s job market and government supports make such a life nearly impossible. What a privileged and easy existence I have, completely unearned, simply because of my birthplace.

You can read my previous blog post about the Acholi Quarter by clicking here.

Portraits of displaced life in Kampala’s Acholi Quarter

Girls returning home to the Acholi Quarter after school.

I recently spent several days in a Kampala neighbourhood called the Acholi Quarter. This slum was formed over 20 years ago by northern Ugandans fleeing from the fighting between rebels and government forces that began in the 1980s. There were 11,000 people living here at last count, but that number has surely risen in recent years.

Grinding sesame seeds and peanuts (also known as “semsem” and “g-nut”). I truly enjoyed eating some local vegetables with g-nut paste!

During the conflict, the Lord’s Resistance Army under Joseph Kony kidnapped young girls and boys to serve the rebels as soldiers or slaves. Civilians were targeted, mostly from the northern Acholi ethnic group. Their crops were stolen to feed soldiers, and their homes burned.

Tens of thousands fled to the safety of Kampala, where they have now lived for up to 20 years. But the Acholi refugees that I met had only found a new sort of trouble. In the slum, whole families live in mud-walled homes with only a few rooms. There is little work except long days breaking rocks in the local stone quarry, a deep gash that runs through the Acholi Quarter.

Lots of children played by chasing tires up and down hills (at least when there were no foreign visitors to follow around!).

Many men, unable to find work or provide for their families, have turned to alcohol and domestic abuse. Women work selling vegetables on the street, or making bead jewelry. Many have lost respect for their husbands and their family relationships are not happy.

After rent, food, and medical costs, many parents don’t have enough many money for school fees for their children. Young girls turn to prostitution and boys drop out of school to work in the quarry. By night, I was told, the streets turn sinister and thugs roam.

Jovino, who works in the rock quarry. When I first met him, his hand was grotesquely swollen from pounding stones with a hammer day after day.  Someone at a tiny local clinic cut the infected area and drained his hand, and Jovino was regaining finger movement by the time I left.

Jovino’s wife making bead jewelry. The couple has 17 children in their household. Some are their own, others are orphaned relatives. Many families I met had taken in orphans.

A butcher in the Acholi Quarter. No refrigeration here, and he uses a whisk to shoo flies away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fighting stopped in 2008 when Kony and his army of indoctrinated child soldiers crossed into Congo DRC. With peace and stability returning to the north, the Acholi families here would love to return home. But they can’t, they all told me. It’s too expensive to move their whole families, rebuild their homes, and begin farming again. With their own land, they could grow their own food and escape the high costs and moral decay of their Kampala home, they said. But what would they eat for the first year, while waiting for crops to grow? Many were optimistic that they would return someday, but they could not say how.

For now, the newer arrivals rent homes from the refugees who arrive earlier and claimed a spot. There’s electricity, provided through dangerous-looking illegal hook-ups. A connection to the city water supply is possible, but too expensive, so families pay for each jerry can they need. It’s not a safe or nurturing place to raise a child.

A little girl taking care of an even smaller child…

…and apparently happy to do it.

Two buddies walking arm-in-arm through the Acholi Quarter.

Grinding peanuts into paste by hand. This woman sells chapati, eggs, and other goods by the roadside, and managed to save 75,000 shillings (around $30). She kindly lent that money to another woman, who is now refusing to repay.

I spent my time with Africa Arise , a group started just one year ago to offer personal and family counselling, as well as Christian discipleship. They hope to soon offer job skills training and, finally, resettlement opportunities for the stranded Acholi.

Conditions in the Acholi Quarter and the resulting social problems of substance abuse, violence and hopelessness, all resemble what I’ve seen in any slum or refugee community. Still, the people I met were extremely friendly, and warmly welcomed me into their homes. They seemed excited, even eager, to have a Canadian visitor, especially after I told them I would share their stories with my friends, family, and church back home.

I felt truly touched by their welcome, and by the difficult circumstances I saw. The past decades of violence have left lasting psychological scars. But the people in Africa Arise’s program said the counseling is making a real difference. “It’s released us completely,” one said. “It’s the only good thing here in the Acholi Quarter.”

Neighbours have taken notice of this new peace, and there’s a long waiting list to enroll in the next session. In a place that might look barren of hope, there seem to be some seeds still sprouting.

Like most of the women I met, Lucy has a big bag of bead jewelry that she’s looking to sell. The beads are made by rolling and varnishing strips of paper.

Lucy dyes strings of beads and hangs them to dry outside her home. She was abducted by the LRA rebels and held captive for seven months, until she had opportunity to escape during a battle.

Haircut in Kampala

A shopping complex in a busy downtown part of Kampala, where I found plenty of hair-cutters. But how to choose the right one?

I tend to be pretty shaggy, and am just fine with that. But even I have my limits, and the equatorial heat in Uganda was starting to make me question a mop of hair’s utility.

So, it was off to find someone who could offer a trim. Selection was very good, with little salons (or “saloons”) on absolutely every street, wherever I go in East Africa. But those are all for African guys with very short hair, so I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t find anyone who could handle what I wanted.

This is Brian. He cut my hair.

If not, so be it; I could just shave it all off. Fortunately, after ducking into a few hair studios (I figured women’s stylists might be my best bet), I found Brian in a one-room salon with cheery yellow walls. It was busy, which I took as a good sign. He assured me this wasn’t his first foreigner’s haircut, so I settled into a chair with Ugandan women on either side having their nails styled or hair braided.

As I relaxed and had the deed done, I heard Brian’s story of saving money for years, then buying the hair salon from its disinterested owner after starting his career elsewhere. He mostly cuts women’s hair, but also has a regular customer who’s a foreign guy like me.

A few quick, professional snips and I’ve been shorn.

As the owner of this small business, Brian works 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week. Sunday is his “day off,” when he works only six hours, until 2 p.m., he told me.

The final haircut was a little shorter than I usually prefer, but it should be just right by the time I’m back in Canada at the end of June. And Uganda is proving to be hotter than Kenya, so I don’t mind the extra air flow.

Unsure of local etiquette, I did not tip. But Brian’s getting a shout-out: look for him in the William Street area near Kampala’s taxi park. Tell him Scott sent you!

…and after.

Before…

Hiking the beautiful peaks of Uganda’s Mt. Elgon

Early morning view of the mountain range from Mbale town, as I pack my bag to set out for the four-day trek.

Mountains are my favourite scenery. There’s something incredibly beautiful about the intersection of fast-moving clouds, gigantic rocky towers, and bright blue sky.

Our guides, park rangers Jasper and Alex. After an hour or so of hiking, we had reached the edge of Mt. Elgon park.

I went looking to take my breath away on Mt. Elgon, a national park on the border of Kenya and Uganda. After organizing porters, guides, tents, sleeping bags, and food in the town of Mbale, my hiking companion and I started the four-day hike.

First hour and going strong, as we march uphill through farmland. The views were already impressing me, with many hours yet to hike.

It was rainy season in East Africa, and Mt. Elgon has a well-earned reputation for being a very wet mountain. One of our guides told me that the heavy rains that stream down these rocks provide much of the water for the Nile River and Lake Victoria.

We began steadily climbing through farmland a little ways from the park boundary, at a height of 1,700 metres above sea level. Once inside the park, we twice interrupted local residents cutting down trees, which is allowed only on two days per week. They quickly dropped their bundles of bamboo and disappeared into the forest at the sight of our armed guides/park rangers.

After lots of steep hills, we had climbed through several of the mountains vegetation zones: rolling countryside, rain forest with tall, thick trees, sunny thickets of bamboo, and then Elgon’s alpine heath, with scraggly trees and yellow grass.

Up here, the path became more of a stream and we edged our way along the driest side. My shoes were still soon wet, and the rest of me soon followed when, unsurprisingly, the rain began. it was a damp,chilly night at a sheltered camp site at 3,500 m elevation.

A lookout spot where we rested. You can see how many people live on the foothills leading up to the mountain; I don’t think they often make the long walk down to town.

Day 2: we’re approaching Jackson Summit, a steep rocky mound shrouded with cloud.

Jackson Summit, getting closer, but first we headed for Wagagai Peak, the highest part of the Mt. Elgon range.

Day 2 found us walking shortly after 7 a.m. towards Wagagai Peak (4,321 m) and Jackson Summit (4,160 m). After a warm sunny start, the wind blew in some thick clouds and the weather turned misty and damp.

The hike to Wagagai was a long walk steadily uphill, but rarely much more challenging than that. Approaching grey rainclouds meant we didn’t stay on the chilly mountain top for too long. The views of the nearby volcanic crater were good, but the mist obscured anything farther away.

Mt. Elgon’s otherwordly landscapes, with strange little trees and clouds drifting in and out.

As we started our descent to head for Jackson Summit, the rain began coming steadily down. Soon, we were wet and cold, with soggy shoes and chilly fingers.

For lunch, we had made the world’s driest peanut butter sandwiches. Not even the constant rain could soften up that bread!

Clouds rolled in, making everything misty and chilly.

To try to keep warm, we picked up the pace and walked quickly through the wet yellow grass. The trip up Jackson was steeper, but it didn’t take long to clamber over all the wet rocks and reach the top. I actually had to use hands on some of the steep parts.

At the top, I saw the black remains of a fire and some clothes. Later, I learned that some local residents still come up to the mountain top for traditional ceremonies.

Summit achieved! The view from Wagagai Peak. It was getting cold and the rain was coming heavier, so we didn’t stick around too long.

The local customs here include circumcision ceremonies that made me thankful I wasn’t born into Uganda’s Sabine tribe. Traditionally, young men in their teens must stand for public circumcision without flinching or making a sound.

After a very quick, cold lunch, we are now very wet and scrambling over rocks towards Jackson Summit.

Day 3 saw us leave our camp at 3,500 m above sea level and retrace our steps back towards the peak. Next we turned to walk over a gorge with a spectacular view, then down a new trail through the volcanic caldera.

This vegetation zone at the mountain top is called an African alpine moor, where not much grows among the rocks except a few small high-altitude trees and some scubby bushes and flowers.

We reached a ridge at 4,000 m elevation, passing many oddly-shaped rock formations along the way. While resting here, I saw the wind blow in tendrils of cloud to conceal the nearest peaks, then whisk them back out again just as fast.

The rain has dried, and the flowers poke their heads up.

Day 3: a beautiful sunny morning as I look out across the first deep valley we will need to cross. Even more gorgeous in person.

Next, we began our long descent across several gentle mountain slopes and valleys. This was our longest hiking day, and it lasted eight and a half hours. Going downhill is actually harder than climbing upwards, and some of my seldom-used leg muscles became very tired.

Rock formations up in the grassy alpine moor, Elgon’s highest vegetation zone.

Still, my eyes weren’t tired of taking in the beautiful view. Mountain air currents make weather unpredictable; I watched a cloud coiling around itself as wind pushed it toward the mountain, then rise as it hit that natural rock wall and curl over itself in a constant swirl of white mist. Very neat!

After a long day of walking, we reached Tutum Cave, our destination for the night. This is definitely the most interesting place I have ever camped: a cavernous cave with a waterfall spilling over the entrance.

Alex lets us take a rest on a ridge before starting a descent.

By balancing on some rocks, the waterfall became a powerful, not-so-warm shower that I took advantage of. Squeaking bats flew in and out as dusk fell, and we slept to the pounding sound of the falls.

We’ve climbed back up to 4,000 m above sea level here and the clouds are almost close enough to touch.

Following the trail along the side of a valley.

Day 4 was a relatively easy four-hour hike down to the edge of the park, then over countryside toward the town of Sipi. We passed again through spooky, mossy trees, then bamboo and rain forests. Finally, we were walking past farms, cows, and onto roads for the final leg into town.

Finally, we descend to where a dark, mossy forest grows.

Sipi is a small place, but it does host an impressive trio of waterfalls, ranging from 65 to 100 metres high. We walked past these, said goodbye to our guides and porters, then settled into a simple guesthouse for a big meal, cold drinks, and a beautiful view of the Sipi Falls.

Mt. Elgon is the first African peak I’ve hiked, and it far exceeded my expectations. Except for some cold and rainy moments, it was a superb experience. The four-day, three-night pace provided challenging, but not exhausting, hikes.

After our longest hiking day yet, we also took the opportunity to rinse off in this natural shower.

The various landscapes all had their appeal, and it seemed that every 20 minutes of walking revealed a new vantage point with a whole new view of the mountain. I recommend it, just don’t expect to stay dry, especially in the rainy season!

Tutum Cave, where we set up camp for our third night and fell asleep to the pounding of a waterfall pouring over the cave entrance.

The joys of simple living

A cheap guesthouse where I slept for a night. Not pictured: the noise from a nearby night club.

I also could have called this post “The unglamorous life of a backpacking.” At least, that was the alternative title that came to mind while I rinsed my dirty socks in an also-dirty guesthouse sink.

You see, when I travel, I prefer not to stay in the nicest hotels. In fact, my accommodations often could be called “bottom of the barrel.” Part of this is my own stinginess; three months spent in expensive places would quickly add up to more than I want to pay!

But the places where I sleep are also an important part of my travel experience. Taking private transportation directly to a comfy hotel means I would miss a huge amounts of grit and beauty. Falling asleep in a cheap room to the delightful lullaby of shouting motorbike drivers and street kids playing tag on the street below (true story!) is a real part of life in this part of the world that I wouldn’t want to skip.

I’m in East Africa to learn and challenge myself. Do you know what’s challenging? Washing all your dirty laundry by hand in a basin or sink! That sure makes me appreciate the luxury of tossing anything remotely dirty into a machine that does all the work for me.

Some places have showers with hot water, other times (usually at people’s homes) it’s a basin and pitcher to pour water on yourself.

How about a cold water shower, or maybe washing by pouring water on myself from a basin? That makes my Canadian habit of standing relaxed under a hot stream of water seem absolutely luxurious.

I’m not saying this because I think the Canadian way is entirely wrong. I don’t plan to completely stop driving my car on our smooth highways, eating junk food occasionally, or enjoying the air-conditioning on a hot summer day once I’m home.

But travel to other parts of the world can be a good reminder that I don’t need those things to survive. I like to abandon my comfortable way of life for a while, in the hopes that I can more fully appreciate so many of the foods, conveniences, quiets, and comforts of Canada once I return.

I’m certainly blessed, both through the technology and comforts of home and through opportunities to live differently.