a photo a day… in 2013

2013 is going to be a year of transition. Even if you were to ask, I do not have answers on what is next, but I promise there are things brewing and that I am filled with wonderful anticipation. As I begin another season of life, I am excited to remember the original tagline of this blog, “A piece of where I am.” This has been a place for me to write about the journey and to find beauty in where I am. As this year of transition begins, I want to record it and share it.

In addition to writing about “where I am,” I am launching a fun little photo project. In 2013, I will be posting a photo a day through Instagram (tagged with #365), and will share those photos in a weekly blog post with some thoughts to wrap up the week. I will collect these photos in a little book to share with you at the end of the year. This blog has often helped me to find the beauty that surrounds me, and I believe this project will do that as well. My hope is that, as I search for beauty in where I am, that you too will be blessed.

Just to fill you with anticipation, here are some instagram photos from 2012.


Chilling in my hammock (Kigali, Rwanda).


Flying places: sometimes in small planes (Uganda).


Old land (Northern Kenya).


Making coffee on the road (Ndola, Zambia).


Handwashing station in the desert (Northern Kenya).


Big flower, little bee (Northern Uganda).


Village scenes (Lira, Uganda).


House projects Africa style (Kigali, Rwanda).


Sunset and lake (Michigan, USA).


Hiking Ben Nevis (Scotland).


Coffee (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).


Ancient buildings (Rome, Italy).


Old art (Rome, Italy).


Water and islands (Hydra, Greece)


Interesting signs (Marsabit, Kenya).


Beautiful and yummy food (Atlanta, USA).


City sunset (Atlanta, USA).

I hope that you too are filled with anticipation as we prepare to ring in the new year!

All my love,

~pam (the nomad)

a lake gateway in uganda

This weekend as I curled up at home, I kept thinking about my trip to Uganda earlier this year. A good friend and I visited Lake Bunyonyi just north of the border with Rwanda. A mountain lake, the evenings were cool and we huddled under our blankets, but the days were warm. At an ecolodge on a small island, we had some of the joys of camping without any of the stress. Home was a straw geodome with an open front looking onto the lake. Our balcony made for a perfect view of the night sky so clear that the Milky Way was like a cloud across the sky. The outdoor shower had a picture perfect view. Taking the local dugout canoes on the lake was an exercise of patience and laughter as we discovered our abilities in western canoes and kayaks did not apply here. And the food was good, simple, and cheap. What more could you ask for on a weekend getaway? Here are some photos and at the end some ‘how to’ details for those of you enticed to make a trip of your own!

Taking a pause from paddling… also a pause from going in circles.

Sunset over the lake.

The outdoor shower with a view of the lake. I love showering outdoors, so this was pure happy.

Looking into the geodome from the balcony. Those are just regular old candles on the table. Above the bed in the middle there is a little skylight.

This is the view from the bed towards the balcony… where we played many games of cards, sunned ourselves, red books, and watched the stars at night.

The night sky. Do you see the Milky Way. This is what happens when there is no light pollution and no moon.

How to: 

  • Visit the Byoona Amagara and make a reservation using their email addresses. When I went, it was about $17 per person.
  • Take a bus from Kampala or Kigali to Kabale. From Kapmala you can take the Post Bus or Jaguar. Best to get tickets ahead of time to make sure you have a seat. There are cheaper options, but the mini-bus routes will take much more time and you will be much less comfortable – I suggest paying the price (less than $20). Kabale is about 6 hrs from Kampala and about 1 hr from the Rwanda border.
  • From Kabale, find a taxi to take you out to Lake Bunyonyi and to the dock for Byoona Amagara. From there you can either get the powered boat (a few dollars and about 15 minutes) or take a canoe (free and about an hour).
  • All electricity on the island is powered by solar power, so it is likely that you will not have much power if it has been cloudy/rainy, so be prepared with a flashlight (although they do provide candles). Also, the water is heated by solar, but if it has not warmed up, the staff will heat water for a bucket bath if you want.
  • This is an ideal location to relax, read, do some canoeing, play games, and watch the stars. If you want to do lots of hiking, this is probably not for you. If you need to rest and recharge, this is your spot.

This has been one of my favorite trips in the region – I hope you love it too!

a brilliant night sky

Last night I was lying under the an absolutely brilliant night sky contemplating divine beauty. The day had been near perfect: my soul was filled with the laughter of friendship and silly adventures, my stomach full with good food, and my skin sun-kissed from a day outside. And then the day was pushed to perfection when the clouds cleared and the stars emerged in a way only possible where there is no light pollution. The Milky Way was a cloud across the night sky. I could not help but say that this is divine beauty made by a creator in such a way that I, that we, could enjoy it. My dear friend added, “And that we would be made to appreciate beauty.”

her cuteness

At the end of a day of asking questions, taking photos and being inspired by the great work of our partner in Northern Uganda, I was about to get in the car when this young one was smiling from here eyes straight into my heart. In the background you can see part of a family compound. To me, she shall be known as ‘her cuteness’.

laundry or school?

I wrote this post for Blood:Water Mission when I was in Uganda. The original posting can be found HERE.

Childhood is not quite the same in Africa as it is in America. Here in America, children go to school because they have to. It is simply part of the deal of being a kid – regardless of whether you go public school, private school, or are home schooled. In Uganda, not all children go to school, and it is not always for the reasons I would imagine.

As I was walking through the village of Alobo Rom in Northern Uganda, I met Janet, not far from an unprotected spring that I was there to check out. She had a small pile of laundry in front of her and was washing her clothes by hand. When we started talking, she said that she did not go to school that day because her clothes were dirty. So, at age 13, Janet was washing her clothes rather than sitting in the classroom.

There are a lot of things that ran through my mind at that point. Why she would be kept out of school for dirty clothes? Why were her clothes not washed the night before? Was there no one to help her? When did she stop being a child? But, this is part of life here. I know that the rest of her day is likely full of other chores, including carrying water for her family’s needs. I hope that some day this is not her reality, that nothing will keep her from school – not laundry, not carrying water, and not illness. But on the day that I met Janet, all I could do was share a smile and wish her the best when she returned to the classroom.


a village scene

For the next week, I will be sitting in front of my computer and piles of papers. I am glad I got this beautiful breath of fresh air in Uganda just before this time. Images of fluffy clouds, brilliant skies, and picturesque villages will be dancing in my head while I stare at technology.

storm brewing

Today was a beautiful day in the field – got to see some places where there will be water projects and places that I have been in the past that now have safe water. At the end of our day, as the rain clouds were threatening serious rain, I was snapping a last few photos before we raced the storm home. Beautiful.

And no, I have not forgotten about my brother’s wedding. It was beautiful and I hope to sort through my photos and put a few up with a few thoughts about the wedding. For now, check out Lar & Cath’s blog (Matt’s bride and her twin sister) asiancajuns.com and the photographer’s blog for a few pictures of the wonderful day. Since I was in the wedding, they probably (slow internet here in Northern Uganda) have much better photo documentation than I will anyway.

joyful adventure

As we were driving out of a community Thursday morning, Claudette pointed down the road and said, “That’s Uganda.” I knew that we were practically sitting on the border all week and had looked into Uganda from the mountain, but the border crossing was now less than a mile away and I knew that Mike, this being his first trip to Africa, had not yet been to Uganda. So I asked if it was easy to cross and a few more questions. Next thing I know Claudette had talked to Emmanuel, our driver, and we are headed to the border – all of us with big smiles on our faces.

There is just something about spontaneous adventure that is hard to beat. We could have turned around and gone to our next meeting, but we had some time to kill and Uganda was waiting for us. Except I know the visa to Uganda is $50 for Americans, and I did not want to drop $100 to walk on Ugandan soil. But, how can it be adventure if you know how it will work out before it has begun?

When we got out of the car at the Rwandan border (this would be a crossing on foot), I found out that Blandine, who is from this border community had never been to Uganda. Everyone had their papers – three of us passports, one set of national papers, and one set of local papers (that required no visa or stamp to cross). We exited Rwanda and walked to Uganda where I met the immigration officer. I explained what we were doing – that we just wanted to get a soda in Uganda. He waived us on for our little adventure, no visa required. “Please, is there any way to get a stamp in our passports or for you to sign our passports?” I was definitely not above begging. “No – that requires a visa.” (No need to mention the cost for a visa.) So, he waived us in and gave us a small bag of peanuts sitting on his desk – our consolation prize. And so we walked into Uganda with no stamp but eating consolation peanuts. We found the least grungy border hotel, had a warm soda, took some photos, and walked back to Rwanda.

Our time in Rwanda had been great – amazing stories, smiles, laughter, and gorgeous nature. But this adventure was different than everything else. We had conspired together and embarked on a journey that was not planned. No one was in charge and it was all slightly unknown. Both an American and a Rwandan (specifically from that region) visited Uganda for the first time. The smiles and bounces in everyone’s walk were larger than I have seen them any other time. I am so thankful for the good, spontaneous decisions we made that day. Together we journeyed and were filled with joyful adventure.


One of the things that I do as I travel is gather stories – through words, photos, and video – to be used in campaigns and project updates. Remember when I was in Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya? There are photos and videos you have not seen from that trip – most recently used in Blood:Water Mission’s summer campaign, Lemon:Aid.

The concept behind the campaign is simple: kids make lemonade stands – they tell people about water in Africa and raise money by selling lemonade – so that kids (and parents) in Africa can have water. It has been awesome to watch so many people get behind this campaign. There is still time before school starts, so if your kids need something to do, check out the website to download materials and take a stand for safe water in Africa. Whether or not you decide to do a Lemon:Aid stand, I hope you enjoy these photos & short stories.

biking water home

Although his jerry can was full and it was loaded onto his bike, he stood by the well watching as I talked with people. A  quiet observer, he was willing to share a smile with me and the camera before I left.

buckets in a line

No – I did not set this up and the overflowing jerry can was removed moments after I took this photo. The largest one (sadly falling out of the photo) is a 20 litre jerry can, the smallest is a 1 litre jerry can. A bucket or container for people of all sizes.


Meet Lily. I met her at a well and her smile captured me. When I asked to take her picture, she looked at her clothes and felt embarrassed – she was dirty as she just come from working in the fields. But, I said, your face is beautiful. She agreed to the portrait. I am glad to say that seeing her portrait on the view screen of my camera also made her smile.

there is no relic

This is the fourth time I have visited Northern Uganda, and it is the fourth time I have been amazed by the lack of visual evidence of the trauma that was inflicted on the region by the LRA. There are no burned out buildings or large monuments erected to force remembrance or to honor those who suffered. There are no empty IDP camps that serve as ghost-town evidence because they tore down the camps when the LRA left to force people back into their villages. Yes, the LRA burned villages and destroyed homes. But mud brick and thatch roof easily slip away to simply become land, and dense tropical vegetation grows fast hiding what is left behind.

But the trauma just ended – the camps were emptied 2 and 3 years ago. There is something inside of me that wants something, some relic, to reconcile this reality with this place that flows with life and laughter. Sometimes my colleagues here talk as we drive or walk.

That school over there – that is a girls school where the LRA abducted all the girls and the nuns walked for days to get them back. This house, this yard, is where the LRA made a boy walk in circles endlessly after he had walked with a suitcase on his head for kilometers. They left him for dead, but he lived. That camp, it began at the wall of our compound and it went so far – it could house 10,000 people. There used to be two lines for them to use our hand pump. That teacher training school – in the middle of the night someone ran from door to door making noise because the LRA had come – we all ran to town and were safe. Do you remember the days when there were 20 people sleeping under one roof?

I was watching the team do a hand pump repair, and saw a building missing its roof and falling apart. It was the visual image of destruction, pain, and abandonment that I have been looking for. Then I found out it was just part of a former leprosy colony that no longer exists. A few of the other buildings have been absconded to be a nursery school, but this one was left to slowly deteriorate. And so my visual image is really that of a bygone era when leprosy was more common and treatment colonies were the norm. Not a word about the recent history of the region. Not one.

I was asked to lead a mini-workshop on storytelling last week and tonight sat down to read stories that were written by the handful of participants. The goal was simple: write one or two true stories. Make sure that you have included the critical parts of the story and describe three photos you would take to help tell the story. The purpose was to learn to write better stories for grants, reports, and fundraising.

I thought I would get stories about kids with diarrhea, wells being drilled, and latrines being dug. About a third were like that. The rest were heavier. Much heavier. Villages being raided for cattle followed by standing in a stream all night to save your life. A boy being orphaned and always being sick only to find out he has AIDS. But, he received treatment and help, so the future looks good. A friend being killed by the LRA. A story of struggling to forgive the man who tried to kill his mother. I asked for stories and that is what I received. While I am honored to have read these stories, I am thankful that this workshop contained only a handful of people because there is only so much heaviness I can handle in one night.

There are no visual reminders here that an outsider can understand. But the story is fully alive in people’s minds. The empty field tells of where the camp used to be. Buildings and trees and houses hold specific stories. No person was left untouched and each has a story. I am humbled to have been told a piece of a few stories. I think I am going to stop looking for that relic, that visual image. Maybe someday there will be a monument to honor those that suffered and died. Until then, the only thing I know to do to honor the living is to listen. No hunting for a photo to abstractly show the history and no prompting for a dramatic story – just listening to what is told. Maybe then these buildings and tress and houses will hold stories of the past for me too.