Time to Fly, Thank You All.

I depart from Dulles at 6:50 this evening.  I truly could not have done this without all of the support and love from you.  I will post photos when I am able (it’s a little journey to the nearest city with an internet cafe) and I will write emails and updates as best I can.

I am staying with the Jennifer Ingosi family.  She is 74 years old and has a “son,” Daniel Lugunza, who is 18.  They have no electricity or plumbing, but they do have a room just for me–that’s better than what I had growing up!  I am very excited to meet everyone waiting for me there.  The water project seems to be quite an undertaking and they are eager for some “Western expertise.”  I truly hope I can learn from them and do whatever I can to make the work a success.

Thank you all again for everything you have done and are doing, now our work shall begin.


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I still need $1800 by Feb 26!

I am very grateful for all who have supported me in this fund-raising effort through not only funding but hard work, ideas and sincere wishes.  At this point, I am eleven days from departure and still have a mountain to climb.  The pretzel effort has been a fun learning experience, but not as fruitful as I have hoped.  I need your help! Any amount you can give in this time of a fatigued economy will be one step towards reaching this goal.  I am eager to get working, but for work to be done, the remaining funds must be raised.

As stated before, my preferred way for donation is through the PayPal link because of its expediency.  However, if you wish, you can mail a check to me at the address below. (You must send it by Monday, February 23 for me to receive it before my departure.)

James Uhrich

4774 Aldgate Grn.

Halethorpe, MD 21227

To reiterate; I do not view your contributions as just money.  They are truly means for you to participate in the actions of helping our fellow humans.  View your contribution as exactly that: your contribution to humanity.

I thank you.

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Water, Shikokho Medical Clinic

James’s interest in service and his grasp on its importance as a key component in international development make him a good candidate for an internship at Shikokho Medical Clinic. Among the most rural health facilities in the Kakamega area, the clinic will provide James with an opportunity to work hands-on with some of Kenya’s most pressing issues. James will be able to participate in and help expand this important local service. As clean water is one of this rural area’s most pressing concerns, he will have the opportunity to research and potentially develop a water sanitation project benefiting hundreds in the local community.

-FSD Site Team Comments

Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed

with a secret we sometimes know,

and then not.

-Rumi, thirteenth century

Water is life.  I am newly energized for this trip because of the prospect to enable life.  Clean, healthy water is a right for every human, but unfortunatley millions in this world do not have this right.  My hope is that I can do something simple to enable life, and the right to life.

At some point in this coming week, I will have a 30-45 minute interview with the site team at the Shikokho Medical Clinic.  Despite much paperwork, letters and essays; the site team needs to know more about this ‘James Uhrich’ who has caused so much turmoil with my whirlwind application process.  I am pleased to know that they have a project that I believe I can invest in.  Secretly, I wanted to do something with a water sanitation system for a community in the “bush” when I originally applied to serve.  That is why I was inspired to choose East Africa from the onset; I hope I am not being too romantic or simple-minded.  I simply want to enable life while experiencing life much different from my own.  Just as humans can share water to live, we can share life through giving.  This really is my goal.

Now I need to invest my time in not only travel preparations, but research and understanding of low-impact and sustainable water purification systems.  Thankfully, this technology is not very complex and various simple methods for site-based filtration are common knowledge in the community development arena.  The problem with locations like the Shikokho Medical Clinic is a rate of need and development that outpaces supply and infrastructure.  My hope is that a long-term, sustainable project for the community will be continued on this trip.

A recent water project in the region.

A recent water project in the region.

Here is a little more about the Clinic:

Shikokho Medical Clinic (opened in 1995) [consists of] housing for visiting doctors and full time nursing staff (completed in 1998), and a Maternity Wing (completed in 2003). The Clinic serves the approximately 3,000 residents of the village, along with a population of nearly 30,000 within walking distance of the Clinic.

The Medical Clinic provides care for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Health insurance is unknown and unaffordable, but small payments for medical services are received when a family has the means to do so.

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Pied Piper Dirge

When I was six or seven years old, I asked for a baking kit for my birthday.  Maybe it was a cartoon I saw about the Pied Piper kidnapping a baker’s son, but nothing looked better to me than the piles of steaming bread that baker pulled from his wood-fired oven each morning with a large flat wooden peel.  For a couple years of my young life, I desperately wanted to be a baker.  What could be better than forming a living from football-shaped pieces of dough and crust, not to mention the multi-faceted benefits of doughnuts and pastries?  Once obsessed with in all ways possible, that dream was smothered by my Mother when I was informed so matter-of-factly what hour of the morning I would have to begin each day if I pursued this baking career; somewhere between three and four-thirty.

“You’d be stressed-out and fat too,” She added for punch.

© Walter Lockwood/Corbis

© Walter Lockwood/Corbis

So, after years of wise thinking and sobriety, why do I possibly think it will be a joy to make hundreds of doughy things and sell them at the Waverly Farmers’ Market on a chilly morning starting way before sunrise?  Well, the childhood dreaming caught up to me again, except not inspired by a cartoon this time.  After a few iterations of homemade soft pretzel making, I adopted the grand idea of selling the delicious and fun-to-make novelties to supplement my volunteer work in Kenya.  Unfortunately, I believe that after tomorrow, I will no longer list soft pretzels with the the few true pleasures of life (at least for some time into the future.)

Yesterday, Alyssa and I slaved well into the night to make three dozen of the chewy twisted delights.  All that work and only 36! That number represents roughly one 5lb sack of flour, some sugar, yeast, butter, baking soda, a gallon or two of water, salt and sweat!  Why so few in such a long amount of time?

Have you ever rolled this cabin chinking “dough” into 18″ long x 1/2″diameter snakes?  It’s not as easy as your preschool days with play-doh.  In fact, I’m inspired to find or invent a machine to make this meticulous task more efficient if we’re going to get into any kind of production mode.  Every other step is a snap compared to the “snake making.”  Due to this fact, Alyssa and I broke into a competitive midnight battle to crown Pretzel Royalty.  I concede that she won, despite my whining: two votes to nil.  I can mix, knead, boil and bake second to none, but she is the Queen of the Snake Roll.  My pretzels continually deformed, fell on the floor, were lumpy and generally too small or too stringy and stiff to fetch gourmet snack status.  Her’s had a quality control I just could not master.

SnakeQueen Hands

After spending a few too many hours only producing 36 pretzels, I have to bite the bullet and spend the majority of a critical Friday workday doing nothing other than snake making, twisting, boiling and baking.  Otherwise, my commitment to sell lots of these fantastic natural, hand-formed pretzels this Saturday morning will be a fool’s promise.  I really should sit down and crunch the numbers to know if this idea is logical from a business viability standpoint-even with free labor.  To tell the truth, other than ambitious support from friends, I have no good reason to work so hard to make so little.

On that note, what would you be willing to pay for a steaming and chewy dough-friend, freshly warmed in a Dutch Oven buried in charcoal on a cold February morning in the city?  Especially for a good cause?

$1?  $2?  $4?  $10?  One 36 Ford Rat Hot Rod's worth?

$1? $2? $4? $10? One 36 Ford Rat Hot Rod's worth?

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“Hey bud i hope u are ok

u r one tough son of a gun

give me a shout when your feeling up for it”

-John’s text message this morning.

Not that tough.

Not that tough.

I was planning to drive down to Dulles International Airport to pick up my good friend Naveen but never made it.  Earlier that day, some friends and I were skating on a small pond at one of my coworker’s (John) family estate north of Baltimore.  This pond was a beautiful heart-shaped affair that his grandfather had dug for his grandmother for Valentine’s day.  So sweet and cute right?

I tell you, this pond is made of cold, hard, solid ice.  Great for the business end of a skate, but not the soft and supple face.  To tell the truth, I have no memory of even beginning to fall, plus most of the events after that.  In fact, all I remember is a group of shadowy figures huddled around in-front of a grayish sky and one of them saying, “The ambulance is almost here!”

Will too many paramedics in one spot break the ice!?!

Will too many paramedics in one spot break the ice!?!

From all the witness accounts, I did a good head-knock on the ice, “Four inches of bounce!” from one bye-stander.  This was a textbook concussion.  My eyes were open but glazed, blood was streaming and according to my worried girlfriend, Alyssa, I did have a pulse and was breathing, but my left eye was wild; looking off in some strange direction.  She lovingly cradled my limp frame and tried to stay behind me so that I would not see her crying, but I think that even if she was directly in front of me at the time, I would not have seen her crying, or laughing, or doing jumping jacks for that matter.

Concussion symptoms according to one Google search:

  • Loss of consciousness after any trauma to the head
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of short-term memory (you may not remember the actual injury and the events some time before or after the impact)
  • Perseverating (repeating the same thing over and over, despite being told the answer each time, for example, “Was I in an accident?”)

I’m not sure if I was “perseverating,” but all of the others fit to a t.

Because of all of this and a nice trip to the Emergency Room, I was not able to pick up Naveen.  I guess I got to miss all of his journey.  Thankfully, my friend Ayehlet was a trooper and jetted down an hour-and-a-half to get him.  Thanks Ayehlet!


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The Short and Long of it.

I made an agreement.  That’s the short of it.

I made an agreement with Naveen to visit his home country of India. I sealed this agreement with a British Airways ticket scheduled to depart the evening of January 11, 2009 from Baltimore Washington International Airport, arrive in Hyderabad India and return to Dulles International Airport January 31.  I did not follow-through with my agreement.

On the 31st at 8:30 I plan to pick-up Naveen from Dulles.  He flew alone,  and I will drive alone to welcome him back to the United States.  We should have been weary and wonder-filled after weeks of traveling together; that was the agreement, if only in my mind.  Now Naveen, alone, will be weary from 23 hours of flying and waiting.  I will be much more rested and comfortable; maybe with just a little numbness in my seat from the drive around the beltway.  I am glad that I can at least connect with him on some leg of his journey though, even if it is just a shuttle to his home.

January 3.  I committed to myself that I should cancel my $1200 plane ticket after weeks of internal debate.  I dearly wanted to travel to India, but the initial joy of that prospect faded as the logistics and letdowns of life crowded in.  “I can’t go to India now, that would be foolish.  I don’t have the money, my life is changing too quickly, work is crazy right now…But I made an agreement.  What do I tell Naveen?”  Thankfully, I think he knew as well as I did that his trip home would be well spent even if I did not go.  He hadn’t seen his family for a year and a half, he needed this to be his trip.  My trip should be something different, something I believe in.

January 6.  I called the travel agency to cancel the ticket.  In doing so, I was informed by a Mr. Jeff that I had to rebook my ticket before my departure date to preserve its value.  Foolish me, I had assumed that the airline would give a simple credit and allow me to make up my mind for a flight sometime in the future.  Not this airline, I had five days and counting, plus over $250 in additional fees and the loss of any new ticket price difference, over or under the original value of this ticket.  Thanks a lot Jeff.

Ever wish you had a ticket and could just spin the globe in a game of roulette to choose a destination?  I always believed that would be exciting and fun, but all I felt this time was anxiety.  Where the heck would I go, and when for that matter?  How long?  By myself?–that was the worst part, by myself? I knew I had to have a reason to travel, some meaning for this hiatus.  By the way, I had three days to make up my mind at this point.

January 9.  Breakthrough.

Searching the web and my mind for organizations and causes I believed in, I found what I was looking for:  The Foundation for Sustainable Development.  I had done years of service with particular non-profits and loved the fulfillment, but I always felt like there was never enough time to use any skill or trait to a full measure, never enough time to make a connection with the people I was with.  I would spend a comparatively small percentage of the time actually serving, and before I knew it, would then be bussed away with all the other volunteers to our nice big hotel; out of sight of those who needed more from us.  I knew that this time I would be committing to a longer-term goal.  My dream has always been to work with local communities developing sustainable living practices and environments that foster hope, purpose and life.  Thankfully, I believe I found a way to take another step in that direction.  After an expedited application process and the great help of Andie in the FSD application office, I could feel safe committing to a trip.

January 10, 10PM.  I canceled my ticket to India with just hours to spare and rescheduled a ticket for Nairobi, Kenya on February 26.  Surprisingly, the two tickets were almost identical in price! February 26 is a very soon departure indeed, but it really was the only reasonable open time to serve with the foundation. That leads to the present challenge:  I still have no idea what exact project I will be doing, what community organization I will work with or what kind of role I will have there.  I still need to raise about $2500 to go (please see the page on this blog entitled Sustainable Development: Kakamega, Kenya to help me meet my fund-raising goal.)  I do however, know that I will be trained for a short time, live with a local family, and begin to learn their language.  I also know that these trips, however long or short, are intended to familiarize, train and foster a long-term perspective on how to train the local population make a future for themselves full of hope and direction.

I do know that the local community organizations that FSD works with have more needs than people, have several projects that excite me, and are willing to accommodate my skills and abilities.  I will be in the field for only four weeks this trip, but I hope that this journey is a doorway into my long-term dream.  I know that this dream cannot be realized quickly, it will take years and years of small steps and continual learning; many trips and experiences I expect to be similar to this trip.  That really is the long of it.


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