Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I was recently asked to write a summary of what my daily life is like in Uganda for a website called 'Our Common Experience'. This is what I wrote...

I live in Gulu, northern Uganda. I come from Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. I am 23 years old.

My name is Cassandra Belanger. This is my life…

My day begins around 7pm when someone comes to wake me up in the morning. I recently lost my phone so I have no method of waking up without assistance. I get ready for work and then head to the kitchen where the scrumptious smells of breakfast are wafting in the air. Our cook Doreen prepares breakfast for us every morning. I always start the morning with a hug and greeting to Doreen and then head outside to eat my breakfast at our wooden table under the veranda. My favorite breakfast is mandasi and matooke with melted cinnamon. Mandasi is a sweet bread-like snack that is really good with the local honey and matooke is cooked bananas.

I then head out to catch a boda (motorcycle transportation) to work. This can be an uneasy experience depending on the boda driver and the current weather. Traffic in Uganda is by no means controlled or orderly. You can often be stopped by cattle crossing the road or have to swerve to the left or right to just miss some on-coming vehicle. It is such an adventure and no joke, I absolutely look forward to each boda ride. I love it. I love every aspect of my life here.

As I ride to the Invisible Children office I pass Gulu Prison Primary School, the Government Prison next door to it and the World Food Program before I arrive in town. As trucks drive past, dust clouds billow over me providing me with a nice layer of red dust to compliment my clean and nicely ironed clothes for work. Passing through town, the vendors are preparing for the day ahead as they set up their items to sell on the bamboo mats or shelves of the market. I turn right and ride past my favorite local café called Kope Café. It is a non-profit café that supports a child play therapy center called HEALS. I wave at the cook as he is moving the furniture outside. As I curve to the left to the road leading to the office I am bombarded with children on their way to school. Their colorful uniforms are like rainbows scattered across the red murram road.

I arrive at work with greetings from every person I encounter. There are a couple special friends that I can’t help but hug every time I see them. I feel so at home in this culture of daily love and affection. I arrive at my desk as Shally, our office assistant, brings me my morning African tea. I scoop three spoons of sugar into my cup and poor the milky tea into my cup for the perfect combination. It’s a sensational way to start the day!

I get to work answering my emails and start on whatever project has currently been assigned to me. I am the Education Assistant to the Schools for School’s Program at Invisible Children and I am currently working on starting Book Clubs in all of our 11 partner schools. The reading culture is very poor in the schools here and we have decided to combat that problem with the introduction of these Book Clubs. The more I work, the more I realize how passionate I am about education. I came to Uganda with no background in education and have found a new passion.

I work until 1pm when we all head out to one of the local restaurants for lunch. I usually eat at Catarina’s with staff friends. As you walk up the stairs to the veranda, you wash your hands with the provided tubs of water. This is culturally a very important step before taking your meal. I order my favorite lunch meal of malakwang (ground nut paste with greens), sweet potato and millet bread and top it off with a delicious cup of passion juice. We chat about the day as we enjoy our lunch. Sometimes you can see children popping their heads through the bars of the restaurant to check out the muzungus.

After lunch we head back to the office to finish off the work day. After work I walk down the dirt path to the boda stand where I sit on the back for another adventurous ride back to the house. As I return home all the children that live in the huts across the street come running up to me, somewhat tackling me, saying “muno bye, muno bye.” Muno means white person in the local language and bye is often the only other word that they know. It is always a nice welcome home.

There are different events on different nights of the week although some of my favorites are Pub Quiz at Bambu Restaurant or Lwo (the local language) Lessons here in town. I spend nights hanging out with local expat friends or other local Ugandans I have become friends with. I go to sleep around 11pm, tucking under my mosquito net as fast as possible to keep the unwanted insects out of my sleeping haven. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with greetings from my friends, the mice that live above my bed. I greet them as my delusional self falls back into my dreams that I will usually forget by the next morning.

And the next day comes…

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I was just reading over my previous blog postings and I realized that they are not really conveying the extent of my life here in Gulu. Yes, there has definitely been hard times, but the good out ways the bad in a big way. It's been a big learning process with many mistakes along the way but I finally feel like I am getting the hang of things here. Actually, to be honest, once you feel like you are beginning to understand the culture you realize how much more you have to learn. The Acholi culture is so rich and goes very deep. There really is a very big barrier to overcome before truly understanding the people and culture that I am working with.
I would like to explain the pictures that I have included. Top left is a photo that was taken on a visit to Kitgum. I went with Invisible Children for a meeting with local leaders to discuss a big event that Invisible Children will be hosting in Gulu. It's called THE RESCUE OF JOSEPH KONY'S CHILD SOLDIERS. The goal is to raise awareness for the children still in captivity and to urge governing bodies from around the world to take action on this issue. From left to right in this photo (all IC staff) Patrick Munduga, Schools for Schools Program Coordinator (and my boss), Geoffrey Howard, VCSP Director(Visible Child Scholarship Program), me, Eric Okori, Economic Development Initiatives Director and Jared White, Missions Program Coordinator from the San Diego office.
The photo on the right is me and baby Stephanie. Stephanie is the daughter of my good friend Mercy. Mercy is local IC staff and I have become very close with her. I spend a lot of time during the week at her place. I always love the food at her house. It is also nice because I am close enough with Mercy that I can feel comfortable if I cannot finish my meal. Culturally, it is very rude to be a guest in someone's house and not finish everything on your plate. Even when there are heaps of food on your plate and you are being fed seconds. Some of the everyday food in northern Uganda is rice, beans, matooke (cooked plantains), posho (corn maize), malakwang (ground nuts which are like peanuts but smaller and softer, ground with two different spinach-like plants) which is usually eaten with sweet potato. Meats eaten here are goat, beef, chicken and sometimes pork and other wild animals like wort hog. I have tried all of these things and enjoy them all. I am thankful though for a little cafe called Kope Cafe here in Gulu, where I can enjoy some western food.
The bottom photo was taken with a group of kids I ran into in a village on Ssese Island on Lake Victoria. I was there with the IC staff for a retreat. It was an amazing time and I had loads of fun.
I have lots more to say but not enough time at the moment to say it. I am just heading out of the office to meet with an American friend, Lisa Coggins, who has a primary school about ten kilometers outside of Gulu.
Catch you soon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


So after all the adventures of the first month of my 'African Adventures' I have begun to realize reality of life in Uganda. I love it, don't get me wrong... this is where I am supposed to be, it's just that reality of life here is not all bungee jumps and Nile rapids. The day to day is the same as anywhere. Really... as humans we can learn to adjust to any surrounding. There is definitely a benefit when we have made the concious decision for the geographical change, but nonetheless, it's hard.

Everything is different. It's another world. Relationships are different, food is different, transportation is different (and much more fun), I mean everything is different... you get the drift.

I am learning a lot about myself in this process of adjustment. How much I thrive off of the people around me. It's a really interesting process.

Well I am just heading out of the office. Until next time.

Wenen lechen! (See you later)

Friday, February 20, 2009

I am doing really well although I have to admit that I do miss home. It's not the kind of missing that draws you back, just the healthy, natural missing of friends and family. I absolutely love it in Uganda and I am finally starting to feel settled in Gulu.

It's been a pretty overwhelming first month but I have enjoyed every second of it. I have been all over the country over the last month. I arrived at the Entebbe airport then spent some time in Kampala. A couple days later we drove up to Gulu. The week after that I went to the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria for a staff retreat. Then to Kitgum for a meeting with the local elders about a big event IC is putting on in March. The following Sunday I drove out to Murchison Falls National Park for a safari and to visit the Nile waterfall. Next I went to Jinja and bungee jumped over the Nile River and also white water rafted on the Nile. As you can see... I've done a lot, learned a lot and grown a lot.

It's pretty amazing to feel as though you have finally arrived in the place where you are most called to be. I've met lots of expats in the area and made great connections with local NGOs and ministries. I have also found a great church called KPC Gulu, which is home of the Watoto Children's Choir that has visited Kelowna.

Work has been a bit of a challenge although I am finally starting to settle in. When I arrived at the office I found out that my position had changed to the Education Assistant of our Schools for Schools program rather than the Administrative Assistant. It's been a big learning curve but I am benefiting so much from it. All in all its been pretty spectaculer, the most eventful five weeks of my life.

Love you all!