More Rural Uganda Wanderings

A recap of my final days in the Mayuge District of rural Uganda. A look at the Peace Gospel International high school project, a glimpse into one of our classrooms during Chemistry, a walk through surrounding villages, soccer practice of the high school team, meal time, laundry time, dorm life, our women’s empowerment program during seamstress training, a look at the realities of water collection in the district, and finally, a sunset over Lake Victoria on my final day.

At the high school project, the newest building is almost complete. It will be the main building of the school with new facilities for the official chemistry lab, more classroom space, a library, and more administrative offices. The school has an enrollment of almost 250 students, most of which are boarding students.

Click/tap on any photo to start a slideshow.

Rural Uganda: Mayuge District

Deep in southeastern rural Uganda, near the intersection of Lake Victoria and the Kenya border, you will find a humble primary school in a village called Mairinya, usually not listed on any maps. The following photos document the joy these children get from their daily weekday classes and fresh breakfast and lunch that is provided lovingly by the dedicated staff.

Peace Gospel International has three schools in Uganda, one in urban Kampala (blogged about the previous two days), a rural high school (our biggest effort which has taken years to establish), and then, last but not least, our humble rural primary school which, along with its beautiful and gracious neighbors, is the focus of this blog post.

I love this little school as it’s kind of the little school “that could.” Despite a dire lack of resources and underpaid teachers, the school thrives, and the children are ecstatically eager to learn. When I look at their tattered school books, their handwriting and the comprehension of the subjects (based in English) is nothing short of miraculous, given their circumstances. This little oasis of education is proof that where you create an opportunity to learn, fill it with love, and fill stomachs with fresh meals, anything is possible.

We have big plans for the school, including security fences, a water well, new classrooms, more teachers, better latrines, and kitchen facilities. Learn more about the needs and how you can help.

Click/tap on any photo to start a slideshow. 

Holy Land Day 5: Chefs for Peace, Culinary Tour of Old City Jerusalem, Tunnel Tour

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

After a morning of free time recovering from our epic road trip the day before, we met the chefs at the Jaffa Gate on Thursday along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch!

But first we visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service, the pictures this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 30 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article. Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item.

After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made, the chefs took us for an appetizer at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus, Abu Shukri which is located by Stations of the Cross 5. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served.

After a visit to the spice market, we then made our way to the hidden gem of Zalatimo’s Sweets. In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry that the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”). The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple:  “with nuts” or “with cheese.” The shop also includes another treasure: one of the original entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is now sealed off and no longer used.

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at the Bulghourji Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more.

Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

Click/Tap any photo to start a slideshow. 

Chefs for Peace Tour, Cooking Classes, Jewish Quarter, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

We met the chefs at the Jaffa Gate along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch! And the real treat was that they would be inviting us to learn how to cook with them!

Day5-1Day5-2Day5-3Day5-4

Part of their tour included meeting the owner of a famous photography print dealer, Eli Kahvedjian, The pictures he sells are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by his late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 28 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article.

Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare collector’s item. He was kind enough to inscribe the books for us. I felt honored to take his portrait.

Day5-5Day5-6Day5-7

Then it was back to the culinary tour…

Day5-8Day5-9Day5-10Day5-11Day5-12Day5-13Day5-14Day5-15Day5-16Day5-17Day5-18Day5-19Day5-20Day5-21Day5-22Day5-23Day5-24Day5-25Day5-26Day5-27Day5-28Day5-29Day5-30Day5-31Day5-32Day5-33Day5-34Day5-35Day5-36Day5-37Day5-38Day5-39Day5-40Day5-41Day5-42Day5-43Day5-44Day5-45Day5-46Day5-47Day5-48Day5-49Day5-50Day5-51Day5-52Day5-53Day5-54Day5-55Day5-56Day5-57Day5-58Day5-59Day5-60Day5-62Day5-63Day5-64Day5-65Day5-66Day5-67Day5-68Day5-69Day5-70bDay5-71

Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter during blue hour, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

Day5-72Day5-73Day5-74Day5-75Day5-76Day5-77Day5-78Day5-79Day5-80Day5-81Day5-82

Last but not least, we ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

Day5-84Day5-83Day5-85

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Chefs for Peace, Tunnel Tour

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

We met the chefs at the Jaffa Gate along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch! And the real treat was that they would be inviting us to learn how to cook with them!

Day6-14Day6-16Day6-15Day6-18Day6-19Day6-4Day6-6Day6-7Day6-20Day6-21Day6-8Day6-1Day6-2Day6-3Day6-10Day6-22Day6-9Day6-24Day6-17Day6-34Day6-31Day6-30Day6-27Day6-26Day6-29Day6-25Day6-28Day6-12Day6-32Day6-11Day6-33Day6-13Day6-35Day6-36

Next, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that the much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

Day6-37Day6-39Day6-38Day6-41Day6-42Day6-40Day6-44

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Nablus

Our first official day on the tour itinerary was a very full one. After leaving Tel Aviv-Yafo, we drove to Nablus in the Palestinian Territories. We started out the day with a visit to the Greek Orthodox Church that houses the biblical site of Jacob’s Well. Since we’re traveling with the CEO of Living Water International and several of the organization’s board members, it was an especially meaningful visit to such an historic well.

Day2_Nablus-1Day2_Nablus-2Day2_Nablus-23Day2_Nablus-16Day2_Nablus-7Day2_Nablus-21Day2_Nablus-22Day2_Nablus-15Day2_Nablus-8Day2_Nablus-3Day2_Nablus-4Day2_Nablus-5Day2_Nablus-10Day2_Nablus-6Day2_Nablus-24Day2_Nablus-25Day2_Nablus-11

We then made our way through the old city of Nablus, toured the spice markets and were treated to various samples of delicious street foods and sweets. At every turn in Nablus there was an initial confusion triggered by our presence, yet once they realized we were tourists (very rare for Nablus), we were greeted with smiles and enthusiastic welcomes by very warm people.

Day2_Nablus-32Day2_Nablus-41Day2_Nablus-42Day2_Nablus-40Day2_Nablus-45Day2_Nablus-43Day2_Nablus-30Day2_Nablus-26Day2_Nablus-44Day2_Nablus-29Day2_Nablus-31Day2_Nablus-35Day2_Nablus-37Day2_Nablus-49Day2_Nablus-68Day2_Nablus-58Day2_Nablus-46Day2_Nablus-53Day2_Nablus-51Day2_Nablus-59Day2_Nablus-48Day2_Nablus-28Day2_Nablus-75Day2_Nablus-74Day2_Nablus-71Day2_Nablus-72Day2_Nablus-47Day2_Nablus-73Day2_Nablus-69Day2_Nablus-61Day2_Nablus-70

Then we met up with a Sufi imam who invited us to tour his mosque. You’ll remember that part of Breaking Bread Journeys’ purpose is to build bridges of peace through dialog with real people on both sides of the issue of the Palestinian/Israeli tensions. From what I understood today, the local Sufis are moderates who are against the use of violence and want to see two states living peaceably side by side.

Day2_Nablus-33Day2_Nablus-34

Next we made our way to an Islamic women’s empowerment cooperative known as the “House of Dignity” which aims to show the community how women can make a positive impact in the local society. Women in the program learn to make traditional meals from scratch using only locally sourced ingredients. This style of cooking is known as “slow food.” They are also working to improve conditions for the children of the community— we were saddened to learn that there are no playgrounds in the old city of Nablus. The organization is currently working on converting an old garage space into a garden and playground for neighborhood children. The Sufi imam from our mosque tour also joined us and we discussed several viewpoints involving the challenges of his community at large. We were immensely blessed to be the recipients of their hospitality— we were served a delicious home-cooked meal of traditional Palestinian cuisine, prepared lovingly by the women of the organization.

Day2_Nablus-63Day2_Nablus-67Day2_Nablus-64Day2_Nablus-66Day2_Nablus-65Day2_Nablus-62

Next we visited The Samaritan Museum where were heard about this distinct religion from a Samaritan priest. We learned that the Samaritans have lived in the holy land for over 3,000 years consecutively. At their peak, there were more 3 million Samaritans, yet today there are only 875, mostly living on Mount Gerizim. To underscore the diversity of this region, a Muslim woman introduced us to the museum, teaching a Christian tour group about the Samaritan religion.

Day2_Nablus-77Day2_Nablus-78Day2_Nablus-79Day2_Nablus-80

After this we visited a nearby Israeli settlement which is home to the award-winning Har Bracha Winery. The owner of the winery allowed us to sample many of his best wines and shared with us some of his vision behind his business as we snacked on fresh olives and apples. The settlements are at the crux of the deepest tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet the Israelis of these settlements firmly believe they have a right to be there, and their beliefs are fueled by deep-seated religious convictions of which he briefly shared a few of his. Again, remember that the tour is designed to help build bridges through dialog and sharing of meals with real people from both sides of the issue. Pastor Chris shared with us on the bus, “We love Palestinians, we love Israelis, we love Samaritans and we love peace.”

Day2_Nablus-76Day2_Nablus-81Day2_Nablus-82Day2_Nablus-83Day2_Nablus-84Day2_Nablus-85Day2_Nablus-87Day2_Nablus-86Day2_Nablus-89Day2_Nablus-88

Bonus section: for those who share my obsession with doors, here are some of the fascinating doors of Nablus.

Day2_Nablus-52Day2_Nablus-54Day2_Nablus-56Day2_Nablus-60Day2_Nablus-50Day2_Nablus-55Day2_Nablus-38Day2_Nablus-57Day2_Nablus-39

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Chefs for Peace, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

Part 2 of Day 6…

As I explained in my last post, Day 6 was packed full of experiences and tours within tours. A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

We met the chefs at the Damascus Gate along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch! And the real treat was that they would be inviting us to learn how to cook with them!

Here’s the group as we first met…

Day6_Chefs-47Day6_ChefsDay6_Chefs-2Day6_Chefs-4

After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter, the chefs took us for an appetizer at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served…

Day6_Chefs-6Day6_Chefs-7Day6_Chefs-5

We then took a slight detour to meet the owner of a famous photography print dealer, Eli Kahvedjian, The pictures he sells are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by his late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 28 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article.

Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare collector’s item. He was kind enough to inscribe the books for us. I felt honored to take his portrait.

Day6_Chefs-8Day6_Chefs-9Day6_Chefs-10Day6_Chefs-11

We then continued our culinary tour of the Old City. This time we were treated to some crepe-like sweets of which I am embarrassed to admit I do not remember the name. I was so busy just keeping up with the many stops of their very diverse tour!

Day6_Chefs-12Day6_Chefs-13

The chefs then took us to a spice vendor and to the vegetable and fruit market where they selected more ingredients for our lunch…

Day6_Chefs-14Day6_Chefs-15Day6_Chefs-16

We then arrived at Bulghourji, an Armenian restaurant in the Old City where we would prepare our lunch alongside the chefs and enjoy an unforgettable meal.

Day6_Chefs-17Day6_Chefs-18Day6_Chefs-19Day6_Chefs-20Day6_Chefs-21Day6_Chefs-22Day6_Chefs-26Day6_Chefs-23Day6_Chefs-24

Founder of Chefs for Peace, Kevork Alemian was kind enough to offer me a beer…

Day6_Chefs-25

And here’s what we came up with! Easily among the top 10 meals I’ve ever enjoyed… I’m not a culinary photographer, but I tried my best…

Day6_Chefs-29Day6_Chefs-27Day6_Chefs-28Day6_Chefs-32Day6_Chefs-31Day6_Chefs-30Day6_Chefs-33Day6_Chefs-34

Next, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that the much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

Day6_Chefs-35Day6_Chefs-36

My next photo reveals the 570 ton stone… the heaviest stone in the region. There is only one stone heavier in all of Egypt (think of the Pyramids, etc.) …

Day6_Chefs-37Day6_Chefs-38

Jewish women praying at the point deemed to be closest the the ancient ‘holy of holies’ part of the temple …

Day6_Chefs-39Day6_Chefs-40Day6_Chefs-41Day6_Chefs-42

The approximately 1700 foot (518 meter) tunnel starts at the Western Wall Plaza in the south of the Old City and ends near the Lion’s Gate in the north of the Old City.

Day6_Chefs-43

We ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To read more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

Day6_Chefs-44Day6_Chefs-45Day6_Chefs-46