We’ve been home over a month and the time has flown by.  We unpacked boxes of personal items in the house, sent the kids to their first days of Grade 2 and Grade 5 at their old school and Gillian and I jumped right back to work.  It’s been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: happy to be home, sad we left, relaxed in familiarity, lacking the edge, enjoying family, missing friends.

Toby and Bea picked up where they left off with their friends and are readjusting to school in Toronto.  Both kids are running cross-country, Bea made the Toronto Swim Club and just started hockey.  Toby is building a penny arcade game for school in my shop and starts curling shortly.  They are enjoying riding their bikes around the neighbourhood and playing in parks.

The adjustment back to North America was harder and easier than we were expecting much like life in Uganda.  The culture shock coming home was eased by traveling through progressively wealthier countries so that by the time we hit Hawaii it was pretty easy to be back in the swing of North American life.  Everything works the way it’s supposed to but there’s none of same challenges we faced and overcame together in Uganda: is there electricity today, what problem will I have with the car, will we sign the next partner at Grameen Foundation, what are we going to do with our friends tonight, Bombay Sapphire or Gibley’s?  Ok, that last one is easy.

It was a pretty weird sensation going back to work and having people ask ‘how was your sabbatical?’.  What do you say?  I’ve developed a short response that describes how it was an amazing experience, the kids loved it and we met a bunch of amazing people but you really can’t condense 174 blog posts over 13 months into an elevator ride at the office.  It was such an immense and immersive experience that its very difficult trying to pick a few meaningful highlights that convey an incredible range of personal and professional memories.  It wasn’t a vacation, it was our life for a year and we crammed everything into every minute.

I’ve figured out that you can’t really compare life in Toronto to life in Kampala, so much is so different but there are a few curious things we’ve noticed since being home.

First, we decided to hold ourselves a welcome home party in early September and Gillian sent out invitations two weeks ahead of time.  To our surprise we had far more declines than acceptances due to the fact that people here have plans more than one weekend in advance.  Our personal lives largely revolved around our friends in Kampala to the point you would almost be offended if one of your friends had plans one weekend that didn’t involve you.  By the nature of expats, everyone is from somewhere else so outside of your immediate family most people don’t have commitments that they ‘have to do’ on weekends so every weekend was just a question of what we are going to do together this weekend.

Second, it only took me about two days of driving in Canada before road rage began to seep back in.  In Toronto when someone cuts you off, or heaven forbid, doesn’t signal before changing lanes, that is worthy of a middle finger and a string of curse words.  A minor traffic infraction is as evil and reprehensible as Coca-Cola replacing Crest Tonic Water with Schweppes.  Yet in Kampala, I would be cut off 10 times a day (alright, Michael would be) and I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow because that’s how you drive.  In fact if you aren’t trying to pass that 1975 diesel truck belching raw carbon from its exhaust pipe by pulling out into the center of the road and creating the Landcruiser lane then you just aren’t driving right and people will wonder what’s wrong.  It’s the lack of driving rules that releases you from the feeling that you have to drive within the law and the stress and angst associated with someone else not following the rules simply goes away.  This also reflects the difference between doing business in Uganda vs. the West as well.

Lastly, we noticed how much we’ve learned about the world and how the things we’ve thought about as challenges in the past seem petty and fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things now.  We are excited to travel to Scandinavia next summer to see our friends again and see new places.  The world is a pretty awesome place.  It’s gotten a lot smaller in the past year and we are looking forward to another sabbatical in the future.

Thank you for coming along for the ride with us.  What started as a fun way to stay in touch with family evolved into a diary of our adventure and a wonderful record of the people we met and places we visited.  We’re glad you read the entries, made comments and stayed in touch while we were away.  Thank you to Sean and Kaidi, Mattias and Anna, Monica and Gard and all of our friends in Kampala who made this an amazing experience.  Thank you to the Evans and Smith families who kept things going for us while we were gone.  This is our last blog post and I hope it has been as much fun reading as it has been writing.

Chris, Gillian, Toby and Beatrice
October 8, 2012

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Manta Ray Diving

In the morning I went out with Torpedo Tours for a two tank dive just off the Kona coast, the first at Kaiwi Point and the second at Nai’a Bay. The dives were pretty incredible with 70+ feet of visibility and tonnes of fish, coral, eels, dolphins, caves and a four foot long barracuda that watched us from about 20 feet away.  The water is crystal clear and even at 80 feet of depth there was lots of light and lots of action.  The big island is one gigantic mountain of lava and so the dive sites are all within a half mile of shore or less because the slopes of the mountain drop off so quickly under the water.  The coral is in great shape and the variety of life was spectacular but it may not be a fair comparison to other sites because the visibility was so good.  In between dives the dive master and ship captain found a pod of dolphins that was in a social mood so we all dove off the boat and snorkled/swam with them.  They were a lot of fun, twisting and circling around us, jumping in graceful arcs out of the water.  A mother with a 3 foot long baby swam up beside me before flicking their tails and effortlessly diving back to the bottom.  We also saw a school of flying fish leaping out of the water and actually flying.  Their Hawaiian name means “crazy fish”.

The kids both wanted to scuba on our trip but you have to be 10 years old to get certified or try diving in the open water.  Instead we went back out with Torpedo in the evening for the night time manta ray dive/snorkle.  This was the best thing we’ve done in Hawai’i and probably on our whole trip back from Uganda.  If you ever get to the big island you absolutely have to dive or snorkle with the giant manta rays and I think it’s worth the flight from one of the other islands to the big island just for this.

You go out on a boat with a mix of divers and snorklers to the dive site appropriately named Manta Heaven, about 30 minutes from the main harbour.  You hang out on the boat watching a beautiful sunset and then gear up for the dive or snorkle.  Mantas feed on tiny plankton that are attracted to diver’s lights under the water.  This site is well known to all of the local dive companies and it is a loosely but well organized event each night.  A couple of the bigger dive shops set up ‘camp fires’ together on the ocean floor in about 30 feet of water.  The camp fires are big plastic boxes full of underwater lights shining up from the floor to the surface.  The lights attract the plankton which in turn attracts the mantas.

There is an 80%+ success rate in seeing mantas and we had a spectacular night with at least 20 giant manta rays coming to feed on the plankton.  The mantas ranged from about 6 feet from wing tip to wing tip to over 15 feet across.  In total there were probably 30 scuba divers sitting on the ocean floor around the camp fires looking up watching these huge, graceful aliens do slow circles diving and turning with their cavernous mouths agape to catch as much plankton as possible.  There were around 70 or 80 snorklers including Gill, Toby and Bea on the surface.  Each snorkle group was organized to hang on to handles on a flotation device like a repurposed surfboard or custom made floats and then put your face in the water with a snorkle to watch the show.  It was absolutely amazing.  We couldn’t take pictures but I found many online (see below) that are just like what we saw.  It’s hard to describe but the sensation of these giant flying ships under the water was incredible.

This was a great way to end our trip and we are pretty excited about getting home to Toronto and back into our life in Canada.  The next post will be from the motherland and we are all looking forward to it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ziplines and Blue Hawaiian

Today was a day of adventure.  We left the west coast of Hawai’i and drove 2 hours east to Umauma which is home to a lush tropical jungle north of Hilo.  The east side of the island is entirely different from the arid and barren west coast.  We had booked a zipline tour with Umauma Experience which owns 186 acres of land along the Umauma River including a stretch with fourteen waterfalls.  To ride a zipline you hang from a harness and safety cables attached to a thick steel wire by a wheeled trolley and zip along the length of the line by force of gravity.  The longest of 9 runs took us 2000 feet in distance high above the river and waterfalls looking out over the Pacific ocean.  Everyone had a great time.  We had all ziplined in Uganda and Gillian and I had done it before in other countries but never on lines as long or as high as these.  After the first line the kids were going with no hands, spinning around and hanging upside down.  The views were fantastic and it’s a very professional operation where you don’t feel you need to worry about safety and can just have fun.  They have beautiful gardens and waterfalls and it made for a terrific morning of thrills and scenery.

After a picnic lunch in a park in Hilo we proceeded to the Hilo airport where we checked in for our flight with the Blue Hawaiian helicopter company.  This was the first helicopter ride for any of us and it was pretty awesome.  The flight path took us over the lush jungle of the west coast down to the active volcanoes in the southern end of the island.  We could see the steaming vents, craters and paths of lava as far as the eye could see from the sides of Mauna Loa all the way to the ocean.  It was very clear to see that nothing stops lava except cooling which happens due to exposure to the air or by touching the water.  Whole towns, forests, roads and infrastructure had been destroyed by rivers of lava over the past 100 years and it was interesting to see the stages of regrowth of the forest and settlements where lava had flowed in the past.  We were able to see bright yellow and red lava spraying and splashing out of the Pu’u O’o crater and vents and see hot spots on the lava rivers.  The power of nature was clearly on display.  The helicopter ride itself was a lot of fun and the panoramic views were amazing.  The sensation of take off and landing in a helicopter is really cool and totally different from what you are accustomed to when you think of flying.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hawai’i National Parks

Today we made the trek to the southern end of Hawai’i island to visit the Volancoes National Park and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park.  We’ve been to a lot of US National Parks over the years and they do such a great job with natural and historical interpretation, guided walks and kids activities that it is always a pleasure to visit.  I wish the Canadian National Park system had a similar approach.  The best is the Junior Ranger program for kids where the rangers provide each child with an age appropriate booklet of self guided activities that support learning about the park, identifying features, understanding history and imagining your place in the park.  It’s a great program and we try to use it at every park we visit.  It’s free and if the kids complete enough activities and pledge the Junior Ranger oath at the end, then they are awarded a Junior Ranger badge, pin, sticker and other stuff specific to that park so you can collect them at the parks you visit.

Volcanoes was pretty interesting and well developed in terms of activities, interpretation and visitor’s facilities.  The one thing it is missing however is lava or much sign of volcanoes.  The nature of Hawai’i island is such that it is a growing island as lava erupts and flows down to the ocean to cool and add to the land mass that makes up the island.  Mauna Loa is the largest and most active volcano in the world and erupts unexpectedly on occaision to the delight and devestation of visitors and the surrounding communities.  We saw the craters and caldera but no actual lava which we knew going to the park.  We toured a 500 year old lava tube which is like a big cave, the sulphur banks where yellow sulphur deposits build up on the rocks and got steam vent facials from the hot steam that pours out of random fissures in the ground throughout the park

Volcanoes is a 2 hour drive in each direction from where we are staying so we spent most of the day on this trip but we did manage to stop at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park which is on the way home to see the artifacts and historical interpretation of the Hawaiian people and their way of life.  It was interesting to see the lava stones used to make interlocking walls with no cement or binder to hold the rocks in place, the ancient carvings, structures and boats and to learn about how native Hawaiians lived.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


We left Tokyo for a long flight to Honolulu and a short flight on to the big island of Hawai’i.  We are staying at a condo on the Kona coast on the west side of the big island for the last 6 days of our adventure.  The state is called Hawai’i and its biggest island is Hawai’i which is larger than all of the other islands combined and known as ‘the big island’ to avoid confusion.

On our first day we mostly acclimatized to the time zone difference and red-eye flight (we left Tokyo at 7:30 pm and arrived in Honolulu at 9:00 am of the same day).  Whoa, love the international date line!  While Gillian and I both slept on the flight, the kids didn’t and were very proud of themselves until they passed out on and off through the first day. You can see Bea sleeping in baggage claim in the Kona airport below!

On Day 2 we hit the beach to snorkel with an amazing array of fish among the coral of Kahalu’u Beach Park in Keauhou.  The highlight was seeing the endangered green sea turtles along the shore.  I went shopping at the grocery store to load up for the week and was mezmerized or paralyzed at the amazing selection in the average North American grocery store.  And this wasn’t even a really big one.  I mean why are there 11 different kinds of tortillas for sale?  Or 6 different brands of ketchup?  Really?  Sean and Kaidi, our friends in Uganda, talked about a summer vacation back to Canada and being overwhelmed at the selection at the local Loblaws store.  I see exactly what they mean.  How do you choose from 117 types of cereal?

We packed up a picnic dinner and drove to the Mauna Kea volcano to watch the sunset and the stars come out.  We travelled from sea level to an ear-popping 9000 feet in 2 hours where we stopped to watch the visitor center videos and explore the area.  If you want to go to the top of the inactive volcano then you need to have a 4×4 vehicle (if a rental) or go with a tour group to the 13,797 foot peak.  We hung out at the visitor’s center where it was about 50 degrees F (over 30 degrees cooler than where we started) to watch the sunset, wait for the park rangers to set up their telescopes and see the stars.  Mauna Kea is both sacred to native Hawaiians and to astronomers everywhere as it is home to the most sophisticated collection of telescopes and facilities in the world.

The sun set about 7 pm and the stars and planets were out under a half moon with scattered clouds by 7:30.  They have great portable telescopes at the visitor’s center and we saw the moon at an amazing level of detail.  The highlight however was seeing Saturn and its rings fill the viewscope.

We got up for Day 3 and I took the kids for a surfing lesson on the Kona coast.  Both kids went tandem with an instructor each and I went as part of a group.  Everyone had a blast.  Bea got up on the board with her instructor more than 10 times and it seemed like Toby was able to catch every wave with his instructor who is 18 years old and just turned pro!  We surfed from 9-11 am until I was exhausted from paddling.  We picked up Gillian and went to the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park to check out the park and start on the junior ranger program for the five national parks on the big island. We did the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail and the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park including the fish ponds and sea turtles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bea’s Rocks and UV Light

I got some really extraordinary rocks a fantastic science center.  I got a cool UV light, it’s purple.  I also got some fun rocks with the light.  When I shine the light they turn different colours.  We had a fantastic time.  We also got a star rock that you can look through other things that is called a TV rock.  It is really cool.

In the science center I did some really fun things like I saw a real robot.  Ella I hope you are enjoying the blog post.  I put a brain together and it was hard.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and Asimo

Today we travelled south of the city center to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where we spent most of the day out of the heat enjoying a very interesting set of exhibits across 3 floors and an interesting anime planetarium presentation on the origin of planet earth that both Gillian and I slept though but the kids enjoyed heartily.

The highlight of the visit, other than the blessed 30 min nap, was seeing the Honda Asimo robot in action doing demonstrations including dancing and kicking a ball to audience members.  So cool.  We ended the day with a visit to Toyota Megaweb where we checked out all of the automobile innovations that will be making their way to Canada in the next twelve months and Uganda in the next twelve years.  Mattias, Sean, I highly recommend the new LandCruiser!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment