Wednesday, December 9, 2020

How are we really doing one year on? Here’s the Good, the Hard and The Ugly.

Many of you have so kindly been asking us how we’ve been going. How we’ve transitioned and if we’ve settled into NZ yet? So here’s my very honest, very vulnerable assessment of just that.

Of course, I could give you surface level. And tell you about how I’m so far behind on technology it’s not even funny. I’ve missed out on 6 years of technological advancements -  and it shows.  What on earth is Microsoft Teams, Planner and Snapchat? Don’t tell my work but I literally don’t even know where to save anything so I just save it to my desktop. Pretty sure that’s really bad and not allowed but I’m too scared to tell the IT Department.

Since when were Instagram stories more popular than Instagram and why is all my text right aligned and how do I add music to videos and why is it so hard for me to learn this stuff? I Also, I have no idea what to wear anymore. I used to pride myself in my “fashion sense”. Not anymore folks, not anymore. I have officially lost touch. My friends pretend not to be embarrassed when around me. Oh and training the kids to be more civilised has been a real up- hill battle. They eat food off the floor, wipe their nose with their shirt, dress in whatever the heck they want and don’t even get me started on the mall. Let’s just say they do not know the correct “protocol” and call the escalators “magical stairs”.

It’s also been weird getting used to being “on time” again. I’m so used to showing up to things late (as that’s on time in Uganda). It’s been my excuse for about a year now and I think it’s reaching its shelf life. Pshh.

How are we really doing one year on? Here’s the Good, the Hard and The Ugly.

The Good:

It is so wonderful to be back. I’m really happy we are here. It feels right. Who knew when we left that a global pandemic would sweep the world a mere three months later? Being back with our families is everything I hoped it would be. Reconnecting with my brothers has been especially sweet. Spending time with old friends and meeting new ones is amazing. In fact, I’d say in the last two months it feels like we’re finally hitting our stride. We’re getting to know who our people are, we’ve worked out where to get the things we need, we’re starting to make new traditions and we are truly loving New Zealand.

The Hard:

1) My kids haven’t grown up here. Instead their childhood quirks and experiences are sacredly stored amongst many missionary/expat women now (mainly thanks to Covid) scattered all over the globe. This makes me eternally grateful and also sometimes deeply sad. I wish I had that shared history and those inside jokes with my friends here. And I wish those Mamas lived in New Zealand too.

2) Speaking of friendship: This year I’ve grieved the loss of the incredibly close community I had in Uganda. Moving back, some friendships here are deeper than ever, others have moved on and that’s ok. Some of the drift is us. I know that. We’ve changed and lived away for 6 years! God has been so kind in bringing incredible new friends to us too!

3) Both of us have been used to living in a constant state of adrenalin. Coming down off the ‘high’ of living on that level has been something to get used to. That daily life adventure of stress and excitement all rolled into one is (for the most part) gone for now. Doing 30 trips a year between us is off the radar for the foreseeable. And we miss it. I think because we haven’t been travelling and we’re not used to the quiet life, much less the lockdown life, we’ve tried throwing ourselves full steam into projects, even crazy projects to make us feel normal because chaos was our normal! That’s probably not been very healthy.

4) Not being surrounded by Ugandans. We miss it ever so much. And I’m acutely aware of not wanting my children to be the only brown faces in the room. I hate it that we’ve taken them from a majority culture to a minority one. I spend a lot of my time trying to work out how to mitigate that from everything to where we go to school to where we live and who we hang out with.

5) I still have a scarcity mentality and I can’t shake it. Especially with shopping and food. Despite the fact that I live in the land of plenty, I still find myself not trusting stock levels and things to be available. I am hyper vigilant and insanely organised with food and birthdays and backstock for all things from Father’s Day cards to shampoo. This is a blessing and a curse.

The Ugly:

A few weeks back we did a two day debrief with a trained therapist who debriefs people that have lived in challenging environments and been witness to hard things. Out of this, one of the many things that came up was loss. And I realised that if I’m honest, a big part of my identity was wrapped up in living and working in Uganda. Now that we are here, I feel like I’ve lost 49% of myself. And that’s a big chunk.

During the debrief I felt like I was being asked to let go. To put a full stop on that chapter of our lives and turn the page.  I kept getting the strong sense that God was trying to do a new thing and I kept trying to fit my old life into my new life. So I picked up a shell from the beach, told it what it symbolised to me and together we threw it into the ocean. Closing this beautiful chapter and turning the page to a promising new one.

And then I was reminded; whenever I’m on the field about to do a shoot I always pray, “God, show me where you are here. Show me what you’re up to. I need to find you here.” That’s my new prayer for now too.  Maybe it can be yours for 2021 as well?

 Love, Helen 


Sunday, November 8, 2020

An interview I did recently with the team at We are Human As

Hey friends! I’m so excited to share with you an interview I did with the beautiful team at We are Human As. In this interview I share a little bit about our adoption journey, my job as a humanitarian photographer and storyteller and three photos that are really meaningful to me. Photos taken on the field for Tearfund, Compassion, Medical Teams International and World Vision. There are a few tears at the end but I know you’ll understand why.. Love to hear your thoughts - please do comment below! Watch the full interview here

Much love to you all! Xo

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The surprise Mothers Day photoshoot we did last week!

Hey friends!

It was such an honour to be a part of this years Mothers Day campaign for Saben - New Zealand’s premium leather handbag and accessories label. 

Below are a few photos from the shoot but here is a link to the full blog on their site.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

A love letter to Uganda

 Dear Uganda, 

Ten years ago, Tim and I touched down for the very first time here in The Pearl of Africa. We were wide-eyed, excited, na├»ve, ready to learn and keen to experience all your beautiful country had to offer. After an initial 5 month volunteer stint we headed back to New Zealand promising to each other that we’d come back to live in 3 years’ time. We moved here indefinitely in January 2014 and have been here ever since. In a couple of days, we’ll be leaving to move back to New Zealand. I want, and, quite frankly, need, to process some of those feelings with you.

If I’m honest, I’d tell you that before I moved to Uganda I thought I would be “giving up a lot”. Missionary/aid worker style. “Sacrificing” a lot. And in some ways I was. But in most ways I wasn’t.

I thought I was giving up my lovely house in New Zealand. Instead, you and God gave us the best house we could ever have wished for complete with a huge yard – perfect for our growing brood of children. Speaking of children, I thought I was giving up my chance to have children. And yet literally weeks after arriving in country our paths intersected with the most precious little girl who went on to become our daughter. Later on a son followed.  I thought I was giving up my dream job and yet somehow the jobs we both have right now are the best thing ever. We thought we were giving up a wonderful group of friends that deeply cared about us and had known us decades. Instead, we found  those relationships continued to grow albeit across the oceans! And an equally special group of friends came into our lives and walked side by side with us through our toughest seasons yet.  

We thought we were giving up our families. And that one, we were. For the last six years our families have patiently and graciously waited on the sidelines watching through Facebook and Facetime and once yearly visits to see their grandchildren and us in the same room. 

I thought I was giving up shopping. And I was. But, instead I found ways to “manage”. Working with local artisans to create beautiful goods, getting down on my hands and knees to rummage through second hand piles at the downtown markets, going to Dubai once a year to get my “fix” and being a regular at expat garage sales. Best yet though was realising that simplicity and minimalism are my new MO (modus operandi) and I don’t need that stuff to make me happy.  In saying that, I’m really looking forward to hitting up Kmart when I’m back in NZ. Hey, I’m being honest, right?

Of course there’s been challenging times too. The rat in my bed wrapped around Eva’s head drinking milk that had fallen onto the foam mattress. The countless snakes. The police that pull us over looking for bribes. Getting pneumonia and malaria. The power company we have on speed dial because EVERY. SINGLE. DANG. WEEK there’s an issue. The water company that constantly likes to turn off water when we have large numbers of people over for a party. The burglars that stole from us. The people that scammed us. The lies we’ve been told. Immigration dramas, roads that put your neck out they’re so bumpy and pollution levels so high its dangerous to go outside.  You’ve legit driven me crazy sometimes. Often times.

But all of that is NOTHING in comparison to what you’ve given  me.  My babies. My incredible friends. The grandmother to my children, (Jane, our househelper), Opportunities to serve people in big and small ways.  The best Indian (ironic, I know) food in the world. A community of people we absolutely adore.

Uganda, (and I’m crying now), thank you. Thank you for giving me some of the best years of my life to date. You are the reason I became a Mother. There is nothing I can do to repay you for that. All three of my children have danced on your soil and grown up under your sun and leant to walk and talk on the mis-matched tiled floors of this beautiful home. 
In just a few short days the time will come to put a full stop on our time here. Our son, Maz needs to have a significant heart operation and we know just the place to help – New Zealand. It’ll be the tenth time I’ve moved internationally and the 11th time Tim has. We’re ready to put down some roots for a while.

But we’ll be back to visit I promise.  Tim’s here for a work visit twice next year and I’ll be touching down again around May.  We hope to bring the kids back in a few years too. Because there’s nowhere quite like Uganda. Nowhere.

With all our love and affection,
Tim, Helen, Hope, Eva and Maz

Friday, February 14, 2020

Kampala Life Hacks:

Our family lived in Uganda for 6 years -  so as my parting gift I thought it might be helpful to open up our little black book of contacts. Please note, this information is current as at February 2020.

American Food – Verity Stores in Bugolobi is a fabulous place to go for American treats.  Plot 10-12 Mulwana Road, Industrial Area, Kampala 0750 324 627 or
Artists –
I love supporting local artists that do beautiful work. Two I’ve worked with on multiple pieces are Mahony 0752543136 and Ricky 0782704083 or 0701033068
Beauty – Beatrice does waxing 0772 471 385 and Rona does eyelash extensions 0778 444 386.

Canvas Prints –
Decorating your home in Kampala is challenging at the best of times. Kenneth 0782 369 828 is the best person to print anything you need onto canvas. He also prints photographs. His email Is  and he delivers.
Clothes – It’s hard to find clothes for yourself and kids in Kampala. If you don’t want to rummage through bargains at a local market I can recommend Sarah at Kampala Dresses who scouts Owino for you and sells the dresses at 30k each. You can find her on Facebook. Chloe’s Closet  0784 814 748 is the best one to go to for high end designer ware.  And in a pinch I visit Mr. Price at Acacia Mall or Pep in Kabalagala.
Counselling Services – Tumaini Kampala
– Robert is on time, reliable and charges a fair price 90k from Kansanga to the Airport. He’s also picked me up from Tanzania before and driven me back. Day rate should be 200k. 0772 439 870
Doctors – Our entire family uses The Clinic at Bugolobi Village Mall 0392 177 283 . If the issue is for a child under 2 I would highly recommend Doctor Michael at Nakasero Annex.
– The best florist in town is 1921 Lifestyle 0772 419 295. They deliver and import their gorgeous flowers and are the next level up if you’re looking for something better than the 10k variety at the supermarket.  
Framing –Kenneth (mentioned under canvas) does framing but you can also contact Tagaframe or visit their workshop in Kismenti. Taga Nuwagaba, 0772 500 286 or
Food – For the best donuts and cinnamon rolls you need to know about Simply Donuts. You can find them on Facebook. They deliver. If you need apples or absolutely delicious spaghetti sauce, Jane Mutesi is your go to girl. 0777 358 437. For the best Indian food, it’s got to be Khazana Verandah in Muyenga. For the best steak it’s Cantina Divino in Kololo.
Fumigation – We use Eco Nation 0774 623 044
Furniture Maker  - Our huge black couch was made by Didas Kamugisha , Namuwongo 0782171789 or 0705586755
Glass Guy – Kaja makes drinking glasses out of old wine bottles. They are 4-5k each compared to 10k at Good Glass. His “store” is next to Prifare on Kiwafu Road. 0793383829.
Gymanstics – Ben is a wonderful coach. He comes to our home during the school holidays and does lessons for the kids.  10-15k each. 0776548399.
Hairdresser – Erika at Mirror Salon is fabulous at cutting every type of hair. Her salon on Tank Hill is relaxing and peaceful. 0785 528 294. Approximately 70-80k for a wash, cut, blow dry
Masseuse – Bosco is the BEST massage/physio therapist I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. 0752 263 227. He comes to your home with his own table – you provide the towels/sheets and it’s 80k for an hour of getting those knots out and leaving you healthier than when you began.
Mosquito Net –
Wilbur specialises in gorgeous safari style tie up mosquito nets. They are expensive but they are beautiful – 0785 231 157.
– Marvin has been great to our family. 0777140900.
- For live music there’s no one better than Herbet Ssensamba  - 0702 457 125
Pedicure – Bishop is HANDS DOWN the best pedicure man in the city! He comes to your house, brings all the items he needs and is clean, tidy and calm to work with. 0777028683.
Playground –
Our kids are obsessed with Prifare on Kiwafu Road in Kansanga. 0781706543.
– Karibu Media specialises in family photographs (they also do interiors, schools, NGO etc) and do a fabulous job. 0773 320 625
Rugs – Villa Kololo (Kismenti) and Mr Price (Acacia Mall)
Ugandan Hair – We love Prossy, she comes to the house, does my daughters hair in braids or twists and charges a fair price.  0774338709.
Wood Engraver – Jude - 0392886526 or 0772 459 129