Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Very African Adventure (Part 2)

Just as we were paying for our second meal of the day at this restaurant, we finally saw the huge, red bus pull up to the petrol station. After so much waiting, I could hardly believe it! But sure enough we were ushered on to the back of the completely full bus, and six and a half hours after we began our adventure, we're finally on our way!

It took another six and a half hours to get to Kigali, including an hour crossing the border going through immigration, but we made it without further incident. I think the poor excuses for roads in Mbarara have been good conditioning for the drive to Kigali because we were driving over roads bumpy enough to send us flying out of our seats and shake our entire insides. The rocking from side to side was anything but soothing.

Uganda is the most beautiful place I've ever lived, and while it was still light out, I was perfectly content to stare out the window and enjoy the breathtaking view. In every direction were green, rolling hills, boys grazing their herds of cattle and goats, and I even saw quite a few crested cranes in the fields.

Everywhere you looked were clothes hung up on lines to dry, men and women working in fields and gardens, people relaxing in doorways and on bodas or listening to the radio while resting on piles or wood or bricks. There was also plenty of amusement to be had in reading the advertisements and signs along the way: "Flesh Milk," "Uncle & Friends Salon," and "Video Libraly."

We finally rolled into the bus station in Kigali around 11pm, about 8 hours later than planned. At that moment a new type of culture shock set in. If I didn't know any better, you could have easily fooled me into thinking that we were actually in an American city! Comparing Mbarara to Kigali is like comparing apples and oranges. It's really hard to do because they're extremely different.

Over the next two days I was completely enchanted and couldn't stop marvelling over the cleanliness and orderliness of the entire city. It was as if we'd jumped forward 30 or 40 years in development. Perfectly paved roads, not a piece of garbage in sight, traffic laws that were obeyed, stop lights and road signs, street lights, and perfectly landscaped traffic circles and green areas.
Instead of the bodas we're used to riding, which are all different and sometimes make me wonder if we're actually going to make it up a hill, the "motos" in Kigali are all standardized and the drivers are required to wear helmets as well as have a helmet for their passenger. Their one passenger. Not their passenger plus a few small children or their passenger plus a bundle of matooke and a mattress. Not their passenger and a suitcase or their passenger and a few chickens. One one person was allowed to ride on each moto, and they had to sit facing forward rather than sidesaddle as most women in Uganda ride.

Some of the highlights of our time there included:

drinking plenty of delicious coffee...

visiting the genocide memorial, reflecting on a not-so-distant and certainly not forgotten event, and contemplating the state of the world and the human heart...

spending time with the Gaskill family, who are serving with AIM, and learning more about their ministry serving at Kigali International Christian School (KICS)...

eating at a beautiful restuarant, aptly named Heaven, where they served us a free appetizer, brought us blankets, and served gourmet-quality food...

and visiting a market where we bought gorgeous fabrics. Walking around the fabric section of the market (Yes, a section. Our market in Mbarara doesn't have sections. Everyone sells everything.) was like experiencing a explosion after explosion of vibrant colors and fantastic patterns. Everything was beautiful, the people were friendly, and I was mesmerized.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful time of exploring a new city and another ministry AIM missionaries are involved with. We made it home in great time without any noteworthy incidents. As wonderful and enchanting as Kigali was, I was grateful to get back to Mbarara, our sweet and charming little town with so much character and friendly, familiar faces.

Like I said, apples and oranges are hard to compare. 

A Very African Adventure (Part 1)

I've come to learn to expect the unexpected in Africa. You simply can't get by without flexibility and a good sense of humor here!

For the past three days my housemates and I have been in Kigali, Rwanda to visit some other AIM missionaries, learn about their ministry in a Christian school there, and enjoy a quick vacation. I've been wanting to visit Rwanda for quite some time now, and it didn't disappoint! Breathtakingly picturesque landscapes, cleanliness and organization, world-renowned coffee, and blending into the crowd slightly more were just some of the high lights.

Traveling to Kigali was my first experience with the bus systems in Africa. It's by far the most affordable and most commonly used mode of transportation for international travel, so we decided to try it out. The Friday before we left, we went down to the booking agent to check the bus schedule for Monday. After quite a lot of cross-cultural miscommunication and misunderstandings, he told us that a bus would be coming through Mbarara at 9am on Monday and that we should arrive at 8:30 to check in and purchase tickets. We also found out that another bus company would be coming through at "10 or 11." We felt good having more than one option in case the first bus to come through was already full.

At 6:20 on Sunday morning, Martha received a phone call from the bus company representative saying that the Monday morning bus had been cancelled and there will only be a night bus. This didn't seem likely, so we did a little more investigating in the afternoon and was finally able to figure out that there would be a 1pm bus. Since this was a lot later than we were hoping to get on the road, we decided to try for the "10 or 11" bus with the other company.

We began our adventure on Monday morning in typical Ugandan style. Our faithful boda drivers came to pick us up along with our backpacks and one small suitcase that we shared between the three of us. It was already a chilly morning (68 degrees...I've become so acclimated to the cold!), but as soon as we stepped outside it began to drizzle. We couldn't wait out the rain as we'd usually do because we needed to get to the "bus stop" by 10am, so we piled ourselves and our belongings onto the bodas and set out. By the timer we reached the "bus stop" (a petrol station where it stops to refuel), we were quite damp but still excited to get on our way. After asking an attendant about the bus, we found out that it had already come through at 7 that morning. Okay. Plan B. Wait for the 1pm bus.

We purchased tickets for the next bus, which of course was not a quick process, but we were still left with over 2 hours before the bus was due to arrive. It was raining heavily by now, so we decided to head over to the Skinner's for a little while. Jill picked us and our belongings up, and we spent the next hour and a half hanging out with their family.

We got back to the "bus stop" around noon to be sure we didn't miss it. If only we knew... Fortunately, one of our favorite restaurants is right next door, so we ordered some lunch to-go, and kept an eye on the petrol station watching for our bus. While we waited, Kelsea, Martha, and I remembered we were heading to a French-speaking country and discussed what little French we knew. None of us have ever studied it, so between the three of us we knew buffet, ballet, fiance, s'il vous plaĆ®t, merci, cafe, and boudoir. Probably not the most useful vocabulary.

Our lunch came, but the bus hadn't arrived yet. After waiting awhile more, we decided to go ahead and eat. We finished, and the bus was still no where in sight although it was after 1pm. We kept reminded ourselves and each other that This Is Africa, and things almost never start "on time" or go as planned. We kept ourselves entertained by watching large groups of safari tourists come and go, inventing new games ("I would rather..."), and rewriting the words to "The Wheels On the Bus"  (the wheels on the bus go so slow, the people go waa, and the driver says shh).

By now it's 4pm, our bus is three hours late, and to top it all off we were starting to get hungry again, and because it takes over 5 hours to get to Kigali, we'd also been trying to avoid drinking much. We decide to order a plate of chips (fries) to share as a snack/dinner explaining to the waiter that as soon as the bus comes we'll have to leave. He graciously brings us a plate quickly, we pray thanking God for the food (again) and asking that the bus might come right when we finish eating.

(to be continued...)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Every day I see new examples of how Ugandans are incredibly resourceful people. Often I'm so impressed with how well and how creatively they use what they have to solve everyday problems. For example:
  • a matooke banana used as a stopper in the top of a jerry can so its contents don't splash out in transport
  • long strips of flexible bark used as shoe laces
  • old calendars covered in white paper reused to make flashcards in schools
  • umbrellas attached to bodas for the exceptionally sunny or rainy days
  • posho porridge can also be used as glue
  • plastic bags tied together with some string becomes a ball to kick around
  • using the heat of the sun to make bread rise faster
  • using a basin full of blankets to help a baby learn to sit up
  • banana leaves used for all types of cooking, steaming, and for covering pots
  • using newspaper as book covers
  • a rope with bottle caps attached at certain lengths to use for measuring
  • placing broken glass shards along the tops of walls as a form of security
  • reclining lounge chairs are built without a support system to hold the back up, but a rock or board wedged in the right spot can do the trick
  • using an empty jerry can as a drum
  • water bottles weighing down the bottom corners of a banner or poster

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Laughter is Good for the Soul

Laughter is such an important part of my days! When I'm not able to genuinely laugh on a regular basis I only feel half-alive, so I'm thankful to be living with girls I share so many jokes with, working alongside team members that provide endless entertainment and witty comments, and building relationships with people in the community who make me smile. Here are a few things that have proved to be extra funny in the past few weeks!

  • Teaching our Ugandan friends how to play kickball in our front yard. I'm pretty sure I spent more time doubled over laughing than anything else!
  • Having a dance party with some university girls in our living room. They taught us a muganda dance of the Baganda people and a traditional Banyankole dance about the Ankole cows, which are famous for coming from this area of Uganda. We taught them how to line dance and two step to country music.
  • Making up games at home with Martha and Kelsea. We invent hours of entertainment for ourselves, especially when power is out. "I hope Martha...."  "Would you rather...?"
  • Frequent cross-cultural miscommunication between team members. "Seb, are those new pants?" "Hey...That's inappropriate!"
  • Dade. He makes me laugh every day! "I think Obama would be please with this."  "Des Moines... Hmm.. That sounds like a really bouncy place. Des Moooiiiiinnne! Do they have a lot of trampolines there?"
  • Spontaneous dancing after team meeting. Cha-Cha Slide, Cupid Shuffle, Electric Slide...
  • Realizing that the boda drivers in Nkokenjeru know us by name and inform our boda drivers, Charles and Godwin, if they see us around town or walking on the road.
  • Sophie's endless antics, like making fake teeth from cassava peel and making crazy faces as she tells hilarious stories.
  • Calling teammates the instant power comes back on just to share the joy with more people
  • Joking that we should drive around and look at the Christmas lights in town, which would consist of only one teammate's apartment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

O, Come Let Us Adore Him

"Listen to the old, old story
Of the power of death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man"
-Andrew Peterson

Many people told me to expect homesickness during the holiday season and for culture shock to reach a new phase at this time of year, but I'm happy to say that I've been enjoying the Christmas season more than ever living in Uganda! This weekend my roommates, Kelsea and Martha, and I have been listening to Christmas music, decorated a tree, frosted sugar cookies, read the Christmas story in Luke chapters 1 and 2, and even went to the pool to soak up some sunshine!

Of course I am missing my family and our Christmas traditions and missing the extra time spent with my friends. I miss the sparkling beauty of a fresh snowfall (although don't miss the freezing temps, ice, and extra work that comes with a snow storm!). I miss the warm, crackling fire places and the twinkling lights and festive decorations around town. And I most certainly miss Caribou's peppermint mochas!

But without the typical overwhelming messages of consumerism coming at me from all directions and the rushed pace of life during the holiday season, I have been able to spend ample time reflecting on the story of Christmas. With all the distractions of shopping, parties, baking, and decorating aside, I can more clearly see the holiness of this holiday. I've been reminded of the weightiness of God's glory and the power in His plan. I marvel at how the birth of Christ has been foretold since the beginning of time and how generations passed on to generations the prophesies of a coming King until he made himself nothing and arrived in the flesh. The King of kings born in the lowest of places.The Creator of all coming to seek and save the lost. 

"...He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem."
Isaiah 53:2-3 

I stand in awe of the way that God set the heavens and earth in motion according to his perfect will and how Christ came to live among men at the fullness of time. At a time when the way had been prepared for him, countless prophesies could be fulfilled through His coming, and hearts were desperate and open to receiving the message of the Good News. 

I've also been considering Mary and Joseph in ways I never have before. What a humbled and selfless servant Mary was as she carried the Savior of the world in her womb and in her arms, yet she never took pride in the fact that God chose her to raise His son. A women full of grace.
"And Mary said:
'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.'"
Luke 1:46-49 

And noble Joseph, a model example of a husband who leads and protects his family at all costs. A man who set aside his own pride, humbled himself, and followed the Lord above all else.

Did Mary and Joseph feel the weight and hope of glory as they held their baby boy?
Did they feel as if He was really the one holding them?
Did they wonder how they were expected to teach and train up the Promised One?
Did their hearts magnify the Lord and wrench with pain at the same time when they recited Isaiah's prophesies of old and realized it was their child who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins?

I'm thankful for the opportunity to experience the holidays in a different country and culture and grateful that the message of the Gospel transcends culture and time. Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full by entering into a saving relationship with him.

Let every heart prepare him room, and let every soul magnify the Lord!

"I celebrate the day
that you were born to die
so one day I could live
and pray for you to save my life."
-Relient K

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reverse Racism?

“Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day,
until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again.”
--Kathryn Stockett

Something that I've loved about my life in Uganda is the ample time I have for reading books. Because we're usually home by 5pm, rarely have plans after dark, and are often without electricity (read: computers), I've been able to fill hours of the week by immersing myself in all kinds of books. Fiction and nonfiction. Novels and theology.

I most recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a novel about the relationships between black and white women in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's and how racism affected their lives.

“Write about what disturbs you,
particularly if it bothers no one else.”
 -Stockett, The Help 
Not only was this book an entertaining and humorous read, but it also dealt with many issues and mindsets that are interesting to reflect on in light of being here in Uganda. It provides a realistic reminder of our nation's ugly and not-so-distant past and a glimpse into what was done in our country, to humans created in the image of God, in the name of Christianity and equality. Reading about, reflecting on, and remembering this history stirs up something deep in me. Something that I usually sum up in 3 words: I hate racism.

I've talked about racism in a variety of contexts, heard sermons about it at my multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church in the Twin Cities, read books and took classes in college that discuss the issues surrounding it, but, honestly, my personal experiences with racism are few and far between. And they've always been on my terms and in a country or setting where I wasn't a minority.

Now I'm living in Uganda, where I'm an extreme minority, and I'm daily experiencing a type of reverse racism… for lack of a better term. The more people I talk to and the more places I go, "separate and not equal” seems to be a common mindset.
People are enthralled with whites because of our skin. No cut, bruise, freckle, or sunburn on my fair skin goes unnoticed here. We are treated differently because of our skin color. People often want to be friends with us, marry us, give us an unfair price, or have our business because we’re white. Because having a white person around is a type of status symbol, we are often invited to weddings and give-aways of complete strangers. We’re often placed on a pedestal and treated like we know everything because of our skin color or because we’re from America. We’re given special treatment and places of honor, but it's not flattering. It doesn’t make me feel special or honored. I still hate racism.

One day I had a boda boda driver ask me if I knew how to drive a boda. I laughed and told him no and that it seems like it might be hard to learn. He said, “Sure?! But Americans know everything.” I quickly tried to dissuade him of this opinion telling him that, no, in fact there are many, many things Americans don’t know. His response: “Well, you know all of the big, important things.” And that’s the problem… We all too often don’t know the big, important things. But people sure think we do (Americans included!).

Of course, I’m not trying to use this as a sweeping, blanket statement about how everyone treats white people here. That would be so far from the truth! We have met and become friends with some of the most genuine, kind-hearted people you’ll meet anywhere in the world. They accept us unconditionally and see beyond the exterior. They don't have any ulterior motives in the relationship, they want to learn from us as well as teach us, and they're a joy to pour into and receive from.

I guess what I’m experiencing and learning here is that racism isn’t skin deep. It’s a mindset. It’s a worldview. It’s cultural. Family culture. Community culture. National culture.

And all these issues don't necessarily boil down to racism, either. Often it goes wider and deeper into classism. In many places, discrimination now stems from socioeconomic status rather than skin pigmentation and ancestral lines. The haves versus the have-nots.

Rather than going around pointing out the differences between people in the world and how we live, what if we went around telling people, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important,” (Stockett, The Help) regardless of who they are, what shade of skin they have, or which side of town they're from?

Effrem Smith, an internationally recognized speaker and pastor dedicated to transformational racial reconcilation to change the face of the Church, has listed these ten ways to live as a reconciler:

1.) Don’t avoid conflict.
2.) Find biblical and prayerful approaches to anticipating and resolving conflict.
3.) Practice forgiveness daily.
4.) Embrace “dying to self” as a daily spiritual discipline.
5.) Find mentors of a different ethnicity, gender, and race.
6.) Acknowledge that we still live in a society influenced by issues of race, gender,  and class.
7.) Work towards a more missional and multi-ethnic church.
8.) Extend grace to those that you would normally extend judgement.
9.) Find space to experience God’s love daily.
10.) Listen more.

And in the words of Jesus Christ:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A few Sundays ago a preacher told this story:

Once there was a man selling mangoes. He stood on the street calling out, "Three for 1,000 shillings. Three for only 1,000!" Many people walked past him, but no one stopped to buy his mangoes.

After quite some time without selling any, the man stopped advertising. Instead, he picked up a large mango and began to slowly peel it. As the soft, orange flesh was revealed a heavenly aroma filled the air. He took a bite, and sweet, sticky juice began to run down his chin and drip from his fingers.

People began to notice how much the man was enjoying this mango and how good it looked. Before long, they stopped to buy some so that they, too, could enjoy such a wonderful treat.

It's the same in our relationships with Jesus. People don't want to see us selling salvation, they want to see us enjoying it! We can talk and try to convince people all day long, but until they see us living out and loving a saving relationship with our Savior, they won't believe us. There is something irresistible about a life transformed by and wholly devoted to the Lord and something compelling about a person who lives to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." 

" by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
James 2:17