Thursday, March 29, 2012

Entertainment at its....

Last Sunday evening Kelsea and I attended a gospel concert in town. This turned out to be such a treat, but not in the ways you might expect. The two hours we spent there were highly entertaining for me, but honestly it was probably entertaining for all the wrong reasons as it was a very "cultural" experience.

The concert was supposed to begin at 2pm. We arrived around 4:20pm to discover that it had just begun shortly before we arrived, so we hadn't missed much.

The first thing you need to understand is that music performances in Uganda consist of one singer going on an empty stage and singing along to a CD track which typically already has vocals on it. To be fair, they might have recorded their own voice on that CD in a studio, and now they are singing on top of their own voice. Sometimes harmonizing or singing an octave higher.

The second thing you need to know is that Ugandans like things to be loud. Whether it's church, a concert, or a van driving through town advertising, sound systems and loud speakers are used to their fullest potential. Sounds and voices get distorted and you can feel the vibrations reverberating in your chest and chair.

When we arrived we paid 3,000 shillings for admission. This admission price included a free soda (which usually costs about 1,500 on its own). Then once you were inside you had to pay an additional 500 shillings for a chair. This logic did not make sense or add up to me, but like I've said before, you learn to just go with things here. We set up our chairs toward the back in an attempt to save our eardrums from the speakers.

The emcees
Any ideas you have about what a gospel concert might be like should also be erased now. When I think about gospel music, I typically think about dominant and harmonizing vocals, a refrain, and often a more syncopated rhythm. In Uganda, "gospel" simply means music with a Christian message. It has nothing to do with a genre of music or how the song is written or performed.

One performer sang a song mostly in Runyankole that also contained the repeated line, "Yesu, number one. Sitaane number zero." That translates to "Jesus, number one. Satan, number zero."

The best moment, and the reason that we actually went to this concert, was to watch one of our teammates perform. Harrison Jones (or Herrison Jonez, as the advertising poster read) is a high school English teacher who has taken up a second career in Mbarara as rapper. He has a number one hit on the local Christian radio station and is proof that anything is possible here! Of course we knew about his musical talent as he often leads music for team meetings and plays in the community worship nights, but we had yet to see a live rap performance. Sunday was our lucky day, and it was worth every shilling!

Upon moving to Uganda, I quickly realized that you have to create your own entertainment. Whether it be inventing a game to play with your roommates, keeping up with the latest news about the lion in the neighborhood, or going to a local-talent concert, it's up to you to make sure you're having a great time here!

Last Sunday, I was very entertained.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Forget What You've Learned

There are many lessons we learn in the West at a very young age. We grow up with these rules and cautionary words in our life, learn and practice them until they're engrained in us and we know no other way, and we eventually pass them on to the next generation.

I'm not talking about anything too profound here. Just basic life lessons and safety smarts that we begin learning as children. Some might even call them common sense.

Life is different in Uganda, though, and things don't operate the same way. Rules that seemed to be hard and fast suddenly don't apply.

"Look both ways before crossing the street."
In Uganda, child will dash out into the road without a second thought. Groups of school children will cross the street in Kampala during rush hour, dodging between cars and motorcycles, without any adults around to help or supervise. Yes, this does make my heart skip a beat every time I see it happen.

"Don't walk in the street."
In Uganda, walking in the road is the only option we have unless you're in the center of town where there are sidewalks.

"Don't touch the stove. It's hot."
In Uganda, children are often admitted to the hospital for burns caused by falling into an open cooking fire.

"Don't take candy from a stranger."
In Uganda, children come up to us all the time asking for a "sweetie."

"Don't get in the car with a stranger."
In Uganda, this is the main form of public transportation.

"Buckle your seat belt. You need to be in a car seat so you're safe."
In Uganda, 3 or 4 children can be piled on a motorcycle if they're lucky enough to get a ride to school, and mothers will often carry their babies on their backs or in their arms while riding a boda. Yes, this also still make my heart skip a beat, but I'm really not sure if children are more safe walking along the side of the road or riding on a motorcycle...

"Don't talk to strangers."
In Uganda, I hardly ever pass a child on the road or in town without them excitedly jumping up and down, waving, smiling, or even running up to hold my hand or give me a hug.

"Learn your address, so if you're lost someone can help you get home."
In Uganda, a street address might be "Over the next hill, turn left at the big tree next to the duka with a yellow sign, continue until you see the cows in the field, and our house is the one in the middle of the compound on the right."

"Use your manners. Say 'Please.'"
In Uganda, there isn't a word for "please" in most languages. It's typically implied in the tone of voice, but when translated into English a request comes out as, "Give me money," or "I want sweetie."

"Don't play with sharp objects."
In Uganda, children are often seen using a machete to chop firewood, a knife to chop and peel vegetables, or using a long-handled blade to slash the grass when it gets too long.

A phrase that is often quoted among the missionary and ex-pat community when trying to understand situations like these: "It's not wrong. It's just different."

Amen and amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lion on the Loose

I'm amazed at how normal life can feel even when you're living in Africa. In the West, we tend to have a very romanticized, National Geographic-esque picture in our minds of what "Africa" is like, when in reality day-to-day life can look very similar to how it might in America. School, work, grocery shopping, meetings, visiting with friends, church events, etc. Of course, there are always going to be cultural and practical differences, but you develop a daily routine here just as easily as you do anywhere else.

This morning started off very typically. I got up early to shower only to find out that we were out of hot water. Again. I left the house shortly after 8am to begin my walk to the Skinner's home where I teach Dade. Forty minutes and a few roadside conversations later, I arrive at their home ten minutes early. I let myself in, pour a hot cup of coffee, and sit at the kitchen island waiting for 9am to roll around so we can start school.

And that's when it happens. When life seems so normal and routine, a situation will arise that snaps you back to reality and reminds you where you are.

This morning it came in the form of exciting information passed through the grape vine. Apparently, a lion had been spotted in Nkokonjeru, our "neighborhood," last night. They suspect it wandered over from Lake Mburo, a local game park not too far outside of Mbarara. Besides multiple sightings last night, the evidence was found this morning in the form of bones left over from some goats, missing pigs, and Zillah's neighbor's dog that was found dead after bleeding out from a large bite mark on its neck. We've also learned that the people in the area where the lion was roaming last night sounded some type of horn used to signal to others in the area if a wild animal has been spotted. Apparently, game wardens have been called in today to track the lion down. Many people were excited about it (including us!), others were frightened, and some simply offered words of wisdom like, "Don't run," and "Be sure to tell your friend who lives up the hill. It was spotted there last night," and "If you meet it just say, 'Agandi...stand still while I take your photo.' Just greet it first."

Despite search efforts, nothing has been found yet. Who knows if we'll ever hear the conclusion of this exciting episode. As much as we'd love to see the lion with our own eyes, I doubt that will happen either. What I can tell you for sure is that I really am living in an African country.

Some days just feel like it more than others.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Way With Words...

This is a sampling of some signs spotted around Mbarara and Kampala. I'd suggest clicking the pictures to make them larger so you don't miss all the unique hilarity!

Do you think he came down to endorse it himself?

I have so many questions...Sometimes it's better not to know.


It's both mini and super!


Back to the Capitol

Although many people make frequent trips from Mbarara to Kampala, the capitol city of Uganda, I have not been back since we first arrived in August. Kampala is extremely hot, busy, and crowded compared to our darling Mbarara town. While Mbarara isn't able to boast about shopping malls, fancy restaurants, or super-stores, I still prefer its quaint shops and small-town feel to the sprawling capitol city.

That being said, I had to make a trip back to Kampala this week. I made plans to visit a long-term AIM missionary working with children in Kampala and went to visit a couple babies homes. Kelsea and Seb, two teammates of mine, also came along to do some shopping and visit friends.

We were greeted by a traffic jam due to constuction as we entered the city, but made it to AIM's guesthouse, Matoke Inn, without too much hassle. It's fun to stay at Matoke Inn because you never know who you'll meet or what connections you'll make as missionaries from all over the central region are always coming and going.

On Tuesday, I visited Baby Watoto: Bulrushes in the morning and Child's i Foundation in the afternoon. They are two very different organizations with very different methods of operation and beliefs, but they both ultimately work towards the same end goal: to rescue abandoned children and help them grow to be productive and valued citizens of Uganda.

At Baby Watoto, I got to visit and cuddle two little boys who were cared for for a short time by a missionary family in Mbarara. They both appear to be doing well, and it was great to see them again!

I learned a lot from both visits, made valuable contacts, and came away with a lot to think and pray about. I must learn to single out God's voice, spoken clearly and powerfully, even if it's spoken quietly, amidst the many strong opinions people share with me.

A highlight of my week was going back to Destiny Boarding School with Kelsea on Wednesday to visit the girls we sponsor. We first met Jane and Clair in 2008 when we came to Uganda with World Help. Coming back to see them again almost 4 years later was a beautiful experience! Jane has grown from a shy, little girl into a beautiful, young lady with quite the sense of humor! Jane is currently in primary 6, likes to read, and wants to be a secondary school teacher some day. When I asked why she preferred secondary over primary students she said, "Because they cannot disturb you so much." Our visit with them was short but very sweet. Being able to give Jane a big hug and laugh together over some silly photos are memories I'll hold on to for a long time. 


And now...!

The biggest change I noticed during this return visit to Destiny wasn't the new buildings and programs that have been constructed all over the campus or even how much Jane has grown. Instead, I had the over-whelming realization of just how much I've changed in the past four years.

I don't feel like I've changed all that much, but when placed in the very same context I was in a few years ago, the changes in me became obvious. I was viewing the school, ministry, and children in a completely new and enlightened way. My view of world missions has evolved immensely, and I've become more educated about Ugandan culture and society, for which I'm grateful. I remember how I felt visiting this school and the children for the first time in 2008, but the thoughts and feelings that immediately struck me when I visited this time were vastly different.

I have changed. For good and forever.

We're in Mbarara again, safe and sound, and I couldn't be happier to be back! Kampala was exhausting, but I'm glad to have made some really valuable contacts there.

Dade and Dara come back on Monday, so we'll start school again this Wednesday. The time off has gone quickly, and I'm amazed at how much I was able to fit in to it! I'm looking forward to having Jill and the kids back around, though, and to having some sort of routine again.

Blessings to you all over the weekend!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day!

Today is a national public holiday in Uganda.
Women's Day is celebrated annually in countries all over the world to encourage equal opportunities for women.

"In Uganda, Women’s Day is a national holiday set aside to recognize women’s contributions to their families and communities, as well as to magnify the need for improved treatment and rights for women."

To celebrate I wore pink, drank good coffee from Rwanda, painted my nails, ate chocolate, and got my first haircut in 7 months.

I realize this isn't the point of the holiday at all, but it's still fun to celebrate! And more importantly to remember what it means to be a woman created in the image of God.

Women of God

Another Perspective

My friend and teammate, Kelsea, has written a wonderful and poignant response to the resent outpouring of attention being given to Joseph Kony, the leader of a rebel group that started in Uganda over 25 years ago. A man who has abducted and murdered thousands upon thousands of children.

This is the longest running civil war.
This war is real.
It's not enough to just talk about it or share a video with your friends.
I want to share Kelsea's writing with you because it so eloquently reflects many of my own thoughts and feelings about the current media coverage relating to Kony.

Please be encouraged by Kelsea's post below and above all...
We must pray.

There's a Difference Between Being Alive and Living
So, everyone is posting things about Joseph Kony. One of the world's worst war criminals. Previously active in Uganda. Now terrorizing Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Central Africa Republic.

The man that challenges me in loving my enemies more than anyone else. 

But, I don’t want to talk about him because the mention of his name makes my blood turn hot.

Instead, let’s talk about what he’s stolen from so many families: life.

He’s murdered, mutilated, and destroyed.  

Those who’ve managed to survive are the living dead.

Still victims, and now persecutors.

The way that so many individuals have been robbed of life makes me physically ill. 

Children have grown up in this army. Children that have grown into adults. Children that have never experienced a different kind of life.

What could be possibly more disturbing than this whole situation? 
1. It’s still going on.
2. It’s real. Real people. Real lives. Real war. 
3. That there are billions of people in the world who have the chance, the opportunity to live lives worthy of being lived and don’t. 
4. The way people have a tendency to bandwagon about hot issues and then jump off. 
5. It’s still going on.

Jesus told us, "The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." John 10:10 

Something is seriously wrong.

And, what’s the world doing about it? Well, now we’re talking. A whole bunch of people are talking about it, and that’s great because it’s creating awareness.

But, don’t talk about it today, if you’re going to forget about it tomorrow. 

Please don't talk about it, if you're not willing to pray about it too. Because clearly, something is wrong.  People are talking. Things are happening. But the thief is still stealing, killing, and destroying. 

So what can we do?

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind,  be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."  Ephesians 6:10-20
So, pray.

Just a few memories from my first trip to northern Uganda in July of 2008. 

The trip that awakened my heart to Uganda, the destruction of the LRA, and the joy of those whose hope is in the Lord. 

"He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 61:1

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My hands hold safely to my dreams
Clutching tightly not one has fallen
So many years I've shaped each one
Reflecting my heart
Showing who I am
Now you're asking me to show
What I'm holding oh so tightly
Can't open my hands
Can't let go
Does it matter?
Should I show you?
Can't you let me go?

Surrender, surrender you whisper gently
You say I will be freeI know but can't you see?
My dreams are me. My dreams are me

You say you have a plan for me
And that you want the best for my life
Told me the world had yet to see
What you can do with one
That's committed to Your calling

I know of course what I should do
That I can't hold these dreams forever
If I give them now to You
Will You take them away forever?
Or can I dream again?
Barlow Girl, "Surrender"

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tears and Laughter

Last Wednesday, I traveled by bus down to Kigali, Rwanda for another quick trip to visit some AIM missionaries, the Gaskills, who've become dear friends of ours. I completely enjoyed my time with their family and valued the opportunity to observe at Kigali International Christian School while it was in session. I think I smiled the entire time I was in the kindergarten classroom and was excited to discover some Twin Cities/North Minneapolis connections with the second grade teacher. I picked up some more beautiful fabrics at a market, met some wonderful people, and before I knew it I was back on the bus headed north to Uganda. But this time with a traveling companion!

We had the pleasure of hosting Grace Gaskill in Mbarara this weekend. It started off with a 5:30am bus ride from Kigali which included:
  • A "mix up the fruit basket" type of game with everyone attempting to find and claim the seats they'd purchased.
  • Many people getting on and off the bus at random points along the way. Often the bus would slow down, the conductor would open the door, and someone would hop on or off the bus without the bus ever coming to a complete stop.
  • A man who tried to sneak onto the bus at the border using a ticket from the day before. He sat in our row, but he sat in the seat that belonged to another lady. When she told him he needed to move, he got caught and kicked off the bus. Grace and I were told by a man sitting in front of us, "You should have known he didn't belong there. When you came you were sitting by a woman. And now you are sitting by a man." We laughed because what else was there to do.
  • Laughing again as we sat in the bus watching someone who worked at the border yell at a person sitting a few rows up from us who had thrown some garbage out the window. "Do you want to get arrested?? It's a simple matter of you getting up, going around there, and picking it up!" I appreciate the efforts because Uganda is covered in lots of garbage.
  • The final person to get on the bus during the trip turned out to be a traveling salesman. For the last 45 minutes of the bus ride, this man stood in the aisle giving a speech about the products he was selling. It's a pretty good technique if you ask me. It's not like the passengers could go anywhere or had anything else to do!
We made it back to Mbarara safely, and spent the afternoon relaxing and napping after having such an early morning. We had plans to go into town Friday evening for the weekly movie ministry night. This part of the day took an extremely unexpected turn.

Without going into too many details, there was a political rally happening in Mbarara, and we accidentally wound up in the middle of it. Police were everywhere, there were swarms of people, streets were blocked, our favorite "supermarket" that is always open was barred up, and a truck of soldiers armed with large sticks for beating drove by.

As we wove through traffic just trying to get to our destination quickly and safely, it hit us.
Tear gas.
A burning sensation I've never experienced before and hopefully never will again.

Our boda drivers quickly turned around, dodging people and large trucks, and headed back in the direction we had come. As we were in the process of getting turned around and driving out of the gassed area, a group of Ugandans saw that we had been affected by the tear gas, as well. They began to laugh and excitedly say, "Look! They got the muzungus too!"

Yes, it's true. Tear gas doesn't discriminate.

With tears and mascara running down our cheeks we decided that, clearly, the only option was to go back home... which we did. Right away. Once again, we're so thankful for good boda drivers who keep us safe!

It was a surreal experience and hard to believe we got caught up in something like that in little Mbarara where our lives are typically so "normal."

The rest of our weekend was, thankfully, not quite so eventful but still plenty of fun. Recently, one of our teammates explained Mbarara as "a place that's not exactly rampant with entertainment." This couldn't be more true. When people come to visit we have to really rack our brains to think of places to show them and things to do, but we've become pretty good at creating our own entertainment around here.

Getting pedicures at "California Nails"

Going to central market

hanging out with friends

I'm thankful for opportunities to visit other countries and see first-hand how missionaries are serving all over Africa, and it's been a pleasure getting to host a friend in our home and sharing our lives with her for a few days. While Mbarara might not be the most "exciting" place to visit, we're never short on good company or plenty of laughter!

And sometimes a few tears.