Monday, December 22, 2014

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Recently, my teammate, Emily, and I went to visit one of our friends outside of Mbarara. Rebecca is a Peace Corps volunteer I met at church, and she's been working with a primary school ten miles outside of town. It took Emily and I thirty minutes by boda to reach her location, but it was a beautiful day, and the sights never get old.

We toured Rebecca's school and sampled from her strawberry patch. Can you imagine my sheer delight in eating a fresh strawberry after 17 months without? But who's counting, right? Because it was such a beautiful day, we decided to hike up some hills near Rebecca's school. Hills... Yes, they are considered hills, but when I told my boda driver what we did, he said incredulously, "What? Those mountains there??" And compared to what we typically have in Iowa, they were kind of big hills.

In the aerial photo below, those little green buildings in the top right corner are on the campus where Rebecca is living. The big empty space curving across the middle is the set of hills we hiked. We started on the far left and made our way across the ridge back toward the campus.

The first hill was a doozy. It's affectionately been named Puke Hill (by us) because when Rebecca took her mom and sister up this hill, her mom thought she was going to vomit from the altitude and exertion. Fortunately, there was a perfect outcrop of rocks halfway up, so we stopped for a few minutes to admire the view (and catch our breath). 

The second half was so steep it required climbing with both hands. Once we reached the top and looked back.... Wow! There's no question as to why Uganda is nicknamed "The Pearl of Africa." 

Emily almost to the top

taking this photo required wedging my camera
between the split trunk of a tree

We continued climbing a little higher to reach the ridge, and on our way we discovered we weren't alone up there. 

We stopped about halfway across to enjoy a little picnic of M&Ms and water (Thanks for sharing your care package treats, Rebecca!) and admire the view some more. Because this view necessitates lingering a little longer.

Maybe because it's Christmastime, and maybe because this time of year causes me to reflect on all that's happened over the past 12 months... I find myself marveling at the fact that I live here. In Uganda. To be perfectly honest, I'm still not sure how that happened. All I can say is that God's ways are higher and better than my own. I make plans in my heart, but it's always God's purposes that prevail.

While I still have days when I wonder what exactly I'm doing here and why God thought I was the best person to do it, I also have moments of clarity. Sometimes the moments come when I'm chatting with a friend in her home. Sometimes they come when I'm buying produce from my favorite person in the market. And sometimes they come when I'm standing on top of a hill taking in sweeping panoramas.

My mission is quite simple really.
My mission is also your mission.
Go, and tell it. Over the hills and everywhere. 
"Jesus Christ is born" and "God sent us salvation."
And make disciples.

This looks different for each  person based on their giftings and areas of influence, but the task itself is quite simple:
Go, tell it.

How beautiful on the mountains 
are the feet of those who bring good news, 
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, 
who proclaim salvation, 
who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
Isaiah 52:7

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Give Away

No, not that kind of giveaway.

Sorry, this blog doesn't have any sponsors, so I can't raffle off a KitchenAid Mixer or a Nikon DSLR. (If anyone who represents KitchenAid or Nikon is reading this, feel free to contact me!... Hey, you just never know...)

While I can't give you any prizes, I can show you photos of a traditional Banyankole wedding ceremony! This ceremony is known as a "give away," since the bride is being given to the groom's family, and I had the pleasure of attending a friend's give away a few months ago.

The give away was held in the village on her family's small plot of land. Two white tents were set up facing each other on opposite ends of the compound. One tent is for guests attending the celebration and the other is for the groom and his relatives.

seated in the guest tent looking across at the groom's tent

guests and relatives of the bride

The whole event is led by a Master of Ceremonies who narrates the entire day over the (very loud) loud speakers.

Clusters of drinks are used as decorations until they are offered as after-lunch refreshments later on in the ceremony.

The bride, her "maids," and some of the aunties remained in the house (pictured behind the emcee) for the meal and first half of the ceremony.

The groom and his relatives are escorted on to the compound and to their seats (they were waiting and having lunch at a neighbors house until it was time for their entrance).

They are served a special drink called obushera, which is made from fermented millet flour.

Next a representative from the groom's side of the family steps forward to talk with the emcee, who speaks on the bride's family's behalf. The groom's representative must answer a number of questions. While this conversation took place in Runyankole, it was clearly a battle of wits and cultural tongue-twisting between representatives of the two sides. 

It becomes a big show of pretending the girl’s family doesn’t know why the man’s family has come and needing to be convinced to allow the girl to marry him. They emcee said things like, "What are you doing here? We're all just here trying to enjoy a party, so why have you come bother us today? What village are you from? Who are your people?"

The groom's spokesperson must prove he comes with purpose and the appropriate gifts for the bride's family. The men from both families retreat into the house for awhile to "discuss" a fair bride price. Once they come out, after having made a decision (which, in reality, has been discussed ahead of time), the groom's family brings in gifts for the bride's family. Here they have a basket of fruit, a box of soap, crates of soda, and a bag of sugar. The girl's family is asked if they will accept the gifts in exchange for bride-to-be, and after sending someone to make sure the gifts are good (not poisoned, etc.), they agree to the request.

The groom is identified from the group and given a seat of honor within the tent.
Next the bride must be identified from among all the other "maids" within the wedding party. For the first time in the day, they begin to come out from the house. They are led out in groups, dance by the groom's tent, and then kneel in front of the groom. He says that the one he wants to marry is not among these girls, gives them some small money to pay for their transportation back home, and sends them away.This happens three different times.

Finally, the all the girls come out at once, and this time the bride is among them. They dance around for awhile before kneeling all together. 

The groom says his bride is there, and one of his aunts brings a gift out to the girls. She will select the bride by giving her the gift, so she dances around pretending to give the gift to a girl or two before finally giving it to the bride. There is lots of clapping and cheering, and the bride goes to meet the groom. Together they walk over to the bride's family, escorted by the bride's auntie.

thumbs up...the aunt approves!

The bride must make a speech to her family and let them know that this is the man she wants to marry. Her family approves, and then the bride and groom walk back to sit together with the groom's family.

Rings are exchanged, and according to the custom, they're now married!

The bride changes into another dress, and the whole wedding party dance around the cake, which has a prominent place in the center of the compound. The bride's eldest brother comes to join her at this point. Because the daughters of the family have the responsibility of caring for their parents and brothers, it is the brother who the bride belongs to. When she gets married, she no longer belongs to her brother, so he is the one to give her away. It is the bride and her brother who cut the cake together, and feed each other small pieces of it... not the bride and groom. 

Once the cake is cut, the bride and her maids pass out small pieces to everyone.

After six hours, the sun was beginning to set, but the speeches were just beginning. This is when we made our exit. It was a full day of celebration, and I was so honored to be a part of it!